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Metro Science: The #bombcyclone, racoon toilets, and, again, no aliens (sorry)

The most interesting science stories of the week.

A bomb cyclone is simply an Atlantic winter storm — a.k.a. a nor’easter — where the air pressure drops at least 24 millibars in 24 hours.

eddtoro / iStock Editorial

A bomb cyclone is simply an Atlantic winter storm — a.k.a. a nor’easter — where the air pressure drops at least 24 millibars in 24 hours.

Despite its scary-sounding name, the snowpocalypse exploding over our heads in Eastern North America is nothing new. A bomb cyclone is simply an Atlantic winter storm — a.k.a. a nor’easter — where the air pressure drops at least 24 millibars in 24 hours. We get dozens every year. What makes this one different, meteorologist Shawn Milrad explains, is how far south it reaches (almost to Florida!) and its crazy pressure plummet (up 70 millibars in a day!)

Here’s what’s happening.

1) Polar Vortex descends

Normally a mass of cold Arctic air sits stagnant above Northern Canada, held in place by the jet stream. But sometimes the jet stream wobbles and dips. That causes massive chunks of frigid air to break off and head south, out over the Atlantic Ocean.

2) Water warms

The Gulf Stream, in the southern Atlantic Ocean, has been running hot all year, hence all the hurricanes. When cold polar air hits warm water, the layer of air closest to the ocean warms up.

3) Air rises

The warm air rises, dragging moisture with it, causing rain and snow. It leaves an area of low pressure in its wake. This causes the rapid drop in air pressure called bombogenesis that defines a bomb cyclone. 

4) Winds boom

Air rushes in to fill the void, creating those swirling nor’easter winds. The lower the pressure, the stronger the winds.

Science story: Poop cafe

Torstar News Service

How other animals treat raccoon potties is helping scientists understand the lengths animals go to stay healthy, and the influence parasites have on ecosystems. By observing the communal latrines of trash pandas, researchers found the species at mortal risk from parasites in the poo stay far away, while those with heartier tummies dig in for undigested seeds.

Science story: No aliens. Sorry.

AFP PHOTO / NASA/JPL-CALTECH

The dimming of the famous Tabby's star is probably not due to an alien colony orbiting, after all. (More likely space dust, per new real-time observations.)

Sound smart: Your science vocabulary word for the week — TROPOSPHERE

Jason Logan / Metro

Definition: The troposphere is the water-rich layer of the atmosphere where the weather happens. It extends from the surface of the Earth up to 14 km above.

Use it in a sentence: If Deborah keeps letting Black Mirror spoilers slip I'm going to put her on a rocket and blast her into the upper troposphere.

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