Category Archives: Science

Optics Lesson

Seasonal changes occur very slowly. I enjoy watching for them as the year passes. Last fall, I did a simple set of observations to record how much lower the path of the Sun was tracking as the weeks went by. That post is here.

An unplanned seasonal change got my attention in recent weeks I looked out the north window toward out neighbor’s house at about 3 pm on 25 January. It was a very cold and sunny day. It was obvious from the direction of the shadows that the Sun was in the upper left, over my shoulder, out of view. Something bright caught my eye on the snow in the foreground.

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Sunrises | Late August to Winter Solstice

How I See It

I like long exposure photographs called solargraphs. Photo-sensitive paper is put inside a light-tight container. A pinhole in the container allows an image to be formed on the paper after a very long time. My first attempts were described here. If the Sun shines into the pinhole, it traces a bright line across the paper as in this day-long exposure.

Everyday the Earth moves some distance around the Sun in its orbit, shifting the position of the Sun in the sky. The Sun traces in a solargraph also shift a little each day. Our front window faces east toward sunrise. I exposed a solargraph to those sunrises with hopes of seeing the Sun’s movement toward the south over a long period of time.

The pinhole camera was placed on the east window ledge on 30 Aug 2019. The plan was to leave it there until 21 Dec, the winter…

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My Visit With Galloping Gertie

Jim’s great post about our visit to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

How I See It

One of the teaching units I enjoyed most in my physics classroom was on wave motions. Almost everything is capable of some sort of waving motion, or oscillation. The motions come in a wide range of frequencies and amplitudes dependent upon the object. Smaller objects tend to have high frequencies and small amplitudes. Large objects tend to have low frequencies and large amplitudes of motion. It is a fascinating field of study.

Some objects respond to an input of energy of some specific frequency and begin oscillating with the same frequency as the source. Their motion can grow in amplitude as the source of energy continues. A simple example is a pendulum with a child on a swing. Pushing the child at the right time inputs energy to drive the amplitude larger. The energy of drawing a violin bow across the strings of a violin sets some of the strings into vibrations that are large…

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Pluto ♇ Comes Into Clear View

A short visit after a long journey…

How I See It


It has been 85 years since the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in February 1930. It was but a tiny speck of light on glass photographic plates. Tombaugh systematically imaged a region of the sky in pairs of photographs. For hours on end, he studied the pairs to see if any objects shifted position. He used a blink comparator to quickly shift views of each of the plates. If any objects changed position, the blinking created the illusion of movement.

Lowell Observatory Archives

Improved View

Pluto remained a speck of light until the Hubble telescope images revealed it with some hints of varying patches of color as in this highly processed image. This was the best view until now.

NASA | ESA | M. Buie (Southwest Research Institute)

New Horizons

Humanity is finally getting a detailed closeup look at Pluto and its largest moon Charon thanks to the fly-by mission of the New Horizons spacecraft. A…

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Climate Encyclical | Will It Move Us To Act?

How I See It

There was much anticipation about the recent encyclical from Pope Francis on climate change. You can see and read the document at this link. No doubt you have seen and heard the news about it with some analysis of what is contained in it. I offer my impressions of the broad picture described in the 184 page document.

I’ve written a lot about climate change. It is one of the most important challenges faced by mankind. It will force us to deal with issues we already know about and some that we have yet to encounter. It will not go away if we ignore it.

Whether the encyclical is accepted by the world of Catholic leaders and followers will only be known by our actions in the future. There was a flurry of attention for a few days. Like many stories today, the attention has faded. I hope its messages are…

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Gravity | Silly Science Trick

In case you have nothing else to do today…

How I See It

Put a nickel on top of a quarter. Or, use whatever coins you have with the top one smaller than the bottom one. Hold them above your other hand. Drop them. They will rotate and reverse places. Get the distance just right and they will land softly in your lower hand. Great party trick. 🙂

I used my Samsung Galaxy s5 to film this at 1/8 speed. YouTube allowed me to trim out some dead time and shorten the video. It also did some minor enhancements to lighting and color.

After a year of using the phone, it was time to try some unused features. I am not an avid phone user.

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Greenland Ice | Mapped in 3-D

How I See It

Operation IceBridge Mission Statement

NASA’s Operation IceBridge images Earth’s polar ice in unprecedented detail to better understand processes that connect the polar regions with the global climate system. IceBridge utilizes a highly specialized fleet of research aircraft and the most sophisticated suite of innovative science instruments ever assembled to characterize annual changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets.

Now in the seventh year, IceBridge is deep into the Arctic research campaign. Each year, the aircraft fly over the Arctic or the Antarctic to gather data on the ice and how it is responding to climate change. The data is related to that of other research efforts such as ice core drilling and satellite observations. One of the regions intensely studied is Greenland which is 85% covered by ice to up to an average depth of 2.3 km (1.6 miles). The great weight of the ice has pressed…

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Global Temps | 2014 Warmest Ever

How I See It

You’ve probably heard or read the news by now that 2014 was the warmest year on record. This related story deserves to be examined.

