Do Earthquakes Affect an Aircraft Flying Above?

iStock
iStock

Ron Wagner:

They sure do, and I experienced it once. It was pretty scary, too.

BLYTHEVILLE AFB CIRCA 1978

I was flying a VIP jet transport from Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, to Blytheville Air Force Base, Arkansas to pick up someone, probably a member of Congress. It was night and there was a solid cloud overcast with a ceiling at about 3000 feet.

We were talking to and being vectored by approach control and inside the clouds we saw nothing but black—in those conditions, cockpit windows look like they’ve been painted black.

Suddenly, we broke out of the cloud base. Below them, it was crystal clear and we could see lights for many miles, including the runway lights and rotating beacon on the base. We reported to approach control that we had the airport in sight, we were cleared for a visual approach, and we turned toward the runway.

Just as suddenly as the lights had appeared, everything went black again.

When the windows went black again, we assumed we’d flown back into a cloud, so we called approach to tell them we’d lost the visual and wanted to continue vectors.

No reply.

We then checked our position on our navigational instruments but noticed they had red flags on them, which meant that the ground signal had been lost.

We called again. No reply.

We then noticed our transponder wasn’t blinking anymore, which meant we weren’t being painted by radar.

We called again. No reply.

We began to ponder climbing and switching back to our last en route frequency but first we called again. No reply.

Just as I was about to change frequency, a very excited controller called us.

They’d just had a big earthquake, which knocked out all power. It had taken a couple of minutes to get running on their emergency backup, but he now had his radio working.

He asked us to orbit visually on our own while they got things up and running again. That was the scary part because we saw nothing but black.

We could only hope there wasn’t a tall antenna out there—now unlighted due to the power outage. We called him and he verified he didn’t have his radar back yet, but he knew the area well and we were in the clear at our altitude. We continued to orbit—seeing nothing else in the whole world but the red glow from our flight instruments.

Finally the runway lights came back on. The controller then told us to continue to orbit while they sent some trucks down the runway to check for cracks.

A few minutes later we were told the runway was fine, so we finally went in visually and landed.

So, yes, earthquakes can absolutely affect pilots!

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

What is a Polar Vortex?

Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

If you’ve turned on the news or stepped outside lately, you're familiar with the record-breaking cold that is blanketing a lot of North America. According to The Washington Post, a mass of bone-chilling air over Canada—a polar vortex—split into three parts at the beginning of 2019, and one is making its way to the eastern U.S. Polar vortexes can push frigid air straight from the arctic tundra into more temperate regions. But just what is this weather phenomenon?

How does a polar vortex form?

Polar vortexes are basically arctic hurricanes or cyclones. NASA defines them as “a whirling and persistent large area of low pressure, found typically over both North and South poles.” A winter phenomenon, vortexes develop as the sun sets over the pole and temperatures cool, and occur in the middle and upper troposphere and the stratosphere (roughly, between six and 31 miles above the Earth’s surface).

Where will a polar vortex hit?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the vortexes move in a counterclockwise direction. Typically, they dip down over Canada, but according to NBC News, polar vortexes can move into the contiguous U.S. due to warm weather over Greenland or Alaska—which forces denser cold air south—or other weather patterns.

Polar vortexes aren't rare—in fact, arctic winds do sometimes dip down into the eastern U.S.—but sometimes the sheer size of the area affected is much greater than normal.

How cold is a polar vortex?

So cold that frozen sharks have been known to wash up on Cape Cod beaches. So cold that animal keepers at the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada once decided to bring its group of king penguins indoors for warmth (the species lives on islands north of Antarctica and the birds aren't used to extreme cold.) Even parts of Alabama and other regions in the Deep South have seen single-digit temperatures and wind chills below zero.

But thankfully, this type of arctic freeze doesn't stick around forever: Temperatures will gradually warm up.

In What Field Was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a Doctor?

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Martin Luther King, Jr. earned a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955. He’d previously earned a Bachelor of Arts from Morehouse College and a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary. His dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” examined the two religious philosophers’ views of God in comparison to each other, and to King’s own concept of a "knowable and personal" God.

Some three decades after he earned his doctorate, in 1989, archivists working with The Martin Luther King Papers Project discovered that King’s dissertation suffered from what they called a “problematic use of sources.” King, they learned, had taken a large amount of material verbatim from other scholars and sources and used it in his work without full or proper attribution, and sometimes no attribution at all.

In 1991, a Boston University investigatory committee concluded that King had indeed plagiarized parts of his dissertation, but found that it was “impractical to reach, on the available evidence, any conclusions about Dr. King's reasons for failing to attribute some, but not all, of his sources.” That is, it could have been anything from malicious intent to simple forgetfulness—no one can determine for sure today. They did not recommend a posthumous revocation of his degree, but instead suggested that a letter be attached to the dissertation in the university library noting the passages lacked quotations and citations.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article was originally published in 2013.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER