The Solar System's Lost Planet

Four and a half billion years ago, the place we now call the solar system was a vast cloud of gas and dust enshrouding a newborn star. Gradually those dust grains cohered and formed pebbles, which then collided and coalesced into boulders. Over the course of about 100 million years, most of the material in that nebulous cloud accreted into the existing eight planets—four rocky (including Earth) and four gaseous. Or at least that’s how astronomers thought the story went.

How Math Can Help Save a Dying Language

Though the truism about Inuits having a hundred words for snow is an exaggeration—they have a few dozen, at most—languages really are full of charming quirks that reveal the character of a culture. Dialects of Scottish Gaelic, for instance, traditionally spoken in the Highlands and, later on, in fishing villages, have a great many very specific words for seaweed, as well as names for each of the components of a rabbit snare and a word for an egg that emerges from a hen sans shell.

Does This Ontological Commitment Make Me Look Fat? | Cosmic Variance

3:am magazine (yes, that’s what it’s called) has a very good interview with Craig Callender, philosopher of physics at UC San Diego and a charter member of the small club of people who think professionally about the nature of time. The whole thing is worth reading, so naturally I am going to be completely unfair and nitpick about the one tiny part that mentions my name. The interviewer asks:

Researchers Build Miniature Flying Carpet

We’ve all seen lectures go awry when plastic transparencies slide off projectors, but L. Mahadevan was probably the first to seriously analyze a plastic sheet’s fall from grace. It is even safer to assume he was the first to use it as a model for a flying carpet. Now, due to Mahadevan’s curiosity and an enterprising grad student, scientists have created an electrically powered sheet that propels itself through the air.

The Razor Clam’s Digging Superpower is Quicksand | 80beats

The digging motions of a razor clam.
The soft, pale foot of a six-inch long razor clam burrows through sand at an impressive rate of four body lengths per minute (video). When scientists put muscles in the razor clam to the strength test though, they found that its foot was only 1/10 as strong as it would need to be to dig so fast. What gives? The sand, literally.

Smart Seaweed Uses Laws of Fluid Dynamics to Survive Big Waves | Discoblog

Seaweeds showing off their drag reducing skills.
Littered with the dehydrating corpses of seaweeds, beaches after a big storm are a reminder that life can be tough out there in the crashing waves. But seaweeds aren’t totally defenseless. A recent study in the American Journal of Botany studied two different strategies that seaweeds use to reduce drag so that fast-moving waves don’t uproot them.

What People in 1859 Thought of the Great Solar Storm (Hint: They Were Very Confused) | 80beats

An 1865 painting by Frederic Edwin Church, possibly inspired by the aurora of 1859.
On September 1, 1859, the sky erupted in color: “alternating great pillars, rolling cumuli shooting streamers, curdled and wisped and fleecy waves—rapidly changing its hue from red to orange, orange to yellow, and yellow to white, and back in the same order to brilliant red,” read a New York Times account. This was the aurora seen around the world.

Big Idea: Physicists Carve a Niche in Time

Physicists routinely baffle reporters, but for once things went the other way.

Weight of the World: The Ongoing Fight Over How to Define the Kilogram | 80beats

The meter is fixed to the speed of light and a second to the radiation of cesium, but the mass of one kilogram is still not defined by a universal constant. Instead, it’s still pegged to an old-fashioned cylinder of  platinum iridium alloy kept under lock and key in Sèvres, France.

Is Einstein's Greatest Work All Wrong—Because He Didn't Go Far Enough?

Julian Barbour cuts an unlikely figure for a radical. We sip afternoon tea at his farmhouse in the sleepy English village of South Newington, and he playfully quotes Faust: That I may understand whatever binds the world’s innermost core together, see all its workings, and its seeds. His love of Goethe’s classic poem, about a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge, is apropos. Forty years ago, Barbour’s desire to uncover the innermost workings of the universe led him to make a seemingly reckless gamble.


Subscribe to Mr. Loyacano RSS