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Norway Aurora Borealis – Best Thing You’ll See Today

So, if you’re just sitting on your duff right now waiting for the next JOL article to hit the net (yeah right!), then rest assured that, unless you’ve got a media server and a big ass projector and a whole bunch of the brown acid, you’re about to have your face rocked.  All of the solar flare activity that’s been going on has made the Aurora Borealis go absolutely siiiiick lately.  Seriously, that was four extra “i’s” in that word just to describe the imminent sickage.

What the %$#$ am I talking about?!  WATCH THIS VIDEO!

Worth it? You’re welcome.

Where’s YOUR Fibonacci-Based Solar Collecting Array?

Back a while ago I got some info about a kid named Aidan Dwyer doing some work with solar power collection. Do you remember that article? The kid, a 13 year old kid, was testing whether a flat solar panel array was as efficient in collecting solar power as a tree-based Fibonacci-sequence-spaced “tree” array that Aidan had designed. The results that were posted all over the freaking Internet were that Aidan had figured out there was something to the Fibonacci sequence and Aidan’s solar arrays based on it. Gizmodo posted, the American Museum of Natural History gave the kid an award, and it was generally pretty awesome. How could you NOT be proud of it?! When I was 13 I was just a big ball of emotions who was good at whining.

Then this guy posted on his blog that Aidan’s experiment was a no-go, and that there was no real way that any of it could be plausible. Oh whoa, Nellie. As you would expect, when the Internet finds a crack in something, the vultures come out and they start to pick. People tore the research apart, hellfire and brimstone and treacle, and yes, there were even some people who acted dickishly in comment threads. I suppose we should expect nothing but the best, but that’s not good enough in this situation. There were even arguments of religious flare.  Gimme a break.

In the beginning before the “debunking,” a pretty good quorum of blogs and magazines (and the American Museum of Natural History, no doubt, who gave Aiden an award and a provisional patent on his design) posted about Aidan’s discovery. They reposted. And reposted. And reposted. But what happens when the debunking took place? It got reposted. And reposted. And reposted.

Did anyone think to check the findings in the beginning before rushing the news out the door?  No, as is the way sometimes in journalism. Maybe we’re just so stressed and in need of some uplifting news about our young people that it didn’t get fact checked.  People called this poor kid out on his shoddy research et al, and generally acted in a pretty demeaning/discouraging manner. Not everyone, not a large percentage, but enough to make me think to myself – “how dare you discourage a young man who took an initiative to improve upon a design he discovered in observation. who do you think you are?”

What happened was the media reposted what they discovered without fact checking. Then they slammed Aidan for posting wrong information. That’s stupid. There were some very nice articles though – people were also pointing out the flaws in the research and data collection, and the data as measured. It’s ok, everybody – Aidan’s experiment was flawed. Now he knows it, we know it, and now he can get to figuring out the next connection between Fibonacci-derived structures and solar arrays. Edison, the entrepreneur that he was, said that he did NOT fail at inventing the light bulb, he discovered 2,000 ways NOT to make a light bulb. Aidan, you keep looking for the connection, even if you discover it’s not there. We’ll only know if you keep looking.

Some additional reading, mostly articles about how Aiden was mistaken:

This is Where Bad Science Starts @ Optimiskeptic
This is here Bad Science Starts @ Optimiskeptic
Was Our 13 Year Old Beloved Genius Just Proved Wrong? @ Gizmodo
Aidan’s Solar Tree Gets A Reality Check @ EarthTechling

Let me point out that there are a few things we need to keep in mind here about this whole situation before I write any further:

  1. Aidan, you are one smart dude. Way to go for having an idea and charging after it like a champ.
  2. Aidan’s a 13 year old kid who’s in 7th Grade. Cut him some slack, where’s YOUR Fibonacci-based solar collector array?
  3. Aidan drew some conclusions about data that might not have been really connectable connections, but this happens when you’re 13 and still learning about science. I gotta believe that there are kids who still think that science projects about how farts are fart-smelling are acceptable science, and teachers give them a grade to shut them up and pass them on. I’d also be interested in seeing statistics on how many 7th graders even know what the Scientific Method is and how many of them think it’s a Matt Damon movie. Aidan’s experiment had real zeal, which is a lot more than I can say for an unfortunately large number of “science” I have read lately.
  4. Our teenagers rank 17th in the world for science, and we rank 25th of 30 countries in math. Aidan wasn’t glued to The Jersey Shore, he was out there trying to make sense of the actual world around him.

