Thursday, April 21, 2011

The True Finns

I don't normally blog about things non-scientific, but it was not my intention when I started to blog only about science.  I was very interested when I read about this political party in Finland.  Another blogger touched on other countries in the EU bailing each other out and I wanted to go a little deeper on this.

The True Finns are a nationalist party.  Besides xenophobia, they oppose bailouts of other countries.  They believe Finland should not be responsible for other countries in the EU.  Bailouts cover the banks.  Those interested in pure capitalism should and do oppose this, as did many Americans when we bailed out our banks.  Pure capitalism says nothing is too big to fail.  If it is failing, let it.  That's the way it goes.  How much does letting the banks of Greece and Ireland fail really hurt the euro?  Well, it would be an interesting experiment, that's for sure.  I agree with the True Finns that they shouldn't be responsible for other countries.  Stricter lending is necessary to avoid things like this. 

My very first entry outlined a resource based economy without currency which few agree with.  I'm also interested in pure capitalism only because the status quo is not working.  I'd like to try something different.  Pure capitalism is certainly polarizing to one extreme, and resource economies are the other opposite, but I ask this, why can't people be open minded enough to accept both methods as possibilities?  Do ultra conservative and ultra liberal have to be at odds?  Go True Finns!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Plasma Engine

Haven't updated in a few days, had a lot of tests, but this should be an interesting post!

There's an engine prototype already built called the VASIMR or Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket.  It is an exciting advance in rocketry because it is capable of getting us to Mars in under a month, or Jupiter in under a year.  For reference, currently used rockets would take about 9 months to go to Mars.  The company has also signed a contract with NASA to test the rocket on the ISS by 2013!

This is how it works.  Radio waves are aimed at hydrogen gas contained inside.  It resonates with the gas giving it a net charge and heating it.  It's somewhat similar to how a microwave is tuned to resonate with water, heating it up.  It heats the gas to 1,000,000 F and then it is shot out the back (propelling the vehicle forward) using a strong magnetic field.  You may hear things like this and wonder how exactly that works.  Well, the way electromagnetism works is that a magnetic field goes in a certain direction, say, wraps around an object.  Charged particles (or a current carrying wire, like in a wind turbine) go perpendicular to the magnetic field.  So, if you aim the magnetic field in the proper direction, you can aim the charge, or plasma, in the desired direction, as well.

A magnetic field must be used, of course, because the plasma needs to be concentrated and shot in a precise direction to get the craft to move as desired.  Materials don't function very well at these temperatures.  The net result of 3 of these engines on one craft is Mars in under a month, and it's available now.  One drawback, and irony, is that the material the magnets are made of is very important.  Standard materials won't work because they are too heavy to get into space economically.  Light superconducting materials are necessary.  The irony is that they don't work at room temperature, in fact they need to be at ~ -300 F, about the temperature of liquid nitrogen.  So super hot plasma is being contained by super cool magnets!  Another potential problem is the magnetic field's affect on equipment.  They were able to orient two magnetic fields opposite each other to cancel out the effects of this.  It works similarly to magnets repelling one anther.  The field lines avoid each other and diverge, avoiding the ship.  One of the really nice things is that the design eliminates almost all moving parts due to its simplicity.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


After taking a few general chemistry classes several years ago I wondered if the simulated acids in movies were actually possible.  School labs that I worked in never used 'melt-your-hands-off' acids.  General chemistry also teaches of 7 strong acids.  However.. those 7 are nothing compared to the super acids that instantly start boiling skin.

Generally fluorine compounds are the most or least stable.  The strongest acids all contain fluorine.  Similarly the most resistant to corrosion (teflon) also contains fluorine.  This is due to it being the most electronegative element.  Meaning, it either wants to hold onto what it has really badly, or give away what it has really badly.

Part of the reason the acids generally worked with in general chemistry are not so strong is due to the dilution.  High concentrations of HF (one of the 7 taught in chemistry) has been shown to dissolve glass.  I will post a link at the bottom of this post showing a video of 70% hydrofluoric acid (HF) 30% water in a test tube.  The acid immediately begins dissolving the test tube creating a reaction that generates a lot of heat energy (begins boiling at 112 C in 30 s).  It also generates HF gas, which is great fun.

