Adam Sayner 17
Guitars, Origami, Golf, Computers
Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, Eric Johnson, Yngwie Malmsteen, Led Zeppelin, X Japan
Favourite TV Shows
Family Guy, Top Gear, Robot Chicken
XKCD once asked What would explanations of complicated things, like science, sound like if we could only use the most common ten hundred words that people most commonly use?
The result was pretty epic: Meet The Up-Goer Five. This has grown into a sort of internet-wide project, the “Upgoer5” movement. Can you explain something using only those most common words? Give it a shot with this Upgoer5 text editor.
Now that project has grown into a Tumblr for science explanations, and it’s wonderful. I highly recommend checking it out as an inspiration for how simple answers can still induce awe and smiles. Like Albert Einstein said:
“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Here’s a sample from tenhundredwordsofscience by Amy Eycott. Instant follow:“Lots of places used to be covered in green wood things. The green wood areas had lots of different kinds of different animals and green things in them. People came and broke the green wood areas, to grow things to eat or to build houses. The green wood areas got smaller and smaller. My friends in a hot wet land want me to help them tell stories about how, when the green wood areas got small, lots of the animals and other green things went away too. We think that the most animals and green things get lost when the people try to grow lots of one thing all together, and less when they try to grow all different kinds of things together. We also think that more animals and green things get lost when there are many small green wood areas instead of one big one. My other friend is really really good at numbers and can make pretty pictures about how many animals and green things are in each green wood area. This helps other people believe the stories that my friends from the hot wet land want to tell.”
Distance from Earth to Mars
Sending spacecraft to Mars is all about precision. It’s about blasting off from Earth with a controlled explosion, launching a robot into space in the direction of the Red Planet, navigating the intervening distance between our two planets, and landing with incredible precision. This intricate and complicated manoeuvre means knowing the exact distance from Earth to Mars. And unfortunately, this distance is always changing.
How Far is Mars From Earth?
Both Earth and Mars are following elliptical orbits around the Sun, like two cars travelling at different speeds on two different racetracks. Sometimes the planets are close together, and other times they’re on opposite sides of the Sun. And although they get close and far apart, those points depend on where the planets are on their particular orbits. So, the Earth Mars distance is changing from minute to minute.
A Quick Explainer on Orbital Mechanics
The planets don’t follow circular orbits around the Sun, they’re actually travelling in ellipses. Sometimes they’re at the closest point to the Sun (called perihelion), and other times they’re at the furthest point from the Sun (known as aphelion). To get the closest point between Earth and Mars, you need to imagine a situation where Earth and Mars are located on the same side of the Sun. Furthermore, you want a situation where Earth is at aphelion, at its most distant point from the Sun, and Mars is at perihelion, the closest point to the Sun.
When Earth and Mars are closest
When Earth and Mars reach their closest point, this is known as opposition. It’s the time that Mars appears as a bright red star of the sky; one of the brightest objects, rivalling the brightness of Venus or Jupiter. There’s no question Mars is bright and close, you can see it with your own eyes.
And theoretically at this point, Mars and Earth will be only 54.6 million kilometers from each other. But here’s the thing, this is just theoretical, since the two planets haven’t been this close to one another in recorded history. The last known closest approach was back in 2003, when Earth and Mars were only 56 million kilometers apart. And this was the closest they’d been in 50,000 years.
Need that in miles? The closest possible distance from Earth to Mars in miles is 33.9 million miles.
Here’s a list of Mars Oppositions from 2007-2020 (source)
Dec. 24, 2007 – 88.2 million km (54.8 million miles)
Jan. 29, 2010 – 99.3 million km (61.7 million miles)
Mar. 03, 2012 – 100.7 million km (62.6 million miles)
Apr. 08, 2014 – 92.4 million km (57.4 million miles)
May. 22, 2016 – 75.3 million km (46.8 million miles)
Jul. 27. 2018 – 57.6 million km (35.8 million miles)
Oct. 13, 2020 – 62.1 million km (38.6 million miles)
*2018 should be a very good year, with a Mars looking particularly bright and red in the sky.
When Earth and Mars are furthest apart
On the opposite end of the scale, Mars and Earth can be 401 million km apart (249 million miles) when they are in opposition and both are at aphelion. The average distance between the two is 225 million km.
