Send us your questions on weird and alternate science!
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where to send your question at the bottom of the page.
- I was reading about the VASIMR engine that Franklin
Chang Diaz is building and I read it has an ISP of 4000-5000
while a falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX has an ISP of only 300
and some. My question is what ISP would a plasma ion engine
need to lift off from the surface of earth and make it to space.
I don't have any ideas on what the weight would be of the ship.
Sorry if this is a silly question. It's just in films like the
chronicles of Riddick one of the Furyans say they've "located
an ion trail that goes offworld." - C. Bell.
ISP (Specific Impulse) of a rocket engine is a measure of the
weight of the propellant used to get a certain amount of thrust.
It can give you an idea how efficiently the engine uses it's
propellant, but it does not take into account the mass of the
spacecraft itself which would be a critical concern for lifting
off from a high gravity object, like the Earth.
VASIMR can create a very high ISP by sending ions and electrons
out its exhaust at somewhere around 50,000 meters/second. To
do this it takes a propellant material (perhaps hydrogen, since
it the most abundant material in the universe) and uses radio
waves to ionize it (heat it till the electrons separate from
the nucleus of the hydrogen atoms) then uses a powerful magnetic
field to accelerate the ionized propellant out the exhaust to
create thrust. The problem is that the electric power needed
to heat the propellant and create those magnetic fields can
be significant. To send a manned ship to Mars you would probably
need a small but powerful nuclear reactor on it.
are several problems with the idea of launching a rocket powered
by a nuclear reactor from Earth. The first is that the reactor
would likely be so heavy that any the advantage of the VASIMR's
high thrust would be negated by the weight of the rocket. There
are also serious concerns about the environmental impact of
the reactor's nuclear fuel scattering over a wide area should
there be an accident during the launch.
doesn't mean that VASIMR, and similar electromagnetic thruster
based engine schemes, do not have a future in spaceflight. Carrying
a heavy power reactor on your spaceship may not be such a big
deal if your ship is leaving from a space station in orbit,
rather than launching from Earth. It's not hard to envision
a day where passengers and cargo ride up to an orbital platform
on conventional rockets, or via a space elevator, then ride
to Mars on a VASIMR powered interplanetary shuttle. By leaving
from a space station in orbit, the size and weight of the vessel
are a much smaller issue.
example, NASA's Deep Space 1 probe used an NSTAR ion engine
(another type of electromagnetic thruster) to carry it out to
survey the asteroid 9969 Braille back in 1999. This worked because
the probe was launched from Earth with a conventional rocket.
Once it had gotten away from Earth and shed the booster that
go it into orbit, it was very light and was able to power its
engine via solar panels on the craft.
type of drives look like they are excellent candidates for space
probes moving between planets, but unless a very compact power
plant is invented, they may be impractical for launching from
the surface of a large celestial body into space.
Memory - Not a question, just a note since you mention
the Hindenburg: I saw it as it flew over my school's playground
in mid-Manhattan about an hour before it burned. We were at
recess and thrilled to see it. - Ghislaine J.
for sharing that memory with us. I sure it was an exciting sight.
The Hindenburg was scheduled to land earlier that day
on May 6th, 1937, but was delayed by thunderstorms over the
Lakehurst, NJ, landing site, so the Captain, Max Pruss, took
the ship up over Manhatten and down the Jersey shore to give
the passengers something to look at while the weather cleared.
The flight caused people to pour out into the streets to catch
sight of the gigantic airship.
Hindenburg, as you probably know, was the largest object ever
to fly. At 803 feet long it was a big as a skyscraper laid on
its side and just short of the length of the ill-fated Titanic.
In fact, with a diameter of over 135 feet, The Hindenburg is
almost as wide as some modern adverting blimps are long. For
example, the Direct TV blimp is 178 feet long. Now anybody who
has seen one of these blimps up close knows that these are still
pretty big objects. Standing next to one just imagine an airship
who's width is almost as big as the distance from the tip of
the blimp's nose to its tail. The mind boggles.
a chance to get a feeling of the size of The Hindenburg while
filming a documentary for the travel channel a few years ago.
The crew and I got were allowed to film inside Hanger #1 at
the "Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst" which is now what the
Navel Air Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey is now called. The
hanger, just a short distance from the place where the airship
crashed and burned, is just big enough that on previous trips
The Hindenburg was able to snuggle inside. Walking around the
hanger, with its massive doors and towering ceiling, you can
really get a sense for the size of the massive airship. More
than three times the length of the largest airliner in operation
today, the Boeing 747-800.
again for sharing that memory. For readers who want more information
on the fate of The Hindenburg, check our page
on the disaster or check my experince at Lakehurst while filiming
WOW in SETI - What do you know about the WOW signal,
and have scientists found any possible source (other than aliens)?
Could it have even been faked? Or is it more likely to be a
genuine signal from aliens? If that's the case, why haven't
we heard any more? - Jonathan .
signal (called the "WOW" signal because that's what the scientist
who first saw the data wrote on the printout) was observed by
the "Big Ear" radio telescope at Ohio State University on August
15, 1977. The Big Ear was part of a SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial
Intelligence) project run by the college for almost 30 years.
The signal was the closest thing to an alien contact that the
project - or anybody else involved in SETI - has ever found.
are several things that make the signal so interesting. The
first is the strength. It is extremely high: The most powerful
signal ever received from space from an unknown source. Second
is its duration. Almost exactly 72 seconds. This is significant
because the Big Ear was a fixed radio antenna which swept the
sky as the earth turned and 72 seconds was exactly the length
of time it would take for the antenna to sweep by a pinpoint
source in space. Also the growth and decay pattern of the signal
is exactly what one would expect for a fixed celestial source,
making it unlikely it was an earthbound transmitter. Third is
its frequency: It is very near the frequency of hydrogen and
very concentrated. The
hydrogen "line" is considered to be by most scientists the logical
frequency to choose if you where trying to broadcast to another
civilization. The fact that that signal did not extend much
above or below that frequency is a strong indication that the
broadcast was artificial, as natural sources a rarely so concentrated.
intriguing aspect of this signal is that is that it was only
observed from one of the Big Ear's two "horns" but not the other.
They scanned the same section of sky about two minutes apart,
so in that short period something, or somebody, stopped the
as the signal was, it has never been found again despite many
researchers revisiting that location in the sky using, in many
cases, much more sensitive equipment. This both deepens the
mystery and makes it almost impossible to hope for a solution.
The follow up surveys have almost eliminated the possibly of
some weird natural source. However, the lack of any additional
signals also makes it seem very unlikely that aliens are trying
to contact us. Most scientists believe that they definitely
would try more than once (although we ourselves have only sent
a sent an outbound signal once). The only way we may have missed
their additional signals, if they exist, is if they are being
repeated at very long intervals (at least 14 hours apart).
unless something is repeatable, it doesn't count for much. Some
have suggested that the signal may have been a man-made space
probe that the SETI team wasn't aware of, but there is no way
of proving that one way or another. So, the mystery continues.
We can only hope that if E.T. was trying to contact us, he tries
to phone again, soon.
Lost Land - What is the story behind the Arthurian "lost
land" of Lyonesse, and what relationship does it have with other
"lost lands" (e.g. Atlantis), if any? - Levi
Land of Lyonesse first appears in the medieval Arthurian legends.
(An example of these is the History of the Kings of Britain
that was published around the 12th century A.D.). However, in
these early stories the Land of Lyonesse was not at all lost!
It was actually are real place: Lothian. Lothian was part of
Scotland that ran along the southern shore of the Firth of Forth.
of legends exist about Lyonesse, perhaps the most well-known
one being the story of Tristan and Iseult. In this tale, a tragic
romance, Tritan falls in love with the King's wife, Iseult,
ultimately leading to an adulteress relationship. The story
most likely influenced the later romantic tale of Lancelot and
Guinevere in the Arthurian legends.
on Lyonesse became associated with the coast of Cornwall. Particularly
an area between Land's End and the Isles of Scilly, which are
about 15 miles to the west of the mainland in the Celtic Sea.
How did this stretch of water get the reputation as a sunken
land? Well Mount's Bay, just to the south of Land's End, shows
signs of once being above the water. The stumps of a forest
can still sometimes be seen at low tides following storms on
the beach. In fact, the island of St Michael's Mount, sitting
in the bay, is called in Cornish "Karrek Loos yn Koos" which
means "hoar rock in woodland" which the suggests that the island
was once a hill surround by a low, swampy forest. Radiocarbon
dating of wood recovered from this forest suggest it was flooded
in the 17th century B.C.. It is likely that later the actual
disappearance of the bay was extended in legend to include the
whole area between Land's End and the Isles of Schilly.
is this related to the story of Atlantis sinking below the sea?
Well, the earliest references to Atlantis are in Plato's dialogues
Timaeus and Critias, written in 360 BC. That's more than a thousand
years after the area in the Mount's Bay disappeared underwater,
so one could argue there might be a connection. In 1995 a Russian
scientist, Viatcheslav Koudriavtsev, proposed that that an area
to the west of the Isles of Schilly, called the Celtic Shelf,
might be a possible location for Atlantis. Koudriavtsev's theory
is that during the last Ice Age the sea levels were much lower
and this area would have been exposed. He believes it was the
center of a major civilization. He has also taken the location
for Atlantis as described by Plato, and reinterpreted the directions
so they point to this location. Armed with his theory he has
been seeking the necessary permission and funds to support a
scientific, underwater exploration of the shelf, but without
as this idea is, over the years people have made cases for Atlantis
being located in many places including, Crete, the Canary Islands,
Spain, South America and even Antarctica. It not clear that
Koudriavtsev has more evidence for the Celtic Shelf than any
end, however, perhaps Lyonesse, Atlantis and other mysterious
missing lands of legend share more of a literary connection
rather than a physical one. A place where the Gods punished
evil men by sinking the ground beneath them into the sea.
- I have a Question which deals with something found in a LOT
of Sci-fi and fantasy stories: The situation is this... That
human beings and dinosaurs or dinosaur-like creatures live side
by side... COULD humanity be able to domesticate dinosaurs or
dino-like creatures in the same way we domesticated dogs, cattle,
or cats? I already know nobody has tried to domesticate the
Komodo Dragon, but still... Iguanas and small lizards are sold
as pets, alligators are farmed for hides and meat, and so on...
But could, if they had still been around, something like an
armored ankylosaur or Triceratops, have been domesticated in
the same way Humanity domesticated cattle or dogs? - David R.
humanity have domesticated dinosaurs in the same way we domesticated
dogs, cattle, or cats if humans had lived in the same era? Well,
let's start by defining domestication. It not quite the same
thing as training a wild animal. A true domesticated animal
has been bred by humans to be sociable and easy to handle along
with other desirable characteristics. Scientists can even estimate
the date that certain animals were domesticated in history by
looking for changes in the fossil record of animal's body that
gave some advantage to the human's that did the domestication.
Usually the domestication process takes decades, if not centuries.
even if you didn't domesticate a wild animal, you still might
be able to train it to assist you and live with you. Generally,
the smarter, more social, and less aggressive a creature is,
the more likely you would able to get it to cooperate. Wolves
are good example. They are pack creatures, very social and very
smart. If trained from a young age they can live with humans,
though they still tend to have a wild streak in them.
example is the elephant. These creatures are large and powerful,
yet humans have been able to tame them to get them to do work.
might be aware, reptiles (like snakes and crocodiles) are generally
not very easy to train for some of the reasons I've already
mentioned. They tend to be not as smart or sociable as many
mammals. However, dinosaurs, while they are reptiles, are also
thought to be the ancestors of birds, which are often highly
any particular species of dinosaur can be trained or even domesticate
is an open question. When people think of dinosaurs they tend
to picture the larger ones like the T-Rex or Apatosaurus. However,
there were thousands of dinosaur species, some of which were
no bigger than chickens. We believe some even hunted in a pack
(velociraptor for instance) which would indicate they were of
high intelligence and very social.
seems likely that at least some dinosaurs would have had the
right characteristics to allow to be trained. Even if there
weren't, however, humans could have still bred them till they
were domesticated, if only for no other purpose then to serve
as food (imagine chicken-like dinosaurs raised as a food source).
a cave man have been riding around on a T-Rex if they had co-existed?
My guess is probably not as they were likely to have been top
predators and very aggressive as well as very large and powerful.
However, humans have even had some success in training lions
and tigers, though they usually don't ride on them, so perhaps
a trained T-Rex is not an impossibility.
are nothing but domesticated gray wolves, so it seems possible
that something like a velociraptor, which might fill a similar
niche in the environment, might both be trainable and perhaps
eventually domesticated too.
Speeding Up? - Someone just said to me she thinks the
last 3 years have aged everyone more than in the past because
the actual minute itself (the unit of time) is speeding up.
Can this be possible? - Jennifer E.
your friend is referring to the insertion of "leap seconds"
into the calendar in the last few years. If this is the case,
it isn't so much that time itself is speeding up, but that the
earth's rotation is slowing down.
course, how you look at it depends on how you define time. We
casually define our days as one rotation of our planet, hours
as one 24th the length of that day, minutes as one 60th of the
length of that hour and seconds as one 60th the length of that
minute. If the Earth rotation slows (which it does due to the
pull of the moon and sun's gravity on our oceans which create
friction between the water and land) the days get longer by
a few fractions of a second each year.
this tiny difference is unimportant to most people, it is of
great concern to scientists who need to measure things carefully
down to the thousandths of a second for many scientific experiments.
If the length of a second is changing as the earth slows down
it can't be used to compare the results of one experiment with
a similar one done years earlier. To solve this problem scientists
invented the "physics second." A physics second is length that
the second was according to the rotation of our planet in 1900.
Scientists then use atomic clocks (that measure time as a function
of the change of states in the element cesium) to track time
without having to refer to the earth rotation. When the atomic
clocks slip out of sync with the rotation of the earth by about
a second a "leap second" is inserted into the clocks tracking
to keep it aligned with the astronomical day.
thought of the real value of time as the length of the day,
then indeed you might come to the conclusion that time is going
faster - after all we are inserting extra fractions of a second
into those days so time must have sped up, right? Well, not
really. It is probably more accurate to think that time has
stayed the same, but our days are getting longer.
Museum - I
was watching a special on The Discovery Channel a year ago about
an actual museum that I would desperately like to go to, but
I can't seem to find any info on it! I don't know the name of
it, but I know it has strange, morbid exhibits of human oddities,
and things of that nature. For some reason I thought it was
in Philadelphia, but their tourism board had no listing for
are thinking of the Mutter Museum which is part of The
College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The Mutter houses
over 20,000 objects including 900 anatomical and pathological
specimens and 10,000 medical instruments. The exhibits are sometimes
grotesque, but always fascinating. Currently the Mutter is featuring
a special exhibition on conjoined twins. You can visit the Mutter
on the web at http://www.collegeofphysicians.org/mutter-museum
. If you can't get there in person you may want to order one
of their extremely popular calendars which feature the work
of photographic artists that have recorded some of the museum's
collection of oddities and their gruesome beauty.
of the Minotaur - Was there actually a minotaur under
the Knossos' temple, and if so could we find bones? - Sean
story of the Minotaur comes from Greek mythology. In the story
the King of Crete, Minos, by tradition sacrifices his best bull
to the sea god, Poseidon, each year. Then one year the god sent
him a perfectly white bull to use in the sacrifice. Minos is
so taken by the bull he decides to keep it and sacrifice a lessor
displeases Poseidon and he causes the king's wife, Pasiphaë,
to fall in love with the bull. She develops complex plot (involving
a hollow, fake cow) to mate with the bull. Nine months later
she gives birth to a horrible man/bull hybrid monster which
is named the Minotaur.
word, Minotaur, is actually a proper name, by the way, meaning
"bull of Minos." It has been more recently been used, however,
as the designation of class of bull/man creatures found in fantasy
stories and games.
