Physical Sciences

“There will be days when we lose faith. Days when our allies turn against us...but the day will never come that we forsake this planet and its people.” ―Optimus Prime There was too much to simply keep it to a single article a day this week here at Starts With A Bang! The dynamic duo of Megan Watzke and Kimberly Arcand published a delightful contribution on scale, and we're gearing up for a month where we'll highlight some of the telescopes of the 2020s (and maybe beyond) that will help shape the future of astronomy. In the meantime, those of you who caught totality from the eclipse have…
"Comrades, this man has a nice smile, but he's got iron teeth." -Andrei A. Gromyko When you have a star, perhaps its most defining characteristic is that it fuses lighter elements into heavier ones, releasing energy. While all stars fuse hydrogen into helium, the more massive ones will undergo helium fusion, with the most massive also fusing carbon, oxygen, and eventually silicon, producing iron in the end. By time you get to iron, the most stable element of all, you would lose energy if you fused anything further, so iron’s the end-of-the-road, with a supernova as the next inevitable step.…
"For although it is certainly true that quantitative measurements are of great importance, it is a grave error to suppose that the whole of experimental physics can be brought under this heading." -Hendrik Casimir Ever since we first discovered that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating, scientists have puzzles as to what’s causing it. Although we’ve measured it precisely and concluded that it’s uniform, static in time, and equivalent in its form to a cosmological constant, we still don’t know why it exists. Moreover, any attempts to calculate what its magnitude should be give…
"It’s becoming clear that in a sense the cosmos provides the only laboratory where sufficiently extreme conditions are ever achieved to test new ideas on particle physics. The energies in the Big Bang were far higher than we can ever achieve on Earth. So by looking at evidence for the Big Bang, and by studying things like neutron stars, we are in effect learning something about fundamental physics." -Martin Rees Two years ago, advanced LIGO turned on, and in that brief time, it’s already revealed a number of gravitational wave events. All of them, to no one’s surprise, have been merging black…
"I go to the Natural History Museum and look at the cage of stuffed starlings there. But my favourite thing is the big blue whale. The scale of it is unbelievable, and makes you feel how insignificant you are as a human being." -Arthur Darvill How good is your sense of scale? Humans are notoriously bad at this, and yet understanding the magnitude of an event like Hurricane Harvey is much more difficult (and important) than simply using a slew of superlatives. If someone tells you how large the flood in Houston is, and tells you it's "100,000 times the area of the Capitol Mall in Washington, D…
"The hurricane flooded me out of a lot of memorabilia, but it can't flood out the memories." -Tom Dempsey As I write this, the gulf coast is currently being battered by Hurricane Harvey, with a few locations already having accumulated more than three feet of rainfall. This storm shows no signs of letting up anytime soon, as it's forecast to remain roughly where it is for days to come. This is being billed as a 500-year-storm, but the truth is far scarier and more sobering: this should be exactly what you'd expect for a city located where Houston is. The new rainfall scale created by the…
"Life is not a miracle. It is a natural phenomenon, and can be expected to appear whenever there is a planet whose conditions duplicate those of the Earth." ―Harold Urey It's been yet another fascinating week of scientific stories here at Starts With A Bang! But as of the last 48 hours, there's something I absolutely have to talk about: the "Unite The Right" hate rally in Virginia, accompanied by violence and murder. They say that in order for evil to triumph, all that you need is for good people to stand by and do nothing. When I was a kid -- small, young, weak, inexperienced -- I saw lots…
Pseudoscience is effective. If it weren't, people wouldn't generate so much of it to try to justify opinions not supported by the bulk of the evidence. It's effective because people trust science as a method of understanding the world, and ideological actors want that trust conferred to their opinions. They want their opinions to carry that authority, so they imitate science to try to steal some of that legitimacy for themselves. However, science is not flattered by this behavior, it is undermined and diminished. The Damore Manifesto (PDF with hyperlinks) or "Google anti-diversity memo…
“If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life's exciting variety, not something to fear.” ―Gene Roddenberry Well, it happened, everyone! I flew out to the official Star Trek convention in Las Vegas, and the people I met there and the events and panels I attended (and participated in) were largely fabulous! Best of all, I got to line up a number of future podcasts about science, Star Trek, and everything in between, so stay tuned in…
“Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment because they'll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we've lived.” -Brannon Braga, Ronald D. Moore, and Rick Berman After being away for last weekend, it's time to take a look back at the past two weeks on Starts With A Bang! There's been no shortage of stories, of news, or of scientific matters of interest, so let's see what we've got: Is it foolishness to dream of…
