Crazy Friday Science: Earth’s Magnetosphere

Direct from NASA — meet our Magnetosphere!

Ever see that movie with Nick Cage called Knowing?  Earth’s magnetosphere is the main premise of that movie, and its failure is the cause of the world’s destruction.  It’s not really that good when you realize that the aliens came to save the planet, which really turns the movie from a disaster movie (that I love) to something that has aliens saving us from ourselves.  Come on, aliens.  You really want Mitt Romney and John Boehner in your civilization?

Ha haa, I kid.  Nobody wants Mitt Romney and John Boehner in their civilizations…

From the video site:

Watch as this NASA animation shows the sun blasting out a giant explosion of magnetic energy called a coronal mass ejection and the Earth being shielded from this by its powerful magnetic field. The sun also continuously showers the Earth with light and radiation energy. Much of this solar energy is deflected by the Earth’s atmosphere or reflected back into space by clouds, ice and snow. What gets through becomes the energy that drives the Earth system, powering a remarkable planetary engine — the climate.

The unevenness of this solar heating, the cycles of day and night, and our seasons are part of what cause wind currents to circulate around the word. These winds drive surface ocean currents and in this animation you can view these currents flowing off the coast of Florida.

This animation connects for the first time a series of computer models. The view of the sun and the Earth’s magnetic field comes from the Luhmann-Friesen magnetic field model and two models that incorporated data from a real coronal mass ejection from the sun on December 2006.

NASA’s Community Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC) at Goddard Space Flight Center, a multi-agency partnership that provides information on space weather to the international research community, generated these two models. The ENLIL model is a time-dependent 3-D magnetohydrodynamic model of the heliosphere and shows changes in the particles flows and magnetic fields.
The BATS-R-US model is also a magnetohydrodynamic model of plasma from solar wind moving through the Earth’s magnetic dipole field. It uses measurements of solar wind density, velocity, temperature and magnetic field by NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite, which launched in August of 1997 and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO), two satellites that view the structure and evolution of solar storms.

I hope this finds you well, world!  Happy Friday!

Crazy Friday Science: Mini-Interview with Sonja Franke-Arnold on Rotary Photon Drag

I wrote an article about a paper I read in the journal Science a few weeks ago – the article was about Rotary Photon Drag Enhanced by A Slow Light Medium.  I got two handfuls of emails about the article, so I got in contact with one of the original paper’s editors, Sonja Franke-Arnold.  When you have questions, it’s best to go to the source!  Hi Sonja, welcome to! I’m very interested in your research, and we’ve gotten a lot of interesting response to the post I wrote on your paper, “Rotary Photon Drag Enhanced by a Slow-Light Medium.”  Can you take a moment and give us a bare-bones layperson’s look at what you and your team has discovered? What exactly has happened here in your experiment?

Sonja Franke-Arnold:  We were wondering how the world looks like through a spinning window!  About 200 years ago Augustin-Jean Fresnel predicted that light can be dragged if it travels through a moving medium. If you were to spin a window faster and faster, the image would actually be slightly rotated as the light is dragged along with the window. However, this effect is normally only some millionth of a degree and imperceptible to the eye.

We managed to increase the image rotation by a factor of about a million to an easily noticeable rotation of up to 5 degrees. This happened by slowing the light down to roughly the speed of sound during its passage through the “window” (in fact a ruby crystal). The light therefore spent a longer time in the ruby rod and could be dragged far enough to result in an observable image rotation.  Can you explain the significance of the wavelength of light you used? Why was 532nm (green) used for the experiment?

Sonja Franke-Arnold:  This wavelength excites a transition within the ruby crystal (the same that is also used in ruby lasers). Light at 532nm is absorbed and excites an atomic level with a very long (20 millisecond) lifetime. This allows to “store” the energy of the photon as an internal excitation of the rotating ruby crystal – generating slow light.  Tell me about the significance of the shape of the coherent beam in the experiment – was the shaped beam simply to observe a change in the image, or was a different purpose considered?

Sonja Franke-Arnold:  We used an elliptical light beam for two reasons, one of these is to define the image rotation angle as you suggested. The elliptical beam travelling through the spinning ruby rod however also plays an important part in making the slow light itself: At any particular position of the ruby, the elliptical light – spinning with respect to the ruby – looks like an intensity modulation. The varying intensity produces a large refractive index of about one million which slows the light down from the speed of light to roughly the speed of sound – a method pioneered by our co-worker Robert Boyd.  Could you give a few examples of uses for this discovery? How can the general populous relate to what this discovery really means for light and photonics?

Sonja Franke-Arnold:  For me, the main highlight was that we managed to observe a 200 year old puzzle – that images are indeed dragged along with rotating windows. We are now working on possible applications in quantum information processing: our image rotation preserves not only the intensity but also the phase of the light and could therefore be used to store and rotate quantum images. Access to the angle of an image could allow a new form of image coding protocol.

Thanks so much, Sonja!  Very cool paper for those of us nerds out here!

Crazy Friday Science: Man Hit in Skull During Robbery, Now He Can Draw Fractals by Hand

I always thought that ray diagrams from old books about optics and reflectors were so fractally beautiful, which is why this post relates for me.  What I mean is below, from an old text that I still use to explain reflectors:

This is a story about a guy who had to overcome some pretty stupid and mean business to discover that his brain was able to recreate fractals that were mathematically accurate – when he draws them by hand.


Meet the work of Mr. Jason Padgett, a mathematical savant.  It’s just three minutes, you have the time.  Sorry it’s a Fox News clip, at least it’s a local station:

This guy took a blow to the back of the skull which damaged his brain.  This damage caused the brain to compensate in such a way that gave Jason Padgett the ability to literally “see” math.  I mean, neurons are essentially firing light anyway, now Jason’s mind can interpret the synesthesia he’s experiencing.  That’s like being able to instantly and accurately interpret dreams.  How amazing is that?!  Someone grab this guy and start having him revolutionize battery storage and solar generation efficiency!

Check out some of Jason’s work, all obviously copyright Jason Padgett.  This stuff is gonna blow your mind – at least that’s my hope for this Crazy Friday Science post!

This first image is awesome – it’s Jason’s representation of a double-slit refraction test:


You need to go see more of these at the original post at NeuroBonkers, and then you need to go over and check out even more of Jason’s work at Jason’s art site.