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National Ignition Facility. And, a waterwheel. May 5, 2009

Posted by Mike Trudeau in Technology, Uncategorized, What?.
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It’s been a long time, I know, but I’m back now and I hope to post regularly from here on. I just finished three weeks of work experience at two local papers, and followed that with a week-long, live-newspaper exercise for my course.

Things are back to “normal” now though, and except for looming deadlines (which are also “normal”) I have nothing in the pipeline except achieving 100 words-per-minute of shorthand and waiting for the World Conference of Science Journalists 2009 in London.
Also, my parents are popping by for a weekend in June.

Now that we’ve caught up, here’s the skinny:

First off, the BBC website has this article about a Sheffield group looking for investors to help set up a water wheel which could power “about 40 homes.” 40 homes?! That’s like one street!

The article quotes Rob Pilling, chairman for Sheffield Community Renewables, as saying: “Small schemes like this are nice because they generate lots of energy and people in the community can relate to them.”

Well, that’s nice. Wait a second…you received a government grant of GBP50,000 to help Sheffield become a low-carbon city and you’re using it to “deliver renewable energy schemes in Sheffield by giving local people the opportunity to make an ethical investment in these projects?” So, you’re using GBP50,000 of taxpayer money to encourage taxpayers to invest more of their money in schemes like water-wheels? What’s going on here? What’s this article even about? Give it a read and let me know.

Second, energy on a wholly different scale: The National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California is the first fusion lab that is actually expected to achieve fusion ignition, meaning more energy will be produced than consumed. Is nobody else as excited about this as I am? This changes everything!

192 lasers will hit a target the size of an air-rifle BB with a total of 1.8 million joules of ultraviolet energy, or 500 terawatts in two billionths of a second. This is about 500 times the peak power output of the US. That’s a lot of energy.

Check this article out for a great photo tour of the place. The comments are great too.

The NIF is my new favourite machine, even if countless computer games have warned against doing things like this. Will it open a portal to another dimension or turn someone accidentally trapped inside the chamber into a god? Even the hoped-for results are mind-blowing.

Someone should tell Walter Wagner about this. He’s the guy that filed the lawsuit against starting up the LHC for fear of it creating a black hole, and he gets torn to shreds (metaphorically) in this hilarious Daily Show video. Thanks to Bad Astronomy for catching it.


North Korea to launch “satellite” March 12, 2009

Posted by Mike Trudeau in Technology, What?.
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North Korea says they’re getting ready to launch a communications satellite, but sceptics think it’s just another long-range missile test.
If it’s a missile, it would be able to reach Alaska. If it’s a satellite, North Korea would be beating the South into space (although there has already been one Korean astronaut).
A North Korean space program eh? Sounds familiar

Anyone care to place a bet?

Space Fish Update February 25, 2009

Posted by Mike Trudeau in Animals, Space, Technology, What?.
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A small post to let you know that the National Geographic website has the first ever video footage of the incredible and improbable barreleye fish.

Also, check out this amazing photo from Bad Astronomy of a heat shield material test at Space X. The material here will help protect Space X’s Dragon Capsule during reentry. That’s the Space-X Dragon capsule, not these Dragon Capsules. Don’t mistake the two.

More later.

Let It Snow February 20, 2009

Posted by Mike Trudeau in Space, What?.
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Before I talk about China’s power to control the weather, I have an update on the space junk situation.
Nasa is currently considering if it will be safe enough to send the shuttle up for Service Mission 4 to the Hubble Telescope after the satellite collision earlier this week. Scientific American has some good speculation about ways of clearing the skies, and says that the mission will go ahead as long as there is seen to be less than a one-in-sixty chance of debris hitting the shuttle. Cosmic Variance bets that if the mission is cancelled, Nasa might try sending robots instead. I’m not so sure…why wouldn’t they have just sent robots in the first place?
They also link to a webcomic letter to the notorious Higgs Boson, which Large Hadron Collider hopes to find when it’s powered up later this year. Apparently the gloves are off and the Tevatron at Fermilab in the States is saying they’ve got a 50% chance of finding the Higgs first if the LHC can’t power up soon enough. Any bets?

In other news, China claims to have triggered a snowfall over Beijing by firing iodide sticks into the clouds. According to the Chinese Weather Modification Command Centre (I kid you not), the iodide sticks give below-freezing water droplets something to freeze around, resulting in snowfall. I get the impression that the effectiveness of this method hasn’t been proven yet…also, the press seems to be misrepresenting it a little bit because in order to create the snowfall, the moisture needs to already exist in the clouds. So, it looks like the drought might have been coming to an end anyway. There’s some funny video footage at the Times (Oh, communists!) and Reuters has an article about how the government had to close twelve highways due to the snow.
Here’s an interview with an expert at Scientific American, as well as this REALLY hokey youtube video where some babbling weatherman tries to explain it.