30 December 2008

NASA releases final report on Space Shuttle Columbia disaster

NASA released a report on the final few minutes of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. They concluded that it was impossible for the astronauts to survive the breakup at the altitude at which it occurred - they had a list of specific failures in the suits (as well as other places) that occurred, but even without those failures the astronauts would not have made it, unfortunately. However, with this information, they will be able to build the next generation of ships and spacesuits that much better.

You can find the full 400-page report and a video from inside the Shuttle (around a minute of length, at the start of them hitting atmosphere, not including the disaster) at this link.

24 December 2008

Calendric woes

We're having a leap second this year at New Year's. The atomic clocks will briefly read "11:59:60 pm" (after reading "11:59:59 pm") Dec 31, before finally rolling over to 12:00:00 am, January 1.

One of my close high school friends says her birthday is the Ides of March (March 15), but it's really the 15th day of the 3rd month in the Chinese calendar. She was born in China, in the third month of their calendar, on the 15th day of that calendar, so when they emigrated they put down our third month (March) and 15th day (March 15, the Ides of March, per Julius Caesar fame). However, the luni-solar calendar doesn't start on our January 1, it starts (IIRC) two New Moons after Winter Solstice - which is usually early February or occasionally late January. So the date she was born according to the Western solar calendar (what we use in the USA) was "actually" sometime around early April through mid May. What date her Chinese birthday falls on will then vary every year, since our calendars are not in sync. Hence the simplicity of just saying it's the Ides of March every year.

And if you got that explanation of mine, try out this explanation of when Sir Isaac Newton's birthday should be.

22 December 2008

"Shattering the Glass Closet"

If you think women in science have it hard, what about gays and lesbians in science? (It's a long article, but well-written.)

Science Concerns Survey

If you've got a few minutes to spare, please fill out this survey by the National Academies of Science.