Category Archives: science

When Science Posts Go Wrong.


After last week’s dark matter post in which I mentioned that the outer planets are orbiting more slowly than the inner ones due to Kepler’s third law, Jim commented

In my head Neptune was going super-fast but over a gigantic distance which explained the longer time.


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It Is Dark. You Are Likely To Be Eaten By A WIMP.


Dark matter cropped up in the news again recently (scientists think they might have detected something which may or may not be produced by dark matter; this happens every four or five years or so with no conclusive result so I wouldn’t hold your breath), so I thought now might be a good time to write something about it on the blog. This is particularly difficult — or easy, depending on how you look at it — since we currently know next to sod-all about dark matter and its even more mysterious counterpart, dark energy. It’s even been said that our calling it dark matter reflects more on our total and utter lack of understanding of what it actually is than any intrinsic properties on the part of the dark matter itself. Still, while we’ve never been able to directly observe dark matter (indeed, this may not ever be possible depending on what the dark matter eventually turns out to be) we have  been able to infer its existence from certain odd phenomena that don’t make any sense without something that fits the rather broad description we have of it, so we can at least have an interesting discussion about that.

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How To Measure The End Of The World.


I was researching a fun post about the apocalypse today when I suddenly came across a disaster scale I’d never even heard of before. It’s the Volcanic Explosivity Index, which is a way of measuring the magnitude of volcanic eruptions via the amount of ejecta they produce – not a perfect way of ranking volcanic eruptions, if you ask me, but probably the only one that’s really possible given all the different ways a volcano can explode. It then struck me that it might be a good idea to spend a little while talking about the major disaster scales and why they’re set up the way they are, since it’ll be a good setup for whenever I do get around to the apocalypse, as well as ensuring that next time you read a news report about an earthquake you’ll have some idea of what the experts mean when they say it measured 5.8 on the Richter scale.

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The Quickfire Round, Redux.


I have a whole backlog of questions here and my answers to many of them are far too snappy to justify a full post, so I’m going to economise and do a three-in-one. HOLD ON TO YOUR BUTTS.

Gerry asks

I’ve noticed that when I have a string of some sort (be it a usb cord or an audio cable that I use to plug in my phone to my aux in my car stereo, or any other string-like item) it has a tendency to tangle. This happens all the time (depending on the environment) is there a branch of physics or science/math that investigates this phenomenon? (Chaos maybe?) Not to be confused with the Quantum physical term of entanglement or spooky action)

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Asteroids Again.


After spending not a few words talking about Armageddon and fake space rocks last Wednesday I was slightly surprised when an actual real-life asteroid tore through the skies above Russia and disintegrated/detonated in midair somewhere above Chelyabinsk. Thanks to the asteroid’s passage over populated areas and the modern ubiquity of smartphones with some kind of video capture capability – not to mention the uniquely Russian preponderance of car dashboard cameras to provide some protection against the now-famous driving standards in the country, as well as the notoriously corrupt traffic police – this has been by far the most well-documented asteroid “strike” in history, so I thought I’d take a little while to talk about it, and the reaction to it.

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Armageddon Ist Verboten.


gnomishlich asks

Armageddon, terrible movie about oil drillers on an asteroid how would a space shuttle or other space traveling vehicle fare for persons odds of arrival, survival, and departure from an asteroid?

Oh god, what have you done. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE.

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How To Survive A Vacuum.


Another Wednesday, another science post. I happen to be in a particularly gruesome mood today, so let’s talk about what happens when you go into space without a spacesuit.

There are several popular misconceptions about human exposure to vacuum that have been debunked so many times I’m not even sure we can properly call them misconceptions any more. People do not explode in space. They do not freeze solid. Their blood does not start to boil. It is actually possible to survive – if rather uncomfortably – for a minute or two in a total vacuum, so it’s not an immediately lethal environment. Noted sci-fi hack Arthur C. Clarke wrote a key scene in 2001 where Bowman forgets his spacesuit helmet, gets locked outside the ship by Hal and has to get back inside by doing an unprotected EVA, and whatever else might be said about Clarke there’s nothing scientifically implausible about this scene at all. It hasn’t happened yet (as far as I know) but it could.

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