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Science News

How fireworks work: The science behind pyrotechnic displays

Fireworks explode in the air, as seen from Weehawken, New Jersey on the Hudson River during the Macy's Firework display on July 4, 2009. It was the first time since the year 2000 that the fireworks have exploded over the Hudson River and not the East River. Yana Paskova/Getty ImagesCBS News

Before the Declaration of Independence was even signed, founding father John Adams once wrote to his wife that he envisioned a celebration of America's independence from Great Britain with "Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more." His vision became a Fourth of July tradition, and now millions of Americans enjoy spectacular fireworks displays every year.

These pyrotechnic shows are actually the result of carefully crafted chemical reactions. John Conkling, an adjunct professor of chemistry at Washington College and author of a textbook on pyrotechnics, recently demonstrated the science behind fireworks in a video for the non-profit American Chemical Society.

"Without chemistry, you couldn't have the burning mixtures. Without the burning mixtures, you wouldn't have fireworks," Conkling explained.

First show off, then take-off: New specimen of Archaeopteryx reveals previously unknown features of the plumage

The new (eleventh) specimen of Archaeopteryx.Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen (LMU)

Paleontologists of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich are currently studying a new specimen of Archaeopteryx, which reveals previously unknown features of the plumage. The initial findings shed light on the original function of feathers and their recruitment for flight.

A century and a half after its discovery and a mere 150 million years or so since it took to the air, Archaeopteryx still has surprises in store: The eleventh specimen of the iconic "basal bird" so far discovered turns out to have the best preserved plumage of all, permitting detailed comparisons to be made with other feathered dinosaurs. The fossil is being subjected to a thorough examination by a team led by Dr. Oliver Rauhut, a paleontologist in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at LMU Munich, who is also affiliated with the Bavarian State Collection for Paleontology and Geology in Munich. The first results of their analysis of the plumage are reported in the latest issue of Nature. The new data make a significant contribution to the ongoing debate over the evolution of feathers and its relationship to avian flight. They also imply that the links between feather development and the origin of flight are probably much more complex than has been assumed up to now.

Technology News

The Best Android, iOS and Windows Apps for Shooting July 4th Fireworks

Nokia Camera is one of the best photo apps on Windows Phone, but only Nokia owners have access to it.

You see it at concerts, graduations, birthday parties and just about any mass gathering of humanity nowadays—and you’ll see it during Fourth of July fireworks, too: people with their smartphones up and out for photos. Look, if you’re gonna do it, at least do it right.

Photos of fireworks are particularly tricky to shoot but if you can control three factors, chances are you’ll take better pictures: The constant movement messes with auto focus, so you want to be able to lock that—generally not a skill found in the basic phone camera apps. The contrast between the night’s sky and the bright bursts throws off exposure settings, too, so you need a way to control that as well. But no matter how well you’re controlling for those two, your pics will look terrible if your flash is on. (Seriously, turn off your flash!)

Whether you own an iPhone, Android or Windows Phone, your photos can be better by using these apps.

The Ultra-Simple App That Lets Anyone Encrypt Anything

Original illustration: GettyBy Andy Greenberg

Encryption is hard. When NSA leaker Edward Snowden wanted to communicate with journalist Glenn Greenwald via encrypted email, Greenwald couldn’t figure out the venerable crypto program PGP even after Snowden made a 12-minute tutorial video.

Nadim Kobeissi wants to bulldoze that steep learning curve. At the HOPE hacker conference in New York later this month he’ll release a beta version of an all-purpose file encryption program called miniLock, a free and open-source browser plugin designed to let even Luddites encrypt and decrypt files with practically uncrackable cryptographic protection in seconds.

“The tagline is that this is file encryption that does more with less,” says Kobeissi, a 23-year old coder, activist and security consultant. “It’s super simple, approachable, and it’s almost impossible to be confused using it.”

Xborvffv’f perngvba, juvpu ur fnlf vf va na rkcrevzragny cunfr naq fubhyqa’g lrg or hfrq sbe uvtu frphevgl svyrf, znl va snpg or gur rnfvrfg rapelcgvba fbsgjner bs vgf xvaq.

