Down to our last few entries! We’re running a membership drive this month – our goal is 150 new members – and as a part of it we’re including this blatant clickbait series… Besides, it’s a chance to tell some of the funny stories that come up during cloudy nights at the VATT!
The old astronomer tells the tale… These past few days, we’ve been talking about the gas tube that used to run through the Lunar Lab, a meter wide and hundreds of meters long, filled with various hideous gases that were thought to be found in planetary atmospheres; the idea was to run sunlight through the gas and measure the wavelengths that each gas would absorb.
One gas in particular, thought to be responsible for the color of Jupiter’s Red Spot, was phosphine. Phosphine is one phosphorus atom surrounded by three hydrogen atoms; if you look at the periodic table of the elements you see that P is just below nitrogen, N, so not surprisingly the molecule of Phosphine is similar to that of ammonia, nitrogen and three hydrogens. Its spectrum was duly measured, and indeed its dips could be compared against the atmosphere of Jupiter.
One question that the guys running the lab hadn’t particularly thought through, though, was… what do you do with the gas once you’re finished measuring its spectrum?
When they were done with their experiment, they pumped the gas out of the side of the building. But the combination of Earth’s oxygen-rich atmosphere and Arizona’s bright sunlight caused the molecule to break down. The hydrogen went off as water vapor. The phosphorus condensed on the side of the building… and created its own beautiful “Great Red Spot” there.
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