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“Everything we know and love about the universe and all the laws of physics as they apply, apply to four percent of the universe”*…

 

dark matter

 

In 1969, the American astronomer Vera Rubin puzzled over her observations of the sprawling Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way’s biggest neighbour. As she mapped out the rotating spiral arms of stars through spectra carefully measured at the Kitt Peak National Observatory and the Lowell Observatory, both in Arizona, she noticed something strange: the stars in the galaxy’s outskirts seemed to be orbiting far too fast. So fast that she’d expect them to escape Andromeda and fling out into the heavens beyond. Yet the whirling stars stayed in place.

Rubin’s research, which she expanded to dozens of other spiral galaxies, led to a dramatic dilemma: either there was much more matter out there, dark and hidden from sight but holding the galaxies together with its gravitational pull, or gravity somehow works very differently on the vast scale of a galaxy than scientists previously thought.

Her influential discovery never earned Rubin a Nobel Prize, but scientists began looking for signs of dark matter everywhere, around stars and gas clouds and among the largest structures in the galaxies in the Universe. By the 1970s, the astrophysicist Simon White at the University of Cambridge argued that he could explain the conglomerations of galaxies with a model in which most of the Universe’s matter is dark, far outnumbering all the atoms in all the stars in the sky. In the following decade, White and others built on that research by simulating the dynamics of hypothetical dark matter particles on the not-so-userfriendly computers of the day.

But despite those advances, over the past half century, no one has ever directly detected a single particle of dark matter. Over and over again, dark matter has resisted being pinned down, like a fleeting shadow in the woods. Every time physicists have searched for dark matter particles with powerful and sensitive experiments in abandoned mines and in Antarctica, and whenever they’ve tried to produce them in particle accelerators, they’ve come back empty-handed. For a while, physicists hoped to find a theoretical type of matter called weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs), but searches for them have repeatedly turned up nothing…

Dark matter is the most ubiquitous thing physicists have never found. Is it time to consider alternative explanations? “Does dark matter exist?

[image above: source]

* Neil deGrasse Tyson

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As we interrogate the invisible, we might recall that it was on this date in 1944 that one of the worst fire disasters in U.S. history occurred; the blaze broke out during an afternoon performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus that was attended by an estimated 7,000 people.  It killed 167 people; more than 700 were injured.

240px-Htfdcircusfire

Because of the paraffin wax waterproofing of the tent, the flames spread rapidly

hartfordcircusfire-1024x762

Emmett Kelly holding a water bucket on what became known as “the day the clowns cried

 

Written by LW

July 6, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Oxygen / Everything needs it”*…

An aerial view of forest fire of the Amazon taken with a drone is seen from an Indigenous territory in the state of Mato Grosso

 

As tongues of flame lapped the planet’s largest tract of rain forest over the past few weeks, it has rightfully inspired the world’s horror. The entire Amazon could be nearing the edge of a desiccating feedback loop, one that could end in catastrophic collapse. This collapse would threaten millions of species, from every branch of the tree of life, each of them—its idiosyncratic splendor, its subjective animal perception of the world—irretrievable once it’s gone. This arson has been tacitly encouraged by a Brazilian administration that is determined to develop the rain forest, over the objections of its indigenous inhabitants and the world at large. Losing the Amazon, beyond representing a planetary historic tragedy beyond measure, would also make meeting the ambitious climate goals of the Paris Agreement all but impossible. World leaders need to marshal all their political and diplomatic might to save it.

The Amazon is a vast, ineffable, vital, living wonder. It does not, however, supply the planet with 20 percent of its oxygen.

As the biochemist Nick Lane wrote in his 2003 book Oxygen, “Even the most foolhardy destruction of world forests could hardly dint our oxygen supply, though in other respects such short-sighted idiocy is an unspeakable tragedy.”…

There are very many very good reasons not to burn down the Amazon rain forest.  Still, humans could burn every living thing on the planet and still not dent its oxygen supply: “The Amazon Is Not Earth’s Lungs.”

(Again– burning down the rainforest is bad, very very bad.  But as long-time environmental reporter Michael Shellenberger argues, if we ground our concerns in the actual details of what’s happening, we’re much likelier to find effective responses.)

* Mary Oliver (from her collection Twist)

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As we take a deep breath, we might recall that it was on this date in 1666 that the Great Fire of London broke out.  The conflagration raged for four days, mostly in the City of London, within the old Roman walls; it did not spread to the aristocratic district of Westminster, to Charles II’s Palace of Whitehall, nor to most of the suburban slums.  It destroyed 13,200 houses, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and 87 parish churches.  Miraculously, fewer than 20 people lost their lives.

Great Fire of London.jpg source

 

Written by LW

September 2, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Disasters are called natural, as if nature were the executioner and not the victim”*…

 

The United States is an enormous country, spanning mountains, deserts, forests, prairie, tundra, and more. This varied terrain is also home to many natural hazards spawned by air, water, fire, and forces beneath the Earth’s surface.

Some of these threats are dramatic; the United States and its territories have the greatest number of active volcanoes of any country except Indonesia, as well as the most tornadoes. Other hazards, like heat waves, are less flashy but can still kill you.

Different regions of the country face very different hazards. But which part of the United States is the most dangerous? It turns out there’s no simple answer, although the south does have a particularly generous share of hazards…

See how the country’s natural menaces differ by geography at “Where in the United States is nature most likely to kill you?

* Eduardo Galeano

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As we calculate our odds, we might recall that it was on this date in 1899 that New Richmond Tornado– an estimated F5 storm, formed in the early evening, and went on to tear a 45-mile long path of destruction through St. Croix, Polk and Barron counties in west-central Wisconsin, leaving 117 people dead, twice as many injured, and hundreds homeless.  The worst devastation wrought by the tornado was at the city of New Richmond, Wisconsin, which took a direct hit from the storm.  In all, more than $300,000 ($8,825,000 in today’s dollars) in damage was reported.  Still, it ranks as only the ninth deadliest tornado in United States history.

The ruins of New Richmond Methodist Church after the tornado

source

 

Written by LW

June 12, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”*…

 

As recently as a few decades ago in the Western world, stars dazzled humans with their brightness and the Milky Way could be seen spanning the far reaches of the heavens as night deepened into an unspeakable darkness. In the 21st century, such a scene is becoming a rarity across many parts of the globe as we light up the night like never before.

Today our experience of the night differs significantly from that of our ancestors. Before they mastered fire, early humans lived roughly half their lives in the dark. The only night light they had came from the moon when skies were clear. Then, when humans began to gain some control over fire use (probably around 400,000 years ago), everything changed. From that point on, most people have had access to some form of “artificial” light, at least occasionally. Thus began our persistent efforts to light up the night. Even people who lived relatively recently—those with candles, oil lamps, and early electricity—were far more familiar with darkness than we are today. Their nocturnal world simply wasn’t as bright as ours.

But what have we gained by illuminating the night? Has anything been lost in our efforts to banish darkness? Were people, and the world, better off when it was darker?…

Dive into the diurnal at: “A history of what we do in the dark.”

* Mary Oliver

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As we go dark, we might recall this item from John Stow‘s Survey of London (original spelling: A Survay of London), published in 1598:

William Foxley slept in the tower 14 days & more without waking.

In the yeare 1546. the 27 of April, being Tuesday in Easter weeke, William Foxley, Potmaker for the Mint in the tower of London, fell asleepe, and so continued sleeping, and could not be wakened, with pricking, cramping, or otherwise burning* whatsoeuer, till the first day of the tearme, which was full xiiii. dayes, and xv. nights, or more, for that Easter tearme beginneth not afore xvii. dayes after Easter. The cause of his thus sleeping could not be knowne, though the same were diligently searched after by the kings Phisitians, and other learned men: yea the king himselfe examining the said William Foxley, who was in all poynts found at his wakening to be as if hee had slept but one night. And he lived more then fortie yeares after in the sayde Tower, to wit, vntil the yeare of Christ, 1587, and then deceased on Wednesday in Easterweeke.

 source

 

Written by LW

April 27, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Sometimes it’s better to light a flamethrower than curse the darkness”*…

 

Forget pepper spray…

A flame-thrower that can hurl a stream of fire half a metre long is being marketed in China to help women fend off unwanted advances.

The device is being billed on shopping websites as a must-have “anti-pervert weapon” that can be discreetly carried in a ladies’ handbag.

Some are shaped like a cigarette lighter and emit small flames, while others hurl fire for 50cm with temperatures of up to 1,800 degrees Celsius (3,300 Fahrenheit).

The flame-throwers sell from about £10 to over £30 on e-commerce sites, and one vendor boasted to local media how they can “scald or even disfigure an attacker.”…

Of course, in the U.S. an increasing number of women are apparently going directly to Smith and Wesson. More on the conflagratory choice at: “‘Anti-pervert’ flame-throwers for sale in China.”

See also the Hello Kitty Taser.

* Terry Pratchett,  Men at Arms: The Play

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As we wonder what that smoke coming from our purses could mean, we might recall that it was on this date in 1889 that the Great Fire of Spokane destroyed the city’s downtown.  The fire broke out at 6:00p, and the volunteer fire department responded promptly. But a malfunction at a pump station meant that there was no water pressure in the city, and thus, none for the firefighters to use.  After trying to starve the fire by razing buildings with dynamite, the firemen caught a break–  the winds died down, and the fire burned out of its own accord.  While all of Spokane’s center city was destroyed, only one person was killed.

The fire in its earliest stage, before it spread

source

 

 

Written by LW

August 4, 2017 at 1:01 am

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