Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Geological Movie Review of Armageddon - Overview

Since I have completed the Geological Movie Review of Armageddon, I am using this post as a compilation of all the previous posts as well as a link to the compiled collection

Geological Movie Review of Armageddon - Questions

Geological Movie Review of Armageddon - Overview

Here are some questions I designed to be asked in a class while reviewing Armageddon. You can also find a PDF of this information at my website (linked through the overview page).

Armageddon (1998)
Geological review questions based on the movie

This is a list of geological questions based on the movie Armageddon. Some of the questions can be answered while watching the movie, while others will need extra research on the internet. Some will be both. This is to help broaden your understanding of the geological world and how Hollywood can distort basic scientific principles to make a hit movie.

1. When was the impact that killed the dinosaurs?

2. When describing the impact that killed the dinosaurs it is mentioned in the movie as having the force of 10,000 nuclear weapons. Why is this a poor measure of energy?

3. How high up are geosynchronous satellites usually orbiting?

4. Being that high up, would you expect the meteors that hit the shuttle and the satellite to have a fire trail?

5. How should meteors fly in relation to one another in a meteor shower? Why?

6. Compare the movement of the meteors/meteorites in the movie. Do they differ from how they should fly? If they do, how?

7. What are the largest and second largest asteroids in the asteroid belt? How do they compare to the asteroid size in the movie? (Assume the diameter of Texas is 780 miles)

8. What are some of the methods they come up with to destroy or move the asteroid? Will they work or not? Why?

9. What caused the asteroid to hit the Earth? Is this possible? Is it possible with a far smaller asteroid?

10. The Russian Space Station that they fly to is better known as what? Why would it not be possible to dock at the station if the movies took place today?

11. Does the Russian Space Station have “artificial gravity” in real life?

12. Has the “gravitational slingshot” ever been done in real life or is this a product of science fiction. If it has, when?

13. What would the surface of the asteroid actually look like and why? Like the one in the movie? Like the Earth? Like the moon?

14. Would drilling an 800 ft hole in a 780 mile wide asteroid actually do anything in your own opinion?

15. What would you do faced in a similar situation?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Geological Movie Review of Armageddon - Part 11

- Overview (or important thoughts to take home) -
  • This movie is based on the concept that eventually an asteroid is going to strike Earth with the power to cause the extinction of the human race
  • Fire trails can only be made by meteors in an atmosphere, so the meteors hitting the shuttle would not produce this effect
  • Meteors that originate from a single source, like the asteroid, would only travel in parallel lines, so all meteors will travel at the same angle across the sky, unlike that seen in the movie
  • For the meteor shower to hit the Earth the way described, the Earth would have to have traveled through a stream of meteors, not head on into it which is implied
  • There are no asteroids in the asteroid belt "the size of Texas" and there is only one that is relatively close to that size
  • For NASA not to know about the asteroid in advance it would have to have been struck by something to alter its trajectory dramatically, which is what happened
  • There are theoretical comets that could hit and move the asteroid into our path but the chances are slim to none in a billion
  • None of the plans to destroy or move the asteroid are feasible given their time frame, especially the one they choose
  • Most asteroid destruction plans mentioned in the movie were taken from the NASA website as possible path altering options for asteroids, but only for ones that will not hit the Earth for several years
  • An 800 foot hole is 0.02% deep into the 780 mile asteroid so a bomb will do no more damage then if it blew up on the surface
  • Also the asteroid would be layered on the inside so no fault is going to run the length of the entire asteroid
  • The equipment used at NASA is all possible equipment they could have now or invent in a short time. The NASA advisors must actually have known something
  • Also the liftoff sequence and events all seem pretty close to real-life
  • The fuel used on the shuttle is not compatible to the fuel available on Mir, and they would not have used any fuel in the main shuttle getting there anyway, so the trip to Mir was pointless
  • Mir also could not produce gravity by spinning, nor would it be possible due to the shape of the station
  • The "slingshot" around the moon was possible as shown in the movie
  • The surface of the asteroid would resemble the moon more than anything else, no random growths, little to few valleys, and lots and lots of craters
  • Should the destruction plan have actually succeeded there is no way a bomb would be powerful enough to break apart the two pieces of the asteroid and disintegrate all the smaller pieces while still keeping the two main pieces intact.
- Non-Geological Notes -
  • Not much non-geology/NASA gripes I have with the movie
  • I like this quote though:
    • Lev - "Components, American components, Russian Components. All made in Taiwan!"

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Geological Movie Review of Armageddon - Part 10

Geological Movie Review of Armageddon - Overview

- Aftermath -
2:17:43 - All through the movie they are commenting on the "zero barrier". The point after which if they do not explode the bomb the asteroid will end up crashing into the Earth. Figuring out where exactly the zero barrier is in relation to Earth is fairly simple (See Figure to the right). Assuming they are moving at 22,000 mph and they start the 8 hours of drilling while they are next to the moon. The moon is approximately 238,857 miles away from the Earth, so the zero barrier is approximately 62,000 miles away from Earth (UniverseToday.com). This would take the asteroid about two and a half hours to reach us, assuming the asteroid does not speed up due to Earth's gravity pulling it in, which is likely, especially considering it is on a direct path to Earth. So even though the plan is not possible, I figured it would be interesting to find out how close they are letting the asteroid get to Earth before the all impressive bomb tore it in two parts.
The interesting thing about the explosion is they did the Star Wars Special Edition shock wave off of the asteroid. This caused the shuttle to shake, rock and roll like nobodies business. Shockwaves are produced by ripples in the atmosphere. There is NO ATMOSPHERE in space, so again NO SHOCKWAVES. During the movie they should also get pummeled by rock debris as it pulverizes the shuttle. This happened in a small degree but certainly nothing as should have been seen in the movie. Also the all impressive explosion not only kept the 2 halves of the asteroid relatively intact, it also vaporized all the smaller fragments that would have come raining down. This whole, keep the asteroid from destroying Earth thing, keeps getting more and more impressive. So, all in all, if there was an bomb large enough to be capable of splitting an asteroid the size of Texas, I do not believe that it would split it in half without damaging either side and still vaporize anything else not attached to the asteroid.

