Saturday, November 30, 2013

Gamma Ray Bursts and The Fireball Model

Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs) are some of the most energetic events in the universe. The energy that is released during a GRB is impressively high (the most powerful bursts can eject energy equal to over 9000 supernovae). These energy levels are so extreme that they cannot be created by thermal processes. So, what causes these high energy levels?

Find out at:

Image source before editing:

The Study of Gamma Ray Bursts (part II)

In a previous article, we discussed the first two major telescopes that were used to study gamma ray bursts (GMBs). These two were the Vela satellites and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (CGRO). There was a significant gap between the creation of CRGO and the creation of its successor --BeppoSAX . Ultimately, two decades passed before BepooSAX was created, but despite the rather long time frame between these two observatories, both were an integral part of the future of space telescopes. Tsvi Piran, an astrophysicist who has been at the forefront of gamma-ray burst physics for several decades, describes CGRO as being the "First Revolution" and BeppoSAX as the "Second Revolution."

To learn all about these amazing telescopes and what they did for gamma ray astronomy, see:

Image source:

Get to Know Your Star: Classifying the Universe

We all know scientists like to classify and categorize things, especially in space where everything is unfamiliar. This unfamiliarity makes it hard to convey information accurately. On top of this, there’s a seemingly infinite amount of stars in the universe. Fortunately, astrophysics has come up with a snazzy system to tell them apart.

As we all know, stars are huge, bright spheres of gas spinning through space at incredible speeds. Stars provide the energy which makes (almost) all life on Earth possible. Even in death, stars provide us with life -- giving us the heavy elements necessary for our existence. By sorting out the differing types of stars in the universe we (the science community) can start to observe trends and similarities that will inevitably lead to a better understanding of the universe around us.

To learn just how massive (or tiny) the Sun is, check out:

Image source:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 11/30/13 - The Dolphin Nebula

This is SH2-188 - otherwise known as the Dolphin Nebula - a planetary nebula that"s located approximately 850 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Cassiopeia A.

In the past, SH2-188 was thought to be the remnant of a supernova explosion that appeared in 1965 (it took the light 850 years to reach us), but the nebula was later confirmed to be an asymmetrical planetary nebula with a crescent-like shape. Most planetary nebulae simply have symmetrical shells that expand outwards, forming something similar to a shell around the dying star.

It"s thought that this nebula gets its interesting shape as a result of its travels. At the moment, it is traveling much faster than usual whilst interacting with the interstellar medium. The sun-like star responsible for expelling all of the gases into space thought to be moving at about 125 km/sec, which is almost 280,000 mph! As you can see, there is a bright southeastern arc in this image, which is the bow shock. The northwestern structure is a trailing tail of gases.

Sources & Further Reading:

Image Credit: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope/Coelum

Friday, November 29, 2013

NEW FQTQ VIDEO! Voyage of Photons

Join us as we examine the journey of a photon -- from its creation in the core of the Sun to its reception in your eye.

You can watch the video here:

As always, give us your thoughts below. What videos would you like to see? Astronomy? Biology? Physics?

Make sure to subscribe to our channel:

As always, you can also check out our website here:

Which came First: The Chicken or the Egg?

The chicken or the egg -- one of life’s greatest mysteries. At least, it was one of life’s greatest mysteries; it’s not anymore. On a basic level, this question deals with issues of causality (with cause and effect). The question is used to highlight instances where it is impossible to say which of two things existed first (which is the “cause” and which is the “effect”). In essence, the question goes: Chickens are hatched from eggs, so how can you have a chicken without first having an egg? But a chicken is needed in order to lay an egg that hatches into a chicken, so how can you have an egg without having a chicken?

Does your brain hurt yet? Because mine kind of does.

Want to know which came first? Find out at:

Image source:

Comet ISON: The Zombie Comet who Refuses to Die

It is now confirmed; the reports of ISON’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. It is still kicking, and it’s still very bright.

For more information about the continuing mystery that is Zombie ISON, see:

MOND: Trying to Solve the Problem of the Missing Universe

One of the greatest mysteries of astronomy is the problem of the missing universe. Well, the universe isn’t exactly missing, but a lot of its mass is. Ultimately, all of the matter scientists can see in the universe accounts for only a small percent of the observed gravity. Everything on Earth, everything we’ve ever observed with our instruments, all normal matter—it all adds up to less than 5% of the Universe. Essentially, some unobservable something in influencing the motions of the cosmos.

Astronomers often use dark matter to explain this missing matter. However, the dark matter interactions that scientists believe they observed remain inconclusive. Thus, scientists have yet to definitively determine that dark matter exists. In fact, we may never actually be able to detect it... and it isn"t ideal at predicting all manner of situations. As you see, dark matter does have some problems.

Some researchers think that the problem is really our understanding of gravity. In order to explain why the universe seems to behave as if there"s so much more matter in it, some scientists advocate MOND (Modified Theory of Newtonian Dynamics) instead of dark matter.

Learn about this alternative at:

Image source:

Astronomy Photo of the Day: 11/29/13 - Pismis 24

This is Pismis 24-1 (HDE 319718), a region with spectacular diversity, beginning with its open cluster of neighboring stars, called Pismis 24. Together, they are centrally located within the diffuse "War & Peace" nebula (more formally known as NGC 6334), which is located approximately 8,150 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Scorpius.

Interestingly, Pismis 24-1 is one of the top candidates for the coveted title of being the "Milky Way Stellar Heavyweight Champion" because, when it was initially discovered several years ago, astronomers thought the area was powered by a single star that was about 300 times more massive than the sun. This conclusion was based on standard stellar models, in addition to its brightness and distance, but now there is a general consensus among the astronomical community that there are three stars embedded in the nebula. Each of the stars about 100 solar masses, putting them at the more massive end of the solar spectrum.

The interesting contrast of colors in this nebula is largely due to ionization taking place between the hydrogen in the nebula and a massive blue star that"s spitting out ultraviolet radiation, which creates the bubble seen here. As lovely as it may be to observe, the presence of the gas makes it all the more difficult to get a closer peek at the activity going on with the stars embedded inside the nebula.

Sources & Further Reading:

Image Credit: NASA, ESA and J. M. Apellániz (IAA, Spain)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

ISON Update: It (probably) didn’t (completely) disintegrate

As ISON approached the Sun, astronomers – both professional and amateur – from all over the world got very excited. ISON started to flair up and get very bright, and then it vanished.

The comet started to dim and “smear” as it entered the occulter guarding NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory’s (SOHO) cameras, the Solar Dynamic Observatory caught some glimpses of “bright pixels,” but it wasn’t an astonishingly bright event. The early speculation was that ISON had completely disintegrated as it passed the Sun.

But, that’s not where the story ends…

Find out more here:

Image Credit: All Science, All the Time

Light: Particle or Wave?

Classically, light can be thought of in two ways: either as a particle or a wave. But what is it really? Well, the "observer effect" makes that question kind of difficult to answer. So before we get too far into it, what is the observer effect?

Simply put, the observer effect is a principle that states simply observing (or measuring) something can change its value. This effect is vastly more important in quantum mechanics than in everyday life, though it appears in a great many places. This means that - like most things in the quantum world - the phrase “what you see is what you get” doesn’t really apply. Therefore measuring what light is, in a way, can defeat the purpose. However the observer effect does very nicely explain why we have made tests that conclusively prove that light is a particle, and we have made tests that conclusively prove that light is a wave. Logic dictates that it can’t be both...

Or does it? Read more;

Image Credit: Douglas Hofstadfter

Harlow Shapley: The Accidental Astronomer

Read more about this incredible story, here:

Image Source (Before Editing):

Make a Difference with Your Science Swag: The FQtQ Store

From Quarks to Quasars is an organization working to ensure that everyone (regardless of education, economic situation, or background) has free access to the latest developments in scientific news and research. We were founded to help promote scientific literacy; we will be hosting scholarships, assisting nonprofits, and working with like-minded individuals and organizations in order to disseminate information to people from diverse backgrounds and help everyone see the awesomeness that is science. Consequently, through your purchase, you not only help a great organization, you get some cool products in return.

We have a number of unique designs and colors to choose from (some of which are pictured in the attached image). These were specifically created for the geek in all of us. If you are looking for a gift for a fellow science lover, this is a great place to get cool items and contribute to a good cause.

To see all our products, see:

Be sure to bookmark the page and check back later; we hope to have a few design updates in the coming weeks. And as always, thanks for being awesome.

Science on,
~The FQtQ Team

And be sure to visit out site at:

Three Reasons Evolution Is (Probably) a Fact

For over 150 years - since the time of Charles Darwin - the theory of evolution has been through more scrutiny and rigorous investigation than many other scientific claims. Since that time, the theory of evolution has only gotten more firm and robust. While there are many that, for ideological reasons, want to make it seem like evolution is not widely accepted within the scientific community, this is not actually the case. Across universities, research institutions, and scientific organizations, evolution is not only nearly universally accepted, it is also the basis upon which active, exciting, and important research is being done.

