BAN #113: Glory, schooling solar

May 13, 2019 Issue #113

[Saturn image credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute / Gordan Ugarkovic]

Subscribers are glorious.

Pic o’ the Letter

A cool or lovely or mind-bending astronomical image/video with a short description so you can grok it

I love optical phenomena, especially ones written in great big splashy photons on the sky. Haloes around the Sun, parhelia, fogbows, and more; they’re beautiful, and bonus: The science behind them is fascinating, too.

On of my favorites is called a glory. I’ve seen a few of them, always from an airplane window (I took a very cool video so be sure to click that link and watch!), which is actually the easiest way to see one. If the Sun is behind you, and you can look exactly in the anti-Sun direction — where the plane’s shadow would be if it were visible — and you are also over a cloud with the right properties, then a glory might be visible as a multi-colored disk in the cloud, like a small rainbow wrapped all the way around into a circle.

These have been seen from space, too! I’ve written about that before. But I have a new one for you that is pretty cool, because it was snapped by Alexander Gerst, an ESA astronaut on board the International Space Station!

[A glory seen by astronaut Alexander Gerst on ISS. Credit: ESA/NASA]

Oooooh, ahhhhhh!

You can see the glory in the center, red on the outside, then yellow, then kinda sorta blue. The colors aren’t as crisp as in some glories, but I think the fact that this one is something like 1,000 km away make up for it! Note that Gerst was looking close to the horizon, which is over 2,000 km away from the ISS height. Had he been looking straight down it would’ve been about 400 km below him, the altitude the station orbits at.

So here’s a thing: The mechanism behind glories isn’t well understood. Somehow, sunlight is bending and reflecting in side water droplets in the cloud to produce this effect, but there are still open questions on what’s going on precisely. Contrast this with, say, rainbows, where we know exactly what’s happening.

So not only is this pretty, and has interesting science, we don’t really know what that science is.

A mystery! One I hope gets solved soon, because I love reading about these things. And I love writing about them, and that’ll certainly be a good chance to do so.

Is it hot in here, or is it just anthropogenic global warming?

Climate change is real, y’all

With the cost of solar energy production dropping rapidly — getting so cheap that it’s actually less expensive to install new solar and wind plants than it is to keep up coal fired plants — it’s worth looking into what sectors could stand to benefit most. A new study shows that installing solar panels on schools in the US is a potentially good strategy, if implemented correctly.

There are lots of regional issues (the usual ones like how much Sun a particular area gets, what state subsidies exist, and so on) but the study found that if done the right way, savings could start pretty rapidly. K-12 schools spend more than $6 billion per year on electricity (and higher education facilities spend a staggering $14 billion). The study shows savings could add up to 75%, which is a huge amount.

Interestingly, the press release also talks about ways going solar can be added to the curriculum; for example using them to teach fractions, and even trigonometry (due to the incoming angle of sunlight on the panels; and watch it changing during the day). That’s really clever.

Of course, there’s an initial outlay of money, which is always a tough sell to politicians, and at a time when teachers are striking due to low salaries and benefits it could be easy to make the optics of this look bad. But as prices for solar continue to drop (and fossil fuel becomes an increasingly bad investment), I suspect this will be a more tempting prospect. And at the very least studies like this can be springboards for even more and better ideas. I’m really glad this is being investigated!

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[Why yes, I do sometimes make myself laugh creating images for the blog. From Monday’s article. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS / / Phil Plait]

Monday May 6, 2019: Schrödinger's gas: Mars both has and does not have methane in its atmosphere

Tuesday May 7, 2019: A nearby binary neutron star collision may have seeded the early solar system with gold

Wednesday May 8, 2019: Scientists see a bizarre quantum effect in antimatter for the first time

Thursday May 9, 2019: What is the Milky Way’s most distant globular cluster?

Friday May 10, 2019: When the first stars in the Universe exploded, they really exploded

Et alia

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