Minotaur turns out to be a powerful and angry creature with
a taste for human flesh. He is traditionally depicted as a creature
with the head of a bull and the body of a man. Minos builds
a maze (called the Labyrinth) for him
under his palace where he is confined. At the time of the story
the city of Athens is under the control of Crete and is forced
to send as tribute every year (or every seven years depending
on the version of the story) seven young men and seven maidens
to be sent into the maze to be consumed by the monster.
King of Athens son, Theseus, volunteers to be in the group.
He enters the Labyrinth and slays the beast with the help of
Minos' daughter, who has fallen in love with him.
there some basis for this myth? Was there really a Minotaur?
For that matter, was there even a Labyrinth?
discount the supernatural, it seems unlikely that the union
of a bull and a woman would result in the birth of a living
creature. Certainly animal hybrids exist (For example, the half
lion, half tiger, liger). However, most scientists agree that
humans and cattle would be too far apart on the genetic scale
to make this combination work. (For some insight on this check
our page on the likelihood of a human/chimp
the Minotaur been a man that was born deformed with bull-like
features? Or perhaps a man who was simply physically powerful
with a raging temper? These seem like more realistic possibilities.
we accept that, can we find his remains in the Labyrinth? Well,
that's another problem. Nobody can say for sure where the Labyrinth
was. The explorer Arthur Evans excavated the ruins at Knossos.
He didn't find an underground maze underneath and came to the
conclusion that the Knossos palace itself, with is many complex
rooms and passageways, was the inspiration for the Labyrinth.
If this is that case, however, it would seem to make the story
of the Minotaur simply a legend.
people argue, however, that a site some 20 miles from the palace,
called the Gortyn caves on the coast of Crete is the site of
the ancient Labyrinth. The caves are about three miles of interlocking
tunnels with different chambers and dead ends. The caves have
been explored and used for many years now (the Nazi's utilized
it as an ammo dump during World War II) but no remains of the
Minotaur have ever been found. However, if you wanted to look
for creature like that, the caves might be the logical place.
vs. Tank - I've heard a lot of stories about the German
Tiger II vs. U.S. M4 Sherman tank during WWII. Which was really
the better tank? - Joe
answer to this question is hinges on what you mean by "better?"
Tiger II tank (sometimes referred to as the "King Tiger" by
U.S. soldiers) was perhaps the most technically advanced tank
of the war. I was a heavy tank featuring thick armor particularly
on the front of the machine. Its 88-millimeter gun could penetrate
five inches of enemy armor at a range of two kilometers.
other hand most M4 Sherman tanks mounted a 75-millimeter gun
that was incapable of punching through the Tiger's frontal armor
at any distance. Its own 2-inch frontal armor gave the crew
little protection from the Tiger's heavy gun. Also early M4's
tended to easily catch fire when hit (a problem solved in later
models by increasing the protection of the stored ammunition).
an open and shut case, right? Well, not quite.
the point of view of the generals charged with winning the war,
things looked a little different. The Tiger II, because it was
so advanced, heavy and complex was hard and expensive to build
and difficult to maintain in the field. In fact, only 492 King
Tigers were built by the Germans. (And only 1347 of the slightly
less formable Tiger I).
this with the nearly 50,000 M4 manufactured by the Americans.
The Shermans were simpler to build, very reliable and easier
to maintain in the field. They were also faster and more maneuverable
than the King Tiger and used a lot less fuel.
a General's point of view a tank wasn't very useful if it broke
down or ran out of gas.
also important to remember that the Sherman's main mission in
WW II was not to engage other tanks (The U.S. had tank destroyers
like the M10 Wolverine for that). The Sherman was supposed to
protect infantry by taking out German positions defended by
machine guns and pill boxes. In this role the M4 rocked.
tank destroyers were more effective as a defensive plan. While
advancing toward Germany quite a few Shermans did meet of with
Tigers and in that situation the M4 would be in trouble, especially
if it was on its own and not part of a group. It's clear that
in that particular situation the crew of the King Tiger would
have a much better chance at survival.
these encounters would be relatively rare and when they did
occur it was often several Shermans up against a single Tiger.
The Allied strategy was to work together until one of the M4's
flanked the Tiger and could take it out with a shot to the rear
or side. Or course this often came at a cost of one or more
of the Shermans being hit and their crews being injured or killed
(For a dramatization of this scenario check the 2014 movie "Fury.")
the Tiger II better than the Sherman? From the point of the
crew in inside the tank during a one-on-one battle, yes, it
was. From the perspective of the Allied command trying to win
the war, the Sherman was much superior not because they were
technically better, but because they were more reliable and
there were many, many more of them.
Findings - What do you do if you find pieces of a creature
unlike that of anything of this earth? - Charlie
your best bet, when trying to identify an unknown animal (extraterrestrial
or not) is to contact a biologist professor at a local college
or university. They will be familiar with animals in your area
and can eliminate some possibilities of an unusual, but earthly
species. Most scientists would jump at the chance to identify
a new species (even an earthly one) if given the chance. If
they find one, they get to write a paper on it and they become
famous (at least within the biology world).
goes for fossils too. If you find a fossil, which you think
might be something significant you can contact a geologist or
paleontologist at a local college or university. It could be
an important find. It has happened before:
a contractor working on a housing development in South Dakota
came across some strange bones. His son, who was a college student,
recognized them as fossils and contacted a university. Scientists
came out and examined the location and immediately discovered
the remains of at least four Columbian Mammoths. Later excavations
revealed that the location was an ancient sinkhole which had
trapped mammoths for centuries and was a treasure trove of important
fossils. The housing project was abandoned and a museum built
on the location: The South Dakota Mammoth Site near Hot Springs.
It's great place to learn about mammoths while visiting South
Berkeley Horror - I have a book by Daniel Cohen called
Worlds Most Famous Ghosts. In it is a chapter on something
called the "Berkeley Square Horror" in London. It is something
about a room at 50 Berkeley Square that if anyone stays one
night in there they will either be dead or have gone insane.
Supposedly this has happened several times. I have searched
several sights including wikipedia.com and I have found nearly
no info. It would be much appreciated if you could help me out.
are multiple stories about 50 Berkeley Square, many of them
contradictory. The house was constructed in 1740 and for a number
of years was the home to British Prime Minister George Canning.
The source of the haunting stories starts around 1830 with either
young woman who committed suicide by jumping from the top floor,
or a Mr. Myers was preparing the house for the just new bride
and went insane after he was jilted. Or maybe the haunting really
comes from a Mr. Dupre, who confined his insane brother in an
upper story room. Or maybe the story about the little girl who
was tortured to death by a sadistic servant is what started
it. Well, take your pick. According to the story after Mr. Myers/Dupre/young
woman/little girl was gone and a new family had moved in, a
maid was found in a third floor bedroom screaming and muttering
she has seen something "horrible" there. The story continues
next with a Captain Kenfeild, fiancée, to the family's daughter
(In other versions this is a young aristocrat named Robert Warboys)
who decides to challenge the apparition by staying in the room
overnight. He sees something that either kills him with fright
(in some versions) or leaves him crazed.
tale connected with the house brings the story into the 20th
century with two sailors in 1943 who break into the long empty
house to stay overnight and encounter a monstrous, shapeless,
oozing mass in the third floor room. One sailor escapes to tell
the tale while the other jumps out the window to his death (speared
on the points of an iron railing) to avoid the horror.
house became famous for these stories and by the beginning of
the 20th century and was listed by some authors as "the most
haunted place in Britain." The current owners still get visitors
from time to time curious about the house. The stories were
also an inspiration for a 1947 movie "The Ghosts of Berkeley
as I am aware nobody has carefully researched the history of
the house to determine if any of the 18th century stories are
real. This could probably be done by checking records to see
who owned the house, who died there, and going though police
reports associated with the house, etc. Clearly there are problems
with the 1943 story as it indicates the house was empty, but
history shows that in 1938 Maggs Brothers Rare Books
moved into the location. The company reports no ghostly incidents
since they have been there even though there were many all-night
fire watches held during the Second World War.
Elongated Night Reflections
- If you look at the reflection of a street light from
across a body of water, it appears long in one direction but not
the other? Why? - Tariq
under the right conditions, reflects light just like mirror.
Of course, a mirror is a usually composed of solid material
(most commonly glass with a silver backing) and water is liquid.
As long as the water is perfectly still and flat the image reflected
is almost mirror-like, but should a breeze start to ripple the
water, strange things start to happen.
ripples cause the shape of the surface of the water to change
into a series of up and down curves. This means that the light
normal reflected by the surface doesn't come straight to the
viewer, but is distorted much like in a fun house mirror. While
fun house mirrors are usually static - either making you look
tall and thin or short and fat - the many ripples in the water
are always moving and changing giving the reflected image a
a lake might have thousand of ripples between the viewer and
a distant object on the other side of the lake each ripple as
it moves is capable of picking a tiny bit of the light coming
from the object and reflecting it back to the viewer (see diagram)
making it look like the object is in thousands of different
the day when everything is evenly lighted these bits of light
are overwhelmed by all the other reflections involved and only
contribute to the overall reflected image by making it look
fuzzy. At night, however, when the most of the background is
dark, all these tiny reflection become visible. They tend to
appear to elongate the lighted object in the direction where
the ripples appear spaced closely together from the viewer's
perspective. That is vertically as you have observed. It is
possible to see some spreading horizontally, however, depending
on what direction the wind is blowing the ripples.
Before Big Bang
- I'm a 60 year old scientist and I have a rock-solid
understanding of the concept of entropy, including the idea
of life as a temporary bump in the overall decline of order
and organization in a system. All I want before I die is to
know if there is any credible scientific theory about how the
spring originally got wound 14-or-so billion years ago - Bob
me re-phrase you question as, "What was there before the Big-Bang
and where did all the energy it requires come from?" At this
point I don't believe there are any "credible" theories to explain
this as none of the ideas scientists have about this area can
be tested by experimentation. In fact, there is not likely to
be anything testable until scientists can first create a Grand
Unified theory of everything combining Einstein's General
Relativity with Quantum Physics. That quest, which
has been pursued by physicists like the Holy Grail for almost
a century, so far does not seem near a conclusion.
best I can do is to throw out one of the more intriguing ideas
floating around cosmology circles these days. This particular
model comes out of string theory (One possible candidate for
the Grand Unified Theory that says all energy and matter is
composed of super-small vibrating loops of strings.) This idea
was worked out by Paul Steinhardt (Princeton University) and
Neil Turok (Cambridge University). They suggest our universe
is part of a much larger universe. The model says that our universe
exists on a three dimensional membrane ( or "Brane" in string
theory lingo) and there are other branes close to ours, only
millimeters away, but invisible.
trillion years or so these branes are drawn together and when
they collide a huge amount of energy is released making a "Big
Bang" that creates a universe on the brane (other universes
can be created at other locations of the brane that may collide
at other times) This process of collision Steinhardt and Turok
named ekpyrosis which is the Greek word for conflagration.
In addition to creating a smaller universe, ekpyrosis also pushes
the branes apart.
the life of the universe some of the big bang energy turns into
matter which becomes stars, galaxies and, of course, us. Eventually
the energy involved in our universe spreads out as stars burn
out and the universe grows cold. According to this idea, however,
the branes which still contain the energy, and they are drawn
back together again to collide and create another universe in
an eternal cycle.
only problem with this, and alternate theories like it, is that
there is no way to test these theories experimentally to know
if there is any evidence that they are true. Even if this idea
is true, however, we may have just moved the question back a
little bit further: What created that greater universe and where
did all its energy come from?
of the Mars Born - My question is about something that
is always popping up in Sci Fi stories, and NOW it could actually
happen at some point in the future: Assuming we eventually colonize
mars, would a human being who is born and raised on mars be
taller and thinner than a human being that is born and raised
on earth? And, biologically speaking, what could be some of
the other differences be between a Mars-born and an Earth-born?
is an interesting and complex questions that nobody has any
definite answers for at this point. We haven't been able to
do a lot of experiments with animals in low gravity situations,
so there isn't a lot of data to work with, just speculation.
Science fiction writers have often speculated that humans born
and raised on Mars would be taller and thinner than their cousins
on Earth. The idea is that since Mars has roughly 1/3 the gravity
of Earth (because of its smaller size) their bones would grow
longer and they would need less strength (and therefore less
muscle) to move around and do things making them thinner.
is some evidence that this might be true. We know that astronauts,
living for an extended time aboard the ISS get taller. The mechanism
that causes this is similar to the change in height many of
us experience every day.
we lay down to sleep the pressure is taken off our spinal columns
and the discs (sort of shock absorbers for our body) between
each of the vertebrae swell a bit. After we get up in the morning
and stand up pressure on the discs over the course of the day
causes the discs to lose water and compress a small amount.
A typical person can lose a ½ inch of height over the course
of a day.
during an extended stay in the ISS never experiences anything
but micro-gravity so his discs continue to swell and he may
find himself 2 inches taller in orbit, than he was on Earth.
NASA needs to design their spacesuits with this expansion in
born on Mars would not be growing up in micro-gravity, but he
would be permanently living on a world with a much lower gravity
and it seems likely he or she would might find their discs more
permanently swollen than they would be on Earth.
while our genes often play a part in how tall we grow, our bodies
also respond to environmental cues like gravity too. Bones in
a low gravity situation might grow longer and thinner. We know
that astronauts on the ISS living in micro-gravity for any length
of time lose bone mass making them more prone to fractures when
they return to Earth. It isn't quite clear how this would play
out for someone growing up under low gravity on Mars but lighter,
thinner bones might be the result.
are other factors that might play into their height beyond gravity
too. For example, people here on Earth living in developed nations
have been growing taller though the last few centuries. This
is mostly because they have been getting more and higher quality
food during childhood leading allowing them to reach their full
growth potential. Would a Martian colony, however, be able to
produce sufficient high quality food to allow its space born
members to reach their full potential? A struggling Mars colony
might find its children shorter than their Earth counterparts,
thing we are certain off, however, is that children born and
raised on Mars would have an extremely difficult time relocating
to Earth. Since their bodies would be adapted to the lower gravity
they would not have the muscles necessary to move around easily
on Earth at three times the gravity. It would be like an Earth
resident taking a visit to a planet with three times the mass
of Earth. If he weighed 180 pounds on our planet during his
visit he would suddenly be forced to carry around a 540 pound
body. An extremely difficult burden! It's likely if you were
born on Mars you would never be able to visit your ancestral
Wonder Door Number Two - Which is the Second Wonder?
