Thursday, October 31, 2013

Lightning from Hell

There are few phenomenon on Earth as terrifying, devastating, and interesting as volcanic eruptions. Massive amounts of rock and ash soar high into the atmosphere as the Earth’s crust opens and the great forces present within the mantle are released. Volcanic eruptions are one of the most energetic events on the planet; only a few other natural events can compare – lightning being one of them.
In nearly every part of the world (other than very cold regions), thunderstorms are a common occurrence, and they are usually nothing to worry about. The most severe storms have several dangerous components, such as floods, winds/tornadoes, hail, and of course the beautiful lightning. When electrical charges due to wind and ice in the atmosphere build, tremendous amounts of energy are released upon a ground source (trees, buildings, other clouds, etc.). What can be more amazing than volcanoes or lightning? Volcanic lightning.

Read about this amazing phenomenon at:

Image source:

Heating Coffee by Screaming

For More Information, we turn to our friends at Physics Central who figured out the specifics. You can see that here


Yes ladies and gentlemen, it appears the ancient question “are we alone?” has finally been answered, and it looks like the answer is a resounding “no!”

Earlier last week, the Arecibo Observatory (a radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico) picked up some anomalous readings in the constellation Libra. Upon closer examination, the Arecibo team reported the signal was originating from approximately 9 astronomical units away. Within a few hours, the Very Large Array in New Mexico, USA, and the Allen Telescope Array in California, USA, helped to confirm the signal. Over the next 24 hours, telescopes from all over the world had confirmed the signal’s origin.

First ContactDr. Ellen Strominger, one of the scientists from the Arecibo Observatory, said: “The signal is unlike anything we’ve seen before. It’s much stronger and is better organized than the regular background noise, both of interstellar and terrestrial origin, we hear. It’s even more organized than pulsars. It’s just very exciting.”

To read the full article, see:

Acanthamoeba: Terror in the Eyes

Lurking in Earth’s soil, bodies of water, as well as swimming pools and tap water, Acanthamoeba has quite the nefarious mission. If successful, this microscopic organism will infect a victim’s brain and spinal cord causing vomiting, confusion, hallucinations, blindness, and eventually death.

In 2010 a study was published in BMC Microbiology’s journal stating that after a group of locusts (aged 15-30 days) were injected with Acanthamoeba, they displayed infection of the brain and a 100% mortality rate within 11 days. But locusts aren’t the only organism that can be affected by this deadly amoeba.

Humans are at risk for contracting this mean little amoeba, though it is classified as a “rare disease” by the CDC. There are basically two ways in which Acanthamoeba enters the body, through an open wound or nostrils (Disseminated infection), or directly into the eye from contamination, each scenario producing varying consequences.

To read the more about these terrors, see:

7 Spooky Nebulae (Just in Time For Halloween)

Now that fall is officially upon us, in the spirit of Halloween, we thought we"d take the opportunity to dredge up some of our favorite scary nebulae. Most nebulae are truly lovely, containing an array of colors that are laid out so beautifully, they more closely resemble a painting than a scene of utter death and destruction. Granted, the nebula generally signify rebirth (long down the road, that is), and they look like places of great creation; yet occasionally, we run across some that are truly haunting. Like the ones outlined below:

7. The Witch Head Nebula:

Obviously, this is the witch head nebula. Of course, it is named as such because of its resemblance with the face of an evil witch, something you might expect to see in a fairytale (or in congress).

Instead, IC 2118 (as it is officially named) is a large nebula found about 900 light-years away, near the supergiant Rigel in the Orion constellation. The Witch Head has a deep blue color (as opposed to the typical green that we associate with witches). This color is not only because of the blue light emitted by Rigel, but also because the dust that makes up the nebula reflects blue light most efficiently (this same principle is the reason Earths sky appears blue).

See more terrifying nebulae at:

Nikola Tesla"s Death Ray

Publicly unveiled in 1934, Tesla proffered an amazing new device to the US Military. It was named ""Teleforce." The device was the first "particle beam projector" in history to be taken seriously i.e., it was the first one that was deemed realistic and plausible. Tesla had stated in his early talks with the US Government that the device could attack a target 250 miles away - leveling millions of soldiers or even a fleet of 10,000 aircraft. Myths and rumors regarding this device abound. Today, in honor of Halloween, we"d like to discuss one of these rumors surrounding this death ray.

There are many rumors stating that Tesla"s early prototypes were fired over the arctic circle in the early 1900s. One such rumor was propagated by apparent eye-witnesses involved in his lab complex whom relayed information to the media. They stated that Tesla fired the weapon at a location at the North Pole, but atmospheric distortion and the curvature of the Earth deflected the beam. As a result, they claim that the beam did not hit where it intended. ""Teleforce." The device was the first "particle beam projector" in history to be taken seriously i.e., it was the first one that was deemed realistic and plausible. Tesla had stated in his early talks with the US Government that the device could attack a target 250 miles away - leveling millions of soldiers or even a fleet of 10,000 aircraft. Myths and rumors regarding this device abound. Today, in honor of Halloween, we"d like to discuss one of these rumors surrounding this death ray.

There are many rumors stating that Tesla"s early prototypes were fired over the arctic circle in the early 1900s. One such rumor was propagated by apparent eye-witnesses involved in his lab complex whom relayed information to the media. They stated that Tesla fired the weapon at a location at the North Pole, but atmospheric distortion and the curvature of the Earth deflected the beam. As a result, they claim that the beam did not hit where it intended.

Where do people claim that it hit? To find out, see:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/31/13 - The Boomerang Nebula

Today, we take a look at "Boomerang nebula." Not only is it so halloweeny (if that"s not a word, it should be), but it"s also the coldest place in the universe (other than Massachusetts , that is).

The nebula itself is a planetary nebula that can be found 5,000 light-years from Earth in the Centaurus constellation. Nebulae of this type typically form after the death of a sun-like star. Meaning, our sun may look similar to this someday. The transition from "main-sequence" to a planetary nebula occurs following the exhaustion of hydrogen fuel forged in a star"s core. This depletion results in a star resorting to burning helium instead, which kick-starts a process that sees a star grow in size exponentially - eventually resulting in a star increasing in diameter hundreds of times over. During which, the bulk of gas is ripped away from the star via stellar winds, where it subsequently twists into intricate filaments of material - thus a nebula is born. Then, the remainder of the star"s mass will contract; leaving behind a dense stellar core called a white-dwarf. The now-defunct star won"t become desolate for some time to come though, as it will still release a barrage of hot ultraviolet radiation; a key component in ionization (the phenomenon that causes nebulae to glow).

This particular nebula is a bit atypical though. Unlike its traditional counterparts, this nebula is very, very cold. As we mentioned earlier, the Boomerang nebula is the coldest object in the known universe - where the temperatures measure in at a brisk minus 458 degrees Fahrenheit (roughly 1 degree Kelvin). At such low temperatures, the region is also quite a bit colder than the cosmic microwave background radiation (the faint afterglow of the big bang) that permeates spacetime.

At optical wavelengths, the region looks very different than it does in this image, which was taken using Atacama"s Large Millimeter-submillimeter Array (ALMA). It imaged the area at sub-millimeter radio wavelengths. When viewed in optical light, the area more closely resembles a bow tie. The cosmos wears bow ties now. Bow ties are cool.

Resources, sources, and further reading can be seen here:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Parasites of the Marine World (1 of 2)

The deep ocean harbors a multitude of diversity. It is full of lifeforms of all kinds of exotic shapes and sizes, which really should be unsurprising to us, as life originated from the sea. The complexity is wondrous, and it is all driven by a network of global currents called "the grand conveyor." Organisms here employ a wide array of strategies to survive. Some ocean fauna, like whales, grow to immense sizes to avoid predation and to feast on smaller organisms. Some organisms form large armadas (called schools) to lay siege to habitats like coral reefs; these armadas all work together to nab unsuspecting prey. In the same way, some creatures exhibit cross species co-operation, a synergistic relationship that allow both animals to survive comfortably.

Then, there are the parasitic organisms. These are some of my favorite forms of life. Some fans here may recall a few articles in the past we covered on various kinds of these creatures on land, like the tarantula hawk, or "zombie snails or zombie ants". This time I am going to bring you into the bizarre world of marine parasites.

The first genus I would like to discuss is called Sacculina: the genus of barnacles that are parasitic castrators of crabs! You might be asking yourself (with an uneasy feeling inside), what exactly is a parasitic castrator? Well, there is no easy what to say this, but it literally injects itself into the crustacean, takes over the behavior of the crab, destroys its genitals, and begins a large egg sac growth in the destroyed region, mimicking the crabs eggs itself. Due to the behavior modification of the parasite, the crab thinks it is its very own eggs, even if it is a male crab. It will look after them in the same fashion, and acts like a female would in every way.

To read the full article, see:

Image source:

The Energy Cost of Light Pollution

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

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3 Bat-shit Insane Apocalyptic Scenarios (and why they won"t occur):

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

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Curiosity Confirms First Drilled Mars Sample

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

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The Properties of One of the Most Unusual Objects in the Universe

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

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The Virgo Supercluster

Distance, on a larger scale, is something that – for most of us – is very difficult to represent accurately in our minds, and that is merely the biological drawback of these things. The routes you take often - such as traveling to work or school - are built into your mind so that you have a strong understanding of how far it is, and how long it will take you to traverse.

Our planet has a radius of about 6,400km, but we never cover these large distances across the globe, making it quite difficult to discern how large Earth is in comparison to the minute scale of human things. But we now know that we can zoom out of our quaint, picturesque blue dot and see that the Earth is situated in a solar system about 4 light years across (remember it takes light traveling at 300 million m/s just 8 minutes to reach Earth, so consider traveling this distance for 4 solid years), containing planets hundreds of times its size, all revolving around a star that could swallow all of them up several times over. Zooming out, we see our local stellar neighbourhood; a collection of star systems around 30 light years across.

If we expand our field of view further; we have the famous Milky Way galaxy. It comes in at a staggering one hundred thousand light years across (meaning, it takes light 100,000 years to travel from one side of the galaxy to the other).

If you think that sounds pretty large, wait, as we are just getting started.

Read more:

Larger Image:

This is a test.


References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

To read the full article, see:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/30/13 - NGC 7049

NGC 7049 is an oddball galaxy that"s located approximately 100 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of Indus. The galaxy is a member of the so-called "Brightest Cluster Galaxies" (BCG), which as the name implies, is a group of gravitationally bound galaxies that are extremely bright, old and massive.

Contained within the elliptical galaxy, which also bears properties of a spiral galaxy -- is a host of large globular clusters, with thousands of massive stars giving off the impression of glitter befalling around the bright halo of the galaxy. NGC 7049"s unusual appearance can be chalked up to a series of swirling rope-like dust lanes, which are lit up by the background stars in surrounding globular clusters.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Credit: NASA, ESA and W. Harris (McMaster University, Ontario, Canada)

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Oceans of Jupiter

Most of you probably know that Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system (and if you didn’t, now you do). Its size is simply staggering: Jupiter’s volume is large enough to contain 1,300 Earth-sized planets; it contains 70% of the solar system’s planetary material; and it is so large that it has over 60 moons (67 confirmed so far). This is the king of the planets. So saying that this beast has little in common with planet Earth is rather obvious. But today, I wanted to talk about one commonality between Jupiter and the Earth: oceans.

For starters, this planet is a gas giant that is composed primarily of swirling clouds of hydrogen and helium (90% of the planet is hydrogen and the other 10% is almost entirely helium). Since it is a gas giant, you might suppose that the planet couldn’t possibly have liquid oceans, but you would be wrong. Typically, when we think of oceans, we think of surfers and sail boats, we picture crystal clear waters with softly crashing waves, and imagine coral reefs teeming with strange and exotic life.

But there are many kinds of oceans.

To read the full article, see:

India to Mars! A Potential New Space Race Ignites!

Some exciting news is on the horizon, with the announcement that India will be attempting its hand at launching its first interplanetary probe! The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) originally scheduled the date of this event to transpire on Oct.28, 2013, but due to delays with the delivery of crucial radar equipment - it has now been postponed for November 5, 2013.

The probe, called Rs 450-crore Mars Orbiter Mission, will India"s first mission to the Red Planet. The spacecraft will be ejected into orbit, then, through a series of complicated maneuvers, it will align its trajectory to keep the probe in sync with Mars" orbit. Because of the short distance separating Mars and Earth, October and November are the ideal months for launch.

Read more here:

Image Credit: NASA

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/25/13 - Sharpless 2-68

What do you see in this newly released image from the Kitt Peak National Observatory? Personally, I see a demented Pac-Man-like creature.

This elderly planetary nebula is an estimated 45,000 years old. Planetary nebulae (one of the final phases of stellar evolution for a sun-like star) form after medium sized stars burn the remainder of hydrogen fuel forged at their core for nuclear fusion. After which, they burn helium, causing them to balloon in size. Eventually, the remainder of the mass will condense into a white-dwarf -- a dense remnant that is similar in size to Earth, with the outer envelope of gases shedding off into space, forming a nebula, which will eventually dissipate entirely.

Sharpless 2-68 (or Sh2-68), as it"s called, contains quite a bit of ionized oxygen atoms (pictured in blue), while the diffuse orange emission is the result of the nebula"s journey through the disk of our galaxy. At the center (in the blue haze) is the star responsible for the nebula"s existence.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

New Look at Titan"s Land of Lakes

Titan - the Saturnian moon - is never lacking in awesomeness (something we have reiterated time and time again). This newly-released image only scratches the surface of the moon"s awesomeness. As you can see, NASA"S Cassini-Huygens probe recently took a look at the free-standing bodies of liquid that set Titan apart from the pack. Ultimately, these images of Titan"s lakes and oceans proved that this moon is the only other world in our solar system that is similar to Earth in this regard.

However, the word "similar" is rather misleading. Yes, Titan has liquid oceans, shorelines, lakes, rivers, rain and even seasons, but unlike Earth (where you can safely get a little dew on your shoe, or catch a few drops of rain in your mouth), on Titan, too much "rain" could easily wind up poisoning you (or turning you into a fire breathing dragon, provided you had some oxygen and a match). This is because Titan"s rain is made up of liquid hydrocarbons (a huge component of gasoline).

To read the full article, see:

Image source:

Scientists Discover Most Distant Galaxy to Date

Lurking about 13.1-billion light-years away is the coolest galaxy that you"ll hear about this year (seriously, it"s awesome). What makes this wanderer so interesting? First, it has been dubbed with the exceedingly catchy name z8_GND_5296. maybe the name is terribly bland and uninteresting, but don"t let that fool you, because this galaxy is unique. At least, it is unique to us--it is the most distant galaxy ever discovered!

An international team of astronomers first observed this galaxy with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope. This find was recently confirmed by the Keck Observatory based in Hawaii. So, just how distant is z8_GND_5296? Well, it formed a mere 700-million years after the big bang, meaning that the galaxy is 30 billion light-years away. How did we determine this?

To find out, see:

Image source: NASA
Edited by the fantastic: All Science All the Time

New Perspectives: Imagining a 4D World

Regardless of your scientific background (or lack thereof), the 4th dimension is very a difficult concept to grasp. To understand just how difficult it is to envision a world with a 4th spacial dimension, let"s use a couple comparisons. First, imagine a color that doesn"t currently exist. Next, try to come up with a way to explain how an everyday color looks (like blue, for example) to someone who can"t see. Both of those things are pretty difficult, right? Well, we run into exactly the same problems when we try to imagine a 4th dimension to space. Even for those of us with the most powerful visual imaginations, trying to picture how a 4 dimensional object would look in a 3 dimensional world is impossible. Truly and utterly impossible.

However, math offers us a little assistance in this area. You see, to a mathematician, the 4th dimension can be represented using coordinate geometry and vectors within an algebraic 4 dimensional space (that sounds like a mouthful, but just look at the image to get an idea of what this means). Of course, this is only an extra DIRECTION written down on a 2D piece of paper...not an actual DIMENSION. In this sense, the coordinates would be treated in exactly the same way as the other 3 directions, so it doesn"t actually add anything new to our understanding. Still, coordinate geometry helps us grasp just how difficult comprehending a 4th dimension is for beings who live in a 3D world (like us).

So in short, understanding a world with 4 spacial dimensions is still exceedingly difficult...but, what fun would we be if we didn"t try?

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Image Credit: LearnSomething

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/24/13 - The Fetus Nebula [NGC 708]

Mimicking the mechanism of an embryo swaddled in a mother"s uterus, the fetus nebula actually shows the opposite effect... Instead of starting off its life, this one shows a sun-like star that has reached one of the final phases of stellar evolution -- the planetary nebula phase.

Also known as NGC 7008, the fetus nebula is located more than 2,800 light-years from Earth in the constellation known as Cygnus. As you can see, this celestial region possesses a plethora of eye-pleasing colors, which are representative of the tools used to create a balanced image of the nebula (as seen over the course of a total 12 observational hours, through broad and narrow-band filters).

Beneath the nebula is a binary system, in the gold and blue, which is responsible for creating this nebula and is known as HJ 1606.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Two Mooned Earth

Did you know that any given moment, it"s typical for Earth to have at least 2 moons? Of course, none are as big and beautiful as Luna that has been a beacon of light to Earth for billions of years (So, unfortunately, our sky doesn"t look like the one picture here). Usually, these second moons are just a few meters across and they vanish just as swiftly as they appeared.

All of this started back in 2006 when Mikael Granvik and his colleagues from the University of Hawaii discovered a strange unmapped object orbiting the Earth. They wound up finding that it was indeed a small asteroid that was just a few meters across, calling it RH120. The tiny asteroid was pulled into Earth"s orbit after being captured by the Earth"s gravity and it continued to orbit Earth until breaking free in June of 2007.