Environmental News

Bombs Bursting in Air: Environmental Regulation of Fireworks

Is your local fireworks display environmentally friendly?Megan Herzog

It seems only fitting as we approach the Fourth of July holiday to turn our attention to the environmental impacts and regulation of fireworks.  As it turns out, our age-old patriotic tradition of exploding packages of toxic chemicals in the air is not without its environmental drawbacks.  Although much is still unknown about the environmental consequences of fireworks displays, it is clear that fireworks can adversely impact water quality, air quality, biological resources, and possibly even human health through debris, noise, and toxic contaminant pollution.  Fortunately, there are many ways regulators and citizens can mitigate the adverse impacts of fireworks.

In order to understand the environmental impacts of aerial fireworks displays you first have to appreciate the basic mechanics.  The heart of a colorful firework is the “color shell,” which contains a bunch of chemical pellets arranged to emit a particular color and design.  Commonly used chemicals include: potassium chlorate, potassium perchlorate, potassium nitrate, sodiumbenzoate, sodium oxalate, ammonium perchlorate, strontium nitrate, strontium carbonate, sulfur, charcoal, copper oxide, polyvinyl chloride, iron, titanium, shellac, dextrine, phenolic resin, and aluminum.

Oklahoma earthquakes triggered by wastewater injection

Pumping vast amounts of fluids underground may have set off swarm of tremors
A WHOLE LOT OF SHAKING  In 2009, a series of earthquakes (red dots), part of the Jones swarm, rattled Oklahoma. Dumping wastewater into disposal wells (white squares) may have boosted pressure at faults (black lines), triggering the Meghan Rosen

Pumping wastewater underground may rock Oklahoma. Vast quantities of water left over from oil and gas extraction and then injected into disposal wells may have set off a surge of earthquakes that has shaken the state since 2008.

And disposal wells don’t just trigger quakes nearby. Tremors can rattle the ground up to 35 kilometers away — much farther than scientists had previously thought, researchers report July 3 in Science.

The new study is the most definitive to link Oklahoma’s rocketing earthquake numbers to fluid injection, says seismologist Steve Horton of theUniversity of Memphis in Tennessee.

Medical News

July 4th Fireworks Are Really Tough for Some Veterans With PTSD

Photo: 68/Morey Milbradt/CorbisBy Jesse Singal

You are going to be hearing a lot of loud, concussive noises over the next few days, whether or not fireworks are legal where you live. For most of us, these explosions may be an occasional annoyance, but overall are part of the fun and spirit of Independence Day celebrations. For some veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, though, they can be a nightmare.

It isn't any great mystery why, given how frequently extremely loud noises accompany traumatic combat experience. ABC News reported on this shortly before last year's Fourth:

Samuel Askins spent 545 days as an infantryman in the U.S. Army in Iraq, witnessing numerous firefights and suffering a concussion in an explosion that eventually ended with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"It ruined my life," Askins said, adding that he tried to kill himself with alcohol and drugs because of the panic attacks and despair that followed him back to the United States and resulted in his retirement from active duty.

Researchers regrow corneas, first known tissue grown from an adult human stem cell

This is a restored functional cornea following transplantation of human limbal stem cells to limbal stem cell-deficient mice.Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary

Boston researchers have identified a way to enhance regrowth of human corneal tissue to restore vision, using a molecule known as ABCB5 that acts as a marker for hard-to-find limbal stem cells. This work, a collaboration between the Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Schepens Eye Research Institute (Mass. Eye and Ear), Boston Children's Hospital, Brigham and Women's Hospital and the VA Boston Healthcare System, provides promise to burn victims, victims of chemical injury and others with damaging eye diseases. The research, published this week in Nature, is also one of the first known examples of constructing a tissue from an adult-derived human stem cell.

Limbal stem cells reside in the eye's basal limbal epithelium, or limbus, and help maintain and regenerate corneal tissue. Their loss due to injury or disease is one of the leading causes of blindness. In the past, tissue or cell transplants have been used to help the cornea regenerate, but it was unknown whether there were actual limbal stem cells in the grafts, or how many, and the outcomes were not consistent.