I assume you are talking about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient
World. This is the first and probably most famous list of
wonders, though people have come up with others like The
Seven Wonders of the Modern World, The Seven Wonders of the
Natural World, The Seven Wonders of the Solar System and The
Seven Wonders of the Medieval World.
of the rest of the lists of wonders are collections people came
up within the last century or so. Usually some organization
will create the list (The Seven Wonders of the Natural World
came from CNN) and decide what should be on it.
list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, however, stretches
back for a least two millennia into antiquity. It was a Greek
invention. The Greeks loved lists of things and like many ancients
thought seven was a magical number. Exactly why they thought
seven was so special isn't clear, but it could be because it
was the number you got when you counted the sun, moon and five
known planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. (Uranus
wasn't discovered until 1781 after the telescope had been invented).
the list was made by the Greeks, the items on the list limited
to things they knew about. None are particularly far from the
region of Mediterranean Sea.
to think of the list of the seven wonders as a single item,
but the truth is that many Greek writers made different versions
of the list. Antipater of Sidon, and Philon of Byzantium, drew
up two of the most well-known lists. As time went on many of
the lists started to agree on six of the seven items. However,
the finally item differed. Sometimes it was Walls of the City
of Babylon. On others, the Palace of Cyrus, king of Persia.
wasn't until around the 6th century A.D. that people began to
agree on the Lighthouse at Alexandria as the last item.
there where many different writers, each with their own list,
there is no particular order to the items, other than the Lighthouse
at Alexandria being the last added. So, there is no item there
is considered "the second wonder." However, if you wanted to
order the list chronologically the oldest would be the Great
Pyramid at Giza. The second oldest would be the Hanging Gardens
of Babylon, which were thought to have been built around 600
B.C. This was followed by the Statue of Zeus (432 B.C.), the
Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (350 B.C.), The Temple at Ephesus
(323 B.C.) and at about the same time, the Colossus of Rhodes
and the Lighthouse at Alexandria around 280 or 270 B.C.). Arranging
things that way would make the Hanging Gardens of Babylon the
second wonder on the list.
you had lived in ancient times and had been rich enough to travel
the world so see the wonders, you would have had a hard time
getting a glimpse of them all. The Colossus of Rhodes
only stood for a little over 50 years. While most of the other
of the ancient wonders still existed during this period the
Hanging Gardens of Babylon were thought to be destroy by an
Earthquake sometimes during that same period, so you might have
been stuck seeing the ruins, not the actual place.
Disc - In November of 1984 I was traveling to Naval Air
Weapons Station China Lake when I saw a disk shaped aircraft
come over the horizon and fly over me at low altitude. It was
powered by two conventional jet engines and had Air Force markings
as shown. Do you have any information about this aircraft? When
I got to China Lake I was greeted with a blank stare when I
mentioned it. - W. A.
has certainly been a lot of speculation about secret disc shaped
aircraft over the years and very little hard evidence. We know
that disc-shaped aircraft are possible and the United States
built one, the Vought "Flying Flapjack" during WW II. The Flapjack
had a conventional tail and fuselage with an oval-shaped wing.
Powered by two counter rotating propellers it could lift off
of a short runway, like an aircraft carrier with ease. By the
time it was done testing, however, the war was over and the
military was more interested in jets than flying saucers.
1950's the Avro Canada company developed a saucer-shaped aircraft.
The Avrocar had a turbo jet engine that was mounted vertically
in the center of the saucer so that the exhaust would flow outward
from it and, because of the Coand? effect, over the top of the
craft to the edge were a flap would direct it downward giving
it lift. This, in theory, would have permitted the plane to
do a vertical takeoff and maneuver in any direction like a classic
"flying saucer." Unfortunately it never had the high performance
expected, which was originally supposed to allow it to go supersonic,
and the Air Force lost interest in the project. The Army funded
it for a while, hoping it might turn out to be sort of a super-helicopter,
but when a prototype was built it turned out to be unstable
and difficult to control. The project carried several names
over the years, so if you've have heard of project "Y2" or "VZ-9"
or the Silver Bug, they are all talking about a variation of
the Avrocar idea.
have also been other rumors, here and there of other disc-shaped
aircraft. For example, on a website called "USAF Flying Saucers"
Michael H. Schratt claims that U.S. Navy aviator and aviation
writer Jack D. Pickett and his business partner Harold Baker
visited MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa Florida in the late
60's and saw several disc-shape, jet-powered aircraft, waiting
to be scrapped. They ranged in size from 20 feet in diameter,
to 116 feet in diameter. With his article Schratt include a
number of startling photographs of these disc-shaped aircraft.
However, he admitted they were only computer generated images
combined with real USAF photographs. Schratt's story, which
was never confirmed independently is highly suspect, but that
hasn't stopped his fake photos from appearing on many websites
since (often without the disclaimer that they are just an artist's
there has always been a persistent interest in disc-shaped aircraft
through the years. They have several useful characteristics,
like already mentioned ability to take off or land over a very
small distance. Another feature is that they are naturally very
stealthy. Radar tends to bounce well off of flat surfaces. Since
a flying saucer as few of those it can more easily be made radar
invisible that more conversional designs.
in the 1980's before pictures of the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk
stealth fighter were released, a lot of people expected that
it would look exactly like the object you described seeing:
A disc-shape with jet intakes on top (hidden from surface radar
as they tend to stand out) and twin, small, raked tails at the
back. One difference from what you saw is that an operational
stealth aircraft would almost always be dark in color.
course, the F-117 Nighthawk turned out not to look like a disc
at all. Instead it used flat, angular surfaces to bounce any
radar signals off in a direction away from the radar receiver.
a possibility that what you saw was an alternate stealth fighter
design under assessment? A design that was tested in flight,
but never chosen for production? It certainly would have been
the right era as the F-117 was under development right about
that time. As far as I'm aware, however, the U.S. military has
never released any information about such an alternate project,
if it existed.
vs. Little Sport Device - Could an elephant have the
same momentum as a golf ball? - Anonymous.
easiest way of thinking about momentum is the force necessary
to stop a moving object. It involves both the mass of the object
and speed of the object. Technically, in classical physics,
this can be expressed as the mass of the object mulitpled by
its velocity. The formula is:
P is the momentum, m is the mass and v is the veolocity.
had and elephant that weighed 7200 Kg (about 15840 pounds) running
at 1 meter per second, the elephant would have:
kg m/s = 7200kg 1m/s
means that 7200kg is the mass, 1 meter/second (m/s) is the velocity
and 7200 kg m/s ("kilogram meters per second") is the momentum.
is easy to see a trivial situation where any two objects, no
matter the size of their mass, would have the same momentum.
Any object that has no veolocity has no momentum. So both an
elephant and a golf ball would have the same momentum if neither
are also cases where the elephant and the golf ball could have
the momentum even if they were both moving. Imagine our
7200 kilograms elephant from above and a golf ball weighing
.046 kilograms. If we set up the equation with the elephant
on the left and the golf ball on the right:
p = mv
1m/s = 7200kg m/s = .046kg V m/s
need to solve for the V, the velocity of the golf ball:
1m/s = 7200kg m/s = .046kg 156521 m/s
see that an elephant running along at 1 meter per second has
the same momentum as a golf ball moving at 156,521 meters per
second (around 351,000 miles per hour). So an heavy elephant
moving along at a trot would have the same momentum as small
golf ball going very, very fast.
a couple of additional considerations. This is the formula for
momentum under classical (Newtonian physics). The formala under
relativistic physics is slightly different and allows for objects
like photons, which have no mass, to still have momentum. Also
a complete description of momentum for an object includes the
direction (or vector) of the motion.
Waves - I hear that scientists have discovered gravitational
waves. What is the significance of finding gravitational waves
and how might they advance future technology? - Levi
idea that like there are gravitational waves goes back to Albert
Einstein a century ago. In 1915 he published this General Theory
of Relativity and out of that work it became apparent that gravitational
waves should exist. Einstein said that any object with mass
makes a dent in the fabric of space and other objects with mass,
because space is curved, tend to move toward that object.
best way to visualize this is to imagine the fabric of space
as a rubber sheet stretched out on a frame. Large, heavy objects
(like the sun and its planets) make a big dents in that sheet.
Smaller objects tend to roll downhill into those big dents.
If an object (like a ball representing the moon) has enough
velocity, however, it can find itself looping around (orbiting)
the larger object (the Earth) only slowly falling into its dent
as it loses it speed.
the fabric of space is three dimensional, not two dimensional
like our rubber sheet, but it still works the same way. Now
imagine you took a heavy object and bounced it on that rubber
sheet. Ripples would move outward though the rubber. These are
the equivalent of gravitational waves in our model.
scientists have known that gravitational waves must exist, it
hasn't been possible to build a machine sensitive enough to
detect them till just recently (Because of the difficulty Einstein
predicted that they would probably never be found!) so finding
them is significant both as a proof of Einstein's work and a
demonstration of the sophistication of modern technology.
machine that detected them, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave
Observatory (LIGO) consists of a machine built in an "L" shape
with arms 4 kilometers in length. It sends a laser signal down
both arms to measure the distance, which should be the same.
If a large enough gravitation wave comes through it will stretch
the fabric of space time by just a tiny amount making one arm
slightly longer than the other. If the computer monitoring the
machine detects that change (and all other sources of error
are ruled out) then LIGO has detected a gravitation wave. The
problem is that the change in distance is very, very small:
about a thousandths the width of a proton, so it is very hard
to detect (Imagine trying to detect the change in distance between
the sun and its nearest neighbor star by only a hair's breath,
and you get the idea about how challenging this is to do).
of the immediately benefits of being able to detect gravitational
waves is being able to create new and infinitely more powerful
telescopes that can see back in time very close to the beginnings
of the universe. All telescopes are in effect time machines.
The light from the nearest star takes about 4.2 years to reach
us, so we see Proxima Centauri as it was a little over four
years ago. The light from the Andromeda Galaxy takes 2.5 million
years to reach us, so we see that galaxy as it was over two
million years ago. Optical and radio telescopes are limited
in how far back in time they can see, however, by the cosmic
microwave background in the early universe. This cosmic microwave
background is opaque to photons, but gravity waves should have
passed right though it allowing gravitational telescopes to
see back to the first few minutes of the universe.
telescopes should also be able to detect events like supernovas
and black holes collisions way before the light from such an
event would arrive allowing scientists with optical telescopes
to have them pointing in the right direction to see the whole
event. The gravitational scopes should also tell us something
about what is happening inside the event, which we can't see
from just looking at the outside by using the more traditional
scientists believe that the gravitational waves LIGO detected
were the result of two black holes, both located inside a huge
star, colliding with one another.
are a number of groups with gravitational telescopes and others
who have plans to build them. Some of them here on Earth will
be deep underground to minimize vibrations that might spoil
delicate measurements, but others may be located in space. Where
ever they are, however, they will open up a whole new area of
astronomy and cosmology.
trying to figure out where to buy Quartz Rock, can you help
me? I would definitely appreciate it. -
someone to sell you quartz will be a lot easier than picking
from the many variations of quartz there are including Amethyst,
Rose Quartz and Smoky Quartz. If you want to shop on-line you
may want to try a site like www.johnbetts-fineminerals.com
which has a nice gallery of all kinds of rocks that you can
view and buy. Quartz specimens are available there starting
at about $15. If you want to go cheaper and see the goods in
person before you buy you should try a local rock shop. They
should be listed in your yellow pages. Finally, you might want
to consider joining a local geology club. The site www.gemandmineral.com/states.html
keeps a list of geology clubs and rock related organizations
throughout the U.S.
In Genesis it
says," And the sons of God saw the daughters of man, that they
were fair and they took wives from among those they chose."
Isn't this some sort of alien abduction? Who were the sons of
God and who were the daughters of man? Aliens and us? Aliens
and apes? Us and apes? Confusing isn't it?
would not be alone in suggesting that Genesis 6:2 might be interpreted
as some kind of interbreeding of humans with visitors from outer
space. It often cited as evidence of the "Ancient Astronaut"
theory that Earth was visited by aliens in early history.
a more traditional view of this would be the "sons of God"
are angels (or fallen angels) that produced a hybrid race of
giants (call Nephilim in the Bible) which were killed
in Noah's flood.
objection to this idea is that Jesus says in a later portion
of the bible that angels do not marry (and therefore do not
reproduce). However, other people argue that this only applies
to angels in heaven, not fallen angels (what we might call demons)
most interesting interpretation I've heard of this scripture
comes from Gerald Schroeder author of The Science of God.
In this excellent book he tries to reconcile a literal interpretation
of the Bible with modern science and suggests this may be a
case of non-human humanoids living on the earth (for example,
Neanderthal Man) interbreeding with modern man.
Hole Collisions - Black holes devour everything in their
path, even light, but what would happen if 2 black holes suddenly
met each other? - Damien
is a question that scientists have been pondering for a while
now. It is inevitable that somewhere in the universe two black
holes will eventually meet and merge. However, it is unlikely
to be "sudden" as the distances between them are vast and because
of the tremendous gravity of these objects have they would start
to have gravitational effects on each other millions of years
before they actually came in contact.
scientists are waiting with bated breath for two very large
black holes in a quasar named PG 1302-102 to collide so they
can see what happens. Well, bated breath might be an exaggeration
as these holes, though they are the closest that we know about
- only about a light week apart - are still about 100,000 years
away from coming in physical contact with each other.
prediction is when they do, there will be a tremendous, violent
release of energy. Fortunately, PG 1302-102 is 3.5 billion light-years
away from us (technically they have already collided, but we
won't see the results for a 100,000 years or so) and we won't
feel much of the effects of the explosion. What scientists are
hoping to be able to detect from such a collision, however,
are gravitational waves.
waves - ripples in space and time - are predicted by Einstein's
theory of relativity, but have not yet been found, though scientists
are working on building devices that might detect them. The
hope is that somewhere in the universe two black holes with
collide and we will be able to detect these waves as they radiate
out from the event.
it will be a long wait before the pair of holes at PG 1302-102
send us any waves, scientists may have noticed something while
watching them that may help identify other pairs of holes a
lot closer to collision.
holes are located in a quasar. A quasar is a galaxy which is
radiating a lot of energy. This energy comes from matter being
accelerated to high speeds as it is sucked into the holes. Normally
the energy from a quasar varies randomly over time getting brighter
and dimmer. At PG 1302-102, however, it follows a pattern of
getting brighter and dimmer every five years. This is due to
the interaction of the two holes as the smaller one orbits the
larger one. Scientists think the speed of the variation will
be a good indication of how close the holes are to colliding.
The closer they get, the shorter the interval of brightening
and dimming should be. If they find a quasar where that interval
is very short, it may mean that two holes are on the verge of
collision and may help scientists get ready to detect those
gravitational waves they have been looking for.
in the Iron Mask - A man named Eustache Dauger was arrested
in 1669-1670 and was under Bénigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars care.
