Watch A Writhing Aurora in Real Time
I love me some auroras. They are the visual manifestation of an invisible force field, tongues of light that illuminate Earth’s magnetic shell, which by shielding this blue orb from the onslaught of the charged radiation known as solar wind, makes life itself possible.
As charged particles belched from the sun strike our planet’s magnetic carapace, they are diverted poleward on electromagnetic conduits and eventually thrust into the upper atmosphere at Earth’s higher latitudes. There, collisions with atmospheric molecules illuminate the sky in green and red atomic excitation spectra. Their downward orientation makes them appear like needles pushing in from space itself, or as if one was gazing upward at a flag flapping vertically in the wind.
None of that have I ever witnessed with my own eyes, because I live at far too equatorial a latitude for even the largest solar storm to deliver this show to my front door. In learning about auroras through time lapses and astrophotography, which I have done my fair share of here on It’s Okay To Be Smart, I suppose I’ve always assumed they were a slow, gradual thing to behold, moving alomst imperceptibly, but definitely moving, like the way we can watch a cloud dissipate without ever really seeing it happen.
This video of a recent aurora over Yellowknife, Canada tells a different story. It is moving in real time. Stunning work from photographer Kwon O Chul. Not every aurora moves this fast, but this video completely changes the way I look at auroras.
I’ve often thought of the auroras as Earth’s own performance art, as if the sun is thanking us nightly for the simple act of noticing. But for this private light show, it is we who should be thanking the sun.
For more beautiful aurora science check out one of the first videos I ever made for the It’s Okay To Be Smart YouTube channel:
Emma Watson: Accio Equality!
You really need to watch Emma Watson’s brilliant and moving speech from the floor of the United Nations, as part of the UN HeForShe campaign, on the importance of feminism and the right of every human, regardless of gender, to become the most complete version of themselves. It’s not science, but it’s more important than anything I could possibly share with you today.
She offers a formal invitation to the men of the world to join in the efforts for worldwide gender equality.
To Emma: Invitation accepted.
Are you with us?
Reggie Watts lets Rufus know he will always be there for his little buddy.
Guys, I just want to be close to ewe.
With autumn on the horizon, this graphic looks at the chemicals behind the myriad colours of autumn leaves; bigger version & download here: http://wp.me/p4aPLT-sn
Apparently there are places in the world where this is starting to happen? I wouldn’t know since Austin still has the summer dial turned up to like 8.5, and our trees don’t so much “change color” as “exhaustedly whither into a brown winter dormancy as if finally exhaling after the release of soul-crushing weight.”
This color-changing thing sounds nice though, I hope to check it out sometime!
PS - “Autumnal carotenoids” would make a great indie band name.
Tragicomic: Adults try 5th-grade math. Recover with Love and Math.
Are you smarter than a 5th grader?
No, apparently you probably aren’t, at least not when it comes to basic math.
On the other hand, adults have jobs and paychecks and can buy smartphones with calculators in them so maybe we get the last laugh because although there’s probably a good case for learning it in 5th grade, long division and adding fractions is an extremely illogical skill to carry into your adult life. I took ten years of college between undergrad and grad school, and I did long division precisely zero times ever.
Albert Einstein once said of the memorization of physical constants: “[I do not] carry such information in my mind since it is readily available in books.” That.
This is still really tragicomic, though. Because if you look at it as a metaphor for knowledge and retention of education in general, you start to weep a little as you laugh.
I did get these right though, I promise :)
Relative Magnitudes; ‘Geographicus Burritt’ (Huntington Chart of the Solar System), 1856.
I love me a good vintage infographic.
View the TED-Ed Lesson Where do genes come from?
When life emerged on Earth about 4 billion years ago, the earliest microbes had a set of basic genes that succeeded in keeping them alive. In the age of humans and other large organisms, there are a lot more genes to go around. Where did all of those new genes come from? Carl Zimmer examines the mutation and multiplication of genes.
Seriously, if I could recommend anyone to explain this kind of thing (besides myself), it would be the great Carl Zimmer.
A wonderful video about where new genes come from and how we went from early organisms with just a few to the mélange of molecular instructions that we see on Earth today.
This is how evolution gets creative.
The Physics of Space Battles
This week I strapped on my helmet, jumped in my handy starfighter, and used up It’s Okay to be Smart’s entire special effects budget so we could take a look at some of the physics at play when it comes to space battles.
How would spacecraft maneuver without terrestrial aerodynamics? In a zero-g environment devoid of atmosphere, what kinds of weapons might they use? And how do we overcome the fact that space is really, really, REALLY big? Join in the comments on the YouTube page and let me know if you think any of your favorite science fiction gets it right (or wrong).
Join me and Obi-Wan Newton to discover the Physics of Space Battles! Watch here: