Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for the 'Science' Category

The Scale of the Universe: from yocto to yotta

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From the smallest observable length, the Planck length, measuring 0.00000000000000000000000000000000001 meters; to the greatest length, the length of the whole Universe estimated at 930.000.000.000.000.000.000.000.000 meters: there are many zeroes, many orders of magnitude that mey be difficult to grasp.

To make that a tiny bit easier, a user on Newgrounds named Fotoshop created an amazing interactive Flash animation, through which you can travel between all the scales of the Universe, from the tiniest end of the quantum foam in fractions of yoctometers, to quarks, atoms, molecules, viruses, cells, animals, mountains, planets, stars, nebulas, galaxies, clusters of galaxies, the local group, the observable universe and the Universe itself, measring several yottameters.

That’s going from 10^-35 to 10^26, and you can travel by dragging the bottom bar with your mouse or using your keyboard, with the left and right arrow keys for greater precision.

As Phil “Bad Astronomer” Plait noted, “my favorite part is on the smallest end, when you have to go through several factors of ten with nothing happening to get to the Planck scale, the smallest scale in the Universe. It’s really quite a forbidding notion.”

Is is merely a coincidence that most of the familiar objects that illustrate the animation are those around our own size, or those that we can view in the sky from Earth? Obviously not. Physical theories suggest an incredible level of complexity at the quantum foam level, and much may be going on between the quantum foam and quarks, and then from quarks to hadrons, and so on. There’s also quite literally a whole Universe to discover in stellar, gallactic scales, with intricacies we have barely grasped. We have almost 60 powers of ten of a very real world to explore scientifically. It’s almost beyond imagination that such complexities may fit inside the head of a person measuring a few dozen inches.

As Carl Sagan said, we barely began exploring the shore of the cosmic ocean. And it extends both away to the stars as well as inside the foam of the sea. “Recently we’ve waded a little way out, and the water seems inviting”.

[Via RicBit, BAblog]

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Another cloud to be appreciated

João Luís (thank you!) points this interesting video that appears to show some iridescence and general awesomeness.

The description on Youtube does not seem very credible, but the language spoken does seem to suggest it comes from Indonesia. We have already presented some clouds of wonder here in Forgetomori, mainly pileus clouds, but this looks like a different phenomenon.

It’s not just a cloud. It’s an amazing cloud. The fact it’s “just” water droplets and probably crystals in suspension, illuminated in a certain way to produce such a beautiful effect is much more amazing than the idea that it’s a (badly) disguised alien spaceship.

But that’s just a matter of opinion. If you know exactly what type of cloud this is, do share your knowledge in the comments.

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Pinocchio, God and Gödel

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Philosoraptor actually stumbled upon a deep philosophical question, with consequences affecting mathematics, our own mind and – to some – even God. Think about Pinocchio’s paradox: the way by which the contradiction arises from self-reference was what Kurt Gödel used in 1931 to prove his Incompleteness Theorem, amongst the most important scientific discoveries of the past century.

Marcus Dominus quotes the “World’s shortest explanation of Gödel’s theorem", by Raymond Smullyan, and as it’s indeed short, I reproduce it in full:

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The Universe in a Christmas Tree

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Joy to the world, the solstice is come! And with it, comes all the ancient traditions celebrating the season, and among them, the ones that involve the Christmas tree are particularly beautiful ones. Representing a renovated eternal life, with hopes for the future, it also represents the knowledge the ancients had of the very meaning of the solstice – that it may be the longest night of the year, but it’s also the day from which the days will start to be longer and bring plenty to the world. That’s perhaps one of the earliest and most important astronomical discoveries.

Well, since then we discovered a little bit more about the world and the whole Universe. How about looking at the Christmas tree through the light of a handful of this knowledge? Here is some food for thought:

  • We now know more planets beyond the solar system than there are Christmas balls on your tree. The current count is at 358 exoplanets, and counting;
  • If the planet was shrinked to the size of a Christmas ball, it would be an even smoother ball than the others. Geometrically: Mount Everest (8 km) or the Marianas Trenchr (11km) are small imperfections relative to the planet’s 12,000 km diameter. It’s an imperfection of less than 0,01%;
  • “Earth is not spherical, it’s an oblate spheroid”, some Grinch may say. Indeed, it’s wider in the equator, but even then the deviation from a perfect sphere is of less than 0,04%;
  • Still with the Christmas ball: if an 8 centimeters one represented Earth and the nearest ball represented the nearest known exoplanet – Epsilon Eridani b, 10.5 light-years away – then for the distance between them to be represented in the same scale as the size of Earth’s Christmas ball, the other one should be at approximately 630,000 km. Almost double the distance from Earth to the Moon. Epsilon Eridani b is quite far from here;
  • Now, if the star at the top of the tree represented our Sun, 1,392,000 km in diameter, and the star at the top of your neighbor’s tree – say, 50 meters away – represented the nerest star system, Alpha Centauri at 4 light-years of distance; then the size of our Sun-star to be on the same scale it would have to be 0,74 micrometers large. From 1,4 million kilometers to more than 100 times smaller than the width of a hair, that’s how small the star should be for it to be in the same scale as the distance between it and the neighbor’s Christmas star.

It’s a very big Universe. It’s also a very old one:

  • Let’s say your big, nice Christmas tree took ten years to grow. If the moment in which it was sown was the Big Bang, 13,7 billion years ago, and the rest of its history was compressed to present day, then the Christmas tree would have known the first primates only in the last few hours, and all our recorded history would have ocurred in the last minute. Ten years growing from a seed, and all our human adventures would have been instants played in a tiny little part of this huge tree full of balls and stars. The ten year-old Christmas tree can be seen as a version of Sagan’s Cosmic Calendar.

“Astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience”, noted Carl Sagan. “It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works — that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.”

It also should do no harm to the romance of the Christmas tree to know that it’s a conifer, that conifers date from the late Carboniferous, about 300 million years ago, which means that we don’t have to use too much of our imagination to picture a Christmas tree watching the whole of human follies in an instant. In a way they literally did.

Feel dizzy? Perhaps some Christmas Chaos will help you see the infinite that can lie in a Christmas tree.

Science can lead to awe inspiring thoughts, based on the real and awe inspiring observations of the world in which we live. It’s the greatest gift we have, and our greatest hope for the future.

Happy holidays!

[top image from dyet, text originally published in Brazillion Thoughts]

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What if Earth had rings like Saturn?

The view from afar would be somewhat familiar, after all, we know Saturn. Now, can you picture how the rings would appear viewed from Earth’s surface: Paris, Rio, somewhere near Greenland? What would be its appearance at day, by night? You can check it above, and wonder what myths of creations, what religions would it inspire.

A fabulous work of imagination by Roy Prol. Imagination, but not pure fantasy! We don’t have rings around our planet, but we could have. The rings rendered by Prol respect the Roche limit, and the most curious thing is, we may have had rings not that different from those.

With not very pleasant consequences.

Astronomer John O’Keefe speculated that the planet may have formed “a ring system like that of Saturn” at the end of the Eocene, which lasted “between one and several million years”. As can be seen on Prol’s animation, the rings, despite their beauty, would block part of the Sun’s radiation, causing a global cooling.

In the end of the Eocene it may have caused global extinction, but could this be the most beautiful fix for global warming?

Below, a bonus video by Prol, this one more close to fantasy, about the applications of an “anti-water” device.

[via Geeks Are Sexy]

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