Monday, September 15, 2014
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Nashua;52.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/nskc.png;2014-09-15 22:54:51

Any excuse to climb an old tower is a good excuse

gg0915westonobserv

Don't you want to go up that tower? Yes, you do.

One of the area's more interesting buildings, Western Tower in Manchester (aka Weston Observatory, not to be confused with Boston University's Weston Observatory, which is in Weston, Mass.), will be open Oct. 4, 5, 11 and 12 for a different type of leaf-peeping.

This is more historical than geeky, but it's always fun to look inside weird structures from the past, so here are details:

Weston Observatory, near Derryfield Park, will be open on Oct. 4, 5, 11 & 12 from 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. each day according to Jeffrey R. Barraclough, acting director of the Manchester Historic Association. Admission will be $10 per person and $25 for families. Parks and Recreation will provide picnic tables and trash cans and MHA will sell soft drinks. A series of short talks and walking tours of the nearby Amoskeag Ledge, McIntyre Ski Area, and Manchester Water Works reservoirs is planned.

James Adams Weston (1827-1895) was the youngest of five children. He was a civil engineer by trade and designed much of Manchester's street and sewer infrastructure. A former Mayor (1861, 1867, 1869, 1874) and Governor (1871, 1874), Weston left $5,000 in his will to provide a monument atop Oak Hill "for the use, enjoyment, benefit and mental improvement of the inhabitants of the City of Manchester." The cornerstone was laid on Sept. 27, 1896.

Once a popular tourist destination, during World War II air raid wardens used the tower to scan the skies for enemy aircraft. After the war it fell into disrepair. City officials were about to demolish it in the 1970s when a group of citizens led by the late Louis Israel Martel led a fundraising effort and the stone tower was rebuilt. Weston Observatory was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Woody Guthrie never sang about our flood-control dams

gg0915flooddams

Staff photo by David Brooks

The dam known as "Souhegan Site 15" holds back King Brook near the Wilton-Temple town line, creating Heald Pond. Sept. 5, 2014.

New Hampshire has a couple dozen flood control dams, built in the 1960s and 1970s, that virtually nobody knows about. These aren't Grand Coulee-type flashy dams (hence the lack of Woody Guthrie songs) - they're passive dams, consisting of earthen berms with an overflow pipe.

Most of the time, water flows through the pipe as it enters the pond, but during very heavy rains it backs up: the pond fills up faster than the outflow pipe can handle. As a result, flash flooding in the river below is reduced, with inflow spread out over many hours or days instead of minutes.

In Greater Nashua, there are about a dozen of these dams scattered in the hills around the upper Souhegan River, holding back up to 270 acres of water. They're so simple they require litte maintenace or oversight: No doors to open, no valves to shut, no moving parts. A classic example of simple technology being best.

The only concern for the state is the earth dam itself, making sure that trees don't grow on it, animals don't burrow on it, ATV morons don't cause erosion. As I note in today's Telegraph (story here) a $369,000 federal grant is going to help the state keep them in shape.

Pretty decent return for our money, I'd say.

No aurora from atop Pack Monadnock, darn it  

There must have been 50 people who walked up to the top of Pack Monadnock after dark last night - including a Peterborough cop, who drove up (much to many people's irritation) to check things out - but no Northern Lights to be seen.

We stayed until 12:30, when we were driven down by the clouds and the cold (below 50 and pretty windy; thank goodness we brought sleeping bags).

NPR has lots of photos from other places - including Iceland, where there was a volcano erupting under the aurora. I will now writhe with envy.

Big solar storm - maybe tonight I'll finally see the Northern Lights!

gg0912aurora

NASA photo, via Sky & Telescope: The Sun erupted with an X-class solar flare on September 10, 2014, as captured by an X-ray imager aboard NASA's Solar Dynamics Explorer. (Blue color is artificial.)

A big solar flare on Wednesday means that there's a chance of Northern Lights tonight (Friday, Sept. 12), as Sky and Telescope reports. I have never seen the aurora, and it's supposed to be a cloudless night, so I think I'm going to head out and hope for the best.

Southern New Hampshire is a bit south for the best chance of seeing lights (S&T says you should be north of 45 degree North, which runs through Coos County and is approximately the Vermont-Quebec border) but it's worth a shot. I think I'm going to climb Pack Monadnock tonight and hang out; it's got a good northern view.

