Author: Starts With A Bang!

This Is Why The Soviet Union Lost ‘The S…

This Is Why The Soviet Union Lost ‘The Space Race’ To The USA

“Korolev began designing the Soyuz spacecraft that would carry crews to the Moon, as well as the Luna vehicles that would land softly on the Moon, plus robotic missions to Mars and Venus. Korolev also sought to fulfill Tsiolkovsky’s dream of putting humans on Mars, with plans for closed-loop life support systems, electrical rocket engines, and orbiting space stations to serve as interplanetary launch sites.

But it was not to be: Korolev entered the hospital on January 5, 1966, for what was thought to be routine intestinal surgery. Nine days later, he was dead from colon cancer complications. Without Korolev as the chief designer, everything went downhill quickly for the Soviets. While he was alive, Korolev fended off attempted meddling from designers like Mikhail Yangel, Vladimir Chhelomei, and Valentin Glushko. But the power vacuum that arose after his demise proved catastrophic.”

On July 20th of this year, humanity will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first human footsteps on the surface of another world: the Moon. Yet history could have been vastly different had one man in the Soviet space program, Sergei Korolev, not suddenly died. The mastermind behind Soviet rockets and most of the major successes of the 1950s and early-to-mid 1960s, Korolev had plans to have humans orbit the Moon in 1967 and land on it in 1968. It’s interesting to think that the USA didn’t take the lead as much as the Soviets lost it, and that’s largely due to the death of one man alone. 

Come get the story of Sergei Korolev, and learn how one man almost single-handedly made the dream of humans on the Moon and beyond come true.

Sorry, Black Holes Aren’t Actually Black

Sorry, Black Holes Aren’t Actually Black

“If you have an astrophysical object that emits radiation, that immediately defies the definition of black: where something is a perfect absorber while itself emitting zero radiation. If you’re emitting anything, you aren’t black, after all.

So it goes for black holes. The most perfectly black object in all the Universe isn’t truly black. Rather, it emits a combination of all the radiation from all the objects that ever fell into it (which will asymptote to, but never reach, zero) along with the ultra-low-temperature but always-present Hawking radiation.

You might have thought that black holes truly are black, but they aren’t. Along with the ideas that black holes suck everything into them and black holes will someday consume the Universe, they’re the three biggest myths about black holes. Now that you know, you’ll never get fooled again!”

So, you thought you knew all there way to know about black holes? That if you get enough mass together in a small enough volume of space, you create an event horizon: a region from within which nothing can escape, not even light. So how is it, then, that black holes wind up emitting radiation, even long after the last particle of matter to fall into them has ceased?

There are two ways this occurs, and both are completely unavoidable. Black holes aren’t actually black, and this is how we know it.

This Is Everything That’s Wrong With Our…

This Is Everything That’s Wrong With Our Definition Of ‘Planet’

“There are many people who would love to see Pluto regain its planetary status, and there’s a part of me that grew up with planetary Pluto that’s extraordinarily sympathetic to that perspective. But including Pluto as a planet necessarily results in a Solar System with far more than nine planets. Pluto is only the 8th largest non-planet in our Solar System, and is clearly a larger-than-average but otherwise typical member of the Kuiper belt. It will never be the 9th planet again.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We may be headed towards a world where astronomers and planetary scientists work with very different definitions of what attains planethood, but we all study the same objects in the same Universe. Whatever we call objects — however we choose to classify them — makes them no less interesting or worthy of study. The cosmos simply exists as it is. It’s up to the very human endeavor of science to make sense of it all.”

Next month will mark 13 years since the International Astronomical Union (IAU) officially defined the term planet and ‘Plutoed’ our Solar System’s (up-until-that-point) 9th planet. With an additional 13 years of knowledge, understanding, data, and discoveries, though, did they get the decision right?

Certainly, there were aspects that needed to be revised, but the IAU’s definition comes along with some major gaps and mistakes. We can do better! Come learn how.

New Method For Tracing Dark Matter Reveals Its…

New Method For Tracing Dark Matter Reveals Its Location, Abundance As Never Before

“By measuring the distorted light from distant galaxies behind a galaxy cluster, scientists can reconstruct the total cluster mass. In every galaxy cluster, the majority of the mass is outside of the galaxies: there is a huge dark matter halo. The intracluster gas, however, may be distributed differently, as normal matter can collide and heat up, emitting X-rays. But individual stars, ejected from galaxies, should trace the same path as the dark matter. In a cosmic first, scientists measured this intracluster light, and found it traces out the dark matter perfectly.”

