The final flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour

STS-134 NASA Tweetup

STS-134 NASA Tweetup and the final flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour

On April 28th and April 29th, 2011, I was fortunate enough to participate in the NASA Tweetup for STS-134. It was to be the final flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour and the second to last mission in the Space Shuttle program. I traveled to the Space Coast from San Francisco and spent three fantastic days with fellow Twitter users and enthusiastic space geeks at Kennedy Space Center. Things didn’t always go as planned (you’ll see), but it was an experience that I’ll cherish and never forget. Godspeed, Endeavour.

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Practicing my Space Shuttle landing skills

I figured since I’m heading to Cape Canaveral and all, I should start brushing up on my shuttle landing skills. You never know if a crew member suddenly comes down with an illness and they’ll need to replace them with someone from the NASA Tweetup. Yeah… sure. 😉

You can check out the above space shuttle simulator on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod by downloading F-SIM Space Shuttle from the App Store.

Solar death ray

This is pretty fantastic! Eric Jacqmain built a “solar death ray” using 5,800 mirrors glued to a satellite dish.

The R5800 is my latest and greatest solar creation. Made from an ordinary fiberglass satellite dish, it is covered in about 5800 3/8″ (~1cm) mirror tiles. When properly aligned, it can generate a spot the size of a dime with an intensity of 5000 suns! This amount of power is more than enough to melt steel, vaporize aluminum, boil concrete, turn dirt into lava, and obliterate any organic material in an instant. It stands at 5’9″ and is 42″ across.

Seeing kids and young adults do science experiments and create things like this gives me hope for our future!

[via @papermodelplane on Twitter]

Earthquakes in 2010 – A final update

Back in March of 2010, I wrote a post looking at the frequency of earthquakes occurring around the world and examined whether or not there were more earthquakes occuring than normal. Specifically, I chose to look at earthquakes between M6.0 and M6.9, as they are sufficiently large enough to be detected by seismometers around the world and they seem to be well documented in recent history.

So, what were the final numbers for 2010? Using the global earthquake search tool on the USGS website, we can see that there were 151 M6.0 – M6.9 earthquakes detected last year.

FILE CREATED: Mon Jan 3 19:59:37 2011
Global Search Earthquakes = 151
Catalog Used: PDE
Date Range: 2010/01/01 to 2010/12/31
Magnitude Range: 6.0 – 6.9
Data Selection: Historical & Preliminary Data

According to recent USGS data, an average of ~134 earthquakes happen in this range every year. Yes, we had 151, but does that mean it’s time to freak out?


It falls well within what we would expect. In fact, there were more earthquakes within this magnitude range in 2007 (178) and 2008 (178)! What? Crazy!

A few more data points:
M7.0 – M7.9 eq’s in 2010: 21 (avg: ~17)
M8.0 – M8.9 eq’s in 2010: 1 (avg: ~1)

Here’s a handy table from the USGS [via]:


So, to sum things up, the world is not ending, despite what crazy folks say, earthquakes are not increasing, and there’s probably a number of other things more important to worry about.

Cheers and happy new year!

Get to know a geologist

The annual American Geophysical Union conference is in town this week and I’ve been fielding a bunch of questions about the strange creatures (known as earth scientists) that are inhabiting downtown San Francisco.

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but Uncyclopedia nails the description of a geologist.

Geologists are ‘scientists’ with unnatural obsessions with beer and rocks. Often too intelligent to do monotonous sciences like biology, chemistry, or physics, geologists devote their time to mud-worrying, volcano poking, fault finding, bouldering, dust-collecting, and high-risk colouring. One of the main difficulties in communicating with geologists is their belief that a million years is a short amount of time and their heads are harder than rocks. Consequently, such abstract concepts as “Tuesday Morning” and Lunchtime are completely beyond their comprehension.

The section on alcohol consumption is pretty amusing (and somewhat apt) as well.

If you ever encounter a geologist who is sober after 6pm, this person is an imposter: possibly an alien; probably a geophysicist or engineer, marine geographer or hydrologist etc. Alcoholism is an acceptable, even socially beneficial, disease for an active geologist.

The whole article is a fun read though, especially if you are or know any geologists.

First evidence of other universes?

This stuff is so trippy to think about.

Now Stephen Feeney at University College London and a few pals say they’ve found tentative evidence of this bruising in the form of circular patterns in cosmic microwave background. In fact, they’ve found four bruises, implying that our universe must have smashed into other bubbles at least four times in the past.

Again, this is an extraordinary result: the first evidence of universes beyond our own.

So, what to make of these discoveries. First, these effects could easily be a trick of the eye. As Feeney and co acknowledge: “it is rather easy to fifind all sorts of statistically unlikely properties in a large dataset like the CMB.” That’s for sure!


[Via Kottke]