The U.S. submarine USS Barb, with its commander Eugene B. Fluckey, holds a few honors – one of those being the only land invasion of the Japanese mainland during World War II. During its service under Fluckey, the Barb sank 17 ships in total, adding up to 96,628 tons – the most of any U.S. sub.
During one operation, the submarine carefully tracked a possible Japanese convoy, to find a group of 30 Japanese merchant ships at anchor. In an area surrounded by shallow waters and minefields, the sub was able to sneak in undetected, launch at, and sink several of these ships before racing away from the Japanese patrol boats that gave chase. Avoiding excessive shallows and mines, the sub was pushed to 23 knots – setting the world speed record for submarines at the time. After an hour of cat and mouse, they were able to reach open water and escape completely unscathed.
Possibly the most interesting mission, though, was one concocted by Fluckey himself. He equipped his submarine with a set of 5-inch rocket tubes, basically creating the first ever ballistic missile submarine. He then took his sub to the Japanese coast and used it to bombard three towns on the mainland. During this operation, they noticed that troop and supply trains were constantly moving along the coast, which gave him another idea. He selected a group of 8 men, and sent them ashore with some 55-pound scuttling charges to booby-trap the train tracks. To keep the men safe, rather than assigning a man to manually trigger the explosives, they set a microswitch under a rail that would depress with the weight of the train. Avoiding an unexpected express train, and lucking out that the guard in a nearby tower (originally mistaken for a water tower) was asleep, they planted the explosives and rowed back toward the sub. As they were rowing, another train approached, spurring Fluckey to get on his megaphone and yell at them to “paddle like the devil,” knowing the instant the explosives went, the area would be swarming with Japanese.
As the train crossed the microswitch, the Barb scored the most unique submarine kill of the war, eliminating at 16-car troop train. The Barb completed its service under Fluckey without a single casualty, and with no major injuries.
[via War History Online]
Birds can be pretty intelligent – more than we often give them credit for anyway. Cockatoos, parrots, parakeets, and related birds also really love sound. They’re fascinated by new sounds. I remember a roommate of mine had a parakeet once, and its favorite thing to do was sit on my shoulder and press its head against my cheek while I made weird sounds with my mouth.
Well, Caesar the cockatoo apparently figured out that a metal pot lid rings for a bit when it’s hit with something hard, and loves the noise. He even knows which direction the lid needs to be facing in order to make it ring. I think I probably would make a point not to leave my lids out where he could get to them if this became a regular habit, but it’s cute to watch in small doses.
I don’t know how I didn’t see this before. This past November, University of Bristol released a video detailing a new type of battery – one made from radioactive diamonds. The UK has quite a few nuclear power plants, and they operate using blocks of graphite (one form of carbon) to control reactions. Over time, this graphite absorbs radiation, and some of it is converted into a radioactive carbon isotope carbon-14. As these carbon blocks are removed, they have to be dealt with as nuclear waste, and with a half-life of over 5,000 years (meaning that in that time, they become half as radioactive as they were before), it takes a very long time for the material to become safe again.
Well, scientists have figured out a new process to deal with it, partially to reduce the danger of the graphite blocks, and partially to benefit in another way: the outer layers of graphite – the most radioactive – are turned into small diamonds. Diamond is another form of carbon, with several unique properties. One of these is that, when exposed to a radioactive field, they generate electric current. However, when a diamond is made from radioactive carbon, the diamond itself is radioactive and acts as its own energy source, generating electricity from its own radiation. This radioactive diamond is then encased in a non-radioactive diamond that does double duty – it acts as a radiation shield (the amount of emitted radiation becomes less than that of an ordinary banana), and in absorbing that stray radiation, it also increases the electricity generated.
The ultimate result is basically a battery that will still be at 50% charge after more than 5,000 years. That’s a pretty decent shelf life. The video doesn’t go into just how much current is generated – I suspect it’s rather small – but for applications that only need a very small amount of current, this sort of technology could be used in devices where it’s impractical or impossible to change out dead batteries – pacemakers or satellites, for instance.
Caution: Autoplay on click-through article.
So by now you’ve likely heard that Kim Jong Un’s brother, Kim Jong Nam, was assassinated at an airport in Kuala Lampur last Monday. He was sprayed in the face with a poison while waiting to board a flight to Macau to visit family. Four people were arrested in the killing – an Indonesian woman, a North Korean man, a Malaysian man, and another woman carrying a Vietnamese ID.
The twist here is that the woman who actually sprayed the poison reportedly didn’t know it was poison, and believed she was participating in a prank TV show. She had been paid a few dollars for her participation, and had sprayed several other people in the face similarly prior to the assassination, and apparently had no reason to believe that Kim Jong Nam’s case was any different.
Kim has been estranged from North Korea, as he is older than Kim Jong Un, and was the original heir of Kim Jong Il, before he had a falling out with his father. He was exiled from North Korea around 2003, and became a critic of his family’s regime and an advocate for reform. He has actually been the target of failed assassination attempts before, and there is plenty of speculation that North Korea is ultimately behind it.
All matter (that we know of) is made up of atoms. Atoms, are made up of smaller particles – protons, neutrons, and electrons – but those individual elements are extremely tiny, and the vast majority of an atom is empty space. To get an idea of just how much empty space, if you were to blow an atom up to the size of a melon, the nucleus at the center would still be far too small to see, and the electrons even smaller. That’s a lot of empty space.
So if everything is built out of what is basically a lot of empty space, why do things feel solid? One reason people often give is electrical charge – since electrons are negatively charged, when the electrons of two atoms get near each other, they repel each other. When you place the negative ends of two magnets together, they push apart, so it makes sense, right? Well, that’s not actually it.
That resistance has to do with more complicated issues involving the patterns of electrons and their energy levels as they orbit – or more accurately dance around – the nucleus. In sort of a simplified way of thinking about it, two electrons cannot share the same “dance” pattern around a nucleus – a rule called the “Exclusion Principle.” So when you touch something solid like a table, the electrons from atoms in your fingers get close to the electrons in the table’s atoms. As pressure forces these atoms closer together, there’s a change in energy level – and the pattern of their “dance” – in the electrons. The electrons can move into higher energy states, but because two electrons can’t share the same pattern around the same atom, they resist combining. Forcing atoms together – and thereby moving electrons out of the way so other electrons have room to join in – takes a whole lot of energy… much more than your muscles can provide. As the electrons resist being forced into different energy states, the result is the solid feel of whatever you’re touching.
Thinking about the way all this works actually makes it kind of fun to imagine how a superhero like Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat might work, with being able to pass through solid objects and all – by somehow being able to control the energy states of all these electrons in a way that would allow them to easily change energy levels back and forth as the atoms easily move past each other through all that empty space they occupy.
Click through and read the full article if this interests you – it’s good, not very long, and explains this effect much better than I can.
Russia has sure become a key topic in relation to the Trump presidency so far. I’m sure you’ve all heard the rather sudden news that Michael Flynn, Trump’s National Security Advisor, resigned following revelations that he had been less than truthful with officials (including Mike Pence) regarding his interactions with a Russian ambassador, which may have been illegal since they occurred before Flynn was a officially a U.S. government representative.
And of course everyone knows the rumors about Russian involvement in helping to rig the election to get Trump elected… I’ll point out that those are all still rumors, considering evidence released so far has been largely circumstantial and speculative. There are obvious questions though, such as why both Republican and Democrat servers were hacked, but only Democrat emails were released.
Well, now Russia seems to be testing just how far they’ll be allowed to push under the new Trump administration. All in close conjunction with each other, Russia has deployed a ground-launched intermediate-range missile system in apparent violation of a 1987 anti-nuclear treaty, buzzed U.S. warships in the Red Sea with fighter planes, and positioned an intelligence-gathering ship to loiter 30 miles off the coast of Connecticut, near a U.S. Navy submarine base. The ship is still in international waters so is breaking no laws, but the fact that it is loitering so near a U.S. military facility with a ship designed to intercept radio and sonar signals makes it fairly obvious they are flexing their muscles in a show of force. Sending military aircraft to buzz U.S. Navy ships is also considered an aggressive show of force.
But the most concerning issue at this point is that missile. Under the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Russia is obligated not to “possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” Russia is believed to have tested one of these missiles in 2014 under Obama with the launch of a land-based cruise missile. This was firmly denounced as a treaty violation, but officials still said the Kremlin could ease tensions going forward by promising not to deploy any such missiles, and destroying their launchers for them. Obviously, that hasn’t happened, as Russia is now allegedly operating at least one ground-based cruise missile launcher in full deployment. While they couldn’t reach the U.S., the range of these missiles makes them a threat to European NATO countries, and the closer proximity to those countries would allow much less time to react to a launch.
All of this is stacking up rather quickly, while there seems to be virtually no reaction from Trump. Considering the fact that he’s such a tweetaholic and would definitely have said something by now if he was actually concerned about any of these things. Several lawmakers are calling for a swift and firm response to these moves by Russia, reinforcing the boundaries set on them of what is acceptable or not, because there’s no question Russia is pressing to regain status as a world superpower and ignore limits placed on them. However, at the same time, experts caution on the type of response, as threatening to pull out of the treaty and deploy banned missiles ourselves at European bases could be exactly what Russia wants – some believe Russia is actively looking for a reason to terminate the treaty without looking like the bad guy.
I don’t suspect the U.S. will likely dump the treaty though – Trump hasn’t been shy in the slightest about praising Putin and wanting the U.S. and Russia to be close, so honestly, any push-back at all from him would be a bit surprising. It’s not unusual for historically opposing countries to test new administrations by shows of force and see what response they get, but the response is what matters – and in directly and explicitly violating the nuclear missile treaty, Russia is pushing harder than ever.