If you want to know where the dark matter is located in the Universe, you had to infer its presence and abundance by measuring the gravitational effects it had on space. When it comes to large-scale structures, like galaxy clusters, this often involved exceedingly difficult reconstructions involving gravitational lensing, and relied on serendipitous alignments of observable background structures. But a new study has concocted an alternative method that works extremely well: just measure the intracluster light from stars that have been ejected from the component galaxies.

Well, with the first two clusters down, we have a verdict: it’s the best dark matter-tracer of all time. Come get the remarkable story today!

Ask Ethan: Why Do Gravitational Waves Travel E…

Ask Ethan: Why Do Gravitational Waves Travel Exactly At The Speed Of Light?

We know that the speed of electromagnetic radiation can be derived from Maxwell’s equation[s] in a vacuum. What equations (similar to Maxwell’s – perhaps?) offer a mathematical proof that Gravity Waves must travel [at the] speed of light?

If you were to somehow make the Sun disappear, you would still see its emitted light for 8 minutes and 20 seconds: the amount of time it takes light to travel from the Sun to the Earth across 150,000,000 km of space. But what about gravitation? Would the Earth continue to orbit where the Sun was for that same 8 minutes and 20 seconds, or would it fly off in a straight line immediately?

There are two ways to look at this puzzle: theoretically and experimentally/observationally. From a theoretical point of view, this represents one of the most profound differences from Newton’s gravitation to Einstein’s, and demonstrates what a revolutionary leap General Relativity was. Observationally, we only had indirect measurements until 2017, where we determined the speed of gravity and the speed of light were equal to 15 significant digits!

Gravitational waves do travel at the speed of light, which equals the speed of gravity to a better precision than ever. Here’s how we know.

No, The Laws Of Physics Are Not The Same Forwa…

No, The Laws Of Physics Are Not The Same Forwards And Backwards In Time

“It took the creation of over 400 million ϒ(4s) particles to detect time-reversal violation directly, and this was accomplished by the BaBar collaboration back in 2012. The test for the reversal of initial and final entangled states is, to date, the only direct test ever performed to see if T-symmetry is conserved or violated in a direct fashion. Just as anticipated, the weak interactions violate this T-symmetry, proving that the laws of physics are not identical whether time runs forwards or backwards.

In particle physics, the gold standard for experimental significance is a threshold of 5-sigma. Yet BaBar physicists achieved a significance of 14-sigma: a remarkable accomplishment. The reason you’ve likely never heard about it? It was overshadowed by slightly bigger particle physics news occurring in the same year: the discovery of the Higgs boson. But this result maybe Nobel-worthy, too. The laws of nature are not the same forwards and backwards in time. After seven years, it’s time the world felt the impact of this discovery.”

Imagine you took a ball and threw it off of a tower, watching its trajectory as it flew through the air and eventually hit the ground. If you were to take that same ball and throw it with the right speed and angle from the ground, it would fly through the air and wind up exactly at the point it was launched from in the first example. It would, in fact, follow the exact same trajectory as if you video recorded the first throw and ran the video backwards in time. This is called time-reversal invariance, and it’s valid for Newton’s laws of motion. But it isn’t valid for all laws of physics! 

We once thought they were, and there’s only ever been one experiment to measure its violation directly: BaBar, in 2012. Here’s what we know and how we know it!

The Quantum Physics That Makes Fireworks Possi…

The Quantum Physics That Makes Fireworks Possible

“Fireworks might appear to be relatively simple explosive devices. Pack a charge into the bottom of a tube to lift the fireworks to the desired height, ignite a fuse of the proper length to reach the burst charge at the peak of its trajectory, explode the burst charge to distribute the stars at a high temperature, and then watch and listen to the show as the sound, light, and color washes over you.

Yet if we look a little deeper, we can understand how quantum physics underlies every single one of these reactions. Add a little bit extra — such as propulsion or fuel inside each star — and your colored lights can spin, rise, or thrust in a random direction. Make sure you enjoy your fourth of July safely, but also armed with the knowledge that empowers you to understand how the most spectacular human-made light show of the year truly works!”

