R.I.P. Michael Alsbury #SpaceShipTwo

(Note: Please donate to the Mike Alsbury Memorial Fund, as he leaves behind a wife and two small children ages 10 and 17.)

It's been a rough week for space travel. First, an unmanned ISS resupply rocket launched erratically and had to be destroyed by NASA safety operators. Next, the Virgin Galactic spacecraft SpaceShipTwo suffered a mishap that resulted in the loss of life. Pilot Michael Alsbury was killed when SpaceShipTwo crashed in the Mojave Desert while attempting to land.

Heroes like Alsbury put their lives on the line to push forward space research. It's critical that we not take this loss for granted, and they we can continue to push forward to support what Alsbury lived for - taking space exploration to the next level.

The Guardian has a nice writeup of Alsbury's accomplishments. From that article:

Alsbury earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He was the recipient of Northrop Grumman’s President’s Award for Innovation-for-Affordability Excellence this year.

Alsbury was a “home-schooled, home-brewed” pilot who earned his way up through the ranks at the company, starting as an engineer. Alsbury had also put himself through commercial pilot school and was certified as a flight instructor.

Scaled Composite, Alsbury's company of 15 years, released a short statement in his honor

Ebola Isn't Just Fear Mongering

There have been many accusations that the current Ebola outbreak is another example of fear mongering, or deliberately focusing on the fear involved with an issue. This could not be further from the truth.  It's important to understand that Ebola is a very serious fever that is often fatal in humans. The World Heath Organizations (WHO) defines the current Ebola outbreak as "the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976." 

There has been a lot of false information flying around the news, mostly from people that are not versed in science. Check out two scientific sources below for some great facts on this disease:

From Dr. Calelph Wilson's story in Ebony:

"Evidenced-based information is critical.  Social media such as Twitter is a rapid way to access expert information and conversations on Ebola. For example, the National Science & Technology News Service (NSTNS, of which I am a member) recently hosted an Ebola Twitter chat with Professor A.O. Fuller, a virus expert from the University of Michigan. There are a host of Ebola virus related hashtags with very good information. It is critical to avoid sources that claim that Ebola is a hoax, a conspiracy or isn’t real without any basis."

From Dr. Marshall Shepherd's story in the Washington Post:

"I suspect that federal agencies like NIH and CDC have also suffered from gamesmanship. I can’t imagine that they have not been diligently thinking about the Ebola problem for years. However, I can imagine that budget cuts and other stresses on the science infrastructure and funding agencies would affect capability. "

Check them out and get educated by scientists!

#Extant E3: See Things First, Hear Them Later

Me and Astronaut Doug Wheelock in front of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, the day before liftoff

Me and Astronaut Doug Wheelock in front of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, the day before liftoff

In last night's episode of Extant, Molly (played by Halle Berry) sees a rocket lifting off, heading into space and likely docking with the space station.  It reminded me of when I attended a shuttle launch. One of the most fascinating things was seeing the shuttle launch .... in silence.  Then, 15 seconds later ... WWWWOOOOOOOOOOSSSSSSSHHHHHH you get blasted by the full sound of the rocket launching from the Earth.  Why did it take so long?

In the above video, we start to hear sound about 15 seconds after we see it. Why is that? Well, the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) is much, much, much faster than the speed of sound (1130 ft per second). So if something is more than 1130 ft away from us, we should see it one second before we hear it.  If it's 2260 ft away, we'll see it two seconds before we hear it. For 15 seconds, the math works out to just over 3 miles, which is the actual distance from the shuttle launch pad to the Kennedy Space Center press site that I was at.

This is the exact same reason why you see lightning before you hear thunder - if the lightning is far enough away, the light reaches your eyes way before the sound reaches your ears! You can also calculate how far away the lightning is by using the same method I used to calculate how far I was from the shuttle launch pad.

If you want to check out the livetweet of the show (watch out, there are spoilers), check out the Storify below!

#Cosmos E13 - World B Free

Well ... that's it. Cosmos is done!  On one hand, it means that I can return to regular science blogging on this site.  I am sad though - it's truly been a great experience to share this show with you and others that realize the impact that science has in your life.  Congratulations to Fox, Seth McFarlane, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ann Druyan, and everyone else that made this series possible.

