Some significant scientific achievements and breakthroughs in 2014

Thursday, 18 December, 2014

Twenty-fourteen, the year that was… a summary of what Quora member Howie Reith considers to be significant scientific achievements and discoveries of the last twelve months.

In December of this year a DNA analysis of human remains was completed. Those remains were conclusively determined to be those of King Richard III, the infamous 15th century monarch of England.

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We may live in the past of a parallel universe… heavy

Wednesday, 17 December, 2014

I’m soon about to disappear for a few week’s break and I guess, after all the cake and watermelon, I’m going to need something to contemplate over the holidays… this sounds like it might fit the bill… the notion that we may live in the past of a parallel universe:

Although the model is crude, and does not incorporate either quantum mechanics or general relativity, its potential implications are vast. If it holds true for our actual universe, then the big bang could no longer be considered a cosmic beginning but rather only a phase in an effectively timeless and eternal universe. More prosaically, a two-branched arrow of time would lead to curious incongruities for observers on opposite sides. “This two-futures situation would exhibit a single, chaotic past in both directions, meaning that there would be essentially two universes, one on either side of this central state,” Barbour says. “If they were complicated enough, both sides could sustain observers who would perceive time going in opposite directions. Any intelligent beings there would define their arrow of time as moving away from this central state. They would think we now live in their deepest past.”

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Art versus science, who makes the better creative writer?

Thursday, 4 December, 2014

Who makes the better writer, a scientist, or a creative writing graduate? Not surprisingly, there appears to be a science to the art of writing

For the past three years I have taught creative writing to students in science, technology, engineering and medicine at Imperial who can take humanities options for credit. It was the interdisciplinary challenge that intrigued me, but I’ll admit to being sceptical about the students’ writing potential. So I was delighted to be proved wrong: their writing is easily as good – and often better – than that of creative writing students I have taught elsewhere, including at the University of East Anglia. And my external assessors – also writers who teach and hold PhDs from UEA – agree.

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If there is movement in the air, there is art in the air

Tuesday, 2 December, 2014

Here be an optical technique that shows how candle flames, hair dryers, and other assorted paraphernalia, and what have you, stirs up the air in their vicinity.

Rather… psychedelic, don’t you think?

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The alignment of quasars, another mystery in the universe

Friday, 28 November, 2014

Quasars are galaxies with supermassive black holes at their centres. They also shine rather brightly, at least compared to our galaxy. So far, so good.

But here’s the thing, astronomers making observations of the cosmos using the Chile based Very Large Telescope (VLT) have found that the rotation axes of these black holes often align, or are parallel, with other quasars, even if they are billions of light years apart from each other

The new VLT results indicate that the rotation axes of the quasars tend to be parallel to the large-scale structures in which they find themselves. So, if the quasars are in a long filament then the spins of the central black holes will point along the filament. The researchers estimate that the probability that these alignments are simply the result of chance is less than 1%.

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Drift the solar system on the Interplanetary Transport Network

Tuesday, 18 November, 2014

And still on matters Interstellar related… we may not be able to zap around the cosmos as the film’s astronaut explorers did, but gravity pathways of sorts, that weave among the planets, may make for a low energy way of moving around the solar system.

The energy demands may be low, but travelling from one point on the network to another may take a while, like drifting along on ocean currents possibly:

The Interplanetary Transport Network (ITN) is a collection of gravitationally determined pathways through the Solar System that require very little energy for an object to follow. The ITN makes particular use of Lagrange points as locations where trajectories through space are redirected using little or no energy. These points have the peculiar property of allowing objects to orbit around them, despite lacking an object to orbit. While they use little energy, the transport can take a very long time.

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Is gravity putting the brakes on time travel into the past?

Friday, 14 November, 2014

Here’s something to think about. If the laws of physics are not concerned with the direction that time goes in, why is it that time never runs backwards, as a matter of course? Enter gravity, which may have something to do with the seemingly one way nature of time…

Even though time is such a fundamental part of our experience, the basic laws of physics don’t seem to care in which direction it goes. For example, the rules that govern the orbits of planets work the same whether you go forward or backward in time. You can play the motions of the solar system in reverse and they look completely normal; they don’t violate any laws of physics. So what distinguishes the future from the past?

Would this mean then that travelling backwards through time would require making the journey by way of some gravity free method? Heavy, as a certain 1980s time traveller, used to say.

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Which hits the floor first, the ball or the feather?

Tuesday, 11 November, 2014

Another week, another mention of British physicist Brian Cox. Here Cox sets out to find which objects, a heavy ball, or a bunch of feathers, will reach the floor first, when dropped within a large vacuum chamber. It is the final question however he poses that is truly intriguing… are the objects in fact, actually, falling? Curiouser and curiouser…

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The Large Hadron Collider dance mix by Tim Exile

Thursday, 6 November, 2014

British electronic music artist Tim Exile samples sounds he recorded from the Large Hadron Collider’s data centres, and creates mixes on the fly that are, as you can see, quite danceable.

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Well, it looks like we have the galaxy to ourselves…

Tuesday, 4 November, 2014

British physicist Brian Cox is of the opinion that the lifeforms on Earth, those advanced, or complex that is, are alone in the Milky Way galaxy.

“There is only one advanced technological civilisation in this galaxy and there has only ever been one – and that’s us,” Professor Cox said. “We are unique. “It’s a dizzying thought. There are billions of planets out there, surely there must have been a second genesis? “But we must be careful because the story of life on this planet shows that the transition from single-celled life to complex life may not have been inevitable.”

To describe the notion as dizzying seems to me to be an understatement.

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