The iron mask he wore was actually a black velvet hood. Has
his body been found? Could you get a mitochondrial DNA signature
from the hood or body? - Conrad.
as I have been able to determine the body of the man called
Eustache Dauger has not been found. If it was, however, it seems
likely that DNA could be obtained from it and, if you had a
clue to who he was, you might be able to match it up with other
living relatives to find his true identity (or at least eliminate
people not aware of this incident, however, I should explain
the mystery. As Conrad notes, records show that around 1669
or 1670 a man was arrested in France during the reign of Louse
XIV. He spent the next 34 or so years in jail until his death
in November of 1703. While he was only one of a number of long-term
prisoners held in France at the time, he was the only one that
was required to wear a mask at any time he in the presence of
a mask? Writers have speculated that Dauger was not his real
name, but he was a person so well known that someone seeing
his face would know who he was. French writer Voltaire (1694-1778)
claimed that the true identity of the man was the king's illegitimate
older brother (The king would have an interest in keeping such
a person under wraps as he would be a contender for the throne),
but there isn't any evidence for this.
the 17th century writer Alexandre Dumas used the story as a
part of the last section of his Three Musketeers saga. In Dumas's
fictional world the man wearing the iron mask (not a black velvet
one, which what Dauger actually wore) is Louis XIV's identical
twin, Philippe, and within the plotline of the story he seeks
to replace his brother as king.
Dumas's book was just piece of entertainment. What was the true
identity of Dauger, if he wasn't really Dauger?
abound on this and historians have debated the subject for centuries.
Hugh Ross Williamson makes the case that the prisoner was actually
the biological father of Louis XIV (Louis XIII had been estranged
from his wife for 14 years at the time of t Louis XIV's birth.
If Louis the XIII was not actually the King's father, the king
would certainly have an interest in keeping his biological dad
people make the case that General Vivien de Bulonde, who angered
the Louis the XIV by withdrawing a battle and leaving men and
munitions behind, is the mysterious prisoner. However, other
documents indicate the General was released after just a few
months confinement and his death is recorded as occurring six
years after Dauger's demise.
possibility was an Italian diplomat named Count Ercole Antonio
Mattioli. The Count had angered the King by leaking the details
of the sale of Casale, a strategic fortified town near the border
of France and Italy. Records indeed show Mattioli was arrested,
but also show he was never jailed in the same location as the
we do know for sure about the prisoner, however, is found in
the letters between the French prison governor, Bénigne d'Auvergne
de Saint-Mars, and his various bosses during the years Dauger
was under his administration. In July 1669 Saint-Mars was sent
instructions to prepare a cell with multiple doors (an inner
and an outer one to help isolate the prisoner for the outside
world). The prisoner was to be killed if he spoke to anyone
about anything other than his immediate needs. The letter also
states that Dauger is "only a valet" and his needs should be
Dauger actually temporary served as a valet to one other prisoners,
Nicolas Fouquet, Marquis of Belle-Île, and a former superintendent
of finances who was imprisoned for embezzlement. The fact that
Dauger could be treated as a servant this way is a clue to his
identity. The class protocol at the time made it unthinkable
that somebody of noble class could serve someone else even if
he was a prisoner. This makes it very unlikely that Dauger was
any relative of the king or of noble blood.
that leaves the nagging question, if Dauger was a nobody, then
why did he have to wear the mask?
Very, Very Cold -
Is it possible to attain 0° Kelvin? -Feloxi
on the Kelvin temperature scale is often referred to as absolute
zero. To get an idea of what absolute zero is, we first
need to know a little bit about heat and temperature. All atoms
and molecules "vibrate" with thermal energy. The more vibration,
the more heat the atom or molecule has. As the atoms and molecules
of a material are cooled, the vibration slows down and the energy
decreases. The point at which all heat energy has been removed
from a material is called absolute zero. This is approximately
-459.67 °F on the Fahrenheit scale or 0° on the Kelvin scale.
to the third law of Thermodynamics you can never completely
achieve absolute zero but only approach it, but scientists have
come darn close. In September of 2003 scientists at MIT managed
to get a small group of sodium atoms down to 240 millionths
of a degree above absolute zero. Larger objects are harder to
cool, but another group at MIT managed to get a mirror about
the size of a dime down to just 0.8 °K above absolute zero.
They did this by shooting laser pulses at it to "trap" and "damp"
the molecular motion.
laboratory temperatures are just a bit colder than any reported
in nature. The coldest known place is about 5,000 light years
away from Earth in the Boomerang Nebula located in the constellation
Centaurus. Astronomers think the temperatures there run around
1°K. If you ever visit it, better bring a jacket.
are very interested in the behavior of objects very close to
absolute zero. It may give them the chance to observe quantum
physics effects that normally are too small to see because the
are lost in the heat motion of the material. Just a final note:
There is also something called a negative temperature (less
then absolute zero on the Kelvin scale) but negative temperatures
are actually hotter then absolute zero.
Quantum Physics Weirdness
- I noticed on your site that quantum physics is mentioned
often. I was wondering if you could explain its origins and why
it's considered more reliable than the physics used prior to its
emergence? (If that is so) - Robert D.
Mechanics is one of the two great physics theories of the
20th century that replaced classical (Newtonian) physics. The
other was General Relativity. Interestingly both were fathered
by the same man: Albert Einstein. While he loved the one child
the other was disliked. Einstein never felt comfortable with Quantum
Relativity is mostly used to describe how the world of big things
work: The movement of planets, stars, rockets, etc. Everything
down to about the size of an atom. Below that size scientists
almost always use quantum physics to do their calculations. Both
were needed as classical physics created by Issac Newton in 17th
century couldn't predict how the things worked when dealing with
extremely large objects (like planets and stars) or extremely
small objects (like photons and electrons).
the rules of general relativity seem to make some kind of sense
to us, the rules involved with quantum physics are bizarre and
challenge our understanding of reality. Little in this realm is
for certain. Everything is based on the probability of something
happening. This is one of the reasons Einstein disliked it. He
has often been quoted as saying, "He [God] does not play dice"
with the universe.
illustration of the strangeness of quantum theory is the dual
nature of light. Is light a particle or a wave? The experiment
that scientists used to find this out is called the double-slit
experiment. A barrier with two narrow slits is placed between
a light source and a screen. If light is a stream of particles
we could expect to see each particle pass through one slit or
the other and create two separate lines of light on the screen
behind it. This isn't what occurs, however. We see a pattern of
light and dark lines all across the screen. This, known as an
interference pattern, is the result of waves of light passing
through the two slits, then interacting as they hit the screen
with the wave crests reinforcing each other to make the light
lines and the wave troughs making the dark lines.
So I guess
light is a wave them, huh? If you close one of slits, though,
suddenly light starts behaving like a particle again. We see it
piling up behind the open slit. Well, maybe light only behaves
like a wave when a lot of light particles are moving together.
Unfortunately this is not the case. When the double slit experiment
is performed sending only one photon (light particle) though the
barrier at a time the photon doesn't show up behind the slits.
It can show up anywhere on the screen. In fact, as you send more
and more photons though the experiment one at a time the interference
pattern slowly builds up, just as before. Does that mean that
each individual photon is a wave that interferes with itself?
Yep. Does this mean that the photon passed through both slits
at the same time? Indeed, this seems to be the case.
have placed photon detectors at each slit to see which side the
photon goes though a strange thing happens. Suddenly the interference
pattern disappears and there are just two lines of light one behind
each slit. The detector has somehow forced the photon to stop
behaving as a wave and act like a particle again. Even if the
detector is placed on the opposite side of the barrier,
after the photon passes though the slits, the photon still acts
like a particle. How did it know that there was going to be a
photon detector on the opposite side of the barrier so
it would behave like a particle and not a wave when it passed
though the barrier?
end, light is both a wave and a particle at the same time. If
you think that doesn't make sense, you are right. However, that
doesn't change the fact that it is true. If you can explain why
all this happens and support your ideas with experimental proof,
you're probably on your way to a Nobel prize.
just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Quantum Physics weirdness.
As you get deeper and deeper into it what you find seems to make
less and less common sense. You might try to argue that scientists
simply have gotten the thing wrong except that quantum theory
is one of the most successful theories of all time and is used
in the design of such everyday things as TVs and cell phones.
Experiments show that not just light is both a particle and a
wave, so are electrons, protons and atoms. These maybe small things
too, but remember we are just made of atoms. At some level are
we just waves too?
have grappled to figure out what this means in the real world.
Some interpretations include the ideas like "nothing is real until
it is observed" or that there are countless "multiple universes"
each differing just slightly from the one next to it. There isn't
room here to discuss all the ramifications of quantum theory,
so I'm going to give you a couple links that may help. Prepare
to see the world in a different light after reading these, or
at least have an awful headache:
from the Stars - I am asking this question because I have
seen several movies/cartoons/stories which feature this: The tale
is set far back in the past and somebody sees a meteor fall to
earth or discovers a meteorite buried in the ground and recovers
it and makes a weapon out of the meteorite metal. Which in the
tale is superior to all of the other weapons made locally. My
questions are these: Could a blacksmiths furnace of those times
be able to get hot enough to melt down the iron-nickel meteorite,
AND has any weapons like swords or axes ever been found to contain
meteoric iron? - David
the history of using iron from meteorites for tools, decorative
objects and weapons goes way back. Before the beginning of the
Iron Age (around 1200 BC) when the process of smelling was invented
that allowed iron to be extracted from iron ore, almost all the
iron available for use was from meteorites. King Tutankhamen had
a metal dagger found with him that was composed of meteoric iron.
generally come in two varieties. Most of them (94%) are "stony"
and contain no iron. However, the remainder are either "iron"
(5%) or some mixture of stone and iron (1%). Iron meteorites also
contain some nickel in them.
made from meteoric iron could be cold hammered into shape or worked
at low temperatures way before we had the technology to create
temperatures necessary to smelt ore (around 2282 Fahrenheit).
However, because of the high nickel content found in meteoric
iron, weapons made from it tend to be brittle. However, it was
still tougher than some of the alternatives available at the time
like copper and bronze.Meteoric
iron was so valuable in some places during this period it was
often traded like gold.
people of Greenland used the Cape York meteorite as the source
of iron for knives and harpoon tips for many centuries. Again
these were cold hammered into shape. Even after many, many knives
and harpoon tips and been made from it, the remains of the meteorite
still weighed 33 tons when it was shipped to the American Museum
of Natural History in New York in 1897 where it remains today.
smelting became possible the value of meteorite iron dropped,
but was still used for its symbolic value mixed in with regular
iron or steel. There is no indication that a weapon with some
meteoric iron is somehow actually better than a steel weapon,
however. It's just the idea that the material "came from the stars"
that gets people's attention. One example of such a weapon was
created for Emperor Jahangir, of the Mughal Empire in India. He
obtained a meteorite that fell from the sky in April of 1621 and
had his smiths mix the meteorite iron with regular iron and forge
it into two swords and a dagger.
sword smith's still make weapons with some meteoric iron mixed
into them just because they have a large wow factor. Probably
one of the most well-known examples of this was a sword made for
science fiction/fantasy writer Sir Terence David John "Terry"
Pratchett. Pratchett was knighted for his work in 2010 and decided
provide his own ingots for the blacksmith to use to create the
sword for the ceremony. Pratchett dug his own ore and smelted
it himself. He also said he decided to add, as he put it, "several
pieces of meteorites -- thunderbolt iron, you see -- highly magical,
you've got to chuck that stuff in whether you believe in it or
of Magnetism? - If the earth's magnetic field collapsed
would there still be magnets? - Anonymous
is one of those funny things we see everyday - use everyday -
but never know how it works. As it turns out, it is the result
of moving electric charges. Almost everybody has done the experiment
of wrapping a wire around an iron nail in a spiral pattern, then
connecting the wires to a battery to product a crude electromagnet.
The current flowing though the wire (in the form of electrons)
creates the magnetic field. This field then influences the iron
nail to become a magnet also, adding to the strength of the effect,
though it would work even without the nail.
need a moving electric charge to make a magnetic field, how do
permanent magnets work? After all there is no battery involved
and no apparent electric charge. Well there actually is, however,
a moving electric charge at the atomic level. The electrons orbit
around the nucleus of each atom in the material. The electrons
also have a quantum-mechanical property called "spin" which looks
like a moving electrical charge. These two effects produce a tiny
magnetic field for each atom.
materials the magnetic fields of each atom are aligned in no particular
order so they cancel each other out. In some special materials,
however, the fields line up (or can be made to line up) in a particular
pattern so that their strength adds up. That's why the nail in
the electromagnet experiment above becomes a magnet when exposed
to a magnetic field. The field created by the moving electric
charges in the wire lines up the nail's fields properly and then
those fields can add their own strength to the overall effect.
want to see this at home take a paper clip and hang it from a
permanent magnet. The paper clip isn't a magnet in itself, but
will become a temporary magnet in the presence of a magnetic field.
You can then hang a second paper clip from the first one and it
will also become a magnet because of the field of the one before
it. It is easy to construct a whole chain of paper clips this
way. Detach the first one from the permanent magnet, however,
and the whole chain falls apart as each of the magnetic fields
fall apart one after another.
scientists have puzzled about why Earth has a strong magnetic
field. (The magnetic field of Venus is barely detectable.) They
still don't understand the details, but they do know that the
outer core of the Earth is mostly molten iron that moves in a
convection pattern due to heat at the core. This movement, along
with the Earth's spin seems to make the Earth into a big electromagnet.
The magnetic field of our planet isn't as stable as we might think,
however. There is evidence that the poles of this gigantic magnet
have moved, changed intensity, and even reversed many times in
magnetic field of the Earth went away would we still have magnets?
Yes, because each magnet generates its own magnetic field independently.
The Earth is just a big version of our experiment with the wire
and the nail. A collapse in the Earth's magnetic field, however,
would mean that compasses (which are just little magnets in the
form of pointers that align with the Earth's magnetic field) would
not point the right direction. This would cause problem not only
for humans who depend on compasses for navigation, but also for
animals that have developed internal compasses in their bodies
for use in migration.
though the Earth's magnetic field has weakened in the past 150
years, it looks like it will many centuries before a full collapse
and reversal. In fact it may be just as likely that nothing will
happen at all in the near future and the original orientation
will regain its strength.
