CLOSE

Be Amazing: Control the Weather

Whether you're looking to start your own religion, swallow a sword, quit smoking, find Atlantis, buy the Moon, sink a battleship, perform your own surgeries, or become a ninja, our new book Be Amazing covers all the essential life skills! This week, we'll be excerpting a few lessons from the book.

Step 1: CONVINCE PEOPLE YOU AREN'T A NUTJOB

This will be tough, but you'll need to do it successfully if you're going to have any hope of procuring some funding. The problem is that when most people think of weather-control devices, they think of quacks like George Ambrosius Immanuel Morrison Sykes, who traveled the country promoting his weather machine in the late 1920s and early 1930s. According to Boston Globe reporter Drake Bennett, who wrote an article on weather control in 2005, Sykes's big break (and even larger crack up) came in the summer of 1930, when the innovative owners of New York's Belmont Park horse racing track decided to ensure gambling satisfaction by keeping that years' racing season rain-free. To do this, they hired Sykes. And, by all accounts, they got a pretty good deal—the would-be weather god agreed to be paid only for the days he actually succeeded in keeping the storm clouds away and, in fact, actually promised to pay the Belmont owners double for days he failed.

Surprisingly, Sykes' first week on the job went so well that his contract was extended. As irony would have it, this was when the deluge began. From this point, the weather thoroughly failed to obey Mr. Sykes's command; even when he promised rain, the sun shown. But, while his machine probably lacked scientific merit, it turned out that the concept of making rain wasn't entirely unrealistic. Sixteen years later, a General Electric research chemist managed to actually do what Sykes had faked. In 1946, Vincent J. Schaefer flew over a mountain in Massachusetts, sprinkling three pounds of crushed dry ice along the way. The result: a man-made snowfall. And, later that year, Kurt Vonnegut's meteorologist brother, Bernard, discovered that silver iodide would also prompt precipitation. By 1951, "cloud seeding" was being used to dampen 10 percent of the United States.

Step 2: RETAIN A GOOD LAWYER

Technically, what you are about to do is illegal. Hey, don't look at us. Blame the government!

Back in 1966, the U.S. military began a massive cloud-seeding experiment in Vietnam. Called Project Popeye, it was meant to soak the Ho Chi Minh trail to the point of being impassible, hopefully bogging down the North Vietnamese forces in the muck.

And in 1972, the last year of Project Popeye, a state-funded cloud-seeding operation in South Dakota got a little overzealous and ended up creating a flood that killed more than 200 people. When both these incidents hit the news wire, they created a sensation of fear and, yes, loathing. Antiweather-control sentiment eventually culminated in a United Nations treaty that forbade using weather control for military purposes or for any violent reason. America ratified the treaty back in 1979. But this shouldn't necessarily block you from pursuing your dream of benevolently tampering with nature. It certainly didn't stop U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Representative Mark Udall from sponsoring pro-weather-control bills in recent years. Both bills would have created a Weather Modification Advisory and Research Board tied both to the White House and the Pentagon. As of today, neither has become law.

Step 3: GET DOWN TO THE SCIENCE

Cloud-seeding is definitely the most popular form of weather control—namely because we know for sure that it works. Grains of silver iodide dropped into a cloud work as a sort of irritant, causing droplets of water vapor to form around them. When the cloud gets heavy enough, it rains.

But scientists are working on new and improved methods. Ross Hoffman, a researcher with Massachusetts-based Atmospheric and Environmental Research, has used computer models to demonstrate how a deadly hurricane could be stopped or moved away from a city. Ironically, Hoffman's method actually involves making the hurricane stronger—even a slight change in wind speed can drastically alter the direction and duration of a storm. Heating up the storm would work, too. Unfortunately, in order to make either small change happen, we'd have to be able to produce, store, and transfer a massive quantity of energy—far more massive than any ever before controlled by humanity. Translation: Don't expect this any time soon. However, in a decade or two, the story may be very different. By then, its possible that we might have technology capable of harnessing energy from the sun and beaming it to Earth, where it can warm up the offending hurricanes.

Picture 14.png

Want to get the new book plus a new mental_floss shirt for under $20? Here are the details.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
NASA/JPL-Caltech
arrow
Space
More Details Emerge About 'Oumuamua, Earth's First-Recorded Interstellar Visitor
 NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA/JPL-Caltech

In October, scientists using the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope sighted something extraordinary: Earth's first confirmed interstellar visitor. Originally called A/2017 U1, the once-mysterious object has a new name—'Oumuamua, according to Scientific American—and researchers continue to learn more about its physical properties. Now, a team from the University of Hawaii's Institute of Astronomy has published a detailed report of what they know so far in Nature.

