September 21, 2013 | Comments Off
My buddy Dave Mosher had a huge four-pronged spread in Wired this week, the end result of nearly a year of hard work, detailing why NASA’s plutonium problem could end deep-space exploration. [Best Twitter quip by Daniel Sieradski (@selfagency): "Doc Brown sold it all to the Libyans."] This was accompanied by a timeline of Plutonium-238′s Hot and Twisted History and a listicle of The Best Plutonium-Powered Space Missions, as well as this cool look at How the U.S. Tested the Safety of Nuclear Batteries using Titanium Bullets, Rocket Sleds, and C-4. I’m exhausted just typing in those links. Good work, Dave! Of course, he received a lot of backlash for his coverage; he responded to one well-reasoned critique here.
Did the LHC Just Rule Out String Theory?! Matt Strassler begs to differ. “I’m not sure how this silliness got started, but it’s completely wrong.” And a followup: “Am I Misleading You About String Theory?” Strassler responds to his critics and lets you be the judge.
Optical Bernoulli Forces Could Steer Objects Bathed in Light. Theorists have discovered a new optical force that is analogous to the thrust that keeps aircraft aloft and causes tennis balls to swerve.
Squinting At Saturn Through 17th Century Technology What can antique telescopes reveal about finding exoplanets?
This week’s best Google Doodle honored Léon Foucault, the man who proved that the earth spins without even going outside. … Via Rhett Allain, here is a cool picture that shows a way to make a Foucault pendulum, from the Scientific American archives.
This week in Merry Olde England, the Stephen Hawking biopic premiered, and the Guardian was on hand to mark the occasion. “Working with Stephen Hawking is never dull”: Carers & friends share impressions at premiere of biopic in Cambridge. But the highlight of the coverage was undeniably the accompanying video animation: Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time, made simple. Alok Jha explains why black holes are doomed to shrink into nothingness then explode with the energy of a million nuclear bombs, and rewinds to the big bang and the origin of the universe.
26 Sure Signs You’re A Physics Graduate. It’s a tough job correcting scientifically inaccurate jokes, but someone’s got to do it.
Ideas worth spreading? Sure, but how? A physicist and an ecologist who both study complex networks map how ideas spread, using a pool of 24,000 TEDx talks. So very meta: a TED talk about TED talks.
A plant-inspired process for extracting liquid fuel from the sun: Annalee Newitz on the future of solar.
Why Today’s Inventors Need to Read More Science Fiction. MIT researchers Dan Novy and Sophia Brueckner argue that the mind-bending worlds of authors such as Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clarke can help us not just come up with ideas for new gadgets, but anticipate their consequences.
Host Max Silvestri learns how to break a board with his hand using martial arts in Mental Floss’s “Be More Interesting” series.
Whatever Happened to Tom Lehrer? Reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated: at 85, he’s alive and well and living in Santa Cruz, California. “His fans have never forgiven him for retiring.”
Just how weak is the weak force? Q-weak collaboration has found the value of the weak force agrees w/ theory—so far.
A bit more Voyager coverage: The Bubble at the Edge of the Solar System. Putting Voyager’s journey in its cosmic context. Also: How Nasa’s Voyager is bringing the sound of space down to Earth. In space, no-one can hear you scream, but you can now hear what is going on out there.
Maxwell’s Equations: How a Scottish physicist formulated the equations that showed us how to electrify the world.
Slightly less famous than Maxwell: In 1842: Jean-Daniel Colladon showed how to guide light with water. “In performing demonstrations of these jets in a lecture hall, Colladon became irritated that his audience could not clearly see what was happening to the falling water. He then hit upon the idea of directing a beam of light into the stream from the other side of the tank, using the light in the stream to illuminate its behavior.”
The Hydraulic Brain: “People used to think that nerves were literally pipes, conveying impulses in the form of pressure waves of water.”
How a comet impact may have jump-started life on Earth — and elsewhere.
Internet Archaeologists Reconstruct Lost Web Pages from the context in which they appeared.
Finding the Ocean Inside an Opal. Check out these gorgeous photographs.
Unlocking the Potential of ‘Flammable Ice’. “Hydrate-containing sediments are found in large amounts around the world, both under the sea and to a lesser extent in permafrost. If they can be tapped safely and economically, they could be an abundant source of fuel, especially for countries like Japan that have few energy reserves of their own.”
