charting the stars
Fourteen billion years ago,
Photons first became.
Twelve billion years ago they left
The first star ending darkness’ reign.
A star three times older
Than our own life-giving Sun,
Its photons traveled all that time
Till in our scopes their trip was done.
Our Sun will last another
Four or five billion years,
And collapse to carbon ash
Long after we were here.
The first star has had the time
To go supernova.
We see its birth when we look up
Though death has taken over.
Who will watch our Sun expand
And boil away Earth’s seas?
Who will see its giant phase?
Its helium flash recede?
Whoever turns their optics on,
Across the universe,
May still admire our pleasant orb
When Earth’s life has dispersed.
By Kate Rauner
In my science fiction novel Venture, a space station encounters the evolution of a
main sequence star, along with asteroid mining and crew conflicts. Journey with them.
Thanks to straightdope.com which reposted this article from April, 2000 – another message from the past.
The fate of our Sun is explained here: universetoday
Firefly beetle looks unimpressive in daylight
As a kid, I loved fireflies – or lightning bugs. On humid summer evenings, as twilight deepened to dark, they rose from the marshy field across the road, making mosquitoes which flew with them bearable. I swept up the slow-flying bugs with a net or even my hands and the poor beetles spent the night in a jar at my bedside. I always released them the next morning, and most survived a brief captivity.
Now science has figured out how the firefly manufactures that magical blinking glow.
I love Jason Bittel‘s concept of the firefly as a black box. You put in enzymes and proteins, oxygen, calcium, magnesium, and the wonderfully-named chemical luciferin. You get out photons – the cold, pale light of the firefly.
Previous hypotheses didn’t fully explain the chemistry, and now a scientist has shown the bug produces a special form of molecular oxygen that contains an extra electron. Electrons can release photons when they move from one atomic orbit (or quantum state) to another. Chemistry, after all, is physics made useful.
Firefly luciferin is already proving to be a useful tool in imaging human tumors and developing cancer-fighting drugs, says lead author [Bruce] Branchini.”
But I just think it’s cool to know the little beetle is a savvy chemist.
Thanks to nationalgeographic.com for covering this Journal of the American Chemical Society paper.
Bosons carry force
Among the fermions
Flying back and forth –
Colliding with the masses.
All these interactions
Exchanging many photons
Exceed our calculations –
The math beyond our grasp.
A million million histories
Are not enough to tell
The pathways are a mystery –
Too many to envision.
When all the paths are added
Results become absurd
Infinity of masses –
Of minuses and pluses.
Infinities that run to right
Infinities to left
Yield answers that are finite –
Renormalized at last.
From these results we can’t predict
The math seems somewhat dubious
But once electrons are fixed –
The method is a triumph.
Weak nuclear combines
But strong nuclear we find
Evades with gravity.
Strong nuclear is parallel
A similar approach
But gravity is physics hell
Somewhere Einstein chuckles.
I’ve read many attempts to explain quantum physics without the mathematics. I’m currently reading The Grand Design by Hawkings and Mlodinow and I like it a lot. The tone is casual, the diagrams helpful, and the many cartoons are a lighthearted touch. If you’re a non-physicist, read this book, even if you’ve read other explanations. Remember Richard Feynman once wrote “nobody understands quantum mechanics.” But it has never failed a test, and if all that testing says it’s so, then it is so. The quantum world exists outside our intuitive, common-sense experience, so forget all that and follow the proof.
Photons from the past
Have journeyed through dark eons
To rest in my eyes
My New Year’s star.
Light has mass equivalence,
And though it’s frame dependent,
There is momentum there
So once you are in orbit,
If you can spread a sail,
Your silver wings can carry you
On winds that never fail.
A modest little CubeSat
That fits within your hands
Will demonstrate the concept
Far above our earthbound lands.
Japan’s Ikaros flew just as high
And didn’t burn its wings.
This inexpensive satellite
Will also spread its limbs.
Bring exploration into reach,
No student will be barred,
With low-cost parts from off the shelf
You’ll someday reach the stars.
by Kate Rauner
Good luck to The Planetary Society‘s LightSail-1, which now has a launch date! The satellite is scheduled to hitch a ride into orbit aboard the SpaceX Falcon Heavy in April 2016.