2:19:11 - Back to my trusty globe to see if people could really see the explosion all across the Earth. The first view of the explosion shows the Taj Mahal  in India while some other views give the impression that Americans can also witness the explosion. The view of the explosion would be similar to a view of the moon, only parts of the planet would be able to witness it at any one time. India and the US are not even on the same side of the globe, so it would be impossible for India to see the explosion while those of us in the US witnessed it, based on planetary prospective.

- Advisory Input -
2:26:26 - So even though they did not have a "scientific advisor" on the movie they did have several advisors for other roles. Ivan Bekey was the asteroid consultant on the movie, which is as close to a scientific advisor as I think they got. He has written several books on the subject of asteroid and comet collisions and he is also a former NASA advanced planner and technologist (USA Today). Which likely means that the systems we have in place to defend against this ever happening has his signature somewhere on it. Joseph P Allen is the NASA Consultant who I feel did an excellent job. Overall there were very little problems with the NASA aspect of the movie. Allen was not only a physicist with NASA but was also an astronaut (NASA). Jerry Bostick was the movie's advisor on all of the Mission Control situations and I think he also did an excellent job. He had worked in Mission Control on both the Gemini and Apollo Programs as well as being the Director for the Energy Technology Applications Division of NASA (NASA). Harry Humphries was mainly their tactical advisor on all military matters. He was a Navy Seal and started his own company giving military consultation on over 17 movies (NavySeals.com)
Overall they seem to have a very good team of advisors. There is an interview with a couple of them on the bonus DVD that I do not have at the moment, so I have not seen what they might have thought of the movie. But it seems that a lot of their opinions were listened to in respects to NASA and any government stuff but when regular science comes into play things get a bit iffy. My guess is that they are going to keep their opinions of the movie rather neutral so that they have more possible advisory roles in the future. No point in burning bridges.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Geological Movie Review of Armageddon - Part 9

- Life on an Asteroid -
- Composition and Shape -

1:24:05 - Finally, we reach the asteroid. First off I want to describe what an asteroid that size would actually resemble, then we can compare it to the asteroid in the movie. Currently in science, it is believed that an object that size in space would be considered a dwarf planet. As of today (August 2010) there are 5 dwarf planets recognized Ceres, Pluto, Eris (formerly "Xena) (Space), Makemake, and Haumea. They are considered dwarf planets and not asteroids because they are very large and relatively spherical. They are spherical because at that size their gravity dictates a shape similar to their larger brothers (the planets). Based on size, both Ceres (pictured left) and Charon (Pluto's moon pictured right) are relatively the same size as the Armageddon asteroid. So the shape of the asteroid and any superficial features would be similar to both of those celestial bodies. Ceres and Vesta are the two largest asteroids in the Asteroid Belt (both pictured left) so their composition and internal structure would in theory be similar to the composition of the Armageddon asteroid. So for all intensive purposes, Ceres is the Armageddon asteroid .
Overall the shape of the asteroid is going to be spherical. This is caused by its massive size and it probably would be considered a proto-planet, similar to Ceres (Space). The surface is going to look like any other object that sits inside an asteroid belt.
It is going to be beaten and pot marked from countless numbers of other asteroids and debris crashing into it. Overall though, compared to its size the surface is going to be relatively smooth, with none of those weird growths as seen on the asteroid in the movie. Even after it gets pummeled by a comet there is no reason for the growths to be there, this is not an overly dynamic surface.
The internal structure of Ceres is most likely layered, like Earth, due to some minimal heating during its formation. Although, the asteroid likely did not get as hot as the Earth, so the layering is not going to be perfect. But it is still going to be there (Picture left below). The surface of the asteroid is a thin dusty outer crust that might have some crystals of water that were released in the collision with the comet but nothing as gigantic as seen in the movie. It is now thought that Ceres might even have more water locked away in it's interior then all of Earth. This would, in essence, hinder any attempt at asteroid destruction by burying a bomb, since a fault would not run through the ice and the rock but it would follow the layers.

Surrounding the asteroid in the movie was a cloud of "debris". The debris seems logical enough because the asteroid had the stuffing kicked out of it, which caused it to be hurtled towards Earth. Some of the debris that got knocked in the same direction as the asteroid is going to be flying at roughly the same speed. Some faster, some slower but overall they will be clumped together. This part of the movie I can see as feasible.
In regards to the composition of the surface of Ceres, from what we know it is not uniform. So this would indicate that, yes, some areas are going to be rocky and some areas are going to have more iron in them (Space). The asteroid belt is the remains from a planet that never fully formed, or was ripped apart, so a majority of the asteroids have an iron-nickel composition. The surface of Ceres is a conglomeration of the other asteroids in its vicinity that crashed down onto the surface. So it is possible to have regions of compressed iron-ferrite (a variety of iron), if it got hit in that spot by a mostly iron asteroid sometime in the past.

- Arrival -
1:24:05 - On to the movie. We have already stated that the surface of the asteroid is going to look nothing like it did in the movie. In actuality I would say the surface is going to resemble the moon, more than less. As for the shape of the asteroid it is difficult to tell what shape they made it but I am going to go with it looks a little more like Eros (in the picture above) than Ceres, which would be the proper shape for an asteroid far smaller. Even if it was the size of Eros the surface would still be similar to the moon.
We already discussed the stunt flying as being feasible, although they are doing more tricks then I would say would be possible in real life but I say give them their fun. After their stunt flying, one ship crashed and the other one lands safely although very far (26 miles) off course. Maybe their high tech radar is not worth the money they spent on it. Seems more like a video game then an actual NASA program. Hey, maybe I could be an astronaut!

