THE NULL SOLUTION = Episode 101

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THE NULL SOLUTION = Episode 101

…Chasonn had been fiddling with this mode of transportation ever since he witnessed the ease of which the Eridanians use hyperphysical transmigration…

— The Plan:

… Chasonn’s plan to discover what makes Collapsar Axis tick, where it is headed, what or who is it looking for.

To do so, he must disguise himself to infiltrate. He cannot utilize one of his planet’s space vehicles. Who opens the door for a stranger anymore, even in a colossus full of strange?

Like the technology he shared with Earth {via the Eridanian branch of McKinney Clan}, though not offensive or defensive, he and his scientists have envisioned a particle-beam transporter.

Beam Dynamics: Model the particle beam using the KV envelope equations. In the two-dimensional steady-state case these equations model a uniform density beam with elliptical cross-section. Let X(z) and Y(z) represent the beam envelope semi-axes in the x and y planes, respectively. This system may be described by the system of coupled differential equations

It may sound complicated, but it is much more problematical. He had been fiddling with this mode of transportation ever since he witnessed the ease of which the Eridanians use hyperphysical transmigration. He also admired their TSF, but that would be unattainable without their help to adapt to his fleet.

Besides, he only needs to go from here {his shuttle @ manageable distance}, to there {Collapsar interior}. That is like going from one room to another.  Unpretentious and undetectable is the goal that he is close to achieving.

To that end, a goodly number of Seljuk’s most irredeemable criminals have been designated to be laboratory subjects for the final transporter tests in lieu of the normal “death-by-black hole” alternative;  no doomed Seljuk soul has lived to tell the tale from the other side of that penalty, that the penal system knows of.

Soon & therefore, without the aid of any planetary sub-species or willing participants, a particle-beam transporter is the latest Seljuk invention; a product of necessity. Disruptors are too disruptive and deflector shields are offputtingly rude. Now this is an invention worthy to hang his helmet on. It will not be long before he can board Collapsar Axis, when it surely passes this way.


THE NULL SOLUTION

Episode 101


page 102

SuperVolcano Handbook – WIF Geology

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Terrifying (Dormant)

Super Volcanoes

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A supervolcano is defined as having the capacity to produce an eruption so big that it can eject around 240 cubic miles of volcanic material in the form of molten rock, hot gases, and ash. That’s roughly one thousand times more than the largest volcanic eruption ever recorded in modern human history. Supervolcanoes are formed when a momentous volume of super-heated magma rises from deep underground, but is unable to penetrate the Earth’s crust and creates a huge, high-pressure pool several miles beneath the surface. As time passes, pressures rise and this massive pool of magma grows, until a mega eruption takes place.

 These kinds of eruptions have taken place in the past, and will do so again. It is estimated that such a blast takes place somewhere around the globe every 50 to 60 thousand years or so, with the last one going off 74,000 years ago, in Indonesia. So far, 40 supervolcanoes have been discovered, with seven of them still active. Not even with today’s technology are we able to stop any of these volcanoes from erupting, and the best thing we can do right now is to monitor them, learn as much as we can, and prepare for their aftermath.
cal·de·ra
/kalˈderə,kôlˈderə,kalˈdirə/        noun
  1. a large volcanic crater, especially one formed by a major eruption leading to the collapse of the mouth of the volcano.

10. The Apocalyptic Eruption of a Supervolcano

We have to make a couple of things clear right from the beginning. For starters, we know relatively little about how supervolcanoes are formed, and we know even less about what sets one off. However, recent geologic studies have shown us that super volcanoes are not like other ordinary volcanoes, especially when it comes to the causes that make them erupt. While an ordinary volcano is triggered by internal mechanisms, like magma pressure building up over time and eventually punching through the rock, a supervolcano is triggered by the above Earth’s crust which, due to the huge size of the magma chamber below, becomes highly unstable and forms cracks and faults. Through these faults, the magma can generate an unstoppable chain reaction that would lead to a devastating and inevitable explosion, the likes of which can extinguish most life on the planet. Because of this fact, it’s far more difficult to estimate when a supervolcano will erupt.

One such ancient eruption took place around the time of the extinction of the dinosaurs. Coinciding with another cataclysmic event (the meteor that struck the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago), the area of what is now known as the Deccan Traps in central India was the site of a huge volcanic eruption. Even before India slammed into the Asian continent, one of the largest volcanic structures made its presence felt for nearly 30,000 years. It now consists of more than 6,500 feet of flat-lying basalt lava flows, covering an area of roughly 200,000 square miles (almost the size of the Washington and Oregon combined). It’s estimated that the original area was three times that size, but shrank due to erosion and plate tectonics. The present volume of volcanic material is somewhere around 122,835 cubic miles, as compared to the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption, which spewed out only around 0.24 cubic miles of lava.

An even larger and more destructive event occurred some 235 million years ago in what’s now Siberia, which triggered the Great Dying event, where 75% of all land life and 95% of marine life went extinct. But the largest volcanic eruption in Earth’s past 300 million years took place underwater, and began 125 million years ago. It created a plateau 19 miles thick and 750,000 square miles wide (1% of the Earth’s surface), called Ontong Java, north of the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean. It released about 24 million cubic miles of lava, and was 100 million times more powerful than the Mount St. Helens eruption.

9. The Hellish Pyroclastic Flows That Soon Follow

Immediately following a volcanic eruption, an equally, if not deadlier event takes place. This is a pyroclastic flow, which instantly killed many of the people in the ancient Roman town of Pompeii in 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius erupted. When a volcano goes off, besides the eruption column that forms above the crater, another, deadlier ash-cloud surge flows down the slopes in all directions and at incredibly high speeds (up to 450 mph). This is a fluidized mixture of solid and semi-solid fragments of rock, ash and incredibly hot expanding gases which act similarly to a snow avalanche. Everything that is caught in this flow will be killed instantaneously as temperatures inside it can reach 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. If you find yourself on a path of one of these pyroclastic flows, there is absolutely nowhere to run or anywhere to hide. The gases are so toxic, they wreck the lungs almost instantaneously, while the water inside tissue is simply boiled off.

In a supervolcano, the ash in a pyroclastic flow would be so hot that it would turn into lava once it touched back onto the ground. This would lead to lava flows hundreds of miles away from the volcano itself. Because of the extremely high speeds an “avalanche” like this usually travels, a phenomenon known as “viscous heating” takes place. Basically, the force moving these solid volcanic materials through the air adds to their overall temperature, making them even hotter and thus turning them into lava midair. Any life found in the vicinity, but not caught in this hurricane of incandescent materials hurtling towards them, would be killed by the poisonous gases that are released after the pyroclastic flow dies off. The area engulfed by the flow would be covered by up to 700 feet of debris.

8. A Volcanic Winter is Coming!

Now you may be inclined to believe that, even though huge and deadly, supervolcanoes would wreak havoc on a local level. But this could not be further from the truth. While the popular image of volcanic destruction is that of molten rock engulfing everything in its path, far greater devastation takes place high in the air. A supervolcanic eruption column can rise up to 15 miles and the ash, which is dispersed by winds, can blanket the skies for years to come. The toxic gases react in the stratosphere, blocking out solar radiation and drastically cooling the atmosphere below. The resulting volcanic winter, along with other effects like acid rain, can affect the whole planet, disrupting natural cycles and annihilating plant life, on which other organisms, like us humans, depend.

In just several days after the blast, the skies would be dark and deadly, with fallout reaching distances of 1,750 miles from the volcano. Five hundred miles away, ash could settle up to 3 feet deep. Within this zone, movement would be impossible, roads invisible, air travel grounded and people outdoors would not be able to see where they were going, and would probably suffocate. Wet ash would collapse rooftops, short circuit power lines, and clog car engines and power station reservoirs. Nuclear power plants would be forced to close and lawlessness could take over.

Those living in the path of the ash cloud would need to protect themselves with masks and visors. This is because volcanic ash is in fact rock which has been blown apart into tiny pieces and transformed into minute shards of glass with jagged edges. In its fine powder form, this ash is easily inhaled into the lungs, and people and animals can suffer a slow and painful death caused by the rare Marie’s disease. As the lungs fail, the skeletal system goes out of control, rapidly depositing new bone on top of old. This will affect people living even one thousand miles away and within a month of the eruption.

A simulation conducted on what happened during the last time Yellowstone erupted, some 640,000 years ago, showed that in one month’s time, the cloud of fine ash and dust covered the entire Northern Hemisphere and within 18 months the average worldwide temperature dropped by 10 degrees C. As a result, sea ice rapidly grew in the Arctic, reflecting even more of the sun’s rays. This in turn led to a severe rainfall decline, and oceans and land areas retaining more CO2. All of these factors lead to a drop in biological productivity, with food supplies lasting just mere weeks in some areas. According to the analysis, it took roughly 20 years for the planet to recover to its pre-eruption period. So, if the blast and pyroclastic flow of a super volcano can kill millions of people (depending on where it is situated), the volcanic winter that follows will most likely kill billions all over the globe.

7. Aira Caldera, Kyushu, Japan

Now that you have an idea of what a supervolcano is and what devastating effects it can have, we’ll be talking about the seven such active volcanoes we currently know about. The first one is the Aira Caldera, located in southern Japan on the island of Kyushu. At first glance, the Sakura-jima volcano, at the northern half of Kagoshima Bay, looks like any other ordinary volcano. Even though it’s been in near continuous eruption since 1955, and threatening the nearby city of Kagoshima (population of 500,000 people), Sakura-jima doesn’t really stand out from the many volcanoes that dot the Pacific Ring of Fire.

