Lost planet

Saw this article on Discover.com earlier this month and thought it was really interesting: The Solar System’s Lost Planet.

Nesvorny, who runs computer simulations to study how the solar system evolved over time, kept encountering the same problem: The four giant gas planets, whose orbits are comfortably far apart from each other today, kept violently jostling with each other in his models of the early solar system. Jupiter would end up tugging on Uranus or Neptune and casting one of them out into interstellar space. Obviously, that never happened. So Nesvorny came up with a clever explanation: He proposed that a fifth gas giant emerged from the planet-birthing cloud 4.5 billion years ago. Suddenly his simulations started matching reality. The outer planets still jockeyed for position, but this time Jupiter spared Uranus and Neptune and ejected the extra planet instead.

Not that we’d ever be able to know if this is correct (probably), but it certainly sounds logical. I just hope the Planet X/Nibiru nuts don’t jump all over this as proof of pending doom.

Timeline of the far future

On a similar topic to my previous post about the scale of the universe, I’ve been enjoying Wikipedia’s Timeline of the far future for equal amounts of mind-boggling scale. Really, once you hit 1020 years from now the numbers are pretty much meaningless to realistic human comprehension. But when you start hitting the exponents of the exponents? Like 10^10^50 (or to steal Wikipedia’s image: 10^{10^{50}})  then all you can really do is quote:

Although listed in years for convenience, the numbers beyond this point are so vast that their digits would remain unchanged regardless of which conventional units they were listed in, be they nanoseconds or star lifespans.

The Scale of the Universe

I realized I missed posting in April entirely(!), and I don’t like the look of the gap in the archive calendar, so I’m back-dating this entry.

And you need to check this out, a Flash-animated Scale of the Universe that is simply mind-boggling. From the smallest structures known (quantum foam, the Planck length) to the largest (the size of the observable universe), that you can zoom in and out on, and it’s all to scale (relative to the zoom level). The coolest thing I’ve seen online lately.

Yuri’s Night

Tomorrow, April 12th, is a pretty momentous date: it is the 50th anniversary of the first human being to launch into space (which took place on April 12, 1961) by Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Appropriately enough, the 12th is also when Yuri’s Night is celebrated, a sort of unofficial holiday “world space party” that commemorates that first flight.

As someone who grew up with a deep interest in space and astronomy (not to mention science and science fiction) I love the idea of Yuri’s Night and I love what the website is doing: presenting a registry of events that are taking place around the world for the event, and letting people register more at no cost. Mostly it seems entirely fitting to celebrate the occasion; it would be neat to have a Yuri’s Night event here in Bend, but it seems the nearest is Portland.

50 years of manned spaceflight. That’s something to think about.

Central Oregon dinosaur

This article in the Bulletin Monday caught my eye: Dinosaur discovery. Part of a plesiosaur was unearthed over near Prineville last summer:

The self-trained paleontologists found what is believed to be the first remains of a marine reptile called the plesiosaur that has been found in the Pacific Northwest.

It is also thought to be only the third vertebrate fossil uncovered in the area so far from a rock formation that dates back to the Cretaceous period, the last of the three periods of the Dinosaur Age….

When South Dakota paleontologist James Martin excavated the site in May on behalf of the BLM, he found at least two nearly complete teeth, tooth fragments and a 3-foot-long lower jawbone of a 90 to 100 million-year-old plesiosaur. The pieces may constitute 80 percent of its lower jaw.

Martin thinks it was from a large-headed, short-necked plesiosaur that was 25 feet long from head to tail.

Pretty cool stuff—it’s a long article (for the Bulletin), gets into detail about plesiosaurs. And, there’s another first that I’m aware of: using Wikipedia as a source (and citing it in the article). That seems to me to be pretty clueful. Have they mentioned Wikipedia before?

Treknobabble on Slashdot

In the science fiction world, “technobabble” refers to the use of technical or scientific jargon strung together so that to listeners unfamiliar with the language, it sounds like made-up nonsense. When relating to Star Trek, a derivative and more derogatory concept shows up: “treknobabble,” which, in the words of Wikipedia, “is used humorously by fans of the various Star Trek television series, and disparagingly by its critics, to describe the infamous amount of pseudoscientific gibberish inserted seemingly at random into many episodes of these television series.”

Well, on Slashdot tonight this article contains the most ridiculous real-world treknobabble I’ve ever seen:

A one-dimensional [Bose-Einstein condensation] in an optical lattice is rapidly rotated, causing a quantized vortex to form. The bosonic part of the superstring consists of this vortex line. Inside the vortex, they would trap an ultracold cloud of fermionic atoms. Hopefully this will allow observation of the supersymmetry between bosons and fermions, thus providing the first experimental evidence to support superstring theory.

That makes no sense to me whatsoever, and yet it’s the funniest thing I’ve read all day.