- Independence is Dead -
1:31:03 - Here is one of the major problems I found in the movie, although it is only a minor thing in the movie itself. The one shuttle that crashed is completely open to the atmosphere, or lack there of. This means no oxygen, none, zilch, zip. So how is there fire? Fire feeds off oxygen and there are not even oxygen lines that it is on so that I can justify it. There is no way that there could be fire in the torn open shuttle.
Moving on. Why does the Armadillo have a machine gun? Are they expecting Aliens or Predators to come out? My rambling does have a scientific point though, so don't worry. The machine gun is used to blast a hole in the side of the shuttle. Did anyone else notice that the titanium alloy shuttle that was built to withstand asteroids whipping into it was punctured like aluminum foil from the machine gun? They could have done something better with that whole scene.

1:38:33 - Remarkably, when looking at the background behind the Armadillo while Ben is arguing about how he doesn't know what a button does, it is possible to see what I would expect from the surface of an asteroid to look like. So it turns out that some of the surfaces in the movie are different depending on where they are. Although this would not be the case, since the asteroid would have more or less uniform surficial features, at least it shows the background like it should be at least once.

1:52:00 - When the Armadillo attempts their "Evel Knievel" stunt they release the thrusters, that were holding them down, then while they are in mid air they start them again on the other side. Theoretically this should work, since the escape velocity for the asteroid is so low. Assuming the Armadillo could handle the impact from the thrusters launching it back into the asteroid I think everything should work out alright. The only foreseeable problem would be when they are over the canyon that they did not achieve escape velocity and they end up falling, very slowly, back down to the asteroid. But by then they should be on the other side of the canyon anyhow. So either way it all works out.

- Freedom Reigns -
1:32:48 - The second shuttle made a rather safer landing on the other side of the asteroid. From their drill site they had a very good view of Earth. Now think. The asteroid is roughly the size of Texas, 780 miles in diameter, and it is traveling at ~22,000 mph. The shuttle is traveling at 22,500 mph, which is in relation to the asteroid, about 500 mph. So to get from the back of the asteroid to the front side facing the Earth where they landed would take about 2 hours. Definitely not even close to the amount of time it took them, even if they cut down the time for entertainments sake.
After the landing the second shuttle starts to drill. I already stated that it is possible to have an iron plate on the surface, so that is ok. The drilling speeds are justified, 57 feet in 2 hours through solid iron, ok so far. The one main problem I have with this I described previously when they came up with the plan. The asteroid is not going to be a solid object. There is no fault that runs the length of the entire asteroid since it is layered and 800 feet barely scratches the surface of the thing, so whatever they do it does not matter. Even if the layers are different then Ceres and there is not a water layer it is still going to be layered and different layers will not fault the same. Just explode the bomb on the surface you will do just as much damage as if it were 800 feet down.
So now that we know that everything they do is useless anyway lets go on to the working conditions. While they are working on the asteroid they seem to have all the struggles they would on Earth. The problem though is that due to the size of the asteroid it would only have about 3% the gravity of Earth (ASI.org). I will take it for granted that when they are walking, it is similar to Earth because the suits hold them against the ground (due to the thrusters) but the other equipment like the transmission for the drill would weigh practically nothing where just 2 of them would be able to move it. A 1000 pound piece of equipment would only weigh 30 pounds so unless the drill transmission weighed 10,000 pounds on Earth I see no reason why they would need 3 or 4 people to move it.

- Unstable Trajectory -
1:37:39 - As previously commented on, the moon's gravity actually did have an effect on the asteroid. Yea for science. But unlike the slight slingshot effect that I predicted, they stated that the rotation of the asteroid was altered from a 1 axis spin, like the Earth's, to a 3 axis spin, like a poorly thrown football. In reality the moon's gravity is going to have a great deal of effect on the asteroid due to its proximity. The real question is what it will be and why did the "geniuses" at NASA think there would be no effect? Perhaps the asteroid is moving too fast and too far away for a complete slingshot effect but the gravity did pull it resulting in the rotational effect seen in the movie. So in real life this is most likely the probably outcome. Well they can't get them all wrong, can they?
The reason that communications are cut off are related to this as well. Before the asteroid changed its spin it was rotating on the x-axis, meaning that the same side should be facing the planet the entire time. So radio communication would be uninterrupted. But since radio contact is a line of sight thing, if the asteroid is turning then you will loose the line of sight eventually causing a "communications blackout", essentially what happened in the movie.
Luckily through all the tumbling this thing is going through they are always able to see Earth from the digging site. What? How is this even possible? And how do they have a communications blackout? One minute it is tumbling uncontrollably the next it is stable with a clear view of Earth. Can they keep anything consistent in this movie?

- Breaking Up -
2:04:58 - Now for some unknown reason the asteroid starts to breakup. Fire trails are produced from random asteroid chunks being tossed around. My best guess is that since the asteroid is now caught in between the gravity wells of the Earth and the moon, the 2 bodies are tearing the asteroid apart. As described way earlier, there would be no fire trails since there is no atmosphere to burn them up so that is a mute point as this time. In regards to the asteroid being torn apart, I would say that it would happen over a period of time, not all of the sudden, but I agree that it would likely happen. With the speed that things are happening in the movie, I feel that this whole experience is similar to how it should happen, just in fast forward.

Friday, August 27, 2010

GeoJeopardy! Fridays

Time fors GeoJeopardy! Fridays, because who can't use a little trivia when your not doing work.

