Wednesday, January 09, 2008

It's Hip to Be Square: Science in Media

I love to report any kind of media featuring a physics or astrophysics theme, even if the creators steer off course from the real science. This first one deserves a post all it's own. Amazing stuff.

The Music of Space

Sun Rings—The Kronos Quartet and composer Terry Riley have constructed a performance joining a string quartet with recorded space sounds that include deep-space lightening, crackling solar winds, jovian chorus, and others. In addition, the performances feature visual creations by Willie Williams. Music in nature isn't a new idea, but this adds quite a mysterious twist to it. It's actually been going on since 2004, so I'm a bit slow on the up-take.

University of Iowa professor Don Gurnett has collected space sounds for over 40 years. Here’s a sample of one of the sounds he recorded.

Future Performances:
2/24, SUNY Purchase, NY
3/14, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
3/18, Sangamon Auditorium, Springfield, IL
5/16, Dresden International Music Festival, Dresden, Germany

Music Inspired by Science – Big and Small

I’ll just let these songs speak for themselves (although the second one is instrumental). For purely musical reasons, these are two of my favorite songs of the year. The science themes are icing on the cake:

“Atom” by British Sea Power

“The Universe!” by Do Make Say Think

And Finally…Some Sunshine in My Life

The film Sunshine had it's US premier in July, but it didn’t get a very good welcoming in the US, so many of you may not have heard about it. I’ll let you be the judge of the film itself, which you can at least guess will be well-crafted with director Danny Boyle at the helm (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later). The film doesn’t really hold on to the physics ideas it starts out with, and ends up being more like the emotional rollercoaster ride that Event Horizon was. Still...icing on the cake.

The film theorizes that our sun could suddenly be subject to sudden death if a rogue Q-Ball hit it. A Q-Ball is a type of soliton, which is a type of wave that doesn’t change, meaning it maintains its shape indefinitely. A regular soliton can remain unchanged because the forces that would normally change its shape and the forces that would normally reduce its amplitude exactly cancel each other. A Q-Ball has this stability due to a conserved charge. Those are rough descriptions, but the best descriptions are fairly mathematical. There are soliton waves in the ocean that travel for thousands of miles without changing shape or size. It’s a rare event because of how exact the circumstances have to be. Because waves need a medium to move in, like water or air, you can’t just have a soliton running around in space. Some physicists think dark matter is made up of some type of Q-Ball, in which case they might be made up of anti-matter. For that reason they wouldn’t interact with planets, but the fusion process inside a star could cause interaction. It’s also theorized that Q-Balls arise in supersymmetric fields, suggesting they formed at the beginning of the universe and have just been floating around since (this is the idea Sunshine took, and I'm not sure why that allows the Q-Ball to affect stars, but it’s not really mentioned in the film).

Enjoy the trailer (warning, it's not for kiddies), and check out the Sunshine website’s own discussion of the science of the film.

Send any other physics-in-media suggestions you have! Especially ones most people won't have heard about. It’s sooooo cool to be nerdy.

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