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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A photo of a particle of light, quite photogenic light is, isn’t it?

Monday, 9 March, 2015

Photo by EPFL

Researchers at Switzerland based École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, or EPFL, have succeeded in taking a photo of light as both a particle and a wave, since it is both, you understand. Whatever way you view light as, it’s certainly photogenic, isn’t it?

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Betelgeuse as a supernova

Friday, 6 March, 2015

If you happen to be located on the east coast of Australia, more specifically NSW, you should be able to see the constellation of Orion approximately overhead, at around about nine o’clock in the evening, at this time of year. If you look closely at its constituent stars, you should have no trouble spotting Betelgeuse.

Not only is Betelgeuse one of Orion’s brighter stars, it also shines with a reddish-orange hue, a shade indicative of a red giant star. Like its counterpart Antares, located in the constellation of Scorpius, Betelgeuse is expected to explode as a supernova at some point in the near future, cosmically speaking, that is.

This could happen next week, or in hundreds of thousands of years time. When it does go though, there is little doubt the spectacle will be spectacular:

Supernovae are incredibly bright phenomena. At the brightest point of the explosion, a supernova can outshine the whole galaxy it lives in. A single star has managed to, for a short time, be a brighter source of light than the several billion other stars in its galaxy combined. This is tremendously bright. Supernovae do have a “rising time” of about a week, when the star is increasing in brightness – it stays at its peak brightness for a few days, and then slowly declines into obscurity over a period of a couple of weeks.

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How does Stephen Hawking continue defying his ALS prognosis?

Wednesday, 4 March, 2015

British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, at the age of 21, and was expected to live no longer than two to five years. At age 72 though, he is still very much with us. And while some sufferers may live for a couple of decades, Hawking’s situation has left many people baffled:

So what makes Hawking different from the rest? Just luck? Or has the transcendent nature of his intellect somehow stalled what seemed an imminent fate? No one’s quite sure. Even Hawking himself, who can expound at length on the mechanics that govern the universe, is circumspect when it comes to an accomplishment that rivals his academic triumphs. “Maybe my variety [of ALS] is due to bad absorption of vitamins,” he said.

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A catalogue of space probes in flight

Tuesday, 3 March, 2015

With Pluto bound space probe New Horizons rapidly approaching its destination, and who knows, about to turn all we know of the solar system’s best known dwarf planet on its head, Spaceprob.es allows us to check in on the numerous other active craft that are trawling interplanetary and interstellar space, on our behalf.

Leading the charge is Voyager 1, at a distance of almost twenty billion kilometres, or eighteen hours and seven minutes light travel time, from Earth, while the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is virtually above our heads, some 372,000 kilometres away.

By the way, if you’re interested in checking out Voyager 1’s approximate location in the night sky, give or take a few light minutes, here are some directions.

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