Our favourite chemicals, illustrated

Wednesday, 13 May, 2015

Image by Legallyabinder

A curious project… animated visualisations of the molecules that make up various compounds, created by Legallyabinder.

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The universe as a hologram, the illusion that won’t go away

Tuesday, 5 May, 2015

The idea that universe is a hologram – and that we, and everything we perceive and experience is therefore a simulation – is one that has never gone away since it was first mooted. Some recent research into the notion concludes it is indeed a possibility, if the space-time continuum is “mostly flat”.

New research from scientists at the Vienna University of Technology concludes that the holographic principle is possible in the context of a mostly flat space-time continuum.

So, is the space-time continuum approximately flat then? I’d like to know. If the magnificent now is but a dream, an illusion, that would surely explain why so little of it makes any sense.

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Science explains why older generations dislike the next’s music

Monday, 4 May, 2015

This is bothersome… it seems we are predisposed to eventually develop a dislike of the music that younger generations favour.

This comes down to something called temporal coding, that impacts on our ability to listen to new music, plus a preference for consonant sounds, more common in pop music, as opposed to dissonant chords, that tend to feature in experimental music, and that may not therefore sound quite as harmonious:

When a chord is consonant, it includes two or more tones that are matched. The sound is sweet and comfortable. But when a chord is dissonant it sounds grating and messy. This is why consonance literally means sounding together whereas dissonance means sounding apart. It’s a generalization, of course, but a lot of experimental music will tend to use dissonant chords, whereas more traditional pop relies more on consonance.

Surely that doesn’t mean I have to listen to the music of the Eurythmics until the end of time, once I reach a certain age? Not that I listen to them now or anything. Thankfully not. It is possible to condition oneself to be more receptive to new music, and music in general I guess, by listening to yet more music:

And while our temporal coding can diminish with age, all hope is not lost. “If you listen to a lot of music and think musically you can actually strengthen your neural responses to music,” Plack said. “So the more you listen to music, the more responsive your neurons become.”

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An absence of life on Earth would mean… smaller continents

Tuesday, 28 April, 2015

If Earth were devoid of life, despite its abundance of the likes of water and oxygen, it’s possible the continents we’re familiar with may be far smaller than they are today, this largely on account of an absence of the erosion that results from the presence of plants, animals, and humans.

Plant life, for example, can root its way through rock, breaking rocks into sediment. The sediments, like milk-dunked cookies, carry liquid water in their pores, which allows more water to be recycled back into Earth’s mantle. If not enough water is present in the mantle about 100 to 200 km deep to keep things flowing, continental production decreases.

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Whisky, a smooth spirit, or a combination of chemicals?

Friday, 10 April, 2015

I’ve never really taken to whisky, unless some sort of soft drink is added to it, something that totally defeats the purpose of consuming it in the first place though.

Maybe my reluctance to try it straight more often is down to the chemistry, or science, of its brewing process, and the spirit itself, and the feeling I’m drinking the results of some sort of chemistry experiment.

That said, there is a very definite chemistry to the making of whisky.

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The constellations in one hundred thousand years time

Tuesday, 7 April, 2015

Many thousands of years ago people looked up to the night sky, and decided certain groups of stars resembled people, animals, and assorted objects. Thus constellations came into being. Some of these constellations went on to form the basis of some of the myths of people such as the ancient Greeks and Romans.

While these constellations have probably changed little in the last seven or so thousand years, that won’t always be the case.

Everything in the universe is in constant motion, including the Earth and the stars, so in the distant future, not only will the stars that form what are currently familiar constellations all have moved in various, different, directions, so to will the solar system, further altering the Earth’s perspective of them.

This collection of animated GIFs, put together by Wired, show how some of more well known constellations, such as Orion, the Big Dipper, or Great Bear, and the Southern Cross, or Crux, will change over the next one hundred thousand years. The night sky is going to look a little different, isn’t it?

Oh yes, in some four billion years time, the Milky Way will collide, or if you prefer, merge, with the Andromeda galaxy, and event that, needless to say, will prove to be a real game changer in terms of the constellations.

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Medical breakthroughs that usually aren’t medical breakthroughs

Monday, 6 April, 2015

Something that always irks me, the hope, false as it often later turns out, that some brand new medical breakthrough, may help people suffering from a particular disease, that may only have limited treatment options. In many cases, the hype is in the name of securing more research funding, than anything else, sadly:

As science is working itself out, we reporters and our audiences seize on “promising findings.” It’s exciting to hear about a brand new idea that maybe – just maybe – could revolutionize medicine and stop some scourge people suffer through. We’re often prodded along by overhyping scientists like Zamboni, who are under their own pressure to attract research funding and publications. We don’t wait for scientific consensus; we report a little too early, and we lead patients and policymakers down wasteful, harmful, or redundant paths that end in dashed hope and failed medicine. This tendency could be minimized if we could only remember that the overwhelming majority of studies in medicine fail.

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In search of a tombstone that will go the distance… into eternity

Wednesday, 1 April, 2015

If you’re relying solely on your tombstone to remind distant future generations that you once lived upon this Earth, you’ll need to think carefully about the material with which it is made. Slate and sandstone are to be avoided, they delaminate after a couple of centuries, but marble, or even granite, might be the go:

Granite is probably the durability champion. It’s less susceptible to acid rain, doesn’t delaminate, and granite tombstones have been known to shrug off collisions with car bumpers. “Granite is a molten rock that cools over a very long period,” Gallagher explains. “This gives it time to build up the crystals and so they’re tied into each other better.” Only since the Civil War, as carving techniques have improved, has granite become a useable material for tombstones.

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Gone as far as SimCity will let you? How about… SimGalaxy next?

Monday, 23 March, 2015

If you’ve enjoyed building city after city while playing SimCity, but are now looking to expand the scale a little, Stellar just might be for you. Rather than constructing cities, you are tasked with assembling galaxies, one star at a time:

Harvest hydrogen and helium from the galactic dust between stars, and forge basic elements into more precious materials deep in the fiery heart of a star. Create safe and hospitable planets for life to grow, or blow up supernovae to spread new matter into the galaxy.

How’s that for an astronomical engineering challenge then?

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30 Ari, a star system twice as good as Tatooine’s binary star

Thursday, 12 March, 2015

I always thought Tatooine, being Luke Skywalker’s home planet, from the “Star Wars” sci-fi saga, was pretty cool, for being in orbit around a binary star, but 30 Ari, or 30 Arietis, goes two better than that… it is a quadruple star, made up, that’s right, of four stars, and better still, is located just 136 light years from Earth.

30 Ari however has made the news recently following the discovery of an exoplanet within the system, a gaseous body with ten times the mass of Jupiter.

The whole 4-star family is collectively known as 30 Ari, located some 136 light-years from Earth – in our interstellar backyard. The exoplanet orbits the primary star of the system once every 335 days. The primary star has a new-found binary partner (which the exoplanet does not orbit) and this pair are locked in an orbital dance with a secondary binary, separated by a distance of 1,670 astronomical unit (AU), where 1 AU is the average distance between the Earth and sun.

Obviously we wouldn’t be able to settle on this particular planet, but possibly it hosts a habitable forest moon, that a colony could be established on?

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