Space News

Fireworks from 23 million light years away

This composite image of galaxy NGC 4258 shows the galaxy’s unusual two extra spiral arms, with X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in blue, radio data from the National Science Foundation’s Karl Jansky Very Large Array in purple, optical data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in yellow and infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope in red. (X-ray: NASA/CXC/Caltech/P.Ogle et al; Optical: NASA/STScI; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA)By Aubrey Cohen

Here are some fireworks for July 4, courtesy of NASA and galaxy NGC 4258, also known as M106.

NGC 4258, which is 23 million light years away, is spiral, like the Milky Way, but with two extra spiral arms that intersect with the plane of the galaxy, rather than being aligned with it. These arms glow in X-ray, optical and radio light.

Here’s what’s going on, according to NASA.

A new study made with Spitzer shows that shock waves are heating about 10 million Suns’ worth of gas. Researchers think a supermassive black hole at the center of NGC 4258 — about 10 times larger than the one at the center of the Milky Way — is producing powerful jets of high-energy particles, which strike the disk of the galaxy, generating the shock waves.

Ocean on Saturn's moon Titan could be as salty as Earth's Dead Sea

Researchers found that Titan's ice shell, which overlies a very salty ocean, varies in thickness around the moon, suggesting the crust is in the process of becoming rigid.NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Scientists analyzing data from NASA's Cassini mission have firm evidence the ocean inside Saturn's largest moon, Titan, might be as salty as Earth's Dead Sea.

The new results come from a study of gravity and topography data collected during Cassini's repeated flybys of Titan during the past 10 years. Using the Cassini data, researchers presented a model structure for Titan, resulting in an improved understanding of the structure of the moon's outer ice shell. The findings are published in this week's edition of the journal Icarus.

"Titan continues to prove itself as an endlessly fascinating world, and with our long-lived Cassini spacecraft, we're unlocking new mysteries as fast as we solve old ones," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who was not involved in the study.

Odd News

How to Keep Your Dog Happy When Fireworks Go Off -- Using Science!

Welsh Corgi watches fireworksJason G. Goldman

Dogs are terrified of fireworks. How can you enjoy the Fourth of July while also being sensitive to your canine companions' needs? We reached out to a group of dog scientists to get some answers. Here's what they had to say.

A More Intense Form of Terror>

Dr. Gregory Berns is a neurobiologist at Emory University and author of the book How Dogs Love Us. He's been putting fully conscious, unrestrained dogs into fMRI machines for the last few years in an effort to understand the complex relationship between man and man's best friend. I asked him to speculate on why fireworks are so tough on dogs.

My guess is that these reactions are most like PTSD in humans – and that is notoriously difficult to treat! In humans, at least one has the possibility of some type of cognitive-behavioral therapy in which the person mentally tries to override automatic anxiety responses. But this takes a lot of work. Dogs do not have that level of cognitive control, and without an ability to rationalize, or think through their anxiety, may experience a rawer, more intense form of terror.
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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (20+ / 0-)

    ...morals elevated to the status of ethics, prejudices elevated to the status of morals, whims elevated to the status of prejudices -- 'Mickey Finn' in Spider Robinson's The Guy with the Eyes

    by rfall on Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 09:00:19 PM PDT

  •  Apparently It Wasn't Love On "The Notebook" (7+ / 0-)

    From VH1: Ryan Gosling Wanted To Kick Rachel McAdams Off The Notebook Set And More You Didn’t Know About The Film

    Former Mickey Mouse Club and Young Hercules star Ryan Gosling was handpicked by director Nick Cassavetes to play passionate, lovestruck Noah, while newcomer Rachel McAdams arrived via an audition. “When I told [New Line Cinema] I wanted to hire Ryan for the lead, they kind of looked at me like I was out of my mind,” Cassavetes told VH1. “And we found Rachel through an audition process and she was wonderful. A lot of studios wouldn’t have had the courage to put two relatively unknown people in a movie like this. But they did and, gosh, weren’t they terrific?” VH1 spoke with Cassavetes about choosing two emerging stars to helm his project, finding ways to make his actors get along on-set, working with his mother (Gena Rowlands) and more.

