Wednesday, 23rd May 2012
Q. How high up do a nation's borders or airspace extend? Would an astronaut orbiting the Earth be in the U.S. when "flying over" the U.S. territorial area?
A. The area of "controlled airspace" goes from 18,000 to 60,000 feet, says University of North Dakota aerospace scientist and aviation law specialist Douglas Marshall. All aircraft operating there over the contiguous 48 states or Alaska must be in contact with federal air traffic controllers. Above 60,000 feet, where few aircraft can operate, is by international treaties anyone's airspace - the realm of orbiting satellites and manned space vehicles - but the U.S. has always claimed sovereignty to the outer limits of the atmosphere. In practice, however, says Marshall, another nation could overfly in this high zone with an aircraft and there wouldn't be a whole lot the U.S. could do about it.
"But if a hostile nation parked a spy satellite in a geosynchronous orbit above the U. S., I think that within 24 hours or so said satellite would experience some sort of mysterious failure or suddenly disappear, even though such a satellite placement would not violate international law."
As for an orbiting astronaut, he or she would not traverse U.S. territory but becomes an "ambassador for all mankind" and is entitled to land anywhere on the planet with guarantees of safe passage back to the nation of origin.
Q. Why are we all such suckers for a sunny day?
A. Suckers we all well ought to be, with our moods, generosity, helpfulness soaring in Old Sol's photon bath.
"For me, and I think most people," says Georgia Southern psychologist Russell Dewey, "those days producing most pleasure are those which just happen to be optimum for plants and other living things: moderate temperatures, moderate humidity, and sunshine. It would be surprising if there were NOT a mood correlation. Taking pleasure in such days is like taking pleasure in good health."
Then throw in the contrast effect - sunny days after grays. Plus good weather conduces to more activities, greater freedom and mobility, the expansion of self. You can even see farther in sunlight, colors are sharper, things seem brighter and more sparkling, says University of Louisville psychologist Michael Cunningham. Full spectrum sunlight may even produce more effective mental stimulation - after all, we're a species designed to shut down for our safety in the pitch of night (pre-Edison). Then to go again at sunrise, all the merrier if our sharp shadows dance right alongside.
Q. A surprising fact is that sunshine actually has weight. How much? Is it good for anything?
A. "Weight" is a slight misnomer, because weight implies mass, and mass can't move at the speed of light (Einstein). But sunlight's fast-streaming photons do exert a "radiation pressure," evident in space dust being pushed backward from the surface of a comet and lighting up as its tail, in the direction away from the sun.
Figure this pressure at about .00000000048 lb./sq.in., for an incident solar power of 0.1 Watt/sq.cm. on a nonreflective surface. That's roughly a gram (1/454 lb.) of sunshine falling on an area the size of a soccer field, says Yale physicist Janet Pan.
Doesn't sound like much, but take it out into space and its effects are far from theoretical, where one day solar pressure on large solar sails may propel humans to distant points in the cosmos. The gain of solar sails is they're LIGHTweight, provide a sustained acceleration force with speed building, and there's no fuel to carry. Traveling really light.
Q. The longest word in the English language, as many a schoolkid will tell you, is "antidisestablishmentarianism." So, what's wrong with the schoolkids?
A. They're only repeating what they've been repeatedly told. The actual longest word in most unabridged dictionaries is the 45-letter tongue-twister "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis," a lung disease caused by the inhalation of very fine silica dust, says Ohio State University linguist Richard Janda, co-editor of the forthcoming "Handbook of Historical Linguistics." Lucky for the kids, this won't be on any spelling tests, nor will the previous length-winner of the 20-plus-volume "Oxford English Dictionary" (OED), "floccinaucinihilipilification" (29), meaning "the action or habit of estimating something as worthless." Lucky too for the spellers, English is not one of those "poly-synthetic" languages, says Janda, with huge numbers of prefixes and suffixes that add increments of meaning practically limitlessly, and with words commonly growing as long as English SENTENCES.
BTW, according to the OED, antidis... means "Properly, opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England." From the kids' point of view, at least the word's pronounceable, right up there with that old "Mary Poppins" non-OED favorite supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (34).
Q. You see headlights approaching, but is it a big car or a little car, nearby or far away? You see paratroopers on the beach, but are they big soldiers or little ones?
A. The common denominator here is "size constancy" - a car as it moves closer forms a larger and larger image on your retinas, but you know not to conclude the car is getting bigger. But in the dark, you can be fooled into thinking that two fairly close-seeming headlights signify a big car far down the road, when it might actually be a small car bearing down on you - with tragic results.
Especially in poor lighting, distance and size are easily confused. Deliberate perceptual deception of this sort was on the minds of Allied troops during their invasion of Normandy during World War II, when in early-morning twilight 2-foot-tall dummies of paratroopers were dropped up the beach a distance from the planned landing site, say Camille Wortman et al. in "Psychology, 3rd Edition." "In the poor light and general confusion, the Germans thought the dummies were real paratroopers attacking from a substantial distance."
Q. What is it about beer that makes it such a favorite?
A. Beer appeals on lots of levels: 3000 measurable flavor components, refreshment, sociability, and the shared memories of the 'ol gang interfrothed with the mild euphoria of an altered state, says Florida International University brewing scientist and marine biologist Christopher Brown. Subtler reasons for humankind's 5000-year-old buddy-movie with beer include its nutritional value (amino acids, nucleotides, many vitamins) and safety: alcohol and hops inhibit pathogens, "so beer can be consumed safely even in the grossest, most reeked-out places - like Manila and my friend Ken's basement." And there is the unique herbal effect of hops. I asked a psychiatrist friend of mine what is the deal with non-alcoholic beer. She explained that nobody actually likes it but it is sometimes important not to have alcohol, but always important to have beer.
Letters to the Editor
- Editorialread more »
Google AlertWhen a company which has it's European Headquarters here in Ireland is called 'evil' and 'immoral' by M.P.s in The House of Commons you tend to sit up and take notice. The particular company that was being referred to was Google and the reason it had enraged M.P.s in London was because even though it has a big operation there and conducts a lot of business there it pays no corporate tax. It does this by having all of its financial transactions finished here in Ireland. And the company here is …
We're delighted to announce the launch of the new-look Waterford Today website. Tell us what new features you would like to see added?
Total votes: 0 Refresh results