Fittingly, "'Oumuamua" is Hawaiian for "a messenger from afar arriving first." 'Oumuamua's astronomical designation is 1I/2017 U1. The "I" in 1I/2017 stands for "interstellar." Until now, objects similar to 'Oumuamua were always given "C" and "A" names, which stand for either comet or asteroid. New observations have researchers concluding that 'Oumuamua is unusual for more than its far-flung origins.

It's a cigar-shaped object 10 times longer than it is wide, stretching to a half-mile long. It's also reddish in color, and is similar in some ways to some asteroids in our solar system, the BBC reports. But it's much faster, zipping through our system, and has a totally different orbit from any of those objects.

After initial indecision about whether the object was a comet or an asteroid, the researchers now believe it's an asteroid. Long ago, it might have hurtled from an unknown star system into our own.

'Oumuamua may provide astronomers with new insights into how stars and planets form. The 750,000 asteroids we know of are leftovers from the formation of our solar system, trapped by the Sun's gravity. But what if, billions of years ago, other objects escaped? 'Oumuamua shows us that it's possible; perhaps there are bits and pieces from the early years of our solar system currently visiting other stars.

The researchers say it's surprising that 'Oumuamua is an asteroid instead of a comet, given that in the Oort Cloud—an icy bubble of debris thought to surround our solar system—comets are predicted to outnumber asteroids 200 to 1 and perhaps even as high as 10,000 to 1. If our own solar system is any indication, it's more likely that a comet would take off before an asteroid would.

So where did 'Oumuamua come from? That's still unknown. It's possible it could've been bumped into our realm by a close encounter with a planet—either a smaller, nearby one, or a larger, farther one. If that's the case, the planet remains to be discovered. They believe it's more likely that 'Oumuamua was ejected from a young stellar system, location unknown. And yet, they write, "the possibility that 'Oumuamua has been orbiting the galaxy for billions of years cannot be ruled out."

As for where it's headed, The Atlantic's Marina Koren notes, "It will pass the orbit of Jupiter next May, then Neptune in 2022, and Pluto in 2024. By 2025, it will coast beyond the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt, a field of icy and rocky objects."

Last month, University of Wisconsin–Madison astronomer Ralf Kotulla and scientists from UCLA and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) used the WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona, to take some of the first pictures of 'Oumuamua. You can check them out below.

Images of an interloper from beyond the solar system — an asteroid or a comet — were captured on Oct. 27 by the 3.5-meter WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Ariz.
Images of 'Oumuamua—an asteroid or a comet—were captured on October 27.
WIYN OBSERVATORY/RALF KOTULLA

U1 spotted whizzing through the Solar System in images taken with the WIYN telescope. The faint streaks are background stars. The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image. In these images U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faint
The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image against faint streaks of background stars. In these images, U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faintest visible stars.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Color image of U1, compiled from observations taken through filters centered at 4750A, 6250A, and 7500A.
Color image of U1.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
science
Scientists Analyze the Moods of 90,000 Songs Based on Music and Lyrics
iStock
iStock

Based on the first few seconds of a song, the part before the vocalist starts singing, you can judge whether the lyrics are more likely to detail a night of partying or a devastating breakup. The fact that musical structures can evoke certain emotions just as strongly as words can isn't a secret. But scientists now have a better idea of which language gets paired with which chords, according to their paper published in Royal Society Open Science.

For their study, researchers from Indiana University downloaded 90,000 songs from Ultimate Guitar, a site that allows users to upload the lyrics and chords from popular songs for musicians to reference. Next, they pulled data from labMT, which crowd-sources the emotional valence (positive and negative connotations) of words. They referred to the music recognition site Gracenote to determine where and when each song was produced.

Their new method for analyzing the relationship between music and lyrics confirmed long-held knowledge: that minor chords are associated with sad feelings and major chords with happy ones. Words with a negative valence, like "pain," "die," and "lost," are all more likely to fall on the minor side of the spectrum.

But outside of major chords, the researchers found that high-valence words tend to show up in a surprising place: seventh chords. These chords contain four notes at a time and can be played in both the major and minor keys. The lyrics associated with these chords are positive all around, but their mood varies slightly depending on the type of seventh. Dominant seventh chords, for example, are often paired with terms of endearment, like "baby", or "sweet." With minor seventh chords, the words "life" and "god" are overrepresented.

Using their data, the researchers also looked at how lyric and chord valence differs between genres, regions, and eras. Sixties rock ranks highest in terms of positivity while punk and metal occupy the bottom slots. As for geography, Scandinavia (think Norwegian death metal) produces the dreariest music while songs from Asia (like K-Pop) are the happiest. So if you're looking for a song to boost your mood, we suggest digging up some Asian rock music from the 1960s, and make sure it's heavy on the seventh chords.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios