Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Curiosity: A rover with a mission

     $100,000,000. That is how much it would cost to send your car to Mars, but even though the Mars rover is the size and weight of a car, does not mean that it costs $100 million to send it there. In reality, it costs about $820,000,000 Getting the rover to the planet is actually the second most expensive part of the journey.  $645,000,000 was spent on design and development, and about $75,000,000 to control the rover back here on earth.
     Now, NASA does not want to spend $820 million on a rover without a purpose. In all, Curiosity has 8 Goals:
  1. Find out what is in and how many organic carbon compounds are there on Mars.
  2. Find out how much carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and sulfur there is on Mars.
  3. Find out if there is or was life on Mars
  4. "Investigate the chemical, isotopic, and mineralogical composition of the Martian surface and near-surface geological materials"
  5. "Interpret the processes that have formed and modified rocks and soils"
  6. Discover the evolution of the Martian atmosphere.
  7. Find out the distribution, and cycling of water and carbon dioxide on Mars
  8. Characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation, including galactic radiation, cosmic radiation, solar proton events and secondary neutrons.
     "Curiosity rover has a mass of 899 kg (1,980 lb) including 80 kg (180 lb) of scientific instruments. The rover is 2.9 m (9.5 ft) long by 2.7 m (8.9 ft) wide by 2.2 m (7.2 ft) in height." It is also powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator. A thermoelectric generator gets its power from radioactive decay. This generator has been used on the Viking 1 and 2 probes. Curiosity can communicate through an X band transmitter and receiver for communicating with Earth and an Electra-lite Software Defined Radio for communicating with Mars Orbiters.
     If NASA is going to achieve all of those goals, Curiosity is going to need a lot of tools."The MastCam system provides multiple spectra and true-color imaging with two cameras.[41] The cameras can take true-color images at 1600×1200 pixels and up to 10 frames per second hardware-compressed, video at 720p (1280×720)." It also has a Chemistry and Camera Complex (ChemCam) that "is actually two different instruments combined as one: a laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) and a Remote Micro Imager (RMI) telescope. The purpose of the LIBS instrument is to provide elemental compositions of rock and soil, while the RMI will give ChemCam scientists high-resolution images of the sampling areas of the rocks and soil that LIBS targets. The LIBS instrument can target a rock or soil sample from up to 7 meters (23 ft) away, vaporizing a small amount of it with about 50 to 75 5-nanosecond pulses from a 1067 nm infrared laser and then observing the spectrum of the light emitted by the vaporized rock. The ChemCam has the ability to record up to 6,144 different wavelengths of ultraviolet, visible, and infrared light." Curiosity has Navigation Cameras, a Rover Environmental Monitoring Station which measures humidity, pressure, temperatures, wind speeds, and ultraviolet radiation. It also has Hazard avoidance Cameras, Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer, radiation detecter, and a robotic arm.
     NASA has spent TONS of time and money on this rover, I wish them luck on their 23 month voyage.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Your Brain: It's All In Your Head

     Did you see it the first time? Less than 10% of people in a study done with a similar video saw the hidden distraction. This is because your brain can only take so much information at a time, and counting the number of passes and making sure you are counting white instead of black is enough to shut out everything else that is not important to the task. The brain controls everything our bodies do, and some things are dubbed not important enough for us to not even see it, like the bear.
     Our brains can trick us in other ways too. A group of people showed some taekwondo teachers two videos of two people fighting, one person was wearing red protective gear, the other wearing blue. In both cases, the teachers thought red was the winner. Could this be a coincidence? No, because both videos were of the same fight, except the colors had been switched.
     Lastly, do we really taste what we taste? One man decided to test the theory that we taste what we see, not what we taste. He gave guests at a dinner a red jello, and asked them what they tasted. The majority said it tasted like cherry or another berry, but the jello was actually lemon flavored. He also had people take a wine taste test. The first wine had a label that made the bottle look cheep, the second bottle had an expensive looking label and a fancy french name. Both bottles had the same wine that you can buy for next to nothing (it came in a box), but the testers said that the second, more "expensive brand" tasted better. There is some food for thought
     Our brains are constantly judging things without giving them a chance, because there are more important things than how the wine tastes. That wine looks expensive, shouldn't it taste better? Even though our brains are amazing and wonderful, there are some things that can trick it into thinking almost anything.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Lucid Dreaming: Waking in your sleep

