Taking closer look on Sun

today I will write about a unique mission that will go closer to the Sun than ever before (2018).

Something like 3.9 million miles will be the closest approach (should I rant about the imperial units or just convert them?). This means going through the Sun’s corona, that is the legendary region that is apparently not quite well explained, meaning, we do not know why is it hotter than the surface of the Sun, but I am no expert on that.

It is caller Parker Solar Probe, I am thinking that they named it after Matt Parker and the Parker square (anybody?). There are going to be top grade instruments on the board and these need to be carefully protected, aka. when you put 11.5 cm of carbon-composite “desk” around it, it will work.

This thing is going to be fast in its top speed, like 194 km/s, yeah that’s per second which is crazy fast. That would be less than 2 seconds to get from my home to Berlin, fun, I guess it would take some time to accelerate me to that speed (unless my life did not matter).

Another interesting thing that has an effect here and that I mentioned in other post, is that it is hard to hit the Sun since the Earth is traveling very quickly around and just because you get out of its atmosphere does not mean that you fall towards the center of its orbit. Parker Probe will use Venus to slow down to get there without such effort.



Why are cells so small?

ever wondered why you have to use microscope to see cell? Well cells are small but why?

There is a simple geometrical reason for it and it has to do with volume and surface area. First let’s take the case of cell being very big and what it would mean for it.

Such a cell would have much greater volume because of greater diameter, that is quite logical, but if you compare it to the surface area (which also increased) the ratio between the two attributes increased, meaning surface area did not grow so much as volume.

Volume (no matter the shape) grows rapidly with the function d^3 where d is the diameter [1]. On the other hand, the surface area only with d^2. So, what this means for the cell is that the surface = the membranes, are going to need to work extra hard to feed and clean up the rest of the big cell. This has some limit and that is why cells tend to be rather small and only viewable with microscope.

If the diameter is 1 than both volume and area are 1. (ratio 1/1=1)
If the diameter is 3 than volume is 27 and area 9. (ratio 27/9=3)
If the diameter is 5 than volume is 125 and area 25 (ratio 125/5=5)

The cell also cannot be too small otherwise the “equipment” (organelles) would not fit in.


Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuXSEOKNxN8

[1] Take a cube for example the equation for its volume is V=a^3 where a is the side.

How do bearings lower friction?

The first time I really encountered object with bearings and was wondering about what they really are was about 3 years back when I was on inline skates with a classmate. There was a nice long and smooth downhill and we both drove down without much beforehand added speed. Soon he was going way faster and was still moving many seconds after me. At that point when we started to talk about it, I thought than my inline skates do not have any ball bearings, which I now think is not true, he only had clean ones since his skates were new. Probably without bearings the skates would not work.

Ball bearing. See how they do not slide, they rotate.

Ball bearings are small balls (often from metal) enclosed between two spaces that are supposed to rotate, for example on some axis. It is possible to just leave the two surfaces touching but then they just rub against each other which causes high friction. The important part is that the balls as you can see on the left, rotate, they do not slide and when circular object is only rotating instead of sliding it does not experience much of a resistance. Try it yourself. Take a pencil and toss it across table so that it does not start to turn (parallel with the direction of the movement). Remember the distance where it got and try the same thing but this time perpendicularly and see how far it gets, that is exactly what the bearings are doing.

There are lot of types made for different purposes. Since the bearings have much lower area with which they are touching they do not distribute pressure so well, also they might need cleaning often or lubrication. In fidget spinners you will of course find bearings. The ones that spin very long time are the ones with ceramic bearings.


Habitable zone of a star

habitable zone of a star. Sounds like a comfy place, right? Well it can be. It is at least on (tiny portion of) Earth which is an example of object in habitable zone. Such a „zone“ is important for astronomers, or maybe it’s just important for headlines in newspapers.

Habitable zone in a Solar System based on luminosity.

Habitable zone is an area around star where we, with quite limited knowledge on this subject, think that life could be. The simplest „definition“ is that it’s the area where satellite (such as planet) would be able to sustain liquid water. We cannot be sure of course if life needs it but it is the case for the one that evolved on Earth.

