Sydney space enthusiast Robert Brand and his 9-year-old son Jason recently launched a high-tech weather balloon a quarter of the way to space, retrieving images and flight data to help school children get a better understanding about space.

Mr Brand, of Dulwich Hill, has a history with space – at age 17 he wired up some of the Apollo 11 communications gear in Sydney during his term break from college. He was also stationed at the CSIRO Parkes Observatory in New South Wales at the request of the European Space Agency for spacecraft Giotto’s encounter with Halley’s comet in 1986 and Voyager’s encounter with Uranus and Neptune in 1986 and ’89. Also under his belt is an award from NASA for support of STS-1, the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle program, presented personally by the commander and moon walker John Young.

So when it came time for Mr Brand to launch his own gear towards space he was well prepared, documenting his do-it-yourself journey on his personal blog wotzup.com for other space enthusiasts to watch and track.

“[The balloon launch] was being done to help science education in the Sydney area and anywhere else in fact because we were publishing [on the internet] all of the information and data that we got from the balloon launch,” said Mr Brand, 59.

Launch day was December 28, 2011 from Rankins Springs near Goolgowi in Central NSW. As the balloon got up to about 85,000 feet (25.9 kilometres) above Earth before it burst, Mr Brand and his son tracked it using amateur radio.

“During the flight we were actually relaying data back to the ground and off to a server and that allowed people from all over the world to actually participate with this flight and track it as it was going,” Mr Brand said. “We were getting back a lot of comments on some of the social media [services] such as Facebook just really helping us understand what they were sort of getting out of the whole project. People were sort of yelling loudly if you could put it that way, on the [wotzup] website claiming ‘Hey, they’ve reached this height and that height’, and so there was a lot of really great audience participation in this.”

The data being sent back from the balloon – which was later recovered about 50 kilometres away from where it was launched – tracked altitude, position, rate of climb, payload temperature, payload voltage and air pressure, Mr Brand said. The balloon also has a camera on board that captured still images. “We could actually see as [the balloon] hit different wind levels in the atmosphere and eventually we got up into a jet stream and actually found that we had two jet streams,” Mr Brand added.

When the balloon finally popped it came hurtling back towards Earth at about 40 metres per second, according to flight data.

“So this thing was falling a bit like a brick would fall at ground level but it slowed down and eventually the parachute dropped it on the ground at about six metres per second,” Mr Brand said.

What's in the box? Jason shows the weather balloon's payload.What’s in the box? Jason shows the weather balloon’s payload. Photo: Supplied 

The balloon was put together with the help of senior students at Sydney Secondary College at Blackwattle Bay, who Brand sought to get involved with the project and tasked them with doing a whole stack of materials testing. They tested the styrofoam and how it reacted in zero atmosphere as well as the glue, ensuring it would hold throughout the flight. “The students were putting these materials in a bell jar and sucking the air out of it . . . and checking all of the materials held together – and to protect some of the electronics from the very cold temperatures of about minus 50 Celsius we simply used bubble wrap. … You’d be surprised to know that bubble wrap doesn’t explode when it gets into pretty much zero atmosphere.”

The photos that came back from maximum altitude look “pretty much like that taken from a space shuttle”, Mr Brand said.

“So very dark skies looking at this very thin blue line around the Earth which is our atmosphere and protective layer. It’s a bit scary when you see that photo and realise how thin the Earth’s atmosphere really is.”

When it came time to recover the balloon it was tracked to landing on a field near the small town of Weethalle in NSW, Mr Brand said. “There was nothing growing on it. It seemed to have been abandoned.”

After knocking on a farm door to no avail, he and his son entered the field to locate the balloon. After driving “pretty much right on top of it” it was recovered, allowing for the father and son duo to publish the photos it captured that weren’t sent back live but stored on the camera attached to the balloon.

Mr Brand hopes to do more balloon launches and get schools involved.

