May 4th, 2013
It looks as if when NASA's New Horizons probe arrives at Pluto in 2015 it's going to find weather that is both relatively simple and yet quite difficult to predict:
To establish context: Pluto, like Earth and Titan, has a nitrogen-rich atmosphere. It's a very thin atmosphere, its pressure measured in microbars. Earth's atmospheric pressure is, of course, about one bar. Titan's is 1.6 bars. Mars' is a hundred times more tenuous, less than 10 millibars. Pluto's is about a hundred times more tenuous again, less than 100 microbars. Which is really thin; but it's way thicker than the essentially airless exospheres at Mercury and the Moon. Pluto has plenty enough atmosphere for the world to have wind and weather and clouds, just like Venus and Earth and Mars and Titan.
Nitrogen in Pluto's air is in equilibrium with nitrogen frost or ice on the ground. Broadly speaking, when Pluto warms up, ice sublimates to gas, and the atmospheric pressure goes up. When Pluto cools, you get frost and a lower atmospheric pressure. Changing seasons remove ice from the summer pole, and may re-deposit it at the winter pole.
Emily Lakdawalla's post goes into much more detail about why it's so hard to predict what New Horizons will find, even taking into account what we know from probes to destinations elsewhere in the solar system. Which, as she notes, is exactly why it's necessary to send a spaceship out to Pluto – to tell us which theories are right and which are wrong (and in turn to fuel a couple of decades-worth of scientific papers figuring out whether the theories that gave the right answers did so for the right reasons.)
In the meantime, New Horizons will be heading on out to the Kuiper Belt, which promises to be interesting in an entirely different way.
February 11th, 2013
From Joe Moran: Welsh words for rain. Something of an epic, including…
bwrw – to rain
glawio – raining
dafnu – spotting
brasfrwrw – big spaced drops
sgrympian – short sharp shower
Mae hi'n brwr hen wragedd a ffyn – It's raining old women and sticks
January 8th, 2013
Australia is experiencing such a heatwave that meteorologists are having to come up with new colours for their weather maps:
SYDNEY – Extreme heat in Australia forced the government's weather bureau to upgrade its temperature scale, with new colours on the climate map to reflect new highs forecast next week.
Central Australia was shown with a purple area on the latest Bureau of Meteorology forecast map issued for next Monday, a new colour code suggesting temperatures will soar above 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).
The bureau's head of climate monitoring and prediction David Jones said the new scale, which also features a pink code for temperatures from 52 to 54 degrees, reflected the potential for old heat records to be smashed.
(Meanwhile in the UK, the Met Office is most likely devising symbols to represent how deep the flooding gets, in the event that your local river decides to burst through your flood defences and saunter up to – and under – your front door. With bonus points if they can design a symbol that simultaneously indicates both how deep the flooding is and how many years in a row flooding has affected that particular town or village.)
October 31st, 2012
Hurricane Sandy: After Landfall.
I found #48 particularly striking – surreal, even.
[Via The Browser]
July 7th, 2012
Not one, not two, but three striking images:
[Lightning Storm Formation video via Bad Astronomy]
June 25th, 2012
April 11th, 2012
A Martian dust devil. That's a 20 kilometre high Martian dust devil.
If Andrew Stanton & co ever get to make a sequel to John Carter I trust they'll have one of these make a cameo appearance.
October 18th, 2011
When lightning strikes …
Be sure to take a look at picture #19: that's not something you see every day.
[Via Gary Farber]
June 7th, 2011
January 31st, 2011
To file under "Positive effects of global climate change": a NASA scientist reports that noctilucent clouds are getting both brighter and more commonplace.
After the Sun sets on a summer evening and the sky fades to black, you may be lucky enough to see thin, wavy clouds illuminating the night, such as these seen over Billund, Denmark, on July 15, 2010. Noctilucent or polar mesospheric clouds, form at very high altitudes – between 80 and 85 kilometers (50–53 miles) – which positions them to reflect light long after the Sun has dropped below the horizon. These "night-shining" clouds are rare – rare enough that Matthew DeLand, who has been studying them for 11 years, has only seen them once in person. But the chances of seeing these elusive clouds are increasing.