When Mars is Close, You’re Go For Launch
Mars and Earth reach this closest point to one another approximately every two years. And this is the perfect time to launch a mission to the Red Planet. If you look back at the history of launches to Mars, you’ll notice they tend to launch about every two years.
Here’s an example of recent Missions to Mars, and the years they launched:
MER-A Spirit – 2003
MER-B Opportunity – 2003
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter – 2005
Phoenix – 2007
Fobos-Grunt – 2011
MSL Curiosity – 2011
*See the trend? Every two years. They’re launching spacecraft when Earth and Mars reach their closest point.
Spacecraft don’t launch directly at Mars; that would use up too much fuel. Instead, spacecraft launch towards the point that Mars is going to be in the future. They start at Earth’s orbit, and then raise their orbit until they intersect the orbit of Mars; right when Mars is at that point. The spacecraft can then land on Mars or go into orbit around it. This journey takes about 250 days.
Communicating with Mars
With these incredible distances between Earth and Mars, scientists can’t communicate with their spacecraft in real time. Instead, they need to wait for the amount of time it takes for transmissions to travel from Earth to Mars and back again.
When Earth and Mars are at their theoretically closest point of 54.6 million km, it would take a signal from Earth about 3 minutes to make the journey, and then another 3 minutes for the signals to get back to Earth. But when they’re at their most distant point, it takes more like 21 minutes to send a signal to Mars, and then another 21 minutes to receive a return message.
This is why the spacecraft sent to Mars are highly autonomous. They have computer systems on board that allow them to study their environment and avoid dangerous obstacles completely automatically, without human intervention.
The distance from Earth to Mars is the main reason that there has never been a manned flight to the Red Planet. Scientists around the world are working on ways to shorten the trip with the goal of sending a human into Martian orbit within the next decade.
This website lists every Mars opposition time, from recent past all the way in the far future. You can also use NASA’s Solar System Simulator to see the current position of any object in the Solar System.
The body and its intestinal flora produce all sorts of chemicals that hold clues about a person’s health. Jeremy Nicholson is deciphering the signals, which could lead to new kinds of medicines
One of the hottest biomedical fields right now is metabolomics—the study of the metabolites and other chemicals that the body and its bacteria produce. The goal is to find out how the compounds can serve as indicators of health and disease. For the Insights story, “Going with His Gut Bacteria,” in the July 2008 Scientific American, Melinda Wenner talked with Jeremy Nicholson of Imperial College London. One of the founders of the field, Nicholson thinks that metabolomics may prove that the best medicine actually targets intestinal flora rather than cells of the body. Here is an edited excerpt from the interview.
You were one of the first scientists to study the metabolome, the collection of chemicals produced by human metabolism. Was it hard getting people to take the idea seriously?
Nobody was in the slightest bit interested. I had terrible difficulties getting funding throughout the 1980s in this area. I remember sending a paper to Nature in 1987 that showed how you could use nuclear magnetic resonance and computational pattern recognition to look at urine from animals that had been poisoned with lots of different sorts of drugs. The editor said, “There’s no interest [in this] to anybody whatsoever.” That would have been 10 years in advance of the first paper that would really call itself metabolomics or metabonomics.
Over the 10 years that followed, I built up a hell of a laboratory, so when our work started to get noticed, we were already one of the best-equipped labs in the world.
Why was no one interested back then?
I don’t think it was necessarily willful resistance; there was a lot of other stuff going on. In the ’80s molecular biology had just come in. You couldn’t get a grant in the U.K. unless you were doing molecular biology, because everybody thought that was going to solve everything. Then, also, in the late ’80s you had the idea of genomics coming in.
Why do you think that the metabolome is more likely than the genome to give scientists the answers they want?
Genomics only takes you part of the journey to real biological discovery. The genome is a blueprint for life, but it doesn’t tell you how the thing works. If you had a blueprint for a nuclear power station, it would tell you exactly how to build one, but it wouldn’t tell you anything about quantum mechanics, physics, the idea of nuclear fission, radioactive decay or anything that made it work. You can look at the genome the same way. It may well have a blueprint for building life, but it doesn’t tell you how the parts fit together.
And your work has shown that the environment makes a huge contribution to your health.
