There’s a Solar Eclipse Tomorrow!

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In case you’ve been living under a rock, there is a total eclipse of the Sun tomorrow, and it’s going to cross the entire continental United States!

A solar eclipse is a once in a lifetime event. Any given location on Earth experiences a total eclipse on average once every 375 years, and they only visit the United States a few times per century. You do not want to miss this!

I’m not even going to bother explaining the science because it’s not about the science. It’s just awesome.

Eclipse Science

Personally, I’m currently sitting in Boise, Idaho for the Exoclipse astrophysics conference, and I’m getting up at 3:00 in the morning tomorrow to ride up to Weiser (pronounced “Wheezer”) to see it in person. It’s my first total eclipse, and that’s only because it’s the first one to hit the United States in my lifetime. (Although I did see the 1994 annular eclipse from my home in Ohio.)

The weather forecast for tomorrow is good along most of the eclipse path. So go out there, get to the path of totality, and go see it!

And if you can’t get to the path of totality, the Sun will still be at least 50% covered, so go see it anyway.

So get out your eclipse glasses. If you can’t get any eclipse glasses, you can use #14 welder’s glasses. If you can get those either, make a pinhole projector. Just don’t miss it!

But…if you absolutely can’t get out to see the solar eclipse tomorrow, don’t worry…There’s another one on April 8, 2024.

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What If? Rejects #7.1: Thor’s Hammer

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Q: In Thor, the main character is at one point spinning his hammer so fast that he creates a strong tornado. Would this be possible in real life?

Randall’s response: (Facepalm) “NO.” Also, a picture of a woman attempting to do this with a regular hammer.

My response: The main problem with this is not that you wouldn’t be able to generate wind by swinging a hammer around. You definitely could. (It wouldn’t be very efficient, but you could do it.) The main problem is that a hammer spinning in a circle is basically a propeller—or in other words, a fan. And fans don’t create tornadoes. They only create straight-line wind.

These giant fans are designed to create the winds of a Category 5 hurricane force for testing the integrity of building. The blades spin around incredibly fast, but the wind only moves in a straight line. Thor’s hammer doesn’t even have a tilted fan-blade shape, so it won’t even make a very good fan. It will still push air aside as it swings, so it will create some wind, but it won’t be a tornado.

Tornados are formed when the air is already rotating in a storm known as a mesocyclone. A mesocyclone is much larger than a tornado, large enough for its rotation to be driven by Earth’s rotation through the Coriolis force. Downdrafts in the storm drive the mesocyclone down to ground level and in the process compress it down to tornado size. This compression causes the mesocyclone to spin faster, reaching the hundreds of miles per hour of tornado-force winds.

Not only doesn’t Thor’s hammer not create rotating winds, but the problem is even worse than that. Instead of compressing a large cyclone down. Thor has to pour enough energy into a small vortex to make it grow into a full-size tornado. Even if that were possible, the sheer kinetic energy required and the subsequent heat generated would probably cause an explosion rather than a recognizable weather system. After all, a strong tornado can contain a kiloton of kinetic energy, and it would be difficult at best to transfer all of that energy from the hammer into the wind without destroying everything in the area with waste heat.

So no, swinging Thor’s hammer around at any speed will not create a tornado.

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Movie Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a French-made science fiction film based on the long-running French comics series, Valérian and Laureline. It was something a little different in the summer of superhero movies, post-apocalyptic fiction, and so forth, and even though it’s technically an adaptation, it’s refreshing change from the endless sequels and remakes.

Valerian has been regarded as a flop, but I actually liked it. Not only is it a refreshing change from the endless sequels, but it’s very optimistic in some ways, hearkening back to Star Trek and the “strange new worlds” sci-fi that we really don’t get enough of anymore. And even though Valerian is no Star Trek (it’s a typical action movie in space), it’s a fun movie to watch.

My rating: 4 out of 5.

Spoilers below.

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Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Okay, so I’ve got a long backlog of movie and other reviews to cover, and I’m going to try to get them done quickly. So right now, we’re starting with a bang with my spoiler-free review of Spider-Man: Homecoming.

A lot of people are saying this is the best Spider-Man movie ever, sometimes the best Marvel movie, and I’ve even heard the best superhero movie of all time. I wouldn’t quite go that far, but I would say that this is the best Spider-Man movie since the original Tobey Maguire Spider-Man back in 2002. Not the best Marvel or MCU movie, but near the top.

(By the way, I didn’t realize until just now that it was Spider-Man and not Spiderman. I may have to turn in my nerd card.)

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The first defining feature of this movie is that it is not a reboot. This is a sequel to Captain America: Civil War, in which Spider-Man is recruited as an already established, if inexperienced, hero. That means we don’t have to go through another tedious rehash of his origin story that spends half the movie going through the Stations of the Canon before actually getting to fight the main villain.

Now, I read fanfiction, which means I see a lot of stories that rehash the stations of whatever canon they’re rewriting, some of which pull it off well. But the best stories, both in fanfics and authorized reboots, if they rehash the origin story at all, make some dramatic changes to make those stations go differently, something we didn’t see with the Andrew Garfield reboot, and which I think detracted from that version.

I think another good example of a reboot done right is the 2008 The Incredible Hulk, which neither rehashes nor completely discards the 2003 Hulk, but makes references to the broad outline of its predecessor as part of its backstory.

The second interesting thing about this Spider-Man is that he doesn’t act alone. He gets his gear and mentorship from Iron Man, Tony Stark to help him learn how to be a truly great hero. I really wish we had seen more of this, since I felt that Tony was a little too hands-off for most of the movie. (I do have to wonder if they just couldn’t afford to pay Robert Downey Jr. for more screen time.) Still, even though the execution could have been better, this was a great new spin on the character that I really liked.

A few other things clean up the story really well, too. Peter’s status as a super-genius feels less contrived now that he attends a magnet school for gifted students (complete with a multicultural cast that really reflects the modern New York of which Spider-Man is an integral part). The Vulture is a brilliant villain with understandable motives that hit really close to home. And Peter’s interactions with authority figures strike a great, realistic balance between overly accommodating and overly hostile.

I do have one other major criticism, though. Without giving away anything, a certain character appears to have undergone a complete personality transplant from their previous versions. That’s honestly the part I’m most worried about if there is a sequel, but I’m still eager to see where Spider-Man’s adventures take him next.

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Kepler-1625b I: The First Exomoon…Maybe

Artist’s conception of a planet with an exomoon. Credit: NASA Wikimedia.

So, the big science news of the day is the potential discovery of the first known “exomoon”—that is, a moon orbiting an extrasolar planet. (Scientific paper here.) Scientists have been looking for such moons for years, only to turn up empty, but this is the first semi-convincing case that they’ve found one, orbiting the planet Kepler-1625b, and it’s a doozy. A moon the size of Neptune?! It could be. Here’s what you should know about this discovery.

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The Thirteenth Doctor: Jodie Whittaker!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/article_1200/article-drwho-0716.jpg

The BBC announced yesterday that next year, the thirteenth incarnation of the Doctor (not including the War Doctor) of Doctor Who after Peter Capaldi leaves the show will be Jodie Whittaker, the first woman to headline the iconic series. I don’t know anything about Jodie Whittaker. I haven’t seen or even really heard of any of her previous film credits, the same as all the previous Doctors before I saw them in action. I do wish her luck in her new role.

However, I wanted to address what I saw as a strange reaction, namely, that “some fans of the show” are unhappy that the new Doctor is a woman. There are several pieces of this I want to unpack to explain why this should not be controversial, and also, in my opinion, why it may be partially manufactured.

I’ll take the last point first. These kinds of stories crop up every few months when some new movie or television show causes controversy with its perceived diversity casting. The thing is, I’m not convinced I see it. In most cases (the exception being when historical accuracy is a factor), I strongly suspect that this response comes from a small minority of the fan base.

Consider: “a minority of fans” objected to casting black actor Michael B. Jordan as the traditionally white character Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four. But most fans merely shrugged and judged that the film was awful on its merits, and it now sits at 9% on Rotten Tomatoes. It takes more than one bad casting call to do that. In contrast, “a flurry of racist tweets” decried Star Wars Episode VII for casting black actor John Boyega as the Stormtrooper Finn. Most fans shrugged and judged that it was pretty good, and it was wildly successful. Beauty and the Beast (which I did not see) caused “international controversy” for including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene featuring a gay character. It was also wildly successful. And on and on. It always seems to be a small, but vocal group of people speaking out, and the bottom line is, most fans don’t care.

Now, on the subject of the Doctor in particular being a woman, this shouldn’t be a big deal for the simple reason that Doctor Who has been teasing this since New Year’s Day of 2010 when the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) mistakenly proclaimed “I’m a girl!” upon noticing his “long” hair in “The End of Time”. Later, in “The Doctor’s Wife” in 2011, we heard mention of a Time Lord regenerating into the opposite gender offscreen. And long-time villain the Master reappeared as the female Missy (and spectacularly, at that) in 2014, and I didn’t hear much complaining then. This should not be a surprise.

Finally, and most importantly, the whole point of the Doctor is that you can replace the actor every few years, and the show stays the same. The Doctor is a space alien who regenerates when he dies into a new person with a different personality, but with the same basic drive: “Planets to save, civilisations to rescue, creatures to defeat and an awful lot of running to do.”

That’s what has kept the show running and beloved by fans for over fifty years. Doctor Who isn’t about a man. It’s about an immensely powerful alien being who condescends to spend his time with us humans, take us with him to explore the universe, and saves anyone who needs help, and that’s something much bigger than an individual actor’s or actress’s portrayal. And if it sounds like I’m spinning in a few religious overtones, that’s no accident. See my previous post on that subject.

At the end of the day, even if this is a case of jumping on the feminist bandwagon, it works in Doctor Who. I would even go so far as to say the show is uniquely suited to it because it doesn’t matter if the Doctor is a man or a woman as long as they are the Doctor. So again, I say to Ms. Whittaker: Good luck.

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And don’t blink.

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Television Review: Doctor Who Series 10

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Doctor Who’s tenth series has just concluded (the new Doctor Who, that is), and I would be remiss if I did not mark it with a review here. All in all, this was a pretty good season. It wasn’t the absolute best of the show, but it was still classic Doctor Who in great form, with no real failures in terms of episodes and a couple of great character arcs.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.


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