DECLASSIFIED – Over 750 Nuclear Weapons Test Videos. Unreal.

Operation Teapot nuclear test photo from 1955

Lighting designers and video content people, heads up.  An amazing trove of over 750 films from the late 50’s and early 60’s have just been declassified, and scientists have put these old nuclear test films, many of them nitrate films disintegrating from sheer age, up on Youtube.

Recently, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has released a HUGE amount of nuclear project test videos for the numerous operations that the US Government conducted in order to test their weapons design, weapons damage effects, radiation fallout and effect testing, as well as many other types of tests.  It’s actually kinda genius how they conducted these tests — an “operation” would consist of a number of tests around a certain thing they wanted to test.  For example, I found in my research that the 14 tests that the US conducted in Nevada around 1955 were called Operation Teapot — 14 tests over things like damage, power, design of the actual weapon, and how it was delivered.  Each of the payloads (explosions) themselves were also named within the operation — so you have an operation that has X amount of tests — and this test video below was from the explosion in Operation Teapot aptly called TESLA, the third explosion test of Operation Teapot, on the first of March, 1955 at 1pm.  Seriously, watch this — this explosion was from high up on a steel tower — and it worked by smashing the core of the weapon from both ends of a tube, called a Linear Implosion:

Unreal. Another video angle of the TESLA payload explosion, which was meant to test the weapon’s design:

Lawrence Livermore has released an entirety of these videos. The playlist is here, on the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Youtube channel — if you work with light, I highly recommend you checking these out. This is light, all light, in its purest broken down form of photons, doing all the damage that photons can make happen. Learn light for all that it is.

One more…  This is Operation Hardtack 1, the Nutmeg explosion; Operation Hardtack 1 was a group operation that included surface tests and barge tests, at the famous Bikini Atoll location.  This was a 25.1 kiloton burst from a barge above a huge underground crater made from previous test detonations.  Watch the power of this monster we were unleashing:

And of course the entire playlist, totally worth a scroll:

Link hat tips

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Youtube channel

Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Films youtube playlist (also seen above here)

Funker530 — one of my favorite military blogs, pointed this out

Wikiwand — just an excellent information trove


GoPro Just Released the HD Footage of Felix Baumgartner’s Space Jump

I don’t know about you, but I was f*cking GLUED to the Space Jump when it happened back on October 14, 2012 — Actually, Igor Fernando de Oliveira Da Silva and I from CAST (I love his long ass name) were in town doing LDI 2012!  That was the big Blacktrax demo room year.

This guy was jumping out of the plane right as we were getting into the cab at the airport.  This was so freaking cool, and watching this HD footage of it just totally made my morning.  GAH, the nuts on this guy!

Honestly though…  if you wanna read an even cooler, ballsier, more selfless story, read about the big voice you hear on the recordings…  that guy is Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger of the United States Air Force.  Felix Baumgartner’s team hired Joe to help Felix do the deed.  Joe did the deed first, jumping from some crazy 102,800 feet above the Earth’s surface.  Felix’s jump beat Joe’s record, but Joe’s record stood since the damned thing was set.  How cool.


Colonel Kittinger’s Record Setting Space Jump

An interesting side note on the initial record setting jump by Kittinger — Colonel Kittinger’s final attempt at the space jump almost failed because somewhere in the 40,000-50,000 foot ascention range, a hole in Joe’s glove caused his hand to basically double in size.  At that time, he decided that the mission’s data and all of the work that he and the team had put into this was more important to see through than the pain he had in his hand.  Now how bad ass is that???  “Pardon me, I’m Joe Kittinger, and I need a truck for my nuts!”

Felix’s HD footage from GoPro of the record breaking space jump:

Now, also completely worthy (and someone added some neat music in the background) — Colonel Joe’s jump back in the day:

Ooooh, and an even cooler video on Project Excelsior, the project classification name of Joe’s jump:

Jumping From Space from Spacecraft Films on Vimeo.

Shuttle Challenger Exploded Thirty Years Ago Today

Today is the 30th anniversary of the failed STS-51-L mission of the Challenger.  It was her tenth mission.  All seven crew members were killed in the failure — this wasn’t quite our finest hour, as America and the world discovered during the Rogers Commission report, a huge part in thanks to the hard-ass stylings of Dr. Richard Feynman.

Commander Francis R. Scobee – Second spaceflight
Pilot Michael J. Smith – First spaceflight
Mission Specialist 1 Ellison S. Onizuka – Second spaceflight
Mission Specialist 2 Judith A. Resnik – Second spaceflight
Mission Specialist 3 Ronald E. McNair – Second spaceflight
Payload Specialist 1 Gregory B. Jarvis – First spaceflight
Payload Specialist 2 S. Christa McAuliffe – First spaceflight

Video of the incident — many of us reading this probably sat at a grade school library table and watched this happen.  I remember I sure did.  Mrs. Wilton was so upset, I will never forget that for some reason.