     You may or may not have had a lucid dream. I know that I have not, but the idea of a lucid dream is very fascinating, and somewhat strange. The term Lucid dream was first coined by the Dutch psychiatrist, Fredrick Van Eeden. it is a dream in which the dreamer knows that he or she is dreaming, and can control his or her surroundings. So, you can do whatever you want in a lucid dream.
     Tibetan Buddhists were the first people to recognize lucid dreaming. They used lucid dreaming in an activity called Dream Yoga. It is used for recognizing the world for what it is, free from illusion. The goal is to achieve meta lucidity, which is when you "wake up from reality".
     Lucid dreaming itself occurs during REM, but Scientists did not believe it existed because of the lack of evidence. Steven Laverge proved the existence of lucid dreaming by using Electroencephalogram (EEGs) to measure brain activity. He then had subjects use pre-arranged eye movements to signal when they were lucid. When he got the signals, Laberge checked the EEGs to confirm that the subjects were sleeping, not faking sleep.
     Now that we have covered what exactly a lucid dream is, we can start covering what happens to you in a lucid dream. Earthly logic can get in the way in lucid dreams, because you think you are bound by physics, even though your brain allows anything in these dreams. Lucid dream actions are linked to human actions. For example, if you hold your breath in a lucid dream, then you hold your breath in your sleep. The motion sensors in the brain  are very active during lucid dreaming. That is why you remember flying and seeing things, and not aromas. Lucid dreams almost always occur in the morning.,
     So, how do you lucid dream if you don't normally do? The first step is to get enough sleep. Lucid dreaming occurs in REM, and each REM period is longer, so the longer your REM, the greater the chance you are to lucid dream. You can also keep a dream diary, which helps you recall dreams, because maybe you do lucid dream, but don't remember it when you wake up. If you want to fly in your dream, you could look at a picture of a flying person before you go to sleep, and think," I want to realize that I am in a dream, and fly in it." Steven Laberge says that you can wake up 1 hour before you normally wake up, recall your most recent dream that night, and go back to sleep, thinking that the next dream will be lucid.
     How do you know when you are dreaming? You can do reality checks many times a day. A reality check is when you make sure that you are not dreaming. You can look at a clock; if the numbers are not all jumbled up, you are not dreaming. Poke your hand; if your finger does not pass through your hand, then you are not dreaming. You must make sure that you think, "This is what it is supposed to be like in normal life, therefore I am dreaming."
     Lucid dreaming is like creating an alternate reality, with whatever and whomever you want. Anybody can accomplish this weird and wonderful thing, as long as you do the right things in order to achieve it.

All information is from the podcast, Oh the lucid dream we weave from Stuff To blow Your Mind by How Stuff Works.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Update: SpaceX Dragon

The SpaceX Dragon came down in the Pacific ocean on May 31. It was its 1st mission to the International Space Station. This is a big hurdle, because now SpaceX can begin to work off its $1.6 contract with NASA.

From http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/05/us-usa-spaceship-military-idUSBRE85414A20120605

Cheating and Creativity

      Do you consider yourself creative? If you do, then studies show that you might be more likely to cheat than others. This study started out as finding out who cheats and who doesn’t. When given an opportunity to cheat, fifty percent of the people did. Though a very small number of people cheated a lot, the rest were still cheating. Dan Ariely, the man who conducted the experiment has a hypothesis to why we cheat. He thinks that we cheat because we know that if we do better, we will be treated better than someone who did a bad job, but we also don’t want to hurt our reputation. So, we cheat a little, so we can do a good job without being seen as a cheater not only by others, but most importantly, by ourselves. This is where Airely got the idea that creative people would cheat more. 
     He said, “It's all about telling stories, so creative people are likely to be able to tell themselves better stories, which would allow them to cheat more on the one hand, but not feel worse about it on the other." This doesn’t apply to just cheating, it can apply to any immoral action. Say someone wants to slip a piece of candy from a store. They might make up a story like, “ Well, it is just a tiny piece of candy, and anyway, who would care if a kid like stole a teeny tiny piece of chocolate?” This is how our brains work, so if you are more creative, you can make a more rational story, which could convince you to cheat, lie, or steal even more.
      Now I’m not calling every creative person a cheater, I’m just saying that creativity could be a cause of cheating.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Green Sahara?

