4 jaw-dropping things that happened when no one was watching

Cameras are everywhere these days. So things that would have been missed in the past are today more likely to be caught on camera.

Things like:

1. Deer sometimes like to stand up when no one’s looking and have bouts of fisticuffs.

2. A couple weeks ago in Connecticut, a police officer’s private vehicle was vandalized… By a miniature tornado that blew into a crowded parking lot, ripped off one mirror from one car, kicked it around the lot, then laid it back down right beside the vehicle. Some people think it’s a ghost.

3. …Bears secretly dream of becoming pole-dancing strippers? (Skip to about 25 seconds in, and it gets better and better from there).

4. Lastly, as I posted before, in the past few months the world learned that asteroid impacts are more common than we ever thought before. This is bizarre, but it has always been this way: Huge rocks can at any moment fall out of the sky and blow up with the power of a nuclear bomb while still in the air… or cause devastation if they actually hit the ground. A team of scientists examined records from monitoring devices that listen for actual nuclear blasts, and they found about 60 blasts since 1990 that could only have been major asteroids exploding in the atmosphere. Despite the Earth’s 7 billion people, most of the planet’s surface is still uninhabited and we just don’t see most of what’s going on.

Today, a satellite built by high school kids was launched into orbit


NASA launched 29 satellites on a single rocket today.

It’s a triumph of miniaturization and it’s the first step into a world where average people can put things into orbit.

All but one of the 29 are CubeSats, from groups around the country. They’re tiny satellites weighing no more than three pounds each and costing very little.

The main satellite was the Air Force’s $55 million ORS-3, built to help the military test new ways to automate satellite deployment. Everything’s getting automated these days.

The rest of the satellites all do a bunch of different things.

The Firefly satellite studies lightning, which strikes somewhere on Earth about 100 times a second. Firefly aims to help reveal how and why lightning can in rare cases produce bursts of gamma rays, which are normally only produced in stars or in nuclear bombs.

The satellite built by students at Thomas Jefferson High School in Virginia isn’t quite so lofty, but it’s still pretty great.

From the Washington Post:

Students anticipate that the satellite will stay aloft transmitting messages and live telemetry data — about its position in space — back to Earth for at least three months. The satellite is equipped with miniature solar panels and could remain in low-Earth orbit for up to two years.

Ultimately, the satellite is expected to fall into the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up, at which point the voice synthesizer will be programmed to say “I’m melting.”

60 asteroids have hit since 1990… And we didn’t notice.

In February, an asteroid screamed into the atmosphere above Russia so fast that it exploded in midair. It produced the explosive force of half a million tons of TNT.

It turns out asteroid strikes like the one that injured almost 1500 people this year are much more common than anyone thought. They just usually hit in remote areas — and even with all our technology and 7 billion pairs of eyes we haven’t noticed. An international team of scientists recently found out that “the strike rate of asteroids that are tens of metres in size is between two and 10 times higher than was previously thought.”

Why do meteors sometimes explode in midair? Coming from space, they’re very cold. They’re moving so fast that the air in front of them is compressed so much it produces incredible heat. The difference between extreme heat and extreme cold makes the space rock shatter into thousands of pieces. Those pieces are also moving at incredible speeds and compressing the air, producing even more heat, and you basically have an explosion. It doesn’t work the same way as a chemical explosion or nuclear explosion, but has similar force.

People often think that meteorites are radioactive because media reports often describe the power of meteor explosions in terms of the strength of a nuclear bomb. (February’s midair explosion had the force of twenty-five Hiroshima bombs). Meteor explosions can have similar strengths to nuclear bombs, but meteors are basically never radioactive.

There’s a global network of sensors set up by the US military and other groups to listen for nuclear explosions to enforce a nuclear test ban treaty. Some of those sensors can hear the really loud low-frequency atmospheric rumblings of a nuclear explosion from very far away.

An international team of scientists examined records from those sensors for readings that match the signatures of exploding meteors. They found 60 of them since 1990 that were up to 20 meters across.

Smaller-scale meteors fall on Earth all the time. I just saw a shooting star last week.

Last month, a meteor blew up in midair over Columbus, Ohio.

No damage. We’re lucky these things usually blow up in the sky instead of on the ground.

UPDATE: There was another meteor fireball over California a few hours ago.

America woke up this morning to a hybrid solar eclipse


Credit: Agence France-Press via BBC

People on the East Coast this morning could see the beginning of a hybrid eclipse sweeping across the Atlantic and Africa, climaxing half a world away.

A hybrid eclipse is one that starts out as one kind of eclipse but morphs into another. In this one, as the moon slides across the sun its distance means it isn’t quite big enough to completely block out the sun. There’s still a “ring of fire” shining around the moon even when it should be completely blocking the sun. They call that an annular eclipse.

As the moon’s shadow slides across the Earth, the globe’s curve brings the shadow a little closer. Later in the eclipse, it becomes big enough to give us a total eclipse, completely blocking the sun.

An eclipse where the distances involved are so delicately balanced that the Earth’s shape can change it from an annular to a total eclipse is rare. It isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime thing, it’s once in two lifetimes. We won’t see another one like this for 160 years.

What’s Einstein doing under your nose?

Public Domain art from NASA

There’s more than 2 dozen of these machines zipping around the Earth like a giant diagram of an atom, moving so fast it bends space and time.  (image source)

The link: Every day, people rely on Einstein’s time-warp equations without even thinking about it.

The story:

I’m Jay Knitig.  (It’s pronounced “Kinetic.”)  I’m a student at Wichita State University.

What I’m doing here is exploring the awesomeness of everyday life.  Our world is full of amazing things we usually don’t think about or even notice.

The wonders of science are right under your nose.  For example: Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity is abstract and hard to understand, but without realizing it you probably use it in everyday life.  It says that time and space aren’t the same for everyone: Time passes slower the faster you go, and things get smaller.

They don’t just seem smaller and slower, they actually are smaller and slower in your frame of reference.  It’s true for you but something else is true for them.  If one person is traveling at nearly light-speed and another isn’t, they could disagree about which of two events happened first, and both be right.  That’s relativity.

If you have a smartphone, it probably has GPS.  Even if you don’t, a lot of the trucks that deliver stuff to the stores you shop at use it.  GPS relies on a “constellation” of satellites that constantly zoom around the Earth at about two and a half miles per second triangulating with other satellites and your device on the ground.  At that speed (still a tiny fraction of light speed), time has actually slowed down a little for the satellites.

The GPS system people use every day employs Einstein’s time-bending equations to make up the difference.  Without Einstein’s equations, GPS couldn’t work.

Everyday life is full of awesome mind-boggling things just like that.  There are crazy, wonderful things all around us.

You have Einstein right under your nose.