Senate Votes

yeanayOn Wednesday January 21, the Senate voted on an amendment to legislation concerning the Keystone XL pipeline. The question was whether climate change is a hoax. It was affirmed to be real by a vote of 98 to 1. That sounded encouraging. That was followed by another amendment that stipulated climate change was real and that human activity significantly contributes to climate change. That was defeated. It needed 60 yes votes but got 50, with 49 no votes. All but four Republicans voted no. Those four joined the entire Democratic group. It is astounding to me that such an important question could viewed so differently and along strict party lines. Here is the list of yeas and nays.

According to the Senate, climate change is real…

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Did You Get Your Flu Vaccination?

Yesterday we got shot. Vaccinated. Flu vaccine. Have you had yours?

Some people don’t get vaccinated for specific health reasons, while others don’t for fairly vague notions that their general good health will keep them safe. (They may as well count on their natural good looks to keep them healthy.) Still others contend that you can get the flu from the vaccine, and they won’t take that chance. Others go with theories that vaccinations, in general, are more dangerous than the illnesses than they’re intended to prevent.

Last time I had flu was in 2000. Our son had a go-round one week in March, and I was the next victim. I never want to do that again, with a week of near helplessness, fever and fatigue. Being young and healthy didn’t protect either of us. So since then I’ve had a flu shot almost every year and haven’t been sick. Sure, it’s true I might not have gotten sick anyway. That’s okay. I’ll still choose to be vaccinated.

Below I have quoted liberally from the CDC, with links provided to specific pages where possible.

Flu can be a dangerous illness. Recent history shows a range of from 3,000 to 49,000 people dying in a flu season. Most of those deaths are people 65 and older, but anyone can be struck down.

Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others. Over a period of 31 seasons between 1976 and 2007, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people. During a regular flu season, about 90 percent of deaths occur in people 65 years and older. “Flu season” in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as May.

What are the symptoms of flu? Flu typically comes on suddenly. Most people have fever (with or without chills), cough, headaches and muscle aches, and fatigue. For most people, diarrhea and vomiting are NOT associated with influenza. They occur with other viruses or bacterial infections.

Most people who get influenza will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of the flu, some of which can be life-threatening and result in death.

Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections are examples of complications from flu. The flu can make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience worsening of this condition that is triggered by the flu.

You don’t have to have symptoms to spread the disease. A few facts from the CDC about how flu spreads:

People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.

Most healthy adults may be able to infect other people beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than 7 days. Symptoms start 1 to 4 days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons may still spread the virus to others.

Who is at higher risk for complications from flu?

And what should you know about flu vaccinations? Can it give you the flu?

No, a flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines that are administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are therefore not infectious, or b) with no flu vaccine viruses at all (which is the case for recombinant influenza vaccine). The nasal spray flu vaccine does contain live viruses. However, the viruses are attenuated (weakened), and therefore cannot cause flu illness. The weakened viruses are cold-adapted, which means they are designed to only cause infection at the cooler temperatures found within the nose. The viruses cannot infect the lungs or other areas where warmer temperatures exist.

People have any number of reasons not to get the flu shot because of some health concern. The first thing most people say is that you can get the flu from the flu shot. As stated above, you cannot get the flu from the flu shot. Or that they got the vaccination and still got flu. This is possible. The immunization effect isn’t immediate, and it’s also possible to get a different strain of flu than the one immunized for. But you are far less likely to get flu with immunization than without. There can be side effects, as well. For most people the side effects are minor and pass quickly.

However, most reasons given to dodge the shot are based on faulty understanding, or on pure misinformation. See this great post with 33 myths about flu vaccination. Each myth provides accurate information refuting the claim.

If you need any other reasons to get the flu shot, consider the financial impact of getting sick. According to the Wall Street Journal, flu is expensive for the household and the nation.

The CDC estimates that the flu costs the U.S. more than $87 billion a year and results in 17 million lost workdays. A typical flu-related hospitalization for a child costs $4,000, and an emergency visit is about $730, says L.J. Tan, chief strategy officer at the Immunization Action Coalition, a nonprofit that educates the public and private sectors about vaccine-preventable illnesses.

If you have questions, check with your doctor to help you make the right decision for you and those around you.


President Obama receiving his flu shot.

I’m glad we have our shots. Have you?

Radon In Our House | What We Did

How I See It

The purpose of this post is to inform, not frighten. Thoughts of radon gas in the home conjures up fear in many people. Reading to learn about it can be challenging. There are many so stories, reports, publications, companies, and anecdotes that making good sense out of them is difficult. It seemed important to document our story to help others have a clearer idea of the correct information so they can make well-informed decisions.

In the spring of 2014, I attended three Mini-Med School sessions for the public offered by the U of IA College of Medicine, about research they are doing on cancer. Presenters told of their efforts to understand the disease, decode its behavior, and how the public benefits from their research. A presenter the second week spoke about lung cancer. Because we live in Iowa, the subject of radon infiltration into homes was part of the discussion. Radon is…

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