Posts Tagged ‘The Daily Telegraph’

Physics is weird. There is no denying that. I would like to state upfront that it is in the readers interest NOT have a 420 break whilst reading these facts. It is a bad combination and your mind is likely to explode. Thank you and enjoy!

Via: The Daily Telegraph.
If the Sun were made of bananas, it would be just as hot.
The Sun is hot, as the more astute of you will have noticed. It is hot because its enormous weight – about a billion billion billion tons – creates vast gravity, putting its core under colossal pressure. Just as a bicycle pump gets warm when you pump it, the pressure increases the temperature. Enormous pressure leads to enormous temperature. If, instead of hydrogen, you got a billion billion billion tons of bananas and hung it in space, it would create just as much pressure, and therefore just as high a temperature. So it would make very little difference to the heat whether you made the Sun out of hydrogen, or bananas, or patio furniture.

All the matter that makes up the human race could fit in a sugar cube.
Atoms are 99.9999999999999 per cent empty space. As Tom Stoppard put it: “Make a fist, and if your fist is as big as the nucleus of an atom, then the atom is as big as St Paul’s, and if it happens to be a hydrogen atom, then it has a single electron flitting about like a moth in an empty cathedral, now by the dome, now by the altar.” If you forced all the atoms together, removing the space between them, crushing them down so the all those vast empty cathedrals were compressed into the first-sized nuclei, a single teaspoon or sugar cube of the resulting mass would weigh five billion tons; about ten times the weight of all the humans who are currently alive.

Incidentally, that is exactly what has happened in a neutron star, the super-dense mass left over after a certain kind of supernova.

Events in the future can affect what happened in the past.
The weirdness of the quantum world is well documented. The double slit experiment, showing that light behaves as both a wave and a particle, is odd enough – particularly when it is shown that observing it makes it one or the other.

But it gets stranger. According to an experiment proposed by the physicist John Wheeler in 1978 and carried out by researchers in 2007, observing a particle now can change what happened to another one – in the past. According to the double slit experiment, if you observe which of two slits light passes through, you force it to behave like a particle. If you don’t, and observe where it lands on a screen behind the slits, it behaves like a wave.

But if you wait for it to pass through the slit, and then observe which way it came through, it will retroactively force it to have passed through one or the other. In other words, causality is working backwards: the present is affecting the past.

Almost all of the Universe is missing.
There are probably more than 100 billion galaxies in the cosmos. Each of those galaxies has between 10 million and a trillion stars in it. Our sun, a rather small and feeble star (a “yellow dwarf”, indeed), weighs around a billion billion billion tons, and most are much bigger. There is an awful lot of visible matter in the Universe. But it only accounts for about two per cent of its mass. We know there is more, because it has gravity. Despite the huge amount of visible matter, it is nowhere near enough to account for the gravitational pull we can see exerted on other galaxies. The other stuff is called “dark matter”, and there seems to be around six times as much as ordinary matter.

To make matters even more confusing, the rest is something else called “dark energy”, which is needed to explain the apparent expansion of the Universe. Nobody knows what dark matter or dark energy is.

Things can travel faster than light; and light doesn’t always travel very fast.
The speed of light in a vacuum is a constant: 300,000km a second. However, light does not always travel through a vacuum. In water, for example, photons travel at around three-quarters that speed. In nuclear reactors, some particles are forced up to very high speeds, often within a fraction of the speed of light. If they are passing through an insulating medium that slows light down, they can actually travel faster than the light around them. When this happens, they cause a blue glow, known as “Cherenkov radiation ”, which is (sort of) comparable to a sonic boom but with light. This is why nuclear reactors glow in the dark.

Incidentally, the slowest light has ever been recorded travelling was 17 meters per second – about 38 miles an hour – through rubidium cooled to almost absolute zero, when it forms a strange state of matter called a Bose-Einstein condensate. Light has also been brought to a complete stop in the same fashion, but since that wasn’t moving at all, we didn’t feel we could describe that as “the slowest it has been recorded travelling”.

There are an infinite number of mes writing this, and an infinite number of yous reading it.
According to the current standard model of cosmology, the observable universe – containing all the billions of galaxies and trillions upon trillions of stars mentioned above – is just one of an infinite number of universes existing side-by-side, like soap bubbles in a foam. Because they are infinite, every possible history must have played out. But more than that, the number of possible histories is finite, because there have been a finite number of events with a finite number of outcomes. The number is huge, but it is finite. So this exact event, where this author writes these words and you read them, must have happened an infinite number of times.

Even more amazingly, we can work out how far away our nearest doppelganger is. It is, to put it mildly, a large distance: 10 to the power of 10 to the power of 28 meters. That number, in case you were wondering, is one followed by 10 billion billion billion zeroes.

Black holes aren’t black.
They’re very dark, sure, but they aren’t black. They glow, slightly, giving off light across the whole spectrum, including visible light.

Right, fuck it! Stop right there. This is too much for my brain. Plus, I told you not to have a 420 break reading this. I need to lie down. My brain hurts.

June 2. The Big 3 “Oh!” *sigh* …halfway to 60!

Except, my name is not Andrew. Unless I swallowed the wrong pills for my sore throat this morning.

In other important news today, The Daily Telegraph reports that “a math formula proves that giraffes can swim.” Whereas most large animals are extremely good swimmers, it has often been said that giraffes are unable to swim or wade. The authors of the new study hoped to test this oft-quoted theory by using a digital giraffe rather than a real one. Brilliant! I think the headline should read: Scientists put cancer on hold to prove that giraffes can swim. Top work palaeontologists! Theoretical biology never seemed more exciting. It also seems Sony have put pacemaker development on hold to invent a tweeting device for cats to use twitter. The crazy thing is you think I am joking!

Anyway, I didn’t get the book I wanted for my birthday! I’m off to go sulk! And it’s not because Clay Aiken is singing on ‘The View’ in the background.