Category Archives: Science

Planets, planets, everywhere!

It wasn’t that long ago when we didn’t even know what the back side of our own moon looked like. My friend, Dave, used to have a globe of the lunar surface, and half of it was blacked out because we had no idea what was on the dark side of the moon.

And when I was a kid, there wasn’t any evidence that other planets existed beyond Pluto. We could speculate, of course, but there was no definitive proof that our solar system wasn’t unique.

This week comes word from the Kepler mission of the discovery of over 700 new planets! That nearly doubles the number found to date, a dramatic uptick of the count that stood at nine only a couple decades ago. And a number of them are supposedly “Earth-like” in terms of possible habitability.

So, we’ve lost Pluto as a planet (it was nice knowing ya’, kid), but gained 715 more in its place. How long will it be before we’re waxing nostalgic about that quaint time when we thought we were the only planet that supported life?

Spot the Space Station

One of my fondest memories of grade school was our annual trek to the Southern Cayuga Planetarium in New York’s Finger Lakes region. First we’d meet in a classroom to learn some stuff while we anxiously waited to be led into the planetarium. Walking into that round room with its subdued lighting, settling into those comfortable high-backed chairs, and looking up at the dome of stars was magical.

You can have just as much fun in your own backyard with the real night sky, and one of the more exciting things these days are the flyovers by the International Space Station (ISS) that happen fairly regularly. The ISS orbits the earth once every 90 minutes or so up above the Earth’s atmosphere. In the hours just before sunrise and after sunset, while it may be dark in your backyard, at 260 miles up in the sky the space station is high enough to still reflect the sun. Except for the moon, the ISS is the brightest object in the night sky.

Sometimes weeks go by when it’s not visible in your specific area. Other times it may fly by twice during the evening or morning. Some days it’s low on the horizon and only visible for a minute, other times it may fly directly overhead and be visible for up to six minutes. Finding out when you can view the ISS in your town is as easy as checking the web site

Now I just need one of those comfy planetarium chairs for my deck and I’ll be all set.

The cold, clotheslines, sublimation… and cows

I took this shot a couple days ago on my way to the mall, thinking it would make a nice Facebook cover photo. Having grown up in a house without a clothesline, I noted that it seemed strange that someone would be hanging clothes out to dry in sub-freezing weather. Wouldn’t the clothes freeze and not dry on the line?

There were a couple of Facebook comments along the lines of, “I thought they were cows going into the barn, not clothes! LOL!” But my nephew, Greg, and brother-in-law, Bill, both mentioned sublimation, and that, yes, the wet, frozen shirts and pants on the line would indeed dry in the midst of a long, cold Syracuse winter.

Hmmmm, I thought. Really? Thinking back to high school science class (I’m not sure if this would be Earth Science or Chemistry), I only remembered sublimation involving dry ice (frozen C-O2) which went directly from a solid to a gaseous state without any real liquid to worry about. And that was only because room temperature was above the boiling point of C-O2. How could frozen H2-0 disappear into thin air when the air is cold enough for it to stay frozen?

It turns out Greg and Bill are right (no surprise). Ice in below freezing air does indeed slowly turn from a solid to gas without needing to pass through a liquid/melting state. And, ta-da! Dry clothes!

Wikipedia entry: Sublimation

And yes… I guess they do look like cows.