Dinos - I've seen and read in the Jurassic Park movies
and books that some dinosaurs like Dilophosaurus and Procompsognathus
were poisonous. My teacher says that they weren't, but were some
dinosaurs really venomous?
is no real hard evidence that any dinosaur killed or injured its
victims with poison. On the other hand there is no real evidence
that all the dinosaurs were non-poisonous, either. The problem
is that most of structures of the dinosaurs that would tell this
story, like a gland that would make and store the poison, are
soft tissue. Soft tissue is not preserved well in the fossil record,
however. Only hard tissue like bones usually survive. So we just
don't know one way or another.
we don't know for sure Michael Crichton, who wrote the original
Jurassic Park books decided to make his story a little more exciting
by giving Dilophosaurus the ability to project poison like
a spitting cobra snake can today. (In the movie version they also
added the frill around the creature's neck which does not appear
in the fossil record for Dilophosaurus either, but as the frill
is also soft tissue we can't positively say it didn't have a this
Mexican paleontologist Rubin A. Rodriguez de la Rosa of the Museum
of the Desert in Saltillo showed his fellow scientists at the
annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology a tooth
he had found. It was from an unknown species of carnivorous dinosaur
and it had a groove running down it like those found on modern
poisonous snakes. (The groove provides a channel for the poison
to enter the body of the victim). Rodriguez de la Rosa thinks
that his maybe evidence that some dinosaurs were verminous.
scientists are convinced of his interpretation of this fossil,
however. So we just don't know for sure. Hopefully, some paleontologist
will find more of this odd creature and maybe then we will be
the lack of evidence it isn't unreasonable that there might have
been poisonous dinosaurs. The Komodo Dragon, the world's largest
lizard alive today has a poisonous and septic bite. Why not some
night I was watching a documentary on TNT. The documentary said
that Hitler was practicing the mystical arts in order to gain
an advantage during WWII. In fact they showed a temple that he
built just for the purposes of the study of mystical arts. Ever
since then I have tried to find out more about this "temple".
No one seems to know what I'm talking about, and I can't seem
to dig up any information about it. Is there really such a place
or was I watching a hoax documentary? Thank you for your time.
may have been referring to Wewelsburg Castle. Heinrich Himmler,
head of the SS, established the Ahnenerbe, which operated
out of Wewelsburg, an SS headquarters. The Ahnenerbe was the Ancestral
Heritage Research and Teaching Society. Its functions included
research into Germanic prehistory, archaeology and occult mysticism.
Below the castle's great dining hall was a special circular room
with a shallow depression which could be reached by climbing three
stone steps. These steps symbolised the three Reiches. Inside
the castle Himmler and his inner circle would perform various
occult rituals, which included trying to contact dead Teuton heros.
Hitler apparently never visited Wewelsburg, and may even have
expressed distain for Himmler's interest in the occult, according
to Alan Baker, author of Invisable Eagle, The History of Nazi
Ship - I'm a fan of the movie, "Close Encounters of the
Third Kind" and have wondered about the ship, the "Cotopaxi,"
they discover in the desert. Was it supposedly lost in the "Bermuda
Triangle?" Thanks. -Anonymous
only saw Stephen Spielberg's classic film in the theaters in 1977,
you never saw this scene as it was deleted from the final cut
in. However, when the "Directors Cut" was released in
1980 it was included. It the scene shows several bewildered investigators
as they come across a tramp steamer perched on a sand dune in
the Gobi Desert.
SS Cotopaxi was a steamer that disappeared in December
o f 1925 on a trip from Charleston, South Carolina, to Havana,
Cuba, while hauling coal. It is generally listed as one of the
ships that disappeared mysteriously in the Bermuda Triangle, but
when it did go missing it seems likely that a large storm was
going on in the area. It gave a distress call on December 1st
that the ship was in trouble, listing and taking on water. It
went down with a crew of 32 on board.
used in the film did not look like the actual ship.
from Radio - I read that radio waves can be received and
turned back into useable energy. Can it be done ? - John
of wireless power goes back as far as the beginning of the 20the
century. The electrical genius, Nikola Tesla, experimented with
transmitting power using radio frequency resonant transformers
(which we now call Tesla coils). At the 1893 Columbian Exposition
in Chicago he was able to demonstrate he could light bulbs from
across the width of a stage. Later in 1900, at his laboratory
in Colorado Springs he used a gigantic Tesla coil(producing an
enormous 20 megavolts of power) to light three incandescent lamps
at a distance of about one hundred feet or so.
in fact, thought it would be possible to transmit power around
the world and dreamed of sending electricity wirelessly into home
and factories. In 1901 he started building a prototype wireless
power station at Shoreham, New York. The Wardenclyffe Tower, however,
was never completed when his financial backers pulled out of the
project. The tower was scrapped to pay off Tesla's debts. Most
modern electrical scientists and engineers do not think his plan
of transmitting power through air for great distances would have
mean that wireless power does not have a place in modern electronics.
For short distances magnetic fields can be used to charge cell
phones with no actual wires involved. The phone simply sits on
top of a pad. Another application where this is used is to recharge
artificial cardiac pacemakers implanted in the chest of a patient.
This avoids the patient having to have wires piercing his skin.
transmission of power without wires, radio waves (usually in the
form of microwaves, or lasers can be used). However, these techniques
require that the transmission be directed at a particular receiver.
One possible use of this type of transmission would be to put
satellites in space with vast solar arrays. The satellite would
then beam the power back to an earth receiving station using a
laser or microwave beam. It would be possible to get it to go
in the other direction too. For example, by powering a plane or
drone from the ground by pointing a laser beam or microwave at
some engineers at Duke University have designed a device that
'harvests' background microwave radiation and converts it into
electricity. The gadget consists of fiberglass and has copper
conductors wired together on a circuit board. According to their
tests it can gather energy and converts it to electricity with
37 percent efficiently, which is comparable to solar cells. The
engineers think it could be used to recharge cell phones or used
to gather microwave energy beamed to a remote location. Skeptics
point out that while the 7.3 volts the unit outputs is enough
voltage to recharge a cell phone, the amperage needed is far short
of what a charger plugged into a wall socket can do. However,
there may be a future for such power harvesting system to drive
very lower power/ low amperage devices such as wireless sensors.
Memory - I'm a big fan of the Assassin's Creed series,
which says that inside our DNA we carry genetic memories; the
memories of our ancestors. Is this based in a true thing? Is genetic
memory real? - Jonathan
game the Assassin's Creed a machine called the Animus is supposed
to be able to tap into hidden memories in a person's DNA and let
them play out their ancestors past as waking "dreams." But do
we really carry anything like these genetic memories in our DNA?
early 20th century Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, suggested that
such a thing did exist. He called it racial memory. Jung thought
that feelings, patterns of thought, and fragments of experience
could be transmitted from generation to generation in humans creating
a "collective unconscious" we all share.
thinking these "memories" deeply influence people's minds and
behavior. An often cited example is fear of snakes. Most people
have a fear of snakes, even though they haven't personally had
a bad experience with them. One way to explain this fear is that
earlier generations of humans have had bad incidents with snakes
and this memory is passed down to their children.
racial memory is true, how might it work? It seems the most likely
suggestion is that somehow these memories are incorporated into
our genome over long period of time so that these memories are
carried in our DNA.
Jung's idea of "collective unconscious" has been a popular idea
with writers and those with a new age bend, most scientists are
skeptical that such a mechanism exists in DNA. Do we fear snakes
because of an instinct encoded in our genes, or because we were
taught to fear them by instruction or example?
it did work Jung's racial memories do exist they seem much too
vague (like a general fear of snakes) to create the "waking dreams"
seen in the Assassin's Creed game.
scientist have done intriguing work with something known as epigenetics.
It was believed until recently that genes controlled only what
was passed down from parent to child and the behavior of the parent
would not affect those genes. New studies, however, suggest that
what a parent does can change how that gene is expressed in the
following generations. In one experiment scientists used a strain
of mice known for having a gene that gave them fat bodies and
yellowish color. However, by giving a mother mouse a healthier
diet they could cause the gene not to be expressed in the next
generation giving them sleeker bodies and a normal brown color.
as it is that some of these "genetic memories" can indeed be passed
down from parent to child, they still fall far short of the type
of memories found the game and the Animus machine in the story,
I'm afraid, will ever be a myth.
Arms - I have often wondered about the shape of a galaxy.
Especially the arms. Are they being flung outwards like in a Catherine
Wheel, or are they being sucked inwards like in a vortex? Since
they say there is a black hole in the centre of every galaxy,
could it be possible that the shape is due to the vortex effect?
Given that the black hole attracts everything towards the centre?-
let's start with an explanation of what a galaxy is for readers
unfamiliar with the concept. A galaxy is a collection of stars
that rotate together and are held together by gravity. A galaxy
may contain trillions of stars (along with their planets) . While
galaxies come in many shapes about 70% in our region seem to form
into what appears to be a flattened disc with whirlpool type arms.
Our sun is a member of the Milky Way galaxy (which is a spiral)
and it located about 1/3 of the way out from the center on one
of the arms.
question suggests there are several forces acting on a galaxy
to give it its shape. Since it is spinning the centrifugal force
pushes the stars away from the center (in the same way when you
ride a Merry-Go-Round you feel pulled to the outside). However,
the gravity of the galaxy works in the opposite direction to pull
all the stars back together as a group. It's the balance of these
two forces that gives the galaxy it size and stability.
point out many galaxies have a massive black hole in the center.
While the gravity provided by the black hole may be large (the
one at the center of the Milky Way is at least the mass of 40,000
suns) it is actually the total mass of the galaxy that keeps it
enough if you add up all the mass of the black holes in a galaxy,
all the stars, planets and free gas (which is pretty much everything
we can detect with our instruments), it still isn't enough mass
to keep a galaxy together at the rate that it spins. It should
actually fly apart. Scientists were extremely puzzled by this
when they first made the calculations back in the 1970's. Several
theories to explain this have been put forward but the most accepted
is Dark Matter.
is thought to make up more than 50% of the mass of a galaxy. Scientists
don't know what it is, but they do know that they can't see it
with their telescopes and it only seems to interact with other
forms of matter through gravity. One suggestion is that Dark Matter
is composed of an unknown massive sub-atomic particles. Experiments
are underway to see if these mysterious particles can be found.
of your question that I haven't tackled is "why do the spiral
galaxies have arms?" Researchers have been working on this puzzle
for years and only recently have computers been powerful enough
to do the massive calculations necessary to simulate the life
of a galaxy. One study suggests that the arms form in response
to clumps in the early galaxy (usually in the form of molecular
clouds of hydrogen). The gravity of these "perturbers" can cause
matter in the galaxy to form into density waves and these waves
appear as arms. Scientists debated for many years whether these
arms came and went on a regular basis, but the simulation seems
to indicate that once arms form they become self perpetuating
even if the original "perturbers" go away.
rotate around the core of the galaxy they will actually move in
and out of the arms. It's a bit like a traffic jam caused by someone
gapping at an accident. As the cars slow down they cause other
cars behind them to slow down too. This creates an area of high
car density around the accident, but the cars involved are always
different as they move into and out of the jam. It's the same
case with the stars. They slow down as they pass throught the
arms making the region denser with stars.
End of the Universe - Our small Earth and other planets
are in space. It's a big area; can you tell me the total size
of space? Will it have a beginning and an end? - J.R.
the fundamental questions scientists have struggled with over
the years is the size, shape and destiny of the universe. The
prevailing theory is that the universe came into being about 13.7
billion years ago in what has been whimsically called "The Big
Bang." It has been expanding (some people use the term "inflating")
ever since. Gravity - the force that pulls all forms of matter
toward each other - is working against the expansion. For a long
time scientists debated over whether there was enough matter in
the universe given its size (what we call the density) to bring
the expansion to a halt and eventually reverse it. If there isn't,
gravity will just slow down the expansion but never stop it. If
the universe came back together it would end in a "Big Crunch."
If it continued with a slow expansion it would just sort of slowly
die out as all energy was expended and evenly distributed through
out all of space.
were blown away when recent observations showed that the universe
is unlikely to either be pulled back together or just slowed down.
The universe's expansion actually appears to be accelerating,
for some unknown reason. Scientists have speculated that is due
to an unknown force we can't detect which they have dubbed "dark
energy." If this is the case, if the universe is accelerated enough
it may end when it is actually ripped apart at the atomic level
in some distance future.
of the universe is related to its density because higher density
means more gravity. If the density is beyond a certain critical
value, space, as seen in four dimensions, will be rolled up into
the shape of a ball. If the density is just at the critical
value, it will be as if the surface of the ball had been flattened
out into a sheet. If the density falls below that critical point,
it will be as if the sheet had been bent down on two sides and
up on the other two forming a "saddle" shape.
of the universe, in turn, has an impact on theories about how
large it is. For example, the observable universe (that is the
part we can see) is about 92-94 billion light-years across. If
the universe were a closed sphere, however, it could actually
be quite a bit smaller than this because light traveling in a
"straight line" would eventually follow the curve of the sphere
and come back to its starting point. This means that if you used
a telescope to look at a distance galaxy, you might be actually
be looking at your own galaxy from the other side. It might seem
that it would be easy to look at a distant part of space and see
if the galaxies there matched up with any galaxies in opposite
direction, but an experiment like this is extremely difficult
to do. In reality the great distances involved mean that we are
seeing the galaxies at different times in their history, so they
may not look the same or be in the same position.
data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) NASA
launched in 2001 suggests that the shape of the universe - at
least the observable universe - is nearly "flat" with a minimum
size of around 78 billion light years. However it is more likely
that it is quite larger and may indeed be infinite. For comparison
the diameter of the orbit of Neptune, our outer most planet, is
a little more than one thousandth of a light year wide.
Stones - Recently, on a trip to Cape Breton Island we saw
a few signs along the road saying "Warning -- Flying Stones."
What are these "flying stones?" It sounds like a Fortean phenomenon,
but I have a feeling there is another explanation. - Alan.
as the phrase "flying stones" brings to my mind a vision of boulders
levitating in the sky like alien flying saucers, I suspected that
there was a more pedestrian explanation for this warning sign,
so I did some research by checking the website for the department
of roads in the Cape Breton area.
what I think the signs are about: There is an inexpensive way
of coating a road called "Chip Seal." Basically you lay down a
surface of sticky tar-like material, then on top of that a layer
of stone chips, then finally another layer on top that to seal
the chips down.
produces a road surface that is much smoother than a gravel road,
but rougher than a normal asphalt surface. For this reason it's
unpopular in urban high-traffic areas or on high-speed roads.
However, because of its low cost, it is often found in rural areas
with light traffic and low road speeds. Chip Seal is sometimes
also used as a cheap way to patch normal asphalt road until more
permanent repairs can be made.
there are some additional disadvantages to Chip Seal beyond the
rough road surface. For the first 24/48 hours after the surface
has been laid down there is a very high chance that stone chips
will be picked up, caught in tire treads and thrown by vehicles,
Cape Breton Island area they call this phenomenon "flying stones."
I suspect the signs you saw were warning of a section of road
that was just recently been redone with chip seal. Cars hit by
flying stone chips thrown up by other vehicles can, of course,
wind up with expensive cracked windshields or unsightly chipped
paint, so the department of road there warns driver with the "Flying
Pirates of the 18th Century - Who were the most successful/famous
pirates of the 18th century? - Matthew
had included the 17th century in your question the answer would
have been easy: Sir Henry Morgan. Morgan was born in Wales in
1635. In his teens he joined a pirate crew from Tortuga and swore
an oath as a member of the "Brethren of the Coast." After a successful
trip, Morgan and some friends decided to outfit their own ship.
Morgan was elected captain and his first raid was a great success.