People talk about the genes that make you fat, but really, if you sit on your butt eating pork rinds and Big Macs and watching television, you will get fat, no matter what your genes say. What you do to yourself is really important. Metabolism captures environmental signatures as well as genetic. Your environment involves things like drugs you’re exposed to, the pollutants you’re exposed to, the products of your gut microbes, the metabolic products of your diet—so when we do a broad-screen metabolic profile, we’re capturing all of that information, plus information that links to genome variation. For me, metabonomics is the most holistic of the “-omics.” In principle, it can capture the signature of everything.
We’ve found that humans are far more metabolically diverse than genetically diverse. For instance, Chinese and Japanese people are actually metabolically very distinct, despite the fact they’re genetically near identical. And they have very different incidences of diseases.
How could scientists use this information to inform medicine?
I have this new concept of metabolome-wide association study. It will allow us to sample the genetic and the environmental things that cause diseases in people. We’ve found metabolic biomarkers that link to things like blood pressure in humans. Using this approach, we can generate new hypotheses in physiology that can be tested and may ultimately result in new drug discovery.
And you believe many of our metabolic differences have to do with gut bacteria. How did you come to realize that these microbes were so important for our health?
I’ve always known, ever since we started working on metabolic profiling, that there were metabolites that came from the gut microbes. We never really paid a lot of attention to it until maybe about seven or eight years ago, though. It was not just me—it was also Professor Ian Wilson [a scientist at AstraZeneca in England]. He became intrigued because he looked at colonies of rats—supposedly very, very similar groups of rats—but some produced one set of metabolites and others produced a different set. And yet they were from the same breeder; they were the same genetic strains. The differences were down to different gut microbial populations in rats residing in different parts of the laboratory.
The more we looked into it, the more we realized that microbes were so intimately involved in animal metabolic processes that they might have contributions to disease development in ways that hadn’t really been thought of before. We’re really just starting to expand this now, thinking about how gut microbes influence all sorts of things. They have influences on liver diseases and gut pathology like Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome; there’s even evidence that autistic children have very, very different gut microflora [than other children]. Almost every sort of disease has a gut–bug connection somewhere. It’s quite remarkable.
What, ultimately, are you hoping to achieve with metabolomics?
We want to be able to take a set of biological data from a human being, and then, based on what we know about the metabolic makeup of that person, say how long they’re going to live, what diseases they’re likely to suffer from, how to treat those diseases, and how to manage their lifestyle and drug therapy optimally. We’re opening up sets of doors here into the future of health care—the manipulation of biology that would be just unimaginable five years ago.
Any funny or surprising moments you’d like to share from your research?
We did some work about 10 years ago at another person’s laboratory on something called magic-angle spinning spectroscopy [a kind of NMR spectroscopy that relies on spinning the sample to achieve higher resolution data]. What I was interested in was whether or not we could get some extra information out of lipoprotein signals by spinning the probe very, very fast. I put the blood plasma sample in and the spectrum that came out was totally nothing like plasma is normally. I thought, absolutely fantastic! We’ve liberated all this new information! We tried several more samples and the same thing happened, and so I started to chat with one of the guys in this laboratory. I said, “We got an amazing spectrum, it looks nothing like plasma spectra should be.” And he said, “Oh, show me!” And I showed him and he said, “Hmm, that looks very familiar.” To cut a long story short, what happened was that the previous week the guy had been running samples of blue cheese—a food science company had been conducting experiments. Rather than discovering a new part of the fundamental dynamics of lipoproteins, we discovered how to detect blue cheese in plasma.
Scholars Break Down Paywalls in Tribute to Aaron Swartz
debate over academic freedom ignited
“Science dare only organize itself by the life of the Concept itself” - Hegel
1. They have a dream. Without a dream, our life lacks focus – and we’re in danger of drifting and going nowhere at all.
2. They prepare for whatever they need to do – and knowing they’re prepared breeds inner confidence.
3. They are totally focused on what’s…
Update: Dropped my tech usage to about 20 mins per day mainly for music while reading. Reading went up 7 hours per day. Almost done with book 1 about habits, and already half way book 2 incognito by d. eagleman, and couldn’t help my self and started book 3 strange science of sleep. Been taking notes, nabbing good info and writing my own thoughts into what I’m getting off these. Noticed instantly that my brain function started to change and act more efficiently with all the hours of reading, drawing, writing, doing simple math every day. Started using my visual conception to picture myself doing simple math problems and writing notes but all imagined and deduced in my head inside a quiet library where it’s only me, it’s pretty much the same as doing it for real, I got into the habit of doing that every night before bed and every morning before I get up.