Therefore, the shock front now crossing interplanetary space should reach Earth on Friday morning. SWPC forecasters are predicting a moderate G2 geomagnetic storm on Friday and more robust G3 levels through Saturday. These could trigger displays of auroras over locations roughly northward of latitude 45° north (Oregon, Illinois, New England, and northern Europe).

Although the "northern lights" can appear anywhere in the sky, would-be aurora watchers should look first toward north. Most displays appear as shimmering greenish curtains of light suspended in the sky. Stronger auroras can appear tinged with blue or red.

- See more at: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/powerful-solar-flare-091020143/#sthash.ELlj2CEo.dpuf

Therefore, the shock front now crossing interplanetary space should reach Earth on Friday morning. SWPC forecasters are predicting a moderate G2 geomagnetic storm on Friday and more robust G3 levels through Saturday. These could trigger displays of auroras over locations roughly northward of latitude 45° north (Oregon, Illinois, New England, and northern Europe).

Although the "northern lights" can appear anywhere in the sky, would-be aurora watchers should look first toward north. Most displays appear as shimmering greenish curtains of light suspended in the sky. Stronger auroras can appear tinged with blue or red.

- See more at: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/powerful-solar-flare-091020143/#sthash.ELlj2CEo.dpuf

Therefore, the shock front now crossing interplanetary space should reach Earth on Friday morning. SWPC forecasters are predicting a moderate G2 geomagnetic storm on Friday and more robust G3 levels through Saturday. These could trigger displays of auroras over locations roughly northward of latitude 45° north (Oregon, Illinois, New England, and northern Europe).

Although the "northern lights" can appear anywhere in the sky, would-be aurora watchers should look first toward north. Most displays appear as shimmering greenish curtains of light suspended in the sky. Stronger auroras can appear tinged with blue or red.

- See more at: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/powerful-solar-flare-091020143/#sthash.ELlj2CEo.dpuf

Therefore, the shock front now crossing interplanetary space should reach Earth on Friday morning. SWPC forecasters are predicting a moderate G2 geomagnetic storm on Friday and more robust G3 levels through Saturday. These could trigger displays of auroras over locations roughly northward of latitude 45° north (Oregon, Illinois, New England, and northern Europe).

Although the "northern lights" can appear anywhere in the sky, would-be aurora watchers should look first toward north. Most displays appear as shimmering greenish curtains of light suspended in the sky. Stronger auroras can appear tinged with blue or red.

- See more at: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/powerful-solar-flare-091020143/#sthash.ELlj2CEo.dpuf

Therefore, the shock front now crossing interplanetary space should reach Earth on Friday morning. SWPC forecasters are predicting a moderate G2 geomagnetic storm on Friday and more robust G3 levels through Saturday. These could trigger displays of auroras over locations roughly northward of latitude 45° north (Oregon, Illinois, New England, and northern Europe).

Although the "northern lights" can appear anywhere in the sky, would-be aurora watchers should look first toward north. Most displays appear as shimmering greenish curtains of light suspended in the sky. Stronger auroras can appear tinged with blue or red.

- See more at: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/powerful-solar-flare-091020143/#sthash.ysNUKJuW.dpuf

Therefore, the shock front now crossing interplanetary space should reach Earth on Friday morning. SWPC forecasters are predicting a moderate G2 geomagnetic storm on Friday and more robust G3 levels through Saturday. These could trigger displays of auroras over locations roughly northward of latitude 45° north (Oregon, Illinois, New England, and northern Europe).

Although the "northern lights" can appear anywhere in the sky, would-be aurora watchers should look first toward north. Most displays appear as shimmering greenish curtains of light suspended in the sky. Stronger auroras can appear tinged with blue or red.

- See more at: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/powerful-solar-flare-091020143/#sthash.ysNUKJuW.dpuf</</

'Ballot selfies' are even more illegal now than last year in NH 

gg0911ballotselfieagain

This poster was supposed to have been displayed in all polling places on Tuesday.

When I rehashed an earlier piece about "ballot selfies" - posted pictures of your own completed ballot - I didn't realize something: The Legislature strengthened the law on the issue in the most recent session.

As I report today in The Telegraph today, lawmakers got pretty explicit about it: “No voter shall take a digital image or photograph of their marked ballot and distribute or share the image via social media or any other means" says the law now (although the web text hasn't been updated yet).

This makes the act of Laconia state Rep. Leon Rideout - who posted his ballot to Twitter, living up to a promise made during the legislative debate - an out-and-out misdemeanor.

UNH testing a balloon to measure gamma rays from supernova

gg0910UNHspaceballoon

UNH photo: The GRAPE balloon is inflated at NASA's launch facility in New Mexico for a 2011 test flight.