    Contrary to their love story in the film, or their eventual real life romance, Gosling and McAdams were far from friendly while making this movie. In the years since, there have been rumors about an on-set conflict, and Cassavetes revealed that at one point, the show almost didn’t go on:

    Maybe I’m not supposed to tell this story, but they were really not getting along one day on set. Really not. And Ryan came to me, and there’s 150 people standing in this big scene, and he says, “Nick come here.” And he’s doing a scene with Rachel and he says, “Would you take her out of here and bring in another actress to read off camera with me?” I said, “What?” He says, “I can’t. I can’t do it with her. I’m just not getting anything from this.”
    Luckily, the director’s impromptu therapy session helped save the film:
    We went into a room with a producer; they started screaming and yelling at each other. I walked out. At that point I was smoking cigarettes. I smoked a cigarette and everybody came out like, “All right let’s do this.” And it got better after that, you know? They had it out… I think Ryan respected her for standing up for her character and Rachel was happy to get that out in the open. The rest of the film wasn’t smooth sailing, but it was smoother sailing.
    It's interesting the relationship dynamics of the actors on films with romance as a major feature of the plot. There have been more than a few films with real-life couples where the romance didn't work at all. For example, Gigli was made during the time when Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were "Bennifer," but they have no on-screen chemistry at all even though they were going home together each night.

    On the other hand, similar to what happened on the set of The Notebook, Richard Gere and Debra Winger HATED each other while making An Officer and a Gentleman.

    According to "High Concept," Charles Fleming's biography of producer Don Simpson, the producer was alleged to have told the auditioning Debra Winger, "There may be somebody else for this part. I need somebody fuckable. You're not fuckable enough."

  •  How Strong Is Your Summer Drink? (7+ / 0-)

    A few weeks back, I posted a PBS story about the history of the Long Island Iced Tea. One of the more embarrassing moments in my life was downing four Long Island Iced Teas (i.e. the equivalent of around 20 shots of vodka, gin, rum, tequila and triple sec) with a very pretty girl during an evening, thinking I was drunk but okay, only to end up puking on all fours in my front lawn when I got home for all the neighbors to see.

    From the Associated Press: Calculating the alcoholic punch of beverages can be tricky in patio season

    How strong is that pina colada? Depending on how it’s made, it could contain as much alcohol as two glasses of wine.

    The U.S. National Institutes of Health is trying to spread the word: Take a look at its online alcohol calculator to see how much you’re really drinking with those summer cocktails.

    A “standard drink” is the amount of alcohol in a 12-ounce beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. It’s a useful way to track alcohol consumption. But the multiple ingredients of mixed drinks make for a harder count.

    “Most people don’t realize how much alcohol is actually in a drink,” said Dr. George Koob, director of the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

    “Obviously it depends on the bartender and who’s mixing the drinks,” Koob adds.

  •  If you can read this you have an exciting career (7+ / 0-)

    in Crypto-Analysis

    Xborvffv’f perngvba, juvpu ur fnlf vf va na rkcrevzragny cunfr naq fubhyqa’g lrg or hfrq sbe uvtu frphevgl svyrf, znl va snpg or gur rnfvrfg rapelcgvba fbsgjner bs vgf xvaq.

    I want 1 less Tiny Coffin, Why Don't You? Support The President's Gun Violence Plan.

    by JML9999 on Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 09:39:15 PM PDT

    •  Some new justification (5+ / 0-)

      for depriving women of access to health care, yes?  It's as sentient in that regard as anything else I've read.

