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Ask Ethan #7: How to End the World

“If you are writing any book about the end of the world, what you are really writing about is what’s worth saving about it.” -Justin Cronin Well, it’s Friday again, and that means it’s time to dip into the question/suggestion box, and see what you’ve come up with for me. This week’s Ask Ethan comes…

Scientific Paradoxes are Omens of Advance

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.” -Charles Darwin There are problems with science today, no doubt. With all the knowledge we’ve accumulated about the Universe, from…

The Rarest Eclipse of Them All

“You can’t exactly bake a man to your specifications… A hybrid of Einstein, Tarzan and Inge Meysel doesn’t exist.” -Peer Steinbruck Of course, if you create enough chances, all the things that could eventually happen will come to pass. This is as true for human beings as it is for the physical Universe. And for our…

The Physics of Sunsets

“It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.” -Carl Sagan I would argue the exact opposite, in fact: the beauty of a sunset, in all of its varieties and variations, is only enhanced the more you know about it. The next time you watch the Sun…

The Solar Storm of a Lifetime

“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” -Alexander Graham Bell Imagine a beautiful, clear day. The Sun is shining, the skies are clear, and you couldn’t ask for a nicer day. All of a sudden, the Sun itself appears to brighten, just for…

“You don’t drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there.” -Edwin Louis Cole Our Solar System is — at least from our perspective — the most well-studied system of planets, moons, asteroids and comets in the entire Universe. And in this system, the closest planet to our Sun, Mercury, was also one…

The lives and deaths of Sun-like stars

“Man alone is born crying, lives complaining, and dies disappointed.” -Samuel Johnson But the stars, as opposed to humans, are born shining, with hundreds (or more) of brothers and sisters, shine ever more brightly over their lifetimes, and die in spectacular fashion. As far as we can tell, here’s the past, present and future story…

How the Earth moves, and how do we know?

“Nature is relentless and unchangeable, and it is indifferent as to whether its hidden reasons and actions are understandable to man or not.” -Galileo Galilei All of science is rooted in the idea that natural phenomena can be explained naturally, and that if we want to know how anything in the Universe works, all we…

Where will we all be in 100 billion years?

“It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see.” -Winston Churchill We’ve come a long way in this Universe. Over the past 13.7 billion years, we’ve formed the light elements out of a sea of protons and neutrons, cooled and expanded to form neutral atoms for the first…

“Soon the earth will tilt on its axis and begin to dance to the reggae beat to the accompaniment of earthquake. And who can resist the dance of the earthquake, mon?” -Peter Tosh Every year, there are two special days where every place on Earth receives the same amount of sunlight — 12 hours —…