Jaws! (and Airport 1975)

Forty years ago, Jaws hit the theaters. The opening weekend box figure was more than $7 million, which almost covered the film’s estimated budget of $8 million. By the Independence Day weekend in 1975, just a few weeks after its launch, Jaws was holding steady at the box office. It would go on to gross more than $470 million worldwide. Forty years ago, Anna saw … Continue reading Jaws! (and Airport 1975)

Fukushima Daiichi, Three Years Later

Three years ago yesterday, on March 11, 2011, the nuclear power plant at Fukushima Daiichi was hit by a tsunami that followed an earthquake less than an hour before. The tsunami waves exceeded the height of the seawall protecting the power plant by as much as thirty feet. The facility flooded, and, over three days, explosions at the reactors occurred. The accident is categorized as … Continue reading Fukushima Daiichi, Three Years Later

International Geophysical Year and the Cold War

As a group, scientists have a generally deserved reputation for being canny with numbers. Perhaps this perceived facility has also earned them a certain flexibility toward—what a lay person might perceive as casualness with—numbers. On occasion, early estimates of quantities or measurements are said to be correct within an order of magnitude, or a single power of ten. (Powers of ten are ably demonstrated in … Continue reading International Geophysical Year and the Cold War

On This Date: Radium, Tu-144, and Earthquakes

On most Mondays, we post either a piece by a guest blogger (first and third Mondays) or a video interview (second and fourth Mondays). We do have video interviews queued up for the new year (and just wait ’til you see who!), but today we take the opportunity for one of our “on this date” posts. In 1898, just three years into their marriage, one … Continue reading On This Date: Radium, Tu-144, and Earthquakes

Radioactivity and Other Risks (Part 1)

Since shortly after the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi, we have been writing about various topics related to understanding that event. This week, we’re thinking about radioactivity and risk, though not only the risk that radioactivity—and exposure to it—poses. We’ll work our way back around to that on Friday. But we want to contextualize that particular risk (a risk of exposure to radioactive particles) within … Continue reading Radioactivity and Other Risks (Part 1)

The Original Renaissance Man

Last night, we wandered over to the Leatherby Libraries balcony to watch a rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base off to the west, on the coast of Southern California. The payload was super-secret, launched for the National Reconnaissance Office at 9:24p.m. At first, we weren’t sure that the red dot in the distance was the Atlas 5 rocket. But as it rose, the flame … Continue reading The Original Renaissance Man

Measurement and Scale

On March 11, 2011, just off the east coast of Japan, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake occurred. When we talk about an earthquake having magnitude, we attempt to understand its seismic energy. That number is a notch on the Moment Magnitude Scale (MMS), which, in the 1970s, replaced the colloquial Richter scale that had held sway since the 1930s. Since 1990, just one other quake of … Continue reading Measurement and Scale