- Geology -

500-million-year-old fish are the first known fossils of this backboned group of animals


Its tooth, mentioned in "Mack the Knife", is Georgia's state fossil & can date back 375 million years


The Sandhill type of this can fly; Diatryma, the predatory 7-foot "terror" type, couldn't


Trilobites were among the first creatures to have these; they were compound crystals that survive as fossils

- -Ologies -
(Since one of the above category was a picture clue that I did not have access to the picture, below is a fill in question.)
From the Greek meaning "study of ancient existence", it's the study of prehistoric plants & animals from fossil remains


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Geological Movie Review of Armageddon - Part 8

UPDATED - August 28th, 2011 and February 21st, 2014

- A Trip Around the Galactic Neighborhood -
- Liftoff -
1:07:10 - Here is where we start to actually save the world. Several of the things going on, starting now, have been discussed already so I will only stick to the facts that I have not yet covered. The liftoff is the first part. In the movie, before liftoff, they do a preliminary check of all flight directors. These are: Retro; Booster; ECOS; Trajectory; FIDO; EVA: CAPCOM Freedom; and CAPCOM Independence. Even though in real life several Go/No Go sequences are performed on the rockets prior to liftoff, a very short one is the last one they do. During the launching of the Swift Spacecraft the last check they did has a video Here and I do not recognize any of the terminology they use. So my guess is that Hollywood changed the order of the checks to only put the ones that might be recognizable at the end for the pleasure of the viewing audience.
An in-depth description of each of the things that were checked off before launch are:
          (Parenthesis indicate actual NASA titles that correspond with the movie titles)

Retro -  This is a check of the retro rockets, which are the rockets that slow the booster preparatory down so it can fall back into the atmosphere (NASA).
Booster - (Booster Engineer) The engineer monitors and evaluates the main engine. This is one of the main stations.
ECOS - This stands for "Experiment Computer Operating System", which is the primary man-machine interface. It provides for control over experiments by presenting the necessary control data over display units. How this actually helps in a launch I am not sure.  (Jean and Lee, 1981).
Trajectory - (Guidance Procedures Officer?) They monitor the onboard navigation and guidance computer software. Another main station.
FIDO - (FDO - Flight Dynamics Officer) Another main station at NASA. They plan maneuvers and monitor trajectory in conjunction with the guidance officer.
EVA - The only thing I think could work for this was Extravehicular Activities meaning anything done outside the shuttle in space. Why were they checking for this now? I don't know (NASA).
CAPCOM - (Spacecraft Communicator) They are the primary control between flight control and the astronauts. This is the primary station at NASA during the shuttle flight.
They then go into some more NASA jargon stating "P.L.T.s, perform your A.P.U. pre-start". The P.L.T. is simply the pilot of the shuttle and the A.P.U. stands for Auxiliary Power Units. The statement indicates to the pilot to start warming up the engine fuel so that the shuttle is ready for launch (NASA). This usually occurs at about T-6 minutes to launch. There is a ton of other things that they left out of the movie, but again for the sake of simplicity and entertainment, I think they just cut it down to the nitty gritty.
One of the unique things about this launch is that it is a dual launch with 2 shuttles at the same time. Now, I do not see anything really wrong with this except that it would take twice the manpower to monitor the shuttles. And seeing that this is a global emergency I would imagine that if they needed 2 shuttles then they would definitely send them off at the same time, although they might want to send them from different locations to avoid the shuttles crashing into each other.
While they on their initial space flight we have some more terminology. They state that they have a max cue and S.R.B. What a "max cue" is I do not know and I don't think that NASA does either. 

UPDATE: An anonymous comment suggested that "max cue" may actually mean "max Q". The Max-Q is where the air pressure pushing against the shuttle as it ascends reaches its maximum. This is a similar effect as when you hold your hand out of a car window. "Q" stands for the dynamic pressure of the air (aerospaceweb.org). This is likely a misprint in the subtitles as this seems to make complete sense in the scene.

The SRB on the other hand is the Solid Rocket Boosters and they were released at the time of the announcement, about 125 seconds after launch (Spaceline). In the movie the external tanks (ETs) are released in conjunction with the SRB's and then the main engines shut down shortly after that. In reality when the SRB's are released the external tanks remain connected to the shuttle until engine shutdown. They are then released about 18 seconds after that (NASA). So essentially everything does not fall off of the main shuttle all at once. It comes off in stages. After the boosters separate, they then state "single engine (ok), press, demi-go." Now demi-go is another phrase that does not seem to have made it anywhere in the greater world. So whatever that is I also do not know.

UPDATE: A recent contact by Brian Pontz has suggested that the "single engine (ok), press, demi-go" is not actually what they were saying. The subtitles clearly show them saying "demi-go" but this may be made up by the script-writers to mimic what is actually said by astronauts. Brian suggests that they are actually saying "Single Engine Press to MECO". NASA explains this phrase as meaning "that orbit can now be reached on only one main engine". Since this makes much more sense in context of the movie, especially at this particular point in the movie, and it actually being a real-life phrase, I would say that Brian is right and the subtitles are wrong.

So, overall the launch sequence makes sense and although it was shortened it seemed pretty close to real life. My only question is, did they really make up terminology, since I can not find it anywhere, and if they did, why?

- Russian Space Junk
(AKA Mir the intergalactic gas station) -
1:10:46 - The first stop on their trip around the cosmos is the Russian Space Station. Luckily the asteroid was going to hit Earth before 2001 because the Russian Space Station, otherwise known as Mir, crashed into the atmosphere in 2001. The movie states that the space station is 11 years old, and since the first parts of Mir went up into space 1986, this means the movie takes place in 1997 (RussianSpaceWeb). During the construction of Mir several docking ports were added, moved and taken away, but in the final stage of the station there were multiple spots that could be used for docking, including the 2 locations that the shuttles attached to in the movie.
The one major, and I mean MAJOR, problem with the space station is that there is no "artificial gravity" projector on the station. In theory, if they just rotate the station, then they will be able to produce centrifugal force against the outer surface of the space station, simulating gravity. To produce an effect similar to Earth's gravity, the station needs to rotate at a remarkable rate of speed. Also the "gravity" would be the same, and probably minimal, along all of the outer walls of the central tube but it would be the strongest furthest from the rotation axis in the jutting arms (AstroProf). So it would be impossible to "walk" along the central shaft since there would be practically no gravity there, even if it was rotating fast enough in the first place.
The purpose for the layover at Mir is to refuel the 2 shuttles, that way they have enough fuel to make it to the asteroid and back. The main problem I see with this is that when escaping the Earth's gravity, huge fuel canisters were emptied and then dropped back into the atmosphere. So very little fuel from the remaining part of the shuttle was used to get to the station. So either they left the shuttle almost empty of fuel to make it easier to get into space or the movie producers did this for dramatic effect. Um, I go with the almost empty theory because that will give me more to talk about. So when they dock with Mir there are two types of fuel they could be getting. 1. Fuel that the station holds specifically for refueling shuttles. or 2. Its own supply of fuel for supporting life and all the stations daily duties. Overall Mir is powered by rechargeable batteries that use solar power, so any fuel on the station is going to only power the propulsion system that keep the station in orbit. Mir did have multiple locations to hold the fuel, but definitely not enough fuel to act as an intergalactic gas station (NASA). Even the location of the fuel storage in the movie was inaccurate. The part that they state is the "fuel pod" is just the docking compartment on another portion of the station. So, overall this means that they had to take fuel from their own reserves to fuel the shuttles, which considering the situation is entirely possible, but would not amount to that much fuel.
The type of fuel though, is very important to the refueling process. Space shuttles typically run off the interaction of hydrogen and oxygen since that produces a tremendous amount of energy. Unfortunately they must be kept very cold so this is not the ideal fuel for long missions. Also when they are refueling the shuttles in the movie they only have one pipe of fuel, so it could not be both oxygen and hydrogen. This also eliminates a fuel called hypergolic fuel, which is a lower temperature fuel but still needs a reactant, hence 2 tubes again. The movie also eliminates the solid fuels since, it was obviously liquid they were pumping out of the station. This just leaves a petroleum based rocket fuel (NASA). Unfortunately, the type of fuel stored on Mir was deuterium so they can not be transferring petroleum fuel over. So essentially they were refueling the spaceships with fuel that either will not run the shuttle or can not operate by itself.
The interesting thing about using Mir for the movie is that the reason that Mir was brought down in real life and its destruction in the movie are actually linked. No, it's true. The space station was brought down because the systems on the station could have failed at any moment and at times several systems did fail (Space). In 1997, the station had a failure of its oxygen and cooling systems and a computer system failure. So the problems seen while transferring the fuel is not only possible, I might even expect it, if there was even a real life point to that whole sequence in the first place (UCAR.edu).
So overall the trip to Mir was pointless. The reasons include:
    1. They used almost no fuel after breaking from the atmosphere.
    2. The only fuel they could have transferred in the manner that they did is a petroleum based fuel and most rockets run off the interaction of hydrogen and oxygen.
    3. The fuel on Mir is deuterium, definitely not petroleum based.
    4. There is also no artificial gravity on the station in real life, not really a reason that the trip was pointless, just making an observation.
People seem to have a problem with the explosion of the space station. They state that there is no oxygen in space so there would be no explosion like that. The way I see it is there is oxygen on the station, enough to support several people for at least several weeks, so an explosion is going to use the oxygen from the station. Therefore, I do not see a big problem with this and I am not going to discuss this further.

- Slingshot Around -
1:20:50 - Following the explosion of the station we now must slingshot around the moon and land on the back side of the asteroid. According to the movie the slingshot will produce an effect of over 9.5g's for 11 minutes. They proceed to start this procedure by rolling the space ships so the top is on the same side as the moon. After firing their boosters, which I am assuming were filled up at the last gas station, they arrive at the back of the asteroid which is supposedly clear of debris due to the moons gravity.

Although common in science fiction, i.e. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Star Trek, Armageddon, is it actually possible to slingshot around a planet, moon, sun to gain speed? Actually it is possible, and is used by most NASA missions. Currently there is a spacecraft on its way to Pluto, but to get there it is going to take a detour around Jupiter which will speed up the spacecraft about 9000 miles per hour (Space). They way this works is when an object is headed toward a large body, lets say Jupiter, at an oblique angle the gravity of the planet pulls the object closer, speeding it up. Using this gravity the object is then pulled around the planet and can be "shot" off into a different direction going at a far greater speed (ESA). Using the moon as the object to slingshot around is not a new idea either. All of the Apollo missions (Diagram left) were sent with a trajectory, that if they needed to, they could use the moons gravity to slingshot back to Earth (NCSSM.edu). So this idea is not at all implausible.
During the slingshot maneuver, the forces described by NASA that they will endure are 9.5 g's for over 11 minutes. What actually happened in the movie was a gradual ramping up of the g's to a little over 10 with the maximum amount of g's for only a few seconds. Humans can easily survive g's up to about 9 and the body can be trained to withstand more than that. The pilots were at least exposed to similar g-forces prior to the mission in training and I do not think that this was anything remarkable (Thinkquest.org). When you look at what actually happened in the movie, this scene is possible.
Before the brunt of the slingshot maneuver the crew flips the shuttles over. Now I found a tremendous amount of people that had a problem with this. I'm not entirely sure why. They claim that the shuttles are being flown like fighter jets but what they do not understand is that there is no atmosphere to hinder such maneuvers. Actually the way they performed the maneuvers in the movie is as close to actuality as I can imagine. You saw the attitude jets rotate the ship around and then stabilize it. No problems from me. If we were in an atmosphere and moving at 22,000 mph then I would be writing an entirely different thing. But we are not.

