Get Your Geek On!

Crossposted from Silk & Shadows

Currently working on: New project
Mood: Goal-oriented

I love science tidbits. Even when I can’t understand something, that’s fine with me because it’s a great jumping off point into what-ifs. Stories often start with a “What if…?” And if I can’t understand the complexities, the mental workout must burn off at least a half bucket of cookie dough.

Image from PBS The Elegant Universe

One of my perpetual favorite brain games in science is string theory. String theory suggests that all matter in the universe is ultimately composed of 1-dimensional strings that, based on differences in their vibrations, become different particles.

The thing I like best about string theory is that it could be a solution to the “theory of everything,” linking all physical phenomena with one explanation.

Which I have to think would include an explanation for this one plot problem I’m having…

My favorite book on the topic is Brian Greene’s THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. Part one of the PBS television series with a lot of helpful, pretty, moving pictures is showing here. I watched it again after Greene’s new series THE FABRIC OF THE COSMOS started playing on PBS this month. After reading those books and watching the shows, I ALMOST understand theoretical physics.

Still having trouble with that plot problem though.

Other recent science stuff that has captured my imagination:

Image from NASADid you know we were almost pulverized by an asteroid recently?

Well, not really almost pulverized. The blast would only have been equivalent to several thousand megatons of dynamite. And those smarty-pants scientists knew it was going to miss us anyway, but still, it got my head whirling. Earlier this month, on November 8, Asteroid 2005 YU55 passed closer to Earth than the moon. I knew it was coming but I forgot about it, which one should never do with a NEO (Near Earth Object) the size of an aircraft carrier. The next time a known object this large will approach Earth is 2028.

I guess it’s a good thing that these things pass us without comment, but I did think about mutant space motes spinning off the asteroid and dusting the Earth with… What? Alien spores? Superpowers? The possibilities spring off in all directions, even if the asteroid itself must follow a predestined path.

Artist concept from NASA

Also in space news, the new Mars rover launched on Saturday!

I adored the previous two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, who in 2004 landed on Mars, tasked with 90-sol (day) missions that turned into years of experiments and exploration. Didn’t hurt that they looked sort of like Disney’s Wall-E. I actually got choked up when NASA lost touch with one rover due to sand on the solar panels…only to regain communications when fortuitous winds blew the panels clean. Though Spirit fell completely silent in 2010, Opportunity is still trundling around the Red Planet.

The new rover launched safety and it will take her eight months to get to Mars. Curiosity (follow her on Twitter! @MarsCuriosity) is the larger, stronger, faster, smarter cousin of the earlier rovers. Nuclear powered instead of solar, with more tools aboard including a rock-vaporizing laser, her goal is to prospect for organic molecules which could provide more information about whether Mars could have supported life. Bon voyage, Curiosity!

And last and almost least...

Image from CERN Collective Commons wikiOnly least because neutrinos are very small particles. In September this year, smarty-pants scientists shocked other smarty-pants scientists by announcing that they might have shot particles through the Earth at faster-than-light speeds. (Specifically 60 nanoseconds faster than light. And just to be clear, a nanosecond is one billionth of a second. So not a LOT faster than light.) Since that shoots substantially bigger holes in one of the fundamental understandings of science (that nothing travels faster than light) some scientists believed the findings must have errors. Earlier this month, more tests seem to repeat the findings. How cool is that? We should have our own spaceships by yesterday!

The best part of this story is the word superluminal, which means faster than light. But I also like the idea that something as set in stone as Einstein’s theory of special relativity can change. Okay, maybe it won’tchange, maybe there are errors in the findings, but how fun to think about what it could mean if it did.

Were you a good science student? Or did you get the flu on the day you were supposed to dissect the frog? If you have any favorite science moments, do share!



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