Thursday, February 24, 2011

Question of the Week

Space, the final frontier...

Today at 4:50 pm, space shuttle Discovery will blast off on its final mission into space.  On board Discovery are six astronauts, the Permanent Multipurpose Module which will become sort of a storage closet for the space station, and Robonaut 2, the first dextrous humanoid robot to go into space. Robonaut 2 will test his ability to operate in zero gravity and will eventually become an astronaut's helper.

If astronauts received frequent flyer miles while in space, how many would they receive on a typical shuttle mission?

Answer:  The typical shuttle mission orbits the Earth 250 times - about 6.6 million frequent flyer miles!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Great Backyard Bird Count

Hazel Erikson, TN, GBBC 2010
What is it?  The Great Backyard Bird Count engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds over a 4-day period.  This annual bird population survey creates a real-time snapshot of bird populations throughout the US and Canada and helps researchers better understand birds and their behavior.

Who can do it?  You can!  Anyone may participate.  You may count birds for as little as 15 minutes or for as long as you like each day of the event.

When is it?  This weekend - Friday, February 18 through Monday, February 21.

Where do I count?  Anywhere!  Birds are all around us - your backyard, a park, a farm, or the city.  You may go to a particular place to count or you may count wherever you happen to be.

How do I report my count?  Go to the Great Backyard Bird Count website "How to Participate" page - all you need to know is there:

Enjoy your weekend and happy counting!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Question of the Week

Happy Valentine's Day!  Sure, Valentine's Day is about love and your significant other, but Valentine's Day is also about chocolate.  How much do you know about this delicious and tempting treat?

Which statement(s) below are true?
     a.  Chocolate causes cavities.
     b.  Chocolate causes acne.
     c.  Chocolate raises cholesterol levels.
     d.  Chocolate causes headaches.
     e.  Chocolate is addictive.
     f.  Chocolate lovers live longer.

Answer:  f is the only totally true statement in the list.

(a) Chocolate does not cause cavities by itself but the added sugar might. 
(b) Studies have shown that eating chocolate does not cause acne; in fact, doctors believe that acne may not be linked to diet at all. 
(c) Chocolate does not raise LDL (bad cholesterol) because the stearic acid in chocolate is a neutral fat that does not raise cholesterol levels. 
(d) A few studies show that migraine headaches may be triggered by chocolate, but there is little evidence that it causes other headaches (so if you answered d, you may count your answer correct).
(e) People claim to be addicted to chocolate, but there is no hard evidence that it is physically addicting.

(f) Eating chocolate may help you live longer.  A Harvard University study found that men who ate chocolate lived one year longer than those who didn't.  Scientists believe that chocolate contains chemicals that keep the blood vessels elastic, plus chocolate may increase beneficial antioxidants levels in the bloodstream.  So enjoy a candy bar every now and then - without guilt.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Question of the Week

Friday, February 11, is Thomas Edison's birthday.  Probably the greatest inventor of modern time, Edison accumulated over 1000 patents, over twice that of other prolific inventors.  His inventions include the light bulb, motion picture camera, phonograph, stock ticker, mechanical vote recorder, electric car battery, and electrical power.  Edison's ingenuity has profoundly influenced people's everyday lives and serves as inspiration to aspiring engineers and inventors.

What was Thomas Edison's favorite invention?

Answer:  Of all the wonderful things Thomas Edison invented, his favorite was the phonograph.  Edison had profound hearing loss at an early age and was technically deaf by his teen years, so that makes the phonograph an interesting choice.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The SR-71: Designed with a Slide Ruler!

So you've probably seen the big black plane outside of the Virginia Aviation Museum when you're on your way to the airport. But what exactly is it?

This plane is the SR-71 Blackbird and was manufactured by Lockheed under the direction of the CIA. After World War II, the United States wanted to maintain a close watch on Soviet missile and nuclear weapon production. To do this a plane was needed that could fly very high and very fast to both escape incoming missiles and to avoid detection by Soviet radar, all while taking photographs of what was going on below.

Flying at altitudes above 80,000 feet meant that the aircraft would be very hot but in very cold temperatures. Because of this virtually everything on the aircraft had to be specifically designed for the SR-71: even the washers! In addition, keep in mind that this is 1960s technology- the engineers of the SR-71 used a slide ruler to design this aircraft, there were no computers.
So what exactly can this plane do?

The SR-71:
  • Can fly at a top speed of Mach 3.3 or 2,200 miles in one hour
  • Can climb to an altitude of 85,000 feet where the curvature of the earth is visible
  • Is constructed of 93% titanium
  • Has a special coating of black paint that radiates heat away from the aircraft and into the cold high-altitude air
  • Reaches a temperature of 600 degrees Fahrenheit at cruising speeds with a max temperature of 1200 degrees Fahrenheit at the engine
  • Grows in length about three to four inches and widens one to two inches during flight as a result of the intense heat it generates
  • Carries 80,000 pounds of fuel
  • Can stay in flight for two and a half to four and a half hours with at least one in-flight refuel
  • Can fly from New York to London in 1 hour and 55 minutes
  • Can fly from Los Angeles to Washington, DC in 64 minutes

Only 32 of these aircraft were made and only 20 survive (though none were shot down by enemy fire- the SR-71 was able to 'outrun' any missile sent its way). VAM's SR-71 is on loan from the National Museum of the US Air Force. The SR-71 still holds the Air Speed Record by a manned airbreathing jet since 1976. This makes it the fastest known aircraft in existence- but makes me wonder just how fast the current classified US jets can go...