This is highly misleading, as Sakura-jima is just the tip of a much larger and far more dangerous volcano. The fact that it’s positioned on an island in the middle of a bay is the first clue. This is because Kagoshima Bay itself is in fact the infamous Aira Caldera. A caldera, as opposed to a volcanic crater, is a huge depression in the ground which formed after a previous supervolcanic eruption. As the magma chamber emptied, the ground above sank in and partially filled the hole left behind. This caldera in particular formed after a huge eruption about 22,000 years ago, with Sakura-jima beginning to sprout 9,000 years later. Today this volcano acts as a mere vent for the much larger, 150 square mile caldera it sits on. When this supervolcano last erupted, it spewed out roughly 14 cubic miles of material.

Japanese scientists believe that a volcanic eruption big enough to disrupt the whole country has a 1% chance of happening in the next 100 years. With the many tremors that take place around Kagoshima Bay on a daily basis, the Aira Caldera is among the top on that list. If it were to erupt today, lava and pyroclastic flows, as well as ash clouds, could engulf areas where 5 million people currently live. Another 120 million people would be severely affected by ash fallout, which makes up pretty much the whole of Japan.

6. Taupo Caldera, North Island, New Zealand

Lying beneath the surface of one of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth sits the Taupo supervolcano. Located on the North Island in New Zealand, this caldera is currently covered by the country’s largest lake, Lake Taupo. This volcano began forming some 300,000 years ago, with the present caldera coming into existence around 25,000 BC, in what is called the Oruanui Eruption. It ejected somewhere around 288 cubic miles of volcanic material to the surface when it erupted. Today the magma chamber is situated some 5 miles beneath the surface, and is responsible for the largest eruption in the past 5,000 years.

This last major eruption at Lake Taupo took place around 200 AD from vents near Horomatangi Reefs (now submerged). The eruption plume reached heights of 30 miles into the air, well into the stratosphere. The pyroclastic flows that followed engulfed the surrounding area, 55 miles in all directions. This was the largest such event in recorded history, with the Kaimanawa mountains climbing one mile in a matter of minutes. The lake itself was blocked at its mouth, raising the water levels by 112 feet. This natural dam eventually broke out in a huge flood, the effects of which can be traced for over 125 miles downstream, and which include boulder beds and buried forests. It is quite possible that this eruption was the cause for the red sunsets the ancient Romans and Chinese recorded at that time.

5. Toba Caldera, Sumatra, Indonesia

The Toba caldera in Indonesia is responsible for producing the largest volcanic eruption in the past 2 million years. It is also the largest at 18 by 60 miles, which makes a total surface area of over 1000 square miles. This caldera probably formed in stages after eruptions occurred about 840,000, 700,000, and 75,000 years ago. This last one was the largest, spewing out a whopping 670 cubic miles of lava, ash and gas. Pyroclastic flows covered an area of at least 7,700 square miles, with the island of Samosir being engulfed by a thick, 1,800 foot blanket of tuff (pyroclastic debris). The resulting ash from the eruption covered an area at least 1.54 million square miles, and reached distances some 4,350 miles away.

Many scientists believe that this Young Toba Tuff eruption from 75,000 years ago put an incredible strain on the early human population still living in East Africa. So much so that it created a bottleneck from which only a mere couple of thousand people managed to survive. While this close call with extinction humanity faced back then actually happened, recent discoveries seem to point out that Toba wasn’t the main contributor. Archaeological investigations indicate that East Africa’s climate wasn’t so severely affected by the blast and its aftermath as to kill off almost all of humanity. What did it, however, is still a matter of debate. Nevertheless, it seems that the volcanic winter that ensued dropped Earth’s climate by at least 5 degrees C. and may have triggered a new ice age.

4. Valles Caldera, New Mexico, United States

Despite a very green, tranquil and inviting landscape present in New Mexico’s Valles Caldera National Reserve, the presence of hot springs, gas seeps and occasional tremors indicate a disturbing presence hiding underground. The volcanic caldera found there is relatively small compared to others here on this list, but at 14 square miles, it’s quite a hike to walk it from one end to the other. It’s also not the first here, as it collapsed over and buried the older Toledo caldera, which in turn covered previous ones.

This volcano had two mega eruptions in the past 2 million years, one 1.7 and the other 1.2 million years ago, piling up to 150 cubic miles debris and spewing ash as far away as Iowa. The last eruption here took place roughly 50 to 60,000 years ago, but this blast was far smaller in comparison. Though unlikely to erupt in the near future, the Valles Caldera lies above the intersection of the Rio Grande rift and the Jemez lineament, and its volcanic activity is due to tectonic movement along this crossroads. This makes this particular volcano highly unpredictable and hard to pinpoint a future eruption. With nearly 40 deep wells that have resulted in extensive subsurface data, the Valles caldera is the best explored caldera complex in the United States.

3. Campi Flegrei Caldera, Naples, Italy

Everybody knows that the residents of the city of Naples in Italy have always lived in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, which completely wiped off the map the town of Pompeii in 79 AD. What most people don’t know, however, is that on the other side of the city rests a 13 square mile caldera known as Campi Flegrei (burning fields). This caldera makes part of the city’s westernmost outskirts, as well as the Gulf of Pozzuoli. This volcano went through two major eruptions in the past, 47,000 and 36,000 years ago, with smaller periods of activity at relatively regular intervals of roughly 4,000 years. Two eruptions have occurred in recent history, one in 1158 at Solfatara and the other in 1538, which formed the Monte Nuovo cinder cone we see today.

More recently however, back in 2013, a series of earthquakes put the residents of Naples in a state of unrest. Satellite imagery has indicated that the land on top the seemingly dormant caldera had risen by 1 inch in the course of a month, with some regions raising as much as 4 inches. Since the land hasn’t yet receded back to its original state, scientists believe that the chamber beneath the city has filled with about 148 million cubic feet of magma. This is not nearly enough magma to be a major cause for concern, as a super eruption needs a lot more in order to occur. Nevertheless, volcanologists need to keep a very close eye on Campi Flegrei, as these tremors can cause major faults throughout the city of Naples. But if it ever erupts to its full potential, all life in Europe could be lost.

2. Long Valley Caldera, California, United States

Close to the Nevada state line, in east-central California, lays the 200 square mile Long Valley caldera, just south of Mono Lake. The biggest eruption that occurred here took place some 760,000 years ago and unleashed around 3,000 times more lava and other volcanic material than Mount St. Helens in 1980. The ash that ensued reached as far away as Nebraska and the ground above the magma chamber dropped by approximately one mile. What is most worrisome here is that in 1980, after a swarm of earthquakes, roughly half of the caldera had risen by about 10 inches. Ten years later, CO2 and other poisonous gases began to seep through the ground, killing off trees and other vegetation in the Mammoth Mountain part of the caldera.

What sets aside the Long Valley caldera from all others is the fact that, as volcanologists like to put it, this volcano has a split personality. By this they mean that this supervolcano can generate two distinct types of eruptions at once. The first style is a gloppy, not very explosive lava called basalt that poses little blast danger unless it contacts groundwater or snow. The other is richer in glass, called silicic magma, which tends to be more explosive in nature. The official prognosis puts an eruption on any given year at less than 1%, which is somewhat equal to the San Andreas Fault letting loose another magnitude 8 earthquake like the one that destroyed San Francisco in 1906 on any given day.

1. Yellowstone Caldera, Wyoming, United States

Unbeknownst to many tourists who visit Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is the fact that they are actually walking on probably humanity’s biggest natural threat. Several miles beneath their feet lies the largest pocket of magma we currently know about. It is estimated that there’s enough magma in there to fill the Grand Canyon to the brim, eleven times over. The entire national park and the surrounding area form the huge caldera. The caldera is about 1,500 square miles and can fit the entire city of Tokyo in its perimeter.

Yellowstone has been active for a very long period of time and has erupted on different sites, as North America moved over it on its tectonic journey west. Its last three eruptions took place 2.1 million years ago, 1.2 million years ago and 640,000 years ago and were about 6,000, 700 and 2,500 times larger than the St. Helens eruption, respectively. Last time it erupted, it released around 600 square miles of lava on the continent and covered most of the present-day United States in a thick layer of ash. Looking at the pattern of previous eruptions, it looks like Yellowstone could be preparing itself for a new one. However, volcanologists believe that it’s not quite there yet. Nevertheless, the grounds of the caldera have been rising and falling for thousands of years, which clearly indicate that the volcano is still brewing. If and when it finally decides to blow, it is fairly possible that all of the above mentioned catastrophes will happen. Most of the country would be covered in ash, with three feet of ash falling more than 500 miles away, as far as Denver.

A volcanic winter will probably ensue and it could last for up to 20 or more years, lowering overall temperatures by at least 11 degrees C. Together with the humongous amount of poisonous gases like CO2, the planet will then begin to warm up exponentially, similar to the Great Dying event of 235 million years ago. As the planet and oceans back then began to heat up, the vast quantities of methane hydrate (30 trillion tons), which lie frozen on the ocean floor even to this day, began to surface and heat up the planet by another 5 degrees in a positive feedback cycle.

The most frightening thing here, and far more probable than an imminent super eruption, is that what that ancient volcano managed to do in some 500,000 years, in terms of CO2 production and an initial warming of the planet, we humans can achieve in maybe two centuries. One of which has already passed.


SuperVolcano Handbook

WIF Geology

THE NULL SOLUTION = Episode 53

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THE NULL SOLUTION = Episode 53

… the Universe looks more like a snow globe, as opposed to a cosmic blur…

Image result for snow globe gif

A peeping tom generally is not well thought of; a feckless loser peering through a bedroom widow comes to mind. In the same way, binoculars can be a beneficial visual aid or an instrument of intrusion.

For the keepers of the Hubble2 Space Telescope on 2052 Earth, no such sinister purpose can be assigned. Since before the advent of stardates, back in 1990, somebody’s job has been to point and look, staring down an orbiting barrel to when time began. In the last decade, a new generation scope has been improved the view exponentially. Now the Universe looks more like a snow globe, as opposed to a cosmic blur.