After that time, researchers began to investigate this as a potential normal phenomena. They found that at any given time, there should be at least one natural satellite orbiting the Earth for a few months before zooming back off into space. Since these natural satellites are so small, calling them a "moon" might be a bit of a stretch, but this is still a very interesting discovery none-the-less. Finding these small asteroids in orbit provides NASA and other space agencies with the opportunity to study these objects in their natural habitat; space. Most of these small objects were probably left over from the formation of our solar system, so there is a lot of potential to capture these objects and bring them back to Earth to study without having to deal with the contamination that"s dealt with when studying small impact asteroids. Overall, the implications are exciting!!

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/23/13 - NGC 1555

This nebula, NGC 1555 (also known as Hind’s Variable Nebula), is located 400 light-years from Earth (in the Taurus constellation). The yellowish star near the center of the nebula is THE T Tauri, the star that spawned a new stellar species. Surrounding the star is the nebula itself; a reflection nebula that lies on the edge of a large molecular cloud.

It is thought that T Tauri may actually have two or more companion stars, with only T Tauri visible at optical wavelengths. One of the other two shines in infrared - whilst the other is a heavy source of radio waves. The other companion may have been ejected from the system entirely, or flung into a much wider orbit, after a close encounter with T Tauri.

Another thing to note about this nebula is that the star powering it - and other T Tauri stars similarly - is known to vary in brightness exponentially. This particular star has an apparent magnitude that can range anywhere from a 9.3 to a 14!

References & Further Reading:

Credit: Mt. Lemmon, AZ/ of Adam Block

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

3D Printed Invisibility Cloak? Yes Please!

Science has made leaps with 3D printing, perhaps one of the most astounding technological advances in recent years. As we"ve seen, scientists have been able to develop functioning organs, bones and tissue using a person"s own stem cells, prosthetic limbs, 3D printed guns that can withstand the force of firing a bullet and cars (among many other things). Hell, 3D printers can even print other 3D printers, which could have some cool implications for using the technology to build the first human base on the moon or Mars. The sky is the limit.

In recent news, a team of researchers have combined two awesome technologies into an exceptionally exciting product: an invisibility cloak created by a 3D printer -- the very first of its kind.

To read the full article, see:

Image Source (Before Editing):

The Gravastar: An Alternative to Black Holes?

Today, we thought that we would take a look at an alternative model for black holes. Personally, I"m not that fond of the idea in relation to it"s scientific validity, but I do think it is a very interesting hypothesis. Most of the time, we"re quite content to just sit back and follow the popular mindset in relation to scientific hypotheses and theories. Following the crowd and ignoring many of the "stranger" ideas that go against the norm is one way to ensure that you don"t look foolish; however, it is also one way to ensure that you remain stagnant. At the very least, we must be open to questioning. After all, that is what science is all about.

Nonetheless, we often cling to the tried and true. And this isn"t a recent trend; it is the way that we"ve been all through human history. For example, for many years, we believed that the Earth was flat and that one could eventually fall off of the globe. We also believed that the Earth was the center of the universe (some people still do). And several ancient civilizations even used to use mercury as a medicine. Fortunately, we tested these ideas and came up with better ones.

Which brings us to the Gravastar, an unconventional idea that is as interesting as it is odd. This hypothesis was originally put forward by Mazur and Mottola in 2004. Gravastar literally means "Gravitational Vacuum Condensate Star," which is (in theory) an extension of the Bose-Einstein Condensate and put forward as a part of gravitational systems. Ultimately, it is meant to stand as an alternative to black holes.

To read the full article, see:

Image source:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/22/13 - IC 5146

Resembling the blisteringly hot surface of a nuclear oven, this lovely celestial region, known as IC 5146 (or the Cocoon Nebula), is located at the front edge of a molecular cloud complex. (The image is kind of deceiving, as most of this nebula is very, very cold) Here, we can see not one, but three different types of nebulae. First, we have an emission nebula, made up of hydrogen gas. Then, we have a reflection nebula, where interstellar dust grains reflect starlight from embedded stars, bringing an otherwise invisible molecular cloud to life (at infrared wavelengths, which is the range of the electromagnetic spectrum we are looking at here)

Within the bright, bluish "cocoon" part of the nebula, we have an open cluster of stars, which have been dubbed Collinder 470. Whilst not pictured in this particular image, the stars that comprise the cluster are largely responsible for the shape, as the fierce winds that blow through the raw star formation material clear out several cavities, serving as a catalyst for ionization (the process that allows nebulae to glow)

Enclosed around the brightest portion of the emission nebula, we have a dark absorption nebula, known as Barnard 168. It separates the emission nebulae (and the filaments extending from the cluster) from the background surroundings. (Some of the individual filaments extend about 0.3 light-years across -- about 20,000 times the distance between the sun and Earth)

The stellar nursery can be found some 4,000 light-years from Earth in the Cygnus constellation. From top to bottom, the nebula stretches across more than 15 light-years in total. Beautiful, isn't it?

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Credit: ESA/Herschel/SPIRE/PACS/Gould Belt Survey/D. Arzoumanian (CEA Saclay)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/21/13 - Dumbbell Nebula

Looking at this planetary nebula, formally dubbed M27 (but informally known as the Dumbbell Nebula), is the closest thing we have to looking through a time machine to witness the death of our mother star, the sun. (*spoiler alert* the future is grim)

Located about 1,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Vulpecula (the fox), M27 is one of the brightest and most spectacular planetary nebulae in the night sky. It - along with over 100 objects called the "Messier Objects" - were discovered by the famed astronomer Charles Messier all the way back in the 17th century.

The two primary colors in this bipolar planetary nebula are representations of the colors emitted by oxygen and hydrogen. After the sun can no longer fuse hydrogen into helium and the nuclear fusion process halts, the outer envelope of gas will be ejected into space, leaving behind a dense core about the size of Earth called a white-dwarf. The remaining gases will form something similar to this.

References, Sources, & Further Reading can be found here:

Credit: Bill Snyder

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/21/13 - Dumbbell Nebula

Looking at this planetary nebula, formally dubbed M27 (but informally known as the Dumbbell Nebula), is the closest thing we have to looking through a time machine to witness the death of our mother star, the sun. (*spoiler alert* the future is grim)

Located about 1,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Vulpecula (the fox), M27 is one of the brightest and most spectacular planetary nebulae in the night sky. It - along with over 100 objects called the "Messier Objects" - were discovered by the famed astronomer Charles Messier all the way back in the 17th century.

The two primary colors in this bipolar planetary nebula are representations of the colors emitted by oxygen and hydrogen. After the sun can no longer fuse hydrogen into helium and the nuclear fusion process halts, the outer envelope of gas will be ejected into space, leaving behind a dense core about the size of Earth called a white-dwarf. The remaining gases will form something similar to this.

References, Sources, & Further Reading can be found here:

Credit: Bill Snyder

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Why is the Speed of Light Unattainable for Massive Objects?

A question that is directly related to this is, "why do objects increase in mass as they get faster?" People often talk about how an object's mass increases as its acceleration increases; however, I want to avoid talking about the increases in mass altogether, as it makes for a clearer explanation of why objects with mass can't reach light speed.

Now then, historically (before Einstein), people had already realized that electrons behaved quite peculiar when they approached the speed of light. They appeared to have much greater "mass" than at other times. Worse, if they were going fast in one direction and you tried to make it go faster, it would have a different "mass" than when you tried to change its direction of motion (i.e., it had a different apparent mass depending on whether you were trying to push it parallel to its direction of motion or perpendicular). It was crazy.

Then Einstein explained it all with Special Theory of Relativity (SR); however, some unfortunate (and rather erroneous) historical ideas stuck around. In short, contemporary physicists agree that relativistic mass (the assertion that mass changes as acceleration changes) should no longer be an accepted statement. Why? Let me explain...

To read the full article, see:

image source:
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

NGC 1433: New Observations on Powerful Supermassive Black Hole Jets

I would like to interrupt your day to gaze in wonder at this exquisitely detailed image of galaxy NGC 1433, brought to us by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA for short) and the Hubble Space Telescope. This composite image has two parts: the background blue image with the central dust lines in black (visible light is obscured by dust) by the Hubble, and the colored structures in the inner region, are made by the amazing power of ALMA.

As a lot of us know, there are two types of black holes: stellar mass black holes and supermassive black holes (SMBH for short). Supermassive black holes dominate the center of galaxy formations, including our own (called Sagittarius A in our own Milky Way). These cosmic gravitational behemoths can be up to several BILLION times the mass of our already seemingly large sun. In the infancy of the universe, supermassive black holes gobbled up copious amounts of matter from interstellar gas, growing to gigantic proportions, and sending powerful particle jets of matter at relativistic speeds outwards, emanating from the central regions around the event horizon.

