Raising Cranes in Skyscrapers

Tower crane on top of building under constructon in Manhatan, NY
iStock

Look up! It’s a bird. No, it’s a plane. No, it’s a tower crane! That’s the official term for a crane (sometimes called a ‘derrick’) placed onto under-construction skyscrapers. But how do they get there, and how do the workers raise the crane after each floor is completed? Here, we will delve into the intricate steps involved in accomplishing this amazing engineering feat.

The Jump

Raising cranes, technically called “crane jump” or what construction workers call “jump the crane,” is a fascinating engineering feat that involves meticulous planning, specialized equipment, and skilled labor. 

Although this sounds sophisticated, it is a process that is done on a routine basis, especially in cities like New York, where skyscraper construction is a daily routine.

Jumping the crane is a crucial step for facilitating the construction of tall buildings efficiently and safely. 

Dual collage of Vandebilt Building in NYC under construction
Vanderbilt Building. 42nd St. NYC showing tower cranes during its construction. Photo: SMS

Where’s My Crane?

The first step is selecting the appropriate type of crane for the job. Below is a list of the major types of cranes used in construction.

Mobile Cranes

Mobile cranes, as the name suggests, are mounted on tracked vehicles, allowing them to be easily transported to different locations. 

Crawler Cranes

These cranes use tracks instead of wheels, providing mobility on uneven or soft ground surfaces. They are often used in heavy-duty lifting operations such as bridge building and equipment installation.

Tower Cranes

Most famous for the construction of tall buildings, especially supertalls. 

Overhead Cranes

Also known as bridge or gantry cranes, they are installed on elevated runways or gantries within a building or industrial facility and are commonly used in manufacturing and warehouses.

Jib Cranes

These compact lifting devices with a vertical mast or pillar are commonly used for lifting materials in workshops, loading docks, and assembly lines. Not to be confused with the jib erected to a tower crane on skyscrapers.

Telescopic Cranes

These machines contain telescoping sections that can extend or retract to adjust the reach and lifting capacity.

Floating Cranes

These are specialized cranes usually mounted on barges, allowing them to operate on rivers, lakes, or ports. They are used for lifting heavy loads onto ships, offshore construction projects, and marine salvage operations.

Loader Cranes

Also known as knuckle boom cranes, loader cranes are equipped with hinged booms that resemble knuckle joints. This design allows the crane to fold and unfold, enhancing maneuverability and reach. Loader cranes are commonly used for loading and unloading cargo.

Skyscrapers Choice

From the choices above, the Tower Crane is used for skyscraper construction. It is characterized by its tall vertical mast and horizontal boom, which can rotate to lift and move heavy loads across the construction site. This makes it the perfect choice for the construction of tall buildings.

Assembling the Crane

Once the crane type is chosen, the construction team begins assembling the structure on the ground. This typically involves erecting the tower mast section by section, securing it with bolts or pins, and attaching the horizontal jib or boom. Each crane section is carefully hoisted into position using smaller cranes or hydraulic systems.

Photo of a jib crane
Jib/Boom Section fo a Tower Crane. iStock

As the crane assembly progresses, special attention is paid to ensure the stability and structural integrity of the crane. Counterweights are strategically placed to balance the crane’s load capacity and prevent tipping. Additionally, anchoring systems, such as tie-downs or concrete footings, are installed to secure the crane to the ground and provide stability during operation.

Safety measures are paramount throughout the crane-raising process. Construction workers receive thorough training on its assembly, and strict safety protocols are enforced to prevent accidents and injuries. Quality control inspections verify that each crane component meets safety standards before being put into service.

Lifting the Crane into Position

Photo of tower cranes on top of building under construction in lower Manhattan
4 World Trade Center. 150 Greenwich Street, NYC, under construction. SMS

Once the crane is fully assembled and tested, it can be hoisted into position. This is typically accomplished using hydraulic jacks or a climbing system that incrementally lifts the crane to the desired height. As the crane ascends, additional mast sections may be added to extend its reach as the building grows taller.

Installing the crane at the correct location maximizes its efficiency and effectiveness. Engineers carefully analyze factors such as building layout, wind patterns, and logistical considerations to determine the optimal placement for the derrick. This ensures the crane can reach all construction site areas while minimizing interference with other construction activities.

All Set

Once in position, the crane becomes an essential tool for the construction process, lifting materials, equipment, and personnel to various building levels. Skilled operators control their movement with precision, coordinating with ground crews and construction workers to safely transport loads to their designated locations.

As the skyscraper’s construction progresses, the crane may need to be modified or repositioned to accommodate changing project requirements. This could involve adding or removing mast sections, adjusting the boom length, or relocating the crane to a different part of the site. These adjustments require careful planning and coordination to minimize downtime and ensure continued productivity.

