Opportunity Lost

Last summer NASA’s Martian exploration rover Opportunity went dark as its solar panels, needed to power the golf-cart sized explorer, were covered in dust from a planet-wide dust storm. Everyone hoped that over the following months the light Martian winds and dust devils would wipe clean the dust from the solar panels and the rover could recharge its batteries, turn on its heaters, and resume contact with Earth. It hasn’t. Consequently, on Wednesday NASA called Opportunity’s mission complete. And thanks to xkcd we have a proper little farewell.

So much science
So much science

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Building the Wall

Or at least a portion that was already funded back in March. If it was, in fact, a wall.

This morning it appears as if President Trump will not scupper the funding agreement. It includes far less than the $5.7 billion he demanded, but do not forget back in March, Congress appropriated funds to construct barriers, not walls in Texas.

This piece from the Washington Post looks at those plans and details how wall-like or not these border installations are. (Spoiler: semi.) The screenshot below illustrates the levee fencing would work.

Whatever happened to "Tear down this wall"?
Whatever happened to “Tear down this wall”?

But the piece also includes some really nice maps and aerial shots, also seen above, of where these border enhancements will be constructed.

Overall it is just a really informative and enjoyable piece with several graphical elements.

But whether this is a wall, I will leave that up to you.

Credit for the piece goes to Laris Karklis and Tim Meko.

The Business Cycle and Golf

Yesterday I started working on the next quarter of Economic Insights, the quarterly publication I work on as a creative director at the Philadelphia Fed. For the first issue of 2019 we will be working on an article that talks a great deal about the business cycle, the expansions and contractions that define an economy.

So today we have a piece from Indexed that succinctly puts the business cycle in context, at least from the perspective of a golf course. Well done. Very well done.

We're still in an expansion, for those who may wonder. So more golf!
We’re still in an expansion, for those who may wonder. So more golf!

Happy Friday, everyone.

Credit for the piece goes to Jessica Hagy.

Arctic Chill

The Arctic air mass that has frozen the Midwest continues to spread and so today will be a tad chilly in Philadelphia. Yesterday, however, the Guardian had a piece that used data from NASA to show how the air masses over the Northern Hemisphere have been disturbed by unusually warm air.

The Arctic plunge.
The Arctic plunge.

One theory to how this all works is that the reduced polar sea ice means water absorbs summer heat instead of being locked in the ice. But then that heat is basically released come winter. (I’m oversimplifying this.) That warms the air, which disturbs the polar vortex. As the Guardian then explains, the destabilised air mass can wobble and spill some of its frigid air down into the lower latitudes. (It takes a little while because the polar vortex is in the upper atmosphere and the air needs to sink to the ground.)

Point is, bundle up and stay warm.

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.

The Intersection of Geography and Politics

We made it to the end of the week, everybody. And to help celebrate, xkcd posted a little comic that contains two of my favourite subjects: geography and politics. In particular, the piece looks at the 2020 election and plate tectonics.

Break it all apart
Break it all apart

One doesn’t often hear of the Midcontinent Rift System.

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

The Atom

We made it to the end of the week, everyone. And that is worth celebrating. Today’s post is for all the scientists out there and anyone who has ever been interested in the atom. You know, the little things that make up matter. xkcd put together a chronological history of several different models of the atom that attempt to explain its structure.

I have to love that 538 model.
I have to love that 538 model.

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

New Plans for Old Subways

The New Yorkers among my readers know about the whole planned shutdown of the L train for repairs owing to Hurricane Sandy (tangentially mentioned in the graphic I commented upon yesterday). For those of you who don’t know, basically the salt water from the storm seriously damaged the tunnels and a whole lot of work needs to be done to repair them. The plan was that a segment of the line would be shut down, to no obvious insignificance to commuters along the route, and it would reopen in a year and a half.

Then the state governor realised that might be bad optics and since he controls the agency running the New York subway system, he cancelled the shutdown so engineers can look at a different type of design.

I love pieces like this one from the New York Times. They are not crazy and wide-ranging, instead we have illustrations to compare the plans. They do a really nice job complementing the story without overwhelming it.

The proposed design
The proposed design

Plus, I’m a sucker for train and infrastructure stories.

Credit for the piece goes to Anjali Singhvi and Mika Gröndahl.

Feathered Raptors

Well we made it to Friday. Admittedly, for many of us it was a short week.  But we can end it all the same with this piece from xkcd. It asks the question, are feathered dinosaurs scary? Back when they made the first Jurassic Park, we didn’t know how prevalent feathers were and so the dinosaurs were scaly. Now the Jurassic World films keep the dinosaurs scaly because, well, anti-science?

I think feathered raptors would be terrifying
I think feathered raptors would be terrifying

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Treasury of Atreus

Oh, hello. Apologies for the break from posting, however, after the Thanksgiving holidays I fell ill. Consequently I spent the entirety of December either sick or on holiday. Neither of which is conducive to posting. But I have largely recovered and so we begin a new year with a new post.

This piece comes from my visit to the fantastic British Museum. It describes the Treasury of Atreus. It was neither a treasury nor of Atreus. Instead it served as a tomb for an unknown man, but someone of great importance. The signage displays the structure of the tholos, or tomb, and how it was oriented.

The sign explaining the Treasury and the fragments to the right along with the massive columns .
The sign explaining the Treasury and the fragments to the right along with the massive columns .

Signs like these make exhibits far more insightful, for me at least. The design of the tholos could be explained solely through words, however a graphical representation does wonders for me and, likely, others who learn better visually.

This sign could be like any sign, however, until I read the small sentence explaining the doorway to the right of the sign represents the facade of the Treasury with the two columns part original and part reconstruction. When you realise that and then see it, the true scale of the Treasury becomes known.

The actual columns, or parts thereof, of the Treasury of Atreus
The actual columns, or parts thereof, of the Treasury of Atreus

Credit for the piece goes to the British Museum’s design staff.

Pulling Gene-ies Out of Bottles

I don’t always get to share more illustrative diagrams that explain things, but that’s what we have today from the Economist. It illustrated the concept of a gene drive by which a gene modified in one chromosome then modifies the remaining chromosome to insert itself there. Consequently it stands an almost 100% chance of being passed onto the subsequent generation.

Naturally this means great things for removing, say, mosquito-born diseases from populations as the gene drives can be used to ultimately eliminate the population. But of course, should we be doing this? Regardless, we have a graphic from the Economist.

I still find them a pest…
I still find them a pest…

It makes nice use of a small mosquito icon to show how engineered mosquitos can take over the population from wild-type. The graphic does a nice job showing the generational effect with the light blue wild-type disappearing. But I wonder if more could not be said about the actual gene drive itself. Of course, it could be that they simplified the process substantially to make it accessible to the audience.

Credit for the piece goes the Economist graphics department.