Many more followed. Morgan became a vice admiral in the buccaneer
fleet and quickly became very famous and rich.
was smart enough to ally himself with the English as a privateer
(A pirate that only attacks ships of nations that his sponsor
is at war with and splits the booty with the crown) which meant
that when he was ready to give up his pirate career he could retire
and live safely in English controlled territory.
book, the fact that he survived to leisurely retirement makes
Morgan perhaps the most successfully pirate of all time. Few of
his colleagues had that pleasure.
are dealing with the 18th century pirates, however, we need to
perhaps assign the titles of "most famous" and "most successful"
to two different rogues.
an easy argument to make that the most famous pirate of the era
was Edward Teach, more commonly known as Blackbeard. Blackbeard,
early in his career, recognized that to be a successful pirate,
you had to be a terrifying pirate. One that was so feared that
ships would surrender at the very sound of your name. If you could
manage this, you could avoid many battles.
was a big man, with a naturally scowling face, long, thick black
hair and beard, and wild, deep-set eyes. To further heighten his
terrifying presence, Blackbeard would go into battle with lighted
tapers in his hair. These belched black smoke, making Blackbeard
appear to his enemies as some kind of demon.
Blackbeard has shown up in numerous books, TV shows and movies
(ranging from 1952's very serious Blackbeard the Pirate,
to Disney's 1968 comic effort Blackbeard's Ghost) it's
really hard to argue the he shouldn't get the title of most famous
Blackbeard, even today, is probably the best known pirate name
from that era, he wasn't the most successful one of that century.
That accolade belong to Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts.
and his crew attacked ships off the Americas and West Africa between
1719 and 1722. While was only in the business for less than four
years, he captured more ships than any other pirate during the
famed "Golden Age of Piracy."
born Bartholomew Roberts in Wales in 1682 and grew up to be an
honest seaman, but in 1719, his ship was captured by pirate Howell
Davis and Roberts was forced to join the crew. While he was first
reluctant, he soon came to see the advantages of piracy and went
at it with a vengeance. He came to the conclusion:
an honest service there is thin commons, low wages, and hard labour.
In this, plenty and satiety, pleasure and ease, liberty and power;
and who would not balance creditor on this side, when all the
hazard that is run for it, at worst is only a sour look or two
at choking? No, a merry life and a short one shall be my motto.
out to be such a good pirate that when Davis was killed a few
months after Robert's joined the crew, his fellow pirates elected
him the new captain. In his short career he captured 470 ships.
Unfortunately, for him, he was killed in a clash with the Royal
navy off the coast of Africa in 1722 when his crew was too drunk
to put up a good fight.
Dorado and Lost Gold - I would like to know if there WERE
any "Lost Cities of Gold", like the fabled El Dorado, ever discovered
or if they were just tales the natives told to the better-equipped
Spaniards to get rid of them. - David R.
the term "El Dorado" originally referred to not to a city, but
to a man. Translated it means "the gilded one" and is the result
of an ancient ritual done by a people that lived in the Andes
mountains in what is now part of Colombia. The new king of this
people as part of his coronation rites would dust himself in gold
and head out into the middle of the local lake where he would
throw gold and valuable jewels into the water to appease the god
who lived there. This ritual ended before the Spanish arrived,
but they were still fascinated by the story and somehow came to
believe that if there was so much gold involved, it must mean
there was a rich, golden city somewhere in the area. Somehow this
city came to be called as El Dorado.
spawned a lot of expeditions that cost a lot of lives. In 1617
Sir Walter Raleigh, the Englishman, though he knew where it was
and mounted an expedition. Raleigh stayed at the base camp while
he sent his son, Watt, into the jungle to look it. Unfortunately
Watt's party found the Spanish instead of the city and in the
resulting clash the younger Raleigh was killed. The father himself,
heartbroken, returned to England where the King had him beheaded
for making trouble with the Spanish.
is no truth to the El Dorado story. The Spanish did find the lake
involved in the original tale, Lake Guatavita, and managed to
drain part of it in 1545 and found gold pieces along the edge.
Some people still think there maybe gold in its depths, but the
government banned treasure hunters from hunting in lake in 1965.
however, was just one of the stories of enormous hoards of gold
hidden in the new world. In North America the Spanish found themselves
searching for the Seven Cities of Cibola. According to legend
these towns were filled with gold and gems. The search had come
to naught till 1539 when a Franciscan priest, Friar Marcos de
Niza, reported to the authorities that he had seen one of the
golden cities while wandering in what we now call New Mexico.
He reported he had seen from a distance, but was afraid to approach
as the Zuni Indian inhabitants might kill him.
Francisco Vazquez de Coronado led and expedition into the area
to find this city. Unfortunately he only located an unimpressive
adobe pueblo that didn't seem to match the description given by
the priest. The expedition was a financial disaster leaving its
backers in heavy debt. Experts are divided on what exactly the
priest saw, and whether he saw anything at all, but was just spinning
a tall tale.
there is the legend of the lost gold of the Incas. In this case
it's not a city, but a cache fabulous treasures hidden deep in
the mountains of central Ecuador that the native Americans manage
to keep hidden from Spanish conquistadors. The story started in
the 16th century with the Inca king Atahualpa. Atahualpa was captured
by Spanish commander Francisco Pizarro, who held him for ransom.
The agreed upon payment was a room full of gold. Pizarro, for
some reason, however, had Atahualpa put to death before the final
and largest payment was made. The story had it that the King's
people instead buried the treasure in a secret mountain cave.
century after the king's death a Spaniard named Valverde supposedly
became very wealthy after finding the hoard. In 1886 Barth Blake,
a treasure hunter, also claimed he found the cave. "There are
thousands of gold and silver pieces of Inca and pre-Inca handicraft,
the most beautiful goldsmith works you are not able to imagine,"
he wrote. According to the story Blake took as much as he could
carry and headed back to civilization to raise money for a full
expedition. Unfortunately he disappeared on a ship head to New
York, perhaps thrown overboard, by those that stole the gold he
had on him.
these gold tales, probably the last one, the story of Atahualpa's
ransom, has the most chance of being real. We know that the cashe
actually existed, because Spanish records show that a large shipment
was on its way from Ecuador when the king was executed. What happened
to the gold, however, is an open question. Most scholars think
that it was probably looted centuries ago, but there is no way
of knowing for sure and some believe that a cave full of gold
is still somewhere out there waiting to be found.
History - Who were the Assassins? - Octavio
were an order of Nizari Ismailis (which itself is a branch of
Islam) that became famous in the period of the 12th century for
committing murders to forward their military or political goals.
It is from their name that we get the English word for a professional
was founded around 1080 A.D. by Hassan-i Sabbah who became its
first Grandmaster. We don't know exactly why Sabbah started the
order, but legend has it he wished to exact vengeance on his enemies.
This probably included other Muslims as well as Christians who
came to the region as part of the First Crusade.
headquarters Sabbah used the fortress at Alamut in what is now
northwestern Iran. The order he created had a hierarchical structure
with himself at the top. At the lowest level were the "Fida'i"
(which means self-sacrificing agent). The Fida'i went through
an extensive training program that included combat, convert operations,
disguise, religion and the use of horses. A Fida'i also had to
be cold, calculating, patient and willing to sacrifice his own
life for the success of the mission. These traits made them perhaps
the most feared assassins in the world at that time.
unclear exactly how Sabbah commanded such fervent loyalty among
his foot soldiers. One story is that Sabbah, after drugging new
recruits with hashish, would take them into a "secret garden of
paradise" which contained attractive young maidens and beautiful
plants. They were told that if they wanted to return to this wonderful
place in the afterlife they would need to serve the order's cause.
consider this story, which came from Marco Polo's writings, a
myth, as the Alamut fortress shows no sign of ever having contained
a "secret garden."
had a strict code of ethics and never targeted common people,
but only important political or military figures. They believed
a single assassination could be used to achieve their goals instead
of open warfare which would lead to widespread bloodshed. Their
weapon of choice for such attacks was a dagger, sometimes tipped
murder was unnecessary, however. It is said that Sultan Sanjar,
who was at odds with the Nizari, woke up one morning to find an
assassin's dagger driven into the ground beside his bed. Alarmed
he secretly arranged a truce with the group which lasted for decades.
of the Assassins Order in Iran came in 1275. The Mongols invaded
the region and it is thought that the order sent its agents to
kill their leader, Möngke Khan. They failed and the Mongol army
besieged Alamut. Eventually the fortress was taken and the order
portion of the order, however, survived in Syria into the 14th
century. Toward the end they may have worked as assassins for
are a lot of stories about the Assassins and they often appear
as characters in both role-playing and video games like Assassins
Creed. Much of the material in these, however, has been based
on unconfirmed stories about the order, which may have been originally
propaganda authored by the group's enemies so it is unreliable.
Most of the truth about the Assassins, unfortunately, has been
lost to history as many of their records were destroyed when Alamut
to Destroy World's Oceans? - I heard someone say that there
is a large radiation leak from a reactor in Japan that is contaminating
the northern Pacific area and also the west coast of North America.
It is a leak into the atmosphere that eventually effect the entire
earth. Are there any facts to support this or is it complete fiction?
are probably talking about the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster
that occurred as a result of an earthquake on March 11, 2011.
The earthquake shutdown the reactors and may have caused damage
to some of the containment buildings. The real problems, however,
started 50 minutes later when as a result of the earthquake a
massive tsunami hit the Japanese coastline killing thousands.
The waves also topped the seawall at Fukushima and swamped the
reactors like those at Fukushima produce heat for many hours or
even days after they have been shut down. So it is necessary to
use auxiliary power to keep water circulating though the reactors
to keep them cool even after they have been turned off. A reactor
that gets too hot can have its fuel rods melt with serious consequences.
The Fukushima plant had emergency diesel generators to supply
power to keep the reactors cool, but these failed when they were
flooded by the tsunami. There were batteries to back up the generators,
but those only lasted 12 hours.
some of the reactors overheated hydrogen gas formed inside the
containment structure and this lead to several small explosions
throughout the buildings and some leakage of radioactive gas into
biggest problem at Fukushima, however, has turned out to be radioactive
water. As water has been pumped into the damaged reactors to keep
them cool, it also has been leaking out, probably through cracks
caused by the earthquake. Water has also leaked from some pools
where spent radioactive fuel was being stored. This water has
mixed in with the natural ground water below the plant and has
been slowly it is working its way out into the sea. Steps have
been taken to try and keep the water from getting into the ocean,
such as freezing the water in the ground, but so far it hasn't
stopped the flow. By some estimates 100 tons (about the size of
an Olympic swimming pool) of contaminated water gets into the
ocean each day.
does this mean to the environment? Local fish can no longer be
caught and sold as food. They carry too much cesium-134 and strontium-90.
(Iodine-131 is also a concern, but it has very short half-life
and disappears rapidly) The cesium is also less of a problem as
it moves quickly out of living tissue and may not contaminate
seafood for very long. However, the strontium gets into bones
and concentrates making it a very long term problem. All of this
radiation, however, bodes poorly for Japanese fishing anywhere
about contamination on the U.S. West Coast? Fortunately the Pacific
Ocean is huge and the more diluted the contaminated water gets,
the less of a problem it becomes. Scientists think they have detected
increased radiation levels in fish they've collected off the California
coast, however, it is extremely hard to separate these from the
normal background radiation in the fish. In any case the amounts
are so small that they do not seem to be a threat to humans that
might consume them. Nor do scientists fear that humans swimming
in west coast waters might be harmed.
for any leak into the air, any problems with air contamination
would be limited to the local area around the Fukushima plant,
and isn't a world-wide problem. It may be possible to detect minute
increases in radioactive in the air at a considerable distance
from Fukushima, but this tiny increase would not be dangerous
to humans. The Chernobyl incident released much, much more radiation
into the air than Fukushima did, but was still only a health concern
to those in the region surrounding the original accident.
Worlds - On your quantum physics exhibit, you briefly touched
on the multiple realities theory. I was wondering if you could
go into a bit more detail.- Quinn
unfamiliar with quantum physics may want to visit our page
to get some background before reading this answer.
that we may live in a multiverse (multiple-universes) has gotten
increasing attention in the last few years. There are several
different reasons scientists think that we may live in a multiverse.
One multi-verse theory arises out of the idea that the universe
is infinite, and therefore everything eventually repeats itself.
Another theory is that since laws of physics that make life in
our universe possible are improbable, there must be infinite other
universes with different laws where life could not arise. However,
today we will talk only about multiple universes that arise out
of quantum theory, as that was the subject of the original article.
mechanics is the physics we use to deal with the smallest things
in the universe such as electrons, protons and other sub-atomic
particles. One characteristic of these particles is that we know
that they can exist in "superposition." That is they can be in
two or more possible locations or states at the same time.
have been puzzled by this. We never see this kind of thing in
the world of macro objects. (The paper weight on your desk is
always in only one location at a time) We also know that whenever
one of these particles in superposition is observed (or measured)
they seem to suddenly decide to jump into one definite state/location
or another. But how do the particles know they are being observed?
level, do we even care if they are in superposition or not? After
all they are just tiny, little things.
the problem is that we are made up of just tiny things like atoms
and molecules. So it seems that is possible that we might be able
to exist in two different states/locations at the same time too.
Yet, again, we never see this in our full-sized world.
that observation somehow causes the particles to jump into a definite
states/locations has bothered a lot of scientists. Why should
this happen with an observer? Why is he special? And if the observer
is also made of things that can be in superposition too, what
does that mean? American physicist Hugh Everett III suggested
that rather than these particles collapsing into definite states,
maybe instead the universe actually splits. One new universe for
each possible state or location that the particle could be in.
This gets rid of the whole concern about the particle jumping
into a state and the need for it to be observed (or measured)
to do that.
of multiple universes, which has gotten the moniker the "Many
Worlds Interpretation" (MWI), clears up a lot of problems with
quantum mechanics, so many of physicists think it might be right.
as one person pointed out, the accuracy of a theory is not determined
by polling scientists. However, many people are highly skeptical
about MWI. Since there are countless particle collapses going
on every second of everyday this easily means that there an infinite
universes. Many of them only slightly different than the one we
live in. What's more, it implies that if anything could happen,
then it does indeed happen in at least one universe. A lot of
people think that this is just too crazy to be true.
that find MWI crazy argue that Occam's Razor (a rule of thumb
that suggests the least complicated explanation is the right one
explaintation) indicates that MWI must be wrong. Proponents of
MWI, however, argue that describing the rules for one particular
universe is a lot more complicated than describing the rules for
all possible universes and that Occam's Razor actually favors
crazy possibility that comes out of this kind of MWI is that idea
of Quantum immortality. The idea that at every point where
a person might die, the universe will split into a least two:
one with the person alive, the other one with the person dead.
Since (barring an afterlife, which if it exists would probably
be outside a universe anyway) a person can only consciously experience
life, he will only ever find himself in a universe where he survived.