To read the full article, see:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/20/13 - The Vela Supernova Remnant

These glowing bands of dust are all that is left of a star that underwent a cataclysmic explosion about eleven thousand years ago. Known as the Vela Supernova Remnant, this nebula is - you guessed it - a supernova remnant and it's located about 800 light-years away in the constellation of the Sails, better known as Vela. The entire remnant (not pictured) is spherical.

The Vela Supernova Remnant plays an important role in astronomical history. In 1968, astronomers at the University of Sydney observed a neutron star at the remnant's center, making this the first direct observational evidence obtained that confirmed neutron stars could be formed from supernovae. The neutron star at the center of this supernova rotates at a rate exceeding 10 rotations per second.

Fun fact: When this star went supernovae, it would have been visible from Earth around the start of written history.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Directions in Space: How Do Astronauts Determine Where the are When in Space?

North, South, East, and West are Earth related directions that are determined by the planet's magnetic field, but with no planet in space to guide them, how can scientists figure out directions beyond Earth's atmosphere? To answer this question, it's important to realize that directions are completely arbitrary human inventions that hold no real scientific significance. In short, directions exist solely to make our lives easier when navigating through the space in which we all live. You could reverse the definitions of all our directional terms tomorrow (so North means South and vice versa) and, with the exception of a few very confused people, we'd have no adverse affects--there would be no changes to how science operates.

However, to answer the real question, the method we use for finding directions in space (yes, we do have Northern and Southern Hemispheres for the universe /galaxy/solar system) is related to the directions we have on Earth. So, how did these directions come about?

To read the full article, see:

image source: NASA creativecommons

Why do Objects increase in mass as they get faster?

It is commonly known that, if you accelerate an object, its mass will increase; however, to understand why this phenomenon occurs, we mustn't think of the object’s mass increasing. Instead, we should think of its energy.

In physics, mass is just simply locked up energy. We call this type of mass, ‘inertial mass.’ Essentially, inertial mass is the amount of resistance that a physical object has to any change in its motion (this includes the resistance that a body has to acceleration or to directional changes). According to the theory of relativity, gravitational mass is always the same as inertial mass. However, when we speak of an objects mass increasing due to acceleration, we are really talking about its inertial mass increasing.

To read the full article, see:

Image source:

Solar Analemma

Have you ever heard of an analemma? Most of the time when talking about this phenomena, we are talking about solar analemma, but any celestial object can create an analemma (assuming the proper conditions exist that is). Because of Earth’s tilted axis and its elliptical orbit, the sun changes position in the sky over the course of a year, this causes the sun to follow a curved path through the sky. When the position of the object is recorded at the same time each day over the course of a year, the end result is an analemma.

To read the full article, see:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/19/13 - NGC 55

Meet NGC 55 - an irregular galaxy of unknown distance, which can be found in the constellation of Sculptor. The galaxy is most notable for its remarkably bright core. If you look closely, you can actually the pinkish emission regions, which are responsible for the absolute magnatide of the galaxy's central region. (many other star forming regions can be seen scattered about the smallish galaxy [in blue])

Astronomers estimate the galaxy to be between 5 and 7 million light-years away from Earth, but the uncertainty about its distance comes from the fact that in the past, the galaxy was thought to be a member of a neighboring group of galaxies known as the Sculptor group. Now, however, subsequent observations turned up evidence that suggests that NGC 55 (and NGC 600 - another small galaxy located in the same general vicinity) are actually in the foreground.

Regardless of that small controversy, the nearly-edge-on galaxy is still beautiful and quite interesting to astronomers, as it holds a remarkable resemblance to the Large Magellanic Cloud - a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Friday, October 18, 2013

ITER: On Course for Fusion Power

There is no doubt that conventional fossil fuels are running out. The Saudi lands, once rich with vast oil supplies are drying up. However, many energy companies persist with new developments such as Fracking that does not reduce carbon emissions or toxic chemicals that pollute our atmosphere.As a result, this method is rather controversial. Green, renewable energy sources have had major advancements recently; however, that have failed to prove that they are viable alternative to fossil fuels (due to the impracticality of these sources or the extreme cost issues).

In the large energy consuming society that we live in, we require a sustainable development...and we need one that comes form one of the most abundant sources in our Universe: Hydrogen in the form of nuclear fusion. Fusion has been around for many years. One easily comprehensible example of Fusion is the famous ‘H bomb.' This method used the extreme pressure of a fission bomb imploding to fuse the two Deuterium atoms together, forming Helium. Although this demonstrated the megalithic proportions of energy given off by the fusion of two atoms, it was an uncontrolled explosion.

To read the full article, see:

Image source:

Question Everything: Journey to the Edge of the Universe

Question: In a previous article, you guys discussed whether the universe is finite or infinite in size. If the universe is finite, would a person theoretically be able to reach its edge, if so, what would be on the other side?

Asked by: Joshua Sheaffer

Answer: The short answer? A restaurant. (Just kidding)

Now, for the long answer (and believe me, this is a long [but interesting] read). First, before I delve into your question, let me highlight a few relevant portions of the article you mentioned;

"In the past, it was generally agreed upon that the Universe was either
infinite in size and age, or that it was of finite size – with the dimension
of time not coming about until the birth of the universe. If the latter is
actually the case, any event(s) occurring before this era could have no
appreciable affect on what is happening now.

In an infinite and static universe, the accelerating expansion of the cosmos,
which was triggered by dark energy, is nonsensical; it just doesn’t make
sense. You can’t have something that is static and unchanging .. but is
expanding somehow. For the time being, let’s take a moment to delve into
the evolution of our understanding of the cosmos. Because to understand
where we are going, we must understand where we have been."

Okay. Throughout the previous passages, we've established that the universe is not only very large, but it is also expanding exponentially in size. We didn't, however, establish how quickly this expansion is happening. To put it in the simplest possible terms, the universe is expanding FASTER than the speed of light.* At least, it is when you compare nearby galaxies to those that are much farther away. Relative to our neighboring galaxies, those hanging out on the edge of the observable universe are indeed traveling well over 186,282 miles per a second (299,792 kilometers), which is also known as the speed of light.

To read the full article, see:

Image source:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/18/13 - NGC 4314

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

To read the full article, see:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/18/13 - NGC 4314

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

To read the full article, see:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Question everything: Quantum Mechanics and General relativity

Question: I read a brief history of time by hawking and I am interested to know why Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum physics can’t come together to come up with a theory of everything?”
Asked by Siddharth Gadepalli

Answer: Scientists have been working on this very issue for years, and we’re still faced with the same problems, although the discovery of the Higgs Boson is helping.

In one corner we have Quantum mechanics, a group of theories developed by physics in the early to mid-1900s. Influential figures were, but are not limited to Max Plank, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Erwin Schrödinger, Richard Feynman, and Albert Einstein. Quantum mechanics is the theory of the very small, interactions between atoms and the particles atoms are made of. Quantum theory does a good job of describing chaotic wave-like particles in ways classical physics never could.

To read the full article, see:

Why does every population have a more or less equal ratio of males and females?

Why does every population have a more or less equal ratio of males to females?

Asked by: Sanchit Sachdev

Answer: For most creatures, the primary purpose of life is to propagate the species—to pass on one’s genes to the next generation. In other words, for a majority of the inhabitants of Earth, life is all about sex and reproduction. Unsurprisingly, most species are well adapted to this purpose and have developed a number of habits and traits that allow them to protect their offspring. For example, the female surinam toad has her eggs embedded into her back by the male in order to protect them from predators, and there is a frog native to South America that carries its tadpoles in its mouth (the male can carry about three dozen tadpoles in his vocal pouch).

But of course, these are some of the most obvious ways that creatures have evolved to ensure the survival of their species. Ultimately, there are more intrinsic factors that relate to species’ survival—factors that frequently get over looked or taken for granted: sex ratio.

To read the full article, see:

Image source:

GERDA's Victory in the Neutrinoless Double Beta Decay Failure

Often times with science, progress is built on failure- - not on "eureka!" moments of pivotal insight (which propel scientists to legendary status), but on abysmal moments of failure (which propel scientists to the blackened pages of history books). Ultimately, science a slow and painstaking field of study that is governed by the scientific method, which insists on both logical hypotheses AND proving the validity of these hypotheses through careful testing. However, sometimes, failures are not what they seem.

As many of you may already know, the Noble prize was recently awarded for the confirmation of the detection of Higgs Boson, verifying its corresponding Higg field this October. Researchers made the official announcement of the discovery last year. After a culmination of many years of hard work from thousands of physicists and collisions from particle accelerators, Peter Higgs and Francois Englert shared this prestigious award. It is fantastic that we now know that the Higgs is responsible for imparting mass to subatomic particles; however, there are still a number of problems that physicists need to solve. You see, according to the triumphant edifice known as the Standard Model, the universe should be empty. This is called the matter/antimatter asymmetry problem, and is rather embarrassing...

To read the full article, see:

Image source: Kia Freund

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/17/13 - NGC 1433

This image, which depicts a spectacularly colorful galaxy, is red hot (both literally and figuratively). It was just released to the public, thanks to the European Southern Observatory's (ESO's) "ALMA radio telescope." The ALMA telescope is capable of peering through the veil of dust and gas to see light emitted at millimeter wavelengths.

The galaxy in question, which is known as NGC 1433, is a barred spiral galaxy. It can be found approximately 30 million light-years from Earth (in the constellation of Horologium). Unlike typical galaxies (when viewed at optical wavelengths), here, we can see a myriad of different things that are going on. Like, for instance, we see an amazingly large outflow of material emitted from the supermassive black hole located near the heart of the galaxy.

This is particularly notable when viewing the galaxy's poles - where superheated jets of material leave the black hole, before bleeding a trail of molecular material more than 150 light-years into the surrounding region. While this may sound like a rather large stream, it, in fact, is one of the smallest jets we currently know of.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Image source: ESO, ALMA

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

If the Universe in Expanding, Why isn't the Moon Receding from Earth?

Question: If the universe is expanding then why the moon is at the same distance since we know about it? Shouldn't the moon be further away a little bit more each day?
Asked by: Emmanuel Perez

Answer: Firstly, I’m going to nitpick your question a bit and say the moon is, in fact, moving away from Earth – but not because of the expansion of spacetime. It’s all thanks to orbital mechanics, specifically tidal forces.

To read the full article, see:

Did Our Universe Collide With Another When it was 380,000 Years Old?

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

To read the full article, see:

What happens if Curiosity finds water on Mars? What happens if it doesn't?

Question: If Curiosity finds water on Mars, what’s the next step? What if it doesn’t?
Asked By: Zubayedur Rahman

Answer: The universe will simultaneously implode and explode, a thing that only kittens can survive; consequently, kittens will rule the cosmos (or at least what’s left of it).


Nothing fascinates the imagination quite like the search for extraterrestrial life…even if that life is on the smallish side. It is this fascination that governed the creation of NASA’s Curiosity rover.

The primary goal of this mission is to determine whether or not Earth is the only planet in our solar system that is capable (or ever was capable) of sustaining life. We’re not really expecting to find any woolly beasts rambling across the Martian surface, just hoping to find evidence of habitable conditions for microscopic organisms. In an attempt to find such evidence, the rover was sent to Mars to study geological formations and the Martian atmosphere.

Of course, water is an integral part of habitable conditions.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/16/13 - M81's Halo

The Subaru Telescope's "Prime Focus Camera" (also known as "Suprime-Cam") captured this stunning image of Messier 81; one of the largest members of the M81 group. Furthermore, the M81 group is actually one of the closest galaxy groups to the local group, which contains our galaxy, Andromeda and approximately 50 more.

Other than being lovely and relatively near-by, M81 has a special purpose; it also shares many similarities with the Milky Way, which make it a perfect galaxy to test our galaxy evolution models on. Most notable is the galaxy's halo. Current models predict that galaxies grow by consuming smaller galaxies that dwell too close to a gravitational sphere of influence. Following close encounters, the mutual gravitational force becomes too strong for the interacting galaxy to escape, thus it is devoured by the larger one. After which, the bottom-up growth has a tendency to manufacture a halo of stars that encompass spiral galaxies; like the Milky Way.

So, what riddles does M81 present in regard to galaxy evolution models? As it turns out, it very much does have a halo, but the halo is much brighter than expected. The stars within also contain substantially quantities of heavier elements . Overall, the combined mass of the heavy elements may eclipse the mass of those found in the Milky Way twice over.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tech-Land: A Sea of Change

In 2006 the International Astronomical Union stated that Pluto (the ninth planet in our solar system) was no longer a planet. The tiny body was reclassified as a “dwarf planet” (or if you want to be really specific, a “plutoid” or an ice dwarf). With that, our solar system went from nine planets to eight, and the change was not necessarily a welcome one. A number of individuals launched campaigns in an attempt to have Pluto reinstated as a planet, and “when I was your age, Pluto was a planet,” became one of the year’s most popular catch phrases i.e., people don’t take change very well.

This fact always surprises me, as our world is changing at an ever increasing rate. Every month, the world is transformed anew. Of course, I don’t mean that natural disasters reform the surface of the planet every other month; rather, technology constantly reshapes the way that we experience, understand, and interact with the world around us. For example, if you went to a concert 30 years ago, you would likely see a sea of lighters held aloft. This dancing array of light acted as a symbol of unity and shared experience. However, if you go to a concert today, you encounter a sea of cellphone lights, and individuals are not holding their phones aloft to create feelings of commonality with those around them. Rather, people are trying to record the moment.

This is just one example of how, in many ways, we are no longer observers, but recorders. In most cases, people use their cell phones and laptops as though the storage devices are actual parts of their brain, like they are intimate and inseparable extensions of their bodies—their memories—and they feel lost (disabled, if you will) when they are without their devices. According to a Lookout study, a staggering 73% of Americans feel “panicked” without their cellphones. There is even a term for those who have a phobia of losing their phone, “nomophobia.”

Since devices are used to preserve birthdays, weddings, important contact information, and a host of other vital moments and information bits, I suppose this panic is not too unexpected. People generally don’t take change very well, and since we are so connected—so plugged in—losing a cell phone or losing internet connectivity rates as a major change in lifestyle. Of course, the irony in all of this is that, as a society, we never stopped to consider whether theses technological shifts were actually beneficial. We look at technological advancement as just that, advancement and improvement.

A change in the classification of an icy, dead world at the edge of our solar system causes us outrage, and we question it relentlessly for months (even years) afterwards, but dramatic shifts in how we communicate and interact with others, we accept without question.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

The Connection Between the 4-Dimensions:

I thought I would share something I've learned recently that’s completely changed the way I look at the world around me. The next time you go jogging through the woods, here’s something neat to think about that’s dependent on the physics of space-time.

Say that you recently applied to colleges and were going to meet an admissions officer for an interview. The two of you would need to share the location AND the time of the meeting. This is what many people refer to when they state “the fabric of space-time” (I admit, I might be guilty of this as well). You've probably heard it so often that the actual meaning of “the fabric” eludes you. Well, that’s all it means – the Universe. Essentially, the medium that everything exists in (including you), can be defined as coordinates encompassing location and time. (For a more detailed explanation, take a look at this article).

Here’s where things get interesting.

To read the full article, see:

Is Technological Evolution Infinite or Finite?

These days, it seems as if new, sometimes life-changing, technological developments are abound, which raises an interesting question: Will technology progress infinitely - assuming we manage to avoid extinction, or is the process finite? Well, the first thing we would need too establish is what we consider to be 'new technology.' Would a Tamagotchi count as new technology, or as an invention? Is it an expansion upon computing, which would be the base-line technology?

Personally, I would see new technology as something innovative that supplies a potential function of enhancing or preserving life - whether through extending life (health care), defending life (weaponry) or providing new options for tasks/recreation, or even new activities altogether, that we cannot even contemplate currently. Now, this is where it is going to get massively philosophical.

Read the full article here:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/15/13 - The Toby Jug Nebula

Over the course of about 8 billion years, sun-like stars form from the remnants of nebulae, before providing sustenance for neighboring planets - until eventually, the star no longer has the necessary components to stay alive (namely a large supply of hydrogen), thus the end begins.

Believe me when I tell you that the above description is not nearly as harrowing as the actual event of a star extinguishing. Often times, the process is quite destructive. However, it does have one silver lining; when the star reaches a certain point, it sheds its outer envelope of gas into space - creating something - called a planetary nebula - that is unique and quite beautiful.

IC 2220 (also known as the Toby Jug nebula) is one such planetary nebula, with a twist. It is located about 1,200 light-years from Earth in he constellation of Carina. The star at the heart of the nebula, dubbed HD 65750, is currently in the red giant phase of stellar evolution.

Unlike its traditional counterparts, IC 2220 is part-reflection nebula as well. Nebulae of this type have an external source that causes light to scatter instead of being emitted out-right. This particular star has released a plethora of heavier elements into the surrounding region, which include carbon, titanium dioxide and calcium oxide. One thing, however, is one of the largest components driving the reflection part of the nebula's appearance: silicon dioxide (or silica). When starlight comes in contact with the element in the enveloping dust cloud, the rays reflect and scatter (hence the name).

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Monday, October 14, 2013

Scientists Find the Coldest Temperatures where Simple Life can Liwe

Have you ever woken up to a morning so cold you thought to yourself "I don't see how anything lives in this type of cold"? Well, scientists have finally discovered the lowest temperature where simple life can grow and flourish. We aren't talking about basic surviving (like the famous tardigrade), we're talking living, breathing life going about doing its business eating, sleeping, and just general awesome living in the microscale.

And, that magic number is...

*drum roll*

To read the full article, see:

From Quarks to Quasars Annual Fundraising Drive

Dedicated FQTQers,

It's that time of year, and From Quarks to Quasars is launching its annual fundraising drive. From Quarks to Quasars is a not-for-profit educational organization whose ultimate goal is to create a society in which all individuals (regardless of education or background) are able to understand science. To that end, our organization is dedicated to ensuring that everyone has free access to the latest developments in scientific news and research. Our organization is run entirely by volunteers, and it is supported by donations.Through your contribution, you help a great cause... and you can get some cool products in return.