I’ve been specifically and rigorously training my occipital and parietal lobes, auditory cortex, thalamus, superior parietal cortex and most recently the RAS (Recticular Activating System); These are the areas of the brain that deal with creativity, decision making, imagination, visual info, writing, translating language, and lastly, the RAS; “The RAS acts as the executive secretary for your conscious mind. It is the chief gatekeeper to screen or filter the type of information that will be allowed to get through. Everything else is filtered out. You simply don’t pay attention to those other ‘messages.’ Like the restaurant noises at high noon when you are engrossed in a meaningful conversation—you screen them out.” It accepts two types of info, Information that is valuable for you to have right now. and the sort that alerts you to a threat or danger. I’ve put the exercising of these to use during loud train rides when I’m reading on the way to work and it really does help concentrate on what you want to concentrate on the more you train that part of the brain. This is a second attempt to get more people to leave the screens for some hours and devote more time to reading. It is fun in more ways than you can think, especially when you’re reading about things you like and not things you’re forced to read.
P.S. ! I Joined the AAA (Amateur Astronomy Association of N.Y.), getting telescope in about a week or two. Also joined up the NASA astrophotography forum for whenever I need help. When I officially return, it’ll likely be when I’m able to start posting my own astrophotography alongside the others I normally feature. I’ve also started taking some night time computer programming classes and history of artificial intelligence for fun. Again, less screens, moar bookz. Merry such n such.
This post will self destruct on 12/27/2012
Today scientists at West Antarctica’s Byrd research station revealed that local temperatures have risen 2.4 degrees C (4.3 degrees F) since the 1950’s. What could our world look like without icebergs and ice shelves? If we don’t do something, we’re on track to find out!
Reader kylewpppd asks:Have you seen the post of a man in Siberia throwing boiling water off of his balcony? Can you provide a better explanation of what’s going on?
As you can see in the video (and in many similar examples on YouTube), tossing near boiling water into extremely cold air results in an instant snowstorm. Several effects are going on here. The first thing to understand is how heat is transferred between objects or fluids of differing temperatures. The rate at which heat is transferred depends on the temperature difference between the air and the water; the larger that temperature difference is the faster heat is transferred. However, as that temperature difference decreases, so does the rate of heat transfer. So even though hot water will initially lose heat very quickly to its surroundings, water that is initially cold will still reach equilibrium with the cold air faster. Therefore, all things being equal, hot water does not freeze faster than cold water, as one might suspect from the video.
The key to the hot water’s fast-freeze here is not just the large temperature difference, though. It’s the fact that the water is being tossed. When the water leaves the pot, it tends to break up into droplets, which quickly increases the surface area exposed to the cold air, and the rate of heat transfer depends on surface area as well! A smaller droplet will also freeze much more quickly than a larger droplet.
What would happen if room temperature water were used instead of boiling water? In all likelihood, a big cold bunch of water would hit the ground. Why? It turns out that both the viscosity and the surface tension of water decrease with increasing temperature. This means that a pot of hot water will tend to break into smaller droplets when tossed than the cold water would. Smaller droplets means less mass to freeze per droplet and a larger surface area (adding up all the surface area of all the droplets) exposed. Hence, faster freezing!
A rainbow is an optical and meteorological phenomenon that is caused by reflection of light in water droplets in the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in aspectrum of light appearing in the sky. It takes the form of a multicoloured arc.
Rainbows caused by sunlight always appear in the section of sky directly opposite the sun.
In a “primary rainbow”, the arc shows red on the outer part and violet on the inner side. This rainbow is caused by light being refracted while entering a droplet of water, then reflected inside on the back of the droplet and refracted again when leaving it.
In a double rainbow, a second arc is seen outside the primary arc, and has the order of its colours reversed, red facing toward the other one, in both rainbows. This second rainbow is caused by light reflecting twice inside water droplets.