“…even if we don’t understand each other, that’s not a reason to reject each other. There are two sides to any argument. Is there one point of view that has all the answers? Give it some thought.” -Alder, from Pokémon
It’s been a fantastic week here at Starts With A Bang, with stories ranging from the beginning of the Universe to how we do business here on Earth in 2016. We’ve got a topic picked out for our next podcast on SoundCloud, on the Big Bang and what it does (and doesn’t) mean, plus I’ll be recording a radio show with Dr. David Livingston of The Space Show this Tuesday night! Thanks as always to our generous Patreon supporters, who make our podcasts and ad-free reruns on a 7-day delay over on Medium possible. What did we cover last week? Let’s take a look back:
- Where did the Big Bang happen? (for Ask Ethan),
- Why some galaxies appear dustier on one half than the other (for Mostly Mute Monday),
- Young stars are missing from our galaxy’s center,
- Where does the mass of a proton come from?,
- The ‘awesome’ Perseid meteor shower is awfully overhyped, and
- Newt Gingrich exemplifies just how unscientific America is.
And before we get into it, some amazing news: Forbes no longer blocks ad-blockers! Check it out! And with that out of the way, let’s dive into your comments of the week!
From ptmnc1 on the philosophical difficulties inherent in the transporter: “But at the end of the day the scientific answers to transporter-related philosophy questions can only be had from experiment: but presuming that a post-transport individual is a sufficiently close replicate of the pre-transport individual then they cannot be expected to report a difference in their consciousness.”
Let’s go one simpler: what’s the difference between moving a file and copying a file and deleting the original? To someone who knows where the 0s and 1s were written, you can definitely detect a difference. Moving a file keeps those 0s and 1s written in the same place, while only the metadata (of where the file is “located”) is different. But copying creates an identical set of 0s and 1s elsewhere, and then the original is overwritten.
To someone who didn’t know that exact information beforehand, though, who could only look at the initial contents of the file and the end contents of the end file, there would be no difference. So when you transport someone — destroy their original, read in all their bits, and print out those bits against elsewhere in a final copy — the copy emerges identical to the original… except it isn’t the original.
As many point out, how would you design an experiment to even detect the destruction and death of “you”?
From Sinisa Lazarek on microlensing: “Thanks so much for clarification on magnitudes and macho content. Much appreciated. What I was missing was that original estimate on macho contribution. I thought (wrongly) that they would contribute at least several % to galaxy’s matter content.”
The initial results from research programmes like EROS and OGLE were able to show that no more than 10-20% of dark matter was from MACHOs, but when we look at positive detections rather than upper limits, the estimates come down to be ≪ 1% across the full spectrum. The total baryonic matter content of an object like a Milky Way-sized galaxy is ~15%, with gas, plasma and stars making up the majority of what’s available.
From dean on a section of the above image: “Astounding. What size is that “small region of space?””
There are a little over 40,000 square degrees on the entire sky; the full view of the northern galactic cap is a little under 20% of that figure, going out to a remote distance of around 25% of the visible Universe. I had cropped out around 40% of the image to display it to you, which means we’re looking at roughly 0.2 * 0.25 *0.4 = 0.02, or 2% of the observable Universe. Pretty impressive!
From Andrew Jenkins on where the Big Bang occurred: “If we are living in a presumably ~roughly spherical expanding universe, there must be a center point.”
It is only spherical from our perspective. And from our perspective, based on what we can see, we would conclude that the center is only a few million light years from our location, or approximately 0.01% off from our location relative to the scale of the full Universe. Of course, every single observer would conclude that, because we are not living in a roughly spherical Universe. What you see is not all you get.
From philip coleman on young stars missing from the galactic center: “Amazing the how distance becomes parsec and the recycle continues. Our life is a random gift of nature.”
Well, let me offer a different interpretation of this finding. There are some interesting dynamics going on the closer you get to the galactic center: matter moves faster, gas accelerates and collides at a higher rate, and outflows from the intense star formation occurring at the very center (the inner ~1,300 light years or so) of the galaxy all play a role. And on top of that, you have the fact that our galaxy spins, with spiral arms, obeying the density wave theory of differential rotation. (Shown at right, below.)
From Denier on colliders: “Whenever someone talks about the need for new particle colliders, as this article does, they often talk about diameter. Occasionally I’ll even read an article where it is stated to probe a particular phenomenon it would require a collider the size of our solar system, galaxy, or even universe. Why is this?”
There are only a few factors that determine what energies a circular collider can reach:
- diameter of the ring,
- strength of the electromagnets,
- the actual mass and the charge-to-mass ratio of the accelerated particles,
- and the speed of light.
You’re not changing the speed of light or any other universal constants. If you accelerate electrons, they’re lighter, so it’s easier to get them to go faster, but the charge-to-mass ratio is very high: 1836 times higher than it is for a proton, so synchrotron radiation (or the radiation emitted by charged particles accelerated in a magnetic field) is very efficient. This is why LEP, the Large Electron-Positron collider (in the same tunnel that the LHC is in now) could only reach ~115 GeV of energy inside, rather than the ~13 TeV the LHC reaches. (The electrons moved faster, by the way, and still hold the close-to-c record of any accelerator-created particles on Earth!)