Fireworks have been around for more than a millennium, and universally contain the same four stages: a lift charge, a fuse, a burst charge, and stars. Yet even though we don’t particularly think about it frequently, quantum physics underlies each and every one of these stages, and is absolutely required if we want to understand how the light and color we see arises from simply heating/igniting different elements, ions, and chemical compounds.

Come celebrate the Fourth of July with a little science knowledge about fireworks, no matter where in the world you’re located!

This Is How Mastering Dark Matter Could Take U…

This Is How Mastering Dark Matter Could Take Us To The Stars

“Because dark matter is everywhere, we wouldn’t even need to carry it with us as we traversed the Universe. As far as we understand it — and admittedly, we need to understand it a lot farther — dark matter could truly deliver our dream of the ultimate fuel. It’s abundant all throughout our galaxy and beyond; it should have a non-zero annihilation cross-section with itself; and when it does annihilate, it should produce energy with 100% efficiency.

Perhaps, then, most of us have been thinking about experiments seeking to directly detect dark matter all wrong. Yes, we want to know what makes up the Universe, and what the physical properties of its various abundant components truly are. But there’s a science-fiction dream that could come true if nature is kind to us: unlimited, free energy just waiting there for us to harness, no matter where in the galaxy we go.

Mastering dark matter is the endeavor that just might make it so.”

When we talk about our dreams of traveling to the stars, it normally involves a mythical, futuristic form of travel that goes beyond the known laws of physics. Why’s that? Because even if you increase the efficiency of your rocket fuel far beyond the limitations of any chemical-based reaction we know of, you’d still be limited in how far you could go by the mass of your spacecraft and the fuel you were able to take with you on board. You’d still have to accelerate (and decelerate) all the fuel you brought with you, until you ran out. If only there were a 100%-efficient fuel source that was ubiquitous all throughout the galaxy and beyond. 

There is: dark matter. Here’s why it’s so important to study, understand, and eventually, fulfill the dream of harnessing it!

No, Black Holes Will Never Consume The Univers…

No, Black Holes Will Never Consume The Universe

“Yes, there will be a very, very small number of stars, planets, asteroids and more that do get consumed by black holes, but it will be less than 0.1% of all the matter presently in the Universe. Even dark matter will remain in the outskirts of galaxies, unable to be eaten by black holes.

You might think that after googols and googols of years, anything still present in a galaxy will eventually be consumed, but don’t forget about Hawking radiation: eventually, all the Universe’s black holes will decay, too. Before any substantial fraction of the remaining galactic matter — normal or dark — can be devoured, every black hole in the Universe will have completely decayed away. If something dear to you does fall into a black hole, don’t despair. Try waiting instead. If you’re clever enough, you’ll not only get its energy back again someday, but most likely its information, too.”

About a month ago, I gave a talk in Hungary at their big international event: Brain Bar, where I spoke about the biggest myths about black holes. One of them is the idea that eventually, if you wait around for long enough, black holes will consume the entire Universe. It makes sense to think that this could happen, since gravity is real, there are close to a billion black holes in our galaxy, objects do randomly collide with one another, and gravitational radiation cause all bound masses to eventually inspiral into one another. But, as it turns out, something else happens first.

The overwhelming majority of matter will never find its way into a black hole, and black holes won’t consume the Universe. Here’s what happens instead.

7 Fascinating Facts About 2019’s Only To…

7 Fascinating Facts About 2019’s Only Total Solar Eclipse

“3.) Optimally situated viewers will experience 4 minutes and 33 seconds of totality.

With Earth near aphelion and the Moon near perigee, it’s nearly twice the duration of 2017’s eclipse.”

On July 2, 2019, the world will experience a total solar eclipse: the only one of the year. Unlike the famous 2017 solar eclipse which spanned the continental United States, this year’s total solar eclipse occurs almost exactly coincident with both lunar perigee, where the Moon is closest to Earth, and solar aphelion, where the Sun is at its farthest point from Earth. July 2nd is just 2 days before our annual aphelion and 3 days before our monthly perigee, meaning that we’ll get 4 minutes and 33 seconds of totality during maximum eclipse: nearly twice as long as 2017′s maximum totality and the longest total solar eclipse we’ll experience until 2027.

What will we learn? What will we see? And how can you observe it from anywhere in the world? Find out these and more amazing facts before the eclipse passes!