The last part of the trip to the asteroid involves the approach vector. Supposedly the back of the asteroid would be cleared of debris since the majority of it would be pulled down to the moon. The close proximity of the asteroid to the moon would do multiple things:
1. It would alter the trajectory of the asteroid, performing a similar slingshot effect although not as dramatic, possibly causing it to miss Earth. But where would the movie be then.
2. It would cause more debris to be ripped down off of the asteroid towards the moon.
3. It would remove a lot of debris from behind the asteroid, but at the speed that the asteroid was moving I do not think there would be a tremendous amount of difference. The debris has a shield from the moon, the asteroid, so by the time the moon's gravity could have an effect on it, the asteroid would already be passed the moon and the debris would be deflected accordingly. Also, traveling at 22,000 mph the asteroid would take about 6 seconds to pass the moon. Hardly enough time to clear all of the debris away.
So overall, this section of the movie is accurate in my opinion, except for the debris behind the moon aspect. Although, when having to approach the asteroid, the backside would be the best side to land on anyway. So no matter what the debris situation was in real life, that would be the way to go. Otherwise the space shuttle would be just another bug on the asteroid's windshield.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Some things I learned as a PhD Candidate - 2nd Semester + Summer

Following up on my previous post after the first semester, here are some of the thing I learned as a PhD candidate, second semester (including my first summer)

1. Grant proposals suck
2. They suck even more when you don't get any
3. When you tell people you are taking "Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos Theory" you get a variety of interesting response
4. Dodgeball is an awesome diversion, but makes it makes me feel older than I should
5. Dodgeball has also emphasized my decreased athletic abilities (i.e. the fact I throw like a girl)
6. Just because you assume previous work must have been done doesn't mean you can find it (or even that it has been done)
7. Teaching a course for the first time takes a ton of freaking work (like 8 hours to every 1 hour of lecture)
8. Students can often be ungrateful for the amount of work you put in
9. Infants pay better attention in lectures than undergraduates
10. People get edgy towards the end of their thesis/dissertation
11. Babies make things complicated

TV Shows of Choice for the Semester 
The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

AAPG's Comment on the Gulf Oil Spill

This may be coming a little late but it is still relevant, I believe. The AAPG puts out a "magazine" sort of thing to its members, the AAPG Explorer, to its members and in the June 2010 issue they had an interesting remark to make on the Gulf oil spill. This is the opening passage:
"The following is a list of the 10 worst oil spills (volumes approximate), courtesy of Livescience.com. Note that seven of the 10 worst oil spills were tanker accidents - and the worst oil spill was an intentional act. Also, in each case the environment was not permanently harmed."
My problem with this article is the last sentence of that statement "Also, in each case the environment was not permanently harmed." Why must they feel the need to put that in the article. I don't believe that the majority of the public thought that the damage from the Gulf oil spill would be permanent. But it is a major disaster. It has ruined many acres of wildlife and habitats, killed an unknown number of animals, and made life pretty miserable for those in close proximity. This on top of financially destroying local fisherman and the local tourism industry. And, as of this date, the Gulf oil spill is the second worst oil spill in history, based on the numbers in this article. Here are the oil spills, dates, and amounts of each of the top 10 in the article.

1. Gulf War oil spill (1991) - 10-11.4 million barrels
2. Ixtoc I oil well (June 1979) - 3.4 million barrels
3. Atlantic Empress/ Aegean Captain (July 1979) - 2.14 million barrels
4. Fergana Valley (1992) - 2.11 million barrels
5. Nowruz oil field (February 1983) - 1.92 million barrels
6. ABT Summer (1991) - 1.92 million barrels
7. Castillo de Bellver (1983) - 1.87 million barrels
8. The Amoco Caduz (1978) - 1.60 million barrels
9. The Amoco Haven (1991) - 1.14 million barrels
10. The Odyssey (1988) - 977,000 barrels

Also: Exxon Valdez (March 1989) - 257,000 barrels)

According to this article from the University of Georgia, there were at least 4.1 million barrels of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico. So not only being the second worst oil spill in history, it is also the first major oil spill in almost 20 years and I feel the AAPG is downplaying this event by their haphazard remark. Because, I may be reading this wrong, but to me it says, "Hey, get over it. The environment was fine after all of these "disasters" so it will be fine after this one. Who cares is a little oil was spilt?"

To me this is a political ploy from the AAPG to try and take the heat off of the oil industries when really they should be cracking down on the practices that led to the situation in the first place and stating outright that this is a major disaster that shouldn't have happened in the first place. Again, this is just how I felt when I read the article,and I may have misconstrued the intended meaning behind that.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Demonstrating a Volcanic Eruption with a Soda Bottle

Demonstrating a Volcanic Eruption Using a Soda Bottle
Geological Lesson

How is a magma chamber like a soda bottle? Well let’s look at what a magma chamber is. A magma chamber is an enclosed space that contains magma as well as dissolved gases. The more gas that is dissolved into the magma the greater the pressure there is on the magma chamber. The magma chamber then is sealed in some way. This is usually by a previous lava flow, providing a lava “cap” on the chamber. When this cap is removed or broken the pressure is released and the gas forces the magma out of the magma chamber producing a volcanic eruption.

            A soda bottle is an enclosed space with a cap. It contains liquid soda as well as carbon dioxide (CO2) added into the mixture. When shaken up the CO2 is mixed into the soda producing higher amounts of pressure on the bottle. When the pressure is release, either through removing the cap or puncturing the bottle in some way, the gas and the soda are forced out of the bottle.

So, a magma chamber is a lot like a shaken soda bottle. The shaking produces the same effect of having the gases dissolved in the magma. Although, there have been recent studies that have shown that the number of volcanic eruptions increase the following year after a major earthquake.

Step 1: Use a small bottle of soda. Shake the bottle up for a little bit (roughly around 5 minutes). Describe the similarities between a magma chamber and a soda bottle while you are shaking this up.

