It may not be obvious while lying in the sun on a hot summer’s day, but a considerable amount of heat is also coming from below you – emanating from deep within the Earth. This heat is equivalent to more than three times the total power consumption of the entire world and drives important geological processes, such as the movement of tectonic plates and the flow of magma near the surface of the Earth. But despite this, where exactly up to half of this heat actually comes from is a mystery.
How chemical reactions on a lifeless planet floating around in the cold darkness of space can suddenly give rise to living organisms is one of the biggest questions in science. We don’t even know whether the molecular building blocks of life on Earth were created here or whether they were brought here by comets and meteorites.
The search for life elsewhere in the universe is one of the most compelling aspects of modern science. Given its scientific importance, significant resources are devoted to this young science of astrobiology, ranging from rovers on Mars to telescopic observations of planets orbiting other stars.
Decades after Enrico Fermi’s uttered his famous words – “Where is everybody?” – the Paradox that bears his name still haunts us. Despite repeated attempts to locate radio signals coming from space and our ongoing efforts to find visible indications of alien civilizations in distant star systems, the search extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI) has yet to produce anything substantive.
NASA has released beautiful new images from humanity’s closest encounter with Jupiter’s majestic Great Red Spot. On July 11, the Juno spacecraft passed about 5,600 miles above the swirling maelstrom – so close that we were given an unprecedented view of the 10,000 mile-wide storm.
Within the realm of physics, there are certain barriers that human beings have come to recognize. The most well-known is the speed of light, the maximum speed at which all conventional matter and all forms of information in the Universe can travel. This is a barrier that humanity may never be able to push past, mainly because doing so violate one of the most fundamental laws of physics – Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.
The fitness industry is said to be worth £4.4 billion in the UK alone. But, despite medical research telling us that exercise will help us live longer, the majority of people do not engage with health and fitness. Could it be that exercise is still considered a punishment – as it was in Victorian prisons? Or do we just need to increase the fun and social aspect to exercise to get more of us working up a sweat?
In 2013, the European Space Agency launched the Gaia spacecraft. As the successor to the Hipparcos mission, this space observatory has spent the past three and a half years gathering data on the cosmos. Before it retires sometime next year (though the mission could be extended), this information will be used to construct the largest and most precise 3D astronomical map ever created.
Most people know that it’s important to get enough vitamin D. Among other things, it’s vital for bone and muscle health. What people may not know is that there are two types of vitamin D: vitamin D2 (found in plant-based foods) and vitamin D3 (found in meat and fish).
The Universe is an extremely big place. As astronomers looked farther into space over the centuries, and deeper into the past, they came to understand just how small and insignificant our planet and our species seem by comparison. At the same time, ongoing investigations into electromagnetism and distant stars led scientists to deduce what the the speed of light is – and that it is the fastest speed obtainable.
NASA’s orbiter Cassini will make a series of decreasing orbits that will end in a fiery death dive into Saturn’s atmosphere in September. This deliberate termination of a still serviceable spacecraft is to comply with “planetary protection” protocols, designed to minimise the risk of depositing stowaway Earth microbes into an environment where they might be able to reproduce.
After 50 years of sending rockets, satellites, and payloads into orbit, humanity has created something of a “space junk” problem. Recent estimates indicate that there are more than 170 million pieces of debris up there, ranging in size from less than 1 cm (o.4 in) to a few meters in diameter. Not only does this junk threaten spacecraft and the ISS, but collisions between bits of debris can cause more to form, a phenomena known as the Kessler Effect.
Do you hate vegetables? You’re not alone. About 20% of the population are “super-tasters”. Super-tasters have more taste buds than other people and are super sensitive to the bitter compounds found in some food and drinks, even at low concentrations. If you have inherited super-taster genes then cruciferous vegetables (flower vegetables in the cabbage family) like bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, radish, swede, turnip, and watercress will taste disgusting.
Does science inspire fiction or does it work the other way around? In the case of medical technology, the long-running TV and film series Star Trek has increasingly been inspiring researchers worldwide. Two teams were recently awarded the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize for developing handheld devices that can diagnose a range of diseases and check a patient’s vital signs without invasive tests – inspired by Star Trek’s medical “tricorder” device.
