Category Archives: Science

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New Theory Explains The WTC Twin Tower Collapse, Blows A Hole Into The Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theorists can eat their hats. A materials expert from Norway, investigating the collapse of the WTC twin towers, has come up with a new theory explaining why they collapsed in the spectacular fashion seen on 11th September (9/11), 2001. Christian Simensen, a material scientist in SINTEF, the largest independent research organisation in Scandinavia, has claimed that it all has to do with alumina coming in contact with sprinkling water.

Our Tribute to 9/11:
A photo clearly showing an explosion below the area where the plane hit. This has led conspiracy theorists to conclude that the entire building was booby-trapped.

Simensen pointed out that molten aluminium running down to meet some hundred liters of water would create an explosion strong enough to disintegrate the tube-in-tube structure of the towers. These could easily punch away at solid steel columns. He quoted several instances of known explosions, which resulted when hot aluminium came in contact with mildly warm water, to support his theory. He says:

From other disasters and experiments carried out by the aluminium industry, we know that reactions of this sort can lead to violent explosions.

The Powerful Alumina and Water Bomb

There was no dearth of molten aluminum, as the planes could supply as much as 30 tons of the substance at a temperature close to 15000F for an optimal oxygen-jet fuel mixture. Aluminium even at half that temperature would have done the trick.

This aluminum-water explosion scenario would explain the explosions seen in the building just before they collapsed. The explosions, unexplained till date, have provoked many conspiracy theories, which have constantly claimed that 9/11 was an internal job and that the towers were booby-trapped. This might shut them up, or maybe not.

How Powerful? Very Powerful!

Just to give you an idea of the intensity of the explosion, let me quote a controlled experiment. It was conducted by Alcoa Aluminum. They mixed 20 kilos of molten aluminium with 20 liters of water and used a small quantity of rust as catalyst. Simensen reports the catastrophic observations:

The resulting explosion blew away the entire laboratory and left a crater 30 meters in diameter.

Simensen presented his findings at an international materials meet in San Diego, California and will publish the results in the trade journal Aluminium International Today.

Yet another conspiracy theory bites the dust!

Typhoon Roke Hits Japan, Moving Towards Fukushima And Tokyo

Typhoon Roke has just hit Japan! The first few news reports and photos are just coming out.  Typhoon Roke made landfall at Hamamatsu, just south east of the industrial city of Aichi, and this is its current location. It is on course for Fukushima, the city housing the troubled Daichi nuclear power plant. Tokyo might be hit too. Roke is expected to reach Fukushima in another two days time. The wind speed is 100 mph.  

We had warned about the approach of this storm in a previous post here.

Landfall and destruction

Unlike Irene, which fizzled out as it made landfall, Roke did not die. It has caused heavy rains on the coastal region. High speed winds have caused enough destruction on their own. All operations at sea have been discontinued for the coming days.

Sea surge caused due to Typhoon Roke (Courtesy: The Telegraph, Associated Press)

Initial reports indicate that at least 4 people have died in this initial spell of rain. This number, no doubt, will rise as more is known of the storm’s devastation. Aichi has been largely evacuated. The overflowing of the river that flows over Aichi has caused widespread flooding in the city.

Photos from the first few hours:
The current position of the eye of Typhoon Roke, just south of the main island of Honshu. (Courtesy: The Weather Channel)

Fukushima and the Nuclear Worry

The biggest worry is Fukushima and the damaged nuclear power plant. Radioactive material will over flow into the sea and the surrounding areas due to the heavy downpour. Officials had begun preparations for the approach of the storm a few days back and are continuing to reinforce the defences of the nuclear power plant. Cables have been tied down and maximum effort is being put to ensure that no radioactive water leaks onto the habitable areas.

Dai’chi Plant Was Dumping Radioactive Waste Into Sea:
Measuring Radiation: How Much Radiation is Too Much? :

The Japanese Meteorological Department has advised the highest level of caution to be used due to heavy rains, strong winds and high waves. Very heavy rains are expected in the coming days with as much as 5 cm in one hour!

These are just initial reports. We’ll continue tracking the storm, as it makes its way towards Fukushima with no expected loss in intensity.

