StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "We like to think of our Solar System as typical: a central star with a number of planets — some gas giants and some rocky worlds — in orbit around it. Yes, there's some variety, with binary or trinary star systems and huge variance in the masses of the central star being common ones, but from a planetary point of view, our Solar System is a rarity. Even though there are hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy for planets to orbit, there are most likely around a quadrillion planets in our galaxy, total, with only a few trillion of them orbiting stars at most. Now that we've finally detected the first of these, we have an excellent idea that this picture is the correct one: most planets in the Universe are homeless. Now, thank your lucky star!"
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "No, we haven't found it yet. But there are good reasons that we probably never will, and that even if we did find it, we probably wouldn't be able to recognize it as such. Come learn the nuances of what we think it should look like, what our prospects for hunting them are, and what the closest is that we've come so far!"
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "Wandering into the woods unprepared and without a plan sounds like a terrible idea. But if you’re interested in scientific exploration at the frontiers, confronting the unknown with whatever you happen to have at your disposal, you have to take that risk. You have to be willing to take those steps. And you have to be okay with putting your best ideas out there — for all to see — knowing full well that you might get the entire thing wrong. Sometimes, that’s indeed what happens. Some of the most revered and famous scientific minds in history confronted the great mysteries of nature, and came away having done nothing but set us back many years by leading the field down a blind alley. But other times, the greatest leaps forward in our understanding occur as a result. Explore some great examples, and learn why this is vital for scientific progress."
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "You've no doubt heard of quantum entanglement before: the idea that if you create a mixed quantum state that consists of two particles, you can then know the properties of one by measuring the properties of the other. The odd — and counterintuitive — thing about this is that once these particles are entangled, you can move them an arbitrary distance apart from one another, measure the properties of one, and instantly know about the properties of the other! Does this violate the law of special relativity, which says the speed limit of everything in the Universe? As it turns out, the answer is no, but Einstein nevertheless thought this shouldn't be allowed to happen! Despite being the most brilliant mind of his generation, this is one of those times that Einstein got it completely wrong. Come learn about the ghostly physics that Einstein called "spooky action at a distance.""
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "Every once in a while, a river develops a sandbar island in the middle. Normally, this happens because it carves a small tributary through one of its banks, creating an isolated island. Unfortunately, over time, the rushing water erodes the island in the middle, something that happens very quickly if there isn't a large, complex root system to fight the erosion processes. For those of you who feel that once person can't make a difference, meet the ultimate counterexample: the man who planted an entire forest, saved an island, and defended herds of wildlife from would-be poachers."
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "It's a phenomenon we've all experienced: you've got a roaring fire going and you're excited to keep it burning for longer, so you throw an extra two or three large logs on it. A half hour later, all you've got left are coals. It might not make intuitive sense, but you would have been better off just putting a single log on — in other words, adding less fuel — if you wanted your fire to last longer. Here's the science of why."
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "Handing your health and fitness over to a reality show, where the goal is to lose as much of your weight as possible in the shortest amount of time, might not be the healthiest long-term option, but for a chance at a quarter of a million dollars, it's worth it for some. Imagine how frustrated you'd be, though, if you learned that you should have been the winner, but weren't, all because of the rounding errors inherent to the format of the show. They not only often send the wrong person home, but may have crowned the wrong winner as a result of this common math mistake!"
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "It’s such a part of our cosmic and scientific history, that it’s difficult to remember that it’s only been for the past 50 years that the Big Bang has been the leading theory-and-model that describes our Universe. Ever since the 1920s, when Edwin Hubble discovered the apparent expansion of our Universe, we’ve recognized that it’s a much bigger place than simply what’s in the Milky Way. But the Big Bang was hardly the only game in town. Yet the discovery of not only the Cosmic Microwave Background, but the detailed measurement of its temperature and spectrum, was able to rule out every single alternative as a non-viable model."
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "The Universe exists as it does; we exist in the Universe; therefore, the Universe needed to have such properties that at least allowed for the possibility of us arising. Is that a trivially true statement? Is that simply a useless tautology? Or can something like this actually be informative, and guide us in a useful direction when it comes to our understanding of the Universe? Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder explores these and other issues, including the multiverse, in this fascinating look into the anthropic principle."
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "The formation of new stars happens in stages: cold molecular gas clouds contract and collapse under their own gravity, forming proto-stars in the densest regions that grow to undergo nuclear fusion. The new stars then emit ionizing radiation, and burn off the rest of the nebula, leaving a young star cluster behind. For the most part, we observe this story in different stages when we look at different objects, but there's one place in our galaxy where the entire story is being told all at once. It's the Eagle Nebula: the one place in our galaxy that showcases all the stages of star formation simultaneously!"
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "We like to think of the Mercury 7 — the very first group of NASA astronauts — as the "best of the best," having been chosen from a pool of over 500 of the top military test pilots after three rounds of intense physical and mental tests. Yet when women were allowed to take the same tests, one of them clearly distinguished herself, outperforming practically all of the men. If NASA had really believed in merit, Jerrie Cobb would have been the first female in space, even before Valentina Tereshkova, more than 50 years ago. She still deserves to go."
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "The past century saw a revolution in the way we perceive the nature of the Universe. Rather than being made up of fixed space and time, general relativity brought along with it spacetime, and the idea that it wasn't fixed at all but rather dynamical. We discovered that the fabric of this spacetime itself is expanding over time, and by measuring multiple independent lines of evidence, we determined that the expansion itself is accelerating. This general phenomenon is due to dark energy, but what exactly is this dark energy we speak of so frequently? The observations are good enough now that we can (preliminarily) say that it's a cosmological constant, or the energy inherent to space itself, or the non-zero zero-point-energy of the quantum vacuum. There's still a little wiggle room, but not much!"
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "If you can reach the fabled "breakeven point" of nuclear fusion, you’ll have opened up an entire new source of clean, reliable, safe, renewable and abundant energy. You will change the world. At present, fusion is one of those things we can make happen through a variety of methods, but — unless you’re the Sun — we don’t have a way to ignite and sustain that reaction without needing to input more energy than we can extract in a usable fashion from the fusion that occurs. One alternative approach to the norm is, rather than try and up the energy released in a sustained, hot fusion reaction, to instead lower the energy inputted, and try to make fusion happen under “cold” conditions. If you listen in the right (wrong?) places, you'll hear periodic reports that cold fusion is happening, even though those reports have always crumbled under scrutiny. Here's why, most likely, they always will."
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "Last week, outlets reported an independent test of the E-cat, an alleged cold fusion device that could revolutionize energy for our world. Or, alternatively, it could simply be a hoax perpetrated by a charlatan and a team of either accomplices or incompetents. How would you distinguish between the two? When you look at the scientific standards, the results of the "independent test" leave a lot to be desired."
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "4.6 billion years ago, a large molecular cloud collapsed in the Milky Way, giving rise to around a thousand or so new stars and star systems, one of which just happened to become our home. But those early days showcased a violent time for our Solar System, and wasn't so different from what's currently taking place in the Omega Nebula, just 5,500 light years away in our own galaxy. Take an in-depth look inside, and catch a glimpse of what our Solar System's environment was like back during its earliest days!"