Earth from the ISS: time lapse video

Watch this amazing time-lapse video of Earth shot from the low-Earth orbit of the International Space Station.

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

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Crazy storm on Saturn!

NASA’s Cassini probe is currently orbiting Saturn and taking close-up pictures. You can clearly see Saturn’s rings and stripes. About a year ago, on December 5th 2010, a tiny storm was noticed. By January, it had encircled the entire planet. More like a volcano of gases in Saturn’s thick atmosphere than a hurricane, it remained active for most of the year. No storm of this type or intensity has ever been noticed before.

Read more about the storm here.

And check out more information, news, and images from the Cassini mission at NASA.

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A planet is born!

With new telescope technology, we are discovering more and more planets in other star systems. It’s hard to find inner planets because they are so close to their stars that they are blocked by their star’s powerful light. But by using mirrors to block the star’s light, astronomers have discovered the youngest planet ever–in fact, it may more correctly be called a planetesimal. It’s still surrounded by a cloud of dust and gas, from which it’s still being formed!

The theory of how planets form as long been understood, but this is the first time we’ve seen it in action.

If you’re not an astronomer, you probably can’t understand the image they saw, so an artist has helpfully drawn his interpretation of the system.

The telescope photographs:

The artist’s rendition:

Read the article at the Daily Mail.

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The world’s lightest material?

Scientists have invented a way of manufacturing hollow tubes of metal using nanotechnology. The tubes have walls a thousand times thinner than a human hair. The material is so lightweight, it can be placed on top of a dandelion without crushing it. Can you think of a good use for the material?

Read about it at the LA Times.


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A shadow on the sky!

Since I just posted about an amazing photo of a volcano, I thought I’d post these cool pictures of Mt. Ranier casting a shadow up on the sky!

It only happens when the sun rises farther to the south as we head toward the winter solstice and has to be in the exact position to where Rainier blocks the first rays of morning light.

It happens when the sun appears below the clouds, so the peak of the mountain blocks the sunlight from reaching the clouds above.

More photos here.

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Amazing photo of a volcano

This amazing photo of the Puyehue-Cortón Caulle volcano eruption was one of Natural Geographic’s favorite photos last month. Notice how lightning is attracted to the plume of ash and smoke. Very cool.

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Was human life on Earth almost destroyed by a comet 130 years ago?

Mexican astronomer José Bonilla noticed hundreds of fuzzy objects passing in front of the sun in August 1883.

At the time, Bonilla had no idea what he was looking at. All he knew was that over a period of about two days, he counted about 450 objects surrounded by fuzziness passing between his telescope and the sun. Contemporary astronomers didn’t see anything, and when Bonilla published a paper in an astronomical journal a few years later, the journal editor suggested that Bonilla must have accidentally been counting birds or bugs or something like that.

New interpretations of his data indicate that the objects were fragments of a comet passing really close to Earth. Since the fragments blocked out the sun for Bonilla, but apparently not for other observers around the globe, that means they must have been so close to Earth that the observer’s location determined their position against the background of the sun. (Measuring objects against their background is called parallax.)

Possibly as close as 400 miles away. For reference, the International Space Station (which is not truly in space, but in the middle of the thermosphere layer of our atmosphere) is 250 miles away. The moon is 238,855 miles away.

If it had hit, it would have been an extinction-level event for sure. We probably would have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Lucky for us, it was a near miss.

Read the whole article here.

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Could online gamers cure AIDS?

Video-game players have solved a molecular puzzle that stumped scientists for years, and those scientists say the accomplishment could point the way to crowdsourced cures for AIDS and other diseases.

One of the problems with studying tiny proteins is that even if scientists know the genetic code for the protein (its recipe), there are still hundreds of thousands of ways the protein could fold up into its physical shape.

In this case, scientists wanted to know the shape of one of the proteins in a retrovirus, the same type of virus as HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. By finding out the shape of the protein, they might be able to design a medicine that could defeat the virus. But the researchers didn’t have the time or computing power to test out all the possibilities.

So they turned the job over to online gamers!

That’s where Foldit plays a role. The game is designed so that players can manipulate virtual molecular structures that look like multicolored, curled-up Tinkertoy sets. The virtual molecules follow the same chemical rules that are obeyed by real molecules. When someone playing the game comes up with a more elegant structure that reflects a lower energy state for the molecule, his or her score goes up. If the structure requires more energy to maintain, or if it doesn’t reflect real-life chemistry, then the score is lower.

By working together and building on each other’s models, the gamers were able to solve the mystery in about 10 days.

This isn’t the only time individual computer users have helped advance scientific research. In addition to Foldit, you can:

Image and quotation source: MSNBC Cosmic Log

Thanks to Mrs. Bornmann for the link!

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Welcome to the 2011-2012 class blog!

This blog is a place where Mr. Allen and Mr. Romary post science stuff that we think would be interesting to the 6th graders at Collegiate School.

You should check it regularly (at least once per week) and comment on any articles that you find especially interesting.

The blog entries may or may not have to do with class topics.

If you find a good link to a website that you think your classmates would enjoy, please email Mr. Allen or Mr. Romary so he can post it to the blog.

Note: This is the first entry of the 2011-2012 school year. All entries older than this one were posted in the previous school year. You are welcome to browse through the old entries if you want to, but please don’t comment on last year’s entries; chances are, nobody will see your comments!

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Mountain Maker, Earth Shaker

Your homework for the long weekend is to complete the following web activity, called “Mountain Maker, Earth Shaker.” The image below will help guide you on what to do.

Follow this link to the activity.
(1) First click on the link called “Background Essay” to read about the science behind the activity.

(2) Click on “View” to start the activity. When the activity window pops up, drag each arrow to see the different kind of plate boundaries.

(3) Click on “Discussion Questions” and answer the questions in complete sentences on a separate sheet of notebook paper.

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