Cosmic bling: You take two stars that are orbiting each other. Then wait about 10 million years.
The riddle of the singing sands. Researchers have finally discovered how some dunes boom and drone when disturbed.
The Women Who Mapped the Universe and Still Couldn’t Get Any Respect. Henrietta Leavitt is mysteriously absent. Oh well. At least Annie Jump Cannon gets some props.
Strike at ALMA in Chile ripples outward to other astronomy observatory labor unions.
Watch out, WIMPs! Physicists on the CDMS experiment have devised a better way to search for light dark matter.
Physics is helping save pneumonia patients’ lives in the developing world.
Ominous Quiet: NASA formally ended its Deep Impact mission after month of failed attempts to re-establish contact.
To cheer you up, here’s a Beautiful High Definition Animation of the Moon’s Rotation Captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Plot Point Productions compiled 61 terrifying clips of free-falling scenes from movies and TV shows into this death-defying supercut
Step Inside Truth, a Steampunk Coffee Shop in Cape Town, South Africa.
The Real Problem With Logan’s Run‘s Infamous “Sex Teleport” Scene: the terrible user interface. Related: A Brief History of Slash: No, not the guitarist for Guns ‘n Roses, but an anatomy of an online subculture.
Navigating with the stars: dung beetles and whales?
Researchers discover evidence to support controversial theory of buckyball formation.
Euclid’s Kiss: A video tour of George’s Hart’s exhibit of mathematical sculpture.
Modality and metaphysics: Richard Marshall interviews Timothy Williamson in 3:AM Magazine. …
Aeroscraft, a Helium-Powered Aluminum Airship in development by Aeros Corp. Did we learn nothing from the Hindenburg? Why, yes we did. This airship uses helium, not the highly flammable hydrogen. Which is a whole ‘nother can of worms because helium supplies are becoming scarce; in fact, the Guardian reports that a global helium shortage is a very real prospect. Makers of medical equipment and electronics face rising prices and supply disruptions if a Federal Helium Reserve in Texas shuts down soon.
A dancer interacts with frenetic lines, squares, and other geometric elements in the motion graphics-infused video piece “Nuance” by Marc-Antoine Locatelli. (h/t: Laughing Squid)
I’m just gonna leave this here, in case some of you need gift ideas for the Star Wars fans in your lives. Star Wars Lightsaber Thumb Wrestling, A Book With Tiny Strap-On Thumb Lightsabers. Other items for your geek gift wishlist: make TARDIS cupcakes or Jell-O. Also: Time Travel Era Kits by Time Travel Mart. You’ll want to fit in when you go back to 1880.
“My brain is in town”: Paul Erdős was in many ways a mathematician’s mathematician.
NASA’s Asteroid-in-a-Bag Recipe: “It’s not as crazy as it seemed at the beginning.”
“When Drinks Explode“: The deadly side of champagne bubbles.
The Moon Is Not Black And White, It Just Looks That Way in the pictures.
Fault-tolerant quantum computing? Berkeley collaboration induces high-temperature superconductivity in a topological insulator.
What Would It Be Like to Fall Into a Naked Singularity?
Meet Jack: Scientist, inventor, kayaking enthusiast, Glee fan, likes boys, … and he’s still only 16.
“5:20 AM – A-Bomb Sunrise!” What the atomic tests of the 1950s looked like from Los Angeles.
How the Nobel Prize Was Born: A Surprising Story of Bad Journalism, Existential Guilt, and Dynamite.
Haters gonna hate, amirite? Dancing Bill Nye “looked like a praying mantis on ecstasy” in his debut turn on Dancing with the Stars. Immediately, the hand-wringing began: Bill Nye’s Appearance On ‘Dancing With The Stars’ Is Bad For Science, sniffed Business Insider. PhysicsBuzz begged to differ.
Does the Human Population Alter Gravity? Rhett Allain breaks it down for you at Dot Physics.
Finally, it’s been simply everywhere this week, but this physics grad student’s one-man a capella version of “Bohemian Gravity” (a parody of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” of course) totes made my day. For those physics nerds about to rock, we salute you!