Yeah, Aidan was perhaps misguided for whatever reason, he is learning science, and he is a 13 year old kid, albeit a pretty sharp one. But he’s applying as he goes. I am so proud of him for that. Instead of talking about how wrong he was, let’s do what real teachers do and help the world understand how Aidan is a pioneer. Make a mistake loudly, and the world will see it as beautiful music someday. Let me know how I can help you keep a solid interest in what you’re learning, it’s of the world’s most vital importance. And don’t forget – there is a huge consortium of people out there who are equally proud of you as I am!

There is something I have noticed over the last five years that makes me really sad, and I keep hoping that my enthusiasm for science and light will rub off on the planet. Every single time someone discovers something – an idea, a design, a way to improve something – a fundamental flaw is discovered, usually very negatively, and then the media has a field day proving how wrong the thing discovered is on all levels. When you criticize instead of thinking constructively about a problem or challenge, you shut people’s enthusiasm down. This leads to a lot of really potentially amazing solutions gone forever because the world was too interested in proving how right they were that someone else was wrong. We need to stop this, and post haste.  People, we need to get excited about science and math again.  Being wrong can no longer be a punishment, our mistakes need to be celebrated so that we can remember that mistakes are stepping stones to achievement (thanks for that by the way, Dad).  There is a very, very large margin between the number of the world’s children I’ve seen do absolutely amazing things and the number of the world’s children I’ve seen do completely detrimental things. We have to teach by example. Ideas can be wrong, designs can be improved, but we can only improve when we all come at a problem with an honest intent for improvement.

Again, congratulations for the initiative, Aiden. Let us know what else you discover. Now that we know you can, we need you to keep doing it.

Interesting bit of news on where the US ranks in some of the STEM fields here, get ready for depression though.

SpongeBob’s Aurora Borealis – San Diego’s Red Tide

Over the last few weeks in the San Diego area (and I’m guessing several locations within a few tens of miles from there, too), a strange thing has been happening – at night, the tide is glowing.  The rolling waves of water are emanating a crazy dim glow, almost as if it’s dreaming – whenever I see the ocean in my head, it’s always sleeping, I have no idea why.  Check out this amazing video:

Meet the little dinoflagellate that’s causing all of this awesome low-level illuminating beauty:

This is Lingulodinium Polyedrum, also known as the little dinoflagellate that is responsible for Red Tides and mollusk death during these periods of “red” tides, is not poisonous to humans, according to biological oceanographer Peter Franks.  Dr. Franks teaches at the University of Southern California at San Diego, and is a pretty intelligent dude.  I came across an article that was a back-and-forth email exchange between Dr. Franks and Miriam Goldstein of Deep Sea News.  On the subject of Red Tides making you sick and WHY they are bioluminescent:

Frequently asked question number 2: Why do the dinoflagellates bioluminescence?

As far as we know (which is surprisingly not very far) the bioluminescence both deters grazers of the dinoflagellates (who likes eating food that flashes in your mouth?), and also attracts the predators of the grazers which are mostly visually oriented organisms such as fish (the so-called “burglar hypothesis”).

Frequently asked question number 3: When I surf in a red tide I get sick (ear aches, sinus infections, etc.). Why?

My usual answer is that you should bathe more. Or at least check to see whether you get sick when there isn’t a red tide.

However … a student of mine (Meg Rippy – please give her a postdoc) has some evidence that red tides can decrease the mortality of human pathogenic bacteria that get into the nearshore waters. These bacteria normally die pretty quickly; they may die slower during a red tide, perhaps due to the increased amounts of organic material in the water. So perhaps your ear infection is because of other bacteria that are present in higher concentrations in a red tide than they would normally be. (Please give us funding to pursue this.)

It seems as though this is something that will have more explanation in the future as we discover more about the dinoflagellates and how they chemically interact.  Stay tuned!

Dr. Franks had a cool experiment to try – get a clear bottle and fill it with knee-deep tide water.  Take the bottle home and stick in the dark for a few hours, and then shake it in the dark.  The Lingulodinium Polyedrum will release some bioluminescent material into the water!  If you add ammonia, says Dr. Franks, all of the Lingulodinium Polyedrum will dump ALL of their bioluminescent material all at once, like a little fireworks show in a bottle!  This is, however, terminal to the dinoflagellates.  If this kills your conscience, don’t do it.  I, however, cannot wait to have some blue fireworks in a bottle!

