Solar eclipses have been recorded since ancient times, often misunderstood by early observers as a dragon eating the Sun or some omen of things to come. Although we have learned the true nature of eclipses in modern times, they never cease to amaze astronomers and the public alike. You can visualize solar and lunar eclipses using a Wolfram Demonstration.
Solar eclipses happen when the Moon moves between the Earth and the Sun. The Moon blocks the Sun’s light, which puts a kink into our daily expectations, making it get dark during the day. A fuzzy estimate puts the frequency of total solar eclipses at about one or two per year. This number can vary quite a bit. Often, these eclipses are only visible along narrow paths that are in out-of-the-way places that make it difficult for them to be observed (e.g. over the open ocean). Cruise ships are often booked for the sole purpose of chasing these solar eclipses for those people willing to set sail and pay the money to do so.
On May 20 of this year, people in the western United States and Pacific Ocean islands will be in a position to observe one of these solar eclipses without having to travel on the high seas.
Since its creation, Wolfram|Alpha has constantly grown to cover more and more topic areas. Now, it includes some functionality that may be useful for people interested in lumber. Most of us are used to going into a local home improvement store and seeing large collections of construction lumber, but before it gets into those stores, it has to be cut from logs. An important step in the process is determining how much lumber can be obtained from a log of a given size. There is no single method for estimating this, but there are a number of empirical formulas that are commonly used to estimate the volume of lumber that can be obtained from a log given its diameter and length. Typically, these estimates are rounded to the nearest 5 or 10 board feet. Three of the most common empirical rules are the Doyle Rule, the Scribner Rule, and the International 1/4-inch log rule. Different regions tend to use different rules, so it’s up to users to decide which one they want to use.
It’s spring and I am ready for it. In the last few years I have come to love gardening and the general outdoors more so than I ever have in the past. Something about spending time in the warm sunlight, getting your hands dirty, and being in touch with nature is relaxing. I’ve found myself paying more attention to many green things around my yard that I would have previously just dismissed as a “weed.” Now I find that many of these things are not only beneficial, but in some cases edible. We at Wolfram|Alpha recently decided that we needed to beef up our plant coverage to include more than just, primarily, taxonomic information. Wolfram|Alpha now makes use of data from the USDA that includes information, mainly qualitative, that gardeners and botanists might find more useful. More »
At about 6pm CST on March 6, there was a very powerful X 5.4 solar flare. This triggered a coronal mass ejection (CME). Indications were that the CME wasn’t squarely directed at Earth, but that a strong glancing blow to the Earth’s magnetosphere was possible. Here’s the data in Wolfram|Alpha for the flare:
There are two X-class flares during this time range. The effects of the first flare hit the Earth on March 7 and was a minor glancing blow, but caused a geomagnetic storm with effects visible in northern latitudes. More »
(Update: You can now find this data in the Wolfram Cat Breeds Reference App for iOS.)
Famed amateur astronomer David H. Levy once stated, “Comets are like cats; they have tails, and they do precisely what they want.” I’m a cat person and this seems to fit. Comets have a somewhat unpredictable nature to them, making it nearly impossible to determine how they will perform from one apparition to the next. This seems like a fitting description of cats as well, based on personal experience with my three cats. After recently diving into data on dog breeds, the natural next step would be to explore cat breeds.
Cat fancy is a rather popular activity, perhaps only slightly less popular than dog competitions. As with dog breeds, there are a number of accepted breeds that take part in competitions. We have gathered data from Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) and The International Cat Association (TICA) along with other sources to provide coverage on a majority of cat breeds.