Hubble’s gaze has seen what is thought of as the moment of creation.

It has also seen the Ÿ€Ð fiasco.–

Reservations are taken for the use of the greatest of all telescopes. Prez Roy Crippen takes a week’s worth of markers for the search of the mysterious Lorgan or at least looking farther into space for objects other than planets and such, even though what they see is older than real-time.

Stargasm by Sean Connolly

‘I can’t keep from thinking that Lorgan transcends time and defies the physics of space’ he thinks. “What was that?” he asks Fletcher Fitch, who happens to be in his company and ready to take over the next shift of star-snooping.

“If that’s a supernova, it’s the smallest one ever. If it’s not a stargasm, it must be some manner of detonation… it is becoming ever apparent that we aren’t alone in the galaxy, Roy.”

“I did not mean that, I meant that,” he points at a distant silvery object that is reflecting an image of a distant Earth on its sheen.

“Do you think that caused THAT?” Fitch is fixated on the explosions out towards the edge of the solar system.

“All I know is that I never want to be on Lorgan’s bad side. Of all the bad things… and likewise we cannot rule out the good… that go happen, say in the last 4000 years, may be attributable to Lorgan.”


THE NULL SOLUTION

Episode 53


page 56

No Helium, No Fun – WIF Science

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 If We

Ran Out

of Helium

Helium Balloons GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

Helium was first discovered in 1895. It is the second most abundant element in the universe and it makes up 0.0005 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere. It is a colorless, odorless gas that is lighter than air and it is the coldest liquid on Earth.

 While it’s abundant in the universe, on Earth, we might be running out of it. You may not know it, but helium is an important part of modern life and possible shortages have been such a big worry that the United States government has been stockpiling helium since the 1960s.

The problem is that once helium hits the atmosphere, it is pretty much useless, so it needs to be mined or pull from natural gas. This makes helium a finite element on Earth.

So what would a post-helium world look like?

10. No More Party and Parade Balloons

When the American government first announced a possible shortage of helium in April 2012, one of the first things suggested to conserve helium is to stop using it to fill up party balloons and balloons used in parades. This is pretty hard to argue against because it’s a completely frivolous use of the a finite element, even if you can get a good laugh out of listening to people’s voices change after inhaling the gas and parades won’t be as exciting. However, as you’ll see, helium has a lot more important uses.

Unfortunately, eliminating helium filled balloons isn’t going to solve the problem of helium running out, because only a minuscule amount of helium is used to fill up balloons. It would be like a pack a day smoker trying to avoid cancer by taking one last puff every year.

9. Airships

The Goodyear Blimp over Dodger Stadium. (Courtesy photo)

One reason that helium is so useful in many different fields is that it is safe to use because it isn’t flammable or combustible. This makes it great for flying machines like blimps. When blimps are filled with a different lighter-than-air gas, such as hydrogen, which is both combustible and flammable, things can go horribly wrong. A notable example is the Hindenburg disaster in 1937, when the German blimp LZ 129 Hindenburg burst into flames while trying to dock at the Naval Air Station Lakehurst in New Jersey. In total, 36 people were killed. While the cause is debated, the fact that the airship was full of flammable and combustible gas wouldn’t have exactly slowed down the fire.

Granted, blimps aren’t common and most people have probably only seen one at an air show or a football game, but amazingly they are still used by different segments of the United States government. One example is the Tethered Aerostat Radar System(TARS). They are unmanned blimps that are used to detect low and slow flying aircraft and marine craft. It’s currently being used along the American-Mexican border and in a portion of the Caribbean.

Another blimp used by the United States is the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, which is used to track things like cruise missiles or even trucks full of explosives. The project has been in development for over two decades and the Pentagon has spent at least $2.7 billion on the project.

A whole other field of flight that wouldn’t work without helium is balloon space tourism. Currently, there are two companies that plan on sending people into space using helium filled balloons. For $75,000 to $125,000, travelers can get into pressurized pods and the balloons will lift them out of the atmosphere. This is similar to the way Felix Baumgartner got to space to do his famous jump.

However, without helium, attempting to reach space in a balloon would be much more dangerous.

8. A Leak Checking Tool

When the Manhattan Project started in 1942, it was important that when they enriched the uranium needed for a nuclear bomb, there couldn’t be any leaks in the pipes or tanks during the process. Even a tiny leak could have been disastrous.

To ensure everything was sealed, the scientists sprayed the welding seams with helium. If there was a leak, the helium would get into it, because out of all the elements, helium has the second smallest atom (hydrogen is smaller, but it is inert, which means it doesn’t move). So helium can find really small leaks, which helps ensure that the tanks and pipes are sealed.

Besides just having a small atom, helium is also non-toxic, non-condensable, and non-flammable, so spraying it won’t leave a trace behind.

Since the Manhattan Project, helium has gone on to be a common way to detect leaks in more than just tanks and pipes. It is used in such industries as food canning, refrigeration, air conditioning, furnace repair, fire extinguishers, aerosol cans, and car parts, just to name a few. Essentially, any industry that relies on sealed cans use helium to look for leaks. That means without helium, we may have products that be will more dangerous because they are leaking, and/or products will be more expensive because some other method will need to be implemented to detect leaks in all those different fields.

7. Some Welding Will be Impossible

One of the most common applications for helium is welding; about 23 percent of the world’s helium supply is used for welding purposes.

Certain arc welding jobs, which is the process of joining two metals using electricity, depends on helium because it is used to keep the molten metal from oxidizing. One type of metal that couldn’t be welded without helium is aluminum. That means things like shipbuilding and building space shuttles will be much more difficult to do.

However, arc welding isn’t the only type of welding that utilizes helium. CO2 laser welding, which is used in car manufacturing, uses helium as a shielding gas. Shielding gas is used to keep the molten metal away from other elements in the air, like oxygen, water, and nitrogen. Without helium, this could cause an increase in vehicle prices while alternative methods are implemented.

6. Barcodes

One of the most common ways that we interact with helium is at the supermarket. Barcodes scanners use helium-neon lasers, also known as HeNe lasers and they use a gas ratio of 10:1 helium to neon. HeNe lasers are used because they are inexpensive, have a low energy consumption, and they are efficient. Besides just barcode scanning, HeNe lasers are also used in other fields, like microscopy, spectroscopy, optical disc reading, biomedical engineering, metrology, and holography.

Of course, the good news in this example is that, as many of you with smart phones already know, there are other ways to scan codes. It will just be a matter of changing over to the new forms of scanning.

5. Space Travel Would Become More Dangerous

A field that would be incredibly hard hit by a lack of helium is the aerospace industry. NASA reportedly uses about 90 to 100 million cubic feet of helium a year in a whole variety of ways.

One way is that when a rocket burns fuel, the fuel that was in the tank is replaced with helium. This ensures that the tank doesn’t collapse under structural pressure. This also reduces the risk of fire or an explosion in the fuel tank. Helium is also useful during space travel because it keeps hot gases away from ultra-cold liquids.

A third way that NASA uses helium is to clean liquid oxygen out of tanks. Finally, there are other minor uses, like it’s needed for pneumatic control systems and it cools fueling handling systems.

Without helium, space travel will still be possible, but it will be a lot more dangerous than it already is.

4. The Large Hadron Collider will be Useless

It’s believed the Large Hadron Collider at CERN can help unlock many of the universe’s mysteries. It’s the biggest, most powerful machine on earth, and it smashes subatomic particles together almost as fast as the speed of light. And in order for the whole thing to work, liquid helium is needed.

Shooting those particles around the 16.7 mile loop are magnets that steer the particle beams. However, they can quickly overheat and they need to be cooled with liquid helium to -452.47 degrees. Also, the niobium-titanium wires that make up the magnets that shoot the particle beams around the loop are housed in a closed liquid-helium circuit that is -456.25 degrees. Liquid helium also cools the entire system down to -456.34 degrees. 

Without liquid helium, the Large Hadron Collider would literally become, and we’re gonna use a technical term here, a hot mess.

3. MRI Scans Will Be Less Common

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a common tool in the medical field and it is used to non-invasively look inside the human body at things like ligaments, spinal cords, and organs, including the brain. A lot of times, ailments like torn ligaments and tumors are diagnosed using MRI machines. However, without helium it will be impossible to run these machines.

How an MRI works is that a magnet is powered and it creates a magnetic field. This field causes the protons of hydrogen atoms in your body to align and then they are exposed to a beam of radio waves. This creates a signal that is picked up by a receiver, which converts the information to a detailed image. However, maintaining that large magnetic field requires a lot of energy. To get that much power and sustain it without overheating, helium is used and that is done by reducing the resistance in the wires to almost zero. This is accomplished by constantly bathing the wires in liquid helium that is -452.38 degrees. On average, one machine uses 1,700 liters of liquid helium.

While there are MRI magnet cooling systems that do not use helium, the problem is that they are not designed for full body MRI machines, like the ones that are in hospitals.

2. Computer Chips and Fiber Optics

As we’ve mentioned a few times, helium is commonly used for cooling. In fact, nearly a third of it is used for cryogenics. One notable feat is that it can be cooled to temperatures near absolute zero, which is -459.67 degrees. This makes it the coldest liquid on Earth.

Another field where cold helium is vital in computers and telecommunications. One of the main uses is with fiber optics, which are cables that are used to connect the internet and telecommunications. Fiber optics can transfer more data over longer distances than wire cables. However, they are much more fragile than wire cables and they need to be housed an in all-helium environment or it can cause air bubbles, which would make them useless.

Another way helium is used when it comes to computers is that computer chips are made using superconductors. Superconductors are basically magnets that are supercharged and don’t overheat thanks to liquid helium.

Without helium, computer chips will be incredibly hard to make. This is going to have big ripple effects on everything that uses computer chips. This includes cars, smart phones, appliances, and of course computers.

