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Category Archives: Just for Fun

What Is Space?

Two of my favorite comic characters contemplating the vastness of the Universe. Forever thanks to Mr. Watterson.

This is a blog post I wrote in March of 2008—a year before there was even Lights in the Dark! I’m sharing it again because it’s fun…I hope you think so too.

We’ve all seen the grade-school models of the solar system. Maybe you made one in science class. Out of painted styrofoam balls or colored construction paper. Maybe you saw one of those giant models hanging from the ceiling of your local science museum. Big colorful globes, some with rings around them, some painted swirly colors, others looking more like pitted rocks. For most people, that’s their impression of the solar system. Yellow sun in the middle, then all the different colored balls swooping around it. Some people even remember all the names from third-grade science class. Maybe even in order. (My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies?) If so, scratch-n-sniff stickers all around. Yum, root beer!

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No, the Solar System (Still) Isn’t a Vortex

Animation of a “vortex” Solar System. (Credit: DjSadhu)

Like a bad penny (or a grossly inaccurate science meme) this tends to rear its shiny animated head online at least a couple of times a year, and it seems this year will be no exception. It’s a GIF showing the motions of the Sun and planets through space, trailing glowing lines (which they don’t but that’s just an illustration) in order to “prove” that the Solar System is really a vortex and vortices are cosmically significant and life is magic and ehrmagerd your mind should = blown. Or something like that.

Except, other than being a pretty animation, it’s simply not the case. The creator, DjSadhu, is much more metaphysicist than astrophysicist (really he’s a music and video producer) and ultimately what he was supporting is a reconstruction of the heliocentric model and an alternate path of the Sun around the galaxy itself, which is simply just wrong. Luckily an astrophysicist and an astronomer—Rhys Taylor and Phil Plait, respectively—were more than willing to offer their professional opinions on the matter when this all first appeared, the former writing a blog post in response to the latter’s. I was able to convince Rhys to let me share his post on Universe Today, and it offers a lot of entertaining insight as to why that little animation is not only misleading but the herald of a slew of inaccuracies.

Read the full debunking on Universe Today: Is the Solar System Really a Vortex?

Note: A year after the original article(s) were published Rhys shared another in which he commends Sadhu for openly communicating about the physics involved and actually creating a more accurate version of the animation—and without the unscientific woo. You can (and I suggest you do) read that post here. Unfortunately on the internet nothing ever really goes away, so the first GIF inevitably shows up every now and then. Remember all this the next time it does.

Friday Fun: Plop Plop, Fizz Fizz…in Zero-G

During his 340-day-long One-Year Mission in 2015-2016 NASA astronaut Scott Kelly conducted—and was the subject of—countless experiments on the effects of long-duration space travel aboard the ISS. But he did manage to have a little fun too; the video above shows what happens to a blob of water free-floating in microgravity (that’s the technical term for zero-g in orbit) when Kelly adds some food coloring and a piece of Alka-Seltzer. The results are interesting to say the least as well as quite beautiful…be sure to watch in high-definition to catch the castoff watery “meteors!”

Learn more about the One-Year Mission here (and h/t to Aeon Magazine editor Corey Powell for the video!)

NASA Releases Mars Rover Game for Curiosity’s 4th Anniversary

NASA's new Mars Rover game lets you test your driving skills on the Red Planet.

NASA’s new Mars Rover game lets you test your driving skills on the Red Planet

Friday, August 5 marks the 4th anniversary of Curiosity’s landing on Mars and to celebrate NASA has released a video game that lets you rack up high scores while trying to drive a rover on Mars (warning: it’s trickier than it looks!)

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Death in Space

Here’s a bit of fun for you: an animated short of ways one could meet one’s end on a space adventure, by professional animator and illustrator Tom Lucas.

Obviously this is more science-fiction than science fact, what with the hungry aliens and all, but you still wouldn’t want to smash yourself in the faceplate with a chunk of asteroid. (Not without some Duct Tape handy, that is.) The timing is great, and I’ll admit to actual LOLs at the end.

Find more of Tom’s work here, including the equally-spacy short “Botanical Nightmare!” (Perhaps Tom should be getting a NASA contract for outreach videos!)

HT to LaughingSquid.com 

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