Monthly Archives: March 2015

Science Thursday, March 26th 2015

Welcome to Science Thursday! The best day of the week. We have some pretty exciting things to get to this week, so exciting, that I just had to take the time in-between writing three papers to whip this little thing up.

We start off in Geneva Switzerland. What is in Geneva, Switzerland? Why, the Large Hadron Collider, of course. The massive scientific machine, which was first turned on on 10 September, 2008, has already allow us a much deeper understanding of particle physics. In 2013, the machine was shut down for upgrades, and it is scheduled to be turned back on this week. However, an intermittent short circuit to ground in one of the machine’s magnet circuits was discovered last week, so it will not be turning on this week. The magnets in question use enormous energy, and have to be kept at a temperature of around 1.8K, which is colder than deep space. According to CERN’s press web page, the short could cause a delay of anywhere from days to weeks before the collider is brought back online.

Coming back to the states, NASA has announced it’s selection for its planned Asteroid Redirect Mission, or ARM. The option they selected, creatively named option B, involves a robot going to space and bringing a boulder from an asteroid into a lunar orbit around the Earth, where some astronauts will go look at it, and take samples and things. The other option they were considering, was called option A. The mission is planned to launch around the year 2020.

From space, to something that is, without a doubt, space age. There’s really no better way to say this. Scientists at MIT have solved the problem of that ketchup that just won’t come out of the bottle. They have developed a new non-stick material, to be used for things like ketchup and glue bottles. I’m just glad someone is spending time and money to solve this problem. Seriously though, it is kind of cool.

And the ever faithful BBC. While I know you’re devastated that Jeremy Clarkson has been removed from Top Gear (which means bye bye Top Gear), this is bound to cheer you up. Keeping with their habit of breaking fascinating news about prehistoric creatures, this. Giant salamanders used to roam the Earth, and at least one lake..that dried up and left them all to die.

For you science fiction fans out there, Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One is being made into a movie. Before you throw up your hands and cry out that this could be just another Ender’s Game fiasco (just read the book, and then, don’t see the movie), click the next link. Steven Spielberg is going to direct it. Ok, now you can throw up your hands and cry out. Hollywood is no match for the power of your imagination, hollywood is no match for the power of your imagination…ahhhhh…just read the fucking book! (Link nswf.) Whoa, what happened there? I blacked out for a second. Something about dragons? Anyways….

BISON! My brethren. For those of you who don’t know, I spend some time as a bison during the summer of 2013, so this story hits close to my heart. In an emotional way, not like, a stake or something. Discover Magazine reports that wood bison now roam American forests for the first time in a century. This is just fantastic. A group of around 30 bison were released into the Alaskan wilderness on Sunday as part of a reintegration of the species into the wild. So, that settles where I’ll be going for summer break. Just kidding.

And we close with more news about comet 67P C/G. The comet’s rotation is slowing at an ever increasing rate as it moves closer and closer to the sun. In the meanwhile, european space officials have not been able to raise a response from the Philae lander captured our hearts in November with it’s heroic efforts to, you know, not crash and whatnot. And for that, we will never forget it.

So, those are this weeks science things that I thought were worth mentioning. Remember to always check the nets for your own interesting science headlines, and we’ll see you next week. Thanks for reading!

A Binary World

It’s a really interesting thing, that we naturally have two genders. Nowadays there are people who have had sex change operations, and, while that is a part of our culture that is becoming less and less taboo by the minute, the fact remains that when a baby is born, it is very clearly either a boy or a girl. Either a this or a that. We categorize things based on this ideology. Your very existence began with a categorization that affects you throughout your entire life. No sooner has a child first tasted the air that surrounds our planet, than that same child has been put off in a box, either a pink one, or a blue one. This will go on to define the types of toys that child plays with, the types of things that child is permitted and not permitted to do, the types of things that child is expected and not expected to say. It’s the basis for our culture. Things have to be either this or that. If a thing is in some, ambiguous third category, it bothers people.

It’s not natural, they say. It’s not natural for people to be in that third category whatever the subject may be. There are many things in this place we live that are not natural. Houses are not natural. Rice Krispies are not natural. Computers are not natural. Cell phones, airplanes, rocket ships, digital watches, all not natural. We are ok with their existence. But a person that is not natural is taboo. People are different. People are binary. Either a this, or a that. We always ask, at dinner parties, “what are you? What do you do?” And we always expect nice, neat, answers. Our lives, our skyscrapers, our cities, are built on the premise of a binary system. Is the job finished, or is their work to be done? Is this the tallest building, or is there taller? Is it day, or night? We spend our whole entire infinitesimal lives categorizing things, trying to rectify any two categories that don’t quite align. Engineers are not writers. Poets are not chemists. Priests are not scientists. Scientists are not priests. Boys are not girls, and girls are not boys.