Below we have an overview of some of the most notable evidence in support of evolution. The overall goal is to point out the patterns of evolution within nature and help individuals identify other, similar patterns on their own. Doing so will give you the power to, in a sense, test the validity of evolution on your own. Like in a court of law, you have the ability to weigh the evidence in support and against evolution to come to your own conclusion that, in legalese, is “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

This list of "3 reasons why evolution is (probably) a fact" will read a bit different from other lists. It is not meant to be just a “gotcha!” list of examples that support evolution. The goal is much loftier—to give a complete overview of the most direct evidence in support of evolution. The examples that will be provided are meant to be illustrative in addition to exemplary. Without further ado, the big 3:

To read the full article, see:

Happy Perihelion Day! Comet ISON and its brush with death.

Today, at 1:24:57pm Eastern time (18:24:57 UT) Comet ISON will be at its perihelion with the sun, meaning it’ll be at its closest with the sun for this orbit. ISON will be passing within 1.2-million kilometers (730,000 miles) of the Sun – close enough that ISON will actually enter the Sun’s corona, forcing it to endure temperatures of a million or so degrees (Celsius) for a few seconds. The comet will either survive it’s fiery pass or it’ll break up and be destroyed. Just after perihelion, ISON could brighten to a –4 magnitude or higher. For reference, Venus has an apparent magnitude of –4.9 at its brightest.

In case you are interested, you can actually watch ISON today as it makes a grazing pass with the Sun, but you have to be VERY careful because you don’t want go blind in the process. FQTQ has your back with our guide to viewing ISON throughout the day. For those of you interested, we"ll also be hosting a Hangout where you can watch the comet pass perihelion (and, maybe disintegrate in the process).

You can see an awesome GIF of ISON, learn how to safely view the comet and learn more about the Hangout here:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 11/18/13 - The Great Turkey Nebula

For those of you in the United States, FQTQ is wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving. It seems like there is a nebula for every occasion, and Thanksgiving is an exception to that rule.

This is the Great Turkey Nebula, and it"s located very far away from us. Unfortunately, the Turkey Nebula doesn’t actually exist. This is (however) a picture of a real nebula that has undergone a little photoshoping to bring out the turkey look.

Can you name which nebula this really is? You can follow the link to find out, but I will warn you. Once you know the answer, you’ll never look at the original the same.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Kardashev Scale: A Type I Civilization -- Living in a Planetary Culture

To measure the level of a civilization’s advancement, the Kardashev scale focuses on the amount of energy that a civilization is able to harness. Obviously, the amount of power available to a civilization is linked to how widespread the civilization is (you can’t harness the power of a star if you are confined to your home planet, and you certainly can’t harness the power of a galaxy if you can’t even get out of your solar system). In short, according to the Kardashev scale, Interstellar Travelers = Advanced society.

To learn what it will take for us to reach this level, see:

Image source:

Birth of the Black Hole Witnessed: A “Rosetta Stone Event” for Astronomy

Chances are, all of us know a little something about black holes. They are said to be the vacuum cleaners of the universe (the *very powerful* vacuum cleaners of the universe). They consume asteroids, stars, and entire solar systems. As such, they stand as a kind of sublime horror – the mind is drawn to, and simultaneously recoils from, the awesomeness of these vast cosmological structures. However, despite their grandeur, they are exceedingly difficult to study. But things are changing…

This week scientists saw a gamma ray burst that is more powerful than what many thought was theoretically possible. This event has been dubbed GRB 130427A, and researchers believe that they observed the collapse of a giant star and the birth of a black hole.

Read about this first ever observation at:

Image source: NASA

The Subjectiveness of Time:

We like stability. We like to know that each day the Sun is going to rise, the mailman will bring our paper, and time will march slowly on -- just the same as it always has. What’s more, we like to image that this experience is larger than ourselves. When the Sun rises, we know that it’s rising for everyone, not just for us. When the mailman brings the paper, he isn’t making a special trip; he’ll stop at the neighbors as well. These are the common, everyday experiences that unite is all.

However, as it turns out, we are a bit more isolated that we might initially assume.

Want to know how time isolates us? Take a look at:

Image source:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 11/27/13 - Pleiades

This is the Pleiades star cluster as you"ve never seen it before -- in deep field! Also known as M45 or the Seven Sisters, Pleiades is probably one of the most famous and well-studied star clusters in the galaxy. Although it lies some 400 light-years away from Earth toward the constellation of Taurus, it can still be seen with the naked eye in cities that have mild to severe light pollution problems. Get away from the lights of big cities, one should easily be able to see the brightest six stars of the cluster. Obviously, there are many more stars than just the seven (although the exact number remains unknown). An additional 1,000 stars, which span about 43 light-years in radius, have been confirmed (together, they have an estimated mass of about 800 individual suns)

This particular image of Pleiades was taken with an exposure of about 30 HOURS. It covers a portion of sky that is several times larger than the size of a full moon. The massive stars contained within the region are very hot, metal-poor stars that live fast and die young, spewing large quantities of gas and heavier elements out into the interstellar medium once they go supernova. Some of which, shine hundreds of times more brightly than the sun does. The faintest of the bunch is still 40 times more luminous than the sun would appear from the same distance, with Alcyone being over 1,000 times more luminous!

As an interesting side note; most people are only able to clearly make out six of the stars in the Pleiades cluster. Regardless, over the years, speculation surfaced concerning the existence of a seventh star that could be easily made out in the cluster. If this is the case, It"s possible that the seventh star could be a variable star (like our sun is). Meaning, it varies in brightness over time. It"s also possible, in theory, that the "missing" star isn"t missing at all, but that the star is hidden from view by thick pockets of interstellar dust grains.

To see additional information about this region, see: %UR:%

Image Credit: Stanislav Volskiy

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gravity, Multiple Dimensions, & Micro Black Holes

Of the four fundamental forces of nature, gravity is the most peculiar. It’s the most overreaching of the four forces, binding together structures hundreds of millions of light-years in diameter. Over ‘smaller’ distances, gravity is still king as it is the master of solar systems, the glue that holds them together. Yet the smallest magnets defy gravity with relative ease. Why is gravity so weak? For ages, physicists have been trying to answer that very question.

This is where gravity and other dimensions come together to form one of my favorite theories of gravity (simply because it’s a ridiculously cool-sounding theory). Hypothetically, gravity could literally leak or spill into other dimensions, that lost gravitational energy means we don’t feel the force’s full force. These dimensions could come in several different forms. One such hypothesis suggests these dimensions are smaller than atoms. Another idea suggests these alternate dimensions are the same ‘size’ as ours and just ‘stacked’ on top of and below ours. This could potentially help to answer two other preeminent questions about the nature of the universe with specific regards to the nature of dark energy and inflation.

To read more about this incredible idea, see:

A Cool Experiment: The IceCube Neutrino Observatory

Up until the turn of the 21st century, neutrino detectors were pretty much unheard of. This made the hunt for the plentiful (but elusive) subatomic particle a lot more difficult than it needed to be. However, we recently created an observatory that will revolutionize our understanding of the universe. This observatory just happens to be located in one the coldest, most inhospitable place on Earth. You see, astronomers - the clever bunch they are - have turned a cubic kilometer of Antarctic ice into the largest neutrino observatory in the world.

Want to learn how this observatory will help us find neutrinos and see photonic booms? Then check out:

Image source:

Know your Scientist: Michio Kaku

Michio Kaku is one of recent history’s greatest minds From Harvard to Super Strings, Kaku has an amazing story of how he came to change the world of physics and revolutionize scientific education. It seems that Kaku’s story has been a string of very well timed events, but no matter how lucky one might be, becoming such an influential figure in the science world takes hard work and perseverance.

To learn about all his achievements and contributions, see:

Image source:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 11/26/13 - Hercules A; Making the Unseen Seen

This is the elliptical galaxy known as Hercules A (formally designated as 3C 348). Other than being visually stunning, this galaxy is notable because it emits nearly a billion times more radio waves than our sun does, making it one of the brightest radio-emitting objects in the constellation of Hercules.

The super-massive black hole that lies at the heart of Hercules A, which is more than 2 billion light-years away, is responsible for manufacturing the spectacular jets seen here. Suffice to say, the black hole is powerful and quite massive, as is the galaxy in general. Compared to the Milky Way, it"s 1,000 times more massive -- with its central black-hole containing the mass of 2.5 billion suns (this makes it approximately 1,000 times massive than the black-hole in the center of our galaxy, Sagittarius A*)

This image is a composite, showing Hercules A in optical light from the Hubble Space telescope"s Wide Field Camera 3, and the recently upgraded Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope. The VLA revealed the enormous jets that are typically invisible when viewed at optical wavelengths. They are composed of high-energy plasma beam, capable of shooting superheated material off into interstellar space at speeds close to the speed of light. The jets extend almost 1.5 million light-years in width and are only visible using special filters, but this image portrays how they would look if we could see them.

References & Further Reading:

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Baum and C. O"Dea (RIT), R. Perley and W. Cotton (NRAO/AUI/NSF), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Common Misunderstandings of Evolution: Part 2

But isn’t evolution just a theory? How could such amazingly complex systems arise by evolution—by mere chance? Doesn"t evolution violate the second law of thermodynamics?

These are just a few of the questions that are frequently asked about evolution. To get answers to these questions, and develop a better understanding of evolution, see:

Image source:

Volcanism on Io (Jupiter"s Moon)

If there was a contest for the most un-Earth like world, Io would be one of the top contenders. Without a doubt, the most interesting thing about Io is its huge quantity of active volcanoes. As you can see, this volcanism makes the moon look more like a large ball of cheese (or a terribly unappealing pizza) than an actual world.

Find out just how many volcanoes Io has at:

Image source:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 11/25/13 - Infrared Look at the Rosette Nebula

This is the Rosette Nebula as you"ve never seen it before. The region, which can be found about 5,200 light-years from Earth in the constellation Monoceros (the Unicorn), is named as such due to its flowery appearance. Only, this cosmic flower is rather large - measuring in at about 130 light-years in diameter (with an estimated 10,000 solar masses of material) - and very unflower-like, as its filled with the light of thousands of energetic baby stars. (Many of said stars are still encased in their stellar cocoons, not yet fully awakened from their eternal slumber.)

Regardless of this, the hot UV radiation has had a substantial impact on the overall shape of this region. For that matter, if you look closely, you"ll note a rather large hole. This "hole," in all actuality, is a cavity carved into the surrounding material thanks to the close proximity from the stellar nursery. (It can be seen in much more clarity in other images) The stars - in all their fury - eject large quantities of ultraviolet radiation into the superheated materials through stellar winds, which is, in turn, responsible for the erosion.

Apart from my being favorite look at the Rosette nebula, this particular image was taken at infrared wavelengths. The little bubbles reveal the locations of very hot O-type stars. Stars of this stellar classification have temperatures that can reach about 25,000 kelvins.

Sources & Additional Reading:

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Correlation vs. Causation: The Analysis of Data

Correlation vs. Causation:

((*NOTE: I’m going to (perhaps foolishly) implore you to read the article before thrashing out against the graph*))

This graph tells a very simple tale. Between 1997 and 2007, the rate of autism and organic food sales has risen at the same rate. Obviously, this chart goes to prove that autism and eating organic foods are related to each other and you should avoid organics all together, right? Wrong.

This chart is one of the best examples I’ve ever seen detailing how correlation and causation can have absolutely nothing to do with each other. In fact, in many cases, correlation and causation have nothing to do with each other – but what exactly does that mean?

Find out here:

Image Source:

The Many World Interpretation, or the Copenhagen Interpretation?

This is a raging theoretical debate that has often left the smartest minds reeling in pain from the cognitive dissonance done to the world through quantum physics. The underlying premise is actually quite simple. The many worlds interpretation is entirely based on the mathematics of Edwin Schrodinger, but with mind-bending implications. Conversely, the Copenhagen Interpretation is based on the superposition of a particle and its ability to exist in two states until "observed," which "collapses the wave function".

Let’s go into a bit more detail with each interpretation to get a better feel for what is being purported:

(P.S. Read the article before commenting on the picture)

Image Source: ... c_0152.jpg

Could we prevent an asteroid collision?

In its early life, the Earth would have been peppered nearly continuously with asteroids and debris. Today, the Earth still receives thousands of tons of matter from space, but this is in the form of microscopic dust particles. Fortunately, a large asteroid colliding with the surface of the Earth is very rare. Nevertheless, it does happen from time to time. You probably heard about the Russian Chelyabinsk meteor which hit in February of this year. It entered at a shallow angle at 60 times the speed of sound, and it exploded in an air burst. The size of this body of rock (before it burnt up and shattered) was estimated to be around 20 m across and weighec13,000 metric tons. This isn"t large by any means, but it was enough to injure over a thousand people and damage nearly 20,000 buildings.

Lucky for us, larger impacts are very rare. Most notable of all these larger impacts is the 10 km sized object that is widely believed to have initiated the dinosaurs" extinction some 65 million years ago. But what would happen if we were faced with such a threat today?

Read all about this at:

Image source:

Astronomy Picture of the day; 11/24/13 - NGC 7027

It"s absolutely fascinating to me that nebulae that form in the same fashion (also from the same general size and type of star) can create structures that look absolutely nothing alike. This is a great example of such, a planetary nebula, located approximately 3,000 light-years from Earth (in the Cygnus constellation). These nebulae form after sun-like stars exhaust their supply of hydrogen found in their core, causing the stars to balloon in size whilst the process of helium consumption begins. Throughout this process, the outer-layers of material peel off (similar to an onion), forming a planetary nebula (a fate our sun will experience eventually.).

Sources & Additional Reading:

Image by Arnie Rosner (Additional Credit: W. B. Latter (SIRTF /Caltech) et al., NICMOS, HST, NASA)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

We are Starstuff? (Unfinished)

Anyone even remotely interested in astronomy has probably heard someone (perhaps Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson) say: "We are star stuff." But what does that mean exactly?

To give a quick breakdown: "Supernovae" occur once a star consumes all of its hydrogen fuel for nuclear fusion, causing the core to contract into a neutron star or a stellar mass black hole. As this happens, the star violently chucks the remainder of its gas off into space in a brilliant explosion that seeds the interstellar medium with heavier elements. Prior to a massive star going supernova (this only occurs with stars that are much more massive than our sun), it would have fused lighter elements (such as hydrogen and helium) into heavier ones (up to and including iron,which is number 26 on the periodic table of elements). And as we all know, iron is in our blood. Hence, our bodies are literally made from the stuff of stars.

To learn all about this process, see:

This amazing image comes from:

Know Your Scientist: Michael Faraday

"I express a wish that you may, in your generation, be fit to compare to a candle; that you may, like it, shine as lights to those about you; that, in all your actions, you may justify the beauty of the taper by making your deeds honourable and effectual in the discharge of your duty to your fellow-men"

Michael Faraday (1791 – 25 August 1867) was an English physicist born in South London. He remains best known for his contributions in the fields of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. Specifically, his main discoveries include electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism, and electrolysis.

Learn all about this amazing man at:

Image source:

Feast Your Eyes on One of the Most Distant (Known) Galaxies in the Universe

In the attached image, the pixelated photo on the lower right may not look like much, but it may very well be the most distant galaxies ever photographed by Spitzer and Hubble. This galaxy is so distant that light first shone from it when the universe was a mere 500 MILLION years old. It may provide some valuable answers to astronomers about the transitional period between the dark and colorless early universe to a modern cosmic expanse filled with the light of trillions of stars -- with brilliant nebulae looming through stellar nurseries and an untold number of planets that circle alien suns.

Learn about this amazing find at

Image source:

Astronomy Photo of the Day: 11/23/13 - The Fire Breather

In this image -- dubbed the Fire Breather, the sun can be seen hiccuping up a large, complex coronal mass ejection, all the way back from January of 2002. This image effectively caused seasoned solar physicists to drop their jaws at the mere sight of its glory.

An instrument developed for the SOHO spacecraft observed the solar plasma blasting into the corona - or the atmosphere - of our parent star. The plain blue disk in this image was used to block out the Sun and the immediate area right around it, giving the space craft the ability to observe solar phenomena.

According to scientists, "areas of white indicate the greatest intensity of matter; the reds somewhat less; blues, even less. An extreme ultraviolet image of the Sun (blue) was superimposed on the foreground to give a sense of scale."

References & Further Reading:

Image Credit: NASA/SDO

Friday, November 22, 2013

New Video: 11/22/13 - What is Sound?

This is the first video on FQTQ"s new channel! Titled, "What is Sound," we explore the nature of the very useful sense. Check it out and give us your thoughts!

A Rocky Relationship: Is the Moon Leaving the Earth?

It’s comforting to look up at the night sky. The bright stars seem like old familiar friends; the pockmarked Moon is like a steady and unchanging ally. From our perspective on Earth, the universe seems stable and eternal.

Of course, this isn’t how things really are. In reality, our night sky is in a constant state of flux. You’ve probably heard that the Moon and Earth are drifting apart, but will the Moon ever completely leave?

Find out at:

Image source:

How small can the smallest star be?

What is the smallest possible size for a star? Astronomers finally have an answer to that nagging question that separates a full-blown nuclear life-giving furnace and a much less vibrant “failed star” otherwise known as a brown dwarf.

To learn about this new lower limit for stars, see:

The Death of a Galaxy

Death is an unavoidable part of nature – everything eventually experiences it from cells, to our pets, to us, to ecosystems, to planets, and even galaxies. Scientists have yet to catch a galaxy in the act of dying – until now.

To learn more about this galaxy"s final days, see:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 11/22/13 - AM 0644-741

Located approximately 300 million light-years away in the constellation of Volans, AM 0644-741 is one of the most spectacular "Ring Galaxies" currently know.

Galaxies such as this typically get their ring-like appearance after immense galactic collisions take place. In this case, AM 0644-741"s appearance can be attributed to an "intruder" galaxy plunging through the disk of AM 0644-741 and piercing it.

This particular one is about 150,000 light-years in diameter, making it about 50% longer than our home galaxy, The Milky Way. And while it"s quite unlikely for any celestial objects to collide during galactic mergers, they are extremely prone to rampant star formation over the course of millions of years.

You can see some of those star-forming regions splotched in blue in this Hubble image, which was taken using sensitive ultraviolet filters.

