StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "I wasn’t all that long ago — just 50 years — that we didn’t know where our Universe came from. A hot, dense early state? A cyclical, swirling past? Or perhaps a time-independent one, where the Universe back then was not so different from our own today? All that changed in 1964, quite by accident. With the first detection of the Cosmic Microwave Background, and its identification as the leftover glow from the Big Bang, we entered a new era of cosmology, one that wasn’t primarily based in speculative, theoretical calculations, but one that could distinguish between possible Universes from careful, progressively improved measurements of our Universe. Today, we’re on the precipice of taking the next step, and finding out what gravitational waves may have imprinted themselves from the earliest moments of our observable Universe. Come learn the status of where we are now, and how we're going to take the next step!"
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "When it comes to physics, there sure are some strange theories — and even stranger phenomena — out there. The notion that particles don’t have fixed, intrinsic properties that are simultaneously measurable can only be described as weird, and the fact that you can add as much energy as you want to a particle but it will never accelerate to beyond a particular speed is certainly counterintuitive. Yet one theory has them all beat. For ninety-nine years, now, General Relativity has made a whole host of unique predictions, ranging from time slowing down in a gravitational field to the bending of starlight to the decay of pulsar orbits, that have been observationally confirmed each and every time. It's the strangest theory we know to be true, and we're on the brink of testing (and possibly confirming) its predictions to even better precision!"
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "The next great leap in human spaceflight is a manned mission to a world within our Solar System: most likely Mars. But if something went wrong along the journey — at launch, close to Earth, or en route — whether biological or mechanical, would there be any way to return to Earth? A fun (and sobering) look at what the limits of physics and technology allow at present."
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "The greatest story ever told is the one the Universe tells us about itself: how it went from a state of empty and expanding spacetime to one containing the huge number of galaxies, stars, planets and atoms, not to mention you. Here is the shortest version of that story ever that is still accurate and comprehensive, with ten sentences covering the entire thing!"
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "For all the aspiring supervillains out there, you may have heard that Stephen Hawking recently wrote about the possibility of the Higgs field destroying the Universe. As it turns out, that's not very likely to happen, not likely to affect us if it does happen, and not something we can control in any case. But there is something we can do if we were intent on destroying the Universe: restore the inflationary state that gave rise to the Universe (and the Big Bang) in the first place!"
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "When you think of astrology today, you likely think of someone who makes false promises and proclaims either platitudes or fabrications as though they were preordained truths. That's not even an unfair judgment. For many millennia dating to just a few centuries ago, though, astrology was anything but. Our initial thoughts on the idea that what happens in the heavens affects what happens on Earth may have been flawed, but as it turns out, the simple idea of observing the Universe beyond our own world has been able to teach us more than the ancients would have ever dreamed! A fascinating look at the story of where science itself originated."
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "When you think of Einstein — beyond the quotable old guy with the crazy hair — you probably think of trains moving near the speed of light, matter converting into energy (and vice versa), the fabric of space and time or perhaps the equivalence principle. Yet all of these ideas, special and general relativity, E=mc^2 and so on, sprung from the same source, the gedankenexperiment, or thought-experiment. It's amazing what the human mind, all on its own, can accomplish, including knocking on the door of the newest frontiers in science!"
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "When we look out into the Universe, we can see fainter and farther than ever before simply by building larger telescopes and having them take longer exposures: in other words, by gathering more light. But even in principle, there's a limit to what we can see, thanks to the fact that, beyond a certain point, the Universe was an ionized plasma, randomizing whatever information was contained in the light passing through it. But that doesn't mean we can't see beyond that point, it just means we can't use light to do it! Gravitational waves are the future of astronomy, and can even tell us how the Universe got its start!"
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "The Big Bang has, among its predictions, three cornerstones: the Hubble Expansion of the Universe, the Cosmic Microwave Background, and the abundance of the Light Elements due to Big Bang Nucleosynthesis. The first one has been confirmed to spectacular accuracy, and with the COBE, WMAP and Planck satellites, the spectrum and fluctuations in the CMB rule out almost every other feasible alternative. But detecting the abundance of the light elements directly has always run into a difficulty: the formation of stars in the Universe pollutes the intergalactic medium, ruining our ability to see anything "pristine." We'd have to get incredibly lucky, to find a region of molecular gas that had never formed stars in-between our line-of-sight to a quasar or bright galaxy. For nearly 70 years, that didn't happen, and then all of a sudden, we found two. The Big Bang stands tall after all!"
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "Sure, the idea of destroying an entire planet may sound like an unachievable dream of a pathological teenager, as the energy required would be tremendous. To simply overcome the gravitational potential energy binding an Earth-sized planet together would require the entire energy output of the Sun added up over more than a week! But if we could harness a relatively small amount of antimatter — just 0.00000000002% the mass of the planet in question — that would be enough to do it."
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "During sunset, the Sun appears to redden, dim, and eventually sink below the horizon. Every once in a while, a rare phenomenon emerges along with it: a green flash, where a greenish-colored beam of light appears just over the Sun. What causes it? One of the most beautiful natural phenomena our planet has to offer, explained in glorious detail."
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "You may have just heard that we’ve mapped out our supercluster of galaxies — Laniakea — to unprecedented accuracy, identifying a region 500 million light-years in diameter that’s responsible for our local group’s motion through space. While it's an amazing feat of astronomical mapping and cluster identification, calling a structure like this a “supercluster” implies that, in some way, the galaxies, galactic groups and galaxy clusters that make this up are in some way bound together. But this is in no way the case! Come find out why “superclusters” aren’t so super after all."
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "In 1992, scientists discovered the first planets orbiting a star other than our Sun. The pulsar PSR B1257+12 was discovered to have its own planetary system, and since then, exoplanet discoveries have exploded! But before that, in 1963, decades of research led to the much-anticipated publication and announcement of the first exoplanet discovered: around Barnard's star, the second-closest star system to Earth. Unfortunately, it turned out to be spurious, and that in itself took years to uncover, an amazing story which is only now fully coming to light!"
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "Tonight marks the third-and-final Supermoon of the year, but the physics governing the Moon will be no less super or spectacular all year long. Next month, a total lunar eclipse awaits us, while lunar libration allows us to see up to 59% of the Moon's surface over the course of the month, not a mere 50% like you might expect. What's the physics (and astronomy) governing the Moon? Summer Ash has the entire, comprehensive story."
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "Hydroelectric dams are one of the best and oldest sources of green, renewable energy, but — as the Three Gorges Dam in China exemplifies — they often cause a host of environmental and ecological problems and challenges. One of the more interesting ones is how to coax fish upstream in the face of these herculean walls that can often span more than 500 feet in height. While fish ladders might be a solution for some of the smaller dams, they're limited in application and success. Could Whooshh Innovations' Salmon Cannon, a pneumatic tube capable of launching fish up-and-over these dams, finally restore the Columbia River salmon to their original habitats?"