By DAVID SIMS, UNH News Service: Starting today at NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, space scientists from the University of New Hampshire will attempt to launch a football-field-sized balloon carrying a one-ton instrument payload that will measure gamma rays from the Crab Pulsar - the remains of a 1054 A.D. supernova explosion 6,500 light years from Earth.

The measurements, taken 130,000 feet above Earth, could eventually provide a window into the universal, poorly understood process of particle acceleration.

The Gamma Ray Polarimeter Experiment (GRAPE), which was designed and built at the Space Science Center (SSC) within the UNH Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, is an effort to apply a new type of detector technology to the study of celestial gamma rays. The launch is highly dependent on weather and upper atmospheric wind conditions. The launch window closes at the end of this month.

The goal of the GRAPE mission is to study the polarization of gamma rays from celestial sources. “Polarized” radiation vibrates in a preferred direction, and the extent of that polarization can provide clues to how the radiation was generated, in essence serving as a probe of the source. Detecting gamma-ray polarization can provide astrophysicists with a better understanding of particle acceleration, a ubiquitous and important but poorly understood process that occurs throughout the universe—from Earth’s magnetic field to pulsars and black holes.

The gamma rays emitted from the Crab Pulsar may be produced from the interactions of a highly accelerated beam of subatomic particles—massive ejections of high-energy particles that are thought to take the form of a narrow jet moving at nearly the speed of light.

“We think that an accelerated beam of particles is the source of the high-energy radiation from the Crab Pulsar, but the structure of that beam and the mechanism by which the radiation is generated is not entirely clear,” says mission lead scientist Mark McConnell, a professor in the SSC and chair of the UNH department of physics.

The New Mexico-based flight, the second such proof-of-concept experiment in three years, is not designed to reach the ultimate goal of the project, which is to study gamma-ray bursts—perhaps the most energetic processes in the universe. Achieving that will require a third, follow-up flight over Antarctica where the balloon, due to circumpolar winds that occur between December and January, would circle the pole for 30 to 40 days. The upcoming flight could last as long as 40 hours.

Says McConnell, “To study the gamma-ray burst phenomena we need much more time because they occur randomly in the sky at a rate of about once per day and last at most a couple of minutes. So a long flight will be required to measure a number of bursts.”

However, McConnell notes, a second, successful short-duration demonstration flight should provide the best measurements of the polarization of gamma rays emanating from the Crab Pulsar to date because of the sophistication of the instrumentation—the “polarimeter” detectors developed at UNH are capable of making the difficult measurement. A successful flight this year would pave the way for an Antarctic launch as early as 2016.

Large high-altitude balloons have been used to carry NASA experiments to the edge of space for more than 50 years. They provide a vastly cheaper and less time-consuming approach than satellite-based missions and afford an excellent opportunity for graduate and undergraduate student research projects. GRAPE has already produced two Ph.D. theses.

McConnell says that the GRAPE technology is currently being used to develop a NASA proposal for a dedicated satellite mission to study the X-ray and gamma-ray polarization of gamma-ray bursts. Known as PETS (Polarimeters for Energetic Tranisents), the $150 million project would lead to a satellite mission in 2020.

Candidate quote of the primary (from a GraniteGeek perspective, anyway)

Election nights have dead time for reporters (and candidates), since polls close at 7 to 8 p.m. but results don't trickle in until 9 p.m. at the earliest. So we gather lots of comments about waiting.

The best quote from GraniteGeek's point of view came from Nashua's Diane Sheehan, regarding her race for executive council, a seat that involves results from many towns.

"It's my fourth election - and the numbers are what the numbers are. It's kind of like Schrödinger's cat, I'm waiting to hear if I'm alive or dead," she said.

NH Senate primary result squelched hope for switch in climate-change attitude

If I may break the "no politics!" rule in GraniteGeek, there is one depressing takeaway from Tuesday's primary: The stomping of the only Republican in the state (and perhaps in the country, at least at the U.S. Senate level) who was open about the need to tackle human-caused climate change.

Jim Rubens, a former state senator who had been an official with the Union of Concerned Scientists, not only lost badly to Scott Brown, he barely edged out former Sen. Bob Smith, who wasn't taken seriously as a candidate by many.

Turnout was under 20 percent and many other issues were at play (notably, who is best positioned to beat the Democratic incumbent in November), so you can say that this doesn't really reflect the population's beliefs. But it deals a real blow to anybody who hopes GOP candidates will be able to stop their pretence about climate change in order to get elected.