1. Scientific Progress Will Be Slowed

The Large Hadron Collider is the biggest experiment that uses helium, but it is also necessary for use in all different types of experiments and machines that are used in universities and laboratories around the world. The reason it’s used is because it’s safe because it isn’t flammable or combustible, which is great for researchers, especially students who are still learning.

So other elements, much more dangerous ones, will have to be used to cool the machines. This will clearly slow down progress and make experiments and machines more dangerous. Even if there was a way to run the machines, that means they will have to be retrofitted or purchased new, which isn’t cheap. For example, Western Michigan University’s chemistry department has a $250,000 machine that needs helium and they have a tank of helium delivered monthly. That is just one department at one university.

Without helium, all fields of scientific study that rely on machines that use helium will be slowed down this includes physics, medical science, chemistry, and computer science, just to name a few. In turn, scientific study will be severely handicapped.


No Helium, No Fun

WIF Science

Quantum Physics Phun – WIF Science

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Implications of

Quantum Physics

Quantum Physics has given a lot of amazing things to humanity in the last few decades. From the technology with which you can track cheating spouses, to accurately scanning broken bones and muscles in the hospital, there are actually many practical applications of Quantum Physics. But if you believe the words of those nerdy scientists who are actually studying the discipline, many more revolutionary discoveries are yet to come (and that doesn’t just include more weird sci-fi movies).

 In the most basic of terms, Quantum Physics fundamentally studies the nature and rules of the tiniest known particles of the universe: those that actually make up the atoms and are broadly called sub-atomic particles. However, much of the discipline is still a mystery, even among the most experienced of Physicists, with many calling it a ‘weird science’.

10. Nuclear Fusion Power Plants

Nuclear fusion in the sun is actually the reason why life exists on earth (and also the reason why Mercury is basically just a lifeless roasted rock). The abundance of Hydrogen atoms in the sun, along with the heat and pressure ensures their constant fusion into Helium atoms, emitting radioactive energy in the process which comes to earth in the form of sunlight. Quantum Tunneling is among the fundamental processes with which fusion occurs in the form in the form of chain reactions.

Scientists and governments are currently trying to mimic this process on Earth, for which the services of Physicists and Engineers with advanced knowledge of Quantum Physics are being employed. Although the dream of powering the electricity grids with nuclear fusion remains a dream, scientists expect that new breakthroughs in the understanding of Quantum Mechanics will bring the dream closer.

9. Perfect Timekeeping

Whether it’s about syncing several space-stations and satellites circling the planet or getting a perfect time-reading from the Mariana trench or Mount Everest, Atomic Clocks, utilizing the principles of Quantum Mechanics are already making enormous contributions to humanity.

However, with the demand for greater accuracy increasing, more advanced Quantum Clocks are expected to be extremely crucial in helping to meet these goals. So, from ultra-precise self-driving cars to space travel, the principles of Quantum Mechanics will be extremely important in setting the pace for the future of humanity.

8. Extreme Computing

While computing technologies have come a long way in the last century, artificial intelligence is only just beginning to catch up the abilities of the human brain. Today’s Silicon-chips based computing technologies are soon expected to be insufficient in handling the demands of the future, where machines and humans are expected to be interconnected in a vast network that will be several times larger than today’s overall internet infrastructure. In this regard, Quantum Computing is currently being identified as the prime technology to replace the current one. The technology basically manipulates the natural properties of the atom to store and process data in real time.

In fact, experimental models of Quantum Computers have already yielded enthusiastic results, although scaling the same to economically feasible units have proven to be rather challenging. However, scientists expect that the technology could start dominating the global landscape by as soon as 2030. With the technology, data processing abilities are expected to make such great leaps that calculation that current take supercomputers over two years may be completed by Quantum Computers in a few seconds.

7. Intergalactic Travel

Humans are still a long way away from establishing habitable outposts on other planetary bodies. However, if you believe the words of well-known futurists (like Dr. Micho Kaku), our hopes of conquering the final frontier will depend a lot on our knowledge of Quantum Mechanics. While conventional technologies may not be able to deliver enough speed for humans to even colonize other planets in the Solar System, astronomers and space-travel enthusiasts frequently are very hopeful about the possibilities offered by Quantum Physics.

The spaceships of today already use Quantum Clocks, while the use of Quantum Computing is expected to bring humans even closer to perfecting future spaceships. Experts believe that the better understanding of Quantum Entanglement will ultimately be the key to perfecting intergalactic travel across wormholes.

6. Extremely Secure Cryptography

With hacking and online security identified as one of the most pressing concerns of this century, the demand for more secure cryptography is high. From banking transactions to personal messages, billions of exchanges of data every minute are supposed to be kept secure. But this has proven to be something that’s not very easy to achieve with existing technologies. It is here that Quantum Cryptography has been identified as the silver bullet against online security threats. Basically, the technology manipulates photons to store and share information on a subatomic level. In fact, the technology has already been successfully applied in several instances (like voting and satellite data).

Major technology companies are already spending their resources on Quantum Cryptography to scale it and make it more accessible for the technologies of the future.

5. Incredibly Detailed Optic Devices

Today, one of the most widespread application of Quantum Mechanics is happening in the field of optics. The most advanced microscopes in the world apply Quantum Tunneling in identifying the smallest objects like DNA and electrons. In fact, most of the modern microscopic innovations and discoveries owe their existence in some way to Quantum Mechanics.

In the future, the most accurate telescopes are expected to make use of advanced Quantum principles as well.

4. Tackling Diseases and Ailments in the Human Body

Over the years, the principles of Quantum Mechanics has played a major role in the development of modern Radiography machines and MRI scanners. In the near future, innovative technologies developed with the application of Quantum Mechanics are set to bring even more massive changes in healthcare.

Experts have identified nanotechnology and quantum computing technologies as the tools that will help deal with threats like cancers and organ failures more effectively in the future. Reliable researches have also pointed out that these technologies will also help the human body fight more effectively against diseases in the future.

3. Finding Evidence of Parallel Universes and the Multiverse

The concept of Parallel Universe has been one of the most fascinating subjects for fans of science-fiction. Indeed, the concept is still broadly considered to be a theory rather than fact. While physicists and astronomers in general are divided over the existence of parallel universes, many well-known scientists have stood behind the concept. On one occasion, Stephen Hawking theorized that black holes could in fact be portals to another universe.

Meanwhile, renowned scientist Brian Greene believes that the concepts laid by the String Theory can point out to the fact that Parallel Universes or Multiverses can indeed exist. Scientists like Hawking and Greene have pointed out that with a better understanding of Quantum Mechanics and with more advanced tools in the future, we may indeed discover sooner or later that the universe isn’t lonely after all.

2. Our Concept of Time and Space

If Einstein’s theory of relativity was already too complex for you, lately modern physicists have theorized ever more ‘outrageous’ concepts today which will undoubtedly confuse you even more. Firstly, in the definition of space, modern physicists are in the consensus that even the seemingly empty parts of the universe aren’t actually empty at all. These supposedly empty parts of the space are held by things the scientists and astronomers call ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’. These two things together is estimated to make up around 95% of the entire universe.

On the other hand, modern physicists consider time to be something of an illusion. In fact, the very concepts of any event as a past, present or future occurrence is refuted, with the principle that reality is timeless. Moreover, the same scientists also entertain the idea that the linear concept of time is incompatible in quantum scale.

So basically, if we believe the words of quantum mechanics enthusiasts, what we thought was empty isn’t actually empty (i.e. space) and what we thought was an undisputed reality doesn’t actually exist (i.e. time). If this concept doesn’t shock you, then you probably don’t exist.

1. Consciousness Makes Reality

What if reality is the result of an accumulative consciousness? Or what if reality didn’t create you, but in fact, you created reality?

Of late, the term that incites the most vigorous debates in the world of Theoretical Physics is consciousness. While there is a basic consensus among Theoretical Physicists that the state of matter at the quantum level can differ to an extent depending upon the interpretation towards it, some scientists like Robert Lanza, Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff have gone a step further and theorized that consciousness actually defines how matter actually acts at the quantum level. Lanza, for instance, considers that time and space are mere tools that are applied by mind to interpret the information of the universe. Hameroff and Penrose have, on the other hand. theorized that consciousness is actually the consequence of quantum gravity effects in vibrating microtubules that are present in the neurons.

Hence, if you would want to believe academics proposing these notions, you are right now creating reality and living in it (like spiders creating their own webs to catch themselves in).


Quantum Physics Fun

WIF Science

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 237

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 237

…“Altitude 224.62, engaging vacuum induction, increasing isotope mixture to .759…

The final moments before the SLAV whisks the Stellar Explorer away pass quickly and is “put up or shut up” time. Fifteen years of R&D has dwindled to fifteen minutes of checklists. Nearly one-third of Deke & Gus’ lives have been spent in anticipation of this moment, now only a short ride to the outer atmosphere away.

Polite hand clapping grows into rousing cheers as the two deep-space pioneers climb the twenty stairs to enter the Stellar Explorer through the small side hatch. It is sleekly designed, more a side-effect of the speed it achieves, than the need for aerodynamics {no atmosphere – no friction}, but it can hold more than just the two pilots and makes less noise than an elevator door.

In contrast to that whoosh, the turbines of the generic SLAV will kick up its share of earthly dust, requiring hands over ears and on top of hats. It consumes every yard of runway one-niner to get airborne, much to the chagrin of the assembled, but not those of the informed.

All is calm in the control cabin of the Stellar Explorer, with no reason not to be, for if things go as planned, the jaunt to the edge of Solar System carries better odds than the favorite at The US Open tennis tournament. Las Vegas odds makers are taking bets that they will not re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in the predicted 30 minute window.

“I had Mindy put down a grand on at 9-2 odds,” Gus admits.

