Tag Archives: geology

Behind the Science: Hyperspectroscopy

We spend a lot of time here at the BSR talking about all kinds of awesome scientific findings.  But reporting your discoveries is only a small fraction of the life of a scientist.  The large majority of our time is spent finding problems and using tools to solve those problems.  Personally, I find that one of the coolest things about science isn’t in the final discovery, but in all the ingenious ways that we try to reach up with that discovery.


As such, this is the first in an ongoing column that talks about the actual tools that scientists use in order to understand the world.  This might be anything from mathematical concepts to cutting-edge hardware to clever uses of proteins and biology.  When you begin to understand the tools that scientists use, you get a unique glimpse into the immense challenge that any scientist faces: attempting to find truth in an incredibly noisy and complicated universe, with remarkably few ways to actually do this.

Hyperspectroscopy: not your grandpa’s backyard telescope

And so, I want to start off this series with a technique that has found use in everything from astrophysics to geology.  It’s called hyperspectroscopy, and it aims to identify objects based solely off of the light information that they emit into the world.  At this point you might say, “Yeah, that’s a telescope, so what”?  The trick here lies in the fact that there’s much more to light than wavelengths we can actually see.

Why is California’s coast so cold anyway?

For those of us living in California, one of life’s great tragedies is that the Pacific ocean is both so close to us, and so poor for actual swimming. Just to our west lies miles and miles of beautiful California coast and beaches, but spending more than five minutes in their waters sounds like a recipe for pain and thermal shock, rather than the leisurely fun that summer is supposed to bring.

So why are the California waters so cold, anyway? As always, the answer is a combination of several factors, all of which highlight the intricate complexity of our global ecosystem, and how the effects that we feel locally often originate from hundreds of miles away.

Perhaps the first, most obvious answer for California’s chilly waters lies in the ocean currents that carry water from up north. The dominant current that flows past California is part of the “North Pacific Gyre”, a giant spiraling circle of water that takes up most of the Pacific Ocean.