Step 2: Place the bottle on the ground and puncture the cap with something. I find a Phillips head screwdriver the best. You don’t want to open the cap because then the soda will explode sideways, instead of upwards.

Here is a video of the demonstration as well.
You can check out other Out of The Box teaching ideas as well as a downloadable pdf of this one at my website by clicking the link.

Friday, August 20, 2010

GeoJeopardy Fridays

Time fors GeoJeopardy! Fridays, because who can't use a little trivia when your not doing work.

- Geology -

One of these struck Boston in 1755, Missouri in 1811 & Charleston in 1886, so it's not west coast-specific


Of the 3 main classes of rock, this one accounts for about 75% of all the exposed rocks on land


From the Greek kryos, "ice", it's the shape a mineral grows into when unrestricted


Term for a plate pulling apart; a great valley in Africa has been formed by & named for it


1 of the 3 minerals on the Mohs scale that can be scratched with a copper penny


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Announcing the GSA Blog

So something that I have been working to get set up along with the rest of the eGSA committee is the new GSA Blog entitled "Speaking of Geoscience" is now up and live. Currently the plans are to have 1 blog post a month by a guest blogger on a variety of topics ranging from field work, to paleontology, to the any other issues that are current hot topics in geology. Please support your GSA and head on over to the new blog with its first blog post by one of the eGSA committee members Jeff De Graff:

Speaking of Geoscience will add another voice to the geoblogosphere. Its contents will be updated with a new post on a more or less monthly basis. Those individuals posting on this blog will be people like me who do not regularly blog. So this voice will represent some of the geological community who are not normally heard. The expectation of the eGSA Committee is for Speaking of Geoscience to be another voice informing and sharing knowledge of what geology is and what geologists do. Like all blogs, we trust it will attract and form a community who seek to hear what Speaking of Geoscience has to say.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Demonstrating Earthquake Effects Using Jell-O and Rice Crispy Treats

Demonstrating Earthquake Effects Using Jell-O and Rice Krispy Treats
Geological Lesson

The effects that earthquakes have on the ground, and the buildings built upon it, all depends on the ground material. Bedrock will usually move as one solid object and sediment and mud will shake like Jell-O. The reason for this is a term called liquefaction.

Liquefaction means that when shaken, unconsolidated sediments have a tendency to act more like a viscous liquid, due to water content and the fact that the individual particles are not cemented together. This means that the ground will often move around and wobble back and forth, very similar to a bowl of Jell-O that has been shaken. So in my demonstration I wanted to show my students the differences between the two substratums (rock and sediment).

For the consolidated sediment I used Rice Krispy Treats because the marshmallow acts similar to the binding agents in most sedimentary rocks. Jell-O, obviously, became my substratum for the unconsolidated sediments. For building materials I looked around for a while and my wife came up with the idea of cutting sugar wafers into little bricks and building little buildings with them.

Step 1: Make the bedrock. Make the Rice Krispy Treats as you normally would, following the directions on the side of the box. Then lay them out in a rather thin pan. I used a 13x9” pan.

Step 2: Make the unconsolidated sediment. I followed the directions for normal Jell-O on the box (quick set method) but you may want to make it like the Jigglers, which involve less water and make the Jell-O a little harder. I then set this out in a thin pan about the same size as the Rice Krispy Treat pan. You want the layer to be thin to mimic a layer of sediment.

Step 3: Cut up the sugar wafers into little square bricks. Then proceed to stack the bricks on each of the surfaces. I made three different building heights. They were three, four, and five bricks high set up as a square with four bricks on each level. On the Jell-O surface I found it easier to use two long bricks on the bottom to add extra support, but then I built up the remaining bricks similar the Rice Krispy Treat bricks.

Step 4. The next step was to shake both pans. I usually shake the bedrock pan lightly and increase in strength until the largest building falls down. I find that it actually takes quite a bit of work to get one of them to fall over.

Step 5. Then shake the Jell-O tray with an equal amount of force and time (as best as you can) as the Rice Crispy tray. Almost all of the buildings should fall down.

Step 6. Show the two comparisons side by side. This should give a good demonstration indicating the effect of similar size earthquakes on two different subsurfaces. The students also get a nice snack at the end. Although I found that the bricks absorbed the moisture from the Jell-O rather easily and made them a bit soggy.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Geological Movie Review of Armageddon - Part 7

Some of the events or items in the movie I am not going to get too in depth about. These include the use of civilians in space or the drill that they plan on using. For the first part, civilians in space, this is a planet-wide emergency and anything they have to do they will do I feel. Also, I agree with the fact that it would be easier to put an amateur in space to drill the rock on short notice then to teach an astronaut how to use the drill in an efficient manner. For the second part I know almost nothing about drills so I am not going to insult someone more knowledgeable than myself with my self musings. But some of the things I am going to describe include the technology that is used in the movie. They unveil several cool new tools that do or do not currently exist. These include new space suits, a new shuttle, and the "Armadillo" asteroid car.

- The Freedom and the Independence -
0:39:09 - The shuttle used in the movie is called the X-71, which was a top secret joint venture with the Air Force. So if these things truly do exist I doubt I would be able to find info about them on the internet. The ship is covered in a titanium alloy causing it to be impenetrable. So when they are flying at the giant hunk of rock, which happens to be surrounded by hunks of rock, they don't get Swiss cheesed like the last shuttle. In real life though, only the hydrogen tanks are currently formed with the titanium alloy (NASA) as well as some other parts including the some of the rotating engine components (KeytoMetals). The image to the right is some rutile, which is the principle titanium ore mineral. So I do not see a big deal with them eventually designing an entire shuttle out of the stuff. Knowing the secrecy that our government displays, especially about its technology, it is possible that this type of spaceship even exists today.