This means he will be immortal from this own perspective (though
he would be dead in many other versions of the universe). Because
there would be at least one universe where that person lived an
immensely long life, and that person would, from their own point
of view, would experience only that. However, let's note, this
effect, if true, would not protect one from growing old and increasingly
infirm, so it is not necessarily a good, healthy immortal life.
surrounding MWI will probably never be resolved until somebody
can figure out how to do a scientific experiment that will prove
if other quantum universes exist or not. In fact, some people
argue that since MWI cannot be tested, it is wild speculation,
not science. A few people have suggested an experiment that might
prove MWI, but we do not currently have the technology to carry
bizarre way of proving MWI is through a process that has been
nicknamed "Quantum Suicide." In this odd approach a brave (or
perhaps foolish) physicist creates a gun that has a 50% chance
of firing based on some quantum event. When he pulls the trigger
it either goes off, or he hears an audible "click." He then uses
it to attempt to kill himself multiple times. If the MWI is correct
he will (from his own perspective) never succeed and will always
only hear the "click." As in quantum immortality his conscious
will not continue in any of the worlds where he dies, only in
the worlds where he lives, so he will be able to prove, to at
least himself, that the MWI is correct. (It should be noted, however,
that he leaves a string of dead copies of himself in other universes,
each with a bereaved relatives and friends).
around the MWI has not kept it from showing up in popular culture.
Typical of these is the classic Star Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror"
in which Captain Kirk finds himself accidentally transferred to
a different universe where the typically good Federation of Planets
is replaced by a brutal empire.
we living in the MWI of quantum physics? Hopefully some bright
physicist will come up with an experiment that we can accurately
do that will tell us for sure.
Photons Look Alike? - If photons are all identical how
do they carry any properties of what they are reflecting off of?
let's start by defining what a photo is for readers that don't
know. A photon is a single packet of electromagnetic (or light)
energy. The actual term photon was coined by Gilbert Lewis in
1926, but the idea of light in the form of discrete particles
had been around much longer.
are constantly in motion and in a vacuum travel at the colossal
speed of 186,000 miles a second (The speed of light). Another
interesting characteristic of a photon is that they are both a
particle and a wave at the same time.
are created when radiation is emitted from an object. For example,
heating a piece of metal till it glows is causing the atoms in
the metal to radiate photons (This is how an incandescent lamp
works). Photons can also be absorbed by an object.
your question: How can all photons be identical to one another?
Well, they are in the sense that they are all made of the same
stuff, but that doesn't mean that a photon doesn't also have properties
that allow us to tell them apart. One property that they have
is the amount of energy they carry. This is expressed in the frequency
of their wave. To us the wave frequency of a photon appears as
its color. Low frequencies are seen as the red end of the color
spectrum and high frequencies are seen as the blue end of the
hit a green painted surface the photons that aren't at the green
frequency are absorbed while those with the green frequency are
reflected (which is why we see the surface as green).
property a photon can have how it is polarized. Photons that are
polarized vertically will not pass through a sheet of glass or
plastic that has a horizontal polarization. (This is used in 3-D
movies where the images going to your right eye are polarized
one way and images meant for your left eye are polarized the other.
You wear glasses with each lens polarized a different way to filter
out the unwanted image).
a word picture will help. Imagine two identical cars driving down
a road at the same speed. One is has just come out of the desert,
however, and is really hot. The other just came out of a freezer,
so it really cold. Identical cars traveling same speed, but they
have different kinetic energy levels. This might give them different
behaviors too. Imagine them hitting a wall made of ice very slowly,
the hot one might melts its way through while the cold one might
just bounce off.
UFO - How does an ionocraft work? I've only ever seen unmanned
models of them--is it possible to build a manned one? - Specboy
August 1964 issue of Popular Mechanics there was an article entitled
"Major De Seversky's Ion-Propelled Aircraft." It tells the story
of a wonderful new method of flight being developed at Electron-Atom
Inc., a research firm in Long Island City, New York, under the
direction of aviation designer Alexander P. de Seversky. The author,
Hans Fantel, describes watching a model aircraft with no props,
no jets and no wings lift straight up and fly silently around
the company's test facility. The engineers predicted that as soon
as some of the bugs got worked out they could build a full sized
aircraft that would climb straight up like a helicopter, but capable
of extremely high altitudes (300,000 feet) and super-high speeds.
As a bonus since it didn't generate heat it would be invulnerable
to heat-seeking guided missiles. They called this test model an
the 1960's the Soviet engineers speculated about building
to say those predictions from half a century ago have not panned
out. Still, the ionocraft is a fascinating device and many engineers
are still intrigued by it. It is simple, quiet and had has no
it work? Typically there are two major parts to an ionocraft:
At the top is a "Corona Wire." This wire is charged with positive
high voltage electricity. This will strip the electrons from the
surrounding air "ionizing" it and giving it a positive electrical
charge. The second part of craft is a collector which is negatively
charged and placed just below the corona wire. The positively
charged air is attracted to the collector and moves downward through
the gap between the two parts. As the charged air makes this move
it bumps into neutrally charged air pushing it downward also.
This creates a downdraft and this downdraft provides lift for
they were experimenting in the 60's had a metal grid for the collector
and rising above it spikes which created the corona. The ions
moved from around the spikes to the grid creating the downdraft.
The engineers pictured the full-size version as a cockpit would
hang below the grid, a bit like the way a basket hangs below a
you see today, however, are just science fair demonstrations.
They are usually built in a triangular shape with three corona
wires just above three collectors made of foil. By increasing
the voltage to any of the three corona/collector pairs the lift
of that section is increased. This allows for it to be steered
by just adjusting the voltage to each of the sides.
that the engineers ran into with the ionocraft back the 60's was
that the technology did not scale up well. They could never build
a vehicle that had enough lift to carry the equipment needed to
produce the electricity to drive it. Any version of an ionocraft
you see today has wires running to it that carry the electricity
from a power plant located on the ground.
engineers have not given up on using electrohydrodynamic lift
to create engines. NASA's developed their NSTAR electrostatic
ion thruster in the 1990's, which has been used to power a number
of deep space probes and satellites, using similar principles
as with the ionocraft.
has been somewhat of a revival in interest in electrohydrodynamic
lift in the last few years and recently researchers at MIT did
a study on the ionocraft and discovered it is actually a much
more efficient way to produce thrust than a jet engine.
Subrata Roy of the University of Florida is working with NASA
to design a prototype airship called the Wingless Electromagnetic
Air Vehicle (WEAV) using a design similar to an ionocraft. Roy's
design calls for a vehicle that ionizes the air around it, then
pushes it away by using electromagnets. He has the same power
problems, however, as other engineers encountered with their ionocrafts,
but hopes to find a solution using either a battery, ultracapacitor,
solar panel or some combination of those items. The shape of Roy's
vehicle would be disc-like: In other words, a flying saucer.
this is why so many people have been fascinated by the idea of
the ionocraft for so long. These strange flyers sound so much
like the descriptions people have reported over the years about
UFO sightings: They make almost no sound (just a humming or crackling)
are disc shaped and can move in any direction. Perhaps if Roy
is successful we may actually see a flying saucer in our skies
someday, though instead of being from Mars it would be from Florida.
on Fire II - Last month Janie L. asked Is St. Elmo's Fire
a symbol related to "The Masonic Order? Though I searched
my resources I could not find a strong connection and invited
readers to help us out. Reader Ruth Austin came to my rescue.
According to Ms Austin:
a connection does exist between St. Elmo's fire and Masonic symbolism.
The rare phenomenon is represented as light from Heaven, coming
down to earth and being manifested as holy fire on the altar found
in the Masonic temple."
on to say:
to the 'Codex Veritas,' this flaming light has a dual meaning,
as most of the symbols in the Masonic beliefs have. It is associated
with the Urim and Thumim, the two sacred objects that were used
for divination purposes by the Hebrew high priest. When not in
use, they were safely kept in the breastplate of the priest."
a little research on these objects and found that nobody at this
point knows precisely what they were, but some scholars think
they may have been small, flat objects made of wood or bone kept
in a pouch on the high priest's vestments. When a divine judgment
was needed the priest would reach into the pouch and pull one
out randomly (this presumes that they were both identical to the
touch so he couldn't know which one he was holding). The Urim
essentially meant guilty and Thummim meant innocent. This might
have also been interpreted as "Yes" or "No" depending on the question
at hand. It seems likely that these devices might have been used
to choose Saul as King in the Bible at 1 Samuel 10:22.
original Urim and Thumim would shine with heavenly light when
the high priest needed a decision to be made, such as the guilt
or innocence of an accused person. The original Umim and Thumim
vanished when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the
'Codex Veritas' is an ancient text of Templar lore that I'm preparing
for publication. It was originally a Latin manuscript acquired
by Sir John Lindsay in 1246 AD, as he was returning from the Holy
Land. He was a Knight Templar and a Mason."
this sheds some more light on the original question. Thank you,
Ms. Austin, and good luck with your coming publication.
on Fire - Is St. Elmo's Fire a symbol related to "The Masonic
Order"? - Janie L.
fire itself is an electrical effect that occurs during bad weather.
It is often appears as bright blue or violet glow on high objects
like a ship's mast or church steeple d during storms.
can be caused by high voltage differentials are present between
clouds and the ground during thunderstorms. As the voltages approach
1000 volts per centimeter along an object, the air molecules ionize
(gain an electrical charge) and turn into a plasma which glows.
Where St. Elmo's fire appears on the surface of an object depends
a lot on its geometry. Sharp points lower the required voltage
making likely that objects, like lightning rods, will glow at
Fire has been known to appear on flag poles, spires, chimneys,
aircraft wings and even the horns of cattle. One theory holds
that the airship Hindenburg was the victim of St. Elmo's Fire
coupled with a gas leak.
that have to do with the Masons? Not all that much that I can
find. Although a fair number of Masons lodges use the name of
St. Elmo, St. Elmo's fire does not appear as a symbol in any of
the Masonic sources I have access to. However, since the Masons
are a secret society, the reference may be buried out of public
however, does led us to a vague, possible connection. There is
a secret club known as the St. Elmo's Society. It does not appear
to be related to the masons, but is a Yale club very similar to
the more famous Skull and Bones. It was founded in 1889
as an independent club for seniors within the nationally chartered
fraternity, Delta Phi, Omicron Chapter. St. Elmo's split with
the national fraternity in 1925. The Society still operates to
day and some of its former members include John Ashcroft, the
former United States Attorney General, and actress Allison Williams
of the HBO series Girls.
any other readers who know of any other connection between St.
Elmo's Fire and the Masons, drop us a line.
Away Over the Earth - When I was little, I thought of a
situation whereby one can, with the help of a machine, float in
the air, letting the Earth run past below him, as the Earth revolves
with great speed. But if that was so, then merely jumping up in
the street could cause a building (or a mast, billboard, tree,
etc.) to hit him, as it's fixed on the speeding Earth. Then I
came to realize that the Earth moves with everything on it and
in its -spheres. - I'm sure you get the picture now- Now, my question
is: since the higher a man goes above sea level, the lesser the
gravity and the pull, can one vertically float miles above (say,
in Poland,) and then vertically descend, dropping in Germany?
About how many miles would he go before the Earth starts moving
away from the spot whereon he rose? - Cheta
you are asking, "How far do you have to go up in the air before
the rotation of the Earth starts moving it under you and carrying
you away from where you started?"
the simple answer is, it never does, or it does immediately, depending
on how you approach the problem. Let me explain.
first law of motion is "Every object in motion tends to remain
in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to
it." So when you are standing on the Earth you being carried in
a easternly direction at about 1000 miles per hour (if you're
standing near the equator). You don't notice this because everything
around you - the ground, the buildings and the air - are moving
with you. (In much the same way as when you are on an airliner
moving at 400 mph everything around you seems still because it's
all moving at the same speed in the same direction.)
thing that Newton tells us is that when we are moving we will
continue in a straight line unless another force is applied. So
you might ask how come we follow the curve of the earth as we
move, instead of flying into space?
of course, is gravity. It pulls us down and keeps us stuck to
the earth forcing us to follow a curving path. But suppose you
had a personal anti-gravity device you could switch on that would
negate this force? (And let's also suppose that there was no atmosphere
with wind to blow you about). Well, the moment you switched it
on you would find yourself floating away because you would be
headed off on a straight line while the surface of the earth followed
Newton's first law tells us our movements does not change unless
an outside force is applied. So even as you rose above the earth
you would still be traveling at the same speed (let says a 1000
miles per hour) that you were standing on the surface. In fact,
you would continue moving on that straight line for the rest of
eternity unless you were acted on by some other force. So the
answer seems to be that you would never "slow down" so that Earth
would drift beneath you. However, things are just a bit more complicated
switched on your ant-gravity device it would appear that you were
drifting away into the sky, but what would actually be happening
is that the ground, following the curve of the earth, would be
falling away from you. You would be the one traveling on a straight
line. As you started to move away immediately the angle that you
would consider to be "straight down" would start changing. This
effect would grow slowly so you would need to be a great height
before you would start to notice it. It would appear that you
were slowly drifting backwards (westward) although you actual
speed would not have changed.
see you can make a case that in never does, or does immediately
depending on how you think about it. In reality if you were to
try this with a balloon the direction and speed of the wind would
be a far greater factor in how you moved that any effect from
the rotation of earth.
Travel in an Expanding Universe - We often say that one
day it may be possible to visit or even occupy (colonize) another
star system. Can this be possible when the universe keeps on expanding,
meaning that at any given time, the nearest star is getting even
further away? Won't there be this continually expanding distance
to consider, which means we should be traveling faster than the
rate of expansion to reach the nearest star? - Nanshir
a good question and to answer it we have to talk about the structure
of the universe on various levels. Let's start with the galactic
level. Galaxies are collections of stars that are held together
by their respective gravities. Our galaxy, known as the Milky
Way, has somewhere between 100 and 400 billion stars in it. It
is a typical spiral galaxy in the form of a disc about 110,000
light years wide and 10,000 light years thick at the center where
it tends to bulge outward.
the confines of a galaxy the force of gravity dominates over the
universal expansion. This means that within the Milky Way the
stars do not move apart and the galaxy stays basically the same
size. The stars within our galaxy (like our nearest neighbor Proxima
Centauri) do not tend to move away from each other. In fact,
they sort of just wander around pushed and pulled by the forces
of gravity. For example while Proxima Centauri is our closest
neighbor at 4.3 light years today, another star designated Ross
248 (which is currently at a distance of 10.3 light-years) is
coming toward us and will pass by us in about 31,000 years at
a distance of only 3 light years.
Andromeda Galaxy: Headed our way... (NASA)
so let's look at the next level up from our galaxy: the local
group of galaxies. Does the space between them always get larger
because of the expansion of the universe? Well, not really. Gravity
also works between galaxies and they often wander around in their
groups. For example, in our local group we are on a collision
course with our neighbor the Andromeda Galaxy. Don't sweat it
though. It won't happen for another 4 billion years (And even
when it does the stars of the galaxies don't actually hit each
other. The collision mainly changes the shape of the affected
only after we get beyond the local group of galaxies, and even
beyond the local cluster of groups, that we finally see the distance
between these collections of galaxies growing because of the universal
other stars in our galaxy will not be a problem at least as far
as the expansion of the universe is concerned. We would still
have the vast distances between stars to be worried about, however.
