Advertise here with Carbon Ads

This site is made possible by member support. ❤️

Big thanks to Arcustech for hosting the site and offering amazing tech support.

When you buy through links on kottke.org, I may earn an affiliate commission. Thanks for supporting the site!

kottke.org. home of fine hypertext products since 1998.

🍔  💀  📸  😭  🕳️  🤠  🎬  🥔

kottke.org posts about science

The Science of Snowflakes

In a video for the Royal Society, physicist Brian Cox explains the science of snowflakes, from how they form to where their shape and symmetry comes from. Plus this bombshell: “Snowflakes aren’t actually white.” (via aeon)

Reply · 0

From The Smallest to the Largest Thing in The Universe

I’ve posted more than a few size comparison videos here over the years — Powers of Ten is the obvious one — but this one from Kurzgesagt is one of the best, showing how big everything in the universe is compared to humans, who seemingly find themselves smack in the middle. This video does an excellent job illustrating the similarity of structures and interdependency across different scales — how blood vessels are like city streets for instance or how very tiny proteins can affect the entire Earth.

Reply · 0

An Octopus vs an Underwater Maze

Mark Rober puts an octopus he bought from a pet store through an underwater maze to see if it can solve a bunch of puzzles to reach a motherlode of tasty shrimp at the end. This video paired well with a book I recently read, Ray Nayler’s Mountain in the Sea: “Humankind discovers intelligent life in an octopus species with its own language and culture, and sets off a high-stakes global competition to dominate the future.”

As for the name Rober gives the octopus… Sashimi? Really? Bros gotta bro, I guess. 🙄


Lego Sets of Famous Moments in Psychology

a Lego depiction of the Stanford Prison Experiment

a Lego depiction of the marshmallow test

a Lego depiction of the invisible gorilla experiment

I love these depictions of famous moments in psychology and cognitive science via @tomerullman. From top to bottom: the Stanford prison experiment, the marshmallow test, and the selective attention test.

These didn’t track as AI-generated at first…and then I tried to read the text — THE STANFORD PRESERIBENT. You can see the whole set on Bluesky (if you have access).

Reply · 1

The Telegraph and the Invention of Weather Forecasting

In the early days of the telegraph, station operators began sharing the local weather with each other. As the practice became more widespread, people started to realize that what happened in one location translated to later events in another location. Modern weather forecasting and the concept of weather systems were born.

The operators had discovered something both interesting and paradoxical, the writer Andrew Blum observes in his book The Weather Machine. The telegraph had collapsed time but, in doing so, it had somehow simultaneously created more of it. Now people could see what the future held before it happened; they could know that a storm was on its way hours before the rain started falling or the clouds appeared in the sky. This new, real-time information also did something else, Blum points out. It allowed weather to be visualized as a system, transforming static, localized pieces of data into one large and ever-shifting whole.

Reply · 1

How Would Interstellar Weaponry Work?

In their latest video, Kurzgesagt takes a break from their more serious topics to consider a scenario from the realm of science fiction: interstellar combat. Using technology that is theoretically available to us here on Earth, could a more advanced civilization some 42 light years away destroy our planet without any warning? They outline three potential weapons: the Star Laser, the Relativistic Missile, and the Ultra-Relativistic Electron Beam.

Here’s what I don’t understand though: how would the targeting work? In order for an alien civilization to hit the Earth with a laser from 42 light years away, it has to not only predict, within a margin of error of the Earth’s diameter, precisely where the Earth is going to be, but also have a system capable of aiming across 42 light years of distance with that precision. Is this even possible? How precisely do we know where the Earth is going to be in 42 years? And if you’re aiming at something 42 light years away, if you move the sights a nanometer, how much angular distance does that shift the the destination by? And how much does the gravity of matter along the way shift the trajectory and is it possible to accurately compensate for that? Maybe this should be their next video…

Reply · 6

“Something Weird Happens When You Keep Squeezing”

This fascinating and well-produced video from Vox introduces us to what happens to materials that are put under vast amounts of pressure — I’m talking center of the Sun pressures upwards of 100 billion atmospheres. Scientists are just beginning their explorations of the strange things that happen “when you keep squeezing”.