For Sources & Additional Reading, see:

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Surprising Habits of a Deadly Fish:

If there were ever a time to use the phrase, "I"m not saying it was aliens, was aliens," it would be in response to this (and believe me, I loathe the phrase) -- the mysterious underwater crop circles discovered by accomplished photographer Yoji Ookata. Over the course of his 50 year career of discovering and documenting the diverse life found in Earth"s oceans, nothing quite like this structure had ever been found. And not just by Oshima, but by anyone in recorded history.

The structure was found some 80 feet below sea level, located just off from the Japanese island of Anami Oshima. Not only were they nearly perfectly circular geometrically (coming in with dimensions of about six and a half feet wide), they were also quite detailed, with many ridges, grooves, and repeating patterns. The question that immediately comes to mind is a good one...what in the world could create something like this? Surely a human, not another species, right? I mean, my dogs are lucky to hit the corner of the pee pad (not that they are particularly intelligent though.).

As it turns out, the structures in question were not created by humans OR alien beings, but can be attributed to one, single fish.

To find out how - and why - see:

Image Credit: Yoji Ookata

The Birth of Gamma-Ray Burst Astronomy:

Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs) are some of the most energetic events in the universe. Unsurprisingly, they have been of great interest to the scientific community since their initial discovery in the 1960"s. GRBs are broken up into two types: Short Gamma-Ray Bursts (SGRB) and Long Gamma-Ray Bursts (LGRB). SGRB are observed bursts that are shorter than 2 seconds, and LGRB are observed bursts that are longer than 2 seconds. It was discovered in 1993 that these two subclasses of GRBs existed; however, at that time, the cause of the two different sub types was unknown.

To learn about these GRBs, see:

Image source:

What are Gamma-Ray Bursts and how Did we Discover Them?

Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are flashes of gamma rays (electromagnetic radiation of high frequency) that come from energetic explosions in distant galaxies. They are known to be the most radiating electromagnetic events in the Universe. The bursts can last from ten milliseconds to several minutes (a typical burst lasts 20-40 seconds). GRBs were discovered in the lats 1960s; however, this was not an intentional discovery. They were discovered by the U.S. Vela satellites that were actually built to detect gamma radiation pulses emitted by nuclear weapons tested in Space. Why? Well, the USA suspected that the USSR might attempt to conduct secret nuclear tests after signing the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963.

Learn about how they were discovered at:

Image source:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 11/22/13 - Sharpless 239

This fantastic nebula is Sharpless 239, also known as Sh2-239 or LBN 821, which is located some 450 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Perseus.

The nebula, which is classified as a reflection nebula, is situated in the Taurus molecular cloud and stretches a full 3 light-years across. Overall, the area is home to some 50 solar masses of star-formation material, bringing about starburst phase, which will see the birth of at least a dozen sun-like stars.

Located in within the interstellar medium, you can see several of these proto-stars forming, with the primary binary star system [ L1551 IRS 5] responsible for the nebula"s appearance seen near the center. These newborn stars are located a mere 40 AU"s from one another, with both being heavy emitters of ionized hydrogen molecules.

References, sources, and further reading:

True Shooting Stars;

If you"ve ever gazed up at the night sky (and lets just admit it, we all have) you"ve probably wished upon a shooting star (which are really meteors burning up after entering Earth"s atmosphere) at some point in your life, but shooting stars actually do exist, and they"re as rare as one in 100 million.

In 2005, astronomers discovered the first "hypervelocity" star careening out of the galaxy into interstellar space at nearly 530 miles per second or almost 2 million miles per hour, which is 10 times faster than ordinary star movement. They were first theorized to exist in 1988, but not confirmed for several more years. The theory was that binary star systems at a galaxy"s center would occasionally wander too close to the supermassive black hole looming there, which would disrupt their orbital dance. While one of the pair was captured by the black hole, the other would be sent rocketing off at incredible speeds.

To read the full article, see:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

FQTQ"s New Youtube Channel!

We have some exciting news! FQTQ is launching an official YouTube channel! Once a week, we"ll present you with an awesome video that will (hopefully) enhance the FQTQ experience and tickle your inner geek.

You can see our teaser trailer here:

and you can subscribe to our channel here:

Give us your thoughts! The first video will be released on Friday, so stay tuned.

As always, you can check out our website for the latest updates at

The (Possible) Successor to the LHC: Meet the Very Large Hadron Collider

If you give a scientist a gadget, he’ll want a bigger gadget. This is why it has come as no surprise that scientists want to build the next generation of colliders. Modeled after the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), physicists now want to upgrade it and build a machine four times larger.

What clever name did scientists come up with to call the new collider? The Very Large Hadron Collider (VLHC). Let the wittiness of that name wash over you.

Unlike the International Linear Collider (AKA the ILC: very basic summery, a large collider expected to pick up where the LHC left off and is currently being built in Japan) the VLHC is mostly hypothetical. At the moment, there aren’t any real plans to build such a machine, we don’t have any proposed locations, or any international backing for the project. As Michael Peskin, a theoretical physicist at SLAC, said to a United States advisory panel in early November, “It’s only prudent to sketch a vision decades into the future.”

To read more about this vision, see:

ISS Infographic

This is an awesome infographic about the International Space Station. We figure since the ISS is celebrating it"s 15th year anniversary, this was a fitting graphic for the occasion.

To see the full, high resolution version, see:

Fact or Fiction? The Urethra Invading Fish:

The Amazon Basin harbors an amazing amount of biodiversity. Freshwater dolphins, bull sharks, vicious piranha, mammoth anacondas, and a myriad of other species all call the Amazon River home. Covering some 7 million square kilometers (2.7 million square miles), it is the largest drainage basin in the world. When talking about length, the river itself is regarded as the second longest river in the world (it is second only to the Nile), so it"s not too surprising that so many species call this water "home.”

The list of dangerous animals that resided here is quite extensive, but not every animal that is dangerous to humans is large in stature. In this case, the tiny creature is a small parasitic catfish that has a tendency to find its way into an orifice of a larger organism in order to suck its blood – sometimes, these larger organisms are humans. Meet one of the most surprising fish in the world, the Candiru.

Find out what threats this fish poses at:

Image source:
Mike Gibbs/Getty Images

Why Don"t Moons Have Their Own Satellites?

Have you ever wondered why moons don"t have other moon"s in orbit around them? The question is rather common, but the answer is rather complex -- especially when you initially attempt to visualize the mechanics of such a system.

Technically speaking, everything is in orbit around something else. The Earth, Sun, and all the planets orbit around the center of mass of the solar system. More generally, Earth orbits the Sun; the Moon orbits the Earth; our entire solar system orbits around Sagittarius A* (the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy); our galaxy completes one full rotation every 230 million years (interesting aside, Sagittarius A* might have 10,000 additional black holes in orbit around it).

And in theory, it"s possible that our Moon once had a satellite of its own; however, for such a body to remain in orbit, it would need to have to very specific characteristics for its size, mass, speed, and orbital distance. It would be difficult for an orbiting body to fit these exact parameters, but it is possible. As such, it is appropriate to ask why moons don’t have their own moons. After all, we’ve observed large asteroids with satellites. Why then don"t moons have satellites of their own?

To find out, see:

Image source:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 11/20/13 - The Cartwheel Galaxy

There is no doubt that this is one of the most stunningly beautiful galaxies in the observable universe. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a lenticular galaxy named the "cartwheel galaxy" (which tends to look more like a Ferris wheel to my eyes, but whatever). It"s located about 400 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Sculptor.

This image is a false-colored composite, put together using 4 separate images taken of the region at various wavelengths. Infrared data was collected by the Spitzer Space Telescope (seen in red), ultraviolet data came from the now-defunct "Galaxy Evolution Explorer" [GALEX] (pictured in blue), x-ray information was derived from the Chandra X-ray Observatory (purple) and visible light data was gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope. The galaxy likely gets its rather unique shape from a collision with a smaller galaxy that took place several hundreds of millions of years ago.

Prior to the collision, the galaxy was probably a spiral galaxy. After the collision took place, the galaxy underwent ferocious cycles of star formation. As you can see, the outer bounds of the galaxy"s rim has several hundreds of thousands of low-mass blue stars that live short lives, before exploding as beautiful supernovae blasts -- leaving behind dense stellar cores, called neutron stars (other times, stellar-mass black holes are created).

The diameter of the galaxy is about 50,000 light-years larger than our home galaxy, the Milky Way. This particular galaxy emits a large amount of infrared energy and x-ray radiation, likely due to the unusually high number of black holes located there. Many of which have a neighboring companion star, which they cannibalize on - releasing x-rays as a result. The "spokes" connecting the outer rim of the galaxy to the central core are non-thermal radio and optical spokes.

Sources & Further Reading:

Image Credit: Composite: NASA/JPL/Caltech/P.Appleton et al. X-ray: NASA/CXC/A.Wolter & G.Trinchieri et al.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cassiopeia A; The Star That Flipped Inside Out

So we"ve seen stars that are literally the size of our solar system, stars that are a brilliant blueish-white color that live short lives and blowup brilliantly, vampire stars that stay young by siphoning material off of their companion, and now we"ve seen a star that turned inside out. Yes... you read that right. Astronomers have found a star that literally turned inside out when it was in its final throws of life. You couldn"t - pardon the french - make this shit up. And lets be honest.. why would you want to? The universe in general tends to surprise us with its abnormalities, and there is always something else to learn from each celestial object we point our telescopes toward.