- Armadillo -
0:40:07 - The vehicle that they are using on the asteroid they call the "Armadillo". They don't really go into much detail on what it is capable of other than it will have a drilling arm attached to each one during the mission and it can do 800 turbo horses in zero gravity. The Armadillo is based off the original Lunar Roving Vehicle (pictured left) which was developed by Boeing and NASA to drive on the moon (Smithsonian). Essentially, I don't see much wrong with this in the movie either. All the technology is available to produce this thing today. My only problem is that all space equipment is made with the lowest mass possible, since they have to get the equipment into space. So I don't understand why they would let people who had no clue what the individual parts on the vehicle were for, to strip the vehicle down.

- Super Space Suits -
0:42:07 - The suits that they are wearing are also just improvements on what is currently in use. They contain direction accelerant thrusters, which helps direct the astronaut and keep them on the ground. This is ideal, since the gravity is close to nonexistent on an object that small. Currently, space suits do contain hand held thrusters for work on satellites and space shuttles so a little more development into a "rocket pack" should not be terribly difficult (NASA).

- Mission Briefing -
0:43:10 - Ok, the demonstration of what the mission will entail was laughable. The multibillion dollar government agency uses two shuttles on sticks. That was just a joke from the movie producers, or at least I hope it was, and I will consider that it is. Other than that the mission entails flying to the space station, refueling, then being slingshot around the moon to land on the backside of the asteroid.  

He then goes on to describe that life on the asteroid consists of temperatures of 200o in the sunlight and -200o in the shade, gravity anomalies, and random eruptions of gas. When discussing the temperature of the asteroid, he is actually correct. If we base the temperature on what it would be like on the moon, since neither have an atmosphere and both are the same distance away from the sun, then the temperature in the sunlight is going to be around 212oF while the temperature at night, or in the shade if you will, will be -233oF. So in other words really really hot or really really cold. The other things that are stated about the asteroid, I will go into depth a little later.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Geological Movie Review of Armageddon - Part 6

Geological Movie Review of Armageddon - Overview

- Rogue Comet -

0:23:50 - So eventually it is revealed that the rogue asteroid about to crash into Earth was caused by a rogue comet, how fitting. Essentially what happened was a comet hit the asteroid belt displacing the asteroid, as well as several smaller asteroids, pushing it right in our path. This is what I described above as the optimal situation for NASA to not know about the path of asteroid destined to hit Earth far in advance. So at least that makes sense. Now on to the fact that a comet knocked an asteroid the size of Texas out of the asteroid belt. How big must the comet have been and would it have been possible?
First off, what is a comet? Using the definition above, a comet is a ball of ice and gas that has an eccentric orbit around the sun. Most comets known have an orbital period of greater than 200 years and some if not many have an orbital period greater than 1000 years. So it is possible for there to be comets out there that we know nothing about and that their orbits in the future will take them directly into the path of the asteroid belt. In fact, it is likely (Encyclopedia of Science). 
There are 3 main parts to a comet. The nucleus, the coma, and the tail. The nucleus is the solid part of the comet usually made of frozen gas and water. The coma is evaporating water and gas that comes off of the surface of the nucleus that gives the nucleus a cloudy appearance, similar to the asteroid effect in the movie. The tail is formed when the coma is pushed away from the nucleus by solar winds (NASA). The nucleus is the only part that we are going focus on since it is the only solid part and therefore the only part that will have an effect by hitting an asteroid. Most comets average about a 10 mile diameter but some have become much larger then that. Recent evidence has shown that some distant comets might have a diameter as large as our sun (Space.com). The comets we want to focus on are the distant ones with either very long orbital periods or the ones that get captured by the solar system causing them to enter with an unknown orbit. This type of comet would cause the problem seen in the movie.
Would a comet, even a very large comet, cause a relatively stable asteroid to suddenly and dramatically go off of its normal orbit and fly into Earth?  Typically comets have a very low tensile strength, meaning they fall apart easily, and the only thing holding them together is a rocky crust (NASA). But get one of those things moving fast enough and with a large enough diameter and I believe that is is possible to dislodge an asteroid into the Earth's path. Although it is very very unlikely, it is still possible. And since an asteroid the size of Texas is not a problem (see previously) this is likely to happen on a smaller asteroid that would still have devastating effects on the Earth. But in regards to the movie I don't think that even a very large comet will knock the Armageddon asteroid so far off course that it would come straight for us. If anything the comet would hit the asteroid, altering its orbit slightly and eventually the asteroid might hit Earth some years or more likely centuries in the future.
Also, while describing the impact from the asteroid, Billy states that even if it strikes the ocean it is still striking land. He goes on to describe large tidal waves and heat blasts. This sounds a lot like an asteroid the size of the one that hit 65 mya, not the asteroid they were describing above. If an asteroid the size of Texas were to hit Earth much much worse things would befall the planet then what he was describing. What he described was a much smaller asteroid impact.
I found this website at Arizona.edu that can predict the effects of an asteroid impact based on some information from the asteroid and how far from the impact you are. Here are the factors that I put in for this asteroid:

Distance from impact - 12,451 miles (20,038 km)
This is half the circumference of the Earth, or in other words as far away from the impact as you could get.

Projectile Diameter - 780 miles (1,255 km)

Projectile Density - 2,000 kg/m3
This is a density midpoint between porous rock and dense rock which is what the asteroid likely is.

Impact Velocity - 7 miles/s (11.3 km/s)
This is based on an initial speed of 22,000 km/hr which is then increased due to the combined activity of the Earth and the moon.

Impact Angle - 65o
This is just a generic angle.

Target Type - Water of depth: 3,900 meters
This is the average depth of the Atlantic Ocean

The results from the website indicates that the impact produces an earthquake at the opposite side of the Earth with a magnitude of a 13.6. Combine that with a devestating air blast. So, in essence, the Earth will be wiped clean, if not much worse. You can check out the results, and play around, for yourself.