Check out a video from the show discussing the Alexandria Library.  Below the video is the Storify live tweet that I hosted on Sunday.

#Cosmos E12 - Let's Get Free

Episode 12 of Fox's Cosmos focuses on the scientific rationale for climate change. The greenhouse effect, which was one of the main scientific endeavors of the original Cosmos host Carl Sagan, is when gas in the atmosphere traps sunlight bouncing off of the Earth's surface. Modern civilization burns fossil fuels which adds more carbon to the air, helping the atmosphere get even warmer.  Check out this video below for a visual explanation of the greenhouse effect.


Look below for more video blurbs from Cosmos, as well as the live Storify twitter chat that we held during the show's viewing.

#Cosmos E11: Eternalists

(I live tweet Cosmos every Sunday @ 8pm CST. For all of my Cosmos recaps, please click here)

Episode 11 of Fox's Cosmos, "The Immortals", focuses things that stand the test of time - the first written word, stories, and organisms that can survive for millenia. All these things stand the test of time - and could possibly have extraterrestrial origins.

Early in the formation of our solar system, Earth and the other planet were slammed by asteroids and other rocks.  Rocks were flying all over the place, and organisms were along for the ride - possibly exchanging life between the planets.

Check out some video from the show below, as well as the Storify of the latest live tweet below!

#Cosmos E10: Electric Circus

Before this week's Cosmos, I was featured on the Black Girl Nerds podcast with Danielle Lee.  We talked Cosmos and other science issues - check it out the podcast below as well as the accompanying Storify!


Episode 10 of Fox's Cosmos is titled "The Electric Boy" - and luckily has no tie in Jamie Foxx's Electro from The Amazing Spiderman 2. We see how the first electric motor and generator were created based on the observations and experiments of scientists such as Michael Faraday and Humphry Davys. With the added math of James Maxwell, the world was ready to harness the part of electricity in useful ways. 

Check out some YouTube videos from Fox's channel and the live tweet Storify conversation below!


#Cosmos E9: Deepest Bluest

(I live tweet Cosmos every Sunday @ 8pm CST. For all of my Cosmos recaps, please click here)

This week's episode of Cosmos covered scientists such as Marie Tharp, who successfully mapped the ocean floor and its ridges, showing that the continents have been shifting over eons,  Earth's land mass transformed from one super continent known as Pangaea to the familiar continent outlay that we know today.  

The shifting had a significant effect on dead trees that lay deep in the rock of the planet. Eruptions caused poisonous gas to cover the Earth, freezing and heating up the planet and killing 90% of life. .

For more, check out the Storify of the live tweet below!

#Cosmos E8: Sister Act

(I live tweet Cosmos every Sunday @ 8pm CST. For all of my Cosmos recaps, please click here)

Episode 8 of Fox's Cosmos focuses on the stars in the night sky, and the immense effort behind categorizing them and figuring out their composition.  There were a significant amount of women that contributed heavily to astrophysics - Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan Levin and Cecilia Payne - but what's most sad is that there are many more who have been erased from history. I'm glad that Cosmos focuses on these women, known as Pickering's harem (seriously, Harvard still uses this antiquated term - wtf), but let's hope that this wasn't the "all women" episode of the series. They should be interdispersed throughout.

Check out the Storify below!

#Cosmos E7: So Fresh & So Clean Clean

(I live tweet Cosmos every Sunday @ 8pm CST. For all of my Cosmos recaps, please click here)

Episode 7 of Fox's Cosmos, entitled "The Clean Room", covered the search behind the age of the Universe. Meteorites found on the Earth surface contain a certain amount of lead, which is actually a decayed form of Uranium.  Thus, by measuring the amount of lead, one can determine the age of the rock, and this can be extended to the age of the Earth. Clair Patterson had to build a "Clean Room", a lab that was free of lead contamination so that he could accurately measure the amount of lead in a meteorite.

Lead was a popular ingredient in many products in the middle of the 20th century, from paint to gasoline. Patterson's work help to show that the amount of lead in the environment has been increasing over time, and this helped many industries (such as oil and petroleum) to stop using lead in their products, since it was known to be poisonous.  Of course, these industries did not go down without a fight, and hired their own scientists to push their agenda.

Check out Outkast's video for "So Fresh, Co Clean" below, as well as the Storify of the live tweet of the episode.