“Now how stupid was that? You are betting we have a headwind in both directions.”

“Not exactly. All we have to do is take our sweet time on the return trip.”

“I’m not sure they’ll pay off on that  Gus, when they find out who made the bet.”

“You can’t win if you don’t spin.”

“Enough of that nonsense, it’s almost time to light the fuse!” Games faces on, “Altitude 244.62, engaging vacuum induction, increasing isotope mixture to .759.”

“Five minutes to peak fusion, star drive ready,” Gus adds as he had done in the innumerable dry runs, “phase modes aligning, emergency decelerator on standby.”

Unlike the Enola Gay after it dropped its payload, the unnamed SLAV crew slows to an orbital stop to witness this milestone achievement in person. The Stellar Explorer is only visible for a blink-of-an-eye. —


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 237


page 214

Old Thoughts, Bad Thoughts – WIF Myth and Legend

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Odd Things

People Used

to Believe

Humans have believed all kinds of strange things throughout our short time on this planet. This is, in part, because humans (and our evolutionary ancestors) love stories. We gather around campfires and invent entire mediums, industries, and technologies to aid in their telling. But on the other hand, humans have always had a deep need to understand the world we inhabit, and the combination of these qualities can lead to very uninformed people believing some very strange things.

10. The Sun is Actually Really Cold

He believed that the sun wasn’t hot, that it was actually very cold, but that its outer layers were of a luminous material, or an extremely reflective ocean. The discovery of sunspots had him reeling with possible ideas, suggesting that these were either momentary glimpses at the surface beneath the atmosphere or great mountain peaks that were being exposed by the tides of a vast ocean.

Obviously, these theories were laughed out of scientific circles by a host of polymaths, and Herschel’s ideas never caught on. The sun isn’t cold, and those sunspots are actually produced by the sun’s magnetic field.

9. Isaac Newton’s Future

Isaac Newton may have been known for his scientific exploits, but he was also absolutely obsessed with Alchemy, going so far as to construct his own furnaces to produce alchemical experiments. He wrote about these things extensively, using code to hide his theories from prying eyes, believing that anything could be transformed into anything else (something we know now is very wrong). If these texts were observed by anyone from modern times, they would be seen as occult or religious tracts. He was so obsessed with Alchemy and the supernatural that it might be considered that his interest in science was his real hobby.

To Newton, the philosopher’s stone was a real thing, which he was constantly searching for.

Newton was also fiercely religious and believed that the Bible should be taken literally. He spent much of his time attempting to uncover a secret code created by the authors of the Bible, something left by God that would redeem humanity before His inevitable return.

After studying Biblical texts extensively, he concluded that the world as we know it would end in 2060 and that it would be preceded by an apocalypse.

8. Bloodletting

All the way up until the start of the 1900s, the practice of applying leeches or cutting parts of a person’s body open to drain them of their blood was not only common, it was a thriving industry. The practice comes from the erroneous belief that all illness comes from the body having too much blood in it and that to cure that illness, the excess blood needs to be drained from the patient.

This is, of course, false, and while the practice of bloodletting fell and rose throughout history, it was perhaps never more popular than in the 1800s. It was a common practice for leeches to be imported for this purpose, and it’s estimated that in France alone, 42 million leeches were imported each year. These leeches were used to drain the blood from patients, cared for by barbers (yes, you read that correctly). A patient could have as many as 100 leeches applied to them. Barbers and caregivers would coat the part of the body they wished to apply the leech to with sugar-water, milk, or blood to entice the tiny critters to start sucking. This industry caused leeches to become fairly scarce, driving the cost of them up by 300%, and forcing “care-givers” to find inventive ways to extend the life of a leech.

The first physician didn’t come out against bloodletting until 1828.

7. Lambs Grew on Trees

During the Middle Ages, it was a common belief that the cotton being imported from India came from a vegetable that had a lamb attached to it by umbilical. This inaccuracy was reported by Sir John Mandeville in the 1300s. Mandeville wrote that in Tartary (the part of the map we know of as Russia and Mongolia today) a strange plant that produced gourds containing tiny lambs was a common sight.

It turns out that much of what Mandeville wrote about his travels were either outright lies or based on notes from other travelers.

Another version of this myth suggests that these vegetable lambs would die once they ran out of food surrounding their pod if they weren’t killed by their natural predator (wolves).

Other writers would go on to claim to have seen these vegetable lambs, and the belief would not start to crumble until the 1600s.

6. Women’s Orgasms Were A Sign of Insanity

As late as the early 20th century, it was believed that women did not experience sexual desire and that the female orgasm was something that needed to be solved, rather than a thing which could be beneficial to a woman’s mental and physical health.

Sigmund Freud was one of the physicians who proposed the idea that clitoral stimulation could lead to psychosis in women, a “theory” which saw quite a few women institutionalized as a result. Women who had difficulty or could not have a vaginal orgasm were labeled as lesbians (which was also thought to be a mental illness), imbalanced, and masculine.

History has had a bad habit of demonizing the female orgasm. The vibrator was originally invented so that doctors could relieve “hysteria” (known as sexual frustration today) in women, and it was generally not believed that women were capable of experiencing sexual desire and were merely receptacles for male anatomy.

Today, we know that the female orgasm is beneficial not only to a woman’s mental health but also to her physical health as well.

5. Cosmic Ice Theory

In 1912 Hanns Hörbiger attempted to challenge the scientific community by introducing a controversial theory which suggested that humanity, the stars, and the planets were all made of… ice. Hanns and his partner, Philip Fauth, argued that the formation of the Milky Way was caused by the collision of a massive star with a dead star filled with water. This collision resulted in the formation of the Milky Way galaxy and dozens of other solar systems—all made of ice produced from the collision. When these ideas were challenged for not making any mathematical sense and for there not being any physical evidence for it, Hanns said “Calculation can only lead you astray,” and, “Either you believe in me and learn, or you will be treated as the enemy.”

This ridiculous theory didn’t catch on with mainstream science at the time, not until the conclusion of World War I at least, when Hanns decided to take his theories into the public sphere, where they might be better appreciated.

His rationale was that if the general public grew to accept the theory that they were in-fact made of ice, then the scientific community would have to accept it as well (we mean, isn’t that how science works?). While serious scientists did not accept his theory, many socialist thinkers at the time did, concluding that it was superior to theories invented by Jews.

And you are probably guessing where this is leading. Hitler, Himmler, and all of his cronies also adopted these ideas as well, along with a whole bunch of other horrifying things.

4. Doctors Didn’t Need to Wash their Hands

Before the advent of germ theory, medical professionals would go from examining dead bodies to performing live births on mothers, which as you can imagine, caused all manner of infections and a high mortality rate among patients they cared for. It wasn’t until 1840, when Ignaz Semmelweis, a 19th-century Hungarian doctor observed that one of his fellow surgeons died after cutting his finger during an autopsy.

Semmelweis surmised that because many of the doctors in his hospital often operated on corpses before treating live patients, they were inadvertently spreading “cadaveric matter.” And when he instituted the policy that all of his doctors were to wash their hands between patients, the mortality rate at his hospital dramatically dropped. Naturally, he wanted to spread this discovery with the rest of the medical world.

There was quite a bit of resistance to this idea, though, mostly because Semmelweis’ publication on the matter was barely coherent, and handwashing wouldn’t be strongly advocated for until 1860 by famous nurse Florence Nightingale. And it wouldn’t be until the discovery of germ theory that handwashing would become a staple in hospitals around the world.

3. Sexual Energy Controls the Universe

Wilhelm Reich went from being the enemy of Fascist Europe to being the enemy of the US Government, from psychoanalyst to the founder of sexual liberty in the West. Reich believed that orgasms were caused by a mysterious energy in the atmosphere called “orgone” and that this energy permeated and moved the entire universe. He suggested that a good orgasm could liberate a man or woman, and a bad orgasm could make them a prisoner.

Sexual liberation was not exactly in vogue in Hitler’s Germany at the time, so Reich was forced to flee to New York, where his ideas would be embraced by the disenfranchised left. Reich even “invented” a device that he claimed could “energize” a person with orgone. The device, called an “Orgone Energy Accumulator,”  was feared by conservatives and revered by left-leaning individuals, and some even swear by its power today. Reich’s ideas got him labeled as a communist sympathizer in the 50s, and eventually, the FDA would come after him for selling his Orgone Accumulators, demanding that they be destroyed along with all literature pertaining to them.

Reich would be arrested for violating this order and sent to Federal prison, where he would die alone in 1957.

2. Women’s Bodies were not Designed to Handle Train Rides

The resistance we’re seeing to the rise of artificial intelligence and 5G internet is nothing new, it’s age-old. When the first locomotive was unveiled, men feared that its immense speed (top speed getting up to 50 miles per hour, or 80 kilometers per hour) would cause a woman’s uterus to fly from her body.

A companion to this fear was that the human body, male or female, might melt if brought to similar speeds.

Cultural anthropologist Genevieve Bell suggests that this revulsion to new and developing technologies results from a kind of “moral panic” that a society experiences when an invention threatens to alter how we perceive time and space. Put more simply, we humans hate changes to the status quo, and we’ll kick and scream until that change either goes away or we realize it really isn’t so bad after all.

1. The Earth was the Center of the Solar System

Up until the end of the 2nd Century AD, it was thought that the Earth was the center of the universe. Although this notion is ridiculous to the vast majority of us who accept the clearly superior Heliocentric model (which purports that all bodies in the solar system revolve around the sun), to humans observing the skies in the 2nd Century, it did seem like the sun, stars, and the moon all revolved around the Earth.

Beyond famous Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Ptolemy, early Christianity taught that God had placed the Earth at the center of the universe, thereby making it unique.

Though recently, conspiracy theorists have begun a movement bordering on cult-like proportions suggesting that the Heliocentric model is a huge hoax perpetrated by world governments and that the Earth is actually flat, we don’t have to tell you that this is bullocks, do we?