Why is it illegal to post a photo of your own ballot? Here's why

I am fascinated by the issue of why it's illegal to take a picture of your own filled-in ballot in the voting booth and post it online - creating a "ballot selfie," to use a term I invented for a story last November.

Outlawing ballot selfies seems really stupid in a world where people take pictures of their private parts, sex acts and lunch platters, then slather them all over Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook.

But as I was reporting on the issue, I began to understand the reason for the law (which doesn't explicity outlaw photographs, adding to the confusion).

I realized that it would be easy for pressure groups - Greenpeace, Free State Project, NRA, ACLU, whatever - to ask employees or other folks to "show your support for the cause" by posting pictures of ballots in favor of particular candidates, thus creating pressure to vote in a certain way. Or for officials ask people seeking municipal contracts to prove that they voted the "right way". Or for spouses to demand proof that their partner isn't a secret supporter of (insert your least favorite political philosophy here). Or to imagine lots of other scenarios in not showing pictures of your ballot suddenly becomes an issue.

In other words, allowing people to display pictures of their ballot online could turn into virtually requiring people to show pictures of their ballot. Then the sanctity of the polling place, one of the cornerstones of America, is weakened.

Being alone in the ballot booth - just you and that powerful piece of paper - is as close to a spiritual experience as secular democracy gets. It's not unreasonable to keep other people from interfering, even if it means doing something silly like targeting ballot selfies.

Ballot selfies - man, I've got to think of a better term.

The head is used for bait; the tail is used for my dinner

gg0909monkfish

You can see why they remove the head before they serve it.

I'm getting a half-pound of fish each week from the state's Community Supported Fishery (I wrote about it last month). It's like a CSA, except instead of getting whatever vegetables have been harvested by your local farm, you get some of whatever fish was caught that day by particiating day-fishery boats on the NH coastline. Last week I got cod, but this week I'm told I'll be getting:

Monkfish is a unique, slightly scary looking, deep-water angular fish of which the tail meat is harvested and the hollow heads are sold for bait to other fisheries. It is often referred to as poor man's lobster and has a texture similar to that of a scallop.

Scary looking, indeed!

Part of the appeal of the CSF is that (a) you try new fish, and (b) you hope that the smaller boats, catching less-stressed populations, will do less damage to the Gulf of Maine that the fish you get at supermarkets, caught by factory boats with massive bycatch.

Here's the CSF blog, if you want to learn more. They operate on eight-week "seasons" - this one ends in October, and I think there's at least one more before winter kicks in.

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About this blog

David Brooks has written a science column for the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph since 1991 - yes, that long - and has overseen this blog since 2006.

He chats weekly with New Hampshire Public Radio about GraniteGeek topics, around 5:50 p.m. on Tuesdays. You can listen to old sessions here.

Contact:   E-mail or call 603-594-6531.

ggScienceCafeSidebar

Free, informal get-togethers at a bar that feature discussion among the audience (everybody is welcome) and experts in various fields. Check the website here.

NEXT CAFE: Wednesday, September 17 (we take the summer off)

TOPIC: Marijuana, the biology of what it does and doesn't do to us.

Location: Killarney's Irish Pub, 9 Northeastern Boulevard (Holiday Inn, just west of Exit 4 on the turnpike).

PAST TOPICS:

2014:
June:
Fluoridation in public water. May: Organic gardening. April: Tele-medicine, or doctoring from afar. March: Bitcoin - what is it? February: The science of allergies. January: Electric cars.

2013:
November:
Multiple sclerosis. October: Genetically modified organisms. September: Aquaponics. June: Flying robots (drones!) May: PTSD and brain tauma in veterans. April: Cats vs. wildlife in NH. March: Mosquito-borne disease. February: The science of brewing. January: 3-D printing, with MakeIt Labs.

2012:
November:
"Dark skies and light pollution" with Discovery Center. October: "The science of concussion." September: "The science of pain management." June: "Arsenic in our environment." May: "Invasive species in New Hampshire" April: "Nanotechnology in business and the lab". March: "Lyme disease in NH". Feb: "Seasonal Affective Disorder." Jan: "Biomass energy"

2011:
Nov.: "Science of Polling." Oct.: "Digital Privacy." Sept: "Vaccinations." June: "Future of Food." May 2011: "Climate Change"

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Alternative power map

Click here to see my alternative-power Google map showing large-scale solar, wind, hydro and nuclear plants in N.H., plus intriguing alternative-power items.

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