I know a bit about planes and geography and stuff, but I will admit that seeing this on paper in pixels still managed to blow my mind just a little bit.

It concerns the longest commercial flight in the world – namely SQ22 between Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) – which is a distance of 16,600km and takes about 18 hours and 45 minutes.

We shouldn’t overlook the return flight (SQ21) either.

The shortest distance between two points on the earth is a straight line, but it it may not be the fastest.

Indeed. And when you’re looking at distances like these, you can make some significant savings on time and fuel by choosing a different route. And not just a slightly different route: a radically different one.

Because EWR and SIN are basically on the other side of the planet from one another, going over the top (the Great Circle Route) is the shortest route between them. As an example, that’s the route most transatlantic flights take, which is why you see LHR-JFK flying over Sheffield, which is basically due North of London, while their final destination, New York, is very much East.

Checking the weather forecasts and using favourable winds might alter the routes of these flights sometimes, but it’s basically a choice of either over the top (via Sheffield) or a straight run across the ocean.

But if you are right on the other side of the world, and going halfway round it, you have a third option – you can go around the other way, as well.

As you can see from the graphic above (borrowed from here), while the first two SQ 22 flights (red and yellow) followed basically the same flight path over the north Pacific (NOPAC) – neither of them were anywhere near the Great Circle Route – the shortest distance between New York and Singapore:

And the first SQ21 (green) followed the GCR very neatly, but the second flight (light blue) went round “the other way” – over the Atlantic.

14 October’s SQ21 took advantage of a strong jet stream across the Atlantic Ocean to fly eastward from New York to Singapore, effectively making the round trip and around the world flight as well. This transatlantic routing shortened the flight time by 3 minutes, but added 945 km to the flight.

Because of Cape Town’s position right at the bottom corner of Africa, there’s really not a lot of variation in the routes of flights that come down here. If there were more any routes to and from here that went across as well as just up and down, that might be different, but everything coming and going here generally follows very set routes from Europe and the Middle East.

Very few flights anywhere in the world have the option to change their routes as entirely as SQ21 and SQ22. When you’re dealing with massive distances, you can make massive changes. So every time you get on, it’s like almost a whole day’s magical mystery tour – but hopefully one with a very clear destination.

What would happen if an 800-kiloton nuclear warhead detonated above midtown Manhattan?

I think it’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves at one time or other. Fortunately (not least for the residents of midtown Manhattan), it’s one of those scientific queries that’s been explained theoretically, rather than anyone actually having to carry out the act of detonating an 800-kiloton nuclear warhead above midtown Manhattan and standing somewhere nearby with a pen and paper.

Spoiler: It’s not pretty.

A ball of superheated air would form, initially expanding outward at millions of miles per hour. It would act like a fast-moving piston on the surrounding air, compressing it at the edge of the fireball and creating a shockwave of vast size and power.
After one second, the fireball would be roughly a mile in diameter. It would have cooled from its initial temperature of many millions of degrees to about 16,000 degrees Fahrenheit, roughly 4,000 degrees hotter than the surface of the sun.


At the Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, the Chrysler Building, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, about one half to three quarters of a mile from ground zero, light from the fireball would melt asphalt in the streets, burn paint off walls, and melt metal surfaces within a half second of the detonation. Roughly one second later, the blast wave and 750-mile-per-hour winds would arrive, flattening buildings and tossing burning cars into the air like leaves in a windstorm. Throughout Midtown, the interiors of vehicles and buildings in line of sight of the fireball would explode into flames.

The link above takes you to a very neat, and only moderately-dramatic (especially given the rather sensational subject matter) description of what happens bit by bit as you head away from ground zero. I quite like the thought of marble surfaces evaporating. That sounds like something I’d like to see, if not in these exact circumstances.

There’s very little good news here. It’s all rather unpleasant. Under the heading “No Survivors”, the author describes how there would be… well… no survivors:

The fire would extinguish all life and destroy almost everything else. Tens of miles downwind of the area of immediate destruction, radioactive fallout would begin to arrive within a few hours of the detonation. But that is another story.

Happy days.

Hurricane Tom Jones

… is actually not unusual.

Everyone is talking about Hurricane Sandy today, which is unsurprising, but as ever, things should be kept in perspective.

As we enter the “new” age of social media, it’s sometimes important to remember that just because we see more news about these sort of things doesn’t actually mean that they are particularly unusual or even that they are occurring more regularly than previously.

And just as one swallow does not a summer make, neither is one hurricane proof for global warming, despite what any CNN weatherman might say.

Because New York has had many, many hurricanes hit it before. For example, Wikipedia has a list of 84 of them, dating back as far as the thirteenth century. And yes, Sandy may turn out to be a record breaker, but then so were many of those previous storms – the “Long Island Express” of 1938 is a particularly good example.

So just because this will probably be the most recorded, most shared, most tweeted hurricane in history, doesn’t mean that climate change is real.
Cherry-picking facts to suit one’s hypotheses has never been a valid method of conducting science and thus, conclusions based on that partial information will near invariably be false. Something you might like to remember when the green brigade trots out their post-Sandy propaganda.