Skip navigation

molten metal

warning: Creating default object from empty value in /var/www/vhosts/ on line 33.

The Chinese Lantern Festival takes place on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. As they mark the end of the Spring Festival, celebrants create colorful lanterns, set off fireworks, and hold parades. In one village, residents hurl molten metal against a wall to create an impressive display of sparks in a 300-year-old tradition. Gathered below are some vibrant images from this year's Chinese Lantern Festival. [29 photos]

A blacksmith throws molten metal against a cold wall to create sparks, as he and others celebrate the Lantern Festival which traditionally marks the end of the Lunar New Year celebrations, in Nuanquan, Hebei province, China, on February 6, 2012. For over 300 years, the village, which is famous for its blacksmith skills, has maintained the tradition which they consider a cheaper alternative to buying fireworks during the Lantern Festival. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Your rating: None

Enjoy your fighting season, Afghan insurgents. The ones to come might not be particularly pleasant. The technology to detect your fire, stop it in mid-air, and then “facilitate shooter neutralization” is getting closer and closer to battlefield-ready. Which means some of your most powerful weapons — like missiles and rocket-propelled grenades — could be rendered impotent, even dangerous to fire off.

For the better part of a decade, researchers in Israel and America have been working on so-called “active protection” technology — defenses that can stop bullets and rockets and grenades before they ever have a chance to hit. After years of uneven progress (and the occasional accusation of corporate favoritism) these systems are beginning to show that they are ready for war. If they work out, it’s an honest-to-goodness game changer in urban combat: robbing guerrillas of some of their weapons of choice, and making tanks and trucks much, much harder to take out. The open question is whether active protection can be pulled off consistently without hurting nearby civilians.

In March, the Israeli system — known as “Trophy” or “Windbreaker,” and seen in the cheesy video above — was used in combat for the first time. shooting down a missile before it could hit a Merkava 4 tank along the Gaza border. Now, according to documents unearthed by Aviation Week’s Paul McLeary, an American active protection is getting ready for “field testing” and “transition to combat forces.”

Trophy is an especially big deal for the Israelis, who saw 40 of their tanks get hit in their 2006 war in Lebanon. The system uses flat-panel radars to watch out for incoming fire, Defense Update notes. Once a rocket-propelled grenade or other projectile is spotted, Trophy verifies that the round is coming straight at the tank, calculates its time-to-intercept, and picks to best angle to shoot it down. Then it fires off a bunch of explosively-formed penetrators, which produce narrow jets of molten metal that shred anything in their paths. The whole process takes a few seconds, at most.

Ironically, EFPs were once considered the deadliest weapons of the Iraq insurgency, responsible for dozens and dozens of U.S. deaths. The Trophy’s EFPs, however, are meant to be life-savers: peppering the incoming round, and taking it down without blowing it up.

Rafael, which makes the Trophy, swears that it can pull off this high-speed metal-on-metal collision with just a “1%” chance of hitting innocent bystanders. We’ll see if those numbers hold up, when the combat tests for the active protection system become more frequent. If they do, the already-formidable Merkava tanks edge that much closer to invulnerability. If not, it’s yet another example for Israel’s enemies to hold up of the IDF’s heartlessness.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, appears to be in the late stages of combining two active protection systems into a single defense for armored vehicles in Afghanistan. Crosshairs is a series of radars and microphones just far enough apart to triangulate the distance and direction of incoming grenades, mortars, and bullets. (You can see it on the back half of the  armored vehicle’s roof, pictured above.) Hook Crosshairs up to a remote weapons station, like the CROWS that sits of atop many U.S. vehicles, it’ll slew the gun right to where the shots came from. And that “facilitates shooter neutralization,” as manufacturer Mustang Technology Group oh-so-delicately puts it.

In case the counterfire is called into question, “the weapon station will be equipped with visual and infrared cameras for collecting forensic and judicial evidence,” adds Darpa, which backed the development of the system.

Iron Curtain, also funded by Darpa and made by Virgina’s Artis LLC, is similar to Trophy. But Iron Curtain pairs its radar with an optical sensor — a smart camera, essentially –  to track incoming rockets. As our own David Hambling noted in 2009, “a row of explosive countermeasures is mounted on a rail running around the top of the vehicle. The system selects the best one of countermeasures, and fires it vertically downwards at the exact moment the rocket is passing. This does not destroy the warhead but ‘duds’ it so that the warhead deflagrates, rather than exploding properly. By the end of the collision of RPG and countermeasure, Artis claims, the warhead bounces off of the vehicle’s side.”

Two years back, the Army handed out $8 million to merge Iron Curtain and Crosshairs into 25 Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles. From the documents McLeary examined, that integration work appears to be just about over, and the military is thinking hard about sending a handful of actively-protected vehicles over to Afghanistan soon. If so, that could be extremely bad news for the region’s insurgents.

See Also:

Your rating: None

For those who have followed Dr. Martyn Poliakoff's Periodic Table of Videos since Xeni's 2008 post, you may recall he didn't have much luck with his first fluorine episode, settling for "just a few bits of glassware and some funny stories." So he backtraced last month and found Eric Hope at the University of Leicester. Dr. Leister is clearly in his element when handling the highly reactive chemical. Watch as cold fluorine gas sets charcoal on fire on contact and burns holes through steel wool:

For those who just want the reactions without the charming scientist banter, here you go.

Your rating: None