For protons, synchrotron radiation is low enough that it doesn’t (yet) matter, but the strength of the magnets is much more limiting. A particle with twice the energy needs twice the field strength to bend it over the same distance, so you need to either double your magnet strength or double your circle’s diameter to achieve twice the energy. Electromagnets at the NHMFL in Tallahassee, FL, have obtained field strengths of up to 80-100 Tesla in very short bursts, about ten times as strong as the magnets in use at the LHC. But they need to be sustained and 100% tunable and reliably controllable to achieve not only high energies, but large luminosities (resulting in high collision rates). We’re not there yet.
More good (and it’s his specialty, so I defer to him!) information from Michael Kelsey on this issue: “The radiation problem is the critical item for electron machines. Why? Because at a given bend radius, the amount of energy lost by the beam scales like 1/m^2. The bend radius is determined by the magnet strength. If you put electrons or protons into the same machine, the electrons would radiate about 3.3 million times as much energy as the protons would.
If you want your beam to go around the machine multiple times, you need to keep the synchrotron losses to a minimum, or have enough input power to keep pumping into the beam. The beam composition, energy and plausible magnet strength, then, are all you need to calculate what size you have to build your collider.”
From ACORN on a mistake I appear to have made: “So when I add the masses from the table for 2 Ups and 1 Down I get 9.4 Mev/c^2. If the proton mass is 938 Mev/c^2, wouldn’t that be ~1% instead of the ~.2% stated?”
Yup. My mistake! We need 99% of the proton’s mass from QCD/binding energy, not 99.8%.
From Omega Centauri on lying about facts to promote your own (fill_in_the_blank): “For the world that Gingrich occupies, a world of promotion and marketing, his observations are correct. Your product may be a piece of junk, but if you can create an exciting image, it will sell like hotcakes. Probably more people make their living out of marketing style endeavors, than make their living trying to wrest truth from nature, so for them his mode of thinking is correct (promotes personal success).”
I can only refer you to Richard Feynman, who, when talking about nature and the rules of the Universe, had the following to say: “You don’t like it? Go somewhere else! To another universe! Where the rules are simpler, philosophically more pleasing, more psychologically easy. I can’t help it! OK! If I’m going to tell you honestly what the world looks like to the… human beings who have struggled as hard as they can to understand it, I can only tell you what it looks like.”
Although Feynman was talking about a particular physical theory that some objected to because it wasn’t “appealing” enough, this applies to facts of any type. We may disagree with one another on what the policy should be in response to facts, but we ought to be able to agree on the facts. We really ought to.
From eric, restating the problem quite accurately: “So, yes, (a) crime rates are dropping nationwide, (b) Newt implies that he actually accepts this to be true, but then (c) basically admits that he, as a conservative politician, cares more about catering to people’s feelings than what’s factually true about the world.”
I agree with this interpretation of the problem. The professor and moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt wrote an incredible 1986 essay, “On Bullshit,” where he talks about the modus operandi of the liar: “Telling a lie is an act with a sharp focus. It is designed to insert a particular falsehood at a specific point. . . . In order to invent a lie at all, [the teller of a lie] must think he knows what is true.” Newt is not a Bullshit artist; he’s simply telling a lie. A very focused lie to promote his own, fear-based and feeling-based agenda.
And finally, from Denier on the possibility that the facts actually support Newt’s position: “The truth is after a long and steady decline in violent crime rates since the 90’s, the crime rates bounced and are on the rise. In the first half of 2015 violent crime was up 1.7% nationwide over the same period in 2014 … When you look specifically at homicides in the nation’s 56 largest cities the rates were up by 17% in just one year!!!”
I actually like part of the full comment quite a lot, and think it’s worth highlighting. Because we should be able to all agree on the facts. If crime is up over a certain time period, or in a certain class/set of locations, or a certain type of crime is up, that’s something we should be able to agree on. If crime is down over a longer-term period, or over the country as a whole, or across an aggregate class of crime, we should be able to agree on that as well. We can argue over what should be done about it (policy), what the importance of various facets are, etc. But the facts should be something we all agree on.
That is the specific thing Gingrich was arguing against. If you don’t like the John Oliver cut (it was what was embed-able on YouTube), watch the full video on Alisyn Camerota’s facebook page here, and observe how Newt does exactly the following three things I called him out for doing:
- lying by omitting/denying the full suite of facts and focusing on a few tidbits that mislead the public into disbelieving the actual facts,
- successfully misleading the public into believing incorrect facts and that a factually incorrect position is universally true, and
- that the public’s feelings about that “truth” will be more important than the actual facts.
This is kind of Colbert’s definition of “truthiness” and I do assert that we should all be against it.
If crime — violent crime — is ticking up in a handful of major cities, that might be a problem independent of broader trends. If crime is continuing to drop but still remains higher than we’re okay with it being, that might be a problem that requires further measures to be taken. And if crime rates rise in specific quarters (or other periods) of a year, that might be a fact worth investigating, understanding and doing something about. But we must begin by agreeing on the facts, otherwise… otherwise the cake is a lie.
And a world where we agree on facts, even where we disagree on policy and what to do about those facts, should be a rewarding enough step forward for us all.