In June, Ada’s had the opportunity to host two featured events that were as entertaining as they were informative. First up, on June 9th, was Richard Johnson sharing how one could possibly answer the question “Will it Rain Tomorrow?” with little more than a calendar and a look outside. Granted, Richard’s presentation fell in the middle of a record dry-streak for June, which perhaps made the response seem a bit obvious; what we learned, however, was that the potential to accurately predict what the weather will be like tomorrow is actually pretty high when you live someplace like Seattle.
Richard Johnson, dropping knowledge like rain drops.
As Seattle residents know, despite popular conceptions, the amount of rain we receive is not nearly as high volume as many would like to believe. Yes, our dominant sky color is often gray, and yes, we endure some long stretches with little more than an hour or two of sun glimpses in the depths of winter. But that reality notwithstanding, our rain is usually more of a drizzle than a downpour. For that reason, Richard focused less on whether or not it will rain and instead on whether or not we would see precipitation.
Even with that qualification, and despite the fact that in Seattle we average 226 cloudy days per year (about 60%), Seattle only averages 140 days with “measurable amounts of rain” per year, which is just under 40%. Significant, surely, but not constant, and perhaps surprisingly to some, less than half the days of the year.
So what does that say about how well one can predict tomorrow’s chances of precipitation? As it turns out, Seattle’s weather trends tend to be rather consistent. Richard shared that, based on his own statistical analysis, one could predict tomorrow’s likelihood of rain with about 70% accuracy when basing their prediction on today’s weather. Clearly there will be days where on would miss the mark, but once we hit July, it’s a pretty safe bet that it won’t rain tomorrow, and that trend will continue well in to September. Alternatively, from mid-January until March/April, it’s a pretty safe bet that it will rain tomorrow, especially if it’s raining today.
Bonus fact: Wednesdays tend to be the least likely day for rain and weekends have a 5% higher chance of rain.
For more information about weather and weather prediction, Richard pointed us to forecast.io and noaa.org. Oh, and also, it’s true–it’s more likely to rain on a weekend than a weekday.
On June 30th, Glenn Fleishman brought Alan Boyle to Ada’s to talk about Pluto and the NASA mission, New Horizons! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the incredible image gallery on the New Horizons home page, especially the composite portrait of Pluto and Charon.
Glenn and Alan of course discussed the “planet-hood” of Pluto, primarily settling on the mantra “Dwarf planets are planets too!” and identifying the intrigue of the so-called “Pluto Debate” and the way in which that conversation has helped reignite a general interest in our solar system. But the more interesting stuff in their interview is the discussion of the complex system of which Pluto is a part. Alan said how that system could, in some sense, be considered its own “mini solar system.” Pluto and its largest moon Charon are mutually tidally locked and engaged in a gravitational dance of sorts. Orbiting around the Pluto-Charon combination are four moons with enticing names: Hydra, Kerberos, Nix, and Styx. On top of this, Pluto has an atmosphere, clouds, weather patterns, ice volcanoes, stuff coming off the surface, tidal forces (life?), and Charon even has a dark pole–a far cry from the “dead, ice planet” I once learned about in elementary school.
Alan Boyle and Glenn Fleishman.
Other topics Glenn and Alan explored included the state of the citizen scientist, fundamental limitations of energy sources and the implications for space exploration, the Anthropic Principle (neatly articulated as “the idea that the conditions are right to have a room full of hairless apes talking about how the conditions are right to have a room full of hairless apes talking…), the politics of long-term missions, the value of space exploration as such, how to write a book in 6 months, and more.
You can listen to the entirety of the interview here (I’ve listened to it 3 times now!)
And be sure to keep up to speed as New Horizons sends more data back from its mission over the coming weeks and months!