The Geocentric model of the universe was so pervasive in human history, that it would remain the scientific rule until being invalidated in the 16th Century AD.


Old Thoughts, Bad Thoughts

WIF Myth and Legend

Greater Galaxy Gateway Gala – WIF Space

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Far-out Facts

About the

Milky Way

Galaxy

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When we think of where we are in the entire universe, our planet is just one a small speck. Even our solar system is one of many in the Milky Way Galaxy, and our own galaxy is one of billions in the universe. It’s hard to image how big The Great Expanse actually is. But with advanced technology, we have a better understanding of what lies in the deepest parts of space. Just in our own Milky Way Galaxy, we have numerous suns, planets, solar systems, comets, black holes, and so much more. Here are 10 interesting facts about our Milky Way Galaxy…

10. Structure And Size Of The Milky Way Galaxy

The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy with a center bulge that is surrounded by four arms that are wrapped around it. Around two-thirds of all the galaxies in The Great Expanse are shaped in a spiral. Our galaxy, as well as our solar system, is always rotating. While our solar system travels around 515,000 miles-per-hour on average, it would still take approximately 230 million years to travel around the Milky Way.

Our galaxy is around 100,000 light-years across and has a mass of between 400 and 780 billion times the mass of our own sun. 90% of its mass is believed to be dark matter.

There is a huge halo of hot gas surrounding our galaxy that stretches for hundreds of thousands of light-years. While it is believed to be as huge as all of the stars put together in the Milky Way, the halo itself only has around 2% of the amount of stars that are found inside of the disk.

And at the heart of the Milky Way galaxy is the galactic bulge which contains gas, stars, and dust that’s so thick you can’t even see into it, let alone to the other side.

9. The Andromeda Galaxy Will Eventually Collide With The Milky Way

The Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies will eventually collide into each other, but it won’t happen for a very long time. While it was previously thought that it would happen 3.75 billion years from now, newly conducted research from the ESA’s Gaia mission estimates the collision will take place in 4.5 billion years.

And we may not get hit as hard as previously thought. The new research also suggests that it won’t be a full force collision and rather a “tidal interaction,” which means that no planets or stars will collide with each other.

There is a group of more than 54 galaxies that are named the Local Group, of which Andromeda and the Milky Way are a part. These two galaxies, as well as the Triangulum Galaxy, are the three largest in the group. Andromeda is the most massive galaxy, while the Milky Way ranks second, and the Triangulum is third. Andromeda and Triangulum are both spiral galaxies and are situated between 2.5 and 3 million light years away from the Milky Way.

8. Our Galaxy Is Warped And Twisted Instead Of Being Flat

It’s always been said that our galaxy is flat as a pancake, but a recent study revealed that the Milky Way is in fact warped and twisted. The farther away the stars are from the center of the galaxy, the more they become warped and twisted in an S-like appearance.

Over 1,000 Cepheid variable stars (1,339 to be exact) were used in a study conducted by astronomers from Macquarie University as well as the Chinese Academy of Sciences. These stars became bright and dim in a manner that changed according to their luminosity. The data collected from these stars by using the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (or WISE) let astronomers create a 3D map of the true shape of our galaxy.

While the Milky Way is now confirmed to be warped and twisted, it’s not the only one out there that’s like that. While it’s not overly common, astronomers have confirmed that a dozen other galaxies in The Great Expanse have twisted spiral patterns in their outer-most areas.

7. There Are Hundreds Of Billions Of Stars In Our Galaxy

It’s tough to know exactly how many stars there are in our galaxy since the halo around the Milky Way also contains many stars. In addition, the center of our galaxy has a galactic bulge that’s filled with dust, stars, and gas, as well as a super-massive black hole which makes that area extremely thick with materials that telescopes are unable to see through it.

While around 90% of our galaxy’s mass is made up of dark matter, the majority of the remaining 10% is dust and gas, it is believe that only about 3% of the Milky Way’s mass is made up of stars. Some researchers believe that there are approximately 100 billion stars in our galaxy, while others say that there are much more – between 400 and 700 billion.

The European Space Agency’s Gaia mission is mapping out the locations of around 1 billion stars in the Milky Way, so that’s a good start.

6. There’s A Super-massive Black Hole At The Heart Of Our Galaxy

It is believed that most, if not all, galaxies have a super-massive black hole at their center and the Milky Way has one that weighs as much as 4 million suns. Sagittarius A*, which is the massive object located at the center of our galaxy, has been observed for the past several years. Although black holes can’t actually be seen, scientists study them by observing the materials that are orbiting around them.

Scientists wanted to measure the effects of gravity near the black hole so they decided to observe a small star called S2 that orbits deep within Sagittarius A*’s gravity well every 16 years. They noticed three bright flares that traveled around the black hole’s event horizon at approximately 216 million miles per hour (or 30% of the speed of light).

Scientists previously believed that there were only small and super-massive black holes, but there are in fact medium-sized (or intermediate) black holes that are rare but they do exist, and we’ll talk about that in the next entry…

5. There’s Also A Jupiter-Sized Black Hole Wandering Around Our Galaxy

New research indicates that a rare Jupiter-sized black hole is wandering around our galaxy. The data came from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (or ALMA) which includes 66 telescopes that are placed across the Atacama Desert located in the northern part of Chile.

The data consisted of the scientists observing two gas clouds, called Balloon and Stream in reference to their shapes, and what they witnessed during their two-day observation period in May 2018 was that the gas clouds were moving in an odd pattern, like they were spinning around an invisible center in a location where no light was coming from.

The team determined that the object was an uncommon medium-sized black hole that has around 30,000 times the mass of our sun and is approximately the size of Jupiter.

4. Earth Is At The Center Of The Habitable Zone In Our Galaxy

For the last two decades, astronomers have modeled the evolution of our galaxy in order to figure out the four essentials needed for complex life – the existence of a host star; a sufficient amount of heavy elements to create terrestrial planets (like Earth); enough time for biological evolution; and an environment without gamma ray bursts or life-threatening supernovae.

Almost 4,000 exoplanets and nearly 3,000 planetary systems have been confirmed to exist in our galaxy. Hundreds of those star systems have more than one planet that is within the Galactic Habitable Zone (or GHZ) and there is no doubt that many more are out there just waiting to be discovered.

And of course Earth is located at a perfect spot near the center of our galaxy’s GHZ. What’s even more interesting is that according to astrophysicists at the Australian National University, the GHZ only has about 10% of all the stars in the Milky Way.

3. There Are Almost 4,000 Exoplanets In Our Galaxy

Planets that are beyond our solar system are called exoplanets and thousands have been discovered by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope over the past several years. These exoplanets can be any size, with some being rocky and others having icy surfaces.

The Kepler Space Telescope worked to find these planets from 2009 until 2018. During that time, it discovered 2,682 exoplanets with over 2,900 possible candidates that are still waiting to be confirmed. And according to information found on NASA’s website, a total of 3,916 exoplanets (including the ones found by Kepler) have been confirmed.

Kepler ran out of gas and was officially decommissioned in November 2018. However, a new spacecraft, called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (or TESS) has taken its place to find new planets. It was launched in April of 2018 and is planning to scan around 85% of the sky in its two-year mission.

2. So Far, Almost 3,000 Planetary Systems Have Been Discovered In Our Galaxy

Another important piece of information presented on NASA’s website is that 2,917 planetary systems have already been discovered. One of those planetary systems which is very similar is our own solar system is called Kepler-90 which is located approximately 2,500 light years away from us towards the Draco Constellation.

Kepler-90 has eight planets which is the same number of planets located in our solar system. Other similarities between the two solar systems are that Kepler-90 has a G-type star which is comparable to our own sun; it has rocky planets like ours; and it has other large planets that are similar in size to Saturn and Jupiter.

One major difference between the two solar systems is that Kepler-90’s planets all orbit very close to their sun which would indicate that they may be too hot to sustain any type of life. But with further research, more planets could potentially be discovered that orbit at a further distance.

1A. Milky Way Is Only One Of Hundreds Of Billions Of Galaxies In The Universe

According to data collected from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, it was previously thought that there were around 200 billion galaxies in the universe. However, it is now believed that there are at least ten times more galaxies out there in space.

Some experts believe that around 90% of the galaxies in the observable universe are too far away and even too faint to see with our telescopes. Thankfully, the James Webb Space Telescope (or JWST) is scheduled to be launched in early 2021 which will help to see these faint galaxies and perhaps uncover even more.

Some of the tasks the JWST will conduct will be to find out what happened after the first stars were formed following the Big Bang; finding out how galaxies were formed and assembled; the birth of stars and proto-planetary systems; and understanding the atmospheres on distant planets to find out if they are habitable and can sustain life.

1B. What WIF Calls the Universe

What most folks refer to as the “Universe”, the rest of the fictional civilizations out there call it “The Great Expanse”, at least that is how  “I-Gwen” describes that wondrous-wide Creation that God set in motion. If giving God credit offends your sensibility, the “Big Bang” happened.

Whatever it is called or whoever gets the credit, it certainly boggles our little minds and this author is eternally fascinated.


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Fallacies, Falsehoods, Facts and Furthermore – WIF Science

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Widely Misunderstood

Scientific Theories

People often misunderstand scientific theories — partly because science can be complicated, but also because many people are confused about what a scientific theory actually is. A theory, in science terms, is not just an extremely good educated guess, nor is it expected to ever reach a higher burden of proof. It is, in fact, a common misconception that a scientific theory can ever become a scientific law. This is because they aren’t really part of a hierarchy of evidence, but separate aspects of understanding and classifying the world around us. A scientific law is something we know, and a theory is a model to explain it that has stood up to repeated testing and research. Now, since people often misunderstand what a theory is, they also often sometimes get the science confused as well. In today’s article, we will go over 10 examples of just that.

