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 Post subject: Re: Interesting Facts
Post Posted: Aug 3, 2017 9:04 am 
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Solar Eclipse

Mark your calendars! A solar eclipse is in the offing on Monday, August 21, 2017, and you’re in for a great show.

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CAUTION: Use common sense and don’t look at it directly without eye protection. It could permanently blind you. Instead, go here for safety information courtesy of NASA.

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Post Posted: Aug 4, 2017 8:43 am 
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Strange Street Names

Ever wonder who’s in charge of naming streets? I don’t know, but they certainly have a sense of humor.

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I found a lot more, but we are a family-oriented website.

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Post Posted: Aug 4, 2017 1:43 pm 
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In Scotland, a "wynd" is a narrow lane or alley. One such alley in St. Andrews is "Butts Wynd".

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Post Posted: Aug 5, 2017 8:43 am 
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To Chill Beer Quickly, Salt Is Your Secret Weapon

Drinks can make or break a party, and things start veering toward "break" when you've forgotten to put your 12-pack in the fridge before guests arrive. But don't fret! If you've got ice and salt, I've got good news. You can save your beers, and consequently your party, with a little bit of chemistry.

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This salt-and-ice trick works for the same reason you salt your sidewalks in the winter: salt lowers the freezing point of water. To figure out why, think about water as a middle-school dance floor. The dancers always want to partner up, but at room temperature (or during an upbeat song), they're moving past each other so fast that they never get the chance. But as the temperature drops, the dance gets slower, and soon the dancers can't escape their desire to embrace. When a bunch of water molecules "embrace," they form the crystalline structure we know as ice.

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You can think of salt, then, as the chaperones. They come in and physically get in the way of the partnered water molecules, keeping them from embracing — and, therefore, from becoming ice, at least until the temperature gets even lower. In the case of your sidewalks, this process drops water's freezing point from 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) to a temperature that's hopefully lower than the ambient air temperature — boom, no ice.

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But wait! you might say. If salt makes ice melt, how is that going to keep my beer cold? Good question, dedicated party animal. It will make your ice melt, it's true, but because it's actually lowering the temperature at which water freezes, that runoff can be far below 32 degrees and remain liquid.

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And liquid is what you want. Solid ice has limited points of contact with any given bottle or can, but a super-cold saltwater slurry can completely surround the containers. Water just so happens to be an excellent conductor, so it'll quickly draw out any heat and leave you with an ice-cold brew in as little as five minutes. Just make sure to replace the ice as it melts to keep the whole shebang from warming up to room temperature.

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Post Posted: Aug 6, 2017 8:55 am 
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Why The Three Laws Of Robotics Wouldn't Work — And What Would Instead

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Have you ever heard of the Three Laws of Robotics? Isaac Asimov's ground rules for healthy human-robot relations are meant to make sure that we are never hurt or betrayed by our robotic creations. Here they are, in case you need a primer:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Seems like that covers just about everything, right? Well, actually, no...and Asimov knew it (he did write an entire short story collection about exploiting the loopholes). What's more, modern roboticists tend to think the rules aren't just flawed, they're fundamentally misguided.

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We're a lot closer to making a true artificial intelligence than we were when Asimov wrote I, Robot. But we're probably even closer to creating an intelligence that's exponentially greater than ours. And whether that intelligence is conscious or not, we'll want to be absolutely positive that it won't turn its big binary brain on us.

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To that end, Asimov's laws are woefully inadequate, say A.I. experts Ben Goertzel and Louie Helm. It's not that they aren't as comprehensive as Asimov thought they were, it's that they're based on an inherently faulty moral foundation. In Helm's view, a rule-based system such as Asimov's can't possibly work, because it's essentially trying to restrain a being whose power is (for all intents and purposes) limitless. It would only be a matter of time before an A.I. would find a workaround for the rules we set in place.

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Additionally, Asimov's rules create an inherent hierarchy wherein humans are granted more rights than robots. To Helm, just creating an intelligence powerful enough to raise the question of what sort of rights it should have is an unforgivable ethical oversight. Instead, he hopes that "most AI developers are ethical people, so they will avoid creating what philosophers would refer to as a 'beings of moral significance.' Especially when they could just as easily create advanced thinking machines that don't have that inherent ethical liability." In other words, a supercomputer doesn't need to have hopes and dreams in order to do its super-computing.

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So rules work okay for human beings, but they'd be pretty much unenforceable in advanced artificial intelligences. How do we make sure our robots don't turn against us if we can't just program "don't kill humans" into them? Some experts think the answer is to give A.I.s their own moral compass — a nebulous sense of right and wrong that lets robots judge for themselves. Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire call this approach the "Empowerment" style of ethical programming.