We wish our beloved Japan the very best. It has been through worse in history, and it could fight back every single time. We know that this will be no exception.

Link to a previous post:

Typhoon Roke To Hit Japan; Millions To Be Evacuated, Fukushima To Be Hit

Panic grips already-ravaged Japan as Typhoon Roke nears. The city of Aichi, one of the largest cities of Japan, has ordered an immediate evacuation of 1.1 million. The city of Nagoya was also issued notices to evacuate the city as soon as possible. Heavy rains have already started in the city. The eye of Typhoon Roke is at about 200 km (or 125 miles) southeast of southern Japan, on Tuesday, 20th September. It is moving northwards, on a collision course with the island nation. Fukushima is also on its path.

UPDATE: Typhoon Roke Strikes Japan:
The location of Roke. (Screenshot courtesy: The Weather Channel)

Typhoon Roke

Roke is moving northwards at a speed of 20 kilometers per hour and the wind speed is 200 kilometers per hour.

For Japan, which is still reeling from the devastating tsunami earlier this year, this is more bad news. A few days back, tropical storm Talas left about 100 people dead or missing. Roke is much bigger.

The worst fear is that of Fukushima. The typhoon is almost certain to hit Fukushima in another 48 hours. Restoration work is being carried out at the Dai-chi plant and, at the very least, this will delay and hinder that process. The more realistic fear is that the radioactive water will overflow into the surrounding areas and into the sea.

The storm will make landfall on September 23rd.

We will bring more updates on this tragedy and will be closely tracking the fate of Fukushima.

Children’s Book On Evolution, Not Published In The US, Gets An Award in Canada

History seems to repeat itself once in a while; it’s just that during the intervening time the weaker side might have gotten stronger. A children’s book on Evolution which could not be published in the United States, has just won an award in Canada for best science book for children. Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came To Beby Daniel Loxton has won the 2010 Lane Anderson Award  in the young reader category in the field of science. It was also a finalist for the Silver Birch Award for non-fiction, one of the most prestigious book awards. Loxton is Canadian.

Kids Can Press Webpage for the book:
The Cover of the Book

Teaching a Scientific Fact

Loxton’s book speaks of evolution and intends to explain it to children between the ages of 8 and 13. This follows a string of wonderfully accessible books for the public written by eminent evolutionary biologists, like Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth’ and Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True’. The decision to not publish this book in the US is due to the powerful Christian creationist lobby sitting in the various corridors of power. They are well-funded, politically powerful and extremely motivated, ready at a moment’s notice to take steps against anything deemed remotely anti-Christian.

No Rabbits in the Pre-Cambrian

Evolution has sparked many debates since the time of Darwin, who explained the mechanism using Natural Selection as the primary (but not only) driving force in his ‘Origin of Species’, published in 1859. It was immediately slammed by religious apologists, who believed that the Genesis Creation story was literally true. Despite Darwin not responding in kind to the insults hurled at him, evolutionary theory has continued to grow, just as scientific truth does. Darwin’s 30 years of evidence collection supporting his own hypothesis was followed by 150 more years and counting. Not one piece of evidence has disproved evolutionary theory, despite there being extremely easy ways to do so (Just find a fossil rabbit in the Precambrian, as J.B.S Haldane put it). Evolutionary theory is as grounded a theory as Newton’s gravitational theory. Creationists are worried that a book aimed for the young minds will be indoctrination rather than science training. Seriously? Indoctrination?

“We Have Fossils, We Win” Wait, we have the Genes, too

Loxton discusses the concept of fossils in his book, giving importance to the geological time scale. The fact that fossils of increasingly complicated creatures are found in increasingly new rock strata provides compelling evidence for evolution. But, evolutionary theory would still be complete were the entire fossil evidence to disappear off the face of the Earth suddenly. Loxton explains DNA, mutations and genetic structure, which tell us more about the relationship between species than fossils have ever did. Using these, he explains the meaning of ‘drug resistant’ microbes (superbugs) and why the influenza vaccine needs to be renewed every couple of years. Even the genetic family tree constructed would be impossible had evolution been false.