DeLand, an atmospheric scientist with Science Systems and Applications Inc. and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, has found that polar mesospheric clouds are forming more frequently and becoming brighter. [...]
January 25th, 2011
Ten Obscure Factoids Concerning Albert Einstein:
10. His Cat Suffered Depression
Fond of animals, Einstein kept a housecat which tended to get depressed whenever it rained. Ernst Straus recalls him saying to the melancholy cat: "I know what's wrong, dear fellow, but I don't know how to turn it off."
January 18th, 2011
Brisbane floods: before and after.
Nice user interface for the gallery: horrifying images.
[Via Bifurcated Rivets]
January 15th, 2011
Dan Hill has posted an epic tale of life in Brisbane as the floodwater started to rise:
We spot a large advert for chocolate milk adorning a building. "Dive into chocolately fun" it says. It seems newly relevant as we see the river, looking exactly like a vast, smooth soup of milk chocolate. The Brisbane River is famously brown at the best of times, being an extremely silty bit of river, but is now browner than ever.
The landscape round here is distinctly suburban. Not quite the manicured suburban of rich Los Angeles suburbs, or even 'Erinsborough', but the slightly more raggedy Australian version, with cars parked on lawns, rampant foliage growing in and around the low, angled roofs, set against straggly gum trees and paperbarks, a most unruly genus. But it's distinctly suburban nonetheless, which adds to the surreal aspect of views like Witton Road, where that chocolately fun engulfs a training shoe, some wheelie bins, and a box of breakfast cereal, and most of the street.
The most striking observation, for me, came as he recounted a trip to stock up on sandbags:
We've run out of sandbags [...] so we have to drive out to Kedron to pick up as many as we can load in the boot of the car. Plotting routes in and around the city is relatively complex, as you're listening for road closures on the radio, looking for the blue wriggle of creeks and rivers on the map, and trying to remember the topography of the city, all those swoops of valleys.
When was the last time you had to stop and think about whether your route took you uphill or downhill as you drove around a city?
December 14th, 2010
I know this footage of the roof of the Hubert H Humphrey Metrodome collapsing in the face of a couple of feet of snow and a blizzard has been all over the web over the last 24 hours, but that's because it's disaster-movie spectacular. It's quite hypnotic: I defy anyone to watch it just once.
October 26th, 2010
Rain falls on Uluru.
The phrase "awe-inspiring" might have been invented for just this purpose.
March 13th, 2010
Apparently, the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart has a ventilation system capable of creating an artificial tornado inside the building.
What could possibly go wrong?
January 10th, 2010
The photograph of a snow-covered Britain that made the front pages of the UK press a few days ago is available at 250m per pixel resolution here. At that size it's much more impressive than it was on paper.
[Via Bad Astronomy]
December 24th, 2009
Geoff Manaugh proposes an alternative use for the Burj Dubai, just in case that whole hotels/offices/apartments business plan fails to work out.
December 19th, 2009
The Star Wars Weather Forecast is nice: the forecast it delivers when it can't find your location is hilarious.
June 29th, 2009
As the governments of Kiribati and Tuvalu contemplate the prospect that their islands are going to disappear beneath the waves of the South Pacific, they come to very different conclusions about how best to proceed:
[The government of Kiribati ...] recognises that migration schemes will eventually need to be accompanied by humanitarian options. It is keen to secure international agreements in which other governments recognise that climate change has contributed to their predicament and acknowledge "relocation" as part of their obligation to assist. The government of Tuvalu, on the other hand, does not want relocation to feature in international agreements because of its fear that if it does, industrialised countries may simply think that they can solve problems like rising sea levels by relocating affected populations rather than reducing carbon emissions, which would not bode well for the world as a whole.
The whole article is a fascinating read: strongly recommended.