From Wikipedia: Hydrogen fluoride gas is a severe poison that may immediately and permanently damage lungs and the corneas of the eyes. Water solutions (hydrofluoric acid) are a contact-poison with the potential for deep, initially painless burns, with later tissue death. By interfering with body calcium metabolism, the concentrated acid may also cause systemic toxicity and eventual cardiac arrest and fatality, after contact with as little as 160 cm2 (24.8 square inches) of skin.

It eats through gloves, dissolves glass, a lungful will kill you in under 2 minutes, and even limb amputation won't save your life if that 24.8 square inches comes in contact with you.

Here's what I really want to talk about, though.  Fluoroantimonic acid is 20 quintillion times stronger than 100% pure sulfuric acid.  It reacts so quickly and violently that it explodes in nearly any liquid.  One of the few containers that can hold it is teflon.  If it comes into contact with your skin, not only will your skin boil and melt, but you will die in seconds.  It poisons the brain extremely quickly due to fluorine's small size, as it enters the bloodstream extremely quickly.  Iron, gold, lead, it dissolves them all.

Here is the video demonstrating HF's ability to dissolve glass.  The experimenter wanted to dissolve the entire tube but had to abort the operation due to the large amounts of lethal HF gas being released as it began to boil.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Non-Newtonian Fluids

This sounds more complicated than it is, trust me!

Most fluids are Newtonian.  That is, as you push or move through them, the more they become apparently more viscous, or push back.  Air works similarly to this concept.  The Bugatti Veyron, one of the fastest production cars in terms of top speed, needed the extra 500 hp (from 501 to 1001) to go the last 50 or so MPH up to 250.  The air at that speed is extremely thick, so the vehicle needed to be extremely aerodynamic, plus have a lot more hp.  Water works in a similar way.  Moving faster in water requires more and more force as the speed increases.

Non-Newtonian fluids, however, are much more interesting.  These do not obey the same rules.  Some of them get much harder to 'move in' than others as speed increases, others do the opposite. 

An interesting one is a shear thickening fluid.  One example is a common physics trick that some of you may have seen.  Corn starch in water if mixed to the correct proportions will exhibit solid-like behaviors if put under enough stress (i.e. pressure/force on it).  It is possible to run across a pool of it, like running on water.  Another example of this is used sometimes in car suspensions.  At low stress, the fluid yields somewhat, and at high stress, it yields slightly more, providing a much smoother ride than conventional stiff springs.

There are also fluids that do the opposite, and become easier to move with increased force.  The easiest example of this is paint.  Applying force against the wall you are painting makes the paint more easily come off.  However, when it is on the wall, little force is being applied and it is less likely to move.

The last kind I want to talk about is pretty cool and everyone is familiar with it but likely doesn't realize it.  Bingham plastic fluids require an initial force or stress to get moving, but otherwise will not.  It's a similar concept to a block of wood on a wedge.  At some angle (where the force of gravity is acting more and more readily) the block will begin to slide.  I'm not going to talk about the differences in types of friction because that's irrelevant to this, but the idea of it beginning to slide due to a minimum force applied is the idea.  Toothpaste is a great example of this.  You can hold it upside down and it won't come out.  This isn't due to a magical inside vacuum pressure system, it is the fluid properties itself!

Hope you guys enjoyed :)

edit:  here is a video demonstrating a shear thickening fluid:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

New fundamental force

The Tevatron collider in Illinois has possibly discovered a new unanticipated particle.  There's a 0.1% chance of a statistical error, and with so many experiments run, 0.1% is more likely than it sounds like.  However, the result remains.  The team of physicists that discovered this particle have a long set of number crunching ahead to confirm or deny the result now.   They need to make the percent chance of the particle being an error less than 0.000001% chance for it to be considered a formal discovery.