Here’s some pretty interesting video, this is NASA mission video of the Challenger launch and failure:

Some interesting facts that many people never knew about this mission:

  • Challenger lasted 73 seconds off the pad that day.
  • Four of the astronauts enabled their own secondary oxygen packs, which can only be done manually.  This was discovered after the capsule was recovered; that means that they were not killed by the explosion.  It is likely they were alive, but decidedly unconscious when they hit the water.  If the explosion had not caused their deaths, NASA believes that the water impact would have.
  • As part of the Rogers Commission, famed scientist and mathematical bad ass (and 1965 Nobel Prize winner in Theoretical Physics) Richard Feynman deduced that there was a failure of the rubber o-rings sealing the rocket booster motors; on the day that the Challenger exploded, aerospace/military/chemical engineering contractor Morton Thiokol had only certified the o-rings for 53 degrees Fahrenheit, and the launch was predicted to have the o-ring ambient temperature at 29 degrees Fahrenheit.  The rubber o-ring seal on the solid rocket boosters literally were pinched and cold and didn’t bounce back like a normal piece of malleable rubber would.  This was the overall cause of the failure.  Dr. Feynman actually demonstrated this on television live in a glass of ice water and a c-clamp, funny enough.  The scientific pwnage that took place during that press conference was actually pretty fantastic, because the NASA managers involved had been playing and hiding things during the investigation:
  • The o-ring failure actually killed the Challenger crew twice in a way, as there was evidence between 0.678 seconds and 2.30 seconds on the mission clock that the o-rings had a few points of failure noticed in the re-observation of the video during investigation.  Instantly though, these holes were sealed back up with aluminum oxides as the fuel burned — these oxides are of a very glassy, fragile nature, and in an almost fate-sealed string of events, the worst wind-shear NASA had ever experienced on a mission also happened that morning, slapping the SRBs around so hard that the oxides plugging those holes just became no more, allowing 5,000-degree gasses to escape at the seal point, melting the strut into the fuel tank, and destroying the vehicle.
  • You know how big that gap was in the rubber o-ring seal that caused the failure?  0.004four one thousandths of an inch.  Essentially what happened was that the seal location was not a round shape, and since the air was so cold the night before and day of the launch that the rubber seals compressed and stayed that shape.  NASA was counting on the seals to be springy, malleable, able to withstand the pressure.

If you’ve never read any of the Rogers Commission Report on the Challenger disaster and you are so inclined, I highly recommend it — the researcher/science nerd part of me totally digs on that stuff.  Here, for example, is the Condition’s Cause Findings from the Commission, published here, at NASA — this particular page is Chapter 4Chapter 5 is even more scathing, rightfully so.


The consensus of the Commission and participating investigative agencies is that the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger was caused by a failure in the joint between the two lower segments of the right Solid Rocket Motor. The specific failure was the destruction of the seals that are intended to prevent hot gases from leaking through the joint during the propellant burn of the rocket motor. The evidence assembled by the Commission indicates that no other element of the Space Shuttle system contributed to this failure.

In arriving at this conclusion, the Commission reviewed in detail all available data, reports and records; directed and supervised numerous tests, analyses, and experiments by NASA, civilian contractors and various government agencies; and then developed specific scenarios and the range of most probable causative factors.


1. A combustion gas leak through the right Solid Rocket Motor aft field joint initiated at or shortly after ignition eventually weakened and/or penetrated the External Tank initiating vehicle structural breakup and loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger during STS Mission 51-L.

2. The evidence shows that no other STS 51-L Shuttle element or the payload contributed to the causes of the right Solid Rocket Motor aft field joint combustion gas leak. Sabotage was not a factor.

3. Evidence examined in the review of Space Shuttle material, manufacturing, assembly, quality control, and processing on non-conformance reports found no flight hardware shipped to the launch
site that fell outside the limits of Shuttle design specifications.

4. Launch site activities, including assembly and preparation, from receipt of the flight hardware to launch were generally in accord with established procedures and were not considered a factor in the accident.

5. Launch site records show that the right Solid Rocket Motor segments were assembled using approved procedures. However, significant out-of-round conditions existed between the two segments joined at the right Solid Rocket Motor aft field joint (the joint that failed).

a. While the assembly conditions had the potential of generating debris or damage that could cause O-ring seal failure, these were not considered factors in this accident.
b. The diameters of the two Solid Rocket Motor segments had grown as a result of prior use.
c. The growth resulted in a condition at time of launch wherein the maximum gap between the tang and clevis in the region of the joint’s O-rings was no more than .008 inches and the average
gap would have been .004 inches.
d. With a tang-to-clevis gap of .004 inches, the O-ring in the joint would be compressed to the extent that it pressed against all three walls of the O-ring retaining channel.
e. The lack of roundness of the segments was such that the smallest tang-to-clevis clearance occurred at the initiation of the assembly operation at positions of 120 degrees and 300 degrees around the circumference of the aft field joint. It is uncertain if this tight condition and the resultant greater compression of the O-rings at these points persisted to the time of launch.

6. The ambient temperature at time of launch was 36 degrees Fahrenheit, or 15 degrees lower than the next coldest previous launch.

a. The temperature at the 300 degree position on the right aft field joint circumference was estimated to be 28 degrees plus or minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit. This was the coldest point on the joint.
b. Temperature on the opposite side of the right Solid Rocket Booster facing the sun was estimated to be about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

7. Other joints on the left and right Solid Rocket Boosters experienced similar combinations of tang-to-clevis gap clearance and temperature. It is not known whether these joints experienced distress during the flight of 51-L.

