Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Pink Cloud from Outer Space (Video Coverage)

Michael Heiland serendipitously took this phenomenal time lapse video of the pink space cloud reported over Arizona last week on 2/25/2015. The cloud was formed by the Air Force Research Lab's rocket-launched ionospheric research experiment .  The video was taken from Michael's perch on Mount Lemmon northeast of Tucson.

Based on the timing of this video showing the appearance of the cloud pretty much coincident with sunrise, the two science questions remain unanswered.

Did the substance released in the experiment react chemically with the sparse oxygen in the ionosphere causing a glow in the process, as in the first Smoke Puff experiment back in 1956[2]?

Or, was sunlight responsible for ionizing the substance in the same manner as the phosphorous payload released in the Smoke Puff 2 experiment[3]?

+Michael Heiland is a bit of a phenomenon himself.  He became famous for a gorgeous time lapse video of the Phoenix valley he made as a high school senior.  More examples of his photography and videography can be found at[4]

1.  Pink Clouds and Science Reruns

2.  Journal of Chemical Physics coverage of the 1956 experiments, (apologies for the paywall)

3.  1958 Popular Mechanics article describing the first series of experiments


5.  More coverage of the 1950s experiment:

Friday, February 27, 2015

Pink Clouds and Science Reruns

A pink cloud was reported in the early morning, (pre-sunrise), sky over Arizona on Wednesday[1]. NASA and the DOD soon thereafter took credit for the cloud.  They had launched a rocket into the ionosphere where it released a vapor that created the cloud.  The purpose of the experiment was to study the effects of the vapor on the ionosphere itself.  The article, referenced above from ABC, said:

"The experiment, which also involved using ground stations to take measurements of the ionosphere, was intended to develop scientific explanations for ionospheric disturbances and their effects on modern technology, officials said."

This has all been done before[2] as it turns out!  In 1956 the Air Force launched two missiles from White Sands Missile Range with payloads of nitric oxide.  The gas released in the ionosphere created a glowing cloud described as being 'yellow-red'[3] in color.  They were studying the ionosphere as well, which, back in 1958, was described with a bit more panache [4]:

"In this electronic age, everybody knows that the ionosphere is an electrified upper atmosphere region that bounces off radio waves around the globe."
The 1958 definition of the ionosphere also nicely explains what the experiment in both cases was looking for: how radio wave propagation was effected, (also shown in the following diagram from the same 1958 piece):

The folks at Mysterious Universe[5] seem a little peeved about the DoD's failure to reveal what the specific released vapor was, but while the vapor could have been a number of things, it's interesting to note the color of light emitted by ionized nitrogen:

1.  ABC News report:

2.  Coverage of the earlier experiment here:

3.  Journal of Chemical Physics coverage of the 1956 experiments, (apologies for the paywall)

4.  1958 Popular Mechanics article describing the first series of experiments

5.  Mysterious Universe

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Virginia Trimble on Pyramids and Missing Extraterrestrials

Did you ever wonder if there was any 'real science' behind the subject matter of shows like 'Ancient Aliens'?

There is! Yesterday I came across these two articles[1][2] by Dr. Virginia Trimble: UC Irvine astronomy professor and science historian. The first article was written by Dr. Trimble when she was still an undergrad at UCLA. It detailed her calculations showing that the constellation Orion was visible through the 'so called air shaft' of Cheops pyramid when it was constructed.

The second article was an excellently written and fun to read review of the a 1979 "Symposium on the Implications of Our Failure to Observe Extraterrestrials " The symposium was attended by luminaries such as Freeman Dyson and Bracewell. Among other topics, there were discussions of how many planets were available that could support life. It gives a nice historical perspective on today's post from John Baez [3]


1. "Astronomical Investigation Concerning the so-called Air-Shafts of Cheops's Pyramid"'%20Pyramid&pg=PT317#v=onepage&q=Astronomical%20Investigation%20Concerning%20the%20So-Called%20Air-Shafts%20of%20Cheops'%20Pyramid&f=false

2. "Where Are They? A Report on a Symposium on the Implications of Our Failure to Observe Extraterrestrials "

3. John Baez on Earth-like planets near Red Dwarfs

Monday, February 16, 2015

Systems Testing: Lab Book 2015_02_16

Work is proceeding on testing the systems that will be used in the experiment.  While the glass Dewar’s silvering blocks gamma radiation in the 22 keV range substantially, it fits nicely inside the yoke magnet whose field can be easily measured.  A temperature gauge was located; vacuum testing was started for the inner Dewar and lid, (including the instrumentation ports.)  Scroll to the bottom for the background of the experiment.

All about the temperature gauge
Today, just pictures of the gauge.  For an idea of scale, its rectangular footprint is about the size of a nickel.  The four wire sockets on the left are for attaching a four point probe to measure the resistance of the gauge.

The Dewar lid with all the attachments
The easiest way to seal the Dewar lid was to put the instrumentation stick back in place.  An experimental stage to hold the Pb sample still needs to be designed.

Testing the vacuum pump before testing the Dewar
In order to reduce the number of variables when the lid is tested, the recently serviced vacuum pump was tested independently.

The vacuum pump is working well:

Exhaust hosing for the leak detector pump is currently stored behind the red toolbox.

Procedure for pre-cooling the Dewar with liquid nitrogen
1.       Fill the Dewar with liquid nitrogen
2.       After the inside has cooled, pump the evaporating nitrogen gas out via a roughing pump
a.       Monitor temperature as pressure is reduced
b.      If the reading stabilizes, solid nitrogen has formed.  Pressurize with dry nitrogen gas
c.       If the reading continues to drop as the pressure drops, the Dewar is evacuated

Hirsch's theory of hole superconductivity proposes a new BCS-compatible model of Cooper pair formation when superconducting materials phase transition from their normal to their superconducting state[1].  One of the experimentally verifiable predictions of his theory is that when a superconductor rapidly transitions, (quenches), back to its normal state, it will emit x-rays, (colloquially referred to here as H-rays because it's Hirsch's theory).

A superconductor can be rapidly transitioned back to its normal state by placing it in a strong magnetic field.  My experiment will look for H-rays emitted by both a Pb and a YBCO superconductor when it is quenched by a strong magnetic field.
This series of articles chronicles both the experimental lab work and the theory work that’s going into completing the experiment.

The lab book entries in this series detail the preparation and execution of this experiment… mostly.  I also have a few theory projects involving special relativity and quantum field theory.  Occasionally, they appear in these pages.

Call for Input
If you have any ideas, questions, or comments, they're very welcome!

1.  Hirsch, J. E., “Pair production and ionizing radiation from superconductors”,

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bahnson, Griggs, World War II Radar, and Nazi Bomb Scientists

How a car accident in 1936 turned physicist, David Tressel Griggs, into WWII radar test pilot who ferried other scientists to the European front to capture Nazi atom bomb scientists.

Here's what I already knew:
Agnew Hunter Bahnson Jr., in a rather indirect manner, provided both the airplane and the test pilot used by MIT's Radiation Lab to test a new WWII technology, radar.  In 1936, Bahnson, who was a resident of a Harvard dormitory, took one of his geophysicist dorm-mates, David Tressel Griggs on a hiking trip through the Caucasus Mountains.  The Caucasus range connects the Black Sea with the Caspian Sea.  Bahnson's and Grigg's hiking trip ended before it even began, however, when Agnew swerved off the road to miss a bicyclist and struck a tree[1].  Griggs narrowly missed losing both of his legs to amputation.

Hunter's father had taken out an insurance policy for the trip.  Grigg's used his payment to purchase a Luscombe airplane.  His injured legs made him ineligible for military duty.  Still wanting to contribute in some way, Griggs piloted his plane for the test runs of the radar system being built at the MIT Radiation Labs.  After the system became operational Griggs traveled with it to Europe and flew along on bombing runs that utilized the system.  During one bombing run Griggs found himself hanging from the bottom of the plane after kicking open a blocked bomb bay door.

Here's What I Found out This Week
Grigg's did more than serve as a radar advisor.  His wartime duties provided Griggs with a rather unique civilian privilege: clearance to fly over wartime Europe.  Griggs made use of this privilege to shuttle scientists for the Alsos mission.  The soldiers and scientists of the Alsos mission, (a predecessor to Operation Paperclip), captured and interrogated German A-bomb scientists.  Samuel Goudsmit--one of the physicists who literally got the electron spin equations half right[2]--was the technical leader of the mission

Griggs would go on to lead his own scientific retrieval mission in Japan[4].  One of his cohorts on the mission was Arthur Compton of scattering fame, but better known around here for his water based Foucault Pendulum![3]

Here's what else I'd like to know
Why did Bahnson know Griggs at all?  I've found evidence that he attended school at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and that he knew about, (or should have known about), the Harvard society of Junior Fellows[5].  I haven't found any evidence yet though that Bahnson was ever a student at Harvard.

How close were Bahnson and Griggs after 1936?  Bahnson mentions Griggs in reference to some of Bahnson's thoughts on anti-gravity.  He seems to mention him as a bit of a bona-fides as he's asking Bryce and Cecile Morette-DeWitt to take the helm of the Institute for Field Physics which Bahnson helped get started at his alma-mater in North Carolina.  Did Bahnson and Griggs sit around swapping gravity theories over brandies and cigars?  Did Griggs feel that any of Bahnson's theories held any water?  I don't know... yet.




4.  Combat Scientists