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TONIGHT: President Obama on MythBusters

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Tonight at 9pm ET/PT: The MythBusters tackle, once and for all, the "Archimedes Solar Ray" myth! Set your DVRs for the Discovery Channel.

Way back in 2004, the MythBusters first tried out the "Archimedes Solar Ray" myth. The myth essentially was (quoting an excellent writeup at The Annotated MythBusters):

Myth: At the seige of Syracuse in 212 BC (during the Second Punic Wars), Archimedes built his 'burning mirrors,' which was an arrangement of mirrors that was capable of focusing a ray of sunshine on approaching ships and setting them aflame.

In 2004, they failed to replicate this effect and called the myth busted. Viewers cried foul, and a group from MIT claimed they had in fact created an array of mirrors that set a boat on fire. So the next year, the MythBusters encouraged various viewers to come on the show and do it themselves -- including the MIT class. Well, as The Annotated MythBusters says, this second series of attempts also failed. (I urge you to read the writeup of this second attempt, as it really is an in-depth essay on the topic.)

But still, the myth would not die. People really, really wanted to see a boat set on fire using mirrors. After all, those MIT folks claimed to have done it! So now, President Obama himself has set the MythBusters on a mission to investigate the myth one last time. Here's a sneak peak:

Obama's involvement is part of his administration's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) awareness initiative. The idea, in brief, is to get STEM careers noticed by students, so they'll consider them when choosing career paths. As someone who actually has a STEM career (when I'm not writing, I'm a software engineer), I think this is awesome. And who better to show off practical applications of science, technology, engineering, and math than Adam and Jamie?

The big question, though, is whether this myth is busted or not! I have seen the episode, but I am sworn to secrecy about it. I can tell you this, though: the MythBusters rallied a huge number of students in order to make the ultimate solar ray, vastly ramping up all previous efforts. Watching Jamie in his solar-proof suit on the trireme, being blasted by mirror reflections, is pretty intense. Watching all those kids directly engaged in a large-scale science experiment is also totally awesome.

After the jump, some more promo shots from the episode. Jamie plays the attacking General Marcellus and Adam plays the Syracusian general urging his defending army to keep the mirrors focused.

MythBusters with students
Part of the Syracusian defending army.

Adam and Jamie with the Trireme
Adam and Jamie with the trireme.

Mirrors aiming at the trireme
The army's assault begins....

Tune in tonight to learn how it all turns out.

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Why a Howling Wind Sounds So Spooky, According to Science
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Halloween is swiftly approaching, meaning you'll likely soon hear creepy soundtracks—replete with screams, clanking chains, and howling winds—blaring from haunted houses and home displays. While the sound of human suffering is frightful for obvious reasons, what is it, exactly, about a brisk fall gust that sends shivers up our spines? In horror movie scenes and ghost stories, these spooky gales are always presented as blowing through dead trees. Do bare branches actually make the natural wailing noises louder, or is this detail added simply for atmospheric purposes?

As the SciShow's Hank Green explains in the video below, wind howls because it curves around obstacles like trees or buildings. When fast-moving air goes around, say, a tree, it splits up as it whips past, before coming back together on the other side. Due to factors such as natural randomness, air speed, and the tree's surface, one side's wind is going to be slightly stronger when the two currents rejoin, pushing the other side's gust out of the way. The two continue to interact back-and-forth in what could be likened to an invisible wrestling match, as high-pressure airwaves and whirlpools mix together and vibrate the air. If the wind is fast enough, this phenomenon will produce the eerie noise we've all come to recognize in horror films.

Leafy trees "will absorb some of the vibrations in the air and dull the sound, but without leaves—like if it's the middle of the winter or the entire forest is dead—the howling will travel a lot farther," Green explains. That's why a dead forest on a windy night sounds so much like the undead.

Learn more by watching SciShow's video below.

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AFP/Stringer/Getty Images
SpaceX's Landing Blooper Reel Shows That Even Rocket Scientists Make Mistakes
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SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches.
AFP/Stringer/Getty Images

On March 30, 2017, SpaceX did something no space program had done before: They relaunched an orbital class rocket from Earth that had successfully achieved lift-off just a year earlier. It wasn't the first time Elon Musk's company broke new ground: In December 2015, it nailed the landing on a reusable rocket—the first time that had been done—and five months later landed a rocket on a droneship in the middle of the ocean, which was also unprecedented. These feats marked significant moments in the history of space travel, but they were just a few of the steps in the long, messy journey to achieve them. In SpaceX's new blooper reel, spotted by Ars Technica, you can see just some of the many failures the company has had along the way.

The video demonstrates that failure is an important part of the scientific process. Of course when the science you're working in deals with launching and landing rockets, failure can be a lot more dramatic than it is in a lab. SpaceX has filmed their rockets blowing up in the air, disintegrating in the ocean, and smashing against landing pads, often because of something small like a radar glitch or lack of propellant.

While explosions—or "rapid unscheduled disassemblies," as the video calls them—are never ideal, some are preferable to others. The Falcon 9 explosion that shook buildings for miles last year, for instance, ended up destroying the $200 million Facebook satellite onboard. But even costly hiccups such as that one are important to future successes. As Musk once said, "If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough."

You can watch the fiery compilation below.

[h/t Ars Technica]


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