The true habitable zone is something a bit more complicated. The simplest case of a planet would be one that behaves as a black body, that means that it absorbs all radiation (light for example) regardless of its wavelength. This is immediately just an assumption because such a planet does not exist. Earth just as Uranus or Mercury reflect light, the planet’s albedo describes this. Albedo is an attribute telling us how much object reflects light. 0 means that it is a black body and 1 means that it is white body aka perfect mirror.

There are even more factors that one could consider. For example, when planet has thick atmosphere it can sustain liquid water (and life) even further out from habitable zone on the other hand if that happens to planet like Venus which is already pretty close, you have got hell. If satellite orbits with high eccentricity the conditions are again different.

It’s hard to combine all of this together which results in lot of different outcomes depending what model one picks. Estimates for Solar System are between 0.9 or even 0.6 to 1.3, 2 or 3 astronomical units. In most of them Earth is just on the inner edge. These numbers were pulled from Wikipedia.

When we hear in news that a new exoplanet was found in a habitable zone it might not mean much. This news usually come alongside the information that the planet has similar size that of Earth, it’s not like we could travel there or anything, now we are mostly collecting data and learning.


HZ picture: By Habitable_zone-en.svg: Chewiederivative work: Ignacio javier igjav (talk) – Habitable_zone-en.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8462897

These telescopes are huge (E-ELT, OWL, VLT)

today I will write more about telescopes. In a previous post I already mentioned why radio telescopes like Arecibo are so huge, its because of the long wavelength. Today though I will concentrate on another type of telescopes and those are the ones that sit on Earth and collect information from visible light (those are called optical telescopes).

Comparison of various telescopes. Note OWL, the big circle in the background and even bigger white Arecibo.

I already mentioned Hubble telescope and James Webb Telescope (JWT) that is planned for launch next year. Those are in space so they have quite limited size. Down here we can build bigger ones. Right now in building phase is the E-ELT (European Extremely Large Telescope). Its primary mirror will have 39 meters [1] making it the largest optical telescope. It has to be so big because otherwise it could not match the ones in space. This is because we have our lovely atmosphere in the way and it makes harder for telescopes to distinquish small objects (though these days we have software that is able to account for that).

VLT aka Very Large Telescope is already working optical/infra-red telescope. It consists of 4 telescopes each of them with primary mirror of 8.2 meters in diameter. They can work together to make images of angular resolution 0.001 arcsecond. In one post I said that we are not able to take an image of star other than just point like source of light but apparently that is not true so I apologize for it:

First Direct Photo of Alien Planet Finally Confirmed

First confirmed image of an exoplanet. The ones that we can see are bigger than Jupiter and usually quite far away from their star. Credit: Gemini Observatory

VLT is second, right behind Hubble in the amount of scientific papers that its work produced (in the field of visible light/infrared telescopes).

There are many other telscopes that I might mention in the future like Thirty Meter Telescope but I will end it with OWL – Overwhelmingly Large Telescope. It was supposed to be the largest telescope ever, with primary mirror of 100 meters! The price was estimated to be about 1.5 billion euro and because of that it was decided that its not worth it. If we do not kill ourselves we might see giants like those in the future though I have no idea how the scientists, or whoever does it, will name them (UGHT – Unimaginably Giantic Huge Telescope).


[1]Just as JWT, the mirror is made from smaller segments. In the case of E-ELT it is because the mirror would be too heavy and we do not have the technology to build it and in the case of JWT it is because you have to somehow get it into orbit.

Comparison of telescopes: By Cmglee – Own workiThe source code of this SVG is valid., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33613161


today I will write about pareidolia a commonly seen phenomena. People often see familiar objects in completely random things, like rocks.

Clearly there is face in the upper middle part of the picture on the left. There is definitely sign of both eyes, of nose and mouth, thats more than one needs to SNice.svgrecognise face in something, consider the following one on the right. Do you see the black thick circle filled with yellow color, two ellipses and curved line extended in the ends? Yeah me too.