10. “If We Evolved From Monkeys, Why Are There Still Monkeys?”

Something you will often hear from people who deny the theory of evolution is that it is silly to say we evolved from monkeys, because there are still monkeys around today. To begin with, we didn’t evolve from monkeys (at least not the ones you are thinking of and see today) — we may have evolved from a common ancestor to monkeys, many, many ages ago.

The idea that one species would disappear just because another evolved from it is simply confusing. A new species evolving from an old one doesn’t necessarily mean the old species is obsolete, nor that it will suddenly vanish from the face of the earth. There is also the matter of how more genetic diversity is created. When a group from a species ends up isolated from other members of its species, different forms tend to emerge due to the different environments or habits of the group. There are many, many different forms of monkeys today, which makes perfect sense with the theory of evolution — we are just the smartest kind. And yes, we are still basically monkeys, as far as the term can be loosely used with regard to hundreds of thousands of years of evolution… maybe.

However, God had a better idea; Creation.

9. Time Is One Of The Most Misunderstood Ideas In All Of Science

Time is something we take for granted, but in the physics community, its nature and existence is a source of constant research and debate. Some people aren’t even sure it is even really a thing… at least not the way we tend to think of it. Experiments with a unit of a measure even smaller than an atom, on something called the Planck Scale — which is a scale for incredibly small measurements — have found that time seems to cease when you get down to a small enough level. Some physicists think that this could indicate that at the very basic level of the universe, time doesn’t exist, which would mean what we think we are seeing is just a macroscopic effect of something else.

This can be quite confusing even to a trained physicist, and there really is no one truly defined explanation accepted by the majority of the community. Some are trying all sorts of equations and ideas in attempts to come up with some kind of overall rational, but have thus far not quite succeeded. The problem is that time has already recently thrown physicists for a loop, when Einstein proved that it was at least relative. Now, we have to figure out if it exists at the most base level of the universe, and if it does, in what form, and what it actually is. For now though, just accept the illusion, as your job will still expect you to show up on time.

8. The “Law Of Averages” Doesn’t Really Even Exist — It’s A Fallacy

Some people will talk about something called the “law of averages,” whereby they claim that over a given amount of time, things will basically even out in terms of odds. Usually, this is applied to some sort of competition, or even gambling. The thing is, though, there really is no such thing as the law of averages — it’s just a fallacy. The law of averages generally assumes that because something is statistically likely, that it’s going to happen soon. This fallacy can be part of the gambler’s fallacy, where people lose a lot of money, continuing to bet because the “law of averages” says it should happen “imminently.”

The problem is that these people have a poor understanding of probability. If we are talking about truly random chance, just because something is likely to happen doesn’t mean it will — there’s just a level of probability that it will happen. Calculating probability can be quite complicated, and the number usually ends up lower than you would expect. There is a real concept that people might be getting things confused with called the Law of Large Numbers. This simply posits that if you do something an incredible amount of times, the average should be close to the expected value. For example, if you roll a six-sided die hundreds of thousands of times, the average should be about 3.5, as that is the average value of the die. Some people get confused thinking that in a specific gambling run, or perhaps a game of Risk, that luck will even out. This is unlikely — the sample size is too small and you are falling prey to the gambler’s fallacy.

7. Gender And Sex Are Constantly Confused, But They Are Not The Same Thing

Today, there’s a lot of talk about various different genders, such as pansexual, demisexual, and so on. On top of that, there’s increased awareness and tolerance for those who are transgender; however, just because people are talking about these things more doesn’t mean that everyone necessarily understands the concepts. Some people get very confused about the difference between gender and sex, and the difference is important.

We aren’t here to weigh in on how many genders there should be, or how you should feel about people who feel they were born a different sex. We just want to get the science accurate. When it comes to sex, there really can only be two. You simply cannot make up any more than that, because sex consists of the physiological characteristics such as the actual differences in organs and the different hormones that naturally affect you. However, gender has always been an entirely sociological construct to begin with, and is perfectly open to create as many as you want, as it has nothing to do with physical characteristics. Gender is really about how you feel, what attracts you, and other nebulous factors that can’t be properly physiologically measured.

6. The Artificial Intelligence Scientists Are Creating Is Not What You Think

Artificial intelligence is probably one of the most misunderstood basic theories in science, but we don’t suggest that most people misunderstand this because they aren’t intelligent. Rather, movies have done an incredibly good job of twisting people’s understanding of this one, and unless you’ve studied computer science you may not realize how silly and wrong most movies have this.

In movies artificial intelligence reaches some level of consciousness, and people are quite used to this image of AI. To make matters worse, the news will get quick clicks with headlines about famous scientists being worried about the rise of AI, and then people start worrying about Terminators. Now, there is some reason to be worried about AI, but no researcher expects it to reach actual consciousness, because that’s just not how it works. Rather, the goal of AI research is to make it better at doing tasks and organizing the flow of various goings-on without much human intervention. The fear of experts is AI making bad decisions after being given control of important infrastructure, not because they have transcended to the level of conscious beings and are being malicious, but because they could make stupid mistakes due to lacking context, and not seeing the entire picture that a human would — or just thinking in an unpredictable way.

5. Survival Of The Fittest Isn’t About Strength Or Immunity, But Characteristics

A lot of people are taught about the theory of natural selection, but many of them come away with little memory of it except “survival of the fittest,” which many take to mean that if you are the strongest and toughest, you are more likely to survive. However, this is really only true if the environment you live in requires physical strength and toughness as the best way to not only live, but pass on your genes to a new generation.

This is because the whole point of natural selection is that those with the best characteristics for the environment they live in will be more likely to pass on viable offspring, not that strength and machismo will always rule the day. Species not only tend to naturally select over time for the better traits, but also will drop things over time that they don’t need anymore. A good example of this is wisdom teeth, which some humans are already being born without.

4. Everything You Know About Pavlov’s Experiments And Theories Is Probably Wrong

Ivan Pavlov is famous for his experiments with dogs, where he taught them to salivate at the sound of a buzzer by making them associate it with food. Most people think that Pavlov’s whole deal from the get-go was studying psychology by using dogs, and that no dogs were harmed in his experiments.

However, the truth is that the real story behind Pavlov is kind of horrifying if you like dogs. So, if you really, really love dogs and hearing about awful things done to them makes you upset, you might want to skip to the next entry. You’ve been warned.

Pavlov was not really interested early on in his career in psychology — that came much later after he had already won a Nobel Prize and reached his peak. Rather, Pavlov was interested in physiology, especially when it comes to the digestive system. He would do something called “sham feeding” where he would make a hole in the dog’s throat called a fistula, so that the food would drop out and never reach the dog’s stomach. By continuing to make lower holes on various dogs, he was able to measure excretions at various levels and his comprehensive picture of the digestive system won him a Nobel Prize in 1904 in Physiology or Medicine. While in his later years he did do a little bit of psychological research with dogs, a bell was almost never one of the sounds he used to trigger dogs’ association.

3. Freud’s Most Disturbing Theories About Sexuality Were Never Taken That Seriously

Many people today think of most of Freud’s absurd theories about young children or infants having unconscious sexual thoughts and not only scoff, but wonder what the medical community was thinking, taking such nonsense so seriously. However, the truth was that Freud had one of the most complex careers, and also has one of the most complex legacies, when it comes to his work. While people were interested in his ideas on psychoanalysis, the importance of dreams, and his general belief in a subconscious, it is important to understand that even during his time, his more radical ideas about unconscious sexual thoughts in children was not really accepted by most in the medical or burgeoning psychological community.

Also, it is important to understand that today, the psychological community thinks of most of Freud’s theories as a joke, and they don’t really teach him seriously in classes. But that doesn’t mean you throw out the baby with the bathwater, either. Freud may not be a huge influence today, but psychologists believe it is important to study him from a historical perspective because of the huge influence he had on early psychology, and also to understand which of his ideas did turn out to be correct. Now, while psychology doesn’t exactly believe in the breakdown of the subconscious quite the way Freud described it, a subsconscious is a widely accepted idea and we have Freud to thank for that one. And while his practice of psychoanalysis, which is the talk therapy where you try to understand the unconscious thoughts, is not that popular among psychologists anymore, there are those who practice it and some who incorporate elements into their therapy repertoire.

2. Black Holes Are Accepted By Most, But Their Nature And Existence Is Controversial

Black holes are something most of us understand very well. You can’t see them, but you know they are there because they are dragging light and matter into them like… well, like a black hole. However, back in the 1980s Stephen Hawking shocked the scientific community when he used the quantum laws of physics to prove that black holes were actually emitting particles — something now known as Hawking radiation. Now, this is where things get really tricky, because we still don’t fully understand black holes.

Hawking’s research contends that since the black hole is losing heat and matter, it will eventually dissolve like an aspirin in a glass of water, instead of continuing to just suck up light and matter without pause. However, this leads to the question of where the information that was sucked up goes to when the black hole dissolves. Some physicists contend that according to our knowledge of the laws of the universe, no information can be lost forever, but Hawking disagreed, wagering that the information would be lost. At this point, physicists can only scratch their heads, as we really have absolutely no way of knowing — we have never been able to yet witness a black hole dissolving to find out.

1. You May Have Seen Some Confusing Claims That Electrons Can Go Faster Than Light

This has been passed around the internet and even confused some kids in science classes when well meaning teachers didn’t explain it properly. People heard claims that electrons can go faster than light, and everyone got all excited about how we had allegedly cracked the speed of light barrier. However, the unfortunate truth was that no such thing has occurred. Electrons can move faster than light when they are sped up enough, but only in a medium that already slows down the speed of light moving through it.

