Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Moon's not as dry as we think!

Kenny Chang in the The New York Times :


There is water on the Moon, scientists stated unequivocally on Friday.

“Indeed yes, we found water,” Anthony Colaprete, the principal investigator for NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, said in a news conference. “And we didn’t find just a little bit. We found a significant amount.”

The confirmation of scientists’ suspicions is welcome news to explorers who might set up home on the lunar surface and to scientists who hope that the water, in the form of ice accumulated over billions of years, holds a record of the solar system’s history.

The satellite, known as Lcross (pronounced L-cross), crashed into a crater near the Moon’s south pole a month ago. The 5,600-miles-per-hour impact carved out a hole 60 to 100 feet wide and kicked up at least 26 gallons of water.

“We got more than just a whiff,” Peter H. Schultz, a professor of geological sciences at Brown University and a co-investigator of the mission, said in a telephone interview. “We practically tasted it with the impact.”

For more than a decade, planetary scientists have seen tantalizing hints of water ice at the bottom of these cold craters where the sun never shines. The Lcross mission, intended to look for water, was made up of two pieces — an empty rocket stage to slam into the floor of Cabeus, a crater 60 miles wide and 2 miles deep, and a small spacecraft to measure what was kicked up.

More here

Friday, August 28, 2009

Are reckless teens more mature than their conservative counterparts?


From Scientific American:

Thrill seeking and poor judgment go hand in hand when it comes to teenagers—an inevitable part of human development determined by properties of a growing but immature brain. Right? Not so fast. A study being published tomorrow turns that thinking upside down: The brains of teens who behave dangerously are more like adult brains than are those of their more cautious peers.

Psychologists have long believed that the brain's judgment-control systems develop more slowly than emotion-governing systems, not maturing until people are in their mid-20s. Hence, teens end up taking far more risks than adults do. Evidence supporting this idea comes from studies looking at functional and structural properties of gray matter, the important part of the brain that contains the neurons that relay brain signals.

At least two observations undermine this theory, however. First, American-style teen turmoil is absent in more than 100 cultures around the world, suggesting that such mayhem is not biologically inevitable. Second, the brain itself changes in response to experiences, raising the question of whether adolescent brain characteristics are the cause of teen tumult or rather the result of lifestyle and experiences. Because brain research is virtually always correlational in design, determining whether brain properties are causes or effects is impossible.

Now neuroscientists Gregory S. Berns, Sara Moore and Monica Capra of Emory University suggest that teen risk-taking is associated not with an immature brain but with a mature, adultlike brain—exactly the opposite of conventional wisdom.

More here

My interpretation:

I was quite shocked with these results. I always thought that the conservative teens were more mature because they could control their temptations. However, this article got me thinking.

In a population of teenagers, there will always be a small percentage of teens who are more mature and ahead of their time. This could probably be due to their living environment or even their genetics.

Generally, the teens that are more mature have a much greater capacity to grow compared to average teens. However, that capacity needs to be filled up with a lot more substance compared to average teens. Thus, in order to fill up their large capacity, these teens absorb many values from their surroundings... and very rapidly too. Thus, in order to ensure these teens grow with the correct values, they need to be provided with ample guidance.

Here comes the problem. Many a time, they are unable to receive the guidance that they need to fill in their enlarged growth capacity. This situation is mainly due to the values of the American society(since this study was done in the USA)- the fact that American teenagers are usually distant from their parents. Thus, these teenagers turn to their friends to fill in their large growth capacity. Most of the time, they get negatively influenced into high-risk activities. This results in the reckless teenagers many see today.

However, as explained above, the reckless teenagers are actually mature, just that they were guided in the wrong direction. This is probably the reason why the test results showed reckless teenagers being more mature than their conservative counterparts.

However, the opposite can also apply. Conservative teens can also be mature given that they were well guided. So one cannot make an assumption that reckless teens are the only teenagers that are mature.

Lastly, I think the research team that found these results should venture abroad to other countries to conduct similar tests on teenagers too. I am certain they will find much different results in those countries because of the different values of their societies.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Jupiter's remarkable significance

video

Hello readers!

The video shown above is of Jupiter. I took it about 4 months ago when the skies in Singapore had lower levels of haze. Well you can see Jupiter, the big bright sphere, and its 4 moons- Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto quite clearly. Just for one's knowledge, each moon is about the size of the Earth. I think you get the "big picture" of Jupiter now!

My view in this post will be about these 4 moons and their historical significance to science.

Just about 399 years ago, Galileo Galilei observed these moons with his home made telescope. He thought that they were 3 stars in line near Jupiter. After frequent observations, he saw a 4rth star and soon realized that the "stars" kept changing orientation but never really moved out of the vicinity of Jupiter. This led him to conclude that those celestial objects were not stars but celestial bodies orbiting Jupiter, just like our luna.

This was a really big moment for Galileo Galilei. He had been a believer in the Copernican system, which involved heliocentricism, and this discovery meant a breakthrough as he had just proven geocentricism wrong. The discovery of the moons meant not everything orbited around the Earth, putting an end to the enforced beliefs of geocentricism.

I believe that after this discovery, a true scientific revolution began. Let me explain. Imagine if we humans were not educated and were told that Earth was in the centre of the universe and everything revolved around us. We would feel as if we were the most important beings because everything revolves around us. This would hinder our ability to ask questions and discover new ideas because we would feel as if those questions were too small for our presence in the self-centered universe. Thus, we would never develop.

However, due to Galilei's discovery, we now know just how small and insignificant we are, being a tiny planet in the universe, helplessly revolving around the Sun. This seems, in a way, demoralising. Nevertheless, this is what brought about the scientific revolution. Because we knew we were insignificant in the universe, we became humble and bothered to experiment and question, looking far beyond our own reaches. Because we knew we were insignificant, we advanced to where we are now.

Just imagine if Galilei was too lazy or maybe too tired that evening. Just imagine if he did not search for those moons. If this would have happened, ignorance would have been the next most abundant element after hydrogen! We humans would probably still be stuck with our primordial beliefs. So, every time I go for my astronomy sessions, I always silently offer my gratitude to the stark and beautiful Jupiter and its moons as they indirectly created modern science.

If you have read this post, do remember the remarkable story behind Jupiter the next time you see a really big, bright, white star-like object in the night sky.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Doomsday

Recently, I've been reading a book called Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku. Kaku is one of the world's leading theoretical physicists and is one of the founders of the string theory, which is the leading candidate for the Grand Unified theory.

This book is beyond interesting. I started reading a few pages and I couldn't put the book down for next hour and a half.
I read about a hundred pages. Kaku basically provides a relatively detailed account of how theories like the Big Bang theory were discovered. Till where i read, the book showed that back in the early 1900s, scientists knew that the universe was expanding exponentially. Many of the claims made by scientists got me thinking. I do not mean to oppose the claims of scientists, I only wish to communicate my view on their claims.

I wish to discuss one of the issues because, being a Buddhist, it means a lot in my life. The issue is about Doomsday. Since the discovery of the expansion of the universe and the Big Bang, there have been many theories about our world ending. For example the Big Crunch. This suggests that the universe would become increasingly dense, exceeding critical density, and then the gravitational force would cause the expansion of the universe to stop. The universe would then collapse into itself. Another example is the Big Freeze. This suggests that the density of the universe would be below critical density and the expansion of the universe would continue forever, till the universe becomes too cold to sustain life. Lastly, there is the Big Rip. This suggests that the rate of expansion of the universe increases so rapidly that in a finite amount of time, matter would be ripped apart.

All these theories are very fascinating. But have we reached the stage where we can be deterministic about the universe? Do we have all the facts and answers to make conclusions? I believe there is a cosmic force that is missing from modern science. Let me explain my claims.


Before studying the macrocosm of the universe, I believe we should study the microcosm of it, such as the Earth. Why? Just like the very atoms of an element can tell the characteristics of the element during a chemical reaction- the structure of the macrocosm can be deduced by understanding the structure of the microcosm. Just like, for example, one can ask, how can one prove atomically large alkali metals, like Rubidium, are very reactive, without looking at their reaction with water? We can see that their large atoms lose their valence electron easily due to electron shielding or the screening effect. This corresponds to their high reactivity. In this way, we look at the micro level to deduce the macro level.

Similarly, I believe we can look at the Earth, it being at a relatively micro scale with the universe, and decide from our observations what the universe would be like. One prominent phenomena observed on Earth, involving nature, is conservation. All living organisms respire to provide energy to survive. They release carbon dioxide which plants use to synthesise food. The food is once again consumed by the primary, secondary and tertiary organisms. Moreover, when organisms excrete waste substances, they can be broken down and used as nutrients by plants or bacteria. When organisms die, their bodies are broken down by bacteria, providing nutrients for plants. Plants use these nutrients to grow and provide even more food. Basically, nothing is ever lost. In this closed system, everything is conserved.

This same law of nature has to manifest itself in the heavens too.


My final point is that we should not believe in the "Doomsday". Essentially, it will never come. Since everything in the universe is conserved, if our universe does somehow get destroyed, we will return to continue the cycle of conservation.
Essentially, death is impossible if one believes in this eternal law.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Discovery of element 112

video
More at PeriodicVideos

Element 112, Ununbium, has been discovered just recently!

I think it's a great breakthrough for Chemistry but a great downturn for etymology.

Apparently, they fired atoms of Zinc-30 and Lead-82 at each other in a particle accelerator and they happened to fuse to form an atom with a nucleon number of 112. I think the atom lasted for a fraction of a second and then decayed. Its short life still concludes its existence. I think this is great for chemistry because now one can create an atom, which may be rare, by colliding two other atoms whose nucleon numbers add up to the nucleon number of the rare one.

As much as a breakthrough it is, I do feel the naming system by IUPAC is quite odd. Let me share my thoughts.I always wondered why there were strange names like these in the periodic table, with such periodicity too; there being 5 elements named in this "Unun..." manner. This video explains it. Un refers to 1 and bi refers to 2. So basically Ununbium refers to 1-1-2 or element 112. It is just a number name without historical significance. Not exactly etymological, is it?