On Top of the World

Collage of WTC Freedom Tower under construction
One World Trade Center (Freedom Tower) is under construction. (L-R) March 2010 and November 2011. Photo SMS

Once assembled and set into place, the lifting begins, which can be steel beams, concrete sections, or other large, heavy items. 

The Take Down

Eventually, as the skyscraper nears completion, the crane will be disassembled in a reverse process, as it was erected. Each component is carefully lowered to the ground using hydraulic systems or smaller cranes and dismantled for transport to the next construction site or storage facility.

Conclusion

If you live in a big city like Chicago or New York, you no doubt have seen these tower cranes in action. Now, you can appreciate the complexity and intricate process needed, along with the skilled labor and specialized equipment.

From selecting the right crane for the job to safely assembling and operating it on the construction site, every step is essential for ensuring the successful completion of tall building projects. So, the next time you look up at a skyscraper, you can credit the tower cranes and the construction workers who put it all together.

How Does Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) work?

Photo of LCD screen showing the James Web Telescope
Photo: SMS

In 1994, a man walked into a Manhattan audio-visual store and saw something astonishing, A flat screen was hanging on the wall with a TV picture displayed. The width of this display was about 2”, and the cost was $18,000. That’s over $40,000 in today’s market.

Fast forward to 2024 and flat screens are the norm. Nowhere, or perhaps in a museum, would one find those bulky cathode ray tube (CRT) TVs that the world used 50 years ago. When we buy a TV, we look at all kinds of flat screens, technically called Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs). There are also more advanced technologies, but we will focus on LCDs in this article as they are still trendy in the commercial market.

We will explore the inner workings of these types of TVs, from the liquid crystals, filters, and electricity to how these elements collaborate to produce the stunning images we see on our TV and computer monitors.

Illuminating the Screen

Incandescnt vs. Fluorescent

The  LCD’s source of illumination is known as a ‘backlight.’ Initially, the backlight comprised fluorescent lamps. This is a step above the well-known incandescent light bulbs we use in our homes. In other words, incandescent light provides light through the continual heating of a metallic filament, which constantly uses electricity to heat the filament and produce light. Fluorescent bulbs consume much less electricity than incandescent bulbs because they don’t require continuous electricity output to heat them.

Enter Light Emitting Diodes

In more recent years, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have become the standard due to their improved energy efficiency and better control over brightness levels. This energy savings is due to the LEDs not being needed to generate the amount of heat that fluorescent lighting does.

With LCDs, the backlight uniformly illuminates the entire display panel, providing brightness for image formation.

Liquid Crystal Layer 

Directly in front of the backlight lies the liquid crystal layer. Liquid crystals are unusual in that they can possess the properties of both liquids and solids. They have the ability to flow like a liquid. This flow is random by nature, but temperature changes can cause these crystals to bypass their natural random state of flux and move in a certain direction. Additionally, adding an electric current through the crystals will also cause them to ‘straighten out’, and in so doing, one can harness the crystal flow allowing a certain degree of light to materialize. 

How the Crystals are Harnessed to Produce Light

When electricity is transmitted through the crystals, they become polarized, which causes the molecules to straighten and move in one direction. Similar to when an electric field is sent through a wire, the electrons become polarized and move in one direction from one pole to the other. In the case of crystals, it is the molecules that are affected. They will align and move in a specific direction.

Polarizing the liquid crystals is a crucial component in controlling the amount of light being emitted; in other words, it controls the orientation of the molecules to produce the appropriate amount of luminescence on the TV display, which forms images on the screen.

This amount of luminescence is controlled by a polarizing filter. By adding a polarizing filter to the electrically charged molecules, the crystals will align either horizontally or vertically. One direction will block the light and the other direction will allow the light to pass through.

But this is just a black-and-white situation (pun intended). 🙂 What happens between the pure black or pure white luminance that passes through the crystals is significant. In other words, the shades of black and white produce what we see on the screen. Let’s discuss this in more detail.

Enter the Pixel

Copilot AI Generated image of a woman's face
Each square in this image is a pixel. Copilot AI-Generated Image

There is a polarizing filter for each of the LCD molecules. This combination of a crystal and filter is called a pixel – a liquid crystal cell. (The actual components and how the components react within these cells are beyond the scope of this article).

Rotating the filter regulates the amount of light that will be released. Another way of putting it is that the rotation of the filter controls the intensity of the light; thus, the filter can make the pixels very bright, not too bright, or have no brightness at all (blackness), depending upon how much the filter is rotated either way.

Close up view of pixels in an image of an eye.
Close up view of how each pixel contains a different shade of black and white due to the amount of light that is emitted through the pixel from the polarizing filter

For LCDs, this specific control of light transmission forms the basis of how images are displayed on the screen since some pixels will be brighter or darker than their neighbors.

An analogy would be If you look at any black and white photograph, the images are little dots of pure white or pure black and everything in between which forms the figures we see. 