8. Experimental evidence indicates that due to several effects associated with the Solid Rocket Booster’s ignition and combustion pressures and associated vehicle motions, the gap between the tang and the clevis will open as much as .017 and .029 inches at the secondary and primary O-rings, respectively.

a. This opening begins upon ignition, reaches its maximum rate of opening at about 200-300 milliseconds, and is essentially complete at 600 milliseconds when the Solid Rocket Booster reaches its
operating pressure.
b. The External Tank and right Solid Rocket Booster are connected by several struts, including one at 310 degrees near the aft field joint that failed. This strut’s effect on the joint dynamics is to enhance the opening of the gap between the tang and clevis by about 10-20 percent in the region of 300-320 degrees.

9. O-ring resiliency is directly related to its temperature.

a. A warm O-ring that has been compressed will return to its original shape much quicker than will a cold O-ring when compression is relieved. Thus, a warm O-ring will follow the opening of the
tang-to-clevis gap. A cold O-ring may not.
b. A compressed O-ring at 75 degrees Fahrenheit is five times more responsive in returning to its uncompressed shape than a cold O-ring at 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
c. As a result it is probable that the O-rings in the right solid booster aft field joint were not following the opening of the gap between the tang and cleavis at time of ignition.

10. Experiments indicate that the primary mechanism that actuates O-ring sealing is the application of gas pressure to the upstream (high-pressure) side of the O-ring as it sits in its groove or

a. For this pressure actuation to work most effectively, a space between the O-ring and its upstream channel wall should exist during pressurization.
b. A tang-to-clevis gap of .004 inches, as probably existed in the failed joint, would have initially compressed the O-ring to the degreethat no clearance existed between the O-ring and its upstream channel wall and the other two surfaces of the channel.
c. At the cold launch temperature experienced, the O-ring would be very slow in returning to its normal rounded shape. It would not follow the opening of the tang-to-clevis gap. It would remain in its compressed position in the O-ring channel and not provide a space between itself and the upstream channel wall. Thus, it is probable the O-ring would not be pressure actuated to seal the gap in time to preclude joint failure due to blow-by and erosion from hot combustion gases.

11. The sealing characteristics of the Solid Rocket Booster O-rings are enhanced by timely application of motor pressure.

a. Ideally, motor pressure should be applied to actuate the O-ring and seal the joint prior to significant opening of the tang-to-clevis gap (100 to 200 milliseconds after motor ignition).
b. Experimental evidence indicates that temperature, humidity and other variables in the putty compound used to seal the joint can delay pressure application to the joint by 500 milliseconds or more.
c. This delay in pressure could be a factor in initial joint failure.

12. Of 21 launches with ambient temperatures of 61 degrees Fahrenheit or greater, only four showed signs of O-ring thermal distress; i.e., erosion or blow-by and soot. Each of the launches below 61 degrees Fahrenheit resulted in one or more O-rings showing signs of thermal distress.

a. Of these improper joint sealing actions, one-half occurred in the aft field joints, 20 percent in the center field joints, and 30 percent in the upper field joints. The division between left and right Solid Rocket Boosters was roughly equal.
b. Each instance of thermal O-ring distress was accompanied by a leak path in the insulating putty. The leak path connects the rocket’s combustion chamber with the O-ring region of the tang and clevis. Joints that actuated without incident may also have had these leak paths.

13. There is a possibility that there was water in the clevis of the STS 51-L joints since water was found in the STS-9 joints during a destack operation after exposure to less rainfall than STS 51-L. At
time of launch, it was cold enough that water present in the joint would freeze. Tests show that ice in the joint can inhibit proper secondary seal performance.

14. A series of puffs of smoke were observed emanating from the 51-L aft field joint area of the right Solid Rocket Booster between 0.678 and 2.500 seconds after ignition of the Shuttle Solid Rocket Motors.

a. The puffs appeared at a frequency of about three puffs per second. This roughly matches the natural structural frequency of the solids at lift off and is reflected in slight cyclic changes of the tang-to-clevis gap opening.
b. The puffs were seen to be moving upward along the surface of the booster above the aft field joint.
c. The smoke was estimated to originate at a circumferential position of between 270 degrees and 315 degrees on the booster aft field joint, emerging from the top of the joint.

15. This smoke from the aft field joint at Shuttle lift off was the first sign of the failure of the Solid Rocket Booster O-ring seals on STS 51-L.

16. The leak was again clearly evident as a flame at approximately 58 seconds into the flight. It is possible that the leak was continuous but unobservable or non-existent in portions of the intervening
period. It is possible in either case that thrust vectoring and normal vehicle response to wind shear as well as planned maneuvers reinitiated or magnified the leakage from a degraded seal in the
period preceding the observed flames. The estimated position of the flame, centered at a point 307 degrees around the circumference of the aft field joint, was confirmed by the recovery of two fragments of the right Solid Rocket Booster.

a. A small leak could have been present that may have grown to breach the joint in flame at a time on the order of 58 to 60 seconds after lift off.
b. Alternatively, the O-ring gap could have been resealed by deposition of a fragile buildup of aluminum oxide and other combustion debris. This resealed section of the joint could have been disturbed by thrust vectoring, Space Shuttle motion and flight loads inducted by changing winds aloft.
c. The winds aloft caused control actions in the time interval of 32 seconds to 62 seconds into the flight that were typical of the largest values experienced on previous missions.


In view of the findings, the Commission concluded that the cause of the Challenger accident was the failure of the pressure seal in the aft field joint of the right Solid Rocket Booster. The failure was
due to a faulty design unacceptably sensitive to a number of factors. These factors were the effects of temperature, physical dimensions, the character of materials, the effects of reusability, processing and the reaction of the joint to dynamic loading.

(Source: The Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident Report, June 6, 1986 p.40, p.70-81)

Rest in peace, you seven steely-eyed missile people.

Pre- and Post-Accident Designs for the Solid Rocket Booster Seals

Pre- and Post-Accident Designs for the Solid Rocket Booster Seals

Link thanks:

This link right here, a f*cking nerd’s wet dream:


The Light of War – Helicopter Blades, Dust, and Static Electricity Make St. Elmo’s Fire

Some people call the magical light that emanates from helicopter rotor blades that are changing pitch at night in the desert “fairy dust.”  Others call it “St. Elmo’s Fire.”  War correspondent Michael Yon called it the “Kopp-Etchells Effect,” for two soldiers that died in the battleground of Afghanistan — Benjamin Kopp and Joseph Etchells.

From an article at NPR, written by Robert Krulwich:

Corporal Benjamin Kopp was shot in 2009 during a battle in Afghanistan and died of his wounds just over a week later. He was 21. He’d had already served for three tours and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Because he had put himself down as an organ donor, his heart was quickly transplanted into a 57-year-old Illinois woman named Judy Meikle, who told The Washington Post, “How can you have a better heart? I have the heart of a 21-year-old Army Ranger war hero beating in me.” Other organs went to other recipients.

Joseph Etchells was also a corporal, but in a different army. He was a fusilier in a British regiment, also assigned to Helmand Province. He was 22 and died the same week as Benjamin Kopp. This was also his third tour of duty, and he was killed by a roadside bomb.

Photographer Michael Yon attended his battlefield funeral, a small affair where fellow soldiers removed the colorful feathers they wear in their caps and tossed them onto the Helmand River, “the same waters where ‘Etch’ used to swim after missions.” At the ceremony, Michael was told that Cpl. Etchells had wanted to be cremated, “then loaded into a firework and launched over the park where he used to play as a kid.” As nutty as it sounds, his friends say that was his choice. I checked the Manchester papers. There was a funeral. Thousands gathered at the church, so many they had to set up speakers for those who couldn’t fit in. But there were no “fireworks” …

Even in war, there is light.  Every time I write about something having to do with war and death, I am always reminded of a guy who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, two weeks before he was finished with his tour.  I met him working a trade show at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, TX for a military company event.  What a cool dude you were, brother.

This one’s for you.

These images below are amazing when viewed at full size.  Just click on each one in the gallery below.







We Can’t Stop Asteroids from Smashing Humanity into Powder


With a headline like that, one would think this would be bigger news than anything Kim Kardashian might produce, even trumping what color baby bib little cranky monkey Justin Bieber might be wearing today.  But, you’d be wrong.

Here’s the fact of the matter:  all over Earth right now – scientific organizations, special lobbying groups, NASA, the European Space Agency, et al – are telling lawmakers and news outlets that we need to get a collective effort going to solve the problem of hey, what happens if a global killer asteroid smashes into Earth?  Can we protect ourselves?  After all, apparently it only takes one medium-sized asteroid, something around a kilometer in width.  You saw Armageddon, right?  Billy Bob Thornton’s character makes it perfectly clear what would happen if that big rock in the movie slammed into the ocean – and this is just the movies:

asteroids-coming-again copy

“Even if the asteroid itself hits the water, it’s still hitting land. It’ll flash boil millions of gallons of sea water and slam into the ocean bedrock. Now if it’s a Pacific Ocean impact, which we think it will be, it’ll create a tidal wave 3 miles high, travel at a thousand miles an hour, covering California, and washing up in Denver. Japan’s gone, Australia’s wiped out. Half the world’s population will be incinerated by the heat blast, and the rest will freeze to death from nuclear winter.”

Now, that’s just lines from a movie.  But even for a movie that’s pretty hardcore!  Can you imagine it?  I’ve had some bad days, but that sounds horrible.  Thank goodness it’s only the movies.  Are we actually supposed to entrust Billy Bob Thornton with our astrophysical safety, he was also the “french fried pertaters” guy in Slingblade?!  Of COURSE we are!

asteroids-coming copy

Back in the real world that I live in, I ask myself exactly what might happen if a thousand thousand tons of rock slams into the bedrock of Earth.  In that other movie about asteroids with Morgan Freeman (It’s called Deep Impact, and I hear that many a porno has been modeled after the title), astronauts were able to not exactly save Earth, but they were able to pulverize the asteroid enough so that only a smaller chunk of it smashed into Earth.  Still, that smaller chunk made the seas rise a few hundred feet, created a big tidal wave that made the Atlantic wash up into Tennessee and killing a few hundred million Americans.  But that was still just a movie!  Right?!

Asteroid 433 Eros, a planetary killer discovered in 1898, has a dimension of 34.4 kilometers by 11.2km by 16.84 km.  It's the size of a large midwestern city.

Asteroid 433 Eros, a planetary killer discovered in 1898, has a dimension of 34.4 kilometers by 11.2km by 16.84 km. It’s the size of a large midwestern city.  433 Eros is a potential Earth impactor.

What Do Earth’s Scientists Think?

Scientists are all over the freaking place about this very real issue right now.  Some people are deeply concerned, others think that there’s such a little chance that it would ever happen:

“Right now, based on our survey, we see no national imperative for this nation to be upset or excited about impending doom.”  – James L. Green, Director of NASA‘s Planetary Science Division, on Discovery

Perhaps the most daunting answer to come from the House Science Committee hearing with John Holdren was this:  “An asteroid of that size, a kilometer or bigger, could plausibly end civilization… from the information we have, we don’t know of an asteroid that will threaten the population of the United States.  But if it’s coming in three weeks, pray.”   – White House Science Advisor John Holdren

University of California Santa Barbara physicist Philip M. Lubin thinks we should start small on smaller asteroids first – ones we know are coming:  ““We need to be proactive rather than reactive in dealing with threats. Duck and cover is not an option. We can actually do something about it, and it’s credible to do something. So let’s begin along this path. Let’s start small and work our way up. There is no need to break the bank to start.”

Scientists don’t disagree that something needs to be done.  What they do differ on is how it needs to be done.  Some scientists feel that some sort of projectile, either nuclear or otherwise, should be thrown at the asteroid somehow.  Some think that attaching some kind of “solar sail” or assisted rocket takeoff device on a grand scale would be the best bet.  One scientist even suggests painting the asteroid in order to change the amount of light it reflects.  Others, seriously yet still funny enough, make jokes in Senate hearings about “calling Bruce Willis,” while actual scientists theorize about possibly making a huge laser and reflector work as our asteroid goalkeeper.  Lest we not forget that Bruce Willis was not only an asteroid killer in the movies, but also Died hard a whole bunch of times.  Like, a TON of times.  How many times can you actually die hard?  Maybe he can just tell the asteroid to go f*ck itself while shooting at it.  Since John Holdren pretty much summed our Earth-asteroid defense systems with “if it [an asteroid] comes in the next three weeks, pray,” then maybe some fictional help might not hurt!


A few of these ideas that scientists are kicking around still in theory format:

Yarkovsky Paint

The long and the short of this idea is to change the amount of light that the asteroid emits in IR photos, eventually causing a miniscule “rocket thrust” in one direction.  The article at Wired explains this fantastically:

The Yarkovsky effect works by changing the amount of light an asteroid gives off. As an asteroid rotates, the surface that has been heated by the sun moves away to face space and radiates infrared photons. Though massless, these photons carry away small bits of momentum from the asteroid, essentially generating a tiny rocket thrust in one direction. The effect is very slight but over time can noticeably change an asteroid’s orbit. By making an asteroid lighter or darker, and therefore changing the amount of radiation it absorbs, we could turn up or down this miniscule rocket thrust. It’s a long haul-technique, requiring years, decades, or even centuries of advanced notice to alter an asteroid’s trajectory.

Will it work?  I have no idea.  I don’t think we have “decades or even centuries” to wait it out, though!

DE-STAR, or Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids and exploRation


DE-STAR is basically a re-directing and re-purposing of the Sun’s energy into little laser blasts that might be able to either re-direct or completely vaporize an approaching asteroid over the course of a year.  From a post at Popular Science:

Described as a “directed energy orbital defense system,” DE-STAR is designed to harness some of the power of the sun and convert it into a massive phased array of laser beams that can destroy, or evaporate, asteroids posing a potential threat to Earth. It is equally capable of changing an asteroid’s orbit –– deflecting it away from Earth, or into the Sun –– and may also prove to be a valuable tool for assessing an asteroid’s composition, enabling lucrative, rare-element mining. And it’s entirely based on current essential technology.

The DE-STAR team also claims that their system might also be able to push a spacecraft at the speed of light into the unknown.  More on that in another post.

Surfing An Asteroid On Solar Sails


Solar Sails are something that have taken on validity in this race to figure out how to mitigate the asteroid threat.  This would basically consist of a huge solar sail deployed in space, making good use of the ever-present solar pressure that is exerted on objects in space.  From How Stuff Works:

The reflective nature of the sails is key. As photons (light particles) bounce off the reflective material, they gently push the sail along by transferring momentum to the sail. Because there are so many photons from sunlight, and because they are constantly hitting the sail, there is a constant pressure (force per unit area) exerted on the sail that produces a constant acceleration of the spacecraft. Although the force on a solar-sail spacecraft is less than a conventional chemical rocket, such as the space shuttle, the solar-sail spacecraft constantly accelerates over time and achieves a greater velocity.

Interesting.  The principle of solar pressure also kind of tickles me in that special place.  But again, another post for another time.

