Monthly Archives: August 2014

Firearm Types

The term “firearm” refers to any sort of portable device that uses a barrel to fire a projectile, and they come in many forms.



A German Walther P99 handgun

As its name suggests, a handgun is designed to be held only in the hand, without the use of shoulder support. They come in two basic types: pistols, like the Walther P99 above, which have the chamber that holds the bullet integrated into the barrel, and revolvers which separate the barrel and chamber (usually possessing six or more separate chambers).

Handguns are usually semi-automatic, which means that each time the trigger is depressed one round is fired. Some fully automatic handguns (usually referred to as machine pistols) do exist, in which the gun will continue to fire for as long as the trigger is held down until all the ammunition is expended, but these are rare.


A rifle is a firearm with a long rifled barrel; the long barrel and the rifling give the weapon increased range and accuracy.

Assault Rifle


A Swiss SIG SG 550 assault rifle

An assault rifle is a selective fire rifle; this means that the weapon can fire in both semi-automatic and fully-automatic modes, and many assault rifles also offer a burst mode (usually a three-round burst) in which multiple rounds are fired each time the trigger is depressed. Assault rifles fire rounds that are between pistol and rifle rounds in terms of power, and use detachable magazines which hold around thirty rounds.

Assault rifles are the primary weapon issued to most armed forces, though most also issue a handgun as a backup side arm. Assault rifles were created when it was realised that most engagements occurred at ranges below the maximum range of battle rifles, and that a weapon in between the handgun and the battle rifle was required.

Battle Rifle


A Belgian FN FAL battle rifle

Battle Rifles fire full-powered rifle rounds, and thus have greater range than assault rifles, but because they are higher-powered they are more difficult to control in fully-automatic mode.




A carbine is a shorter and lighter version of an assault rifle (the H&K G36C carbine shown above is a version of the H&K G36 assault rifle). Because they are lighter and more manoeuvrable they are favoured where space is restricted (e.g. for use by helicopter pilots or armoured personnel vehicle drivers) or where high mobility is key, e.g. by special forces or hostage-rescue teams.

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The Composition of Earth’s Atmosphere With Elevation

In researching a post about the Kármán Line I discovered the NASA MSIE E-90 atmosphere model (thanks to Rhett Allain) which models the composition of Earth’s atmosphere up to an elevation of 1000?km. I found it very interesting.


Up to around 100?km the composition is fairly “normal”, in that it’s what we surface-dwellers would expect: mostly molecular nitrogen (N2 rather than N) and molecular oxygen (O2) with a small amount (0.93%) of argon and traces of some other gases (carbon dioxide, neon, etc.).

After 100?km the percentage of molecular nitrogen and molecular oxygen decrease sharply, and there is a similarly sharp increase in monatomic and triatomic oxygen, better known as ozone (i.e. this represents the “ozone layer”). There is also a small increase in the percentage of monatomic nitrogen and nitrogen compounds, and argon disappears entirely.

By 200?km ozone dominates, and this continues to about 650?km where helium takes over as the predominant component. Monatomic nitrogen and nitrogen compound concentration peaks at around 500?km, with an overall concentration of 1.6%.

By the time we reach an elevation of 1000?km helium makes up 93% of the atmosphere. This is due to the fact that helium is an unreactive and very light atom (with a mass about one-eighth of oxygen) and thus isn’t held tightly by Earth’s gravitational field. (Helium is so light that it can escape Earth’s gravity entirely.) The bulk of the remainder is hydrogen, also prevalent due to its low mass (about one-sixteenth of oxygen’s).


The concentration of “normal” gases in the atmosphere with elevation.


The concentration of less common gases in the atmosphere with elevation.

It’s important to note that the graphs above all show concentration as a percentage of the total number of particles of gas in the atmosphere, rather than by mass or volume. The atmosphere becomes incredibly thin at high elevations, so that particles of gas may travel many kilometres between collisions, and if absolute concentrations were used instead, the graph would look very different (and be completely unusable, which is why I haven’t included it here).