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154. Jumping From Space

In 1959 and 1960 the United States Air Force ran Project Excelsior, a series of 3 extreme altitude parachute jumps. These 3 jumps were undertaken by Captain Joseph Kittinger and set the record for the fastest speed reached by a human without a vehicle  and the worlds highest parachute jump at 31 kilometres above sea level. Both records still stand.

In the 1950’s, military jets were reaching ever higher into the atmosphere and there were concerns about safety when ejecting at high altitudes. Tests with dummies showed that pilots at high altitudes would uncontrollably spin with a potentially fatal speed. A new special multi-stage parachute was designed to stop the spinning. Then there was another problem, the chill.

At higher altitudes temperatures reach as low as -70°C, this was less than healthy for anyone; so a special pressure suit was designed to combat both the extreme pressure changes and the low temperatures. It was a bit on the bulky side, combined with the new parachutes the whole ensemble weighed as much as Captain Kittinger. Then came the first extreme altitude jump, Excelsior I.

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Posted by on June 23, 2011 in Articles

 

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68. Heavy Up There

FACT: We don’t notice how heavy air is.

So… how heavy is the air above us?

We are built for it, we can all cope with the pressure of the millions of cubic kilometres of air that are suspended about us, everyone from the great Pando down to the smallest bacteria and even Yoghurt. It is pushing down on you now, in fact, unless you have been to space you have had this force acting on you at almost every single moment in your life, the weight of the atmosphere pushing down on you, and you act as if it is nothing.

So how much is it, what is the atmosphere pushing down on us?

The answer is this, 101325 Pascals. That may mean nothing to you, so here it is in layman’s terms.

There are 10,330 kilograms of air pushing down on every square metre of your body. Over 10 tons. That is something everything you have ever seen, is fighting against. Think of a polystyrene cup, put it upside down, it has that enormous force acting across it, yet it doesn’t crumple. That applies to everything. Not even squirrels crumple under this immense pressure.

Talk about a weight on your shoulders. 101,325 Newtons of weight per metre squared to be precise.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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64. Solar Moon

FACT: The moon is in space. Then again, so technically is the Earth. However we spin faster. Specifically one revolution (full turn) every 24 hours. Meaning everywhere on the surface is dark for around 12 hours every day.

Not so on the moon. The moon spins more slowly, a single revolution on the moon takes around 27.3 earth days to complete, however some places never fall into the dark here. There are places which lie outside of these rules. Thanks to the extreme small amount of axial tilt on the moon, special peaks exist which have never been in shadow.

Four of these eternally lit peaks line the edge of the Peary Crater, each of which has not seen shadow for millions of years, and likewise many craters have eternal shadows upon which no light falls.

Beyond the sheer poetry of these glittering peaks, there is also a great utility. Solar power. Here on earth solar cells and solar panels spend at least half of the day in the dark, even more if there are clouds. Also very little light reaches them because the atmosphere stops a lot of it. On the moon there is no such problem. The complete absence of an atmosphere means light hits the moon full force, and on these mountains the solar farms could twinkle constantly, converting the light into sweet, sweet energy to be beamed back to Earth.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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50. Pando the Trembling Giant

MISCONCEPTION: The Blue whale is the largest organism in existence.

TRUTH: Many would say that Ant colonies count as one organism, but they are also just too small. What we are talking about now is a super-organism, and in the world of super-organisms, ant colonies are small fry.

The largest(known)  super-organism is called Pando, Latin for ‘I spread’. Pando is a tree, or not. It varies depending on your definition of a tree. Pando (a.k.a. the Trembling Giant) is a clonal colony of a single male, Quaking Aspen(Populus Tremuloides). It is located in Utah in the United States of America.

The way it works is this; when the Quaking Aspen wants to reproduce, it both flowers and produces a clone of itself. The cloning just means extending its network of roots and forcing them up through the ground, thus starting a new tree. This new tree has the same genetic makeup and even has genetic markers to say that it actually belongs to the first tree.

The new tree grows with the old one and together they establish a large root network which produces more and more Quaking Aspen, essentially causing the single tree to expand into a clonal colony with a vast root network.

Just how vast is it?Part of a larger Aspen Colony, note the people in the bottom left for a scale reference.

Normally clonal colonies are 0.1 hectares in size, Pando is 43 hectares in size, and weighs 6,000 tons. Now wait, there is more.

The trees on the surface die, the root network is the real Trembling Giant, and it does not die. It constantly sends up new shoots, renews dieing trees and stops supplying nutrients to those which are dead. The reason it cannot die is because the heart of Pando lies too far beneath the ground to be reached by the frequent forest fires. These forest fires are in fact a boon for Pando as it kills off the pesky invading conifers and frees up space for many more extensions of Pando to be sent up.

Due to this invulnerability and protection from competition the heart of Pando is considered the oldest known organism in existence. Experts pin it down to being approximately 80,00 years old. This impressive longevity makes it the oldest known living organism on our fair planet.

Quaking Aspen clones 80,000 years ago the Trembling Giant was but a lone tree living in the perfect environment for it to spread, grow, flower and produce clones. However the environment has changed so much over time that it is much less hospitable towards Quaking Aspens. Experts believe that the changes in the environment have been so pronounced that  Pando has not successfully flowered in the last 10,000 years, meaning its survival is dependent upon producing more clones and hoping for forest fires to wipe out the pesky conifers.

This is impressive but there are many more super-organisms out there, many under-analysed or even unknown. So while this is good, it is almost certain that there are other things even more impressive than this.

It’s an interesting world out there.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2011 in Articles, Misconceptions, Trivia

 

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