Potential Impact of Potential Impacts

Watch this – the recent asteroid that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, which exploded around 40 miles above the town with the force of 300 Hiroshimas, was 55 feet across, and injured over 1500 people.  This was in a sparsely populated area, so imagine the impact of an asteroid exploding over San Francisco or New York City:

Also, if you have some time (or want to skip through to where John Holdren tells the Senate Committee that if an asteroid comes to NYC in the next three weeks that we can only pray), check out John Holdren’s Senate Hearing en toto.  It’s actually pretty interesting right off the bat — it might also be interesting to hear the almost comical questions and answers from our elected legislators to these scientists presenting scary information to Congress, not to mention the entire House Science Committee turning every answer of these scientists into how much it would cost and all of the interrupting that these scientists had to endure:

Thanks to:
Mother Jones
Daily Mail
Red Orbit
Space Politics
The Register
NBC’s Cosmic Log
Wikipedia on Asteroid Impact Avoidance

Meet ADAM: A Laser System that Protects Our Troops from Bad Guy Missiles


I can’t get over how crazy the development of military laser technology has been lately.  There’s been a real push to create a competitor for projectile weapons.  For example, earlier this week I talked about the new German Phalanx-style laser weapon that kills drones and little metal balls from the sky.  At one time before it was abandoned, the US Air Force was working on something called the YAL-1, which was a 747 mounted with a chemical laser that was designed to kill nuclear ICBMs from a long, long distance.  I thought it was actually pretty cool, but I can understand why it was scrapped; my assumption is that they’re holding out for a more multi-burst solid state laser instead of a single-shot, highly dangerous chemical laser.


I have to say that at one point in my life I was pretty frustrated that more money goes into military laser tech than goes into scientific research and development, or even medical laser development.  However, what I realized was that as this technology becomes more readily available via all of this defense money solving big problems up front, less than death uses and systems will “come out in the wash,” as an old colleague usually says.  Just like anything else that we steal from military technology (cable bundling, for example), at some point laser technology from military development will make its way to the civilian and private sector development.

One such system is something that Lockheed Martin calls ADAMArea Defense Anti-Munitions.  This system is designed to be towed into a hostile area where the US has set up a Forward Operating Base, or FOB, in enemy territory.  While our guys sleep and stand guard and all of those things, ADAM is watching over the area, blanketing it with radar that’s watching out for munitions coming into the area from enemy forces — mortar shells, shoulder-fired missiles, etcetera — and destroys the incoming round with a laser.  Check this out, this is a prototype test of a rocket being fired at the ADAM:

Ok, that is insane.  So right now, a system exists that can detect incoming enemy rockets and shells to a base.  Can you imagine what would happen if you were to deploy a handful of these systems across a battlefield?  That sounds like it would be a pretty awesome sight.  From a press release at Lockheed Martin’s website, they’ve also tested the ADAM against drones (UAVs, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and small caliber shells:

Since August, the ADAM system has successfully engaged an unmanned aerial system target in flight at a range of approximately 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) and has destroyed four small-caliber rocket targets in simulated flight at a range of approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles).

“Lockheed Martin has invested in the development of the ADAM system because of the enormous potential effectiveness of high-energy lasers,” said Doug Graham, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of advanced programs for Strategic and Missile Defense Systems. “We are committed to supporting the transition of directed energy’s revolutionary capability to the war fighter.”

Designed for short-range defense of high-value areas including forward operating bases, the ADAM system’s 10-kilowatt fiber laser is engineered to destroy targets up to 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away. The system precisely tracks targets in cluttered optical environments and has a tracking range of more than 5 kilometers (3.1 miles). The system has been designed to be flexible enough to operate against rockets as a standalone system and to engage unmanned aerial systems with an external radar cue. The ADAM system’s modular architecture combines commercial hardware components with the company’s proprietary software in an integrated and easy-to-operate system.

Here’s a video of the test they’re talking about, where ADAM shoots down a drone:

I for one am pretty excited to see what happens next.  This could lead to some amazing advancements in light.


Thanks Business Insider, Army Recognition!

In Germany, It’s the Drones that Get Struck – BY A LASER

When I was a kid, I was always so fascinated with my father’s work.  My Dad was in the Navy, a Senior Chief Machinist’s Mate (MMCS), and he always has great stories about his days aboard a ship at sea bound for war.  When you’re a kid, the strangest things fascinate you.  I was always so very fascinated by Dad’s stories of the different systems at work on a Navy ship.  My Dad was the guy who ran the Engine Rooms.  I grew up reading about super-hot steam, hydraulic pressure that would squeeze an elephant into a thin film, and obviously Navy weapons.  If you don’t think about what military weapons systems are really made for, they’re really unbelievably cool.


One of those technologies was a weapons system called the Phalanx CIWS, or Close-In Weapons System.  The Phalanx was made by General Dynamics back in the late 1970’s, with contractor Raytheon taking a contract to improve the weapons system a few years ago.  Apparently this system has come a long way — I asked my father to describe what his experience was with the weapon since he was on a few shops that had it in its infancy back in the 1970’s:

“The gun sounded like a large weed eater/lawn mower; extremely loud, running past its governor, with lotsa fire and smoke.  Also, when locked on a target it was deadly.”  I asked Dad to clarify what “running past its governor” meant, and he said that the gun would overspeed to the point where you thought it might come apart.  Sounds like it’s come a long way!

What these are used for is generally for protecting the ship of anything that gets past the outer defensive systems on a ship — typically high speed flying missiles.  So, just in case you need a little more explanation, the Phalanx is used to shoot missiles out of the sky that have been fired at the ship.  What makes all of this relevant is what exactly this thing is made of, and a new upgrade that the Germans have developed.  First and foremost, check this out — it’s a video of the Phalanx CIWS firing at a target.  Keep in mind that we’re talking about a weapon that fires 4,500 rounds per minute at a target, tracking it with unbelievable speed and accuracy.  It’s a Gatling Gun that fires 20mm depleted Uranium bullets.  Watch this:

This particular Phalanx system is mounted on the ground:

This one, however, is mounted on a ship:

Now you know all of this hullaballoo that we’ve been hearing on Drones and Drone Strikes lately?  I mean, it has been all over every freaking television and news channel from here to Al Jazeera.  Imagine one of those Phalanx CIWS systems now with a 50kW laser attached to it instead of the 4,500 bullets per minute that it fires.  How do you think that would be in the movies?  Pretty cool?

