Gravitational Waves! A Red-Letter Day for Physics

Today, the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is expected to announce a monumental discovery that is 100 years in the making.  Theorized by Einstein’s general relativity in 1915, gravitational waves are ripples in space-time, similar to sound waves, but much tinier.  The search has been ongoing for decades, with no results.  Until now. LIGO has the most sensitive gravitational wave detector ever conceived – in two interferometer facilities in Livingston, Louisiana and Hanford, Washington.  They use a laser split along two axes to give an in-phase beam.  If gravitational waves along one of the axes affect the beam, it...

A Crabby Pulsar in a Crabby Nebula

The Crab Nebula, as it’s commonly known, is connected to one of the earliest recorded supernova explosions.  In 1054 AD, Chinese Astronomers saw the explosion of this supernova as an incredibly bright star in the sky lasting about two weeks, before fading.  Now, nearly 1000 years later, the explosion is still happening as an expanding shock front rich in heavy elements moves through the interstellar medium.  When the shock front hits dust or gas it is slowed down, giving the resulting nebula a unique shape.  In this case, it looks like a crab. The supernova wasn’t exactly the death of the original...

A New Theory of Life: Physics to Evolution

When Isaac Newton quantified gravity, his theory explained how everything in the world around us behaved in its presence.  It opened a door to an understanding of something fundamental, yet elusive in explanation.   Centuries later, Einstein came along and took a step back, finding a larger more comprehensive theory of gravity, one that explained the strange things that happen in the grand universe.  His theory could even explain things that Newton’s theory of gravity could not, such as the odd orbit of Mercury around the Sun.  But the greatest part of Einstein’s theory is that if you use it to...

Is Gravity the Same Everywhere?

One of the big questions in astrophysics is about variation of the laws of Physics.  The laws we know and are familiar with; angular momentum, gravity, energy, are the same everywhere on Earth.  But what about beyond Earth? The universe is so large and so vast, we may be in a local region where the laws of Physics are set, and our laws may be different from a distinct region somewhere else in the universe. The good news is that we can make predictions based on our understanding of physics. And with our powerful telescopes that allow us to view a variety of...

Jupiter Came in Like a Wrecking Ball! A New History of Our Home System

It’s difficult to determine the history of the Solar System.  The planets have been in their current orbits for Billions of years, and any signs of prior activity or configuration has to come from leftover geologies of smaller, rocky worlds.  It makes it especially difficult when the Billions of interloper asteroids and comets throughout history have to be accounted for, adding to the already complex task.  But if there is one thing humanity has going for us it’s the ability to theorize, model, simulate, and test scenarios here on Earth.  We can try new ideas and see if they match...

A Theory of Everything? Mixing Quantum Mechanics and Relativity

The biggest problem in theoretical physics today is the marriage between Quantum Mechanics and Gravity.  Throw in the fact that whatever theory comes out of it has to additionally be able to explain Dark Matter and Dark Energy, and we have ourselves a massive problem to solve.  How do we reconcile the seemingly random probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics with the smooth, pliable space-time of General Relativity.  We have two incredible theories that explain the Universe, make predictions accurately, and have led to amazing advances in technology and understanding, yet they completely disagree with each other at common scales. So...

Motivation Monday: How to Level Up and Learn New Skills

As Gaming has clawed its way into our culture, the term ‘level up’ has taken on a whole new meaning.  Suddenly a level up is not just a desired progression point in a video game, its a term we use to describe exciting milestones in our own lives, most notably with learning skills. A big part of skill building and progression is the transition through the following levels: 1. You don’t know what you don’t know (unconscious incompetence) – You have no idea what the skill involves, and you have no idea how much you don’t know about it.  You continue...