To find out how this is possible, see:

Image Credit: NASA/CXC

What is the Scientific Method (an explanation using Cats):

Whether you’re a scientist, mathematician, writer, cat, or just an ordinary human, you use the scientific method daily. There’s no getting around it, the scientific method is based on logic. Though not everything we do is logical, many aspects of daily life are. The common household cat may be a great example. Without knowing it, cats will *sometimes* show the same aspects of the scientific method that humans do, but they’re far funnier when doing so.

Learn about the scientific method via cat illustrations (something that I am sure we are all dying to see) at,

Image source:
Serena, via Flickr

Know Your Scientist: Sally Ride

It"s no secret that the astrophysics field (one that is very near and dear to everyone on our team) is mostly a male dominated profession. Einstein, Sagan, Hawking, Tyson, Krauss, Hadfield, Armstrong, and Cox are all names that any of our fans should immediately recognize. They are constantly quoted, interviewed, studied, and praised. While there is no doubt that they are worthy of the recognition they receive, sometimes we forget about the other faces behind the glass -- people that are constantly reaching new heights as they aim for the stars.

Now, if you"ll notice: None of the names listed above belong to a female. In fact, I have a difficult time thinking of a single woman that can command the same level of respect and admiration as the men listed above. Of course, that"s not to say that they don"t exist, but they are rarely heard from. The sad truth is, many people perceive science as a mostly male endeavor. So I would like to take this opportunity to take a look at one of the brilliant women who made a lasting contribution to this field.

Sally Ride was the first American woman to leave this planet in pursuit of understanding something beyond the bounds of Earth. Sadly, she passed away in 2012 after 17 brave months battling pancreatic cancer. This is truly a heartbreaking article to write because, as a female who hopes to achieve just an ounce of the success that this woman accomplished over the course of her life, I look up to Sally Ride with admiration for the grace that she portrayed and envy for the things she experienced and achieved.

To learn about all her accomplishments, see:

Image source:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 11/19/13 - The ISS Transiting the Moon

In a truly one-of-a-kind photograph, astrophotographer Thierry Legault captured this detailed image of the International Space Station transiting the moon from our vantage point. This is such an incredibly difficult shot to capture since the ISS is constantly traveling at 7.5k meters per second, or about 28,0000 km/h (17,500 mph). Therefore, it only takes about half a second for the ISS to dance across the face of the moon. As you can (hopefully) see, the ISS was snapped here about an inch above the famous Tycho crater (not literally, of course. It just appears as such because of the photo"s size.)

Legault took this image from Avranches in Normandy, France a few hours before the eclipse, on December 20th of 2010. He used a Meade 10″ ACF on Takahashi EM400, with a Canon 5D mark II.

Additional Reading :

Image Credit: Thierry Legault

P.S. You can sign up for alerts from NASA, who will contact you to let you know when the ISS is expected to pass over your location.

Learn more here:

Monday, November 18, 2013

Comet ISON now Visible to the Naked Human Eye:

Comet ISON is currently making its way across our solar system; it is hurtling towards the Sun at over 130,000 mph (215,000 kmh). And it just became a naked eye object (meaning that you can see it without the aid of binoculars or other instruments). So tomorrow morning, provided that you have clear skies in your area, some of you will be able to see Comet ISON low on the eastern horizon before sunrise. Of course, unless you really know what you are looking for, it might be a good idea to bring along a pair of binoculars, as the comet is still a bit hard to see with the untrained eye. The human eye can perceive objects that are as faint as +6.5 (the lower the number, the easier the object is to see). ISON just reached a magnitude of +5.4.
This chunk of ice and rock has spent more than 4 billion years in the Oort cloud (the frozen depth of space that is home to many of our solar system’s comets). After billions of years, this amazing object is finally visible. Most people in the Northern Hemisphere will be able to easily see it; however, it is extremely difficult to see from the Southern hemisphere because it is so close to the horizon.

To find out how to see it, visit:

Image source:

Galaxy Classifications: From Dwarfs to Spirals and Beyond

Surprisingly, over the course of most of humanity"s existence, we had no idea that other galaxies even existed. All we could see was our own little corner of the universe. It wasn"t until the early 1900"s that the nature of the so-called "Andromeda nebula" was discerned. Edwin Hubble settled the galaxy vs. nebula debate in 1925, and it was finally revealed that this "nebula" was actually a galaxy containing some 400 billion stars and not simply an extension of our own galaxy. Almost 100 years later, our reality (and relative insignificance) is well known, as we are now aware of the fact that the universe contains several BILLION large galaxies, many of which are similar to our own (current estimates guess that there are 100 to 200 billion galaxies in the Universe). With that revelation, we"ve learned that galaxies come in all shapes and sizes too. "So what other kinds of galaxies are there," you might ask? Here are the main types:

To learn about all the galaxy types, see:

Image source:

An Epic Journey with Chris Hadfield:

Science gives us the tools that we need in order to observe the heavens and understand the motion of the stars. It allows us to capture images of distant galaxies, witness the intricate dance of massive celestial bodies, and explore the inner depths of nebulae—the birthplace of stars and of solar systems like our own. And it does so much more...

Smallpox is one of the deadliest known diseases; it plagued humanity for thousands of years. Although the overall death toll is unknown, it killed over 300 million people in the 20th century alone. And it was completely eradicated by vaccinations. The last natural occurring case was in 1977. Science did this. Quite literally, science is life. So why do so many perceive it as something that is cold and dead? If science is able to accomplish such amazing feats, why is it so difficult to get people interested in research? Why do teachers have such a hard time engaging students in scientific study?

Ultimately, it seems a large part of the problem is that, to many people, science does not reveal the inner workings of the cosmos or provide new windows through which they can glimpse the Earth. Instead, students encounter lackluster and overcrowded classrooms, overtaxed and overworked teachers, underfunded schools, and deplorable grading systems that focus on regurgitation instead of exploration and critical inquiry. The main question then? What can we do to reverse this troubling trend?

This seems like a mighty question. But the answer is really rather simple, and we’ve to look no farther than Chris Hadfield. He is an educator in the truest sense of the word. During his time on the International Space Station Hadfield went out of the way to engage the public. He showed us what happens when you cry in space, how difficult it is to ring out a washcloth (and get it wet to begin with), how awkward it is to get sick in space, and the various difficulties that arise what you are forced to use the bathroom without gravity. More than that, he showed us our world anew.

To learn all about Chris Hadfield and find links to all his videos and images, see:

Image source:
Graham Hughes:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 11/18/18 - R Coronae Australis Complex

This image was taken by the Wide Field Imager (WFI) on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile of a region located approximately 420 light-years" distance (in the constellation of Corona Australis).

The region, formally known as R Coronae Australis Complex (named after R Coronae Australis, the star located in the center of the image), is one of the closest and most spectacular star formation regions in our galaxy. The blue areas are a result of starlight reflecting from the dust particles that comprise portions of the nebula. The dark areas, however, are a product of a similar mechanism, but instead of the starlight reflecting from the dust particles, it is absorbed, making them impenetrable to visible light.

Over all, the region covers a full 33.7 x 31.9 arc-minutes (approximately the diameter of the full Moon) of our sky, cram-packed with variable stars (stars that have luminosities that vary over time), with some similar in mass to our own sun. Said stars do not emit enough ultraviolet radiation to ionize the hydrogen molecules located within.

Sources & Further Reading:

Image Credit: European Space Observatory/La Silla Observatory

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Stephen Hawking Infographic

This is a brilliant infogrophic about Stephen Hawking. I highly recommend you check it out.

You can see the full version here:

Image Credit: Special Education Degrees

6 Mysteries of Our Solar System

In this day and age, our species has accomplished several note-worthy feats. We"ve sent human beings into space and touched down on the moon. We"ve been able to visit and probe each and every one of the gas-giants that reside in our solar system, revealing our local neighborhood to be full of many incredible worlds. We"ve even sent two separate probes on their way into interstellar space. A accomplishment that is slightly sullied considering the fact that we"ve even been able to figure out the mass and composition of planets and stars that are hundreds of thousands of light-years away from home. Even with our book of knowledge growing by the second, we would be naive to think we have all the answers, so much still needs to be uncovered about our own back yard.

Here, we dive into 6 of the most intriguing mysteries of our solar system:

Image Source (before editing):

Where could we put a Human Settlement besides the Moon and Mars?

So, what other places in the solar system, besides Mars and the Moon, would it be possible to put a human settlement? Well, as it turns out, this is a pretty big question. From where we are sitting, the solar system might seem like a pretty small place. However, there’s an amazing amount of objects that make up our little corner of the universe. Of course, there are the 8 planets. Then there are the 5 known dwarf planets. And there are some 146 natural satellites (moons) in our solar system. On top of all of this, there is the Kupier Belt and the Oort Cloud. Together, these two regions of the solar system could contain more than a trillion objects... Yes, a trillion objects.