We have a very exciting year planned, and your donations will help FQTQ take care of the costs associated with running a web-based educational business (website hosting and maintenance, online archival space, fees for image use, etc). The money raised from this campaign will be used to offset these costs (and to buy some prime real estate on the Moon*).

The centerpiece of the campaign is the "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known" t-shirt pictured here. This crowd funding project is being hosted on Teesprings. T-shirts are 10.50 USD and they do ship outside of the USA.
For more information, see:

Second, we have an Amazon affiliate store set up with a variety of products any good science nerd would enjoy.

You can see the store here:

Finally, you can always donate directly to us through Paypal here:

Everyone at From Quarks to Quasars thanks you for your generosity. Together, we can continue to build something wonderful.

**We are not really going to try and buy the Moon.

The Biggest Trees On Earth

The planet Earth is filled with fascinating and majestic creatures of all shapes and sizes, from large to small, denizens of the animal kingdom never cease to amaze and captivate scientists, writers and artist. But animals are nothing compared to what the kingdom of plants has to offer. Some plantae have great colorful flowers, some live in the sea, some are poisonous or carnivorous, but only one can live to be 2000 years old and 115 meters (377 feet) tall – the Sequoia Sempervirens, meaning “forever living”, but they’re commonly called the Coast Redwoods.

Coast Redwoods are Conifers (cone bearing), and like the well-known Pine and Spruce, their leaves are needles, and are kept year round. The west coast of the United States (though they’ve been found all around the country) provides the optimal climate for these massive trees. With moderate year round temperature and humid conditions, these trees flourish in coastal northern California and southern Oregon, but that’s not all – frequent summer fogs play a vital role for the Redwood, which I’ll touch on later.

How do the Coast Redwoods get so big? Water, lots and lots of water. All types of plants on Earth need water, for four basic reasons. Firstly, germination (making seeds), secondly photosynthesis, thirdly nutrient transfer, and lastly transpiration – these actions in trees reaching 100 meters tall require exponentially more water than your average oak.

To read the full article, see:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/14/13 - The Helix Nebula in X-rays

This is the Helix Nebula (Also known as NGC 7293 or colloquially as the Eye of God), it is about 650 light-years from Earth and is located in the constellation Aquarius.

The Helix Nebula in a planetary nebula and is one of the closest and brightest such nebulae to Earth – it is estimated to be about 11,000 years old. This represents an important stage in evolution and in about 5-billion years, our own Sun can be expected to form a nebula very similar to this.

This image is a false-color composite of a survey done by two different telescopes, GALEX (which is colored blue) and Spitze (which is colored yellow); in addition, NASA’s WISE telescope provided some of the background space.

At the center of the nebula, you can see a tiny white dot. This is the white dwarf left behind after the star ejected its outer shell. Good luck finding it though, I count about a dozen little dots near the center visible from this particular angle.

To read the full article, see:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Questions on Time

Question: I have one question. What is time? And is time travel really possible? If so, can we travel to the past?
Asked by: Sunil Hosakoti
Answer: (and, that's technically three questions).

For your first question, time is one of the four dimensions we live in. It's like asking "what is length" or "what is depth." Time is an intrinsic part of the construction of our reality. Einstein unified space and time (which is now known as 'spacetime'). From there, answering the question, "What is spacetime?" would probably win you a Nobel Prize.

Time travel is possible, yes. Depending on your definition, it's possible in three ways. Forward time travel, backwards time travel, and time travel as a result of time dilation.

For time dilation, you can only 'travel' forwards. It's not time travel in the traditional sense. If I was in a spaceship, traveling around the Earth at a significant fraction of the speed of light, the clocks on my ship are moving slower in comparison to the clocks of the people on Earth. I could be in my ship for one Joshua day and come back to find 5 Earth years have passed. I'm not really 'traveling' in time; instead, time is simply moving slower for me than time for people on Earth.

Forward and backwards time travel use the same type of mechanisms (in the traditional sense that is). They both involve the warping and folding of the spacetime. Forward time travel is 'easy'. With large amounts of energy, it's theoretically possible to travel forward in time with relative ease. Backwards time travel is mathematically possible, but many of the solutions to the equations that allow us to travel backwards in time require some order of infinity (which isn't physically possible to achieve). Even though there isn't any physical reason preventing us from traveling back in time, nature seems to have safeguards set up preventing that. There are, however, some workarounds to that problem.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

What is the Most Important Scientific Achievement?

Question: What do you feel is the single most important scientific thing that has revolutionized the way mankind sees the world?

Asked by: Michael Schneider


Simply put? In my opinion, the invention of mathematics is the single most important scientific discovery or achievement. Math isn’t just some arbitrary thing; it was created to aid us in explaining various aspects of our world. In our very early history, math was probably used for trading. These early peoples needed a mathematical model to describe the combining of groups of objects, and they came up with addition. Likewise, early math was strongly based in geometry to make building things and quantifying land easier.

When original mathematical models didn't work, the mathematicians of the day abandoned the faulty model and invented a newer, more accurate one (they adapted it and incorporated new information; this happens even in today’s science).

Once we had the foundation of basic mathematics, we were able to ask more complicated questions. These questions also required accurate mathematical models. Just as addition and subtraction was invented to describe the combining and taking away of groups of objects, integers arise, followed by multiplication and division, prime numbers, exponents, polynomials, imaginary numbers, and more. As the foundation of math grows, so does the complexity of our questions. We are no longer limited to asking questions like, “what is my total after combining group one with group two?” We can now ask questions such as, “how does the Earth orbit the Sun?” or “What is mass?”

Above all, the staggering thing about mathematics is that, throughout its history, we have discovered concepts and theories totally useless at the time. However, these concepts later provide the groundwork for other mathematical theories that go on to give us a deeper understanding of our universe (an example of this is the field of quantum mechanics).

Moreover, if we were ever to find extraterrestrial life that appeared intelligent, we would likely attempt to communicate using principles of mathematics. An alien won’t understand what a liver is, or what cancer is, or what our philosophies are, or know anything about our language or how we communicate, but they will understand,

●● + ●●● = ●●●●● ✔
●●●● + ●●●● = ●●●●●●●● ✔
●● + ●●● = ●●●●●● Ø
●●●● + ●●●● = ●●●●●●●●● Ø

Why? Because math is universal. Math is literally the language of the universe. With it, we can understand the basic construction of our home in the cosmos. The truly amazing thing is that we discovered it, we can understand it, and it is used for near every advancement. With that, I postulate that the discovery of mathematics is the greatest human discovery of all time.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/13/13 - M66

This majestic beast is none other than Messier 66. Located about 36-million light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Leo, M66 is about 95-thousand light-years across making it comparable to the Milky Way. M66 is the largest member of the Leo triplet, which also contains M65 and NGC 3628.

The trio are classified as ‘interacting galaxies’ because their individual gravities are pulling and distorting one another (this, obviously, gives M66 some peculiar asymmetries). At some point in the future, these three galaxies will merge into a single, even larger one.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Nuclear Pasta: Bizarre New Form of Matter Discovered

Sometimes life seems simple. Night is night, and day is day. Gravity keeps you on the ground and water makes you wet. The Earth is solid and fog is not. These are the simple truths of life that help us make order from the chaos—they keep us sane. However, many of the things that we take for granted are a lot more complex than they first appear.

Take, for example, the most basic states of matter (we’ll use water to help us flesh out this example). First, you have your solids, like the ice that you skate across in the winter. Then, you have your liquids, like the water that you drink on a hot day. Lastly, you have your gasses, like the fog the drifts up from the lake on a warm evening.

Generally speaking, the state of matter depends in how packed the particles are and how freely they move about. Take the extremes: When in a gaseous state, particles move about one another and there is a lot of free space. Conversely, in solids, particles are locked in with one another and the space between is very limited. If you completed high school, this is probably something that you went over in your science class. But this is not the whole story…

To read the full article, see:

Treating Severe Burns in the 21st Century: Meet the Skin Gun

Scientists from the United States have been developing a technological feat that would drastically reduce the recovery time for people experiencing severe burns and wounds. It isn't new, per se (it has been in development for at least 5 years, building on several previous models), but it's new (and interesting) to me. Alas.. Here we are.

Image Credit: A.D.A.M.
Image Credit: A.D.A.M.
Traditionally, when one suffers severe second or third degree burns, doctors must go through the tedious process of grafting, where they surgically remove healthy sections of a person's own skin and tissue which is subsequently reconstructed and replaced with the damaged skin. This process can be long, fraught and painful. There is also always the possibility looming that the body will reject the tissue taken from the donor site or it could become infected.

To read the full article, see:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/12/13 - Serpens South

The stars in this image look like shiny little jewels that have been painted on a mindbogglingly large - but breathtakingly beautiful - backdrop.