Being Plain Wrong

This is not new. Creationism, along with its rechristened avatar Intelligent Design’, has tried to tacitly enter school classrooms and curricula numerous times. Well funded and politically backed, creationists have been rooting for public debates’ on the science for evolution. Their motto is simple and effective – “Teach the Controversy”. A quick look at these debates reveals the fact that these are merely attempts to malign the scientists who participate in them. As Dawkins said, the very format of a debate means that two sides have some equally respectable point of view. That’s not true in this case one side can be plain wrong.

Loxton has reported receiving hate mails asking as to why his book doesn’t give equal timeto Intelligent Design. Loxton, an editor of the Skeptic magazine, has the answer ready the book is about science and not religion.

No, the Jesuit priest saying Give me the boy and I’ll give you the man’ is indoctrination. This is opening children’s minds and teaching them science.

News From CERN: Israel Become First Non-European Associate Member Of CERN

Israel became the first non-European nation to join CERN. The decision was made at a meeting in Geneva on the 16th of September, 2011. Israel will be an Associate Member’ of the CERN collaboration and will keep that status for a minimum of 24 months.

Israel has been an Observer’ State for the CERN Council since 1991. It was promoted to special Observer’ in 2009. This move was inevitable.

Rolf Heuer (left) and Israel Ambassador, Leshno-Yaar, (right) shake hands at the landmark meeting (Courtesy: CERN)

Road Forward for CERN

Recently, at the Lepton Photon Conference, 2011, held at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, India, Rolf Heuer, the Director General of CERN, outlined the road ahead for CERN. He said that there were plans to include non-European nations into CERN in his speech. The E’ in CERN would no longer stand for European’, but would come to mean Everyone’, he said.

Rolf Heuer, DG, CERN and the Israeli Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, H.E. Mr. Leshno-Yaar signed the agreement , which admitted Israel to the CERN Associate Membership. The document still needs to be ratified by the Knesset. This officially makes Israel a member for a minimum of 24 months.

Rolf Heuer said of this development:

It is a vital part of our mission to build bridges between nations. This agreement enriches us scientifically, and is an important step in that direction.

Israel had played a major role in the 1990’s, during the historic Large Electron Positron (LEP) Collider Experiment. This was an important milestone in the legacy of CERN.

More than just science

This move will gain Israel more monetary support from CERN to further its own research interests. Israel has supported Palestinian students in research by providing them funding and equipment on the same footing as Israeli students. It has sent mixed Israeli-Palestinian students at the various summer science camps organised by CERN.

The very act of systematically scouring for facts, known as science, might be the adhesive for the world that wise men have been looking for.

CERN’s Press Release:

NASA’s Giant Dead Satellite Falling Towards Earth Faster Than Earlier Thought; To Crash on 24th September

A huge defunct satellite is soon to come crashing down to the Earth in a few days time, but NASA assures everyone that no one will get hurt! The satellite in question is the Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite (UARS). The date for the crash is 24th September. The crash window, earlier announced to be between late September and early October, has now been curtailed to just three days.

What Are Your Odds Of Being Hit? And Something About a Light Show!

UPDATE: Yeah, we were exactly right. Crash happened at midnight of 23rd September. Check it out:  (Updated Article)


The Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Any Danger? Nope, says NASA

Space junk experts ruled that the chance of a piece of debris from the giant satellite hitting someone on the ground is extremely remote – about 1 in 3200. The logic is simple 75% of the Earth is covered by oceans and, thus, a drop into the ocean is the most likely scenario.

NASA expects the 5-ton UARS to break up into at least 26 fragments that will be big enough to survive the re-entry and reach the surface of the Earth. These fragments are mainly scrap metal and there is no need to worry about toxic materials. The fuel was used up in 2005, when the UARS completed its mission.

UARS was launched in 1991 to measure ozone content in the atmosphere along with other gases. It also measured wind speeds and studied how radiation and charged particles from the sun affect the upper part of the atmosphere. This mission was completed in 2005. Since then, it has been orbiting Earth, being nothing more than just a big piece of space junk.

NASA’s official UARS Page:

The Crash

The satellite is losing altitude, even as you read this. Currently it is at about 140 miles above the Earth’s surface. It is in fact falling faster than expected owing to the increased solar activity, which tends to lower the density of the atmosphere by heating it up.