You know how you know when you've been effective deconstructing quackery or antivaccine pseudoscience? It's when quacks and pseudoscientists strike back. It's when they attack you. As much as Mike Adams' near daily tirades against me last year caused problems and poisoned my Google reputation (which was, obviously, the goal), I could reassure myself with the knowledge that his attacks meant that I had gotten to him. When Steve Novella was sued by a quack, as much as I didn't want to be sued by anyone, I knew that the fact that someone would sue him was testament to his effectiveness.…
“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” -Abraham Lincoln As you've come to expect, it's been another fantastic week of science here on Starts With A Bang!? There's a chance I'll be in Las Vegas next month for the official Star Trek convention, and in addition to all we're doing, there's a chance that there will be a new YouTube video series coming out that features me and the fusion of sci-fi/fantasy with science. Sounds fun? You bet it does! Also, for those of you in and around Portland, OR, join me at 2 PM at the Oregon Historical Society today to catch my…
“Sometimes the silences, the gaps, tell us more than anything else.” -Peter Ackroyd Did you know that there's even more going on than before here at Starts With A Bang!? Yes, we have our articles at Forbes; yes, we have our Podcasts on Soundcloud; yes, we have our first book out and our second available for preorder. But we also have had a recent appearance on Portland's NBC affiliate to talk about the eclipse, I've also been doing podcasts to promote Treknology and will be recording another interview this afternoon, and I've been researching and speaking with scientists and engineers…
“Many people today agree that we need to reduce violence in our society. If we are truly serious about this, we must deal with the roots of violence, particularly those that exist within each of us. We need to embrace 'inner disarmament,' reducing our own emotions of suspicion, hatred and hostility toward our brothers and sisters.” -Dalai Lama XIV From subatomic scales to very human ones to the largest conceivable ones in the cosmos, we do our best to cover the entire Universe here at Starts With A Bang! There's always so much to discuss that we're never going to lack for potential topics,…
"This would be like an F8 tornado sweeping across the surface. These are winds on Mars that will never be seen again unless [there is] another impact." -Peter Schultz When you examine craters on the surfaces of worlds across the solar system, you find that there are rays emanating outward, containing a mix of ejecta from the impactor and the surface itself. But there’s a limit to how far those rays go, and that’s normally dependent on the size of the crater. In a few instances on Mars, however, those rays go much, much farther than physics would indicate. A detailed, infrared view of a…
"First Rate People hire first rate people. Second rate people hire third rate people." -Hermann Weyl So, here we are, encountering one another on the internet. There’s a really good chance that this is because you have some interest in space, science, astronomy, astrophysics, or some related area. Although I am an astrophysicist with a Ph,D. in theoretical physics, my focus over the past decade or so has been on education and public outreach: science communication. As we're exploring more and more of the Universe, education and outreach becomes more vital than ever if our society wants to be…
It looks as though the check has finally cleared. You might be wondering what I'm referring to. A little more than a week ago, I took note of how a truly awful survey masquerading as a "study" had risen from the dead once again as two publications in a notorious bottom-feeding predatory "open access" journal after having been retracted after publication in a somewhat less notorious but similarly bottom-feeding predatory "open access" journal. Whether or not these studies were actually retracted the second time around is somewhat unclear. What is known is that they were on the Open Access Text…
Inside Higher Ed ran a piece yesterday from a Ph.D. student pleading for more useful data about job searching: What we need are professional studies, not just anecdotal advice columns, about how hiring committees separate the frogs from the tadpoles. What was the average publication count of tenure-track hires by discipline? How did two Ph.D. graduates with the same references (a controlled variable) fare on the job market, and why? What percentage of tenure-track hires began with national conference interviews? These are testable unknowns, not divine mysteries. From the age-old Jobtracks…
“Time travel used to be thought of as just science fiction, but Einstein's general theory of relativity allows for the possibility that we could warp space-time so much that you could go off in a rocket and return before you set out.” -Stephen Hawking As always, there's been a new fantastic week of articles here at Starts With A Bang, punctuated by our new podcast this month, on the physics of time travel! Have a listen (or download it and take it with you) and thank our Patreon supporters for making it possible! Now, what was this past week all about? Come enjoy some fabulous stories if…
“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.” -Walter Elliot It's been two great weeks here at Starts With A Bang, where we've seen an incredible slew of new articles, new contributions, and literally hundreds of comments where nobody needed to get banned! To all of those who made it out to see me last weekend at NorWesCon, thank you for your incredible support, and to those who didn't, I hope things have gone well for you, and that you've enjoyed all our articles! To take a look back, here's what we've seen over the past two weeks: Why is there a limit to…