28 May 2012

Twenty years in the explaining

One of my claims to fame is that I have code running on computers in, on, under and orbiting the earth as well as leaving the solar system and scattered in millions of bits on Mars. You've heard all the rumours about the temperature in outer space going from minus 200 degrees in the shade to 200 degrees in the sun, well the gold stuff wrapping equipment that leaves the earth is used to reflect a load of the heat radiation so as to help keep the circuitry cooler (Allegedly).

I'll bring this all back together in a minute :)

So, when you're in an airplane and you look out the window and see the icy bits on the glass, or look at the digital map and see minus 60 degrees out there, even in the sunlight, you have to get the feeling that someone is lying somewhere. Did we really get to the moon, does the Loch Ness monster really exist and is Elvis still alive?

So to my point.

Someone asked me why its gets colder as your altitude increases, snow on mountains, ski jackets when you go out etc, and that all reignited my whole issue that many years of therapy had actually managed to suppress.

To answer the question I was asked, and in lay-speak. The sun actually heats the ground which warms the air. As you gain altitude, there is less air and so it cannot hold the heat energy as well and so cools quickly. It is like boiling a cup of water in your kettle versus a full kettle - the small amount of water takes less energy to heat and therefore there is less energy to loose as well. Test this for yourself, boil a litre of water, put some water in a small glass and the rest in a big glass, come back in an hour and the bigger amount of water will be warmer.

Following this logic, and back to my original point, why then in space where there is no atmosphere is it not freezing cold. The technical answer is actually that space is absolutely freezing. SO WHERE DOES THE PLUS 200 DEGREES COME FROM!!!

Well, I reckon I cracked it. The answer is all to do with solar radiation. The earth's atmosphere contains lots of stuff other than the air you breathe - Bacteria, volcanic ash, human skin (aka dust), water vapour (aka clouds) and ozone all spring to mind. All this stuff reflects or absorbs a lot of the energy from the sun so that we don't end up with sunburn in 5 seconds, but still lets enough get through to do the heating bit.

At some point after the tops of mountains the amount of atmosphere thins to the point where the radiation will stop being interfered with enough and start to heat you up again. It'll also be about this point when the sky above you will stop being blue and start to turn black.

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