The field of physics needs your help to solve these problems

Thursday, 31 July, 2014

As if there wasn’t enough to think about… there are still unsolved problems in the field of physics… here are ten of them:

Why does the universe appear to have one time and three space dimensions? “Just because” is not considered an acceptable answer. And just because people can’t imagine moving in extra directions, beyond up-and-down, left-and-right, and back-and-forth, doesn’t mean that the universe had to be designed that way. According to superstring theory, in fact, there must be six more spatial dimensions, each one curled up too tiny to detect. If the theory is right, then why did only three of them unfurl, leaving us with this comparatively claustrophobic dominion?

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There’s more physics to playing a guitar than meets the eye

Wednesday, 30 July, 2014

Dr David Robert Grimes, an Oxford University based physicist, makes playing the guitar seem more like a science experiment, than anything else:

Dr Grimes derived equations describing how string bending, vibrato and whammy bars change the pitch of a note. He found that the properties of the strings had a big effect on the change in pitch – in particular the Young’s modulus (a measure of how much the string stretches under force) and how thick the strings are. He also worked out how easy hammer-ons and pull-offs are, depending on the height of the guitar strings above the finger board. Finally, he confirmed the equation for string bends experimentally, measuring the frequency of the sound produced for strings bent through different angles on a guitar.

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Yes, we have different blood types, but why?

Friday, 25 July, 2014

People have different blood types. That much we all know. What’s not so certain is exactly why there are varied types of blood in the first place:

Being type A is not a legacy of my proto-farmer ancestors, in other words. It’s a legacy of my monkey-like ancestors. Surely, if my blood type has endured for millions of years, it must be providing me with some obvious biological benefit. Otherwise, why do my blood cells bother building such complicated molecular structures?

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Pluto, what we know now is not what we’ll know in twelve months

Tuesday, 22 July, 2014

NASA’s New Horizons space probe is now only one year out from its scheduled encounter with former planet Pluto, in the outer reaches of the solar system.

While astronomers have gleaned much information about the distant dwarf planet from Earth based telescopes, it is likely a fair bit of what we know, or think we know, will be turned on its head as New Horizons draws closer. In fact, far from coming up with answers, the abundance of new data brought forth will likely only pose even more questions.

New Horizon’s Pluto visit will transform the science of this small body in a matter of weeks, and it will likely take a long time before all of the data it provides will be unpacked. The only thing that would truly surprise the science team at this point would be if they find no surprises on Pluto, said Stern. It’s a safe bet to assume the probe probably won’t be definitively answering scientific questions so much as raising interesting new problems and providing researchers with many decades of mysteries.

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Hot bananas, the universe is an incredible place

Tuesday, 22 July, 2014

If the Sun were made of bananas it would be just as hot as it is presently. Seems incredible, but it’s apparently the case. Then again though, there is little that is matter of fact about the universe, when you think about it.

If the Sun were made of bananas, it would be just as hot. The Sun is hot because its enormous weight – about a billion billion billion tons – creates vast gravity, putting its core under colossal pressure. Just as a bicycle pump gets warm when you pump it, the pressure increases the temperature. Enormous pressure leads to enormous temperature. If, instead of hydrogen, you got a billion billion billion tons of bananas and hung it in space, it would create just as much pressure, and therefore just as high a temperature. So it would make very little difference to the heat whether you made the Sun out of hydrogen, or bananas, or patio furniture.

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Venus would be a fine place to live… if our heads were in its clouds

Monday, 14 July, 2014

As a people we be must seen as excessively keen to establish colonies on other planets in the solar system if a case is being made to do so on the anything-but-habitable Venus. Of course a base wouldn’t be on the surface, but rather some forty or so kilometres above, in a floating city no less, where conditions are said to be “Mediterranean”.

The second planet from the Sun might seem like a nasty place to build a home, with a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead and an atmosphere so dense it would feel like being submerged beneath 3000 feet of water. But the air on Venus thins out as you rise above the surface and cools considerably; about 30 miles up you hit the sweet spot for human habitation: Mediterranean temperatures and sea-level barometric pressure. If ever there were a place to build a floating city, this would be it.

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Would metal stars shine as brightly as other stars?

Friday, 11 July, 2014

If stars can become diamonds at the end of their lives, it makes sense that some stars can then be metal, or at least formed out of what are referred to as “heavy elements”, being anything heavier than lithium. Metals in their gaseous states I guess?

But here’s the thing. Because the heavy elements become concentrated separately from helium, hydrogen and lithium, some stars will form in these regions made entirely of heavy elements. Astrophysicists call the concentration of heavy elements in a star its metallicity. So the extraordinary consequence of preferential concentration is that some stars must be made entirely of metal. (In the parlance of astrophysicists, this means made of elements heavier than lithium.)

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The mystery of the oceans missing plastic

Wednesday, 9 July, 2014

Much of the plastic we use seems to end up in the world’s oceans. That’s not something we should be proud of. Now, it seems, a great quantity of this material has been found to be missing from the seas.

That’s not exactly the good news it sounds like it ought to be though. Unfortunately there hasn’t been a concerted effort to collect all this discarded plastic, though some people are doing what they can, rather it is suspected fish, and other marine animals, may be eating it instead.

Instead of the millions of tons scientists had expected, the researchers calculated the global load of ocean plastic to be about only 40,000 tons at the most, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We can’t account for 99% of the plastic that we have in the ocean,” says Duarte, the team’s leader. He suspects that a lot of the missing plastic has been eaten by marine animals. When plastic is floating out on the open ocean, waves and radiation from the sun can fragment it into smaller and smaller particles, until it gets so small it begins to look like fish food – especially to small lanternfish, a widespread small marine fish known to ingest plastic.

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The kid next door and his nuclear reactor in the garden shed

Friday, 4 July, 2014

Imagine coming home one day to find scientists hard at work dismantling a nuclear reactor the teenager next door had decided to build in his parent’s garden shed. Apparently no one in the neighbourhood had any idea such a device was in their midst until then…

But June 26, 1995, was not a typical day. Ask Dottie Pease. As she turned down Pinto Drive, Pease saw eleven men swarming across her carefully manicured lawn. Their attention seemed to be focused on the back yard of the house next door, specifically on a large wooden potting shed that abutted the chain-link fence dividing her property from her neighbor’s. Three of the men had donned ventilated moon suits and were proceeding to dismantle the potting shed with electric saws, stuffing the pieces of wood into large steel drums emblazoned with radioactive warning signs. Pease had never noticed anything out of the ordinary at the house next door.

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Vincent Brady’s Planetary Panoramas

Wednesday, 2 July, 2014

Mind-boggling and awe-inspiring, are probably the best ways to describe Vincent Brady’s Planetary Panoramas photo time lapse series of the night sky.

Via MetaFilter.

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