The point?

It is nearly impossible to make a comprehensive list of all the potentially habitable bodies in the solar system. And even if I were to make such a list, it would be ridiculously long and you wouldn’t want to read it. Consequently, we will just do a brief overview of the objects that we could live on without stretching the theoretical limits too far.

To learn where we could build settlements in our solar system, see:

Image source:

A Day On: Jupiter"s Great Red Storm

Are you a thrill seeker? Or perhaps a storm chaser? Then I would like to talk to you about one of the most violent places in our solar system: Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. This enormous high pressure storm is similar to a hurricane on Earth, except that it’s huge. Immensely huge.

In 2005, hurricane Katrina struck the coasts of Mississippi and Louisiana. It was one of the deadliest and costliest storms in U.S. history. The hurricane made landfall with wind speeds topping at 125 mph (201 km/h). When it hit land, Katrina was about 400 miles wide (644 km), and it raged for more than a week. It was horrifyingly impressive. But Katrina is nothing more than a light breeze compared to Jupiter’s massive storm.

In the Great Red Spot, assuming that you aren’t instantly crushed by the pressure (you will be), you’re going to have quite a turbulent ride. Wind speeds around the edge of this beast reach over 250 mph (400 km/h). If you’re a wind surfer, this velocity might sound enticing. But consider your arms, legs, and head flailing about sporadically, flapping like a flag in the wind. Not so fun.

To learn more about a day in the Red Spot, see:

Image source:

Everything You Need to Know about the Higgs Boson

With all of the hype and discussion about the Higgs Boson, the only thing that seems clear to most people is "Scientists just spent a lot of money to find something very small." There is clearly a lot of excitement in the scientific community regarding this historic find and the Nobel Prizes in physics were awarded to people who involved in it"s prediction/discovery. What is the big deal? Why is everyone so excited about this new particle?

FQTQ is here to help. To find out everything you need to know about the Higgs Boson, check out our article at:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 11/17/13 - NGC 2146

This celestial region was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. It reveals the never-ending beauty of a galaxy located more than 90 million light-years from Earth (in the northern constellation of Camelopardalis).

NGC 2146, its designated name, is a barred spiral galaxy that is unlike our galaxy and others of its kind. This is due to one of its spiral arms having looped around the galaxy"s core, which deformed the galaxy"s overall shape, spawning a new wave of star formation relative to our point of view (in front of the galactic center, instead of being buried by the surrounding dust clouds).

It is typically unusual for galaxies such as NGC 2146 to see such a huge spike in star production at this phase of galaxy evolution, so it"s likely that the region recently devoured another galaxy several hundreds of millions of years ago (from our perspective). We are just now witnessing the after-effects of that merger, the light began its journey more than 90 million years ago.

Sources & Further Reading:

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

Iapetus: The Lollipop Moon

Saturn’s Moon Iapetus has a unique feature which was, until recently, a complete mystery.

Running along its equator is this weird ridge of mountains. The mountains run exactly along the equator, are perfectly straight, and---so far---haven’t shown up like this on any other planet or moon. They’re also the only such mountains anywhere on Iapetus’ surface (reaching as high as 63,000 feet tall). (Giving this strange moon the propensity for ice avalanches!) Pretty weird!

To learn more about this peculiar feature, see:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Common Misunderstandings of Evolution Part 3: Observation

Many people believe that we can"t observe evolution, but contrary to popular belief, we can witness evolutionary events; however, perhaps I should clarify -- by observing it, I mean that we have observed results in laboratory and natural conditions that are predicted by evolution, and we see the types of changes that would be expected if evolution were true. Of course, we can’t really observe our own evolutionary history (at least, not until we develop time travel), and witnessing species transitions is difficult as it takes tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years.

Does this mean that evolution is unreliable? Hardly. It is important to note that theories cannot be proven per se, but a theory is not just a random idea that has no scientific backing. The way a theory works is pretty simple: it has to make a clear, testable prediction, and (preferably) make a minimum of new assumptions. So testing evolution is fairly simple. We look at the predictions made by the theory, and then compare them to what we can observe. So far evolution has done a very good job of explaining the things that we have observed, and also at predicting new results as we uncover new ways of testing.

Of course, results can be easily demonstrated in the laboratory; however, we"ve noticed an abundance of natural changes that are perfectly predicted by evolution. So to those who suggest we have not observed evolution, I have a few cases for you to consider.

To learn how we can observe evolutions, see:

Image source:

The Bizarre World of Quarks: Nucleons and a New Class of Particles

Physicists are on the verge of having to create a new classification system for exotic baryonic particles. An international team of high energy physicists claim that the discovery of an electrically charged particle called Zc(4020) has paved the way to this new, strange family of four quark objects. But before we get into that, let"s discuss particles with fewer quarks that we are a bit more familiar with.

Quarks have long been known to pair together in groups of two"s and three"s. Two quark particles are known as mesons, and three quark particles are known as baryons. You may be familiar with the latter, as baryons make up the protons and neutrons that constitute your body and everything you see. That is what I wish to talk about today, and the implications of these new four quark particles recently being discovered.

To learn about these new findings, see:

Image source:

How We See the Aurora Borealis: Camera vs Human Eyes

While observing the aurora is a truly awe-inspiring and often breathtaking experience, the images that come out of modern day DSLR cameras do not match what you witness in real life. Mike Taylor has photographed many colors in the fantastic Northern Lights displays and has been lucky enough to observe including green, purple, yellow, orange, red, magenta and blue. But, when asked about his experience with his naked eye, he exclaims, "I never REALLY know what color they are unless I"m looking at my camera"s LCD screen or more importantly viewing these images on my computer." Why? He was kind enough to write an answer to that very question for us.

To read his answer, see:

Are Earth"s Radio Signals Being Intercepted by Aliens?

The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute has been searching for intelligent life in our universe for the last 29 years. People have been searching for signals for longer than that – I presume since the dawn of radio astronomy. Of course, they haven’t turned up any signs. But let’s dive into a hypothetical real quick. Suppose tomorrow, we detected the first radio broadcasts of an alien civilization that lives on a star 1,000 light-years from Earth – on the other side of the Milky Way.

We listen to their initial broadcasts, and eventually start seeing their earliest television broadcasts. The greatest minds on Earth eventually decipher the alien’s language. and we are able to understand what we see and hear. We watch their politics, culture, science, and religions evolve over time. We potentially learn some lessons along the way as the aliens crack problems we struggle with. We listen to our new friends for a thousand years. Maybe, something happens that destroys the civilization – through their own cataclysmic wars, a naturally occurring apocalyptic event they just didn’t see coming, or their mishandling of the environment. Maybe they switch to a different way of broadcasting that we simply can’t hear. Maybe, they vanish--radio silence--and we don’t know why. Maybe, an alien race 1,000 light-years away eavesdrops on our own radio and television broadcasts and experiences the same thing as our own civilizations rise and fall over time. Could such a scenario occur?

Find out and read more about why here:

Astronomy Photo of the Day: 11/16/13 - Barnard 39

In yet another great image captured by astrophotographer Alessandro Galassi, we come across Barnard 39: a nebular complex that also contains an open cluster. Both of which, are located in the constellation of Monoceros.

Just the same as the rest of the nebulae in the Barnard Catalog, which contains more than 300 celestial regions, this particular region also has a dark nebulae. These areas are composed of dense interstellar dust grains, making them opaque to visible light.

Sources & Additional Reading:

Image Credit: Alessandro Galassi

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Strangest Object in the Universe (and it isn"t a black hole!)

When asked what the strangest object in the universe is there will be an almost unanimous answer: a black hole.

Why? Because they"ve captured the imagination of the entire planet. An infinitely dense, infinitely small chunk of matter...on its own, that is enough to conjure up some weird and wonderful thoughts. It boggles the mind. Black holes seem so strange that some scientists believe that they must not exist and have, therefore, come up with other ideas regarding their existence. There are many weird and wonderful ideas... one of these is the Quark Star or Strange Star.

The reason why it goes by the name "strange star" is because it is a massive compact stellar object made up of strange matter (I mention a quark star as well because they are very similar).

To learn more about this object, see:

How to Sign-up For ISS Alerts


Image Credit: NASA

The Olbers" Paradox: Why is the Night Sky Dark?

Even if have never heard of Olbers’ paradox, you might still be familiar with its basic premise. It basically asks the question, ‘why isn’t the entire night sky as bright as the sun?’ You might be a bit taken back as to why this question is even be considered by astronomers, but it isn’t unfounded. Since the universe could extend infinitely in all directions, there might be an infinite number of stars. This means that, no matter where we looked, every point in the sky should shine with light.

Ultimately, this is a serious question that may help answer more of the universe’s mysteries; however, this is by no means a modern question. As far back as 1610, individuals were considering this question. Kepler was one of the first to bring this question to light (get the pun), though it wasn’t until the 19th century that Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers popularized it as a paradox. There have been several proposed attempts to solve this mystery, and I’ll run through some of the major ones.

Discover why the sky is dark at:

Image source:

Extremophiles, Comets, and Alien Organisms: How did life on Earth Begin?

