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Home country: USA
Current location: Georgia
Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
Number of posts: 40,555

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Environmental Scientist

Journal Archives

Anti-Tank Missiles Found In Leesburg; Situation Clear

It's finally quiet in the area of Rockbridge Drive SE in Leesburg this evening, following a long day for local police and fire-rescue personnel who were tasked with evaluating and moving anti-tank missiles that were discovered hidden in a garden shed.

During an 11 p.m. Channel 9 news briefing, Loudoun County Fire-Rescue Battalion Chief James Williams said authorities were alerted to the existence of the missiles at around 1:30 p.m. June 29. A homeowner cleaning out her garden shed found the missiles and contacted the authorities. Members of the Leesburg Police and Loudoun County Bomb Squad arrived on scene, assessed the situation and quickly coordinated to establish a safety perimeter.

Around 3-4 p.m., representatives from the U.S. Army were called to the 500 block of Rockbridge Drive SE, and the devices were "determined to be military ordnance—anti-tank devices probably from the Desert Storm era," Williams said.

Umstattd indicated the initial perimeter was widened to about 400 yards and approximately 100 residents were evacuated from their homes. In all such discoveries, ordnance is assumed to be live, and accordingly surrounding structures are evacuated for safety.


The Worst Marine Invasion Ever

By Christie Wilcox

"Do you know what this is?" James Morris looks at me, eyes twinkling, as he points to the guts of a dissected lionfish in his lab at the National Ocean Service’s Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research in Beaufort, N.C. I see some white chunky stuff. As a Ph.D. candidate at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, I should know basic fish biology literally inside and out. When I cut open a fish, I can tell you which gross-smelling gooey thing is the liver, which is the stomach, etc.

He's testing me, I think to myself. Morris is National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's pre-eminent scientist studying the invasion of lionfish into U.S. coastal waters. He’s the lionfish guy, and we met in person for the first time just a few days earlier. We're processing lionfish speared by local divers, taking basic measurements, and removing their stomachs for ongoing diet analyses. Not wanting to look bad, I rack my brain for an answer to his question. It's not gonads. Not spleen. I’m frustrated with myself, but I simply can't place the junk; I've never seen it before. Finally, I give up and admit that I'm completely clueless.

"It's interstitial fat."


"Fat," he says firmly. I look again. The white waxy substance hangs in globs from the stomach and intestines. It clings to most of the internal organs. Heck, there's got to be at least as much fat as anything else in this lionfish's gut. That's when I realize why he's pointing this out.

"Wait ... these lionfish are overweight?" I ask, incredulous.

"No, not overweight," he says. "Obese." The fish we're examining is so obese, he notes, that there are even signs of liver damage.

Obese. As if the lionfish problem in North Carolina wasn't bad enough.



The Making of a Monster, Caught by Accident

By Phil Plait

One of the most overwhelming things we have learned from studying astronomy in the past century—and it’s quite a list—is that entire galaxies collide.

I cannot overstate how awe-inspiring that is. A galaxy is a vast thing: a self-gravitating collection of tens or hundreds of billions of stars, countless clouds of gas and dust massive enough to create billions more stars, and all of this (not including the dark matter, which we cannot directly see) spread out over a hundred thousand light years—a million trillion kilometers.

By itself a galaxy is mind-crushing structure. But then to find that they can careen through space and physically collide with another such monster…it’s difficult to grasp the enormity of such an event.

And yet collisions happen, and they happen often. And when they do, the result can be such beauty as to make even the most jaded cynic weep:

much more

Monday Toon Roundup 4- The rest


Wendy Davis






Monday Toon Roundup 3- Rights, so long as you don't actually use them

Monday Toon Roundup 2- Rights

Monday Toon Roundup 1- The G-NO-P

The Flaming Skull Nebula.

By Phil Plait

Photo by T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage) and H. Schweiker (WIYN and NOAO/AURA/NSF)
Planetary nebulae are among my favorite objects in the sky. When a star a bit more massive than the Sun starts to die, it blows off a super solar wind of gas. As it ages more, this wind it blows speeds up, slamming into the stuff previously ejected, carving it into weird and amazing shapes. Eventually, the entire outer layers of the star blow off, exposing the star’s hot, dense core. This floods the surrounding gas with ultraviolet light, causing it to glow.

Once it starts to emit light, the gas cloud becomes visible to us on Earth, and we can see the weird forms it can take. This structure can be quite fantastic, depending on how exactly the star was spinning as it blew off those winds, what angle we see this at, and the chemical composition of the gas.

In the case of the planetary nebula Sh2-68, though, we have an added factor: motion. The star at the heart of this nebula is moving rapidly through space, and it happens to be in a location in our galaxy where there is more gas and dust between stars than usual. So as it moves, the gas it blows off is itself blown back, like a dog’s hair is blown back when it sticks its head out of a car window.

The image above, taken by my friend Travis Rector using the KPNO 4-meter telescope, shows this in detail. The blue gas is oxygen (which is slightly false-color here; this flavor of oxygen is actually more greenish), and the red is hydrogen. The star itself is the blue one right in the center of the blue gas.

I could go into great detail about the overall shape of the gas, the cavities in it, the actually quite interesting physics of how the gas interacts with the interstellar gas … but c’mon. Seriously.

The nebula looks like a giant screaming head with its hair aflame streaking across the galaxy!



Infographic: An Astounding Map of Every River in America


Nelson Minar didn’t really mean to create a piece of art. When the California-based software engineer began working on All Rivers, a gorgeously detailed look at the waterways in the 48 contiguous states, it was really just a practice in computer nerdery. Minar, a self-described “computer nerd at heart,” simply wanted to create a vector map (a map consisting of Geographic Information System data) using open source data. “The single All Rivers map was just me goofing around to see what it’d look like,” he told Wired.

It looks pretty cool. Inspired by Ben Fry’s All Streets poster, Minar’s version shows a vast web of blue veins spreading across the United States. River-rich areas like Mississippi are dense with blue, but more surprisingly, so are notoriously dry areas like Nevada and Arizona.

To create All Rivers, first Minar gathered information from NHDPlus (National Hydrography Dataset) and put it in a database. He extracted the Strahler number, a measure of how significant a creek is, to determine how large the rivers would appear on the map. From there he built a web server that would allow him to serve the flowline data as vector map tiles, and finally he wrote a JavaScript program that did most of the cartography work for him.

Minar kept All Rivers pretty simple, using only the Strahler number as a variable. But he says it’s possible to gather more information to include on future maps. “To be a useful hydrography map, it should have information on river volume, size, seasonality, etc,” he said. “That’s a lot of data to cram into a single picture. I don’t know how to do that and make it look good.”


Take the Impossible “Literacy” Test Louisiana Gave Black Voters in the 1960s

By Rebecca Onion

This week’s Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder overturned Section 4(b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which mandated federal oversight of changes in voting procedure in jurisdictions that have a history of using a “test or device” to impede enfranchisement. Here is one example of such a test, used in Louisiana in 1964.

After the end of the Civil War, would-be black voters in the South faced an array of disproportionate barriers to enfranchisement. The literacy test—supposedly applicable to both white and black prospective voters who couldn’t prove a certain level of education but in actuality disproportionately administered to black voters—was a classic example of one of these barriers.

The website of the Civil Rights Movement Veterans, which collects materials related to civil rights, hosts a few samples of actual literacy tests used in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi during the 1950s and 1960s.

In many cases, people working within the movement collected these in order to use them in voter education, which is how we ended up with this documentary evidence. Update: This test—a word-processed transcript of an original—was linked to by Jeff Schwartz, who worked with the Congress of Racial Equality in Iberville and Tangipahoa Parishes in the summer of 1964. Schwartz wrote about his encounters with the test in this blog post.
Most of the tests collected here are a battery of trivia questions related to civic procedure and citizenship. (Two from the Alabama test: “Name the attorney general of the United States” and “Can you be imprisoned, under Alabama law, for a debt?”)

But this Louisiana “literacy” test, singular among its fellows, has nothing to do with citizenship. Designed to put the applicant through mental contortions, the test's questions are often confusingly worded. If some of them seem unanswerable, that effect was intentional. The (white) registrar would be the ultimate judge of whether an answer was correct.


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