Sunday, April 17, 2011

Re, A Very High-Impact Drop Of Golden Sun

The movie Tangled (now on DVD in all your favorite stores!) tells the story- or at least Disney's interpretation of the story- of Rapunzel. You know the one even without the film. Girl in a high tower with hair so long you can climb it and amazingly not make Rapunzel scream in agony because there's a full-grown adult climbing up her hair.

As the movie tells it (which, being Disney, is a whole lot different from the actual story), a drop of golden sun grew a magic flower which had healing powers. After various shenanigans involving a witch, it wound up in the tea of a local pregnant queen, who gave birth to Rapunzel, whose hair carries the same healing powers.

All this from a drop of golden sun.

What would happen, you may be wondering, if--- no, not if your hair was like that too. What would happen if a drop of golden sun actually landed on Earth?

A drop would be about the size of a pinhead. If it landed near you, suffice to say that you would be thoroughly screwed. In fact, if it landed within 90 miles of you, you'd be dead from the radiant heat.

Which is why the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena decided they'd only bring back some particles. They launched a capsule, Genesis, sent up in August 2001 to gather particles ejected from the sun due to solar wind, in order to find out what those particles were made of and otherwise poked and prodded for all manner of purposes. In September 2004, Genesis was set to return. They hoped to grab Genesis out of midair by helicopter on its way down, in hopes of preserving the particles.

It sounds very unlikely to be able to pull that off, but we'll never know for sure. All of Genesis' parachutes failed, and the capsule slammed into Utah's Dugway Proving Ground at 193 miles per hour on September 8, and it only came in that slow due to air resistance. Nobody had discussed that possibility much, or at least, not in public. The capsule broke open on impact, damaging most of the particles were contaminated. The good news is, some did come away undamaged, and in addition, some of the contamination was actually removable. Despite the crash, there were enough ultimately usable sun particles to do all the research they wanted to do.

A month later in the postmortem, it was found that the accelerometer was installed backwards, causing it to fail. This, interestingly enough, backwards accelerometers were the exact type of design flaw that led to the creation of Murphy's Law. A rocket-sled test was conducted in 1948, designed to impose 50-G forces on a test subject and then subject him to rapid deceleration. This caused significant physical trauma on the subject. Dr. John Stapp. The tester, Edward Murphy Jr., then had to announce the test was voided because all the accelerometers had been put in backward, causing them all to fail to produce any measurements.

Genesis did get a measurement. However, 'how big a crater can we make in the Utah desert' wasn't the measurement they intended.

No comments: