scienceposts

The most remarkable things happen when you push the laws of physics to their extremes. Such a place where this happens is space:

Far away in the Gliese 436 star system is a Neptune-sized planet called Gliese 436 b. This world is covered in ice that burns constantly at 822.2˚ Fahrenheit (439˚ C).

The reason why the water doesn’t liquify and then turn into steam is due to the massive gravity of the planet - it exerts so much force on the water that the atoms are bound tightly together as a solid.

Why Science Needs Art

I spent three years of my time in undergrad as an English major. I became somewhat of an elitist in my writing workshops. I took my writings seriously (sometimes too seriously). I hadn’t gone farther than Algebra in high school (which was five years prior to the realization of my interest in physics and astronomy). My view of myself and the view I wanted to project to others was that I was some sort of ultimate English major a budding new Shakespeare or something.

When I jumped ship and started astrophysics, the transition was a little awkward. People asked me (and still do) if I regretted spending all that time writing stories and reading. My response is an emphatic NO! I’ve got a background I believe has taught me some of the most lacking skills in the science community.

Specific fields of science are constantly cross pollinating and informing on each other. Where would Physics be without math? Where would biology or medical science be if we had NO knowledge of chemistry? Of course it seems obvious when you look at it like that but I think something extremely foundational to a person’s ability to push forward the boundaries of human understanding is being overlooked by many.

It’s the artist who thinks abstractly on the professional level. This ability to suspend oneself from an entrenched point of view or method is essential if you ever want to get beyond that place. Looking at it logically, the right side of the brain wouldn’t be very powerful if the ability to think creatively, or abstractly weren’t somehow practical to do. It’s very existence suggests that Darwinian Evolution put “survival of the fittest” value on the ability to think abstractly. This is why I’m convinced that science needs art, why scientists must think like artists and why the imagination is that cross pollinating phenomenon for the forward marching of human logic.

So um. Power to the artists!

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Megalodon Fossils

Unbeknownst to many Americans, finding megalodon teeth is remarkably easy.

Have you ever wandered along a beach looking for shark teeth? Depending on the beach, they’re actually quite easy to find. Sharks tend to lose their teeth when they tear through their food. They can grow teeth back any amount of times. This trait was likely shared by the extinct juggernaut, the Megalodon. The same thing that makes shark teeth abundant today, made them abundant millions of years ago.

So where, you ask, did the megalodons live? Well as surprising as it sounds, they tended to swim inland up rivers to mate. Some of the rivers in America are actually many millions of years old, and in a time of higher sea levels, were deep enough for the megalodons to swim through.

Anyone willing to dare the teeth of very much alive alligators will find a treasure trove of megalodon teeth. It’s even somewhat of a business for some. One such river is the Cooper River in South Carolina. Check out eBay listings. They’re surprisingly cheap for fossils. I imagine the fossil hunters live an adventurous life, constantly braving dangers to find the fossils of long-dead monsters. Well animals but still. Monsters man.

Also - DON’T BE DUMB AND GO SCUBA DIVING IN ALLIGATOR PACKED RIVERS WITHOUT PROFESSIONAL CONSULTATION/TRAINING/ASSISTANCE/ACCOMPANIMENT

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First Image of a black hole?

The supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy is simply too damn far for our telescopes to get an image of; and that’s the closest black hole we know of.

To get an image of something its size at the distance it’s at we’d need a telescope around the size of Earth.

Ladies and gentlemen, we got one. Because of a technique called interferometry, radio telescopes can work together and pick up different parts of waves of light and then fit them together like puzzle pieces. Spring of 2015 many of the world’s radio telescopes will all move at once and snap a shot where we think the Milky Way’s black hole is. We’re going to take a picture of a black hole!

Have you ever wondered why an object bounces a few times and then stops when you throw it? Have you ever wondered why when you nudge a pencil, it rolls on the table and then stops? Why is it that an object moves, only to inevitably stop?

Inertia is the tendency of an object to resist any change in it’s motion.  This concept is important in the fields of engineering, and physics.

On Earth, two things tend to decrease the speed of moving objects. Friction causes the object to slow down and come to a position of rest, also known as inertia of rest. So when you roll that pencil, there is actually friction going against the movement of the pencil, or any other factor around it. Since there is also gravity on Earth, the gravity just generates friction. Both of these factors cause an object to slow down and come to ’ inertia of rest’.

An object will stay at rest or stay in motion unless acted on by a net external force, whether it results from gravity, friction, contact, or some other source.

So, is there still friction when an object isn’t moving?

Friction is the primary force that will keep the two objects stationary with respect to each other. Without friction, the slightest force applied will cause the object to move. So, in a manner, you can view friction as what can stop an object from moving; an object still experiences friction even when it isn’t moving.

How can this be utilized?

Well, if you can get an object to have little to no friction, then the object could, technically, move indefinitely.

Examples of objects that work against friction are air-barriers, and superconductors; both of these examples use entirely different concepts to work against friction.

Air barriers are often used in hovercrafts. The skirt of a hovercraft allows the air to flow out of the bottom of the hovercraft evenly, allowing the hovercraft to glide or float against the surface when it is moved.

Superconductors’ resistance drops abruptly to zero when the material used is cooled below its critical temperature. Superconductivity is a quantum mechanical phenomenon where the magnetic field is locked in 3-dimensions. The magnetic field inside of it stays the same, so the object can be spun around, be put at different angles, different heights, or even upside down, and it still remains suspended in space.

The potential velocity of an object could be increased just by not allowing friction to work against it.

Consider my post on quantum levitation for more information ( LINK ).

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If you had a “Gods-Eye View” of the cosmos, and you zoomed out and out and out… you’d notice that the universe - at such a small scale -looks like a complex series of filaments. Webs. Veins. Wires.

These are stars and galaxies. We know now that matter (stars and galaxies etc.) seem to all line up next to each other in such a way that when you zoom out far enough, they seem to just blend together and all clearly become a part of a larger structure.

These structures are called galactic filaments and we know they exist. Our best methods to map the universe have resulted in this knowledge.

But why???

Well. The answer, we think, is dark matter.

To explain I need an analogy. If you’re at the beach and there’s a wave coming towards you, just stand there and watch.

What happens? The water, more or less evenly washes over the sand then recedes.

Now with your finger draw a little line in the sand. Draw a webby shape like the top row of images. Now as the water washes over the sand, some is left behind caught in the line you drew.

It’s entirely possible that the universe’s filament “webby” shape is because this is the way dark matter is spread throughout the universe. The gravitational attraction of the dark matter draws regular matter into it, sticking to that part of space like the water got stuck in the lines, or like dust to a spider web.

There are SO MANY MYSTERIES still.

I want to end this post with another thought, another analogy.

Before you watch the water on the beach wash into the lines you draw in the sand do another thing.

Notice the place where two filaments of web connect. Take your finger and carve out a little hole deeper in the sand. As the wave washes over it you’ll notice the water swirling into the hole.

The place where two branches of filament connect, this is where one finds huge populations of star clusters and… whirlpool galaxies. Galaxies that spin and swirl around almost like water down a drain.

Each of these universes does have a hole it spins around - a black hole. Another great mystery.

The vast and enigmatic mystique of our cosmos totally encompasses even the sharpest and most trained minds we have. Slowly we reverse engineer the world around us and I’m so excited to find out what’s going on out there

Why do people hate science?

If you want kids to be more interested in science, make it interesting.
Science is not mindless memorization and regurgitation, science is not computation. Science is a state of mind, a state of wonder, and the desire to learn and create.

If you want people to be more accepting of science, you need to make the classes more exciting. Show them the Meissner effect, show them youtube videos, show them what they could do, let them do things under supervision ! 

The same idea goes to mathematics. Show them why math is important, show them why people were so ardent to make discoveries about the language of mathematics. Tell them about how these lessons could apply to the field of physics, the field of astronomy or astrophysics;
show them that mathematics is practically applicable to any field you could think of ! 

Let’s be honest. We want them to look like this: 

But in reality, with the dull, bland memorization  that’s being done, they probably look more like this: 


The problem with science and math classes is that they are fully based on memorization and computation. If science and math classes were to tell kids what fields these lessons apply to, WHY they’re important to know, and what these lessons can tell you about life,  or how/why they were discovered in history, they would be more exciting to kids.

Show them what science really is. Not this mundane, boring, constant computing, verifying, and constant reading. 

If these things are not mundane, boring, yawn - worthy fields, then why are we teaching them to kids in such a way? 

I realize that the best way to learn is to be passionate about it. So why can’t we make things more exciting for the kids, to light a little spark of inspiration in them? If these things were applied to their life, to real life, then maybe we wouldn’t see as many kids with their chin rested in their palm, or their desk. 

I had to teach myself what the math lessons translate to in the field of science; I do it so that I can be fueled to continue learning. But why should we have to do that?

Shouldn’t math classes, and science classes, be showing you cutting-edge science as well as the laws and rules? 


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Some scientists in Egypt have just discovered the largest carnivorous dinosaur’s remains. It’s a spinosaurus, which although we’ve known about for a long time, their fossils have been difficult to come by.

We had a collection of their fossils in Egypt before but they were destroyed by Allied bombings in the forties and ever since then we’ve been a bit lacking for them.

Apparently they were semi-aquatic and spent significant time in what’s known as the “river of giants” which is fitting because they were about 50 feet long.

This predator ate “giant sharks and other car-sized fish called coelacanths and lungfish”.

I love dinosaurs.

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-29143096

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Our Place

Throughout each year multitudes of salmon swim, remarkably from their homes in the deep ocean, to the specific location of their birth.

It seems like an impossible thing at first glance. These simple animals climb entire waterfalls and dare bold predators and yet in the end, every year, they reach the banks of their birth. Here they give birth again and the cycle goes on.

Is it so strange that for millennia we’ve been looking towards the same stars that we ultimately came from?

We’ve been working on our monuments and our understanding of nature for a long time. This run to the stars, this space race is thousands of years old. Countless men and women have given their lives in devout study of them. Without these sacrifices we wouldn’t be the lucky few to see the fruition of our work.

Together we stand on the shoulders of giants and all we need do is reach out to touch the stars

Some of you may have noticed a few days ago that there was a particularly spectacular meteor sheering across the sky. Well if it was the one pictured above then it wasn’t a part of this months Perseid meteor shower at all but was rather the end of another space ship.

Orbital Sciences is a private company that cargoes things to the International Space Station for NASA but they don’t have the technology to bring their ships home so they discard them after use by dropping them into the atmosphere at orbital velocities.

By entering the atmosphere at such a speed, collision with air particles causes so much friction that the Cygnus space craft literally becomes a  meteor and dissipates.

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Skylab: America’s Space House

Back in the 1970’s, America, fresh off the high that was the Apollo missions to the Moon, had big plans.

One of these was the development of a large space station called Skylab. This space station had all sorts of amenities including living quarters, a gym (well “exercise facility”), an observatory/telescope (imagine how fucking awesome looking through a telescope in space would be), labs and like most appliances and machines in space, solar panels so long that they looked like helicopter blades. Also typical was a place where spacecrafts could dock in the rear, effectively becoming a part of the station. When docked the spacecraft could turn its engines on and drive the space house around.

Unfortunately NASA’s budget started getting cut. Due to funding problems, they were forced to decide between development of the space shuttle, or maintaining Skylab’s orbit. They decided to take a risk and build the shuttle first.

This was a mistake. Skylab fell into Earth’s atmosphere far quicker than anticipated and ended up crashing through the skies of Australia. Though it landed in the desert harmlessly, it’s estimated that there was a 1/152% chance a human could get hit by debris and 1/72% a city of 70,000 or more could’ve gotten struck by this man made meteorite.

Interestingly enough, the Australians capitalized on America’s loss and many collected debris and parts of the crashed station which you can now purchase online.

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Last night Bill Nye announced to members of the Planetary Society that our spaceship, Lightsail 1, is ready to go.

This is awesome. We’re going to be the first non-profit group to ever launch a spacecraft. This can be accomplished partly due to the type of spacecraft we’re going to launch: one powered and propelled by solar energy. Lightsail 1 is essentially a small box with some instruments in it and large reflective solar sails that can expand out of the box after reaching orbit. Our craft will be able to move through space free of any fuel limitations. If Bill Nye wanted it could be directed to overtake Voyager 1 in about eight years and become the farthest man made object not only out of our solar system but the farthest anyone’s ever gone - farther than NASA.

Watch a video of the craft’s sail spines being released here.

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Rogue Planets

Believe it or not, but there’s such a thing as a planet that doesn’t orbit a star. These rogue planets some hypothesize, could’ve been ejected out of their original solar systems by orbiting too close in their early days to a giant object, something perhaps like Jupiter.

Since Jupiter’s got so much gravitational heft, when something gets a glancing contact with it’s gravity, it can have the effect of stretching it’s orbit out to a very long oval shape… or simply slingshotting it out of the solar system into interstellar space.

Imagine trying to find a black dot in space (Black holes wouldn’t appear as black dots because of their accretion disks). Well we’ve done it. How? Every now and then when we’re observing stars and galaxies extremely far away, the light gets bent and stretched almost like how your finger looks when you dip it into water. It takes an object with a lot of gravitational force to be able to bend light like that, but it’s through this technique of watching light go through gravitational lensing that we detect these suckers.

Another method of detection is by taking infrared photographs of the planets. If they’re young enough they could still be radiating some energy leftover from it’s formation. Either way finding rogue planets is a matter of the most extreme luck.

It’s interesting to consider that life doesn’t necessarily need sunlight to exist. In the deep oceans right here on Earth the life gets quite unbelievable and seems to need no photosynthetic process at all to survive. Who’s to say what we’d find on such a planet.