One way of solving this problem might be to use a "sleeper" ship
(where all the passengers would be put in to suspended animation
for the flight that might last decades of even centuries).Another
solution would be a "generational" ship (where one generation
would start the voyage, live out their lives on their spaceship,
and the journey would be completed by their children, or grandchildren).
course, if we could find a way to build engines that would "warp"
space - like on Star Trek - and defy the speed-of-light, then
we might be able to colonize planets by zipping between them on
a starship like the Enterprise.
From a Thunderbolt - Could a power company use lightning
rods to collect electricity?- John
that you might be able to harvest electrical energy from lightning
is one that scientists have found intriguing for many years. Anybody
who has seen the 1985 hit movie Back to the Future knows
that Doc Brown was able to use a bolt from a thunderstorm to power
his DeLorean/time machine and send Marty McFly back to his own
had one advantage in using lightning that most scientists don't,
however. Because of his time machine he knew exactly when and
where the lightning was going to strike. That's one of the major
problems with trying to harness this source of power. We don't
know exactly where lightning is going to hit, or how powerful
the bolt will be.
stopped scientist from trying to make it work. After all a lighting
strike can carry a lot of power. As much as five billion Joules
of energy which would be enough, by some estimates, to power a
single household for a month.
is to build a series of tall towers in an area that has frequent
thunderstorms in the hopes that they will get struck on a regular
basis. A sort of a "lightning farm." The best place for something
like this would be Florida or the Pacific Coast as those locations
get the most lightning strikes per square mile.
towers in those locations, however, strikes probably would not
be regular enough to make the system economical. However, it might
be possible to get lightning to strike on cue using a laser. Scientists
have been successful in using a high-powered laser with a short
pulse to create what's known as a laser-Induced plasma channel.
The idea is that the laser heats the air so much that ionizes
the gases to form plasma. The plasma conducts electricity much
more easily than the surrounding air so an electrical charge will
travel down the laser's path.
the development of this had been by the military. Imagine being
able to direct an artificial lightning bolt via laser to an enemy
target. It might be able to disable enemy weapons or detonate
munitions at a distance. Using smaller electrical charges (like
those in a Taser) you might be able to build a stun gun like those
seen on Star Trek.
application of the technology, however, might be to use the laser
to create a path from the lightning farm up into thunderclouds
to initiate a lightning strike directly onto your power collection
this brings a new concern. Can you really build a tough enough
system to withstand the surge of five billion Joules of energy?
An Illinois inventor named Steve LeRoy came up with an idea of
how to make it work and demonstrated it using an artificial lightning
bolt that lit up a 60-watt light bulb for 20 minutes. In 2007,
an alternative energy company called Alternate Energy Holdings,
Inc. (AEHI) tested his design. The idea was that a lightning tower
would capture the bolt and some of the energy would be sent to
a capacitor with the rest just being shunted off into the ground.
After working with the idea for a while the company's CEO, Donald
Gillispie, concluded that they "couldn't make it work," although
"given enough time and money, you could probably scale this thing
up... it's not black magic; it's truly math and science, and it
getting power from lightning still might be possible. Some experts,
however, question whether such a system will ever be practical.
Martin A. Uman, co-director of the Lightning Research Laboratory
at the University of Florida noted that while a single lightning
strike is fast and bright, only a small portion of the energy
it actually has reaches the ground. "The energy is in the thunderstorm,"
he explained. "A typical little thunderstorm is like an atomic
bomb's worth of energy. But trying to get the energy from the
bottom of the lightning is hopeless."
Mile-Per-Hour Wind - How do the Voyager spacecraft survive
the (according to NASA) "250,000 to one million per hour" solar
winds while traversing the heliopause? Shouldn't they be obliterated?
the first thing we should do is define what the solar wind is.
It isn't quite like the wind we experience here on the surface
of the Earth.
wind consists of charged particles of the sun that have some gotten
so much kinetic energy (from heat of the sun's corona) that they
can escape from the sun's strong gravity. These particles are
mostly subatomic elements (pieces of atoms) like electrons or
protons. Depending on the activity around the sun the particles,
as you noted, can pick up considerable speed.
our wind consists of air, which is molecules of gas (about 80%
percent of air is nitrogen and most of the rest is oxygen). The
air we have here on the surface is very dense because it is under
pressure. The pressure comes from the thickness of the atmosphere
above us which extends upward for around a hundred miles. This
causes the air to press against you if you are standing at sea
level at around 14.7 pounds per square inch. You don't really
notice this, however, because it comes at you equally from every
the wind pushes against you (its force) isn't just a function
of the speed of the wind, it is also involves the density of the
air. The lower the density of the air, the less the wind pushes
you were standing on Earth and you were hit by a million mile
per hour wind, there wouldn't be much left of you. That kind of
pressure applied to your body would tear it apart. Even a shock
wave of pressure (let's say from an explosion) traveling at a
few hundreds of miles an hour can be very damaging and knock down
there is a big difference between the density of the air at sea
level and the density of the solar wind in space. In fact it's
round a trillion to one difference. To get an idea of what this
means imagine a box one inch square filled with air at the pressure
it is at sea level. To get that air down to the density of the
solar wind you would have to extend that box so it was still was
one inch in height and depth, but almost 16 million miles long,
while still containing the same amount of air.
the solar wind can go whipping by at a million miles per hour,
the density is so, so low that it effectively creates no pressure
on something like the Voyager spacecraft. Yes, the probe carries
sensitive instruments that can detect the wind, but if you were
out there with the spacecraft you would be unable to feel any
pressure against your hand if you were able to hold it out in
the solar wind.
the further the solar wind gets from the sun, the slower it goes.
This means that the Voyagers at the edge of the solar system experience
much less solar wind than say the Apollo spacecraft that carried
the astronauts to the moon. The heliopause, which one of the Voyager
spacecraft just crossed, is actually the boundary where the solar
wind is so far from the sun that slows to a complete stop, blocked
by the interstellar medium (which is really the result of solar
winds from surrounding stars).
lead you to ask the question, "What happened to Voyager when it
hit the interstellar medium?" Well, the answer is "not much,"
because it, like the solar wind, has an extremely low density.
the solar wind is has little density, however, doesn't mean that
it can't have a big effect on the solar system. Most of the effect
it has, however, is due to the electrical charge of the particles.
A good solar flare can send a shock wave of highly charged particles
close to the earth that can damage the electronics inside satellites
and upset radio transmissions.
Shape of the Universe - Sir Stephen Hawking once said that
if one stands long enough at one spot, he can see the back of
his head, due to the curvature of space/time. Of course, this
will take billions of years. By the same token, now that Voyager
has left our solar system, will it ever come back to Earth having
circumnavigated the universe, assuming all things remain equal?
for this quote from Hawking and I haven't found it. However, this
type of example has been used by many cosmologists when they are
trying to describe the shape of the universe, so it's perfectly
believable that Hawking might have used it too.
scenario, called a closed universe, the universe curves back on
itself like a big sphere. It is said that if you stand somewhere
long enough (and with a powerful enough telescope) you could peer
deep into space and see you backside (provide you waited long
enough). By the same token the voyager spacecraft would eventual
comeback to Earth again in some very, very distant future by circumnavigating
the universe. (Imagine and ant walking across a basketball. The
ant is voyager and the universe is the basketball).
this example is great tool for college professors to explain the
shape of a closed universe to astronomy 101 students, it would
never actually work. The most obvious problem is that even if
we are in a closed universe, it is expanding and has been ever
since the big bang. The furthest parts of the universe are actually
moving away from us faster than the speed of light. So if you
were standing there looking for the back of your head through
a telescope you would never see yourself because the light that
bounced off of you carrying your image can never catch up the
with the expanding universe (Imaging an ant trying to walk around
a huge, rapidly expanding balloon. He can't do it because the
balloon expands much faster than he can walk).
voyager is going way slower than the speed of light, it hasn't
got a chance of actually returning to us through by this method
universe, however, is just one of the possible shapes the universe
can have. Much of the current evidence actually favors a flat
universe, like the top of a table.
data from NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP,
however, suggests the universe might actually be saddle-shaped.
(This might seem like a really odd shape for a universe, but it
permits the points along the outer edges to be as distant from
each other as possible).
was designed to investigate the Cosmic Background Radiation (CBR)
left over from the big bang. The CBR can be detected at every
direction in space and it was thought to be very uniform. However,
WMAP measurements have shown the CBR to be just slightly colder
in one direction than another. This might suggest that the universe
is indeed saddle-shaped (Another theory is, however, that the
difference might have been caused by another universe bumping
question of the shape of the universe isn't really settled yet.
One thing we can be sure, however, is that we won't see voyager
coming back to us anytime in the near future (unless it is carried
by a humongous alien probe like in the 1979 film Star Trek
the Motion Picture).
by Any Other Name... - In science fiction there
are sentient, intelligent alien species: Many are air-breathers,
but many more are methane-breathing or silicon-based creatures.
Scientifically speaking, can there actually be methane-breathing
and/or silicon creatures? - David
part of your question - "can there be methane-breathing creatures?"
- is easy to answer: Yes. And we don't even need to leave the
Earth to find them. They are called "methanophiles." One example
of them is Methylococcus capsulatus, a bacteria that is
often found in soils, landfills, sediments and peat bogs. This
little critter was in the news a few years ago because it was
the first methane breathing creature to get its genome sequenced.
Scientists interested in biotechnology are quite intrigued with
Methylococcus capsulatus as a possible mechanism to make
useful products or services.
isn't inconceivable at all that somewhere out in space you might
find creatures - maybe even intelligent ones - that breath methane.
In fact, scientists analyzing data from the Cassini spacecraft
that has been watching the Saturn moon Titan have suggested there
may be methane involved life on its surface. Hydrogen and acetylene
have been disappearing from the moon's atmosphere for no good
reason. It may be that there is a microbe on the planet breathing
in these compounds and breathing out methane.
of silicon based life, however, is a little more complicated.
Currently all the life we know on Earth (including Methylococcus
capsulatus) depends on organic molecules based on carbon.
Carbon in many ways is a unique element. Its bonding versatility
allows it to form itself into many molecules with differing structures
- rings, long chains and multi-ring chains. It can also double-bond
itself with some atoms. This allows it to make complex molecules
which, in turn, make life possible.
as you mentioned, science fiction stories often picture life that
might be based on another element, usually silicon. (Probably
the most famous of these is the original Star Trek episode "Devil
in the Dark" in which a silicon based life form, called a Horta,
finds itself at odds with Captain Kirk).
in many ways seems like a viable substitute for carbon. It's just
below carbon on the periodic table. It can also form many interesting
and complex molecules too. However, when we actually look for
these we see few of these molecules formed in nature.
point our telescope towards the skies and use the observations
of the spectra of light to see what elements are prevalent, we
find a lot of carbon and not much silicon. Even more important,
we can find a lot of complex organic (carbon-based) molecules
that form naturally, but very few similar complex molecules based
on silicon. This is because the processes that forms heavier elements
in the heart of stars favors carbon over silicon. Also many of
the structures that carbon so easily forms would be unstable if
you had the silicon equivalent. While the largest silicon molecule
observed in nature has only had six silicon atoms, there are molecules
found in nature that can have thousands of carbon atoms.
does not mean that some kind of silicon life might not be possible,
just unlikely. If you could find the right environment, perhaps
deep inside a planet with high pressures and temperatures, the
possibility of silicon life forming might be much larger.
and interesting idea. Could we make synthetic silicon life under
the right conditions in a laboratory? So far this is science fiction,
but who knows.
thought: Our computers use chips that are silicon based. While
computers don't have biological cells, one could argue that if
we ever make intelligent computers that can reproduce themselves,
perhaps we have indeed created a form of silicon-based life!
vs. Asteroid - I read somewhere that the reason a nuclear
bomb causes so much damage is that it superheats the surrounding
air which expands very rapidly to create the blast. I also read
that a way to stop large asteroids hitting the earth would be
to use a nuclear missile to either blow it up or use the blast
to move its orbit. How would this work in the vacuum of space?
of using nuclear weapons to blow up an incoming asteroid to save
the Earth has long been a theme of science fiction movies, short
stories and books. However, when the scientists at NASA that were
charged with coming up with a scheme to deal with an incoming
space rock were initially very concerned about the ramifications
of such a strategy. The problem is that many asteroids are not
so much a single large rock as a loose collection of boulders
clinging together based on their slight gravitational attraction
to each other. Scientists were concerned that if an asteroid large
enough to end all life on our planet (say 6.2 miles or 10 kilometers
across or bigger) was hit with a nuclear tipped missile it might
simply fracture into several different pieces, all bound for Earth.
The effect of these separate smaller impacts on Earth might be
even worse than a single large impact.
reason they thought the idea of using something other than nuclear
weapons to nudge the asteroid off course might be the way to go.
For example, using a robot spaceship to push the asteroid onto
a new course. Or having a spaceship fly alongside the asteroid
and use a laser to vaporize bits of the asteroid. The parts that
were vaporized would be turned into gas which would expand and
push the asteroid in the opposite direction. Even painting the
asteroid with a reflective color on one side, so the sunlight
reflected off it (imparting a slight nudge to it) instead of being
absorbed might be enough to change its direction over time.
with all of the above solutions, however, is that they take time.
You would have to know that the asteroid was going to hit Earth
several years in advance for these low power pushes to change
the asteroid's course. If you suddenly learned only a few weeks
in advance that a collision was going to take place, you'd need
to take a more direct approach.
that the most effective way to handle a last minute encounter
with an incoming space rock was employing one or more nuclear
weapons. They considered using surface explosions, delayed surface
explosions, subsurface explosions and standoff explosions. The
best solution was standoff explosions where a nuclear device is
actually not detonated on the asteroid, but at some distance.
The method was deemed the least likely to split the asteroid into
smaller, and perhaps more dangerous, pieces.
as you point out, that shock wave from a nuclear blast can't effectively
cross that vacuum of space, how would such a method work? Well,
the destructive force of a nuke doesn't just come from the shock
wave. It also destroys with heat. If you look at some of the old
atomic test bomb movies where they filmed a house in the path
of a nuclear blast you will see the first thing that arrives at
the building when the device goes off is an intense wave of electromagnetic
radiation, including light (especially infrared light which is
heat). The outside wall of the building starts smoking and catches
on fire. Then a few seconds later the blast wave hits and actually
knocks the building down.
you wouldn't get the blast wave because there isn't any air to
transmit it. However you do get the infrared light and other electromagnetic
radiation. This will vaporize the top layer of the asteroid in
the direction facing the blast. The expanding gas from the vaporization
will push the asteroid off course. Since the vaporization is widely
distributed across the face of the asteroid the push is unlikely
to cause a split.
part of this scheme is if it turns out that one standoff blast
isn't enough, you can immediately try another and another until
you pushed the asteroid far enough in one direction to miss the
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2000. All Rights Reserved.