Tuesday, October 21, 2014

10 Nerdy Science Costumes for Halloween

Halloween is only 10 days away and maybe you need a cool (and easy) costume. Because you're reading this, I'm guessing you have more than a casual interest in science. To celebrate this awesome love, here are 10 very nerdy science costumes.

Credit: 3268zauber via Wikimedia Commons

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Nobel Prize Winners Infographic

In the wake of the Nobel Prize announcements earlier this month, we found this great infographic from our friends at Inside Science detailing the demographics of Nobel Prize winners. Winners for the prizes in physics, chemistry, and medicine were included for the infographic.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

55 Years Since the World Sees the Moon's Far Side

55 years ago today mankind first glimpsed the far side of the Moon. You're looking at that first grainy image of an unknown landscape.

The first photograph of the far side of the Moon, taken on October 7th, 1959 by Soviet spacecraft Luna 3.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Grassroots Campaign to get a Physics Nobel for Vera Rubin

Now that the 2014 Nobel Prizes are done, it's time to start looking forward to next year. Why so soon? Because I'm hoping that we can start a grassroots campaign to help Vera Rubin win the physics Nobel in 2015. The nominating process for 2015 began in September and ends in February 2015. So the time to make some noise is now!

Please like the Facebook page lobbying for Vera Rubin's prize next year.

In case you haven't heard of Rubin, she made the first compelling discovery that implies the existence of dark matter. The identity of dark matter is one of the most important questions in modern physics. But thanks to Rubin, we know it's there, and that there's way more of it in the universe than there is of the regular matter we're made of: less than 5% of the mass in the universe made up of regular matter, but more than a quarter of it is dark matter.

That's why Rubin deserves the Noble Prize. And I'm hoping that if enough of us make enough noise about it, we might improve her chances in 2015. (Did I mention that you should like the Facebook page lobbying for Vera Rubin's prize next year?)

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Close Encounter of the Martian Kind

A comet on express delivery from the Oort cloud of rock and ice that surrounds our Solar System makes a close approach of Mars this weekend. Martian satellites are already hunkering down against the potential onslaught of debris.

Comet C/2013 A1, aka Siding Spring, shown as the reddish central object in four snapshots by NASA's NEOWISE mission in July 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL
On Sunday October 19th, comet C/2013 A1, familiarly known as comet Siding Spring, will fly within 87,000 miles of the Martian surface and NASA is determined not to miss the show. Check out their slick animation of how the close encounter will go down. The closest approach distance is tiny on astronomical scales — roughly equal to 1/3 the distance between us and the Moon.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Podcast Repost: Game of Thrones Weather

For this week's podcast, we've dug up an old podcast that we published last year (originally published July 24, 2013). For those that missed it, the podcast covered the physics behind a world like Westeros: the setting for the hit HBO show Game of Thrones. Westeros has highly variable seasons that come at differing times, most notably the impending winter (it's coming!). We spoke with an astrophysicist to see if there could be exoplanets that exhibit similar seasons to this fictional world. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Robot Sand Snakes

If you had no arms and no legs, just how would you propose to climb up a hill? Slither straight up like a snake? Ah, but what if the hill were made of sand?

Physicists have unlocked the mystery by studying the mesmerizing motion of sidewinder rattlesnakes on sandy inclines and successfully mimicking this motion in a robot snake nicknamed 'Elizabeth'.

The robot snake developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University climbs a tree. With modifications inspired by the wave motion in sidewinder snakes, this robot is now able to navigate sloping sand as well.
Credit: Carnegie Mellon University. Courtesy of John Toon.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Massive Study Shows How Languages Change

Originally published: Sep 30 2014 - 7:00pm, Inside Science News Service
By: Joel N. Shurkin, Contributor

(Inside Science)-- More than 100 years ago, the playwright Oscar Wilde had one of his British characters say that England and America "have everything in common nowadays except, of course, language.” It turns out, according to linguists, he was almost right. But lately, the two languages are getting closer.

Languages change over time -- some faster than others. Some reflect changes in the world around them, according to a new paper published by The Royal Society in London. There are universal and historical factors at work, and languages change at varying rates, the scientists found.

The researchers used the Google Books Ngram corpus to monitor word and phrase usage in the past five centuries in eight languages. They drew from 8 million books – roughly 6 percent of all the books ever published, according to Google's own estimates. The books were scanned into a database by Google.

While linguists have always known that the changes vary, this use of the gigantic Google database is by far the largest.

The researchers were an international group that ironically had its own language difficulties.

Image credit: Magdalena Roeseler via Flickr | http://bit.ly/1rDZfLH
Rights information: http://bit.ly/NL51dk

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Friday, October 10, 2014

A Quantum Walk Toward Artificial Intelligence

From the cover of Robot Visions by Isaac Asimov
Your Android phone (or iPhone, if that's how you roll) is an impressive machine, with computing speeds and storage capacities thousands of times those of desktop PCs from only years ago. If Moore's Law holds up, your smart watch may outshine today's phones the way today's phones eclipse old PCs.

But no matter how powerful these machines become, they may never develop true intelligence if we continue to rely on conventional computing technology. According to the authors of a paper published in the journal Physical Review X last July, however, adding a dash of quantum mechanics could do the trick.

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

Finding Resolution in Astronomy and Biology

You may have caught a glance of yesterday's Nobel Prize in chemistry — the science community was awash with the news. Three scientists won the award for pushing the limits of microscope resolution far beyond what was ever thought possible. But you may not know that one of the winners, American physicist Eric Betzig, has continued to push the boundaries of biological imaging by incorporating elements from astronomy.

The Very Large Telescope in Chile using a laser guide star. Credit: Yuri Beletsky (ESO) via Wikimedia Commons

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