As we are all well aware, this is a fiercely debated topic. While there is convincing evidence which indicates that other planets could possibly harbor life, we still lack concrete evidence proving that there is even the simplest form of life existing on an alien planet.

However, we don’t have to look very far to find evidence which suggests that life could survive on climates that are far more hostile than what is generally found on Earth. Ultimately, Earth contains a number of extremophiles -- organisms that have evolved to live in the harshest conditions -- conditions that we, as humans, would consider completely inhospitable. As scientists made advancements in this field of research, they discovered creatures that survive without the presence of oxygen living down in the deepest depths of oceanic volcanoes; they found organisms that can live in subzero temperatures or survive 185F (85C) heat, and life forms that thrive with absolutely no sunlight.

These findings contradict our previous assumptions about the minimal conditions required for sustaining life. But if you weren’t blown away by how life can live in those habitats, then perhaps this creature will impress you. These miniscule creatures are known as tardigrades, and they can exist in the vacuum of space. Although these creatures can only exist here in a kind of hibernation, it is believed that they could travel throughout the cosmos, eventually crash into another plant, unfreeze themselves, and once again become fully functioning life forms (this is known as “Panspermia”).

How does this impact our understanding of the start of life on Earth? Find out at:

Image source before editing:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 11/15/13 - NGC 660

Among all sorts of galaxies that have varying shapes and colors, the ring galaxies are still the most odd of them all. This is one example, the Polar Ring galaxy, which is formally known as NGC 660. The galaxy is only about half the size of the Milky Way, measuring in at about 40,000 light-years across, but despite its quaint size, it"s an area of intense stellar activity, churning out thousands of baby stars regularly. The light from said stars is just now reaching us after their long journey of 20 million light-years.

The strange shape of the Polar Ring galaxy (and others that are similar to it) can be attributed to close encounters between two neighboring galaxies. Some of these encounters result in actual collisions, where typically, the smaller galaxy pierces through the heart of the larger one, with lots of stellar material (like gas and dust) blown about, creating a large orbiting ring of gas and dust (Shockwaves then trigger furious rates of star production within the galaxy. This star formation activity can see seen if you look closely at the reddish regions).

Arp 336, or the Helix Galaxy, is a different example of a polar ring galaxy. Credit: Ken Crawford, Rancho Del Sol Observatory

Despite us having a slew of similar-looking galaxies that have been designated as "polar ring galaxies," this one is unique of its kind. Typically, the ring of material is perpendicular to the plane of the central galaxy. Instead, this one"s ring and shape are just a bit off-kilter. (Technically classifying it as a late-type lenticular galaxy)

References & Additional Reading:

Image Credit: Gemini Observatory, AURA, Travis Rector (Univ. Alaska Anchorage)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A View of Mars 4 Billion Years Ago:

After hearing about the rovers, satellites, and all of the upcoming manned missions to Mars, have you thought to yourself, "gee, I wonder what a day would look like on that planet"? If you are a science enthusiast, chances are, you probably have. I"m afraid that it wouldn"t be too exciting. Unless you were fortunate enough to see one of the planet"s massive dust storms, mostly, a day on Mars would look like a lot of reddish dirt (still though, it"s alien reddish dirt, so that"s kind of neat). However, it would be a completely different story if you saw it 4 billion years ago.

It"s not just everyday people who spend their days imagining life on alien worlds. NASA and the people at Conceptual Image Lab have been thinking a lot about Mars as well. In fact, they thought about it so much that they decided to make a video of Mars from 4 billion years ago. This is, as NASA puts it, “one of the most complex animations [they have] ever produced”. The video (which can be found here: is designed to help scientists who are working on the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission, which launches on the 18th of November. It will look at the gases that are currently on the upper atmosphere of Mars to determine the change within its climate.

To read more about what Mars was like, see:

Image source:

Ten of the Most Interesting Structures in the Universe

The universe is so big that its size is incomprehensible...even to the most knowledgeable and open-minded individuals.

With a diameter that extends more than 93 billion light-years across, it"s not too surprising that many extremely large objects are lurking out in space just waiting to be found. In this list, we’ve gathered up the most massive and bizarre structures found in the universe. Many of them are actually a collection of objects that are held together by the immense force of gravity. And since space is so big, none of our Earthly means of measuring distances will suffice. So for the sake of this article, we’re going to use light-years, the rate at which light travels through space in one year, as a unit of measurement.

To give you a basic idea of what this means:
Light travels at 186,000 miles [300,000 kilometers] per second, which equals about 5,878,000,000,000 miles [9,461,000,000,000 km] each year.

Therefore, at this rate, it would take light more than 4 years of traveling at top speed to reach the Alpha Centauri triple-star system (the closest celestial neighbors of the sun). Our galaxy (the Milky Way) is so long that it would take light over 100,000 years of traveling before it would make its way across the galaxy.

Now then, click here to take a brief trip with us to the great beyond:

Image Source (Before Edits):

4 of the most Astounding Black Holes:

Black holes are some of the most amazing cosmological structures in the universe. We are drawn to them. Perhaps this is because they stand as a kind of sublime horror; they are super massive objects that consume entire worlds. Plus, their awesome size and power is unutterably amazing. However, despite their grandeur, they are exceedingly difficult to study. Try as we may, we really can’t get to the heart of these objects; the singularities themselves rest beyond the realm of physics. But all is not lost. Although we don’t know everything about black holes, we have uncovered some pretty amazing facts. Here, in no particular order, are some of the coolest black holes we’ve ever discovered.

To read about these amazing black holes, see:

Image source:

Astronomy Photo of the Day: Nov. 14 2013

In this amazing image, Comet Lovejoy blasts past the Earth (just visible near Earth"s horizon). This comet was discovered in November of 2011 by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy. From the get-go, scientists did not believe that the comet would have had a happy ending or make another pass by the Earth.

As Lovejoy sped into the Sun’s corona in 2011, passing within just 87,000 miles of the sun’s surface (well within spitting distance—astronomically speaking), most were assured that the comet would not survive the encounter. Scientists believed that the Sun would consume (melt off) most of the comet"s material. However, the comet managed to withstand the several million degree solar corona for close to an hour, and it headed back out into the solar system.

Lovejoy is a fascinating object: It belongs to the Kreutz family of sun-grazing comets (likely all pieces of a single giant comet that splintered apart in approximately 1106 AD), and it is believed to be the largest fragment of the giant comet. Since it was able to withstand the intense heat of the Sun, astronomers believe that the comet is larger than initially anticipated.

The photo was taken on Dec. 22, 2011 by NASA astronaut Dan Burbank while he was on the International Space Station.

For sources, see:

Image source:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Dropping a Hammer and Feather on the Moon (video post)

Have you ever seen a feather and a hammer dropped from the same height at the same time and land together? It is rather hard to accomplish this feat on Earth, as the air usually causes the two to land at different times. But the same isn"t true on the Moon. In the image pictured here, artist Alan Bean depicts Davin Scott preforming the hammer and feather experiment on the Moon during the Apollo 15 mission. And seeing this happen in a 40-second video clip is probably one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time.

Even though the feather and the hammer have different weights, in this video, you will see them hit the ground at the same time. Why does this happen? It is all because of a property of gravity discovered by Galileo Galilei. As you may have heard, he discovered the principle of gravitational acceleration (or acceleration due to gravity) by taking various objects to the top of the Tower of Pisa and dropping them. Later, Galileo devised a method to measure this acceleration by rolling balls down an incline.

To see the video of gravity in action, go to:

Image source: Alan Bean

New Particle Discovered (Maybe even two)

You know your house pretty well. You"ve lived in it a long time — five, 10 years, maybe more — and it probably doesn"t offer you many surprises anymore. But suppose one day while dusting your bedroom, you unexpectedly found a little door that led to another world, one with fairies, dragons and calorie-free, Häagen-Dazs-quality ice cream. Sounds unlikely, right?

Particle physics has some commonalities with that scenario. The standard model of particle physics has been around for a long time — at least 40 years — and scientists always talk about how it explains all the phenomena we"ve discovered thus far and how it"s nearly complete. But the Standard Model still has some tricks up its sleeve.

To read the full article, see:

Life Beyond Earth: A Day on Triton (Neptune’s Largest Moon):

Today, I would like to talk to you about what it would be like to spend a day on Triton. You may be thinking, “But I didn’t even know what Triton was until I read the title of this post. Why the heck would I want to go there?” If you did ask that question, I am judging you now (kidding).

Seriously though, a better question is: Why wouldn’t you want to go to Triton? Triton has everything that a tourist could want: smooth volcanic plains, shallow pits left by violent impacts, and valleys formed by icy lava flows. So you could spend your day skating across the sheets of ice-covered nitrogen, trooping through some of the frozen vales, or sliding down the cosmic craters. Best of all? Triton is one of the only geologically active moons in our solar system. So you can top it all off with a trip to see some of the massive plumes that are spewed forth by the Tritonian geysers. And these beasts aren’t like some of the one-shot wonders we see on Earth. Triton’s geysers continually eject material, sometimes shooting their smoky clouds 5miles (8km) into the atmosphere for years on end.

Then there’s the view. The Earth revolves a comfortable 93 million miles (150million km) from the Sun. At Nearly 2.8 billion miles (4.5 billion km) from Sol, Triton is a great place to go if you want to get a different perspective.