I wonder why are they named after their numbers, why not naming it after great scientists who have yet to be honoured?

An amusing thought just came to my mind. Imagine everybody were to be named after our birthday date in the same manner as the new elements! There would probably be a couple of million or more people with the same name. Moreover, imagine how long they'd be! Someone born on the 1st of January, 1993, would be named, Unununnannantrium. Imagine pronouncing that!

Well, I hope the scientists at IUPAC will reconsider their nomenclature.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Something interesting about the lives of stars!

Life of stars...it's an interesting process. And to think it happens all around us.

Read the following article.

Take note of how the star's life begins, with a gravitational disturbance from a nearby exploding star called a supernova.


From Craig Freudenrich in HowStarsWork
Life of a Star
As we mentioned before, stars are large balls of gases. New stars form from large, cold (10 degrees Kelvin) clouds of dust and gas (mostly hydrogen) that lie between existing stars in a galaxy.

  1. Usually, some type of gravity disturbance happens to the cloud such as the passage of a nearby star or the shock wave from an exploding supernova.
  2. The disturbance causes clumps to form inside the cloud.
  3. The clumps collapse inward drawing gas inward by gravity.
  4. The collapsing clump compresses and heats up.
  5. ...
  6. ...
  7. ...
  8. ...
  9. When the temperature of the protostar reaches about 7 million degrees Kelvin, hydrogen begins to fuse to make helium and release energy.
  10. ...
  11. ...
  12. ...


Stars More Massive Than the Sun
When the core runs out of hydrogen, these stars fuse helium into carbon just like the Sun. However, after the helium is gone, their mass is enough to fuse carbon into heavier elements such as oxygen, neon, silicon, magnesium, sulfur and iron. Once the core has turned to iron, it can burn no longer. The star collapses by its own gravity and the iron core heats up. The core becomes so tightly packed that protons and electrons merge to form neutrons. In less than a second, the iron core, which is about the size of the Earth, shrinks to a neutron core with a radius of about 6 miles (10 kilometers). The outer layers of the star fall inward on the neutron core, thereby crushing it further. The core heats to billions of degrees and explodes (supernova), thereby releasing large amounts of energy and material into space. The shock wave from the supernova can initiate star formation in other interstellar clouds. The remains of the core can form a neutron star or a black hole depending upon the mass of the original star.



More at http://science.howstuffworks.com/star6.htm


My Interpretation

Take notice of how a star dies. In its final process, it creates a supernova where it explodes and creates a shock wave. This shock wave can and does initiate star formations nearby. I found this very relevant to my own beliefs.

I believe in reincarnation, that nobody ever ultimately dies. They always return to this world to continue living, to serve their karma. This concept of star life and death emphasizes and sort of philosophically proves it. Just imagine a massive star running out of its nuclear hydrogen fuel. Something like a person reaching his last few days of life. The star undergoes many changes and ultimately, or most of the time, explodes. This is signified by the person's death. However, the explosion triggers nearby gas clouds to clump together and form another star. This is signified by the life of another coming to this world, ready to live and thrive. This young one lives and thrives till he reaches his supernova, or death, only to continue the eternal process again.

When i thought of this, it seemed so powerful and profoundly simple. That this eternal law of life even projects itself through the dynamism of the heavens and it is simply continuous; there being no power to stop it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Enormity

I am and have been very intrigued by the human mind and ways of thinking and also the immense size of space.

Everyday i look at the sky. At night, myself and many others observe the stars and the luna. I never really understood the enormity of the world, or say, the universe.

Well, the reason i did not see the enormity is because there is no relative aspect of the sky. Let me explain my understanding of relativity first.

Say, John goes shopping. He really likes a pair of Nike Shoes. He wants to buy them. However, when he looks at the Adidas shoes next to it, he immediately changes his mind and gets hellbent on buying the Adidas ones. Okay by the way i don't really like or support Adidas.. Its just an example.

So, he wants to buy the Adidas ones. When he looks at the Nike ones at the next instant, he has no intention of buying it anymore, right? We decipher materialistic aspects by comparison, or by relativity. We always judge something as compared to something else.

This is fundamentally relativity.


However, i never used relativity when observing the sky. I observed the sky as an absolute phenomena.


So one night i was walking past my high rise flat building. It was a superbly clear night and i looked vertically upwards, with the building and the stars in my line of sight. I had actually observed the height of the stars and compared it to that of the building. Then relativity did the rest. This was my new relative aspect of the sky. And only after this i realized just how huge this world is, as compared to what i thought. I felt a feeling of nothingness, though, i still felt something!


This sky that i saw was only the atmosphere of the Earth. It's nothing as compared to the size of the solar system, let alone our galaxy.

Some cosmologists even say that if we were to consider our Milky way as a thumb pin, our entire universe would be the size of China. Just imagine that. And furthermore, it is still expanding exponentially. I find this very remarkable.

Try this out and i hope you will be moved the way i was.

Will write more soon, thank you very much for your time if you have read this post.