      And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

      by noweasels on Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 09:47:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  JML9999 (7+ / 0-)

      Alright motherfuckers, we`re sick & tired of you collecting our personal information & if this persists we`ll squash you like bugs. By collecting all the human claptrap you are impinging on our intergalactic communication lines which are far more important to interstellar progress than your little goddamned squabbles. We don`t care about your power tripping gonad expanding senseless server storage installations, but the collection data lines create static that confuses our biometric accumulation of facts we need to save the human population from self-destruction, only one of many planets in dire need of assistance. We`re trying to help, but your interference in our benevolent quest may lead to a shorter time span, that has been tentatively approved, to annihilate any lesser life form that might prevent our mission of mercy.
      Once you become a deterrent to our mission, one that includes better worlds than yours, we`ll have no choice but to plant more war-mongering stupid republicans into your ranks to end the "civilization" of one of the most regressive group of infantile bipeds we`ve ever encountered.

      Pl14 xsc 4 Quadrant

      Did I get it right?

      I`m already against the next war.

      by Knucklehead on Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 10:28:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  A lovely OND, rfall -- thank you! n/t (5+ / 0-)

    And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

    by noweasels on Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 09:43:26 PM PDT

  •  Heartfelt prayers and special thoughts (5+ / 0-)

    for all people and animals in harm's way tonight as a result of Hurricane Arthur


    And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

    by noweasels on Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 09:45:14 PM PDT

  •  Thank you rfall. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Knucklehead, side pocket, Aunt Pat

    Our town's fireworks are right now.

    The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.― Neil deGrasse Tyson

    by maggiejean on Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 09:55:34 PM PDT

  •  rfall (6+ / 0-)

    Thank you.

    Taken from my old house overlooking the barge in Paradise Cove.


    My present home is on the other side of this display on Point Dume, so I still get to see them.

    As for the harm it may cause suffering veterans, here`s an image I created just for this reason with the story behind it at the included link.

    Fire Watcher


    Thank you for bringing that up.
    It is extremely important.

    BTW; I`m personally very proud of this image & try & include it in any diary about celebrations that may include fireworks displays. We have to watch over our wounded brothers & forever denounce those who sent them to battle under less than noble intent.

    I`m already against the next war.

    by Knucklehead on Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 10:40:43 PM PDT

  •  national women's law center (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, maggiejean

    Women’s Rights are No Joke! The Top 5 Things to Know About Women and the Civil Rights Act

    Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. It banned race discrimination by recipients of federal funds, helping to advance school desegregation; it prohibited race discrimination in public accommodations; and—crucially—it banned employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion and sex.  

    As we look back on this critical anniversary for civil rights, we have a prime opportunity to remember the ways in which the Act influences and was influenced by women.

    Women’s rights should never be a joke, but they were a laughing matter on the floor of Congress when Representative Howard Smith of Virginia suggested adding sex as an additional basis on which to prohibit employment discrimination, a proposition that seemed hilarious to many of his colleagues.

    Smith, a southern Democrat, was a staunch segregationist, and included women’s rights as a ploy to kill the entire civil rights bill.

    Representative Martha Griffiths of Michigan was integral to the inclusion of women as a protected class. After Smith mockingly introduced the idea, Griffiths fought to lobby other representatives to support it, and wound up triumphing.

    Dorothy Height, a prominent civil rights activist and an outside adviser to President Johnson, pushed him to diversify his own staff as the bill was in Congress, and ultimately Johnson set a goal to hire 50 women.

    Despite the protections against employment discrimination offered by Title VII, there was still a need to ensure that those rights extended to pregnant women after the Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that pregnancy discrimination did not constitute sex discrimination. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 made it clear that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is unlawful.

    In 1986, the Supreme Court recognized that many kinds of sexual harassment on the job also constitute illegal sex discrimination.

    As we celebrate 50 years of progress toward equality, we must also remember that there is still work to do. Women had to work, on average, three months into 2014 to earn as much as men did in 2013. Women are 76% of the workforce in the top ten low-wage occupations.

    And so 50 years down the road, we hope to emulate Martha Griffiths, Dorothy Height, and so many of their peers as we continue in the fight for true equality.

    Our political system is infected by “a pathological, democracy-destroying corruption” that is caused by the influence of Big Money. We cannot ignore this corruption anymore. ~ Lawrence Lessig

    by anyname on Fri Jul 04, 2014 at 04:57:05 AM PDT

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