Want to know more about Triton? See:

Image source:

The Grand Canyon

Obviously, when we look at a distant galaxy, we are able to quickly grasp just how small we truly are; however, we don’t need to gaze off into the night sky to be amazed by our Lilliputian size(Gulliver’s Travels, anyone?). In order to get a sense of the immensity of our world, ultimately, the only thing that we need to do is stand at the brink of the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon is a little over 270 miles (440 km) long, and at its largest gap it extends just about 20 miles (29 km). To give you a bit of a comparison, the state of Rhode Island is a mere 48 miles (77km) long and 37 miles (60km) wide. Ultimately, the canyon is just 25 miles (40 km) shorter than Ireland. And it is deep. At its deepest point, it extends down over a mile (6,000 feet or 1,800 meters). What’s more? Not only is the Canyon mind-blowingly large, but it’s also one of Earth’s very few natural surface features that can be seen from satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO).

To learn more about the Grand Canyon and see more amazing images, visit:

Image source:

Saturn"s Eclipse: Round 2 and the Day the Earth Waved

Ladies and Gentlemen, after months of waiting, the new Cassini picture is finally here!

Taken on July 19, 2013, it is easily one of the most anticipated astronomy pictures of the year. While 1.2-million kilometers (750,000 miles) from the Ringed planet, Cassini once again snapped a mosaic of Saturn while it eclipsed the Sun.

All in all, the final picture is 9000 by 3500 pixels and glorious. NASA really outdid themselves with this one. All in all, Cassini took 323 pictures over the course of our hours and is colored in natural color. The picture shows an area about 651,591kilometers (404,880 miles) across.

There is a ton of awesome stuff pictured here, so, sit back and enjoy the tour of this beauty.

To take FQTQ"s "tour of interesting things to look at", see this article:

Astronomy photo of the Day: 11/13/13 - Arp 302

This picture is a composite that combines optical data from both the Hubble Space Telescope (seen in green, blue ad red) and the Chandra X-ray Observatory (pictured in purple)

These two galaxies, which are traditionally known as Arp 302, are located approximately 450 million light-years from Earth. As you can see, these two photogenic spiral galaxies are in the initial stages of merging into one larger elliptical galaxy, which gives astronomers a front row seat to observe the ultimate fate of the Milky Way when it inevitably collides with its nearest neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy, in about 4 billion years.

The two galaxies emit a startlingly large amount of infrared radiation. Said emissions typically release hundreds of times more radiation than the amount emitted by typical galaxies, potentially classifying them as luminous infrared galaxies. These galaxies are extremely interesting for astronomers to monitor. Thanks, in small part, to the fact that the cause of the large emission is largely unknown. It"s believed that at the center of VV 340 North (top), there is a supermassive black hole that is steadily growing in size, yet it"s obstructed from our view due to surrounding gas and dust particles. Another theory suggests that the galaxies are subject to intense bursts of star formation similar in mechanism to open and globular clusters.

Sources and further reading:

Image Credit: X-ray NASA/CXC/IfA/D.Sanders et al; Optical NASA/STScI/NRAO/A.Evans et al

ISS Waste Disposal

This is a picture of the Albert Einstein burning up on reentry.

You have no idea how much I wanted to say that. The Albert Einstein ATV is a waste disposal vehicle on board the ISS. The station"s crew crammed it full of waste that can"t be reused (because, the ISS is really good about recycling just about everything). Albert Einstein was filled with dirty clothes, human waste, and generally an assortment of things you"d rather not have dirtying up the ISS.

Albert Einstein was then directed to re-enter Earth"s atmosphere and burn up in one of the coolest ways to "take out the trash" that humanity has come up with to date. The spacecraft disintegrate as planned with nothing to show for it other than a fantastic light show.

This image is the first image of the disintegration process since 2008 when the Jules Verne met a similar fate. So, the ISS is clean again and NASA managed to give planet Earth a light sprinkling of astronaut trash in the process. Therefore, the next time you wipe off dust from the counter or clean your car, you can add dirty space-laundry ash to the list of particles you"ve just removed.

You can see a looping video of the re-entry process as seen from the ISS here.

Sources and further reading can be found here:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

McKinley/Denali: The Tallest Land-based Mountain on Earth (Yes, Taller Than Everest Even)

Today, I Alaska is home to some of the most amazing vistas on Earth. And few Alaskan views are more impressive than Mt. McKinley (also known as Mt. Denali). In this photo, taken during the warmer summer months, the summit looks serene. Photographer Lori A. Coleman states, “The summit had not been visible for about a month before this day. We first saw it from the distance on the train, then took a bus ride through Denali National Park to get closer. There was only a small hat like cloud hovering over the mountain.”

With a summit that reaches 20,320 feet above sea level, this mountain is the highest point in the United Sates and the highest point in all of North America. In fact, when measured base-to-peak, it is the tallest mountain on land anywhere in the world (Everest is only higher because its base is at a higher elevation).

Want to know more about this amazing mountain? See:

Image Source: Lori A. Coleman. Based near Rochester, NY, Lori specializes in family portraiture but enjoys exploring the world through her lens. Check out more of her work at:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 11/12/13 - HH 46/47

This newly released image was put together using data collected from the Spitzer Space Telescope (an infrared observatory) and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (a submillimeter wavelength observatory). It depicts a colorful outflow of material surrounding a budding baby star.

The Herbig-Haro (HH) object in question, known as HH 46/47, is well-studied, but never before have we seen the area in such terrific clarity. Thanks to the combined efforts of both telescopes, which can see through the clouds of gas and dust that blanket the star, are able to make out each of the many successive layers that make up the protostar"s environment; Like the jets of stellar material that formulate not one, but two bubbly lobes. The jets form when superheated gas is spat outward from the central star, inevitably bleeding into surrounding material. In the process, small - albeit bright - nebulous regions are generated.

Furthermore, the research undertaken by both observatories have revealed that the lobes of material are expanding away from the central star at exceptional speeds. This expansion may be the result of turbulence in the gaseous cloud that collapsed to form the star. It may even eventually lead to the formation of additional stars in the region. 

HH 46/47 can be found about 1,400 light-years from Earth in the Vela (The Sails) constellation.

Sources & Additional Reading:

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ALMA

Monday, November 11, 2013

T-Tauri Molecular Cloud

This utterly stunning image is of a star-forming region in the Taurus Molecular Cloud, which is located about 450 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Taurus. The area is filled with intricate filaments of dense material, with each obscuring the light from newly-born, still embedded, stars. Here, one can see two specific regions in the cloud. The first distinct region is in the upper-right part of the filament, which extends more than 10 light-years in length; known as Barnard 211. The other, dubbed Barnard 213, can be seen in the lower-left hand portion of the image.

Both names come from a 20th-century astronomer named Edward Emerson Barnard, who argued that the overall look of this area - and similar T Tauri regions - is due to obscuring matter in space. Barnard went on to catalog various "dark markings of the sky," which we now know as dark nebulae.

Learn more about this region - and how this image was formulated - here:

Image Credit: ESO/APEX (MPIfR/ESO/OSO)/A. Hacar et al./Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin.

All"s Fair in Love and War with the Nursery Web Spider

If you have been a fan here at FQTQ for a bit, you may know that we like to cover spiders quite often. From the order Araneae, spiders are truly amazing creatures that never fail to captivate our imaginations (and in some cases nightmares). In relation to species diversity, they are the ranked 7th out of all organisms that inhabit the Earth. And they can be tenacious; they have colonized and made their homes on every continent, with the exception of Antarctica.

Of course, they are rather small (comparatively), but what spiders lack in size, they make up for with character. In fact, they have a number of specialized traits that make learning about them truly fascinating. While many spiders are capable of causing harm to humans, we discuss them not to incite fear, but in an effort to reduce anxiety and to combat the stigma that has cloaked these creatures in a veil of obscurity. Often, what we really fear is the unknown, and if we know what spiders are really like, perhaps we will be less frightened and more inquisitive.

Additionally, when people start replacing their fear with knowledge and wonder, then conservation and preservation becomes more of a priority. Today, I would like to cover a rather interesting spider that exhibits a precarious mating ritual--a battle of intellectual prowess and deceit that can leave one member dead. Today, we discuss the Pisaura mirabilis, or better known as the Nursery Web spider.

Read all about these fascinating creatures at:

Image source:,%20Ants%20&%20Misc/slides/Nursery%20Web%20Spider%20with%20egg%20sac%201.html

From Quarks to Quasars - En Español!

Queridos Amigos / Dedicated FQTQers (English below)

From Quarks to Quasars esta orgulloso en presentarles nuestra primera página hecha totalmente en una lengua diferente. Para aquellos que se sienten más cómodos en leer y escribir en español, FQTQ - Español está aquí para servirles. Podrás ahora disfrutar del mismo gran contenido que tenemos en la página original, simplemente en una lengua más comprensible.



From Quarks to Quasars is proud to present our first non-english page. For those of you more comfortable reading and writing in Spanish, FQTQ - Espanol is here to serve. You"ll experience the same great content as the English page, just simply in a more understandable tongue.