Tens of thousands of kilometers below Jupiter’s surface, physicists think hydrogen will go through another change becoming a shiny conductor of electricity. It’s thought that a lot of Jupiter is made up of this metallic hydrogen.

We think of high energy density materials as completely inverting the periodic table. So your metals become transparent and your transparent materials become metals. And all these gases become solids…

Water transforms into ice that conducts electricity: Black, Hot Ice May Be Nature’s Most Common Form of Water. Hydrogen can be compressed into a metal: Metallic hydrogen finally made in lab at mind-boggling pressure. Sodium can turn clear: Metal Discovered To Become Transparent Under High Pressure. So weird and interesting!


A 4.5 Billion Year Video Timeline of Earth in 60 Minutes

To mark the 10th anniversary of their YouTube channel, Kurzgesagt has released a video timeline of the Earth’s evolution, all 4.5 billion years of it. The video is 60 minutes long, which means that each second shows about 1 million years. And it’s kind of a music video…of sorts? There’s talking but there are definitely stretches of just music and visuals…it’s not your usual science explainer video.

Hop on a musical train ride and experience how long a billion years really is. It’s the perfect background for your next party, a great way to take a break from studying, or a fascinating companion while you’re on the go.


Why Some of the Rainbow Is Missing

If you look closely at a rainbow made from sunlight (e.g. through a prism or an actual rainbow), you’ll notice that some of the colors are missing. It turns out that these absent colors (called Fraunhofer lines) have something to do with the types of elements that are present in the Sun (and the Earth’s atmosphere). Dr. Joe Hanson explains in the video above.

Over 200 years ago, scientists were looking at sunlight through a prism when they noticed that part of the rainbow was missing. There were dark lines where there should have been colors. Since then, scientists have unlocked the secrets encoded in these lines, using it to uncover mind-boggling facts about the fundamental nature of our universe and about worlds light-years away.

Science is fascinating…Fraunhofer lines can tell us something about objects and processes all along the Powers of Ten scale, from the inner workings of the atom to the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere to how quickly the universe is expanding or contracting.

If you’d like to check out the missing parts of the rainbow for yourself, you can make this DIY spectroscope using a CD or DVD and a few other items. (via the kid should see this)


Does Your Brain Picture Things?

A few weeks ago, I shared the following image on Instagram:

a scale for measuring what you see in your 'mind's eye', featuring an apple

It’s a scale for measuring how people visualize objects in their heads. I’m between 4 & 5, which means I have a condition called aphantasia. Marco Giancotti recently wrote about this for Nautilus; he underwent an MRI scan to test what was going on in his head:

A few seconds pass, then a synthetic female voice speaks into my ears over the electronic clamor: “top hat.” I close my eyes and I imagine a top hat. A few seconds later a beep tells me I should rate the quality of my mental picture, which I do with a controller in my hand. The voice speaks again: “fire extinguisher,” and I repeat the routine. Next is “butterfly,” then “camel,” then “snowmobile,” and so on, for about 10 minutes, while the system monitors the activation of my brain synapses.

For most people, this should be a rather simple exercise, perhaps even satisfying. For me, it’s a considerable strain, because I don’t “see” any of those things. For each and every one of the prompts, I rate my mental image “0” on a 0 to 5 scale, because as soon as I close my eyes, what I see are not everyday objects, animals, and vehicles, but the dark underside of my eyelids. I can’t willingly form the faintest of images in my mind. And, although it isn’t the subject of the current experiment, I also can’t conjure sounds, smells, or any other kind of sensory stimulation inside my head. I have what is called “aphantasia,” the absence of voluntary imagination of the senses. I know what a top hat is. I can describe its main characteristics. I can even draw an above-average impression of one on a piece of paper for you. But I can’t visualize it mentally. What’s wrong with me?

And here’s a good video explanation of it too, from an artist who has aphantasia:

Like a lot of people, I wasn’t even aware that I visualized things differently than others — I assumed that everyone saw extremely ghostly images of objects in their mind’s eye, more like the ideas of things than the things themselves. It wasn’t until I was talking to my daughter a few years ago about how the characters in a movie looked nothing like the ones she’d pictured in her head from reading the books that I realized that she’s got a vibrant, full-color movie going on in her head when she reads and I was like EXCUSE ME?

Aphantasia is sometimes described as a deficiency or even a disability, but I don’t think of it that way at all. I believe my brain works pretty well, thank you very much, even though I can’t close my eyes and see the faces of my kids. And it’s not as straightforward as the simple scale above, at least in my case.

I can’t picture what a room would look like with a different sofa or rug (I just have to buy it and cross my fingers that it looks good when it arrives) or what a sweater would look like on me without actually trying it on (making online clothes shopping difficult). But I also have a weirdly visual memory. In college, I would remember things for tests and papers based where they were written in my notebook (lower right-hand corner of the left-hand page) or appeared in the textbook (on the right-hand page, under the blue illustration). I can’t see it in my brain, but I can see the idea of it and remember what was written there. (I told my daughter this and she said she can do this too, but for her, she pictures herself sitting at her desk in biology class with her notes open in front of her and she can then recall what was written in certain places. It is fascinating to talk about this stuff with her!)

Anyway, on Insta I asked people where they are on the apple scale and the responses were super interesting, so I’m opening up the comments on this one so we can chat about it.

Reply · 52

How Do Black Holes Compare to Regular Holes?

a humorous chart from XKCD about how black holes compare to regular holes

From XKCD, a comparison chart that shows how black holes and regular holes measure up to one another. Some of these are pretty clever: “some of them are the mouths of wormholes”.


Vaccines: “The Greatest Benefit Conferred on Humankind”

From The Economist on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Prize for Medicine to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman for their work that led to the development of the Covid-19 mRNA vaccines, a lovely short appreciation of vaccines.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that vaccines have saved more from death than any other medical invention. It is a hard claim to gainsay. Vaccines protect people from disease cheaply, reliably and in remarkable numbers. And their capacity to do so continues to grow. In 2021 the who approved a first vaccine against malaria; this week it approved a second.

Vaccines are not only immensely useful; they also embody something beautifully human in their combination of care and communication. Vaccines do not trick the immune system, as is sometimes said; they educate and train it. As a resource of good public health, they allow doctors to whisper words of warning into the cells of their patients. In an age short of trust, this intimacy between government policy and an individual’s immune system is easily misconstrued as a threat. But vaccines are not conspiracies or tools of control: they are molecular loving-kindness.

The WHO says that vaccines currently prevent 4-5 million deaths per year. The CDC points to a paper that says that more than 50 million death can be prevented between 2021 and 2030. Vaccination is nothing short of a scientific miracle. (via eric topol)


One Revolution Per Minute

Erik Wernquist made his short film One Revolution Per Minute to explore his “fascination with artificial gravity in space”. The film shows what it would be like to travel on a large, circular space station, 900 meters (0.56 miles) in diameter that rotates a 1 rpm. Even at that slow speed, which generates 0.5 g at the outermost shell, I was surprised to see how quickly the scenery (aka the Earth, Moon, etc.) was rotating and how disorienting it would be as a passenger.

Realistically - and admittedly somewhat reluctantly — I assume that while building a structure like this is very much possible, it would be quite impractical for human passengers.

Putting aside the perhaps most obvious problem with those wide windows being a security hazard, I believe that the perpetually spinning views would be extremely nauseating for most humans, even for short visits. Even worse, I suspect — when it comes to the comfort of the experience — would be the constantly moving light and shadows from the sun.

I calculated that the outer ring of the space station is moving at 105.4 mph with respect to the center. That’s motoring right along — no wonder everything outside is spinning so quickly.


A Family of Humming-Birds

a poster depicting hundreds of hummingbirds in a swarm

Wow, Nicholas Rougeux has restored John Gould’s A Monograph of the Trochilidæ, or Family of Humming-Birds, which was published between 1848 & 1887 and contains hand-colored lithographic depictions of almost every single hummingbird species known to exist at the time.

a pair of hummingbirds fly amongst flowers

two hummingbirds perch on a plant

three hummingbirds perch on a flowering plant

From Rougeux’s page about the project:

The monograph is considered one of the finest examples of ornithological illustration ever produced, as well as a scientific masterpiece. Gould’s passion for hummingbirds led him to travel to various parts of the world, such as North America, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, to observe and collect specimens. He also received many specimens from other naturalists and collectors.

The image at the top of the post is the gorgeous poster that Rougeux created from the drawings in Gould’s monograph…you can order some for your walls and read a making-of.

See also other projects by Rougeux that I’ve posted about.


The Plot of All Objects in the Universe

a scientific plot of all of the objects in the universe

You just have to admire a chart that casually purports to show every single thing in the Universe in one simple 2D plot. The chart in question is from a piece in the most recent issue of the American Journal of Physics with the understated title of “All objects and some questions”.

In Fig. 2, we plot all the composite objects in the Universe: protons, atoms, life forms, asteroids, moons, planets, stars, galaxies, galaxy clusters, giant voids, and the Universe itself. Humans are represented by a mass of 70 kg and a radius of 50 cm (we assume sphericity), while whales are represented by a mass of 10^5 kg and a radius of 7 m.

The “sub-Planckian unknown” and “forbidden by gravity” sections of the chart makes the “quantum uncertainty” section seem downright normal — the paper collectively calls these “unphysical regions”. Lovely turns of phrase all.

But what does it all mean? My physics is too rusty to say, but I thought one of the authors’ conjectures was particularly intriguing: “Our plot of all objects also seems to suggest that the Universe is a black hole.” Huh, cool.


What Happens If You Destroy A Black Hole?

Here’s a fun thought experiment: can you destroy a black hole? Nuclear weapons probably won’t work but what about antimatter? Or anti black holes? In this video, Kurzgesagt explores the possibilities and impossibilities. This part baked my noodle (in a good way):

Contrary to widespread belief, the singularity of a black hole is not really “at its center”. It’s in the future of whatever crosses the horizon. Black holes warp the universe so drastically that, at the event horizon, space and time switch their roles. Once you cross it, falling towards the center means going towards the future. That’s why you cannot escape: Stopping your fall and turning back would be just as impossible as stopping time and traveling to the past. So the singularity is actually in your future, not “in front of you”. And just like you can’t see your own future, you won’t see the singularity until you hit it.

🤯


Some Stunning Shots From the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2023 Competition

a colorful shot of The Running Chicken Nebula

what looks like a question mark on the surface of the sun

purple sprites in the upper reaches of the atmosphere

a photo of the whole sun

the Andromeda galaxy next to a giant blue plasma arc

The Royal Observatory Greenwich in London has announced the winners of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2023 competition and as you can see from the selection above, there were some amazing shots. From top to bottom:

  1. Runwei Xu and Binyu Wang for their photo of The Running Chicken Nebula.
  2. Eduardo Schaberger Poupeau for capturing a question mark on the Sun. I will never tire of looking at the detail of the Sun’s surface.
  3. Angel An. “This is not, as it might first appear, an enormous extraterrestrial, but the lower tendrils of a sprite (red lightning)! This rarely seen electrical discharge occurs much higher in the atmosphere than normal lightning (and indeed, despite the name, is created by a different mechanism), giving the image an intriguingly misleading sense of scale.”
  4. Mehmet Ergün. More Sun!
  5. Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner and Yann Sainty for their shot of the Andromeda galaxy.

The last shot was the overall winner. While not as dramatic as some of the others, it documented the discovery of a previously unknown feature of a nearby cosmic neighbor:

The Andromeda galaxy is the closest spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way, and one of the most photographed deep-sky objects. Yet this particular photo, captured by an international trio of amateur astronomers, revealed a feature that had never been seen before: a huge plasma arc, stretching out across space right next to the Andromeda galaxy.

“Scientists are now investigating the newly discovered giant in a transnational collaboration,” explain the photographers. “It could be the largest such structure nearest to us in the Universe.”

You can see the rest of the winning images on the Royal Observatory site as well as coverage from the BBC, the Guardian, Colossal, and Universe Today.


The Brassicas Will Continue Until Morale Improves

a simple cartoon of two people standing next to a redwood tree. One says to the other, 'Did you know the mighty redwood is actually the same species as broccoli and kale?' The caption reads 'Every year or two, botanists add another plant to brassica oleracea and see if anyone calls them on it.'

For a recent XKCD, Randall Munroe celebrates the the magical brassica oleracea plant.

Brassica oleracea is a species of plant that, like the apple, has a number of different cultivars. But these cultivars differ widely from each other: cabbage, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, collard greens, and cauliflower.

Welcome, redwood, to the family, er, species.


The Science of the Perfect Second

I really enjoyed this piece by Tom Vanderbilt on how time is kept, coordinated, calculated, and forecast. It’s full of interested tidbits throughout, like:

Care to gawk at one of the world’s last surviving original radium standards, a glass ampoule filled with 20.28 milligrams of radium chloride prepared by Marie Curie in 1913? NIST has it in the basement, encased in a steel bathtub, buried under lead bricks.

And:

For GPS to work, it needs ultra-exact timing: accuracy within fifteen meters requires precision on the order of fifty nanoseconds. The 5G networks powering our mobile phones demand ever more precise levels of cell-tower synchronization or calls get dropped.

And:

And as Mumford could have predicted, nowhere has time become so fetishized as in the financial sector, with the emergence over the past decade of algorithmic high-frequency trading. Donald MacKenzie, the author of Trading at the Speed of Light, estimated in 2019 that a trading program could receive market data and trigger an order in eighty-four nanoseconds, or eighty-four billionths of a second.

And:

All this makes F1 staggeringly accurate: it will gain or shed only one second every 100,000,000 years. Since the days when time was defined astronomically, the accuracy of the second is estimated to have increased by a magnitude of eight.

And:

“A clock accurate to a second over the age of the cosmos,” Patrick Gill, a physicist at the U.K.’s National Physical Laboratory, is quoted as saying in New Scientist, “would allow tests of whether physical laws and constants have varied over the universe’s history.”

And:

“If you were to lift this clock up a centimeter of elevation,” Hume told me, “you would be able to discern a difference in the ticking rate.” The reason is Einstein’s theory of relativity: Time differs depending on where you are experiencing it.

And I could go on and on. If any or all of those tidbits is interesting to you, you should go ahead and read the whole thing.


Stunning JWST Image of a Grand-Design Spiral Galaxy

image of spiral galaxy M51

Love this recent JWST shot of the M51 spiral galaxy.

The graceful winding arms of the grand-design spiral galaxy M51 stretch across this image from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. Unlike the menagerie of weird and wonderful spiral galaxies with ragged or disrupted spiral arms, grand-design spiral galaxies boast prominent, well-developed spiral arms like the ones showcased in this image. This galactic portrait was captured by Webb’s Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI).

In this image the reprocessed stellar light by dust grains and molecules in the medium of the galaxy illuminate a dramatic filamentary medium. Empty cavities and bright filaments alternate and give the impression of ripples propagating from the spiral arms. The yellow compact regions indicate the newly formed star clusters in the galaxy.

(via bad astronomy)


A Microscopic Ode to the Tiny Worlds Found in Rainwater Puddles

From the Journey to the Microcosmos YouTube channel, this is an exploration of the tiny worlds contained in rainwater puddles and their connection to the discovery of microbial organisms in the 1670s by Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. What a trip that must have been, to be the first person to peer microscopically into some water and observe tiny organisms swimming around. (via @JenLucPiquant)


Oppenheimer: More Science and More Heist Please

Craig Mod has my favorite take to date on Oppenheimer: that it should have been more like Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb:

My ideal version of this film would have begun in the 1900s or ’10s, with flashes of Relativity and then the steps of Quantum Mechanics with Planck, Bohr, and Heisenberg. Quantum tunneling with Gamow and Gurney. The nuclear shell model with Maria Goeppert Mayer and J. Hans D. Jensen. Chadwick’s discovery of the neutron. Anderson’s positron unveiling. Hold the camera longer on Lawrence and his cyclotron. What’s going on there? (I mean, ya got Josh Hartnett’s pretty head, plaster it up!) Shoot in high-grade mega-IMAX-bokeh the oddly simple experimental setups, the beakers, the blips, the radiation tick-tick-ticks, the iterations, the step-by-step expansion of understanding the fabric of everything around us. Give us an hour of this, this arguably greatest moment of human insight. You can still call the film Oppenheimer. Let the man loom, weave him between it all as he makes his way through Europe, sets up at Berkeley, is selected to lead Los Alamos. Ramp up the Nazi threat. Show the diaspora of brilliance more clearly. Believe the audience is willing to sit through more than just “Is it a wave … or is it particle?” Oh! There is so much excitement, so much incredible science to be mined, and Nolan mined so little.

Mod and I both share a love for that masterpiece of a book and I would watch the hell out of an 10-part HBO series (in the vein of Chernobyl) based on it, American Prometheus, and John Hersey’s Hiroshima.


Madeline Miller: “Long Covid Has Derailed My Life”

Madeline Miller (Circe, Song of Achilles) got sick in February 2020 with what turned out to be Covid, which then turned into Long Covid. It has profoundly affected her life (gift link).

I reached out to doctors. One told me I was “deconditioned” and needed to exercise more. But my usual jog left me doubled over, and when I tried to lift weights, I ended up in the ER with chest pains and tachycardia. My tests were normal, which alarmed me further. How could they be normal? Every morning, I woke breathless, leaden, utterly depleted.

Worst of all, I couldn’t concentrate enough to compose sentences. Writing had been my haven since I was 6. Now, it was my family’s livelihood. I kept looking through my pre-covid novel drafts, desperately trying to prod my sticky, limp brain forward. But I was too tired to answer email, let alone grapple with my book.

When people asked how I was, I gave an airy answer. Inside, I was in a cold sweat. My whole future was dropping away. Looking at old photos, I was overwhelmed with grief and bitterness. I didn’t recognize myself. On my best days, I was 30 percent of that person.

I turned to the internet and discovered others with similar experiences. In fact, my symptoms were textbook — a textbook being written in real time by “first wavers” like me, comparing notes and giving our condition a name: long covid.

Even if Miller were physically able to get back to some semblance of “normal life”, the current policies and attitudes w/r/t Covid make it next to impossible.

Despite the crystal-clear science on the damage covid-19 does to our bodies, medical settings have dropped mask requirements, so patients now gamble their health to receive care. Those of us who are high-risk or immunocompromised, or who just don’t want to roll the dice on death and misery, have not only been left behind — we’re being actively mocked and pathologized.

I’ve personally been ridiculed, heckled and coughed on for wearing my N95. Acquaintances who were understanding in the beginning are now irritated, even offended. One demanded: How long are you going to do this? As if trying to avoid covid was an attack on her, rather than an attempt to keep myself from sliding further into an abyss that threatens to swallow my family.

I cannot remember where I read this (it was likely more than a year ago), but it would be more accurate/helpful if we thought of the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus as a chronic vascular disease (aka Long Covid) that often comes with short-term symptoms and acute, life-threatening effects instead of the other way around.


Chaos, Reconsidered: A Spectacular Flyover of Martian Volcanic Terrain

This short, relaxing, mesmerizing video of an Martian impact crater called Aram Chaos was taken by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The images were run through an enhanced color red-green-blue filter, which tends to highlight the structure and geology rather than the true color. For example, the blue in the video often represents basalt, an igneous rock of volcanic origin.


Applying High Voltage to Kids Toys

When you apply power with higher-than-normal voltage to electric kids toys, they tend to move faster. When you apply 30V instead of the usual 2.5V or 5V, they move really fast:

This reminds me of when I was in grade school. Does anyone remember Stompers? They were battery-operated cars and trucks that were bigger than HotWheels and, while not remote-controlled, were able to move around under their own power. But they weren’t that speedy…maybe they could do 1-2 mph.

Anyway, some kid at school figured out that you could remove the AA battery, connect wires to the battery terminals, and then connect those wires to as many C- and D-cell batteries as you could gang together in a series. So instead of the usual 1.5V, you could pump 4.5V, 6V, 7.5V, or even 9V into those tiny cars. And boy, did they go. We could barely keep up as we raced them against each other down the halls, running behind them holding our battery packs. But the thrills were short-lived — I think the school banned them and all that current burned the tiny Stomper motors out after awhile. Fun while it lasted though! (via waxy)


Iridescent Hot Water Colors

After my post about Soap Bubble Worlds yesterday, several people sent me this video of the rainbow colors that can be seen on the surface of and in the steam above a swirling cup of hot water. I was expecting a straight-forward visual display accompanied by some relaxing music (and that version does exist) but it also includes a fascinating explanation of where all these colors and swirls come from.

Scientific investigations into beautiful phenomena always makes me think of physicist Richard Feynman’s thoughts on beauty:

I have a friend who is an artist, and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “Look how beautiful it is” and I’ll agree. And he says, “you see, as an artist I can see how beautiful this is, but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing.” And I think that he’s kind of nutty.

First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people, and to me too, I believe - although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is, but I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions, which also have a beauty. I mean, it’s not just beauty at this dimension of one centimeter, there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions. The inner structure, also the processes, the fact that the colors and the flower are evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting. It means that insects can see the color.

It adds a question: Is this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms that… why is it aesthetic… all kinds of interesting questions which the science, knowledge, only adds to the excitement, and mystery, and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.

(thx, everyone)


Geohydrotypography

If you covered the surface of the Atlantic Ocean with twelve-point printed text, with the lines wrapping at the coasts, the expansion of the ocean basin due to tectonics would increase your word count by about 100 words per second.

This, from XKCD, hits my science and design interests right in the sweet spot.

If you covered the surface of the Atlantic Ocean with twelve-point printed text, with the lines wrapping at the coasts, the expansion of the ocean basin due to tectonics would increase your word count by about 100 words per second.

This reminds me of Ben Terrett’s calculation of how many helveticas from here to the Moon and my subsequent calculations about the point size of the Earth and the Moon (50.2 billion and 13.7 billion, respectively).


The Reason Why Cancer Is So Hard to Beat

Using the metaphor of a cancerous tumor as an unruly village, Kurzgesagt explains how cancer develops in the human body, how the body fights against it, and how, sometimes, the cancer develops into something unmanageable.

In a sense this tiny tumor is like a rogue town. Imagine a group of rebels in Brooklyn decided that they were no longer part of New York but started a new settlement called Tumor Town, which happens to occupy the same space. The new city wants to grow, so it orders tons of steel beams, cement and drywall. New buildings follow no logic, are badly planned, ugly and dangerously crooked. They are built right in the middle of streets, on top of playgrounds and on existing infrastructure. The old neighborhood is torn down or overbuilt to make room for new stuff. Many of the former residents are trapped in the middle of it and begin to starve. This goes on for a while until the smell of death finally attracts attention. Building inspectors and police show up.


A Massive 5.7 Terapixel Mosaic of the Surface of Mars

part of a crater on the surface of Mars

Using imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Bruce Murray Laboratory for Planetary Visualization at Caltech has created a 5.7 terapixel mosaic image that covers 99.5% of the surface of Mars. The whole image is available to navigate with a 3D viewer in your browser.


The Black Hole That Kills Galaxies

Astronomers believe that there’s a black hole at the center of almost every large galaxy in the universe. Some of those black holes are particularly energetic, chewing up the galaxies in which they reside and releasing massive amounts of energy out into the cosmos. Those black holes and the energy emitted from matter and gas falling towards their centers are what astronomers call quasars.

But if we look closely, we see who is actually in charge. Small as a grain of sand compared to the filaments, the centers of some of these galaxies shine with the power of a trillion stars, blasting out huge jets of matter, completely reshaping the cosmos around them. Quasars, the single most powerful objects in existence, so powerful that they can kill a galaxy.