All the while, here you are, can’t be bothered with which category you are in, or what you are at all. No, you, you are still not over the fact that you are in the first place. And you have a point. What does it mean to be? You are here, but why? Why does the last question even matter at all? What does it matter which category you fit in, because language is all arbitrary anyways. Boy, girl, squid, potato. We could just as easily be called kangaroos and kumquats. Things change. Boy, girl, man, woman, grandpa, grandma. Just because you and I are boy and girl today, does not mean that we will always be those words. Language changes, people change, society changes. Everything is on constant motion, moving from the last thing to the next, from a this to a that, all the while staying exactly in the same place, like an ocean. Things so massive and powerful, and yet we STILL find ways to categorize them. Shallow or deep, Atlantic or Pacific? It’s all one big thing, but that’s uncomfortable. I haven’t forgotten about you, contemplating your very existence. In fact, I want to ask you a question.

What happens, when a new thing is added to a binary system. In a system full of ones and zeros, all of the sudden a two. In a world where the little babies are all either boy or girl, all of the sudden something new. Something that rejects the premises that define the illusion of order in the world. What happens then? The system breaks. It can’t handle it. We know how to react to the ones and the zeros that we come across. We are all either a one or a zero ourselves. But, a two. The system can’t take it. Which does nothing to diminish the fact that it exists. If there was one, what’s to say there won’t be others. A whole system built on this and that, all of the sudden having to cope with the other.

Time is binary. It’s either happened, or it hasn’t. Something might happen in the future, but who can really be sure? The this’ and that’s of the world can’t know until it has happened. So an event has either happened, or it has not happened. It could be happening, but by the time you say that, it will have already happened. If you took the time to label it in order to inform other beings of its existence, you would miss the moment, and wouldn’t really be able to tell anybody much of anything. It only happens for the split second of time in which it is now, and then it’s past. So we’re stuck with the binary system of time. But you see, time is an illusion. (Lunch time, doubly so.) What if an event just was. It’s placement on any thing resembling a time scale was as arbitrary as the words time or scale. What would this do to our system? To the people, who can’t even handle a this who identified as a that. If we are so stuck in this binary system that something as fundamental as life itself must be categorized, then a new option — a bonafide number two in the binary world of ones and zeros — would it not destroy us? We thrive on tiered systems, for if things are categorized, they must also be judged superior or inferior. What would a society look like where there was no reason to be superior? If there was no box to check when a baby was born? If a living thing did not have the binary of life or death. Are you still there, you, existential one, or have you drifted off contemplating your own existence?

See that? I’m trapped in a binary world myself, and I didn’t even notice. What a thing all of this is.

Science Thursday, March 19, 2015

Science Thursday returns! Last week I had some disease where I coughed a lot, had a sore throat, and was generally just not feeling well. And because of that, you suffered. For that, I apologize. But, the good news is, this week we’re all back up and running, so let’s get on with it then.

First off, the first spacewalk ever accomplished by a human being was 50 years ago yesterday. Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov walked outside his Voskhod 2 capsule, marking another feat the Soviets had accomplished that their American counterparts had not. Author and space historian Andrew Chaikin created some neat 3-D images that you can look at at the link above.

Also this week, we had the π day of the century. We won’t have another one of these until the year 3015. But, the true π-thusiast will note that this π day doesn’t rank compared to the one in 1592, or the one that will be in the year 15926, then the year 159265, and so on. But I guess 3.14.15 isn’t too shabby.

Last week, the most powerful solid rocket boosters ever were successfully tested. These boosters will be strapped to NASA’s SLS which is slated to first fly in 2018. The Orion Crew Capsule, which the SLS will use to carry astronauts on subsequent manned missions, first flew in December of 2014 atop a Delta IV Heavy.

For those of you wondering (as you know I am) where is Philae, and when will it wake up?…you’re in luck. Maybe. The first attempt to contact the lander was March 12. Except, the mothership (I’ve always wanted to have a reason to say ‘mothership’), Rosetta, has been looking for the little lander since the 12th…with no luck. New Scientist reports that the lander is probably not warm enough yet, because the seasons on the comet don’t chance until May. (Comets have seasons?! Does the comet know that May is when seasons are supposed to change?! Since comets have seasons, but no farmers that Philae has found, does if even need a calendar?! What if there ARE farmers on C/P-67G and they’ve stolen Philae?!?!?! OH my, that escalated quickly. Hang in there, little Philae.)

Speaking of Comet C/P-67G, look at these pictures. Space is the coolest. (Literally! …well. Except for the LHC’s main magnets. But literally of all the other things, it’s the coolest.)

Moving on, Elon Musk, the man, the myth, the legend, has surprised a NASA heat shield guy. This story highlights some of the differences between working at a government agency, and working at a private company doing those same things. And now, this.

The BBC never fails to deliver the news, and, their science and environment desk never fails to deliver whacky, totally legitimate, cool, science news. Like this piece, about a lobster. Well, lobster’s not the right word. It’s actually a terrifying 2 meter long whale-lobster creature. Which, as the article details, was built like a lobster, and ate like a whale. They also gave us this little piece about a potentially epic journey to one of Saturn’s moons. That was almost to be launched 13 month’s from now, for real.

And just to put your mind at ease, this. The most powerful solar storm of the current cycle is now being felt on Earth, which is triggering some cool auroras in the Northern Hemisphere.

Finally, for any fan’s of the HBO show The Newsroom out there, here is an entertaining article about the show from Wired.

Well, that’s that. Thanks for reading, keep on sciencing on, and see you next time.