     Everybody knows about the Sahara desert. It’s a big sand pit about the size of the U.S, but now there is a new light that has been cast on this sand box. According to the series, How the Earth was Made on the History Channel; the Sahara may have been a lush Greenland about 10,000 years ago. This just so happens to coincide with when humans just started to migrate out of Africa. It was originally thought that we crossed over a land bridge into the middle east, but now there is proof that we may have walked along the shores of mega lakes that were in the middle of the “desert”. Our proofs are human bones, fossils and settlements.
      We have found many bones from sea creatures, from shells to whales in the middle of the Sahara. We have also found human bones dating back thousands of years in the desert. Lastly, we have found whole settlements in caves, and sometimes we find proof of little teepee like houses. In these places, caves in particular, we find drawings in rock. These are drawings of people fishing and hunting, but towards the back of these rocks or caves, we find pictures of rain. We see that our ancestors were praying for rain. Those prayers were not answered, because the Sahara was beginning its shift back into a desert. These villages were forced to migrate. They had no idea where water was, so most of them died out except for those who had escaped into Eurasia and those who found lakes such as Lake Victoria.
      You may be wondering how the Sahara goes from lush grassland to sand dunes, and I have an answer for you. Every few thousand years, the earth wobbles on its axis. This makes the sunlight warm Southern Africa instead of northern Africa. This means the Monsoons move north, and voila, a green desert. Of course this wobble wont happen for quite a few years, so get used to the Sahara desert, It’s going to be here a while.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Salt, Cats, and Ladders

Don't let a black cat cross your path, whenever you spill salt, throw it over your left shoulder, don't walk under a ladder! Why? Why do people follow these crazy rules? According to dictionary.reference.com, superstition means, a belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge, in or of the ominous significance of a particular thing, circumstance, occurrence, proceeding, or the like. So, superstition covers a lot of ground, not just keeping away from black cats, it is like having a lucky penny, or a horseshoe. Where do these superstitions come from.
      I will start with the origin of throwing salt over your shoulder. It is understood that when we spill salt, friendly spirits to our right are warning us that evil spirits are on the left; when you toss some of the salt over your left shoulder, you stoves off danger.
     Black cats were seen as witches' partners, and, are thought to have the power to reason, perform sorcery and understand human languages.
     There are counters to the superstition that when a black cat crosses your path, you will have bad luck. You can spit on the ground, turn around 3 times, or walk backwards. As the cat passes you, gently pat its back as a gesture of kindness.
     Walking under a ladder is supposed to be very bad, but why? To the ancient Egyptians, the triangle was sacred, and walking under a ladder would break the triangle formed with the wall. Christians believed that the triangle signified the Holy Trinity, and walking under it would be violating the Holy Trinity. It was also thought that when you walked under a ladder, you were walking with the devil. Later, ladder were used to take down corpses from the noose after somebody had been hanged. It was believed that if you walked under that ladder, the dead person would watch you pass, and then you too, would meet your death. It was also feared that the body would fall onto anybody who crossed under the ladder!
     If you have a four leafed clover, you have good luck, right? The Druids, the ancient inhabitants of the British Isles thought so too. Many times a year, they went into oak groves to settle legal conflicts and other sacrifices. They ended their gatherings by looking for four leafed clovers. They believed that when you found one, you could see evil spirits and witches, so you could avoid them.
     Oh no! I broke a mirror, that means 7 years of bad luck! This superstition was started by the Romans who believed that when you looked into a mirror, you were looking at your soul, and when the mirror broke, your soul was in danger. The Romans believed that it takes the human body 7 years to fully repair itself, thus 7 years of bad luck.
      There you go, 5 histories to 5 superstitions. I hope you keep safe this summer, and stay away from those black cats. 

All histories of superstitions are from The Book of the Bizarre, by Varla Ventura. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

AST (Acronyms Save Time)

     I was sitting at a restaurant one afternoon, eating a BLT, when I got an email from a friend . He said, "RSVP to my party, so I can know how much food to buy. It is from 6:00-9:00 P.M. Reply ASAP.
P.S feel free to bring your own food." I finished my meal, tipped the waiter, and left for my new job at NASA.
     I was sitting at a restaurant one afternoon, eating a Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwich, when I got an email from a friend. He said,"Répondez, S'il Vous Plaît( French for respond please) to my party, so I can know how much food to buy. It is from 6:00-9:00 Post Meridiem (Latin for afternoon.). Reply As Soon As Possible.
Post Script, feel free to bring your own food." I finish my meal, To Insure Prompt Serviced the waiter, and left for my new job at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
     As you can see, acronyms are used all the time, but where did they come from? One of the first acronyms was SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus or senate of the roman people). Acronym comes from the Greek words akros and onoma, which means topmost name. The idea of the acronym was still in use by the mid 1800s in the American and European business communities. Today, there are still some companies that we know as acronyms. An example of this is AT&T (American Telephone & Telegraph).
     Today, we use acronyms not only in speech, like tip and BLT, but in writing. With the 120 character limit on websites, people are beginning to use acronyms to get their point across as quickly as possible. Acronyms have created the terms LOL, BRB, and G2G, because either you only have a certain amount of characters that you can use, or you want to type something out quickly. For example, who really wants to write United Nations over and over again? Why not UN? or instead of British Petroleum, why not BP?
     Of course I must venture into the extremes of every subject; I cannot resist. So, here is the world's longest initialism(acronym) according to the Guinness Book of World Records, NIIOMTPLABOPARMBETZHELBETRABSBOMONIMONKONOTDTEKHSTROMONT. It is from the Concise Dictionary of Soviet Terminology, and means, The laboratory for shuttering, reinforcement, concrete and ferroconcrete operations for composite-monolithic and monolithic constructions of the Department of the Technology of Building-assembly operations of the Scientific Research Institute of the Organization for building mechanization and technical aid of the Academy of Building and Architecture of the USSR.
     So there you have it, a brief explanation of how common and helpful acronyms are to us. I hope to BRB with a new blog post soon, and it should be more interesting than this one or any other one, I assure you!