Thanksa, Species Identification!

The Lightning Fantastic, Oklahoma City, August 8, 2011

I drove back from Arlington, Texas last night.  Long story short, I left around 8pm last night, and I spent the entire three hour drive just completely enamored with the sky lighting up with huge bolts of lightning.  I remembered seeing the Trinity test video, and so many other night-based explosions in movies; the sky last night reminded me of that type of phenomenon.  So many bolts of lightning piercing the darkness, it was just like watching that scene in the newest Harry Potter when all of the folks are casting the spells over the school campus.  Overwhelming; beautiful.

(Sorry folks, I’m not a Harry Potter person, I just saw the one…)

I got home and made this video, since I was blessed AGAIN with the lack of tiredness in my body after that drive.  I took about a half hour’s worth of lightning strikes in downtown and condensed them down to about two minutes.  I hope you enjoy!  I’m a great big goofball, just be forewarned.

The Lightning Fantastic in Oklahoma City, August 8, 2011 from Jim Hutchison on Vimeo.

Thanks, NatGeo and Tal Bachman!

Nighttime Transformer Explosions in Fort Worth, Texas

Have you seen this video? If not, stop what you’re doing right now and watch. Amazing. Tragic, but amazing. From the Youtube site of user Brian Luenser, who recorded and posted the video:

This is the aftermath of a pretty brutal thunderstorm in Fort Worth Texas on May 10, 2011. It was taken from my balcony on the 34th floor of a building in Fort Worth. Though I thought we were at war or was terrorism, it was a massive series of downed 7,200 volt power lines. As I took it with my 70-200 2.8L IS lens, it is farther away than it looks. (it is 5 miles away) That is why there are not explosion sounds. This was a very well documented event. I was on my balcony to take lightning pictures (Yes, not smart) and this started happening in front of me. I turned my camera (Canon 5d MkII) to video mode and let it roll.

Crazy. There’s a bit more about the video there and the way it was recorded, too. The colors are absolutely beautiful. Almost unbelievable.  Explosions in the distance look like the explosions of war.

Watch, totally worth it:

Let The Sun Blow Your Mind

Check out the sun.  Pretty effing hot, huh? (it’s even better HUGE.)

You can thank Alan Friedman for some of these pictures – Alan’s a great photographer and amateur astronomer.  I hope he sees himself as more than an amateur astronomer at some point, because, well, holy crap.  Alan did something awesome while taking pictures of the sun – he stuck a filter in front of his camera that filtered light in the H-alpha spectrum (which is around 6562.8 Angstrom, or 656 nanometers).

Yeah.  that is pretty ca-raaaaazy red.

In this image below, of four Balmer spectrum lines given off by Hydrogen being ionized, H-alpha is on the far right:

From the Discovery Blog, on how this whole process works:

The Sun’s surface puts out light at all wavelengths, but the surface isn’t solid. It’s a gas, and it tapers off with height. Normally, a thin gas in space emits light at very specific colors as electrons jump from one energy level to another in the individual atoms. But compressed gas in the thicker, denser part of the Sun mashes together all those energies, spreading them out, so it emits white light (that layer of the Sun is called the photosphere). Above that layer, where the gas is thinner (in a layer called the chromosphere), the hydrogen does emit light at specific colors. One of these, H-α, is in the red part of the spectrum, and in fact hot, thin hydrogen emits very strongly in H-α.

By plopping a filter in front of a telescope, you can block a lot of the light from the photosphere but let light from the chromosphere through. That’s what Alan Friedman did — he used a filter that let through a very narrow range of colors centered on H-α — to get this stunning picture. Well that, plus quite a bit of image processing! But everything you’re seeing there is real, and is happening on the Sun.

There are actually six Balmer hydrogen spectrum lines that exist, but two of them are in the ultraviolet spectrum, under 400 nm.  All hydrogen atoms exhibit these spectra – so what astronomers do is they use the h-alpha waves to see which heavenly bodies that exhibit these waves.  The resulting images look like these below.

(even better HUGE.)

(even better HUGE.)

Alan did all of this observing with his telescope – check this little thing out!  Like the Little Engine that Could!