If it is confirmed, it may end up being a 5th fundamental force.  The others being strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetism and gravity.  I have to wonder if scientists working on grand unification theory to relate all forces are hoping it turns out to be a fluke!  They already need string theory and 11 dimensions to relate the 4 forces.  Usually things get considerably more complicated as more is considered.  For instance, to figure something simple like how fast an object will fall on Earth, you can use the classic equations of kinetic motion.  To get a really accurate measurement you also need to consider wind blowing the object, the density of the air (which changes at every altitude) and the viscosity of the air.  All these things make F = mg  a much longer equation.  Imagine adding a new fundamental force to an 11 dimension equation!

Here's a link to one of the news stories run on it:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

New Beginning

I'm going to expand on a tangent of my last post a bit here.

So, it's 2030 and China, the US, the ESA, India and the Russians all have lunar bases set up as a jumping off point for Mars colonization.  That is the current plan, all these countries, starting in 2024, are going to start building permanent lunar bases.  How would we go about building the start of a city on Mars?  I'm not talking about the feasibility of getting an excavation unit there to hollow out a living space and the exact architecture of the city itself, but rather the foundation for how it will run.

There's a distinct advantage to building a city from the ground up using highly developed technology to traditional cities.  It would not be difficult to use solar, wind, nuclear, or supercritical water power.  Automating the entire process would also be easy.  Then there's agriculture.  That's extremely easy to automate.  Water and air production wouldn't be hard to automate either.  So why not just give the residents what they need to survive?  Why is it necessary for one person to be the farmer and another to be the power plant operator?  On Earth nothing is free and machines haven't replaced people in easily automateable fields because people need to earn money.  On Mars there doesn't need to be a competition based economy.

I thought about that for a while and realized something.  That's a similar dynamic to prison today.  You are provided living space, food, air and water everyday for free.  And just like in prison, people want more.  If someone imports the newest Xbox, everyone is going to want it.  If there's no currency to trade, that is a problem.  So people will make their own currency, just like in prison.  In this way, people will still work somehow to earn something to trade for something not otherwise available on Mars.

Then I thought about it more.  Part of the purpose of Mars itself may be about mining and manufacturing materials, or even real estate when we run out.  If the planet itself were the economy for all its people, who loses?  Everyone can have that same Xbox if the people trade X amount of mined materials, or they could trade Y amount of land for Earth currency; to buy an amount of unavailable materials on Mars to make any number of products available.

Now that every country in the world is participating in the bastard form of capitalism we've developed (and I may be tried for treason just for insulting it), it's un-Earthlike to say fuck capitalism for Mars.  I think it's appropriate.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Space Missions

Okay, this is going to be a small rant, but it should be a good read.  I'm also attempting to appeal to reason and see if people agree or disagree with me.  Please let me know regardless!

I've seen lots of programs and read a lot about various missions from NASA, the ESA (European Space Agency) and the Russian program, and they always talk about the risk to lives.  It's currently estimated with all things considered with up to date technology a 3 year mission to Mars, including over a year on the surface to have a fatality rate of about 1 in 5.  In other words, 20%.  They claim this risk is too great to astronaut lives.  I believe the reason they are worried about it is the damage to the space programs if astronauts were to die because I'm sure many would take that risk.  I would not bet all my possessions on a poker hand with an 80% chance of winning, but for the chance to be the first human on another planet?  Oh hell yes!

There are a number of different propellant technologies that have not been tested enough to be considered safe for these space agencies to use.  Some of them can get the travel time down to weeks, thus cutting the trip time, radiation exposure, risk of random medical emergency, and gravitational body damage down immensely.  Why not try to use such a system?  If the odds are 1 in 5 I can get a team of people willing to risk their lives in 10 minutes.  Well, they might not want to take someone like me, because my first words on the planet's surface would not be something so epic as Neil Armstrong.  Can they deal with me saying "Hi, my name's Commander Shepard and this is my favorite planet in the solar system?"

So what do you guys think?  Do our space agencies need a 98% chance of success before attempting to broaden the human footprint?