from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acronym_and_initialism 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Phobias: Everybody has one, but few admit them.

     I was standing by my bed, petrified, due to my clinophobia* when suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw something move! Or was it just my  katsaridaphobia* acting up? I mean, I’m  isolophobic*, but I’m destined to be alone especially after that disastrous dinner date last week, I’m sure! (Courtesy of http://hotforwords.com/2009/08/30/nerd-word-of-the-day-anatidaephobia/)

     This above passage translates to, I was standing by my bed, petrified, due to my fear of going to bed. When suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw something move! Or was it just my fear of cockroaches acting up? I mean, I'm afraid of being alone, but I'm destined to be alone especially after that disastrous dinner date last week I'm sure!
      Everybody has a phobia. Mine does not have a name, but for the purpose of this post, I am going to use a broader phobia, which is Lepidopterophobia, or the fear of the order of insect that butterflies As and moths are apart of.  I know many people with phobias. One individual I know has a fear of olives, not like they don't like the taste. They literally fear olives. Phobias are usually made fun of. One of my friends keeps telling me that they will drag me to the saint Louis butterfly house so I can "face my fears," but really, she just wants a good laugh.
     The word Phobia is derived from the minor Greek god, Phobos. This may sound familiar to you because A: You already knew this, or B: Phobos is one of the two moons of Mars. 
The 10 most common phobias are, Arachnophobia, the fear of spiders and other arachnids, Ophidiophobia, the fear of snakes, Acrophobia fear of heights, Agoraphobia, fear of situations in which escape is very difficult, Cynophobia, fear of dogs, Astraphobia, fear of thunder and lightning, Trypanophobia, the fear of injections, Pteromerhanophobia, the fear of flying, and mysophobia, the fear of dirt and germs.
     Some phobias we are born with, others are accumulated. I believe my Lepidopterophobia was created when my family and I took a caterpillar off of a leaf, put it in a dry aquarium, and watched it turn into a cocoon, and eventually a butterfly. I was very young at the time, maybe 2 or 3. My family watched as the caterpillar came out of the cocoon, and voila! a butterfly. I loved the experience, because the butterfly was so pretty. I thought it was not going to move, so when it did, I was VERY scared to say the least. I guess it scarred me forever. I am sure another phobia is something you are just born with, because I cannot imagine how you could be scarred into fearing this. Anatidaephobia is the fear that wherever you go, no matter what, somewhere in the world, a duck is watching you. I sure feel bad for the people who have this, but I do not believe anyone, including those who have it think it is a normal phobia. I think that a fear of butterflies is abnormal, so anyone with this phobia must think it is also absurd.
     I invite you to share your phobias in the comments. In fact, please share weird phobias that you don't have, and please tell me what they are fears of. No phobia is too common or too crazy, so go ahead, share your greatest fear with me.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Potato Chips Galore