I couldn’t leave these images out – Here are some images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO.  SDO is one bad-mopho of a telescope that measures all kinds of goodies from the Sun.  Check out the Solar Dynamic Observatory website as well, with images, video, and other amazing information.  The one directly below here is of the surface of the sun – the white bar in the lower left corner represents five thousand kilometers.

Thanks Discovery Blog, Wikipedia, and HuffPo!

Lightning in Oklahoma City – from the JimOnLight.com World HQ

For the first time in my life, I live in an apartment tower.  I’ve lived in apartments before, of course, but never anywhere that had floors above the second or third floor.  I’m on the thirteenth floor, with an amazing view of downtown Oklahoma City.

I have found a new kind of peace with this kind of view – when I make it home early enough that the sun is still up, it is amazing to watch the city get ready for the night time by turning on architectural illumination.  The city has a soul, and you see it at night when it is shining.

Another amazing sight at this vantage is storms.  Oh holy crap do I love storms and lightning – and Oklahoma City is right in that tornado-y, ass-kicking thunderstorms and hail alley of the country.  A few weeks ago we had a string of days that had afternoon thunderstorms – and I had my camera on the tripod!

Check these out – I hope it is a good start to your morning!

and I kid you not, when this wave was over, the freaking sun popped out, and BOOM – DOUBLE RAINBOW.

Crepuscular Rays. Know Them, Love Them.

My friend Millisa sent me this pic the other day, and it kinda blew my mind:

Those rays!  Holy crap!  SO BEAUTIFUL!  That’s the stuff that paintings are made of, right?  Funny enough, they actually have a real name and an explanation – they’re called crepuscular rays.  It’s kind of an unfortunate sounding name, don’t you think?  It sounds like something you’d find on the bottom of a ship cruising Lake Michigan.

Gross.

But the principle is very awesome – atmospheric optics dictates these crepuscular rays as beams of light that appear to emanate from one single point in the sky, from the sun.  A cloud, mountain top, or some other obstruction is what causes this phenomenon.  Honestly, it’s no different than the beam that comes out of a moving light, conventional light, or anything of the sort.  It’s a blockage – just like the aperture of a lighting fixture is a blockage to only allow enough beamage out of the light to make it diverge, or appear to diverge.  Like this:

There are also anticrepuscular rays, too – they are the opposite of crepuscular rays, and typically you have to have your back to the sun to see them.  Anticrepuscular rays appear to converge at the antisolar point, which is the exact opposite point in the sky from the sun.  Like this:

Cool.  I like to learn something new every day!

Thanks, APOD (1) and APOD (2)!

RIDICULOUSLY CLOSE Lightning Bolt! WHOA!

I was checking out some videos of lightning because, well, lightning is cooler than buttered popcorn, and I found this video.

Also, just be forewarned, the guy in the video uses the eff word a few times on the video, so if you’re at work, you might wanna turn the volume down a bit or put on headphones.

This seriously scared the crap out of me, so if you’re on a pacemaker, crank that sucker up to 11:

Niagara Falls in the Eyes of A Master of Captured Lumens

I am so excited to post this for everybody – her work should be getting some major props.  By “her” of course I mean the official photog for JimOnLight.com and a mad, mad artist in her own right – Amanda Lynne Ballard.  Everyone knows her on Twitter as @a_mandolin, and those of us who know her from the internet and the world know she’s a photographer and pic magician.

One of our favorite stage managers, @SMLois (or Lois to the layperson) came to see Amanda Lynne in Toronto for a visit recently, and a series of events unfolded.  Will I get these in the right order?  Probably not.  Let’s see:

  1. Amanda Lynne piles Lois and Brittany (@bfg85 on Twitter) into her car.
  2. Amanda Lynne then drives Lois and Brittany in her car down the QE.
  3. Amanda Lynne keeps the destination, Niagara Falls, a secret for a set amount of time.
  4. Amanda Lynne reveals destination to Lois and Brittany, who rejoice.

Background stories are excellent.  Enjoy these photos, and Amanda Lynne is about to have some photo work on JimOnLight.com from a backstage tour of KA we had, followed by three days of LightFair 2010 shots!

Dude, squee.

Amanda’s work is protected under an Attribution-Noncommercial-No-Derivs License.  So make sure to give her credit where credit is due!