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Instead of having some actions prescribed and others forbidden, these A.I.s are made to value empowerment: the ability to make choices. The decisions they make are those that allow them to make more choices, and they value that same empowerment in others. Basically, they won't kill you, because if they kill you, your options would be severely limited. That's...sort of reassuring. But if empowerment gives robots an intuitive sense of the value of human life, then it may be the blueprint for peaceful robo-human relationships in the future.

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In Depth

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Post Posted: Aug 7, 2017 8:48 am 
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The Nazca Lines Are Ancient Desert Designs You Can Only See From The Sky

If you were to tromp across the Nazca Desert of southern Peru, you'd likely walk across enormous designs in the ground—I’m talking as long as the Empire State Building is tall, minus the spire.

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You probably wouldn't know it from where you were standing, but during daytime, the designs become abundantly vivid from the perspective of a plane or a helicopter. These are known as the Nazca Lines, designs depicting monkeys, flowers, and other flora and fauna that were made by man nearly 2,000 years ago. How and why did people centuries ago create designs that can only be viewed by modern aircraft? Let me explain.

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According National Geographic, "In total, there are over 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures and 70 animal and plant designs, also called biomorphs. Some of the straight lines run up to 30 miles, while the biomorphs range from 50 to 1200 feet in length." It's hard to say which is more impressive: the symbol of a humming bird a hundred and fifty feet long, or a single line that's 30 miles long. However, they were all created in the same impressive way.

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Drawings in the ground like these are known as geoglyphs, and they come in "positive" and "negative" versions. A positive geoglyph is formed with material that sits on top of the ground, as with the Effigy Mounds National Monument.

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Negative geoglyphs are created via digging into the ground, as is the case with the Nazca Lines. To create the lines, the Nazca people would dig out the first foot or so of rust-colored rock and dirt. The earth underneath was a lighter shade, making the lines distinctly visible from the air and appear as long, mysterious trenches from the ground. Given the fact that the Nazca Desert is one of the driest places on Earth—it gets about .16 inches (4mm) of rain a year on average—the lines have stayed pretty much the same since they were first created.

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Theories as to why the lines exist abound. Early guesses were that they corresponded with the stars, others suspect ancient hot-air balloons were at play, and of course, no massive and ancient formation would be complete without a theory from the History show Ancient Aliens. But as research has progressed, all signs point to water. Some researchers think the lines most likely led to areas of ritual where the Nazca people prayed for rain. The animal symbols are an important clue. "Animal symbolism is common throughout the Andes and are found in the biomorphs drawn upon the Nazca plain: spiders are believed to be a sign of rain, hummingbirds are associated with fertility, and monkeys are found in the Amazon—an area with an abundance of water," according to National Geographic.

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Indeed, a 2016 satellite study suggested that the spiral holes known as puquios that the lines led to were actually used to bring water up from underground. Perhaps they didn't lead to places to pray for water, but instead places to actually retrieve it.

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In Depth

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Post Posted: Aug 8, 2017 8:38 am 
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The Pine Trees That Point To The Equator

The Cook pine (species: Columnaris) has a secret. You'll find the tall, slender trees on five different continents, as far south as New Zealand and Australia, and as far north as California. If you look closely, no matter where you see them, they're all leaning toward the equator. All of them. Leaning.

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While studying the Cook pine, researcher Matt Ritter noticed that all the trees he observed had a distinct tilt pointing south. Wondering if that was a local phenomenon or something specific to the species, he called a colleague in Australia to compare notes. Incredibly, he learned that all the Aussie trees had a lean to the north.

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That launched a study of 256 Cook pines in 18 locations across five continents. All of the trees, no matter where they were, leaned toward the equator. Ritter described the pattern as "shockingly distinct." Perhaps even more interesting was the discovery that the further the tree was from the equator, the more it slanted. The deepest lean came in at 40 degrees.

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While other plants like the yucca have been known to tilt uniformly, the Cook pine is the first known tree to exhibit such a strong pattern. Typically, trees that tilt self-correct to create more symmetry, so they continue to grow upward toward the sun. That makes the Cook's lean even more unusual.

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Ritter and his team have hypothesized two reasons for the unusual, but ubiquitous tilt: either a genetic predisposition that has lasted several centuries while the tree was cultivated in different locations beyond its original Pacific home, or it's their way to absorb more sunlight at higher altitudes.

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A third, much less popular theory is that the Cooks are preparing to dominate a human vs. tree limbo competition that will determine which species will control the planet. Game on, Cook pine. Game on.

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Post Posted: Aug 9, 2017 8:47 am 
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NASA Employs Someone To Protect Earth From Aliens — Yes, For Real

Drop everything you're doing; NASA needs your help. The space agency is looking to hire a full-time planetary protection officer to help protect the Earth from aliens. Apparently, Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith are busy.

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To be fair, the role of NASA's planetary protection officer is less like "Men In Black" than the incredible image in our heads. According to the job listing, this position "is concerned with the avoidance of organic-constituent and biological contamination in human and robotic space exploration. NASA maintains policies for planetary protection applicable to all space flight missions that may intentionally or unintentionally carry Earth organisms and organic constituents to the planets or other solar system bodies, and any mission employing spacecraft, which are intended to return to Earth and its biosphere with samples from extraterrestrial targets of exploration."

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In plain English, this person will make sure humans don't screw up any extraterrestrial worlds with our Earthly stuff, and will make sure nothing we bring back from space contaminates Earth. Shooting down green-skinned Martians descending onto our planet's surface? Not so much. Catharine Conley, NASA's only planetary protection officer since 2014, told Business Insider that a typical workweek involves a lot of emailing and reading studies, proposals, and other materials. Not so glamorous, but at least you'll avoid a Ridley Scott's "Alien"-type situation. Probably.

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According to Conley, there are only two full-time planetary protection officers on Earth: one at NASA, and another at the European Space Agency. Oh, and it pays well. The salary for this job ranges from $124,406 to $187,000 per year, plus benefits. Before you get too excited, though, scan the requirements.

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Key Requirements
 Frequent travel may be required
 This is a drug-testing designated position
 Selectee must complete a financial disclosure statement
 A one-year probationary period may be required

Technical Qualifications
1. Advanced knowledge of Planetary Protection, its requirements and mission categories. This includes
demonstrated technical expertise to independently form technically sound judgments and evaluations in
considerably complex situations.

2. Demonstrated experience planning, executing, or overseeing elements of space programs of national
significance. These elements include but are not limited to developing requirements, performing technical
assessments, and preparing recommendations to leadership.

3. Demonstrated skills in diplomacy that resulted in win-win solutions during extremely difficult and
complex multilateral discussions. This includes building coalitions amongst organizations to achieve
common goals.

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Needless to say, extraterrestrial monitoring demands an extraordinary resume. It's a rare position, but it's not brand new. It was created after the signing of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which states that any space mission must have a less than 1-in-10,000 chance of contaminating an alien world. "It's a moderate level," Conley told Business Insider. "It's not extremely careful, but it's not extremely lax." That's why part of the responsibilities for this role include travel to other agencies to make sure missions are meeting standards like these.

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As NASA continues to push forth into the unexplored frontier of space, this position will prove to be of paramount importance. Not to be too dramatic, but THE SAFETY AND SURVIVAL OF THE HUMAN RACE DEPENDS ON IT. NASA has deep space on the brain, and is set to explore Jupiter's moon Europa, which may be habitable, with the Europa Clipper mission in the 2020s. The agency's journey to Mars via the Space Launch System (SLS) is on the menu relatively soon too. Get your application in, we've got planet-protectin' to do.

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In Depth

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Post Posted: Aug 10, 2017 8:58 am 
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Pep The Dog Was Sentenced To Life In Prison For Murder In The 1920s

Though "Pep the black" was sentenced to life in prison for murder, he was an ideal cellmate. Not only was this 1920s convict innocent of his crime, he was a dog. A literal labrador retriever.

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Pep

The story starts in the 1920s at Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, the largest and most expensive public building in history at the time of its construction. It was one of the first prisons to isolate prisoners as a rehabilitation tool. Before Eastern State, it was standard to force inmate into silent labor "with the goal of punishing the accused instead of reforming them," reports Now I Know.

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Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot wanted to help change the state of the U.S. prison system. He believed inmates could be reformed, and solitary confinement was not the way. Enter Pep, the Pinchots' black lab who liked to chew cushions.

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Pep’s owner: Gifford Pinchot

The Pinchot family bred labradors, which gave the governor an idea. He "sentenced" Pep, who was a relatively bad-behaved dog, to life in prison at Eastern State for murdering his wife's cat. This cutesy backstory (he wasn't really a kitty killer) was much more fun than simply saying Pinchot was donating a therapy dog. The prison played along with the colorful tale, too. Pep had his mugshot snapped with his inmate number, C2559. Not a real inmate himself, Pep freely roamed around as the cutest morale-booster in the cell block.

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Local newspapers took the backstory a little too seriously. Headlines painted it all as fact, using to smear the Republican Pinchot a bit. But all's well that ends with a happy pup cheering up inmates and staff alike, right? Eastern State Penitentiary ceased operations in 1971, but the historic site now welcomes tourists, and the furry tale is one of many colorful stories within the large stone walls.

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It's possible Pep inspired change in the entire U.S. prison system. Today, there are numerous prison animal programs in place. These programs help inmates learn compassion, hone new skills, earn wages or privileges, and chill with cute animals. And many of the dogs may have otherwise been euthanized so they get a new buddy, too. Everyone wins. According to a literature review from the Massachusetts Department of Correction, "anecdotal reports from staff, inmates, and recipients of the service dogs are overwhelmingly positive."

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A study published in the Journal of Family Social Work found that these programs resulted in strong emotional and behavioral benefits for inmates in two Kansas prisons. These benefits appear to stay with the inmates, too. The Pontiac Tribune reports that the nationwide recidivism rate hovers around 50 percent. The Leader Dogs for the Blind program, which pairs future service dogs with inmates, has a recidivism rate of just 11 to 13 percent. Surely, Pep is somewhere wagging his tail right now.

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In Depth

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Post Posted: Aug 11, 2017 8:35 am 
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The World's Largest Waterfall Isn't What You'd Think

What's the largest waterfall in the world? If you're talking by flow rate, it's Inga Falls.

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Inga Falls

If you mean the tallest, it's Angel Falls.

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Angel Falls

The widest? Khone Falls.

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Khone Falls

But if you want to know the very largest waterfall in the world, you'll have to look beneath the ocean. That's where you'll find the Denmark Strait Cataract, an underwater waterfall with measurements that make the others look laughable.

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Denmark Straight Cataract (right)

Buried far underneath the water's surface in the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland hides the largest waterfall known to man. Underwater waterfalls, known as cascades—or, when they're really big, cataracts—exist when cold and warm water meet.

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The molecules in cold water don't move around much, so they stay close together and make the water denser than warm water, whose molecules tend to buzz around and leave more space between them. That makes cold water sink straight down through warm water, creating a steady and consistent flow.

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”Older” is a typo. Should read “Colder”

The water coming from the Greenland Sea is Arctic cold, literally. When it enters the warmer water in the Irminger Sea, it drops 11,500 feet straight down, flowing at 175 million cubic feet per second. That absolutely annihilates any records on the surface—Angel Falls is only 3,212 feet high; Inga Falls flows just shy of a million cubic feet per second. Sure, it is slower—cold water falls through air much faster than it can sink through warm water—and it is, again, underwater, but does that make it any less of a waterfall?

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The Denmark Strait Cataract and other cataracts like it aren't just natural oddities. They're part of a delicate ecosystem, and many are relied upon not only by commercial fishing crews, but deep-sea creatures that depend on them for their constant flow of nutrients. With evidence of climate change negatively affecting other underwater currents, and given the fact that its flow is so reliant on temperature, its future and the future of those who rely on it is shaky at best.

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Post Posted: Aug 12, 2017 8:52 am 
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Comet Swift-Tuttle: The Perseid Meteor Shower's MVP

For a few weeks over late summer in the Northern Hemisphere, the night sky begins to light up with tiny streaks of light. These are meteors from the Perseid meteor shower, which burn brightly as they hurtle through our atmosphere at red-hot speeds. The Perseids reappear on cue once a year, but it's not them who are visiting us—it's our planet's own journey through the solar system that makes this light show so punctual.

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The Perseid Meteor Shower is named after the constellation Perseus, since that's where the meteors appear to originate. But it's not. A constellation, for one thing, isn't actually a single entity that could produce a meteor shower. Constellations are made up of many stars that only look like they're close to each other—one star in Perseus is about 100 light years from us, while another is 750 light years away, for example. Instead, the Perseids are created by the dust and debris left over from Comet Swift-Tuttle. That's right: that beautiful light show is produced by what's essentially a comet's exhaust.

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Comet Swift-Tuttle fly-by

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Earth flies through Swift-Tuttle’s tail

Comet Swift-Tuttle is the largest known object to repeatedly pass by Earth, which it does once every 133 years. The last time it passed by the Earth was in 1992, and there are historical records that suggest ancient astronomers saw the same comet as far back as 188 A.D. But the comet doesn't need to be nearby to put on a show. We pass through its debris trail every year in our annual path around the sun. As the tiny pieces of rock and dust leave the vacuum of space and hit the friction of our atmosphere, they travel at 37 miles (59 km) per second, an incredible speed that heats up the surrounding air and turns it red-hot. Most of the meteors burn up before hitting the ground, but some make it through to become meteorites. (Contrary to popular belief, meteorites aren't hot when they land.)

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So how can you catch a glimpse of this natural light show when it comes back around? In 2017, astronomers predict that the Northern Hemisphere will see the greatest number of meteors on the mornings of August 11, 12, and 13. Unfortunately, 2017's shower coincides with the waning gibbous moon, so the meteors have to compete with moonlight for our attention. Even still, EarthSky assures hopeful meteor-watchers that they'll still catch some good ones—especially if they look up between nightfall and moonrise.

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In Depth

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Post Posted: Aug 13, 2017 8:51 am 
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===============

NOTE:

Last night's meteor shower was
a disappointment. I stayed up
after midnight and didn't see
a thing. - H

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