How’s Uranus?

Never one to shirk from gutter humor in times of stress and anxiety, I was amused to read a recent article from Popular Science that “…our image of Uranus hasn’t advanced substantially beyond the featureless blue beachball captured by Voyager 2’s vintage instruments in 1986.”

Uranus blog

Uranus is an odd planet. Where others spin, Uranus rolls, tipped on its side with its poles pointing generally toward or away from the sun. Its magnetic field is bonkers too, offset from the planet’s center and tipped at a wild 60 degrees to the side. Planetary astronomers are blind to that magnetic field from Earth, although the Hubble Space Telescope can occasionally catch an indirect glimpse via Uranus’s auroras—which can shine far from the poles.

Last year, while combing through NASA’s archives of the Voyager 2 mission, two planetary scientists noticed something earlier analyses had overlooked—a blip in Uranus’s magnetic field as the spacecraft cruised through a magnetic bubble of sorts.  They spotted a special 60-second long section of Voyager 2’s 45-hour flyby where the magnetic field rose and fell in an instantly recognizable way.

They deduced that it might be a plasmoid.  Plasmoids are charged globs of atmosphere blown out into space when the solar wind whips around planets. Losing such blobs can dramatically transform a world over a long period of time, and studying them can provide insight into how planets live and die.

The Voyager team initially assumed the magnetic wackiness was linked to the Uranus’s belly flop position, but when the spacecraft flew by Neptune (which stands up straight) three years later it saw the same apparent mismatch between the planet and its field. Now researchers assume that something about the worlds’ inner workings must set their magnetic fields apart.

The article was titled:

“Uranus blasted a gas bubble 22,000 times bigger than the Earth.”

In other words:

Uranus farted!

According to Recent Studies – 2


More about everything you never wanted to know.

February 2012:  Discovery News reports that Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest has distributed 55,000 condoms around local colleges and universities that feature implanted QR codes, which track when and where people have sex. The reported data is then collected on a website called

[It’s ten o’clock; do you know where your condom is tonight?]

April 2012:  From the San Francisco Chronicle; Man struck by lightning after buying lotto ticket.

A Kansas man hoped for good fortune after buying lottery tickets for a record $656 million jackpot last week, but proved instead that his chances were better to be struck by lightning.  The man bought three tickets for the Mega Million jackpot at a grocery store in Kansas on Thursday night, and the volunteer weather spotter told a friend that he had a better chance of getting struck by lightning than winning.

Turns out he was right.  Later that night, he was standing in the back yard of his Wichita duplex, when he saw a flash and heard a boom — lightning.  He was taken to a hospital for observation after being struck but had no burns or other problems from the lightning strike.

Lottery officials predicted that the odds of winning the world record largest jackpot was about one in 176 million. The odds of getting struck by lightning? The National Weather Service says the odds are one in 775,000.

[Suggestion: Don’t buy a lottery ticket when thunderstorms are predicted.]

November 2011:  A bank customer in Llodio, Alava, Spain, recently received quite a shock when “a snake came slithering out of the slot of a cash machine when he withdrew his money,” according to a report by Euro Weekly News.

[Will Samuel L. Jackson buy rights to a movie called Snakes in a Bank?]

April 2012:  Andrew Fazekas for National Geographic News; Auroras Seen on Uranus for First Time.

For the first time, astronomers have snapped photos of auroras lighting up Uranus’ icy atmosphere.  “The last time we had any definite signals of auroral activity on Uranus was when NASA’s Voyager 2 probe swung by in 1986,” said study leader Laurent Lamy, an astronomer at the Observatoire de Paris in Meudon, France.  “But this is the first time we can actually see these emissions light up with an Earth-based telescope.”

Auroras tend to surround a planet’s poles, where magnetic field lines converge and funnel incoming charged solar particles into the planet’s atmosphere. There, the particles collide with air molecules, making the molecules glow.  The auroras’ unusual appearance might have something to do with the planet’s oddball orientation.

 [I promise that I will never ask you about auroras on Uranus.]

June 2012 from MSN:  Cops dismiss “false alarm,” overlook man dying in freezer.

On Sunday night, Tennessee’s Metropolitan Nashville Police Department was alerted that a security alarm had gone off at the Germantown Café East, triggered from inside the restaurant’s freezer. The officers went to the scene, found the restaurant’s doors closed and the lights off, and dismissed it as a false alarm. They were wrong. On Monday morning, the body of the café co-owner was discovered inside the freezer.  The co-owner had reportedly stopped into the restaurant to check the food supply following a Friday night power outage.  He somehow became trapped inside and did his best to alert authorities (his cellphone was later found at his home). Police have launched an internal investigation.

[Obviously, you should always bring your cellphone with you into a freezer!]

September 2012:  NBC News staff reports that a woman who faked cancer to raise money for breast implants was sentenced to a year in jail.

The woman, 27, faked having breast cancer so she could have her breasts augmented, according to Arizona police.  A Phoenix woman accused of pretending to have cancer to raise money for breast implants was sentenced on Wednesday to one year in jail, local media reported.  According to prosecutors, she told her family, friends and co-workers at a local hospice that she had breast cancer and needed money for a double mastectomy and breast reconstructive surgery.  Her mother created a website for donations, and police said people donated more than $8,000 to the cause beginning in 2011.

[Inmates offered to check the woman’s breasts daily to prevent reoccurrence.]