“I’ll keep doing this each year and trying to get . . . more interest in the school year earlier in the year. I’m very keen to hear from people that might be interested in getting involved.”

twitter This reporter is on Facebook: /bengrubb

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Hurricane winds can rupture undersea pipes

WASHINGTON (UPI) — U.S. researchers say they’ve determined undersea forces produced by strong hurricanes are powerful enough to rupture underwater oil pipelines.

The scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory said the pipelines could crack or rupture unless they are buried or their supporting foundations are built to withstand hurricane-induced currents.

“Major oil leaks from damaged pipelines could have irreversible impacts on the ocean environment,” the researchers said, noting a hurricane’s winds can raise waves 66 feet or more above the ocean surface.

Based on unique measurements taken during a powerful hurricane, the researchers said their study is the first to show hurricanes propel underwater currents with enough force to dig up the seabed, potentially creating underwater mudslides and damaging pipes or other equipment resting on the bottom.

They said they’re not sure what strengths of forces underwater oil pipelines are built to withstand. However, “Hurricane stress is quite large, so the oil industry better pay attention,” said Hemantha Wijesekera, who led the study.

The findings are to appear in the June10 issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Sourced and published  by Henry Sapiecha

Why Icicles Are Long And Thin

Mathematical Physics Explains

How Icicles Grow

When droplets of melted snow drip down an icicle, they release small amounts of heat as they freeze. Heated air travels upwards and helps slow down the growth of the icicle’s top, while the tip is growing rapidly. Knowledge of the mathematical equations that govern icicle growth — the same that apply to stalactites — could help in the prevention of icicle formation on power lines.

Icicles can be dangerous and deadly, yet they can create some of the most amazing winter scenes. And for scientists, those winter scenes are playgrounds for discovery.

It’s on those playgrounds that experts in physics and mathematics are building their theories on what it takes to create an icicle.

We all know icicles form when melting snow begins dripping down a surface. But what scientists didn’t know is how their shape is formed. What makes each icicle different?

University of Arizona Physicist Martin Short turned to mathematics to find out.

“Icicles have a certain mathematical shape, and this mathematical shape is universal among icicles,” Short tells DBIS.

So what is the math behind an icicle?

“Here I’ve drawn the profile of an icicle. Here is the height, and here’s the radius … Here’s the profile here, and I’ve written the formula here. The height is proportional to the radius to the four-thirds,” he says.

What does the formula have to do with an icicle’s shape? “It kind of looks like a carrot,” says Short. “It starts out flat and then sort of up as you go.”

As water drips onto an icicle and freezes, it releases heat. The warm air rises up the sides of the icicle. Short says that warm air layer acts like a blanket that’s an insulator, and so the blanket is very thin near the tip and thick at the top. That allows the top to grow very slowly and the tip to grow rapidly — creating a long, thin icicle.

It’s the same equation scientists use to study stalactites in caves, but instead of water, stalactites are formed by the buildup of calcium left after the water evaporates.

“If we know the mechanisms by which stalactites form, well, we could better preserve our natural caves that we have here, and try to stop them from eroding,” Short says.

And now that scientists know how icicles are made, it could lead to breakthroughs to prevent them from forming on power lines and trees.



BACKGROUND: Researchers at the University of Arizona have found that the same mathematical formula used to describe the shape of stalactites that form in caves also describes the shape of icicles. This is surprising because the physical processes that form icicles are very different from those that form stalactites. Both have a unique underlying shape, resembling a kind of elongated carrot. This sheds light into the physics of how drips of icy water can swell into long, skinny spikes (icicles).

HOW THEY FORM: Stalactites are formations that hang from the ceilings of caves, formed when water erodes limestone and taking the calcium carbonate. As the water drips inside the cave and evaporates, it leaves behind the calcium, which forms a stalactite. The continued diffusion of carbon dioxide gas fuels the growth of a stalactite. In contrast, heat diffusion and a rising air column are keys to an icicle’s growth. Icicles form when melting snow begins dripping down from a surface such as the edge of a roof. There must be a constant layer of water flowing over the icicle in order for it to grow. The growth is caused by the diffusion of heat away fro the icicle by a thin fluid layer of water, and the resulting updraft of air traveling over the surface. That updraft occurs because the icicle is generally warmer than its surrounding environment, and thus convective heating causes the surrounding air to rise. As the rising air removes heat from the liquid layer, some of the water freezes, and the icicle grows thicker and elongates.

PUT TO THE TEST: To compare the predicted shape to real icicles, the researchers compared pictures of actual icicles with their predicted shape. They found that it doesn’t matter how big or small the actual icicles were, they could all fit the shape generated by the mathematical equation. The next step is to solve the problem of how ripples are formed on the surfaces of both stalactites and icicles.

ICE, ICE, BABY: Ice is the frozen form of liquid water. The same substance will behave differently at various temperatures and pressures. Water (H2O) is the most familiar example. It can be a solid (ice), a liquid (water), or a gas (steam), but it is still made up of molecules of H2O, so its chemical composition remains unchanged. At sea level, water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) and boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius), but this behavior changes at different altitudes because the atmospheric pressure changes. In fact, get the pressure low enough and water will boil at room temperature. The critical temperature/pressure point at which H2O changes from one form to another is called a phase transition.

The American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union contributed to the information contained in the video portion of this report.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 12th June 2010

VORTEX2 Tornado Scientists Hit the Road Again

VORTEX2 Tornado Scientists Hit the Road Again

VORTEX2 researchers trailed this Wyoming twister during last spring’s expedition. Credit: Josh Wurman, CSWR

(PhysOrg.com) — In the largest and most ambitious effort ever made to understand tornadoes, more than 100 scientists and 40 support vehicles will hit the road again this spring.

The project, VORTEX2–Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes–is in its final season: May 1st through June 15th, 2010.

VORTEX2 is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Scientists from more than a dozen universities and government and private organizations will take part. International participants are from Italy, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and Australia.

The questions driving VORTEX2 are simple to ask but hard to answer, says lead scientist Josh Wurman of the Center for Research (CSWR) in Boulder, Colo.

• How, when, and why do tornadoes form?
• Why are some violent and long-lasting while others are weak and short-lived?
• What is the structure of tornadoes?
• How strong are the winds near the ground?
• How exactly do they do damage?
• How can we learn to forecast tornadoes better?

“Current warnings have only a 13-minute average lead time, and a 70 percent false alarm rate,” says Brad Smull, program director in NSF’s Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences. “Can we issue reliable warnings as much as 30, 45 or even 60 minutes ahead of tornado touchdown?”

VORTEX2 scientists hope to find the answers.

They will use a fleet of instruments to literally surround and the supercell thunderstorms that form them.

An armada will be deployed, including:

• Ten mobile radars such as the Doppler-on-Wheels (DOW) from CSWR;
• SMART-Radars from the University of Oklahoma;
• the NOXP radar from the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL);
• radars from the University of Massachusetts, the Office of Naval Research and Texas Tech University (TTU);
• 12 mobile mesonet instrumented vehicles from NSSL and CSWR;
• 38 deployable instruments including Sticknets (TTU);
• Tornado-Pods (CSWR);
• 4 disdrometers (University of Colorado (CU);
• weather balloon launching vans (NSSL, NCAR and SUNY-Oswego);
• unmanned aircraft (CU);
• damage survey teams (CSWR, Lyndon State College, NCAR); and
• photogrammetry teams (Lyndon State Univesity, CSWR and NCAR).

“VORTEX2 is fully nomadic with no home base,” says Wurman. Scientists will roam from state to state in the U.S. Plains following severe weather outbreaks.

“When we get wind of a tornado,” says Wurman, “we spring into action.”

More information: VORTEX2 Project: http://www.vortex2.org

Provided by National Science Foundation (news : web)

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 7th June 2010