According to NASA,

Re-entry is expected Sept. 23, plus or minus a day. The re-entry of UARS is advancing because of a sharp increase in solar activity since the beginning of this week.

No one knows where the satellite will fall. That will be known only two hours before the re-entry.

The crash is expected to occur between the latitudes of Northern Canada (about 62 degrees North) and south of South America (about 60 degrees South). This leaves a large region of ocean for the spacecraft to splash into. NASA is monitoring the satellite’s every move.

NASA has warned the public not to touch any debris that they might chance across, either on land or in the water. Anyone chancing upon such a piece should contact their local law enforcement agency.

Discovered: A Planet Orbiting Two Suns – A Real-Life Tatooine

It’ a great planet to get a tan on, except for the minor detail that you may not make it back. A real-life Tatooine planet, orbiting two stars, has been discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope. This strange world is 200 light years away.

Tatooine is the name of the fictional planet of the Star Wars saga, where much of the story is based.

An artist's conception of the two-star planet - a real life Tatooine. (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A Real-Life Tatooine

The discovery is stunning, since this is the first time such an object is being discovered. The planet is a giant one, slightly larger than Saturn, but made up of heavy elements. It orbits a binary star system. This marvellous system is named the Kepler-16 system, according to the Kepler Telescope’s cataloguing scheme.

This settles once and for all the question as to whether planets can really orbit binary star systems. The planet, Kepler 16b, is absolute proof that such a thing can happen.

The Star Wars team is thrilled. Visual effects supervisor at the Industrial Light and Magic firm, the company behind the Star Wars effects, John Knoll, says:

It’s possible that there’s a real Tatooine out there. Kepler 16b is unambiguous and dramatic proof that planets really do form around binaries.

How it was discovered

The planet was discovered by the so-called Transit Method. The exoplanet was discovered by noting the dimming of the stars light as the planet went in front of it. One of the stars is dimmer than the other and this too causes dimming of the brighter star’s light. Using these two effects and also knowing the radial velocity of the stars, the mass of the stars and the planet can be calculated. It is found that Kepler-16b is denser than Saturn, containing many heavy elements. It completes one orbit in 229 days. The masses of the stars, Kepler-16A and Kepler-16B, are 69% and 20% the solar mass, respectively. They orbit each other in 41 days. The three objects lie on the same plane, suggesting that they were created from the same cloud of gas and that Kepler-16b is not a captured planet.

The report came out in the journal Science’ today.

Hubble Successor: U.S. Senate Decision Pulls The James Webb Telescope Out of Deep Trouble

Some great news is coming in from Washington! The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) may just have got a new lease of life.

The mirror of the James Webb Telescope

Money and relief

We reported that the JWST was cancelled (here) due to fund cuts by the US Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee. Yesterday (14th September), the US Senate Appropriations Committee met to discuss the details of the FY2012 (Financial Year 2012) bill and, surprise and glee, the JWST was sanctioned $530 million in 2012. This is a big improvement over the $374 million it was sanctioned in the last year.

This will be music to many ears, both intimately associated with the JWST project and other space enthusiasts. Hubble has been as much a darling for the public as for professional astronomers, and it would just be a shame if it had no successor. Losing the joy of watching deep space in high resolution, never knowing what one will find is a joy unparalleled! No one wants that to end.

Save JWST Page:
The US Cuts Science Funds Due to War Cost: JWST suffers –

The continuing construction of a wonder

Recently the James Webb Space Telescope completed a crucial phase in the construction of its mirrors. It has 21 mirrors, made up of 18 segments, forming one giant 21 foot mirror. The mirrors are the best in the world. They are made up of beryllium, so that they can withstand the near absolute zero temperature of space. They are also coated with a thin film of gold so that they are good reflectors of infra-red radiation. All of this goes into making JWST at least a 100x better than Hubble ever was.

The 21 foot mirror!

Please note that JWST is not out of the woods yet! This is merely the money granted for 2012. The project will last till 2018 and there are still many hurdles ahead, especially for a project of this magnitude where the costs tend to swell up abruptly.