The point is that humans are great in recognizing (most often faces) in things that are actually not them. The first picture is photo of region Cydonia which is a area on Mars. It was taken in 1976 by Viking 1 and of course people thought that it was proof for extraterrestrial life! Well if you take enough photos of Mars there is high probability that some of the rocks there will resemble primitive faces.

Pick me! Some may bypass this pear for its blemished skin while others will see how eager it is to please

“I am the evidence of life on Earth, beware!”

Pareidolia does not happen only in images but also in sounds. For example there is a group of people who listen to so-called “ghost boxes” (sub category of ghost hunters). Ghost box is a box that is skimming quickly through radio channels. This creates lot of background noise and static noise with mix of what you can hear from the actual radio.. they say that the ghost can easily communicate through it.

Simplest explanation is of course that they just interpret extremely bad audio as some kind of words, plus if they listen for many hours they will eventually pop out something that will be an answer to your question, here is a link so you can consider for yourself, remember humans are great in interpreting random noise as actual words[1] (skip like 3 minutes for actual talk).

The story of the original Mars picture got stretched over many years. 2 decades after taking the picture, there was much better one taken by Mars Express as you can see below it was just the low resolution of Viking spacecraft.

There are many things that can trick us so it is not best to take the first explanation that we can think of, be sceptical and do not share if you do not know anything about it.


[1]The “answers” should be mostly made by random quotes from songs.

Smiley: By en:User:Mystìc – Originally created by en:User:Mystìc at en:Image:SNive.gif. Vectorized by Psiĥedelisto, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55079042

Pear: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3280816/What-photos-s-faces-suffer-facial-pareidolia.html


Vacuum decay and Trump

today I want to do a fun post inspired by a meme that I saw some weeks ago on Theoretical Physics Memes. Well here it is:


If you dont understand the joke, its alright, I will explain. If you do understand the joke you can continue reading for the sake of… reading?

Disclaimer: I have not been using disclaimers before but the truth is I am no physicist so I do not claim to actually comprehend this stuff.

So vacuum decay or also false vacuum is the idea that you could die any second. (See I am no physicist)

Basically fields (meaning electromagnetic and other types) want to get into the lowest energy state possible. Also electrons rather like lower energy states to be more stable so, if they have more than they “need”, they will radiate it away in form of photons. Now it is assumed that these fields are either in stable position (lowest energy level) or they might be in metastable position[1], which means that there is energy barrier between the metastable level and stable, if it is “reached over” and the field drops into lower stable or again metastable level it will release energy.

If we were in false vacuum[2] we would just need to reach over the hill to get to true one.

Since particles arise from these fields some new types would appear and Universe in this place would look a bit different inside. The reason why this is connected to the discovery of Higgs Boson is that the mass that it has indicates that we may live in false vacuum, if our physics is right than we could die any moment since the false vacuum is expanding almost at the speed of light.. means we can not know if it is coming on us or not, which also means that you do not need to worry really.

Now you understand the joke though if you are Trump supporter than you do not find it very funny in which case I pity you because it is great joke 😉 [3]


Pic. source: By User:Stannered – Adapted from en:Image:Falsevacuum.png, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1711800

Post source mostly.

[1]They can also be in unstable position but not for long.
[2]The name false vacuum has nothing to do with the vacuum of space.
[3]Proper explanation: it is so bad that Trump is elected, I hope that Universe will end soon, oh hmm.. what is the probability of it happening?

SpaceX meets Moon (soon)

private space company SpaceX aka Elon Musk decided to visit make a flyby around Moon in 2018.

Where to start? Well it probably began with two private citizens who were willing to pay many MANY millions of dollars to get a nice trip. Yes, space tourism, exactly.

This trip is planned to be done with Falcon Heavy which is rocket (not build yet) designed by SpaceX and is supposed to have 2/3 of thrust of Saturn V (the rocket that got Apollo to Moon). The crew will stay for about 8 days in Dragov v2 (v standing for version) capsule that is also not tested yet. Both of these things are supposed to be run later this year.

Dragon V2 in hover test [1]

The crew are definitely some rich people but as of now they are staying anonymous. At the end of this year they are supposed to start some training but otherwise the mission will be automated so they wont have to do much stuff.. also that means that they wont do much science either.. only some tests on their bodies but otherwise it really is only “sightseeing” trip.

