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Quantumaniac is where it’s at - and by ‘it’ I mean awesome.

Over here I post a ton of physics / math / general interesting posts in an attempt to make your brain feel good. My aim is to be as informative as possible, all while posting fascinating things that hopefully enlighten us both a little to the mysteries of our truly wondrous universe(s?). Plus, how would you know if the blog exists or not unless you observe it? Boom, just pulled the Schrödinger’s cat card. Now you have to check it out - trust me, it said so in an equation somewhere.

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Why Is The Night Sky Dark If There Are So Many Stars? 

If you’ve ever found yourself asking this question while staring at the night sky, then you’re in good company. The question can be traced back to Johannes Kepler in 1610 (the planetary motion guy), and was rediscussed by prominent astronomers like Edmond Halley (the comet guy) before being written about by the awesomely named Heinrich Wilhelm Matthias Olbers (somewhat mistakenly, as his thinking on the question wasn’t very valuable). 

As a post by Cornell University reads: 

A more detailed description of Olbers’ paradox allows you to conclude that if the universe (a) were big enough so that every line of sight ended in a star, (b) were infinitely old, (c) were static and not expanding and (d) if several other simple assumptions were satisfied, then the entire night sky would be roughly as bright as the surface of our sun!

While the first satisfactory scientific explanation to the problem was (probably) given by Lord Kelvin is 1901, someone else had a surprisingly accurate crack at it earlier, in 1848.

In his essay Eureka, poet Edgar Allan Poe provided the framework for what would ultimately be the correct answer to the paradox: 

Were the succession of stars endless, then the background of the sky would present us a uniform luminosity, like that displayed by the Galaxy – since there could be absolutely no point, in all that background, at which would not exist a star. The only mode, therefore, in which, under such a state of affairs, we could comprehend the voids which our telescopes find in innumerable directions, would be by supposing the distance of the invisible background so immense that no ray from it has yet been able to reach us at all

Poe’s explanation, summarized, is that because the age of the universe and the speed of light are both finite, only finitely many stars can be observed within a certain volume of space visible from Earth. Basically, there is a horizon of sorts at every point in space, extending as many light-years as the universe has existed. Beyond that horizon, light from that area simply hasn’t had enough time to travel to the other point yet. When considering the incredible vastness of space, light from most of the stars just hasn’t had enough time to reach us yet. 

Sources: Cornell, NYTimes

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Live Video of a Newly Detected Supernova at 4 p.m. PDT (7 p.m. EDT)

Light from the supernova 2013df has traveled more than 60 million light-years to finally be detectable from Earth, and today you have a chance to see it for yourself.

At 4 p.m. PDT (7 p.m. EDT), sky watchers around the world can watch a live video feed of the supernova broadcast from a telescope in the Cayman Islands. The video comes courtesy of the online sky-watching site Slooh.com.

A type II supernova occurs when a star more than 10 times more massive than our sun runs out of nuclear fuel and collapses in on itself. As the star implodes, its core gets hotter and more dense, until eventually the implosion bounces off the core and explodes out into space in a great burst of light and solar material.

The brief burst of light is so bright that it can outshine an entire galaxy. When the implosion is over, what remains is a super-dense object known as a neutron star.

Supernova 2013df lies in the spiral galaxy NGC 4414 in the constellation Coma Berenices and is particularly popular for amateur astronomers because of its unique structure. (It is a dusty galaxy and has dark patches and streaks on its sprial arms).

Amateur astronomers first discovered this supernova in June after noticing that there was suddenly what looked like a bright star in the galaxy that wasn’t visible just a few days before.

If you have a large telescope at home, you might be able to find this supernova, but Patrick Paolucci, the president of Slooh, said you need to have at least an eight-inch telescope to see it.

During the broadcast, Paolucci and his team will describe where the supernova is in the sky, and show images of its home galaxy before and after the light from the supernova was visible.

Supernovas are not visible for long, and this one is already starting to fade, so if you want to check it out, today may be last your chance.

Source: LATimes

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Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield to Retire

Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut who captivated the world with his photos and videos on social media from the International Space Station (ISS) and professional badass - is retiring. 

Cmdr Chris Hadfield, 53, says he is making good on a promise to his wife to move back to Canada after 30 years - effective July 3rd. 

The astronaut was the first Canadian to command the ISS. He returned from his third space mission in May. He has lived in Texas since he became a fighter pilot in the late 1980s and was later assigned to the Nasa Johnson Space Center in Houston by the CSA.

"I’ve had such an interesting career and after 35 years it’s time to step down," Cmdr Hadfield was quoted as saying by the CBC. "I’m the last astronaut of my class that’s still around."

"Chris Hadfield has inspired all Canadians, especially our next-generation of scientists and engineers," Chris Alexander, parliamentary secretary for defence, said in a statement.

"His exceptional career achievements make him a true Canadian hero and icon."

