Meet bad-ass mofo François Arago, in a profile by Greg Gbur. Fool got swagga.
“When he was seven years old, he tried to stab a Spanish solider with a lance.
When he was eighteen, he talked a friend out of assassinating Napoleon.
He once angered an archbishop so much that the holy man punched him in the face.
He has negotiated with bandits, been chased by a mob, broken out of prison.
He is: François Arago, the most interesting physicist in the world”
Top 10 Strangest Things in the Universe (October 2008)
10. Hypervelocity Stars
If you’ve ever gazed at the night sky, you’ve probably wished upon a shooting star (which are really meteors).
But shooting stars do exist, and they’re as rare as one in 100 million.
In 2005, astronomers discovered the first “hypervelocity” star careening out of a galaxy at nearly 530 miles per second (10 times faster than ordinary star movement).
We have ideas about what flings these rare stars into deep space, but aren’t certain; anything from off-kilter supernova explosions to supermassive black holes might be responsible.
9. Black Holes
Speaking of black holes, what could be stranger?
Beyond a black hole’s gravitational border — or event horizon — neither matter nor light can escape. Astrophysicists think dying stars about three to 20 times the mass of the sun can form these strange objects. At the center of galaxies, black holes about 10,000 to 18 billion times heavier than the sun are thought to exist, enlarged by gobbling up gas, dust, stars and small black holes.
The sun spins about once every 25 days, gradually deforming its magnetic field.
Well, imagine a dying star heavier than the sun collapsing into a wad of matter just a dozen miles in diameter.
Like a spinning ballerina pulling his or her arms inward, this change in size spins the neutron star — and its magnetic field — out of control.
Calculations show these objects possess temporary magnetic fields about one million billion times stronger than the Earth’s. That’s powerful enough to destroy your credit card from hundreds of thousands of miles away, and deform atoms into ultra-thin cylinders.
Pull out a dime from your pocket and hold it up for a second… guess what? About 150 billion tiny, nearly massless particles called neutrinos just passed through it as though it didn’t even exist.
Scientists have found that they originate in stars (living or exploding), nuclear material and from the Big Bang. The elementary particles come in three “flavors” and, stranger still, seem to disappear on a whim.
Because neutrinos occasionally do interact with “normal” matter such as water and mineral oil, scientists hope they can use them as a revolutionary telescope to see beyond parts of the universe obscured by dust and gas.
6. Dark Matter
If you put all of the energy and matter of the cosmos into a pie and divvy it up, the result is shocking.
All of the galaxies, stars, planets, comets, asteroids, dust, gas and particles account for just 4 percent of the known universe. Most of what we call “matter” — about 23 percent of the universe — is invisible to human eyes and instruments.
Scientists can see dark matter’s gravitational tug on stars and galaxies, but are searching feverishly for ways to detect it first-hand. They think particles similar to neutrinos yet far more massive could be the mysterious, unseen stuff.
5. Dark Energy
What really has everyone on the planet confused — including scientists — is dark energy.
To continue with the pie analogy, dark energy is a Garfield-sized portion at 73 percent of the known universe. It seems to pervade all of space and push galaxies farther and farther away from one another at increasingly faster speeds.
Some cosmologists think this expansion will leave the Milky Way galaxy as an “island universe” in a few trillion years with no other galaxies visible.
Others think the rate of expansion will become so great that it will result in a “Big Rip.” In this scenario, the force of dark energy overcomes gravity to disassemble stars and planets, the forces keeping particles sticking together, the molecules in those particles, and eventually the atoms and subatomic particles. Thankfully, humankind probably won’t be around to witness to cataclysm.
It might sound strange because we live on one, but planets are some of the more mysterious members of the universe.
So far, no theory can fully explain how disks of gas and dust around stars form planets — particularly rocky ones.
Not making matters easier is the fact that most of a planet is concealed beneath its surface. Advanced gadgetry can offer clues of what lies beneath, but we have heavily explored only a few planets in the solar system.
Only in 1999 was the first planet outside of our celestial neighborhood detected, and in November 2008 the first bona fide exoplanet images taken.
The force that helps stars ignite, planets stay together and objects orbit is one of the most pervasive yet weakest in the cosmos
Scientists have fine-tuned just about every equation and model to describe and predict gravity, yet its source within matter remains a complete and utter mystery.
Some think infinitesimal particles called gravitons exude the force in all matter, but whether or not they could ever be detected is questionable.
Still, a massive hunt is on for major shake-ups in the universe called gravitational waves. If detected (perhaps from a merger of black holes), Albert Einstein’s concept that the universe has a “fabric” of spacetime would be on solid ground.
Matter and energy abound in the universe, but only in a few places is the roll of the cosmic dice perfect enough to result in life.
The basic ingredients and conditions necessary for this strange phenomenon are better understood than ever before, thanks to abundant access to life here on Earth.
But the exact recipe — or recipes — to go from the basic elements of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur to an organism is a prevailing mystery.
Scientists seek out new areas in the solar system where life could have thrived (or still may, such as below the surface of watery moons), in hopes of arriving at a compelling theory for life’s origins.
1. The Universe
The source of energy, matter and the universe itself is the ultimate mystery of, well, the universe.
Based on a widespread afterglow called the cosmic microwave background (and other evidence), scientists think that the cosmos formed from a “Big Bang” — an incomprehensible expansion of energy from an ultra-hot, ultra-dense state.
Describing time before the event, however, may be impossible.
Still, atom smasher searches for particles that formed shortly after the Big Bang could shed new light on the universe’s mysterious existence — and make it a bit less strange than it is today.
