And here's Junk Mail number 8!

If you're new to this mess and actually WANT to see junkmail 1-7, check out

You'd really have to be warped, though. There are now 150-200 poor souls getting this wonderful collection of bits. It's kind of funny... this has ONLY existed electronically. When you get this, it will have never been printed on paper. It's only 0's and 1's.... it's only 0's and 1's.... it's only 0's and 1's....

Sunday, October 03, 1999

Mike and I went to Florida for some remedial airplane flying lessons last week. Here's Mike's deer-in-the-headlights look with the "cool, calm" instructor:


We did buzz the space shuttle landing strip in the rain at 600'. Or was that meters?


Your Vice President Al Gore selects his employees just about as well as his boss  does. His campaign chairman Tony Coelho improperly used $210,000 in donated airline tickets, unnecessarily kept an expensive chauffeur-driven Mercedes, hired his niece for a $2,500-a-month job, and made the government liable for a $300,000 personal loan. When asked about the financial misdeeds of Gore's campaign chairman and Gore's failure to fire him, President Clinton responded, "Have they hired any interns?"

More from the Marshall Islands! The Air Force launched a minuteman missile in over the Pacific from California. They launched a new interceptor missile from the Marshall Islands, and it "killed" the minuteman 140 miles over the ocean. That's pretty tough to do! This new missile is intended to shoot down missiles from places like Iraq or Libya. It can't handle the multi-warhead nukes from Russia or China.

Y2K Update:  The President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion has recommended that everyone hold their breath just before midnight on 12-31-99 in case of an air shortage. They also are asking all people on earth to face to the west as they exhale shortly after midnight in order to keep the earth rotating next year.

I read in the newspaper about an iceberg between Antarctica and South America -- 48 miles long! The paper seemed to imply that this was caused by global warming or El Nino or Y2K, so I figured I'd look into it. After all, that's a big iceberg, right? Good thing it got into the press right away! This iceberg is called B10A. I guess iceberg namers aren't as imaginative as hurricane namers.

A few hundred thousand years ago, it snowed somewhere above the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica. Then it kept snowing. Since it snowed more than it thawed and sublimed, the snow kept building up until it was so deep that it packed the snow underneath into ice. And it kept building up. In fact, over a bunch of years, the snow and ice have built up to an average depth of about 2000 feet on Antarctica. Antarctica has the highest average elevation of any continent because of this. (They measure the average altitude at the permanent ice, not down to the dirt.)

When the ice builds up high enough, it starts flowing downhill. This is a pretty slow process, sometimes only inches per year. When this happens, it's called a glacier. It's a river of ice. Here's a picture of Steven and Lane Jacobs at the edge of a Glacier in Alaska. You can also see Mike Jacobs up on the horizon:


When a glacier has gone as far down as it can get, it's generally at the ocean. The ice goes out into the ocean and breaks off. Glaciers that are relatively fast moving and have steep slopes into the ocean make lots of smaller, irregularly shaped icebergs. When there's a shallow slope and a slow, stable glacier, it makes tabular icebergs that are bigger. I think these only happen in Antarctica. Here are the pictures of today -- some iceberg pictures I took a few years ago in Antarctica:


If you're interested, here are a BUNCH of pictures from antarctica. (This link is optional):

Anyway, back to good ol' B10A. Our faithful news media was on top of things when they reported this iceberg. Except maybe they were a little slow. It turns out that this iceberg has been floating around in the ocean since it broke off the Thwaites glacier in 1992 -- seven years ago! It would have been a better story back then, because it broke in half in 1995.

They were keeping track of the glacier all this time, more or less. Mostly less, I suppose, because they lost it earlier this year. A ship went out to its last known position and it was gone! Either it moved or someone stole it. Luckily, a new radar imaging satellite called SeaWinds came online last July and they found it again.

It's not really hard to lose an iceberg down there if you consider that in the winter (our summer) it's dark, and the iceberg is frozen in the ice pack most of the winter. Except maybe not this winter because it was moving too far North.

So why the big iceberg? Is it global warming? Y2K? Sunspots? No, it turns out that it's pretty normal. When glaciers flow into the ocean, icebergs break off. That's just the way it is.

If there's an indication of global warming, it would be shown by the ice caps. Here's what happens to the polar ice every year:


Actually, there has been a pretty big recession of the polar ice in the past 50 years. It may be global warming caused by people, or it may be just a normal cycle of the earth's climate. Remember, a few thousand years ago it was a LOT colder! Or maybe you don't remember that long, but I heard it was pretty cold then during the ice age.

Incidentally, Icebergs are fresh water because they come from snow. How about the sea ice that is frozen ocean? It's almost completely fresh water too! Most of the salt gets squeezed out as the ice forms.

One of the people (Frank Carsey) in the SeaWinds project is also studying a lake in Antarctica. A LAKE? Where it never gets above freezing?  Yep.  There is Lake Vostok in Antarctica. And not a small lake, either. It's about the size of Lake Ontario, and 3-4 times deeper. It also happens to be under more than 2 miles of ice, but there is water down there. Liquid water, even. It's really interesting, because it may have been ice-covered for about 30 million years.

They are also checking this out for similarities with Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Europa has a 200-meter ice crust over liquid water. It may contain some life forms, but they will probably be microscopic. There are some features on Europa that you won't find in Antarctica though. First, it's a lot colder on Europa. Second, there's no atmosphere to speak of. Third, there's a lot of radiation coming from Jupiter. (Maybe a little from Japan, too.) Jupiter is actually a star that never made it big, so it gives off quite a bit of radiation.

What happened in Japan? And why am I having a hard time keeping to one subject tonight? There was a Nukular accident, I heard on NPR. I assume they've been paying attention to my NPR pronunciation guide from Junkmail 5 (..\junk5\junk5.htm).

There is a plant 70 miles from Tokyo where they process Uranium to turn it into fuel for nuclear power plants. They're supposed to put about 5 lbs of uranium into a big tank and do some stuff to it. They figured out they could put about 20 lbs into the tank and do this stuff a lot faster, even though that was against regulations. Last week they put about 35 pounds into the tank. Big deal? Yes, it turned out to be a pretty big deal because it reached critical mass and started an atomic reaction. This is a processing plant where atomic reactions are not supposed to happen, ever.

What does critical mass mean? Uranium usually comes in two versions, 235 and 238. They're both radioactive, with a half-life of 700 million years for U235 and 4.5 billion years for U238. That means at the end of this time period a Uranium atom has a 50% chance of kicking out some neutrons or protons and decaying into some other element -- provided it doesn't get slammed into by a stray proton or neutron. If that happens, it will most likely decay immediately, sending out some more protons or neutrons.

U235 works better for nuclear reactions because when you get a bunch of U235 atoms together, they start hitting each other with neutrons and protons and that sends out more and more neutrons and protons, and it starts getting hot. These atomic particles go blasting out everywhere, and that's radiation. It's called fission, because the atom splits into two pieces. This is a lot slower than the atomic bomb, but it's the same principle. The amount it takes to do this is called the critical mass.

When these guys in Japan put 35 pounds of Uranium in the tank, it got hot and the atomic particles started flying. It took them several hours to get the reaction shut down. I'm not sure how they did that. The result? There were probably more people killed this week by drunk drivers in Texas than by that accident in Japan. But we can't see radiation, most people don't understand it, it can hurt you without you knowing it, and all that really scares people. So the news we read is about the Uranium in Japan instead of the Earthquake in Mexico.

And speaking of protons, Pizza Hut is paying about 1.25 million dollars to have its advertisement put on a Russian Proton rocket.


The launch has been delayed though, from next month until next year. And we thought NASA was bad!

Well, maybe they are. There are Newtons and there are pounds... and if you get them confused you can crash a satellite. The Mars Climate Orbiter never did orbit because NASA was giving the rocket motors too much push on the way to Mars. Lockheed Martin in Colorado was sending the acceleration data to NASA's computer at the JPL laboratory. Lockheed used pounds, and NASA treated it like Newtons, and the satellite burned up in the Martian atmosphere. Oops!

Oh well, it was only $125,000,000... less than half the cost of a shuttle launch. Actually, they save so much with the smaller unmanned probes that they can lose a couple of them and still get by a lot cheaper than a single manned mission to Mars. It's just not as neat.


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