No need to wait to see it in the movies.  That sh*t is already here, and guess who invented it?  Germany.  Check this video out of a laser-mounted Phalanx-type system shooting down a drone from over 2km:

The German company who made this amazing thing, called Rheinmetall Defence, has created quite the science fiction scenario – a laser that can shoot drones out of the sky from over 3km away.  If that isn’t impressive enough, the German-made system went for broke on their big impressive grand finale, shooting and destroying an 80mm steel ball traveling at 50 meters per second.  That’s quite smaller than a drone and about 50 times as fast.  But, no match for this German death ray machine!


You might notice two ports on the front of that mammoth thing — it’s a 50kW laser that is run into a combiner that takes a 20kW beam and a 30kW beam and combines them to a 50kW beam!  It’s mounted on a platform similar to that of the Phalanx, and it’s got radar that rivals that of the Phalanx – in short, it is one bad mothertrucker.  The Germans also have plans in the works to produce a 60kW and a 100kW model of the mega-laser that includes a 35mm Gatling cannon as well as the big drone-killing laser.  Overkill?  Who knows.  When it comes to keeping our American sailors safe, I’m sure that most families will say that both is the best way to go.  Even now on some ships the Phalanx is tied to a missile system called a RAM missile, or Rolling Airframe Missile.  The RAM missile is a comglomeration between a Sidewinder and a Stinger missile — you’ve probably heard of these in the movies, right?

From a post at Singularity Hub:

The system isn’t actually a single laser but two laser modules mounted onto Revolver Gun air defense turrets made by Oerlikon and attached to additional power modules. The laser modules are 30 kW and 20 kW, but a Beam Superimposing Technology (BST) combines two lasers to focus in a “superimposed, cumulative manner” that wreaks havoc on its targets.

First, the system sliced through a 15mm- (~0.6 inches) thick steel girder from a kilometer away. Then, from a distance of two kilometers, it shot down a handful of drones as they nose-dived toward the surface at 50 meters per second. The laser’s radar, a widely used system called Skyguard, was capable of tracking the drones through their descent up to three kilometers away.

After successfully testing their 50kW laser system, Rheinmetall Defense has its sights on a truck-mounted mobile system with 100kW of metal-slicing power.

For its finale, the laser’s ability to track a very small ballistic target was demonstrated. It honed in on and destroyed a steel ball 82mm in diameter traveling at 50 meters per second. The small ball was meant to simulate an incoming mortar round. Rheinmetall says their laser will reduce the time required for C-RAM – Counter Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar measures – to a matter of seconds, even in adverse weather conditions. In fact, weather at the Ochsenboden Proving Ground in Switzerland where the demonstration was carried out included ice, rain, snow, and extremely bright sunlight – far from ideal.


Thanks to Singularity Hub, Motherboard, and DailyTech!

Germany Developing Laser Armed Drones for Farming and Weed Killing


As unfunny as a subject this is, this is a really ironic story, too.  Right now, the scientists and researchers at the Leibniz University and a laser center in Hanover are currently working on an alternative to herbicides (and I assume pesticides?) that comes in a very strange form as they see it:  a drone equipped with a CO2 laser system.  I mean, this is no YAL-1 or anything, but still — using light to kill weeds!


This is an awesome idea, right?  A laser equipped drone, complete with some sort of artificial intelligence (AI) that allows it to distinguish good plants from bad species.  There is a lot of interest in this in Germany as well; in an article at DW:

Another possibility is drones, or small robotic planes that would fly over the fields. These could also fight weeds near protected waters, where herbicides are not allowed to be used. According to Marx, the German railway service has expressed interest in the project as well.

“30 percent of the railway tracks are in water protection areas where you can’t use herbicides anyway.”

Crazy.  So the Germans are working on a flying weed death machine that incorporates a limited-fire carbon dioxide laser and has intelligence on board that will allow it to distinguish between different types of pests or pest plant species and eliminate them using the on-board laser.  Trials for this machine are currently at least five years out, according to the article at DW.

Along with a host of other ethics and scare-tactic behaviors that will rival the anti-Obama ads on Facebook, there is a main issue here that people will whine over — and I mean such loud whining that it has the potential to change the physical properties of things, like a microwave oven:

If we let drones fly around, aren’t they going to float around and kill our children?!?!

Look – I know it, you know it, George W. Bush and Obama know it, and Fox News knows it:  Drones programmed for weed killing are not going to drive around with abandon slaughtering families and killing schoolchildren.  BUT:  like anything else, there will be accidents that are the cause of human error, and the religious Right will call the accidents “an act of God.”  However, does this happen every time a combine kills a cousin?  No.  But somehow the Devil will get inside of the machines, or perhaps even the machines developed their own intelligence and chose to slaughter innocent men, women, children, and other sentient beings.  It’s maddening what happens when people start slinging scare speak.