Apart from this grant to the JWST, NASA got a grant of $17.9 billion for the coming year. Although this is a $500 million reduction from the promised grant, it is still a hefty amount.

The champagnes must be flowing in the JWST camps.

NASA’s Leap Into Deep Space: Newly Announced Rocket Really Packs A Punch!

NASA’s new generation rocket will be the biggest and baddest rocket ever built. It is the next generation rocket meant for carrying very heavy loads of cargo into space, thanks to a giant booster. It will eventually carry astronauts into space, but that is still a long way away. It is a first step towards NASA’s endeavor for Deep Space Missions.

This announcement by NASA was made yesterday (14th September, 2011).

The Space Launch System, as conceived of by an artist (Courtesy: NASA)

The Space Launch System

The new rocket is called the Space Launch System (SLS) and it will use liquid hydrogen in liquid oxygen as fuel to get the thrust that it intends to achieve.

The entire SLS program is worth at $18 billion, with the rocket alone costing $10 billion. This works out to $3 billion per year for NASA. The rocket will take some time coming, though. The first test flights are expected in faraway 2017.

SLS will use the still use the solid rocket boosters on either side of the SLS core main rocket. The carrying capacity is slated to be 70 metric tons initially, which will eventually touch 130 metric tons with upgrades. As for the amount of thrust, the SLS will deliver about 20 percent more thrust than the Saturn V rockets, which powered the Apollo missions. It will also be taller, at 403 feet, a clear 40 feet taller than the Saturn rockets.

Future bright, present controversial

This is the first concrete announcement of the future plan of progress for NASA after its 30 year Space Shuttle Program ended a couple of months back. In this time, NASA will be using private built rockets to journey to and from the International Space Station and, maybe, even have manned flights.

As with any big project, the SLS was recently embroiled in controversy after the Wall Street Journal published the news that NASA’s estimates for the SLS was nearly $63 billion! The source of this news was found to be a leaked memo and based on hypotheses, rather than facts. The actual costs are of the tune of $20 billion.

The rockets get bigger and bigger, trying to keep up with human ambitions in space.

Cosmic Spectacle: Stunning Pic of Earth Eclipsing the Sun, As Seen By NASA Satellite from Outer Space

For the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), a Solar Eclipse is no big deal it sees two each year. Now it returns a photo of what it sees and it is stunning. But don’t trust us, take a look at it yourself! Here it is!

The Solar Eclipse as taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. (Courtesy: SDO/NASA)

The Solar Dynamics Observatory

The SDO is a satellite, which observes the Sun and monitors its activities. It is on a five-year mission. Part of the Living with a Star (LWS) Program, the goal of SDO is to study how the Sun influences the Earth. Of primary importance is the study of how the magnetic storms from the Sun influences the Earth’s atmosphere and the various communication devices that depend crucially on the ionosphere layer of the atmosphere. It also measures the seismic activity of the Sun (i.e. Sun quakes). This is a very rich field of study as the Sun, being a ball of plasma, experiences violent quakes quite frequently. The absence of solid rock on the Sun prevents attenuation of the seismic waves and the whole Sun thus moves with basically one frequency and higher harmonics during a violent Solar Quake. This can be roughly understood by the model of a balloon completely filled with water. Whole of the bulbous balloon can be set into vibration of one frequency. These form of vibrations involving just one frequency and higher harmonics are called normal modes. Monitoring these normal modes for the Sun, the SDO can give vital details about the solar density.

Eclipse Season and another photo

The present eclipse will last till 4th October, having commenced on the 11th of September. The Sun is already showing signs of violence as it builds up to the predicted peak in its activity in 2013. The last few months have seen violent solar storms, which have even knocked out communication. These will only increase and SDO’s job of monitoring these is crucial.

Just before ending, we wish to share another photo with you, taken from the Space Station. This one shows the bright Sun, blue Earth and black space. Enjoy.

The bright Sun and the blue Earth (Courtesy: NASA/ISS)

The Sun is a thing of immense beauty and fearful fury. We perceive it as an object which has given us life, but it’s really indifferent. We shall forever be in its awe.