Why this whole thing though? Well it will add lot of publicity and earn some money and it is place to test Falcon Heavy and D2 capsule[2]. The last time people went to the Moon was in 1972 and this mission is quite similar to Apollo 8 which was also such a flyby.

Otherwise we do not really know much details, SpaceX will have to do a lot to be able to accomplish this goal and right now it is behind schedule.. there were some rocket explosions which slowed the company down. We will see how it looks like in the upcoming months.


[1]When the rocket starts to explode and there are people on board, you need to be able to escape really fast. The capsule was not tested on rocket yet.

[2]Also if part of it is payed by somebody else.. well why refuse?

Picture source: By SpaceX Photos – Dragon 2 hover test, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46531492

Its about Trappist-1

I noticed that in the last days lot of attention was given to this new exoplanets. Well, I guess I have to stay in the “popular sphere” and follow with my post!

Around star called TRAPPIST-1 also known as 2MASS J23062928-0502285 were found together 7 exoplanets, more on this down in the post.

First the star.

Trappist-1 is very small star in special category L which means that it is a red dwarf. You wont find this category in the normal stellar classification because this one and other are made for brown and red dwarfs and were introduced later on. This of course means that Trappist-1 is not very bright or very hot and NOT visible to naked eye (it has apparent magnitude of 18.8 which is way outside of what human eye can see).

All pictures of these planets are artist’s impression.


The planets were discovered using transit photometry. Method that takes advantage of the planets blocking out some of the star’s light. In 2015 there were 3 discovered already and in February this year, astronomers in Belgium found another 4.

There names are truly beautiful: b,c,d,e,f,g,h (aka. Trappist-1b…)
b,c,e,f,g have similar size to Earth and d,h have radius somewhere between Mars and Earth. e,f,g also orbit in the habitable zone of planet which is an area around the star where liquid water might stay on the surface.

Bit of a problem is that since the planets are so close they receive lot of radiation from Trappist-1 and are also probably tidaly locked, which means that they are facing the star with always the same side, thats what is happening to our Moon too. All of their orbits’ radiuses (semimajor axes) are in matter of few millions of kilometers. For Earth this is 1 AU or 150 millions and for Mercury roughly one third. Their years last few days, for Trappist-1b it is just 1,5 days. Those are definitely some crazy numbers but since we know so little about formation of new life we can not really say how high the probability of something living there is.

NO signals were detected from that direction.


PS: You would have amazing view from the planets since they are so close together.

Source of picture: By NASA/JPL-Caltech – Catalog page · Full-res (JPEG · TIFF), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56513150

Pioneer Anomaly

today I will write about strange phenomena that occurd to Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecrafts.


Pionner – artist’s concept

Both of these missions are quite old in the space exploration sense. One launched in the year 1972 and the other 1973. They were made to explore outer part of Solar System (meaning still quite close) and after that they of course just went on.. there is no way to retrieve object so far and it would not make much sense.

We lost contact with both but before that we knew how far they were because of their signal. There was something wrong about it anyway, every year when we predicted where they would be they would lack behind about 400 kilometers. Thats almost the length of Czech Republic though Pioneer 10 is able to cover the distance in 33 seconds so that is not much of a difference. But… there is a lot known about the forces acting on the spacecrafts and those could not be it. For example gravity from Sun is slowing them down but it is a thing that one can account for quite easily.

It took few decades to solve this problem (paper finally explaining it was published in 2012). Now we know that it was because of radiation from the spacecrafts as it was losing heat. Pioneers were spin stabilised so that their antennas always pointed towards Earth. The way it was build scientists found out that the radiation causes acceleration towards Sun. But it is kind of weak only: (8.74±1.33)×10−10 m/s2

Thats now much but in Viking program if radiation pressure from Sun (which is a different thing of course) would be ignored it would miss Mars by 15000 kilometers which is quite important.


Pionner picture: By NASA – http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/image/spacecraft/pioneer10-11.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2878008