We all love the salty crunch of potato chips, but do you know much about chips besides brand names and you favorite flavor? Here is the history behind those delectable salty snacks.
            It started in a restaurant in Saratoga, New York in 1852. Back then, EVERYTHING was eaten with a fork, even pares and apples. So when a man sent back some slices of cooked potatoes, saying they were to thick, the chef named George Crum was infuriated. He agreed to do what the customer said, except with a little bit extra. Mr. Crum sliced the potatoes so thin, that you couldn’t skewer them with a fork without breaking them. Mr. Crum thought that he had played a pretty good trick on the customer. But the plan backfired, instead of being disgusted by the chip, the customer enjoyed them. Soon, everyone in the restaurant wanted a now called “Saratoga Chip”. Unfortunately for Mr. Crum, he forgot to trademark the product, and all the other restaurants stole his idea. The potato chip is still un-trademarked.
            Even though chips made restaurants a fortune, they did not sell well in stores. People liked candy like chocolate better, but the potato chip’s time came. In World War II, chocolate was rationed, and there was hardly any in America, that is when people turned to chips. Since then, potato chips have been a classic snack in the U.S.
            Today, one brand rules the world of chips, that name is frito-Lay. They have almost all of the brand names you can think of, Lays, Fritos, Tostitos, Cheetos, Sun Chips, the list goes on and on, but just because it is the biggest brand, doesn’t mean it’s the best. I have found a new brand called Billy Goat Chips.  They are made exclusively in Saint Louis, and are in my opinion, the best chips in the world. You can buy them at Schnucks, a Saint Louis Grocery store, and order them at the Schlafly bottleworks, restaurant.
            As you can see, there is more to the potato chip than what meets the eye.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pi Pi Pi

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939975105, you have just read 51 digits of one of the most famous numbers in the world. Pi is number of times the diameter of a circle wraps around its circumference. Pi can also be used to find the area of a circle. If you multiply the radius of a circle squared by pi, you get the area of that circle.
         Pi didn’t just fall out of the sky one day, it was stumbled upon. The Egyptians and Babylonians are credited for discovering pi over four thousand years ago. One theory on how they discovered pi is that they simply made a big circle, and measured how many time the diameter measured around the circumference. Their ratio however, was slightly miscalculated. They proposed that pi was three and one eight, which would be three point one two five.
         The next evidence of pi is found in the bible of all places, Kings seven twenty three says, “Also he made a molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and five cubits the height thereof; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about". This says he made a circle, 10 cubits in diameter, and 30 cubits around. This states that the circumference is three times the diameter, so pi equals three
         After that, the Greeks took up the problem. Antiphon and Bryson of Heraclea thought of the idea of putting a shape inside a circle, then doubling the sides over and over again, and measuring the area. They thought that a shape with enough sides would be a circle, like a dodecagon, with twenty sides, looks almost exactly like a circle unfortunately, a dodecagon is not a circle, so they could only get a few numbers.
         The next discovery was one of the greatest. Archimedes of Syracuse decided to start where Antiphon and Bryson left off, but instead of using the area of the polygon, he used the perimeter. He started with a hexagon, and doubled its sides four times, making a ninety-six sided polygon. Then Archimedes used a special method that is very hard to understand, it includes something called trigonometric notation.

         It wasn’t until 236 AD the next breakthrough happened. Liu Hui used Bryson and Antiphon’s idea, and created a one hundred ninety-two sided shape. Hui found the first six digits of pi, 3.14159.
         After that, the next discovery wasn’t until the fifteen hundreds. A French mathematician named Francle viete used Archimedes method with two hexagons, and doubling the number of sides sixteen times, to finish with three hundred ninety-three thousand two hundred sixteen sides. He proposed that pi was between 3.1415926535, and 3.1415926537. The first number was correct, but more importantly, he pioneered the idea that pi was irrational and therefore infinite. Viete then discovered seven more digits, but the last two digits were wrong.
         Only three years later, a German named Ludolph Ceulen presented 20 correct digits of pi, using Archimedes strategy, with a polygon with over five hundred million sides. He spent most of his life finding more digits, by the time he died, he had accurately calculated thirty five digits. His discoveries were so extraordinary, that those 35 digits are carved in his tombstone.
         It has taken three and a half thousand years to find a little more than half of the digits that I have memorized!
         In 1706, John Machin, an astronomer in London, made a formula to find more digits in pi. This still very complex formula enabled Machin to find one hundred digits by hand.
         The domino effect followed the discovery. In 1873, William Shanks calculated 707 digits, but in total 527 digits were correct. It took until 1949 to find the next digits to be found. A group of mathematician fed punch cards into a huge super computer of the time, to get 2037 digits. Then, John Wrench and Daniel Shanks found 100,000 digits in 1961, one million was discovered in ’73.
         It is impossible to remember and almost impossible to imagine the immenseness of the number of digits we have found. As of 1999 the record for most calculated digits is 68 billion 719 million, 470 thousand. Of course we don’t need that many digits, just 39 digits can calculate the circumference of a circle around the universe. I guess curiosity that drives us to find even more pi.

SpaceX Falcon liftoffjavascript:void(0);

The SpaceX Falcon is the first private spacecraft to be sent into orbit by NASA. It will restock the ISS, and pave the way for a new future in space travel.