Musings on optics, physics, astronomy, technology and life

Posts tagged ‘weather’

Football … and physics!

I’ve been meaning to write about the whole “Deflategate” thing with the New England Patriots, but I’ve been juggling a lot of other things the past couple of weeks. (See previous post about writing a feature article about a certain distinguished scientist who just died.)

Disclaimer: I am the daughter of a football fan who always rooted for the Patriots, but who passed away before the Patriots ever appeared in the Super Bowl, even that first appearance in January 1986 when the Pats got mashed to pieces by the Chicago Bears just two days before the Challenger disaster. I may not follow the NFL with my father’s intensity, but I’m a Massachusetts native to the core.

When the “scandal” first broke, I was going to write about the relationship between pressure, volume, and temperature, but then I did a Google News search on “ideal gas law” and found that a few other writers had beaten me to the PV = nRT punch. Here’s a link to one of those articles: had a more recent analysis of the situation, noting this:

Healy [a Carnegie Mellon grad student] also pointed out a few mistakes made by many scientists quoted in the press on the matter. In citing the ideal gas law, some of them failed to take into account that the air pressure inside a 12.5 psi ball is actually twice as high, because the measurement also reflects the surrounding atmosphere pushing back against the ball. When you account for that, the balls can drop by about 1 full psi from the temperature difference alone.

Additionally, the effect of moisture was often ignored. After the leather absorbed a bit of water, however, it expanded slightly, led to an additional 0.7 psi decrease in air pressure in his experiments.

This give me (hardly unbiased toward the Patriots) some assurance that the whole thing was an honest matter of game-day weather physics, not some nefarious cheat.

Ultimately, everything boils down to this: Haters are gonna hate and people like to put dynasties in the crosshairs. But the Patriots got to be a dynasty by being very, very good at what they do. Photonic Pat says: GO PATS!!! 🙂


A graphic demonstration

A couple of entries ago, I alluded to the powerful storm that knocked out electrical power to more than 1 million customers in the mid-Atlantic region. A NASA imaging satellite has captured before-and-after pictures of the region at night — and the results reveal something about light pollution, too.

NASA’s Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership spacecraft, a project based right here in my current community of Greenbelt, Maryland, imaged the region just before and after the storm last Friday night. Be sure to click on the “View Image Comparison” button — it takes you to a layered image with a “slider” so you can “blink” between the two photographs.

Granted, after the storm the Philadelphia, Delaware and Eastern Shore (Maryland) regions were covered with clouds. But you can definitely see the widespread outages all over the area west of the Chesapeake Bay. Not everyone lost power — you can see where the cities are, but they looked “dimmer” from outer space.

Of course, we use electrical power for lots of things besides lighting. However, we Americans tend not to be models of prudence when it comes to outdoor lighting, and we end up sending an awful lot of lumens up into the sky, especially when we live close to each other. I wonder how many people looked up at the night sky after the storm (maybe very late Friday night/early Saturday morning, or Saturday evening) and noticed a difference. Was there indeed a difference? I’m curious whether anyone made reasonably quantitative measurements. (Sorry, I didn’t.)

Courtesy of my Google Alert, here are a few more news article on The City Dark from, the International Business Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Chicago Sun-Times. Also, Discovery News offers tips on how to view the Milky Way — that is, if you can get far away from the murk of the cities to detect it at all.

Cool Photo #2: A Satisfying Blend of Natural and Artificial Light

(Part of an ongoing, occasional series of posts.)

Apparently a German observatory was testing out a new laser guide star system, to be installed at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, when a thunderstorm blew in. A photographer captured the laser beam appearing to melt into the lightning bolt — it almost looks as if humans are attacking nature and nature is striking back.

I’m not sure if I would have permission to reprint this photo, so I’ll just point you to the relevant post on the New Scientist website. It’s worth seeing.

The laser-and-lightning combo also reminds me of an upside-down “beam tree.” What’s a beam tree, you ask? I promise it will be the subject of a “Cool Photo” post in the future!

The plagues of August are over

August has been a whirlwind month — I burned out a crucial part of the automatic transmission of my car, requiring major repairs and scuttling a camping trip I had been planning. Then we got a rare East Coast earthquake, followed by a glancing blow from a storm named Irene.

Fortunately, the brick walls of my condo building weren’t cracked, the lights have come back on, and I got my wheels back from the transmission shop (a small-but-expert business operating since 1968). And we have turned the calendar page into September.

Lately I’ve been working on two feature articles for Optics & Photonics News, and if you’re an OSA member, you’ll be able to read them soon. The October issue will contain my article titled “Light in Flight: Optical Applications in Civilian Aviation.” The article that’s tentatively scheduled for November will have a more “spacey” theme  — I shall divulge the topic as the publication time approaches.

In other news, I now have a Facebook page that’s devoted to interesting topics in science. Most are things forwarded from other Facebook pages, but still, reposting them there is faster than switching over to WordPress. Here is the link:

Patricia Daukantas, Science Writer/Editor

If I can get 25 people to “Like” me on Facebook, I can customize the URL for the page, I believe. Anyway, please do check it out! I’ve got some optics news up there, and everything else from helium-poor stars to Ned Kelly’s bones.

Additional note about the East Coast earthquake

One of the most knowledgeable writers about last month’s earthquake — which I felt while sitting at my desk a few miles northeast of Washington, D.C. — has been Callan Bentley, a geologist who blogs for the AGU. Check out this entry for an interesting blend of hard science and personal experience.

Back in March, I visited the town of Mineral, Va., to attend an event at Louisa County Middle School. I remember Mineral as a small town, way off the interstate, so when I heard where the temblor’s epicenter was, I instantly recognized the location. I can’t seem to find a permanent link to the video of the Louisa County High School ceilings falling down (shown on CNN recently), but if I recall correctly, the middle school is right next to the high school complex. Even though I was only with an organization that was renting space in the middle school for a day, I feel a certain connection with the people of Louisa County.

Today’s smorgasbord of links

In lieu of a “real” post, I present a few interesting links.

First, the Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, Wisconsin, is hosting an exhibit called Satellites See Wisconsin, featuring weather-satellite images of the state. I’ve never been to the Badger State, but I adore views from space, and if these images were of my home region, I’d be studying them avidly to find my favorite landmarks.

Next, the National Science Foundation published an article on “Deciphering the Elements of Iconic Pottery.” What do ancient artifacts have to do with space-age materials science? More than meets the eye….

Finally, from MSNBC’s Photo Blog, I hope you enjoy this image of NGC 371 as much as I do, because you can’t have enough pretty pictures of H II regions, in my humble opinion.