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Why do electric transformers explode?

Sixty milliseconds is fast. But sometimes, it's not fast enough. That's the gist of a great explainer by Cassie Rodenberg at Popular Mechanics, which answers the question, "Why do transformers explode?"

Before I link you over there, I want to add a quick reminder of what transformers actually are.

Although giant robots that turn into trucks do also explode from time to time, in this case we are talking about those cylindrical boxes that you see attached to electric poles. (Pesco posted a video of one exploding last night.) To understand what they do, you have to know the basics of the electric grid.

I find that it's easiest to picture the grid like a lazy river at a water park. That's because we aren't just talking about a bunch of wires, here. The grid is a circuit, just like the lazy river. Electricity has to flow along it from the power plant, to the customers, and back around to the power plant again. And, like a lazy river, the grid has to operate within certain limits. The electricity has to move at a constant speed (analogous to what engineers call frequency) and at a constant depth (analogous to voltage). This is where transformers come in.

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Chat about climate science and Sandy with Stanford's Noah Diffenbaugh

Yesterday, I told you that the relationship between Hurricane Sandy and climate change can be summed up with "It's Complicated". If you want a referendum on climate change, the data is in and we know it's happening. But if you're curious about this specific storm, what scientists know about hurricane systems, and how weather and climate interact, Scientific American has a live chat starting at 1:00 pm Eastern with Noah Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford University. Check it out! Maggie

Ye olde hurricane analysis

The above is an excerpt from the entry on hurricanes in A New and Complete Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, published in 1763 by the delightfully named "A Society of Gentlemen".

The entry contains information on how natives of the Caribbean were said to be able to predict hurricanes — portents that center around the color of the sky and the phases of the Moon. I'm curious whether any meteorology fans and experts out there can offer insight on that. Read the full entry. (It's short.) And let me know. Does this sound like stuff that would line up with what we know about hurricanes today?

Also: Helpful tip. "F" is pronounced "S" here.

I got this from someone on Twitter, but managed to lose my notation of who during today's ridiculous airport runaround. So, anyway, thank you! If this is you, let me know and I'll get your name on it.

Epic hurricane is epic

Hurricane Sandy will likely cause 16-foot to 22-foot waves ... on Lake Michigan. (Via Jessica Morrison) Maggie

Building an indoor hurricane at the University of Miami

This is how Hurricane Isaac looked on Tuesday, as it made landfall on America's Gulf Coast. If you've never been to the Gulf of Mexico, here is a key fact you should know: The water there is warm. While Pacific coastal waters might be in the 50s during August, and the central Atlantic coast is pulling temperatures in the 60s and 70s, the water in the Gulf of Mexico is well into the 80s.

And that makes a difference. We know that water temperature affects hurricane strength. But we don't understand the particulars of how or why at a detail level. To learn more about this (and other factors that make each hurricane an individual), researchers at the University of Miami are building a simulation machine. When it's complete, it will be a key tool in improving forecasts.

Peter Sollogub, Associate Principal at Cambridge Seven, says the hurricane simulator is comprised of three major components:
The first is a 1400-horsepower fan originally suited for things like ventilating mine shafts. To create its 150mph winds, it will draw energy from the campus's emergency generator system, which is typically used during power outages caused by storms.

The second part is a wave generator which pushes salt water using 12 different paddles. Those paddles, timed to move at different paces and rates, can create waves at various sizes, angles and frequency, creating anything from a calm, organized swell to sloppy chaotic seas.

The third aspect of the tank is the tank itself, which is six meters in width by 20 meters in length by two meters high. It's made of three-inch thick clear acrylic so that the conditions inside can be observed from all sides.

Read more about the hurricane simulator at Popular Science