Let’s look on the This is AWESOME side of “robot weed wackers,” because frankly these types of technological advances are going to take place.  You will also notice that drones and lasers are going to be added to replace humans in a variety of different working environments; perhaps maybe the most expensive and dangerous gigs will see robots doing more of that work themselves, or assisted/controlled by a human handler.  I’m pretty sure that we’ll also see them first in very small, very specialized applications, and not out there replacing the teams of men and women who labor to do these jobs currently.  This is the one thing that we as humans will always fight no matter what –  we are afraid of anything that takes away a job from a human.  I think what we forget is that robotics and automation don’t take jobs away, they remove the need for a human being to do something menial and exhausting so that the human can go do something more important, like think of more things for which robotics can provide a solution!

Let’s look at just a few advantages of an imagined Laser Drone Weed Eliminator – a specific and unique application also performed by humans:

  • $$$ Savings on LABOR! 
    Sorry folks, it’s a fact of life.  Labor is expensive, increasingly and constantly, and is often the biggest expense that companies have to incur.  If a company that manufactures fixtures, for example, could double their profit by going completely automated in their manufacturing division, believe me that they would do it.  There will more than likely be the need for human tenders and maintenance workers for the robots, so we can presume that there will always be human tasks.
  • $$$ Savings on TIME
    Perhaps JUST as important as money, time is often money, and an automated drone-based device could do the same job every time, regardless of the kind of day the robot is having.  You could also work a robot a solid 24 hour day and never have to bill overtime.
  • Human Safety Factor
    There will be situations where a robot weed wacker will be the better worker for the task.  Case-in-point, clearing out old Juniper trees or weeding thick rose beds.  On a more extreme (and probably more realistic) scenario, think about something like weeding delicate flower beds or hydroponic setups where human interaction is the worst thing for the species.  These are all valid examples that exist in the industries today; both articles I found on this mention having the drone start in a small greenhouse environment or small farm.
  • Transition Time Between Workers
    As with any job, when one worker leaves a job and another takes his or her place, there is a considerable amount of time that will need to be spent bringing the new worker “to speed,” per se.  With a robot worker, presumably we could replace one for another, transfer some logic, and off we go for another 20 hour shift at that worker’s maximum efficiency potential.

We must remember as well that as our population grows and the urgency for agriculture to keep up with demand, pesticides and herbicides will need to decrease in usage altogether.  This is yet another complicated problem that will take years of research and development to really make happen.  But, we’re taking the right steps.  Baby steps.  I’m sure that the politicians will stick their fat fingers into the Laser Weed Wacker pie as well, which will be even mire fun to write about!


The laser’s operation, from an article at Gizmag:

The LZH [meaning Laser Zentrum Hannover, or the University’s laser center] method is to stunt or kill the weeds in place using a laser. This isn’t a completely new approach. Scientists have been experimenting with weed-killing lasers for years, but early attempts revolved around using lasers to cut weed stems or to boil the weeds in their own juices. This wasn’t always effective and the laser needed a lot of power to get the job done. There was also the constant problem of how to tell the weeds from the crops so the right ones were zapped.

LZH took a different approach. The team, headed by Thomas Rath of the Institute of Biological Production Systems, used a low-powered CO2 laser to strategically heat the water in the weeds’ cells. Instead of slicing through the weeds or burning them, the LZH laser would only heat the weed cells enough to damage them and thus inhibit their growth. This is trickier than it sounds, because if too little power is used, it can turn the laser into a high-tech sunlamp that actually promotes weed growth. As Christian Marx, Research Fellow in the Department of Biosystems and Horticultural Engineering explains, “it has been shown that lasers operating with too little energy are more favorable to weed growth, causing the exact opposite of what we want.”

According to LZH, the team succeeded in locating the weeds’ growth centers and inhibiting them as well as adapting the method to different plants and plant heights. But the real hurdle was in finding a way to make the weed-killing laser practical by making sure it killed only the weeds and not the crops.

There you have it, folks.  A weed killer drone that kills plants with lasers.  A grand idea — let’s see where this one goes in the future!  I’m excited to see the progress!

Quadrotor Light Show

What happens when you take a four rotor helicopter and some photons?


With the help of mirrors… ONE TOTALLY RADICOOL LIGHT SHOW:

So what did you just see? The production by University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP (General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception Lab) uses 16 quadrotors both as lighting devices, but also the mirrors they’re equipped with to manipulate light.

If anyone has more information about how the quadrotors, mirrors, and fixtures are controlled and their interactions programmed, I would love to know! Please post a comment, or you can always reach me via my bio in the footer, the contact form, or daphne (at) jimonlight (dot) com!

Congratulations to the team: Jonathan Santana & Xander Smith (event concept), Juliette Larthe (producer), Marshmallow Laser Feast (Memo Akten, Robin McNicholas, Barney Steel, Raffael Ziegler, Rob Pybus, Devin Matthews, James Medcraft), KMel Robotics (quadrotor design and development), Oneohtrix Point Never (sound design), Sam & Arthur (set design) Holly Restieaux (production supervisor), and Farrow Design (typography and design).

Thanks to Peter Kirkup for directing me to the topic on Blue Room!

Jax’s Link-O-Rama: Goose Crap Edition

Light isn’t always a glamorous business, it’s true.  Sometimes you gotta get dirty.

Photo belongs to MistyDays.  Pretty, no?