How many people might it take to to colonise another star system?

Tuesday, 15 April, 2014

Because I enjoy this type of conjecture and know you do as well. You’re sending humans on a multi-generational, two thousand year long, voyage to colonise a habitable planet in a distant star system. How many people do you place on the vessel?

It had been suggested, a little over ten years ago, that a crew of one hundred and fifty might be sufficient, but a more recent analysis of the question puts the figure at closer to forty thousand.

That would make for a pretty big ship, unless you sent a fleet (fewer eggs in the same basket as it were), but whatever way it is looked at, setting up a human colony outside the solar system would be, or is going to be, a huge undertaking.

The nearest star systems – such as our nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri, which is 4.2 light-years from home – are so far that reaching them would require a generational starship. Entire generations of people would be born, live, and die before the ship reached its destination. This brings up the question of how many people you need to send on a hypothetical interstellar mission to sustain sufficient genetic diversity.

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A simple guide to the not so simple task of rebooting civilisation

Monday, 7 April, 2014

Noah, whose efforts to re-start life, and civilisation on Earth, are the subject of US film director’s Darren Aronofsky’s latest work.

If you were charged with a similar sort of task though, how would you go about it? Assuming there was a limit to the amount of knowledge and information you could preserve, what might you retain to reboot civilisation, as it were?

The great physicist Richard Feynman once posed a similar question: “If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis that all things are made of atoms – little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another.”

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When hearts beat online

Friday, 4 April, 2014

New York City based data scientist Jen Lowe broadcasts the rhythm of her heartbeat, albeit on a twenty-four hour delay, to a waiting world.

No fear of over-sharing here…

Via CreativeJS.

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Art versus science, never the twain shall meet, a law of literature?

Monday, 31 March, 2014

How should the work of a critic, any critic for that matter, not just literary critics, be classified? As an art, or a science? If an artistic work of any sort, be it film, painting, writing, whatever, is being critiqued, shouldn’t a scientific approach be taken? No, maybe not. The more I think about it though, the more mind bending the question becomes.

Should literary criticism be an art or a science? A surprising amount depends on the answer to that question. If you’re an English major, what should you study: the idiosyncratic group of writers who happen to interest you (art), or literary history and theory (science)? If you’re an English professor, how should you spend your time: producing “readings” of the literary works that you care about (art), or looking for the patterns that shape whole literary forms or periods (science)?

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A profile of Carl Sagan

Friday, 28 March, 2014

I’m yet to see Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the Neil deGrasse Tyson hosted follow up to 1980’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, presented by Carl Sagan.

If you’re coming in late though, and the name Carl Sagan is new to you, then you ought to read this National Geographic profile of the late US astronomer, cosmologist, and scientist.

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What came first, the chicken dinosaur or the Tyrannosaurus rex?

Thursday, 27 March, 2014

A few years ago it was found that chickens are the closest living relative of the… Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur. Don’t know about you, but I spotted the family resemblance immediately.

It should come as no surprise then to learn that there was an actual chicken like dinosaur, that’s only recently been discovered, though it wasn’t very chicken like, at least compared to the chickens we’re familiar with:

This newly described dinosaur might look like a chicken, but don’t be fooled: It was nearly 4 meters long, weighed about 250 kilograms, and lived 66 million years ago in what is today the Hell Creek rock formation in North and South Dakota.

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For the cosmos is hollow and I’ve seen the after glow of the Big Bang

Monday, 24 March, 2014

Deeply profound stuff is this… scientists have uncovered evidence that the universe expanded massively, like to, I don’t know, maybe half its current size, an instant after the Big Bang, and that this super massive expansion took less than a fraction of a second to happen:

This is big news: Astronomers have announced that they have seen, for the first time, direct evidence of “inflation” in the extremely early Universe, unlocking an entire chapter in the history of the cosmos. It also ties together relativity and quantum mechanics in a deep and profound way, which has never been done before.

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I hacked my brain and wrote the next theory of relativity

Monday, 24 March, 2014

Brain hacking. Does it really enhance our abilities? Some people sure seem to think so:

Lee was an early member of a DIY community that’s sprung up around a technology called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). This noninvasive way to jolt brain cells is being studied in labs and clinics for its potential to reveal how our brains function – and perhaps to augment abilities or treat disorders. Unlike most other brain-tweaking technologies, tDCS doesn’t require expensive equipment; all it takes is a 9-volt battery, some simple circuits, and a couple of electrodes. Consequently, it didn’t take long for so-called biohackers to band together and come up with schematics for devices.

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The supernova alert system, for reference purposes only though

Friday, 21 March, 2014

It’s handy to know that an early supernova alert system exists, but there may only be twelve hours notice of any given star exploding, and only then if its neutrinos are able to be detected.

In fact the system is really only for the benefit of astronomers… if we learned a nearby star was going to go supernova, it’s not as if we could evacuate the planet, and go somewhere else, or anything. Not on twelve hours notice anyway.

Supernova neutrinos are even more difficult to pin down. As Habig, now a professor at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, explains, neutrinos are often the first sign of a supernova, arriving before anyone knows what’s happening. “You get the neutrinos before you get the light,” Habig says. “It takes hours before you see the photons. Depending on the type of star, it could take up to 12 hours for the photons to blast their way out of the dying star, but the neutrinos escape immediately.”

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Editing our DNA, not with a keyboard, but through bacteria

Friday, 14 March, 2014

By tapping into the workings of the immune systems of certain types of bacteria, it may be possible to makes changes to, or edit, human DNA. The implications here are both positive and negative, but interesting nonetheless.

The sequences, it turns out, are part of a sophisticated immune system that bacteria use to fight viruses. And that system, whose very existence was unknown until about seven years ago, may provide scientists with unprecedented power to rewrite the code of life. In the past year or so, researchers have discovered that the bacterial system can be harnessed to make precise changes to the DNA of humans, as well as other animals and plants.

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