Common Fangtooth Fish
The nightmarish fangtooth is among the deepest-living fish ever discovered. The fish’s normal habitat ranges as high as about 6,500 feet (2,000 meters), but it has been found swimming at icy, crushing depths near 16,500 feet (5,000 meters). Fangtooth fish reach only about six inches (16 centimeters) long, but their namesake teeth are the largest, proportionate to body size, of any fish.
Facts | Photo © David Wrobel, SeaPics
A simple technique dramatically improved the memory recall of Harvard Medical School students. Try it for yourself!
Turning a medical student into a doctor takes a whole lot of knowledge. B. Price Kerfoot, an associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, was frustrated at how much knowledge his students seemed to forget over the course of their education. He suspected this was because they engaged in what he calls “binge and purge” learning: They stuffed themselves full of facts and then spewed them out at test time. Research in cognitive science shows that this is a very poor way to retain information, as Kerfoot discovered when he went looking in the academic literature for answers. But he also stumbled upon a method that really is effective, called spaced repetition. Kerfoot devised a simple digital tool to make engaging in spaced repetition almost effortless. In more than two dozen studies published over the past five years, he has demonstrated that spaced repetition works, increasing knowledge retention by up to 50 percent. And Kerfoot’s method is easily adapted by anyone who needs to learn and remember, not just those pursuing MDs.
Hi-res Insects by Ondrej Pakan
I try to make it one of my daily goals to *not* get all up in the face of the various flying and multi-limbed things that I come across, but Ondrej likes to get that close-up of their ugly mugs. His HD photos capture bugs covered in dew, as if they’ve been draped in sparkling gems.
The History of the Universe: From Big Bang to Big Blah
After the furies of birth, the mature cosmos now evolves more slowly. Stars will continue to form for as long as another 100 trillion years (about 10,000 times the present age of the universe), which leaves plenty of time for slow-building cosmic phenomena to occur.
How long is the coast of Britain? The answer, surprisingly, depends on the size of your ruler. If you measure with a big stick, you will only pick up the rough features, but if you measure with a smaller one, your route will be longer. In 1967, Benoît B. Mandelbrot wrote a paper called How Long Is the Coast of Britain? Statistical Self-Similarity and Fractional Dimension. In it, he contends that, contrary to popular opinion, “curves of dimension greater than one are [not] an invention of mathematicians.” Instead, Mandelbrot says, many real-world curve are actually statistically self-similar: in some sense, the small parts can be said to be scaled-down versions of the whole. And we can put a measure on the “degree of complication”, a measure that has many things in common with the notion of a dimension.
You are no doubt familiar with fractals, those beautiful self-similar patterns the study of which Mandelbrot is credited with founding. You may have heard that they have fractional dimension, a term that seems prima facie nonsensical. If we think of dimension as, say, the number of coordinates needed to specify a point in a figure—one on a line, two on a plane, three in a volume—it makes no sense. You can’t have 1.58 coordinates. But as Mandelbrot explains in his paper, and as explained excellently here (9-min video) or here (text), it follows directly from a different, but equally intuitive conception of what a “dimension” is.
Consider a line segment. Suppose you want to double its size. How many copies of the original do you get? Straightforwardly, you get two. But if you consider doubling both sides of a square, you get 2*2 = 4 copies of the original square. And if you double each side of a cube, you get 2*2*2 = 8 copies of the original cube. If you triple the sides, you get 27 copies. In fact, we can quite simply make an equation relating the dimension D, the enlargement factor e and the number of copies, c. It looks like this: c = eD. Using logarithms, we can transform this into the following: D = loge(C)=log(c)/log(e).
You can easily verify this for the cube, the square and the line. Tripling the sides in the cube, we get D = log(33) / log(3) = 3log(3)/log(3) = 3.
Now consider a simple fractal like the Sierpinski triangle. Each iteration of the fractal is made by removing the middle third of each triangle, creating three identical copies. Each one is half as big as the previous iteration. When we enlarge one piece, we get three copies of the original. Plugging this into the equation, D = log(c)/log(e) = log(3)/log(2) ≈ 1.585. So the fractional dimension of the Sierpinski triangle is almost 1.6; it is neither 1, like a line, nor 2, like an ordinary figure in the plane.
You can find a list of fractals by fractional dimension on Wikipedia. Some fractals do actually have integer dimension; many do not.
The quadratic cross, for instance, has a dimension of 1.49.
What does this have to do with science? Well, as Mandelbrot suspected, fractals and fractional-dimension curves are very useful tools for describing a number of real-world phenomena, not limited to pretty pictures and coastlines. Everything from earthquakes to heartbeats to ice crystals has been described as a fractal phenomenon.
Known more scientifically as Quark-gluon plasma (QGP), this incredible phase exists only at extremely high temperature and density. Everyday, observable matter is made up of particles called hadrons (such as protons and neutrons.) Protons and neutrons are a special type of hadron called a baryon, in which there are three even smaller components called quarks.
QGP is a state of matter in which the hadrons are freed of their attraction to one another in an atom’s nucleus - and the remaining quarks are free to float around - also known as being deconfined. In normal baryonic matter, gluons hold the nucleus together by being exchange bosons of the strong force. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN created multiple QGP’s during January 2012 - at temperatures of tens of trillions of degrees Kelvin.
To create QGP, matter must be heating up to outstanding temperatures - about 2×1012 K. The most intuitive way of doing this is by colliding two large nuclei moving at ultra-relativistic speeds . At the LHC, the particles used for these collisions are lead nuclei, while RHIC utilizes gold nuclei. Although the chances of a perfect collision are small - when it does happen the energy involved is enormous, and QGP is the result.