The satellite Micius, launched from Jiuquan, China, in August last year, is unlike any other in the sky. While other satellites communicate with Earth using physics worked out by James Clerk Maxwell 150 years ago, Micius is the world’s first quantum-enabled satellite. And now, it has conclusively proved its quantum credentials.
If you have a blocked or runny nose, chances are you’ll reach for a tissue or hanky to clear the mucus by having a good blow.But is there a right way to blow your nose? Could some ways make your cold worse? And could you actually do some damage?
Scientists recently discovered the hottest planet ever found – with a surface temperature greater than some stars. As the hunt for planets outside our own solar system continues, we have discovered many other worlds with extreme features. And the ongoing exploration of our own solar system has revealed some pretty weird contenders, too. Here are seven of the most extreme.
When you consider that age of the Universe – 13.8 billion years by our most recent counts – and that which is “observable” to us measures about 27.6 billion light years in diameter, you begin to wonder why we haven’t found signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence (ETI) beyond our Solar System. To paraphrase Enrico Fermi, the 20th century physicists who advanced the famous Fermi Paradox – “where the heck are all the aliens?”
When you need to remember a phone number, a shopping list or a set of instructions, you rely on what psychologists and neuroscientists refer to as working memory. It’s the ability to hold and manipulate information in mind, over brief intervals. It’s for things that are important to you in the present moment, but not 20 years from now.
From prayer and sacrifice to sunbathing, humans have worshipped the sun since time immemorial. And it’s no wonder. At around 150m km away, it is close enough to provide the light, heat and energy to sustain the entire human race. But despite the fact that our parent star has been studied extensively with modern telescopes – both from home and in space – there’s a lot we don’t know about it.
Scientists have long tried to explain the origin of a mysterious, large and anomalously cold region of the sky. In 2015, they came close to figuring it out as a study showed it to be a “supervoid” in which the density of galaxies is much lower than it is in the rest of the universe. However, other studies haven’t managed to replicate the result.
Most people say that if there is a healthy choice on a menu they will take it. But observations and research show this is generally not the case. Instead, people tend to make choices based on how food tastes. Typically, the more sugar, salt and fat in the food, the more we will like it. Genetics, experience and environment also influence our perception of food and the consumption choices we make.
Collapsing stars are a rare thing to witness. And when astronomers are able to catch a star in the final phase of its evolution, it is a veritable feast for the senses. Ordinarily, this process consists of a star undergoing gravitational collapse after it has exhausted all of its fuel, and shedding its outer layers in a massive explosion (aka. a supernova). However, sometimes, stars can form black holes without the preceding massive explosion.
Not so long ago, people like my Aunt Muriel thought of sunburn as a necessary evil on the way to a “good base tan.” She used to slather on the baby oil while using a large reflector to bake away. Aunt Muriel’s mantra when the inevitable burn and peel appeared: Beauty has its price.
I’d like to think we’re smarter than the Sun. Let’s compare and contrast. Humans, on the one hand, have made enormous advances in science and technology, built cities, cars, computers, and phones. We have split the atom for war and for energy.
The announcement of a seven-planet system around the star TRAPPIST-1 earlier this year set off a flurry of scientific interest. Not only was this one of the largest batches of planets to be discovered around a single star, the fact that all seven were shown to be terrestrial (rocky) in nature was highly encouraging. Even more encouraging was the fact that three of these planets were found to be orbiting with the star’s habitable zone.
When the Golden Gate Bridge went up, it was the longest suspended bridge span in the world – cables hold up the roadway between two towers, with no intermediate supports. And the setting had a number of inherent challenges. It cost about US$37 million at the time; building the same structure today would cost about a billion dollars. So how has the design held up over the past 80 years – and would we do things differently if we were starting from scratch today?
We seem to be fascinated by holograms or at least the promise of what they can do. Think the famous Princess Leia projection in Star Wars; holographic fashion shows in New York, Hamburg and Beijing; the massive success of synthetic pop star Hatsune Miku in Japan, or recent reports of holographic politicians in France.