There bright beacons are actually called "Serpens South," and our cosmic jewels are actually stars in a dense, but somewhat small, cluster. This cluster traverses the cosmos which some than 848 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Serpens. Each belongs to the southernmost portion of a molecular cloud of the same name. Among the stellar siblings, there are about 50 stars. Most of these are still in the earlier stages of stellar formation, meaning that they are still protostars. The remainder are in various stages of formation.

The green "glue" that appears to hold the stars in the cluster together is actually hydrogen gas. The gas leaves behind a stellar fingerprint when intensely hot jets spew hydrogen from the baby stars, where it eventually meets cooler surrounding material. While the red areas are composed of organic molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (on Earth, that positively splendid substance is similar to soot). The black line separating the various regions is a dark nebulae.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Image source: NASA/JPL

Friday, October 11, 2013

Common Misunderstandings of Evolution: Part 1

I've recently found a list of "problems" with evolution. Whereas I welcome the constructive criticism of ideas, most of the time, when people are pointing out "errors" in evolution, their qualms arise from a misunderstanding of what evolution actually is. In this short series, I will be exploring some of the most common questions and misconceptions concerning evolution, and I will detail how science answers these concerns.

I will be doing this in a Q&A style, so if you don't feel like reading the whole thing, or you want to read a specific question, feel free to skip to what interests you.

Q.) How does evolution explain the origins of life?
A.) This question, and variations of it, is one of the most common things I've heard when people are debating evolution. In fact, evolution doesn't explain anything about how life originated. Is this a problem with evolution? Nope. Evolution isn't trying to explain how life started. To complain that evolution doesn't explain the origin of life is like complaining that the gas laws don't explain gravity.

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Enigmatic Neutrinos

It is every physicist's dream to get the honor of bringing a new particle into the world. Few are so lucky, but a man named Wolfgang Pauli did. However, when he made his famous discovery, Pauli didn't seem to feel that honored; he stated, "I have done a terrible thing, I have postulated a particle that cannot be detected."

Neutrinos are my favorite particle. They are (by far), the oddest of the fundamental particles, because they do not make up atoms or have anything to do with chemistry whatsoever. They are also the only electrically neutral lepton, so they feel neither the strong force nor the electromagnetic force. What's most amazing? Every second of every minute, of every hour of every day, over a billion neutrinos pass through your body.

To read the full article, see:

image source:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/11/13 - The Lunar Surface from Apollo 17

This is a picture of the lunar surface taken by astronauts on the Apollo 17 mission. This is one of the last pictures ever taken from the surface of the moon.

Apollo 17 was the last manned moon mission and marks the last time a human has traveled beyond Earth’s gravity. This mission, the sixth Apollo landing, occurred on December 11, 1972. Harrison Schmitt and Eugene Cernan spent nearly 24 hours outside of the lunar module over the course of three spacewalks.

There isn’t much I can say about the picture itself. You can see the lunar module (named Challenger) near the foot of the hills surrounding Taurus-Littrow. You can also see the astronaut’s footprints as well as a piece of equipment to the right barely inside the frame (if anyone knows what this is, feel free to let us know!). You can also see some significant sun-glare.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Faster Than Light Neutrinos? No thanks.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

To read the full article, see:

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Modern Day Kraken: Earth's Colossal Squid

For those of you who may not know, our blue marble is called "the blue marble" because the planet is covered in roughly 70% water. Unsurprisingly, humans (habitual land dwellers) often view the ocean with suspicion--it is a strange and alien place. In fact, many biologists and oceanographers assert that we know more about the moon and the inner solar system than we do Earth's oceans (at least at the deepest depths). Since we have evolved to live on land, many people have a deep-rooted fear of the sea...of what lurks just beyond the edge of their favorite beaches and swimming holes.

Well, what if I told you that the monsters are real? That deep sea creatures of gargantuan proportions really do exist? Some of you may not be too surprised, as these creatures have been the subject of myths and folklore since a time predating humanity's first trek into the high seas. In truth, you would be hard-pressed not to have heard of one of these names: the sea serpent, the leviathan, the kraken! We have all likely read about the horrifying stories from unwary fishermen who encountered these massive creatures, or we have seen their likeness in horror movies. The tales generally go something like this: A small fishing vessel capsizes in a turbulent storm at night. A few lucky sailors managed to scramble into a tiny raft. All of a sudden, tentacles erupt from the water. A pinkish red bulge of mass breaks the surface. Eyes the size of an adult dinner plate stare blankly as the tentacles drag the men below the surface.

Although we have technically known about them for centuries, until very recently, these stories were considered by many to be just that: fables, stories, tall tales told by boastful fishermen. Largely, these tales were disbelieved and considered fictitious because the squid were never photographed, neither had they ever been found washed-up on beaches; however, in recent times, fisherman's stories are slowly starting to become fisherman's facts. These creatures actually started washing up on shores around the world, and some have even recorded on video. This article is a brief update about what we know (so far) about these deep sea monstrosities.

To read the full article, see:

Image source:

The Most Important Photo Ever Taken (Unfinished)

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

To read the full article, see:

The Strangest Exoplanet Ever

Gliese 436 b is probably my favorite exoplanet. (not that it being my favorite is a big accomplishment on its behalf, especially as I am easily amused); however, I believe the same could be said for many individuals (laypeople and scientists alike). This exoplanet is a favorite of many, which is unsurprising as the planet is currently of the strangest, most inexplicable exoplanets we know of. And we know of some strange planets. One, for example, is known to contain some type of unknown substance that has made the planet darker than coal. Plus, with the number of potential candidates approaching quadruple digits, calling Gliese 436b the strangest is really saying something.

To read the full article, see:

Classifications of Objects in Space Part 5: Protoplanetary Nebulae, Planetary Nebulae, and Supernova Remnants

Because astronomy is an observation-based science, we need to carefully categorize the objects we see. As we explore the cosmos, we discover that not all objects are the same, and even then, some objects that appear the same at first glance differ greatly in the details.

Here, we will be discussing the classifications we give the objects we find.

A nebula is basically a large cloud of gas – in that, there are several different categories that define the type of nebula we are viewing.

Today, I wanted to talk about protoplanetary nebulae, planetary nebulae, and supernova remnants. Unlike the other nebulae we have talked about, these three objects are stages in stellar evolution forming a nebulous body in the process.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/10/13 - IRAS 23436+5257,

This atypical looking galaxy, dubbed IRAS 23436+5257, looks like a large celestial glow-worm. The shape comes from a close encounter of the galactic kind. Several millions of years ago, after a neighboring galaxy dwelled too close, the gravitational perturbation of the event caused the overall structure to distort, leaving us with this interesting shape.

In this case, the neighboring galaxy was likely absorbed by the primary galaxy, which resulted in an increase in the number of stars being churned out. The bright blue patches are indicative of this sort of star formation activity.

IRAS 23436+5257 can be found in the constellation of Cassiopeia. The image contains data collected using two different color filters. This allows us to see the activity that would not be noticeable otherwise.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Controversial Architectural Building Designs

Engineers are always known for their imagination. Like sculptors for buildings, these people get paid the big bucks for their complex and impressive building designs. Never lacking in style and innovation, the more extravagant, the more renown the architect becomes. Well this write up is on two latest skyscrapers that have made headlines: the walkie talkie "death ray" building in London, England and the invisible skyscraper that just got approved to be built in South Korea.

The first tower, is actually an architectural blunder. As cool as building that doubles as a death ray is, it was a miscalculated failure. A design that gave people an unexpected surprise. Its southern facing concave shape focuses the sunlight into a smaller area then it would normally do. The result is an intense beam of light that has caused damaged to businesses on the opposite facing side of the street and also a business man's Jaguar motor vehicle.

To read the full article, see:

The Complications of Sex in Space

Among the most basic needs - not to mention, desires - that human beings must contend with is the very complicated task of reproduction. The complexities and pleasures of this instinctual act are as beautiful as they are important. It, like most "normal" tasks, becomes much more difficult once you fly beyond the thin band that separates Earth from the heavens. So, what's the big deal, you may ask?

To read the full article, see:

Scientists Found Neptune's Lost Moon

If you think it's hard to lose a moon, think again. From the lost moon of Pooch to Neptune's innermost moon Naiad, moon's seem to enjoy the vanishing act. Naiad's sabbatical doesn't involve an alien abduction, but there is still an interesting plot twist to uncover.

To read the full article, see:

Scientists Found Neptune's Lost Moon

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

To read the full article, see:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/9/13 - Wide-field View of Rho Ophiuchus Region

This beautiful image, created by astrophotographer Rogelio Bernal Andreo, contains not one, but three celestial regions -- as seen in a wide-field view.

The first of which, is the Rho Ophiuchus – Antares region (the colorful area in the upper right), which is home to a binary star system, with Antares (in yellow) and ρ Ophiuchi (in blue). Also contained wherein are the Blue Horsehead nebula (also known as IC 4592 -- not to be confused with the Horsehead nebula in the Orion Molecular Cloud) and Sharpless 1 (or Sh 2-1). All of this area is located about 400 light-years from Earth (in the constellation of Ophiuchus).