Next, we will discuss adding color, but understanding how light is released through pixels is a prerequisite. 

Color Filters 

Ai generated color image of a woman's face
Notice how each pixel has a different shade of color and light intensity. On a live screen, the pixels will not be visible

In addition to the polarization filters attached to each cell, there are the color filters. These filters, typically red, green, and blue (RGB), determine the color of the light transmitted through them. 

Just as the rotation of the polarization filters determines the shades of black and white for the image, the color filters go one step further and choose the correct combination of colors to obtain for each pixel. 

Forming the Image

Whether the initial signal comes from a cable box, streaming device, or computer screen, a set of algorithms in the TV determines the appropriate amount of electrical current for each pixel. The desired image is then formed on the screen by selectively activating or deactivating the brightness levels of the pixels

Conclusion

LCD screens produce images using liquid crystals, which have the unique ability to react to electrical current in a way that permits just the right amount of light to be emitted from each pixel.

The pixels are cells that contain polarization filters and color filters. By fine-tuning the intensity of the electrical current applied to each pixel and carefully manipulating the polarization of light, the TV can reproduce a vast array of colors and shades.

What are the Major Components of Building a House?

Wood frame house under construction

Suppose you want to build a house for yourself and your family. What is involved? It is not just about getting the wood or metal components and assembling them. A lot more is involved, starting with planning. Let’s take a look.

The Design

First, before you hire anyone, you need to decide the architectural style you want. Will it be a colonial, Tudor, Georgian, or contemporary? Or perhaps you are looking for a more traditional or old-fashioned look, such as Victorian or Art Deco? 

When you decide, the next step is to visit an architect. This professional will propose the design and layout based on your specs, such as the number of bedrooms and baths, and any specific requests, such as a library, movie room, gym, or maybe vaulted ceilings with a skylight over the dining room.

The architect will also oversee all the structural components to ensure the building’s stability and safety and begin the procedure for obtaining the necessary permits and approvals from local authorities. You will probably review several designs and floor plans before deciding.

The Builders

Once the design is complete, you will need to find the building developers. This company will build your house based on the architect’s plans and specifications.

The Foundation

The building developers prepare the foundation before the first brick is laid. They construct the foundation walls, which support the structure. Usually, this consists of applying a combination of wood and concrete to line the walls, but it may include other elements as well.

Additionally, a rebar is used to reinforce the concrete to withstand the everyday stresses of tension (pulling apart). If the concrete is not mixed correctly, or the rebar/concrete assembly is flawed, cracks can result in the concrete, compromising the integrity of the structure and resulting in significant costs to fix, as well as posing a danger to those who are in the building.

Utilities

The developers will connect the water, sewer, electricity, and other utilities required for the house structure.

Framing

House under construction showing frame structure

So far, if you look at how your home is taking shape, all you will see is concrete and wood along a hole in the ground. It’s not very pretty, so you will need to come back when the framing begins, which refers to the house’s skeleton that resides above the foundation. 

You will see the structural frame, which is the 2x4s that support the walls, and then the siding will be installed. Wood or concrete are the most common, and finally, the sheet rock will cover the framework. 

Windows and doors and any finishing details, such as a specified interior trim, come next. 

Plumbing and Electrical Work

Photo of electrical wiring in an offic

Interior Finishing

    • Flooring: Putting in the chosen flooring material (e.g., hardwood, carpet, tile).
    • Cabinetry and Countertops: Installing kitchen and bathroom cabinets and countertops.
    • Painting and Wall Coverings: Applying paint or wallpaper.
    • Trim and Molding: Adding decorative elements.

      Fixtures and Appliances

    • Plumbing Fixtures: Installing sinks, faucets, toilets, and showers.
    • Lighting Fixtures: Adding light fixtures throughout the house.
    • Kitchen Appliances: Installing ovens, refrigerators, and other appliances.

      Landscaping and Exterior Elements

      Landscaping: Designing and planting the garden or yard.

    • Driveway and Walkways: Creating paths and driveways
    • Outdoor Features: Building decks, patios, and other outdoor spaces.
  • Final Inspections and Tests:
  • Building Inspections: Authorities check the house for compliance with building codes.
  • Quality Assurance: Ensure all systems and components are functioning correctly.
  • Occupancy and Move-In:
  • Obtain a Certificate of Occupancy: This allows you to occupy the house legally.
  • Move-In: Finally, you can move into your new home.

Building a house is a significant undertaking, and it involves various professionals, including architects, engineers, contractors, electricians, plumbers, and more, to ensure the project’s success. The specific steps and components can vary based on the type of house, location, and individual preferences.

 

 

What are White Dwarf Stars?

White Dwarf Star
White Dwarf Stars. Remnant of a dead star in space. The core of a sun after his death. iStock

Stars Can Die in Many Forms

At the end of a star’s life cycle, a star may morph into a white dwarf, a red giant, a neutron star, or a black hole. It all depends upon the amount of mass that is contained in the star’s central core, along with the mass’s gravity.

The more mass that a body contains, the more gravity that is produced, so the more mass an object has, the more gravity that is sustained, and consequently, the more pressure on the object because of its gravitational pull.

llustration of the CNO Cycle of the fusion process.
Illustration of the fusion process. Wikipedia CC

It is this pressure that provides the extreme heat that is generated and subsequently, the fusion of atoms. The types of elements and the density that are fused determine if the dying star will be a dwarf, giant, neutron, or black hole. These rules of physics are universal.

Death Begins

Stars die when the fusion process ceases. Then, depending on its size, it will change into one of the types mentioned above.

Photo of the Sun by NASA
Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Our sun, which is in the category called the main sequence, is not an extraordinary star by any means, although we may feel that is not the case here on Earth, as we mortals cannot even set our eyes on it for very long.

The fact remains that in comparison to other stars in our Milky Way Galaxy and other galaxies, our sun is a mere pea when equated to some of the giants in the universe.

With that said, when our sun dies, it will expand to become a red giant.

What is a Nebula?

The Nurseries of Life

Photo of a nebula
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Take a telescope, any telescope, or even binoculars and on a clear day you can see some of the most colorful and beautiful objects in space. These objects are nebulas. The birthplace of stars. It is where it all begins.

Planting the Seeds

When we say seeds, what do we mean exactly? Well, these seeds are actually vast clouds of gas and dust that are floating in space. They come from stars that have previously exploded and left their remnants to roam the universe around like lost soles.

Think of dropping seeds into a pond and watching them float around in the water. Some will collide and some will be pulled away from the other seeds but if that is all there is, we would have these particles floating around arbitrarily for infinity.

Fortunately, there is more than just this particle chaos.  A force is involved that will put all these disorganized fragments to converge into something meaningful.

Helix Nebula
Helix Nebula. Photo: NASA Via Wikipedia CC

What is This Force that Pulls the Particals Together?

The easy answer – gravity. Yes, gravity pulls these particles together. So let’s imagine the nebula as a giant, fluffy cloud in space. Deep inside this cloud, there are regions where the gas and dust are getting squished together. The pressure and temperature rise in these squeezed spots, and eventually, a new star is born from the material in that region.

So, in a way, a nebula is like the starting point for a star’s life. It’s where the ingredients for making a star come together, and as they collapse under their gravity, a bright new star is born, lighting up the cosmic neighborhood.

The Helix Nebula above, which some call “The Eye of God” or “Eye in the Sky” because it resembles a cosmic eye, is located  700 light-years away from Earth. A mere speck of a distance when speaking about the vastness of the universe and is 2.5 light-years in diameter.

The nebula was formed because of the death of a star similar to our Sun. As the star depleted its nuclear fuel, it expanded into a red giant, shedding its outer layers into space.

To learn more about the different types of nebulas there are in space,  Wikipedia gives a complete list of these fascinating and beautiful clouds of life-forming stars.

The Birth of a Star

This phenomenon is the result of gravity pulling gas and dust together. It is a process that is multiplied millions of times within the nebula and the beautiful objects that are forming are the fetal stages of stars being created.

Specifically, the gas is a combination of hydrogen and helium which clump together to form larger masses and since gravity gets stronger as the mass of the object gets bigger, additional matter is attracted to the object, which eventually becomes massive enough to form a star. In other words, it is the gravitational force of an object that is directly proportional to the object’s mass.

Nebula’s Molecular Breakdown

Illustration of an atom's valence electrons
Photo: Pixaby

Unbeknownst to many, most of the universe is not a complete void. There is much (loose) matter floating around between the stars. And this matter is not visible to the naked eye, as it is in its atomic form; such as the atoms of hydrogen and helium, as well as plasma and other materials. This sub-atomic matter is called the interstellar medium (ISM). More specifically, the interstellar medium is composed primarily of hydrogen, followed by helium with trace amounts of carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen.

In areas of the ISM where the atomic particles are densely populated, the formation of molecules begins most commonly hydrogen (H2). The more the molecular masses clump together, the greater their gravitational attraction will be to other bodies and particles in their vicinity. As the particles clump further to form larger and more massive structures, they attract more dust and gas.

The Nuclear Element

Enter nuclear fusion, since the gravitational pressure becomes so high that the fusion of hydrogen atoms occurs. This results in the emission of high-energy electromagnetic radiation, which in turn ionizes the outer layers of gas. Ionization is the process by which an atom or a molecule acquires a negative or positive charge by gaining or losing electrons to form ions.

Ionized gas is known as plasma, and plasma along with electromagnetic radiation is now added to this mixture. This then materializes into the early stages of star formation.

Hence, the formation of stars occurs exclusively within these molecular clouds. This is a natural result of their low temperatures and high densities because the gravitational force acting to collapse the cloud must surpass the forces that are working to push the particles outward and the molecular cloud is now a nebula.

Gem Hunting – The Details

Rose Quartz Healing Gemstone
Rose Quartz Healing Gemstone. Photo: Maxpixel

We have previously talked about gem hunting, but we have not discussed the steps as to how to approach the prospecting for gemstones, so let’s get right into how you start your gem-hunting adventure:

Research Your Locations

Different types of gemstones are found in a variety of regions, so it’s important to identify areas where the stones you’re interested in are found.

Start with the Ineternal Gem Society. They can provide you with some of the top locations around the country where you can dig for gemstones.

Make Sure You Have the Right Equipment for Your Gem Search

Depending upon the location you select, they should be able to provide you with the necessary tools for your hunt, most probably for a fee, but you could bring your own equipment as well. That would consist of a pair of gloves, a shovel, a bucket, a screen or sifter, and a magnifying glass. Additionally, when you are there, ask for a gemstone identification guide.

Where to Look for Gems?

Bunch of gemstones
Image by Emilian Robert Vicol from Pixabay

Ever gone bird watching?

If yes, then you know that you have to travel to a certain spot of a particular destination to view a specific species of bird. To find the right destination for bird watching, one has to find out the species’ habitat, migration patterns, food choices, etc.

Knowing these things will help you figure out the location where a particular species of bird is likely to be found. You cannot simply wander around the forest in the hope of finding the types you are looking for; it would be nothing more than wasting time.

Experts say that gem hunting is much like bird watching. You most likely will not find minerals dug in the soil outside your home; however, the practical approach is to first research the areas where the gems are naturally found and then use the right technique to access the deposits.

For example, since diamonds are formed as a result of extreme pressure, they are either found deep inside the earth, in areas where various geological processes have pushed the mantle rocks from the depths of the earth to the surface, or alongside the rivers that flow from such areas.

Similarly, if you are looking for malachite, you have to look for it near copper and limestone deposits.

The occurrence of gemstones may also vary across countries, depending upon their geological processes, volcanoes, storms, and earthquakes, as they cause shifts in the tectonic plates and bring the buried bedrock to the surface of the earth.

Methods for Gemstones Mining

From basic to advanced, there are various mining methods. They include:

  • Underground Mining

When hunting for your stones is done within the pipe and alluvial deposits, it is called underground mining. The methods used for underground mining are:

  • Block caving
  • Tunneling
  • Chambering
  • Open Cast Mining

Open-cast mining uses different techniques. Here removal of the upper layer of rocks is required in order to reach the bedrock, which is buried deep inside the earth that contains the gems. Any of the following methods are used to excavate gems from the deepest layers of the earth:

  • Terrace Mining
  • Pit Mining

Open-cast mining methods are widely used in various parts of the world including the United States, Sri Lanka, Brazil, and Myanmar. etc.

  • Sea Mining

Sea mining, marine or undersea mining, as they are alternatively called, is used in areas where marine deposits are present.

  • River Digging

As evident from the name, river digging is performed in and around rivers and lakes to excavate the gems that have been buried in the river soil and rocks naturally, by the water current or geological processes over time. It can further be classified into two types:

  • Wet Digging
  • Dry Digging

Gem Hunting Tools

Sorting and picking of valuable stones from the excavations debris of swat emerald mine in swat valley, Pakistan.
Photo: iStock

As with any other specialized task, you cannot expect to have a successful gem-hunting experience if you don’t have the right tools and equipment.

For example, there is no point in going fishing without a fishing tackle and/or bait. It is highly unlikely to catch a fish with your hands. Similarly, searching for gemstones without the proper gem-hunting tools is nothing more than wasting your time. Tools for gem hunting are easily available at affordable prices, which means that even occasional hunters can easily buy them without exceeding their budgets.

Hammer used for gem hunting
Image by arodsje from Pixabay

For gem hunting, you would need the following basic tools:

  • Shovel
  • Rock Hammer
  • Magnifying lens
  • Bucket and collection bags
  • You may need some specialized equipment to excavate some particular types of gems, such as a metal grid frame for screening, a pan for gold, etc
  • Permanent markers for labeling

For your safety and comfort:

  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes
  • Apply insect repellent and sunblock
  • Wear goggles
  • A GPS device or map to find your way
  • Water
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Walkie-Talkies for communication

There is More Than One Method for Gem Hunting

You should research the different methods employed when looking for your precious stones. Some of the most popular are: 

  • Hydraulic Mining, where jets of water are used to loose the rocks from the dirt, 
  • River Panning is where you essentially wash away the gravel to find the minerals, 
  • Open Pit Mining, where you physically remove rocks, possibly in a quarry to search for the gems.

But this just scratches the surface (pun intended). Do some research to find the best method you prefer.

Learn Gemstone Identification

Familiarize yourself with the characteristics and properties of the gemstones you’re hunting for. Look for distinguishing features like color, luster, hardness, and crystal structure. Using a mineral identification guide or app can help determine the gemstones you find.

 

Kepler-186f: Is This an Earth Clone?

Discovery

Drawing of astronomer Joannes Kelper
Artists drawing of astronomer Joannes Kelper. Wikipedia (Public Domain)

Johannes Kepler was a 17th-century German astronomer who discovered the systematic rotation of planets around stars, called the Laws of Planetary Motion, it states the following:

  • All planets revolve around the Sun in elliptical orbits.
  • A radius of the planets moves out in equal areas and in equal lengths of time.
  • The squares of the sidereal periods (of revolution) of the planets are directly proportional to the cubes of their mean distances from the Sun. (You don’t have to concern yourself with this law for our article here).

Being that Kepler was a cosmologist who focused his studies on planets, it is fitting that NASA named a spacecraft after him which looks for planets outside of our solar system, called exoplanets.

Specifically, the Kepler Space Telescope is designed to locate exoplanets that exist in the habitable zones, also called the Goldilocks Zone, where conditions are not too hot and not too cold for life as we know it, and which subsequently provides the ingredients for the possibility of liquid water on the planet’s surface. Liquid water is the ingredient that sets the stage for life to cultivate. Water can be found on many planets, some in the form of solid ice, but without water, the possibility of life to develop is minute. 

A Perfect Find!

The Kepler spacecraft has not disappointed us. It has located numerous planets that fit this habitual category. Not the least is Kelper-186f, which not only contains an abundance of water but is also similar to Earth in significant ways.

Artist interpertation of the Kepler exoplanet and its solar system
Wikipedia (NASA) Public Domain

It is an exoplanet that orbits the star Kepler-186 in the constellation Cygnus and is only 500 light-years away from Earth. A mere ‘drop of the bucket’ in distance when considering how incomprehensibly large the universe is.

Kepler’s Sun

Numerous methods are employed to locate these planets. The Kepler telescope uses the transit method which finds celestial objects by observing the periodic dimming of their star’s light as the planet passes in front of it. In other words, it measures changes in the lightness of stars where periodic dips in brightness occur. 

Kepler-186f’s star is an M dwarf, which is a red dwarf. Red dwarfs are smaller and cooler than our Sun, and this star is about half the size and half the temperature of our Sun.

The Planet 

This orbital body is approximately the same size as Earth, making it one of the first Earth-size, habitable-zoned planets discovered outside of our solar system.

The time it takes Kepler-186f to complete one orbit around its star is approximately 130 Earth days. This is shorter than Earth’s orbit around our sun, which is 365 days, but this does not diminish the possibility of life existing there.

Future Research

Due to the current limitations of technology at this time, the Kepler-186f’s distance, although only 500 light years away, our ability to obtain more detailed information remains a significant challenge. 

So further advancements in observational planetary technology are needed to acquire the specifics of distant worlds such as Kepler-186f, but we should look forward to obtaining more information about this exoplanet as it has so much to offer considering its close resemblance to our planet and other physical factors that exist there. 

Conclusion

Kepler-186f may not be a perfect match to Earth, but we should not expect it to be. The existence of life is still a good possibility and if we expand our horizons a bit more, we can consider the potential of intelligent life as well; although these beings might not look exactly as we do.

Despite the planet’s location in the habitable zone, several factors could affect a being’s habitability there. One circumstance refers to the planet’s closeness to its red dwarf sun, which might expose it to increased stellar activity (sun spots, solar flares, plasma eruptions) that are greater than from our sun.

This could impact the planet’s atmosphere and surface conditions, resulting in life forms that could have much thicker skin than us, in order to avoid the dangers associated with ultraviolet radiation and x-rays common from stellar actions.

AI Image Generator extraterrestrial alien with thick skin fotor
AI Image Generator extraterrestrial alien with thick skin. Fotor.com

Even a slight change in any external factor on the planet (temperature, light exposure, gravitational pull, etc) may make their appearance look different from us in one way or another. But does it matter? We should welcome them anyway, or should we? 

Why do Lithium (EV) Batteries Decrease in Capacity in Winter?

Illustration of an EV being charged
Photo iStock, Credit: Golden Sikorka

The Summer of EV Love 

It’s August and you just bought an electric car. You charged it up to 80% capacity (that is the recommended maximum charging) and your dashboard shows 230 miles of available for your car. 

Now it is December and your car still shows 230 miles when charged to 80%, but when you start to drive, you notice that the mileage diminishes faster than when you were driving it during the summer. Why is that? Let’s take a look.

Why Do EV (Lithium) Batteries Decrease in Capacity Faster in Winter? 

Car driving in winter snow
Photo: Pixaby
    • Ion Depletion: Cold weather reduces the chemical activity of the lithium ions. Ions are atoms that have either gained or lost electrons, allowing them the ability to bond with other atoms. This is the normal process in battery charging, but when cold weather comes, the amount of ions in the atoms decreases, thereby reducing the charging process. In other words, the battery can’t store as much energy as it would normally do when in warmer weather. 
      Illustration of an atom's valence electrons
      Photo: Pixaby

       

  • Viscosity: Cold weather increases the thickness of the electrolyte, known as viscosity. This makes it harder for the ions to move around within the battery, which reduces the battery’s energy, e.g. its ability to deliver power.
  • Plating: Over repeated charge and discharge cycles, some of the ions can stick onto the surface of the anode, known as lithium plating, which forms a solid layer of lithium metal.

    This can reduce the capacity of the battery and potentially lead to short circuits and is more likely to occur at low temperatures or when the battery is charged or discharged too quickly.

 Note: At temperatures below freezing, some lithium batteries can lose up to 50% of their juice.

What Can I Do to Compensate for This Loss of Energy?

  • If you have a garage, use it. Even if the garage is not heated, it would still be a bit warmer than if the car was in your driveway or on the street.
  • Charge your batteries regularly. This will help to prevent them from discharging too deeply.
  • Avoid fast charging. Fast charging can generate heat, which can damage the battery and reduce its capacity. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use a fast EV charger, but be cognitive about how often you use one. Maybe in the future, as this technology advances, this won’t be as much of a problem as it is now.

Summary

Lithium batteries, whether in a car or for any device diminish in capacity when in winter time.  This is because of the decrease in ion capabilities when in cold weather. There are however a number of things you can do to circumvent this decrease, but they are not 100% reliable after you take the vehicle out for a drive. 

Best bet would be to move to a warm climate. Then you never have this problem ????.

Just What is a Supernova?

Man in backyard looking at night sky
Photo: iStock

Picture yourself lying in your backyard on a warm June evening and all of a sudden, a bright flash begins to show up in the sky! No doubt it is an explosion of some kind and your hope is that it is nothing where any lives were lost. On the contrary, it is where life begins as you have just witnessed a supernova explosion! 

So What Exactly is a Supernova?

A supernova explosion
Is this a galaxy? No, it is a supernova explosion!

A supernova, also called supernovea, represents the explosion of a star after it has exhausted all of its energy.  This loss of energy occurs when the star is no able to longer withstand the force of its gravity, thereby causing the star’s core to collapse and subsequently, unleashing an extraordinary burst of energy.

This explosion is a powerful stellar explosion that occurs at the end of a star’s life cycle and is one of the most dramatic events in the universe. Its explosion is so powerful that it outshines entire galaxies, at least for a short time.

According to NASA, a supernova is the largest known explosion in space. The last recorded supernova in the Milky Way occurred in 1604, known as Kepler’s Supernova, and remained visible to the naked eye for an astounding 18 months.

The Seeds of Life

At the time of a supernova explosion, the energy that is released is so extraordinary that, for a short time period, the star will outshine entire galaxies, which is equivalent to a combination of billions of stars combined into one.

This outburst is not just that of light, rather it contains elements like carbon, iron, calcium, and gold, which are the seeds of life via the creation of new planets and stars, called stellar nurseries or nebulas as the term used mostly when referring to the beginning of life in the universe.

 

 

 

 

Artificial Intelligence 102

AI Review

AI robot
iStock

In our Artificial Intelligence 101 article, we spoke about binary classification with supervised learning using the fly example. Then we discussed the limitations of this type of clarification because it has only two data sets to compare with the unknown data.

In the case of the fly example, we are only able to determine if it is a flying or a crawling insect. If we want to get more precise, such as determining what type of fly it is, we need to acquire more categories of labeled data. This is called multiclass classification

As we proceed with the multiclass classifications, we are also going to delve into the types of models that are used for this process, but before we begin, let’s clarify a couple of AI terms so that everything is clear, starting with data points which we scratched the surface within our AI 101 article.

What is a Data Point?

Colorful illustration of AI unsupervised clustering
Photo by Google DeepMind on Unsplash

A data point is a specific attribute that is input into the machine learning algorithm (AKA the model). It is a component that is part of a complete unit. The more data points there are, the more precise the model will be in its conclusion.

What is a Dataset?

A dataset is a collection of data points. A data set can contain any number of data points, from a few to billions. 

Data Point and Dataset Usages

Our fly example is a representation of AI data points and datasets, but in the real world, these factors work for a large variety of conditions. Below are just a few of them.

  • Financial predictions
  • Using a self-driving car
  • Facial recognition
  • Medical diagnosis models
  • Agriculture
  • Predictions for better sales
  • Fraud detection systems
  • A customer service chatbot

Together, the algorithm reads the unknown data points that are given to it and compares those data points to the labeled model The more data points that are supplied, the more accurate the model will be.

Now, let’s look at the AI models that are available. 

Honor Thy Neighbor! The K-Nearest Neighbor Model

One of the models is called K-Nearest Neighbor (KNN). This algorithm will look at the unknown piece of data and compare it to the marked data. This is nothing new. We learned about this in our previous lesson on supervised learning, but now the comparisons will be matched against more than two classes. 

Close up picture of a fly
Image by Erik Karits from Pixabay

In our fly example, let’s create classes that will include four types of flies: house fly, horse fly, fruit fly and horn fly. Each one of these flies have specific characteristics or patterns of data points that distinguish them from the other classes.

Example 1: Imagine you have a big puzzle with different pieces. Each piece of the puzzle represents a data point. Just like how each puzzle piece is unique and contributes to the overall picture, a data point is a single piece of information or observation that helps us understand or solve a problem.

Example 2: Let’s say we want to know the favorite color of each student in a class. Each student’s favorite color is a data point. We can collect all these data points to find patterns or make conclusions about the class’s preferences.

In simpler terms, a data point is like a puzzle piece that provides us with a small part of the whole picture or information we are trying to understand. By putting all the data points together, we can learn more about a situation, solve problems, or make decisions based on the available information.

In other words: A data point is a small piece of information or a single example that helps us understand or learn about a larger group or class of things. It’s like having one item or measurement from a collection that represents the whole group.

The k-nearest neighbors (KNN) algorithm uses data points of specific marked classes to compare to the unknown (given) data. The more data points of a specific class, the more likely the unknown data will match that class.

The algorithm will scan the data points of the unknown fly and ask itself which known fly category looks to be the closest neighbor to the unknown fly? Technically speaking, which set of data points of a specific class is the closest match to the set of data points to the unknown data? Looking at it in reverse, which class is the most distant match to the unknown data? 

This is the KNN process, which finds the closest pattern of data points of the unknown data. The more accurate the data points that match the unknown data, called votes, the better of a match you have, and those classes will be its closest neighbors.

Another way of explaining KNN is once the K nearest neighbors are identified, the unknown data point is assigned the class label that is most prevalent among its neighbors. This means that the majority class among the k nearest neighbors determines the classification of the unknown data point.

But How Do We Measure These Distances?

Do the Math

Man using ruler on notebook
Photo by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

Math is used (don’t worry. It is simply high school math) to determine which neighbors are the closest in proximity to the unknown data and those neighbors are designated by the letter K.

The math that is used is the distance between two points. If you don’t remember how to calculate the distance between two points, you can go to this refresher course. This procedure is called the Euclidean Distance and the computer instructions are based upon this concept.

So the data points that match the unknown data get more votes and subsequently are given a number that represents the distance to the unknown entity. The lower the number, the closer the data class resembles the unknown.

To relate Euclidean Distance to our fly example, it would mean what fly category has the line with the least distance to the unknown fly. 

The KNN algorithm is based on the concept that similar things exist in close proximity, so the best match would be those where the lines in the graph are the shortest distance. 

What is a Predictor?

A predictor is the output that an algorithm releases based on a learned dataset that it uses to make further predictions. 

The Regression Model

This algorithm is a supervised learning model used when future predictions are required. It takes the input data, also known here as independent variables and makes predictions based on the patterns it sees from what it learned from the dataset. In other words, Regression models are trained on a dataset of historical data. The model learns the relationship between the independent and dependent variables from the data. Then it can be used to predict the value of the dependent variable for new data points. 

Conclusion

  1. A major advantage of AI lies in its ability to improve efficiency. Similar to the Industrial Revolution, AI is streamlining the manufacturing process, increasing productivity and reducing human error.
  2. Artificial Intelligence enhances decision-making through data analysis and predictive capabilities. In healthcare, AI can analyze a vast amount of medical datasets, aiding doctors in diagnosing diseases and suggesting treatment plans. Financial institutions rely on AI for fraud detection, increasing security and efficiency. and governments use machine learning to predict criminal activities and allocate resources for improved public safety.
  3. Machine learning algorithms can generate art, compose music, and write literature. In design and engineering, it assists in more efficient and aesthetically pleasing products.
  4. AI is expediting scientific research by rapidly analyzing extensive datasets, accelerating discoveries in genomics, drug development, and climate science.
  5. This technology also holds promise in addressing global challenges such as in agriculture, where it can enhance crop yields. Disaster prediction and response are also improved through AI analytics.
  6. Natural Language Processing (NPL) gives us voice recognition that enables better interaction with digital devices, especially for people with disabilities.

As AI continues to advance,  the potential to reshape industries and improve the quality of life for people around the world is extremely promising, but we must ensure that the utilization of machine learning does not fall into the wrong hands. Ethical considerations and responsible development must remain at the forefront so that artificial intelligence benefits are harnessed responsibly and equitably throughout the world!

 

Howard Fensterman Minerals