Do Earthquakes Affect an Aircraft Flying Above?

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iStock

Ron Wagner:

They sure do, and I experienced it once. It was pretty scary, too.

BLYTHEVILLE AFB CIRCA 1978

I was flying a VIP jet transport from Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, to Blytheville Air Force Base, Arkansas to pick up someone, probably a member of Congress. It was night and there was a solid cloud overcast with a ceiling at about 3000 feet.

We were talking to and being vectored by approach control and inside the clouds we saw nothing but black—in those conditions, cockpit windows look like they’ve been painted black.

Suddenly, we broke out of the cloud base. Below them, it was crystal clear and we could see lights for many miles, including the runway lights and rotating beacon on the base. We reported to approach control that we had the airport in sight, we were cleared for a visual approach, and we turned toward the runway.

Just as suddenly as the lights had appeared, everything went black again.

When the windows went black again, we assumed we’d flown back into a cloud, so we called approach to tell them we’d lost the visual and wanted to continue vectors.

No reply.

We then checked our position on our navigational instruments but noticed they had red flags on them, which meant that the ground signal had been lost.

We called again. No reply.

We then noticed our transponder wasn’t blinking anymore, which meant we weren’t being painted by radar.

We called again. No reply.

We began to ponder climbing and switching back to our last en route frequency but first we called again. No reply.

Just as I was about to change frequency, a very excited controller called us.

They’d just had a big earthquake, which knocked out all power. It had taken a couple of minutes to get running on their emergency backup, but he now had his radio working.

He asked us to orbit visually on our own while they got things up and running again. That was the scary part because we saw nothing but black.

We could only hope there wasn’t a tall antenna out there—now unlighted due to the power outage. We called him and he verified he didn’t have his radar back yet, but he knew the area well and we were in the clear at our altitude. We continued to orbit—seeing nothing else in the whole world but the red glow from our flight instruments.

Finally the runway lights came back on. The controller then told us to continue to orbit while they sent some trucks down the runway to check for cracks.

A few minutes later we were told the runway was fine, so we finally went in visually and landed.

So, yes, earthquakes can absolutely affect pilots!

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Why Are Sloths So Slow?

Sloths have little problem holding still for nature photographers.
Sloths have little problem holding still for nature photographers.
Geoview/iStock via Getty Images

When it comes to physical activity, few animals have as maligned a reputation as the sloth. The six sloth species, which call Brazil and Panama home, move with no urgency, having seemingly adapted to an existence that allows for a life lived in slow motion. But what makes sloths so sedate? And what horrible, poop-related price must they pay in order to maintain life in the slow lane?

According to HowStuffWorks, the sloth’s limited movements are primarily the result of their diet. Residing mainly in the canopy vines of Central and South American forests, sloths dine out on leaves, fruits, and buds. With virtually no fat or protein, sloths conserve energy by taking a leisurely approach to life. On average, a sloth will climb or travel roughly 125 feet per day. On land, it takes them roughly one minute to move just one foot.

A sloth’s digestive system matches their locomotion. After munching leaves using their lips—they have no incisors—it can take up to a month for their meals to be fully digested. And a sloth's metabolic rate is 40 to 45 percent slower than most mammals' to help compensate for their low caloric intake. With so little fuel to burn, a sloth makes the most of it.

Deliberate movement shouldn’t be confused for weakness, however. Sloths can hang from branches for hours, showing off some impressive stamina. And because they spend most of their time high up in trees, they have no need for rapid movement to evade predators.

There is, however, one major downside to the sloth's leisurely lifestyle. Owing to their meager diet, they typically only have to poop once per week. Like going in a public bathroom, this can be a stressful event, as it means going to the ground and risking detection by predators—which puts their lives on the line. Worse, that slow bowel motility means they’re trying to push out nearly one-third of their body weight in feces at a time. It's something to consider the next time you feel envious of their chill lifestyle.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Are Any of the Scientific Instruments Left on the Moon By the Apollo Astronauts Still Functional?

Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first footprint on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first footprint on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Heritage Space/Heritage Images/Getty Images

C Stuart Hardwick:

The retroreflectors left as part of the Apollo Lunar Ranging Experiment are still fully functional, though their reflective efficiency has diminished over the years.

This deterioration is actually now delivering valuable data. The deterioration has multiple causes including micrometeorite impacts and dust deposition on the reflector surface, and chemical degradation of the mirror surface on the underside—among other things.

As technology has advanced, ground station sensitivity has been repeatedly upgraded faster than the reflectors have deteriorated. As a result, measurements have gotten better, not worse, and measurements of the degradation itself have, among other things, lent support to the idea that static electric charge gives the moon an ephemeral periodic near-surface pseudo-atmosphere of electrically levitating dust.

No other Apollo experiments on the moon remain functional. All the missions except the first included experiment packages powered by radiothermoelectric generators (RTGs), which operated until they were ordered to shut down on September 30, 1977. This was done to save money, but also because by then the RTGs could no longer power the transmitters or any instruments, and the control room used to maintain contact was needed for other purposes.

Because of fears that some problem might force Apollo 11 to abort back to orbit soon after landing, Apollo 11 deployed a simplified experiment package including a solar-powered seismometer which failed after 21 days.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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