This is a known phenomenon seen at nuclear reactors, that creates a really cool looking blue glow effect, and is known as Cherenkov Radiation. While in this context it’s easy for a flashy news media headline to confuse people into thinking scientists somehow found some amazing breakthrough and managed to exceed the speed of light, there has not yet been any situation where this has actually occurred. It is important to read the fine print, as in this case, going faster than light makes you think something special has happened, but faster than light and faster than the speed of light are not the same thing at all.


Fallacies, Falsehoods, Facts and Furthermore

WIF Science

SETI, Bicycles, Gravity, Placebos and Baghdad – WIF Scientific Mysteries

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Science Still

Hasn’t Solved

These Mysteries

The science community has granted us a wealth of knowledge that can never be overstated. Things that used to mystify our ancestors can now be understood and more appreciated. It’s shaped our view of the world, the universe, the animal kingdom, human psychology — literally everything you know has been helped along by science and the men and women who dedicate their lives to finding out the whos, whats, whens, whys, and hows of stuff. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.

But with science having that intrinsic aspect of being ever-evolving, it’s never foolproof or absolute. Built right into the scientific method are allowances for screw-ups or just plain not knowing something. And you might be surprised that some very basic parts of life here on our planet totally baffle some of our best and brightest smarties. Here are some examples of mysteries that science has yet to crack.

10. Why do we sleep?

Now here is one you think we’d have nailed down by now. Almost every single person in the world sleeps daily (unless you’re a Rolling Stones guitarist). And the answer probably seems obvious to most of us: we sleep to rest our bodies after the day. We can hold off on food, water, even sex for days on end, but when it’s sleepytime, nature takes over and our bodies ask for the check.

Except it’s not as simple as just needing rest. Science has educated guesses which include all sorts of reasons for sleep, like making time for our brains to get things in order after a long day, to reinforce memories, or to replenish fuel lost while awake. But then you throw in examples of plants and other organisms that don’t have any brains at all like we do, yet still have “sleep” patterns similar to ours, and people who have gene mutations which let them function without much sleep at all, and we begin to see our very limited understanding of why we sleep.

9. How does gravity work?

Gravity, as we learn in school, is very simple… right? There are forces within our planet that pull things toward the center. So if you throw something in the air, it comes back down. Gravity keeps you on the ground. It’s also what keeps the planets orbiting around the sun. This is all very simple, and we’ve known it since we were able to learn information. So why does science have so much difficulty explaining it?

Basically, gravity is one of four forces in our universe, which also include electromagnetism, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear. Gravity is the weakest of the four, and while we seem to grasp the concept of gravity with earthly examples, when things get too small or too big, like black holes and atoms, that’s when science and Newton’s principles don’t really make sense. And a simple science experiment you’ve seen before, where a balloon rubbed on your shirt creates enough electromagnetism to negate gravity and lift your hair or a piece of paper, shows just how easily gravity can sometimes, well, disappear.

8. Why are most people right handed?

People seem to take notice when someone uses their left hand for something, as if it’s some kind of freak mutation that’s just manifested itself. And while it’s rare for someone to be a natural southpaw (about 10 percent of the world’s population), it’s not quite the same as running across someone who, say, has horns growing out of their head.

So why do people deviate from the norm, in terms of handedness? Is it a genetic mutation? The environment they’re brought up in? Is it hereditary? Science doesn’t really know, and it doesn’t even really have an empirically-established way to measure handedness. Science does lean toward genetics, but there are even problems with that, as some teachers in school force children to become right handed when learning to write, and there is some data as to cultural and societal factors influencing which hand becomes dominant. Weirdly enough, we’ve learned why people become right-handed, but not why right is the “right” way. If that makes sense.

7. Why does anesthesia work?

It’s the divine gas that makes people not have to be acutely aware of their leg being amputated, among other things. The introduction of anesthesia granted patients the ability to snooze through all sorts of medical procedures, and it’s been a godsend since the mid-1800s — not only for the patients, but for doctors who had to deal with squirrely, wide-awake amputee victims. What started as an inhaled ether on its inception has become a more refined chemical blend that renders the recipient unconscious.

But we don’t really know how it does that. Think about it. When you’re asleep, you’re unconscious, right? But you would sure feel a scalpel opening you up, wouldn’t you? So why is the anesthesia unconsciousness different? And it’s an even bigger mystery as to how the diverse chemicals in the anesthetic, ranging from steroids to inert gases, can work together to achieve such a deep unconscious level that takes you about as close to death’s door as is possible. It seems that under anesthesia, different parts of the brain are affected much like a coma patient’s brain would be. All in all, it’s a wonderful tool in medicine and we don’t really know why.

6. Why do cats purr?

“Awwww, it’s because he/she LOVES ME!,” you likely think to yourself, ignoring the fact that if that cat was a little bigger, it would probably try to rip your face off. But it’s not a stupid assumption — most people probably associate the low rumbly purr of the kitty-cat to a feeling of happiness or contentedness. Science as a whole shrugs and meekly mumbles, “I dunno.”

See, cats also have a tendency to purr when they’re scared or hungry. Purring probably isn’t a form of communication, as it’s too low and local to be really effective. Also, in the realm of just pure weirdness, science has discovered that purring has been linked to bone regeneration. So there are many theories we have for why kittens just sit there and gently hum their bodies, but most likely it’s just a way for them to soothe themselves. Kind of like how we laugh for several different reasons.

5. Why was there a mysterious hum in New Mexico?

New Mexico has had a weird history of everything from nuclear bomb testings to Walter White standing on a dirt road in his tighty-whities. But the residents of the northern town of Taos have their own strange tale to tell, and it’s in reference to a local phenomenon called the “Taos Hum.”

Since the early ’90s, people in the town have described some kind of tangible audio event. Some call it a whirring kind of noise, or a buzz, or a humming in the air around Taos. A professor of engineering at the University of New Mexico studied the sounds around Taos, and noticed that around 2 percent of the population was susceptible to the strange hum. That doesn’t mean that they picked up any unusual sounds while conducting their research. Quite the opposite. Their very sensitive audio recording equipment and vibration sensors picked up nothing out of the ordinary. The fact that the townsfolk heard differing kinds of sounds is also of less scientific value than if they had all heard one low, persistent hum. And that’s why science is more keen to dismiss the Taos Hum as being part of the onslaught of background noise humans live in these days, mixed with subjective hearing experiences from the people themselves. The residents of Taos, however, stand firm in their belief of a weirder explanation. It is New Mexico, after all.

4. The ancient Baghdad batteries

Now, hear us out here. What if we told you that researchers working in Iraq in the 1930s found what totally appeared to be some kind of crude battery that may have been used to produce electrical charges, and that it likely dated from around 200 BC? Of course, that would predate that kind of technology by a couple thousand years.

What archaeologists originally thought were some kind of clay storage pots turned out upon closer inspection to contain copper rods within them. This led the scientists to strongly believe the pots would have held some kind of substance that would react to the copper rods and produce electricity. But why? Theories range from using the charge to shock people as punishment (those were stricter days), to using that electricity to electroplate things with gold. Another school of thought is that they found a way to make electricity long before knowing what the heck it was good for, kind of like the Chinese with gunpowder. Our turbulent history with Iraq doesn’t help us figure much of anything out, either.

3. Why does the placebo effect work?

You’ve all heard the basics of the placebo effect: it’s a treatment that isn’t “real,” but the very act of a patient believing in its effectiveness creates its own beneficial properties. If you expect a pill or drug to do something, it’s likely to work in some way. It seems mean, but science uses placebos especially when testing a new medication’s effectiveness. Which, maddeningly, is skewed because sometimes these placebos work. But why?

Beats us! The point of a placebo is you don’t know you’re taking it. But that opens up a whole host of problems because placebos can often work even when you know you’re taking one. That clearly goes against its entire purpose. In 2009, researchers testing treatments for irritable bowel syndrome found many subjects who knowingly took placebos got better at higher rates than those who received no treatment at all. That’s absolutely insane. And it seems that a person’s personality is tied to whether the placebo effect will work or not. But that’s just a guess so far. If that’s not enough stuff that science doesn’t get, there’s also potentially an inverse nocebo effect, where if you don’t believe a treatment will work, your symptoms will get worse. Our brains are weird, man.

2. Why are we getting repeating radio bursts from space?

Cue the History Channel “alien guy,” because this is clearly some extraterrestrial stuff, right? Slow down there, Captain SETI. Let’s lay out the basics first. A fast repeating signal burst from space, called FRB 121102, was first discovered in 2012. While we’ve come across some of these before, this one has repeated itself, though sporadically.

The bursts usually last about a millisecond, and we don’t yet know where they originate from. We know it’s from a galaxy 3 billion light-years away that was recently discovered, but that’s about all. The radio bursts, though short, are massive, containing as much energy as the sun produces in a day. The fact that it’s persistent and repeating makes scientists think the location could be near a black hole or a nebula. And the source itself has earned science’s best guess of a pulsar or neutron star. But that doesn’t mean the fantastical minds of scientists are ruling out extraterrestrial origins. What fun would it be to ruin those hopes?

1. How bicycles really work

What?? If science is really going to tell us they can’t figure out how a two-wheeled vehicle works, are we supposed to trust them about anything? And yet, the humble bicycle contains so much scientific mystery within.

Much of the mystery concerns the bicycle without a rider perched on it. If a bike is going fast enough, it’s going to want to balance itself so it doesn’t fall over. It even does with when someone is riding it, to a degree. That self-stability and why it occurs has eluded scientists since the 19th century. The commonly-held idea that the gyroscopic effect of the rotating front wheel keeps the bike stable has fallen apart under recent analysis. An alternate theory likens the wheel on a bicycle to the wheels on a shopping cart, in that they align themselves automatically in the direction being traveled. That also fell apart. It seems science does have a point where they just give up and break for lunch.


SETI, Bicycles, Gravity, Placebos and Baghdad –

WIF Scientific Mysteries