You can also see M4, a cluster of stars that lie between Antares and the reddish-emission nebula in addition to a few more small nebulae.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Kepler 78b: The Demon Planet

We didn't even discover Pluto (the trans-Neptunian dwarf planet) until 1930. What's more, we still don't have a comprehensive map of our own solar system, so it's no surprise that finding planets outside of our solar system is a bit tricky (and that's putting it mildly). However, recent technological advancements have allowed us to refine our planet tracking abilities. As a result, we are discovering exoplanets right and left and, well, all across the cosmos really. In fact, Kepler recently released a whole catalog of new exoplanets.

Today, I would like to talk about one in a bit more detail. In fact, I would like to take this time to nominate Kepler 78b to receive the "most unpleasant terrestrial planet to live on" award (high honors, indeed). One of the most notable features of this planet is its 8 ½ hour year. That's right, Kepler 78b completes a full orbit around its parent star in just under 9 hours. Every time you go to bed, you wake up in a new year. You go to work one year, and you go home the next (talk about a long 'year' at the office).

To read the full article, see:

Image credit: ESO

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Gravity:

We thought that we would pass along his thoughts about the movie, just in case you missed them. Fear not, there are no spoilers; however, there are several humorous moments...and even a few informative ones. After you have a look, be sure to follow @neiltyson

See all the tweets at:

The Kardashev Scale - Type I, II, III, IV & V Civilization

Theorists assert that, as a civilization grows larger and becomes more advanced, its energy demands will increase rapidly due to its population growth and the energy requirements of its various machines. With this in mind, the Kardashev scale was developed as a way of measuring a civilization's technological advancement based upon how much usable energy it has at its disposal.
The scale was originally designed in 1964 by the Russian astrophysicist, Nikolai Kardashev (who was looking for signs of extraterrestrial life within cosmic signals). It has 3 base classes, each with an energy disposal level: Type I (10¹⁶W), Type II (10²⁶W), and Type III (10³⁶W). . Other astronomers have extended the scale to Type IV (10⁴⁶W) and Type V (the energy available to this kind of civilization would equal that of all energy available in not just our universe, but in all universes and in all time-lines). These additions consider both energy access as well as the amount of knowledge the civilizations have access to.
Firstly, it is important to note that the human race is not even on this scale yet. Since we still sustain our energy needs from dead plants and animals, here on Earth, we are a lowly Type 0 civilization (and we have a LONG way to go before being promoted to a type I civilization). The famous physicist Michio Kaku believes we will reach Type I in 100 – 200 years time. But what does each of these categories actually stand for in literal terms?

To read the full article, see:

Image source:
Mass Effect 2

Climate Change Predicted to Cause Major Behavioral Shifts

There are many examples of evolutionary changes in species that result from drastic shifts in environmental conditions. Charles Darwin provided some of the first evidence of rapid adaptations based on environmental factors when he studied finches in the Galapagos Islands. Like the finches, who quickly developed new beak structures over a small number of generations because of changes in available food, several species have already been forced to alter their habits and behaviors because of the environmental impacts of climate change. Recent research in this area focuses not only on possible physical adaptations, but also alterations in behavioral patterns.

Previously, studies have indicated that climate change had led to changes in the migration patterns of birds. Biologist Allen Hurlbert notes that,“timing of bird migration is something critical for the overall health of bird species. They have to time it right so they can balance arriving on breeding grounds after there’s no longer a risk of severe winter conditions. If they get it wrong, they may die or may not produce as many young. A change in migration could begin to contribute to population decline, putting many species at risk for extinction.”

To read the full article, see:

Image source via:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/8/13 - Sh2-71

Sh2-71 is a planetary nebula that is located about 3,260 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Aquila.

Nebulae of this type form following the death of a sun-like star. After the star exhaust the fuel for the fusion of hydrogen into helium, the star resorts to burning helium, which results in the star growing in size exponentially. Eventually, the core contracts to form a white dwarf, sending the outer envelop of gas off into the interstellar medium, where the superheated tendrils twist about to form incredible works of art.

This particular nebula was once thought to be the result of the death of the more massive star in a binary system, but newer observations indicate that that the dimmer star may be the true culprit. It appears as if the brighter star here does not radiate the needed heat and energy to ionize the surrounding shell of material. Whereas, the dimmer star does. Regardless, the shaping of the nebula can not be attributed to one single star, but by the combined efforts of both.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Recent Research Indicates Prairie dogs Are Surprisingly Apt at Communicating

It seems these days, new evidence pointing to the intelligence of non-human species is abundant. This is interesting for several reasons. First, being that it goes against many long standing notions we have about our own self consciousness. Secondly, with it, comes an increasing number of questions. Like, "How intelligent is intelligent?" and "Does this intelligence come with any limitations, or are our minds the only true limitation in understanding our surroundings?" Regardless, some of the answers to those questions may not be within our considerable means of understanding. But still, if one needs to look at one example of the questions I'm speaking of, you need not look further than the following bit of interesting information about prairie dogs. First, some back story.

For many years now, biologists have been studying prairie dogs in their natural habitats, hoping to unravel characteristics about their interactions - particularly the language in which they communicate. Con Slobodchikoff, a biologists hails from at North Arizona University, has been in the game for about 30 years. He became interested in prairie dog language following the initial discovery of the alarm calls similar, ground-based species use to communicate threats to other members of their colony. For instance, squirrels. It was revealed several years ago that the species use different, distinct warnings to relay the type of threat other members of their colony may encounter (like flying predators and those that are on the ground).

To read the full article, see:

Image source before editing:

Classifications of Objects in Space Part 4: Dark Nebulae

Because astronomy is an observation-based science, we need to carefully categorize the objects we see. As we explore the cosmos, we discover that not all objects are the same, and even then, some objects that appear the same at first glance differ greatly in the details. Here, we will be discussing the classifications we give the objects we find.

A nebula is basically a large cloud of gas – in that, there are several different categories that define the type of nebula we are viewing.

Today, I wanted to talk about dark nebulae.

In itself, the name is pretty descriptive, a dark nebula is a dense and or dark cloud of dust that blocks light from behind it. Many dark nebulae are silhouetted against the objects around it (such as the Horsehead nebula). Dark nebulae are usually seen in conjunction with reflection and emission nebulae, but they can be found by themselves as well.

When a dark nebula is isolated within a reflection/emission nebula (as in, it appears to be ‘free floating’) it’s called a bok globule. These are normally found within H II regions and are usually a tell tale sign of star formation. These globules form the cocoons of new star systems and are usually tens to thousands of solar masses.

So, what are some examples of dark nebulae?

To the right is none other than the Snake Nebula. It is found in the constellation Ophiuchus and is about 650 light-years from Earth. This is a part of the much larger Dark Horse Nebula (or Great Dark Horse) – not to be confused with the Horsehead nebula (which is also pictured in this article). Even though this nebula isn’t connected to a reflection or emission nebula you can see it through a telescope. That being said, more times than not, you need pretty good viewing conditions to see dark nebula.

Here, we have bok globules. This particular set can be found within IC 2944 or the Running Chicken Nebula. It is located within the constellation Centaurus and can be found about 6520 light-years from Earth. This particular image is going to make a liar out of me, because whereas bok globules usually denote star formation, such star-forming activity has yet to be observed in this particular region.

Last, but not least, we have the Horsehead Nebula pictured above. The Horsehead is silhouetted against the rest of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex which it calls home. This is a stellar nursery and is comprised of both organic and inorganic molecules.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 10/7/13 - Messier 106

This spectacularly colorful image was stitched together by an amateur astronomer, who used data of the galaxy interred in the Hubble Legacy Archive with ground-based data, showing the beauty of one of our galactic neighbors.

The composite showcases the various features the galaxy boasts, which include prominent dust lanes, a gloriously bright central core and the contrast between the bluish regions where clusters of young, energetic stars thrive and the reddish regions that are home to minor starformation activity.

M106, as its called, is a spiral galaxy located about 21 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of Canes Venatici. It technically falls under a class of galaxies called the Seyfert class of active galaxies, meaning it contains a central supermassive black hole that is actively feeding on stellar material. So much so that the immediate area can not consume all of the material at once, causing it to build up and form an accretion disk.

References, sources, and further reading can be found here:

Image Credit: Composite Image Data - Hubble Legacy Archive; Adrian Zsilavec, Michelle Qualls, Adam Block / NOAO / AURA / NSF

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Higgs, The Dilaton & The Big Bang

The world of particle physics was vindicated upon the discovery of the Higgs Boson (the long-sought after particle that plays a crucial role in granting elementary particles mass). Obviously, the Higgs is a key component in tackling the nature of matter itself, but now it appears as if the Higgs my provide valuable insight to the expansion of the universe and the events that came after the big bang.

To read the full article, see:

image credit: NASA / WMAP Science Team