Source: BBC

Three Reasons Why Voyager I Is Badass

  • As of this writing, Voyager I is over 18,000,000,000 km away from Earth - for comparison, that’s about the distance one would travel if one went from California to New York about four million times. 
  • When Voyager I was initially launched, it was only expected to survive for four years - it’s been active for over 35 years.
  • Currently, the craft is travelling in a region of space that may well be beyond our solar system - although this is unclear at the moment. 

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Seeing New-England’s Storm ‘Nemo’ from Space

The gigantic snowstorm headed for New England is predicted to be a mean one that will dump feet of snow on an area from New York to Maine. But the ominous picture the National Weather Service is painting isn’t as frightening as the view from space.

The massive storm can be seen taking shape in this image, taken by NOAA’s GOES-13 satellite today at 9:01 ET, as a western front that stretches from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico prepares to merge with a curling low-pressure system over the Atlantic Ocean off the shore of Virginia.

Sources: Wired Science, NOAA

The Arms of M106 

The spiral arms of bright galaxy M106 sprawl through this remarkable multiframe portrait, composed of data from ground- and space-based telescopes. Also known as NGC 4258, M106 can be found toward the northern constellation Canes Venatici. The well-measured distance to M106 is 23.5 million light-years, making this cosmic scene about 80,000 light-years across. Typical in grand spiral galaxies, dark dust lanes, youthful blue star clusters, and pinkish star forming regions trace spiral arms that converge on the bright nucleus of older yellowish stars. But this detailed composite reveals hints of two anomalous arms that don’t align with the more familiar tracers. Seen here in red hues, sweeping filaments of glowing hydrogen gas seem to rise from the central region of M106, evidence of energetic jets of material blasting into the galaxy’s disk. The jets are likely powered by matter falling into a massive central black hole.

Credit: Image Data - Hubble Legacy Archive, Robert Gendler, Jay GaBany, Processing - Robert Gendler, NASA

3-D Printers Could Make Food for Astronauts

Several decades from now, an astronaut in a Mars colony might feel a bit hungry. Rather than reach for a vacuum-sealed food packet or cook up some simple greenhouse vegetables in a tiny kitchen, the astronaut would visit a microwave-sized box, punch a few settings, and receive a delicious and nutritious meal tailored to his or her exact tastes.

This is the promise of the rapidly maturing field of 3-D food printing, an offshoot of the revolution that uses machines to build bespoke items out of metal, plastic, and even living cells. Sooner than you think, 3-D printed designer meals may be coming to a rocketship, or a restaurant, near you.

“Right now, astronauts on the space station are eating the same seven days of food on rotations of two or three weeks,” said astronautical engineer Michelle Terfansky, who studied the potential and challenges of making 3-D printed food in space for a master’s thesis at the University of Southern California.

With 3-D printers coming of age, engineers are starting to expand the possible list of materials they might work with. The Fab@Home team at Cornell University has developed gel-like substances called hydrocolloids that can be extruded and built up into different shapes. By mixing in flavoring agents, they can produce a range of tastes and textures.

A 3-D printer could mix vitamins and amino acids into a meal to provide nutrients and boost productivity. There are limitations to the types of fresh foods that can be grown in space – NASA says some of the best crops for a Mars mission are lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes. With that you could make a salad, but a 3-D printer could manufacture croutons or protein-dense supplements. The device could take up less space than a supply of packets of food and, because each item is custom built, would help cut down on waste.

But 3-D food printing systems still have a long way to go, with most of the current limitations involving the printer’s extruding system. Some items, like frosting or processed cheese, are easy to make printable. A chocolate treat, for instance, is created using a syringe filled with melted chocolate to build up a shape specified by a computer layer by layer. But other materials – fruits, vegetables, and meats – are much more of a challenge. 

In the earliest tests of the hydrocolloid 3-D food printer, the Cornell team produced different fake items — bananas, mushrooms, mozzarella – all with the appropriate texture and flavor. Because no one wants to eat something that looks and tastes bad, Terfansky said the best thing would be to focus on making sure things are delicious and then improving the visual aesthetics.

Within five to 10 years, she said the technology might get to the point where a single printer could produce lots of different food items that are both flavorful and look like what they’re supposed to be. Terfansky sees a day further in the future when most home kitchens include a 3-D printer simple enough for a child to go up and press the “hamburger” button in order to receive a meal. Such plans may seem like the food machine from The Jetsons but other researchers say they’re not out of the realm of possibility.

Source: Wired Science

Trifid Nebula

Clouds of glowing gas mingle with dust lanes in the Trifid Nebula, a star forming region toward the constellation of the Archer (Sagittarius). In the center, the three prominent dust lanes that give the Trifid its name all come together. Mountains of opaque dust appear on the right, while other dark filaments of dust are visible threaded throughout the nebula. A single massive star visible near the center causes much of the Trifid’s glow.

The Trifid, also known as M20, is only about 300,000 years old, making it among the youngest emission nebulae known. The nebula lies about 9,000 light years away and the part pictured here spans about 10 light years.

Source: APOD

The Pale Blue Dot

In his book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, astronomer Carl Sagan related his thoughts on a deeper meaning of the above photograph:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Image Credit: Startled Disbelief