Gravity Waves Discovered: In Plain English

Social media has been abuzz with a breaking discovery in science and exploration, which tells us two things: (1) Our society has come a long way as far as interest in the sciences is concerned – people are actually getting excited over this latest discovery and are sharing the news via Facebook, Twitter etc. And (2) the news itself is absolutely revolutionary! Einstein’s theory has effectively been proven with the first real detection of gravity waves. But, I’ll let theoretical physicist and string theorist Brian Greene explain that to you…

Video Source:Brian Greene Explains The Discovery Of Gravity Waves” Uploaded by World Science Festival to YouTube channel www.youtube.com/watch?v=s06_jRK939I

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Neil deGrasse Tyson Cuts Rapper B.o.B’s Epic Brain Fart With Some Serious Febreeze!

If you’ve been on the fence with regards to your opinion of rap, be prepared to forever hate the genre. Rapper B.o.B. of “Airplanes” fame actually believes the world is flat and that we’ve all been lied to and deceived, in his very words. It started on January 24th, when B.o.B. posted the following tweet…

bob flat earth tweet 1

He followed up this grievously stupid Tweet with the following drivel:

“I’m going up against the greatest liars in history.”

“You’ve been tremendously deceived.”

Okay. WHAT?? I didn’t know people still believed the world was flat and the fact that more than 2,000 people LIKED his Tweet is seriously concerning! Unfortunately, today’s society is more influenced by people like rappers than they are by scientists, so our children (and the simple-minded) are at a real risk of buying into this prehistoric notion.

Enter the coolest guy alive: astrophysicist and curator of the Hayden Planetarium, Neil deGrasse Tyson. In this video, Neil presents the facts in pure poetry, calling B.o.B. out for the simple fool he is – but, you know, in a totally intellectual and non-offensive way. So if you were feeling a little slow today and struggling to get your brain into gear, take solace in the fact that there are people out there who are far more ignorant than you are. It just sucks that many of them are millionaires *coughdonaldtrumpcough*

Video Source: “The Nightly Show – Neil deGrasse Tyson Slams Flat-Earth Theorist B.o.B” posted by Comedy Central to YouTube channel www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBne5T8SQvg

 

Drunk History: The Invention of Coca Cola

Watch the “Eureka” moment when American pharmacist John Pemberton innovated one of the world’s biggest and probably (in the eyes of dentists) most regrettable inventions: Coca Cola. What initially began as a new medicine with some interesting applications ended up as the addiction of tens of millions around the world and an essential accompaniment to popcorn at the movies.

This “Drunk History” moment is brought to you by ingenious comedy writer Derek Waters, a very drunk Jenny Slate (narrator) and brilliant actor Bill Hader, who plays John Pemberton.

Video Source: Comedy Central, as seen on the YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-mU4pf3ywU

Neil DeGrasse Tyson Answers Angry Tweets on Pluto’s Demotion

Many moons ago, Pluto – the outermost planet in our solar system – was demoted. For those of us who grew up with the nine-planet solar system model, this came as somewhat of an affront to everything we knew about anything, ever. I mean, what is the meaning of life if the planetary status of Pluto can so easily be revised and revoked? Why, Neil, why??

In this hilarious video, Neil DeGrasse Tyson answers to the angry rants and raves (and insults) of those really strange people who were truly and deeply wounded by Pluto’s demotion from planetary status to mere space-wandering rock. Why people give such a damn is beyond me. After all, Pluto is only a quarter the size of our moon and even then, most of its mass is ice.

Video Source: Uploaded by National Geographic on YouTube channel https://youtu.be/eBREBAnglr

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a megamind and, not coincidentally, also curator of the Hayden Planetarium, as well as the presenter of Carl Sagan’s revised TV-series, “Cosmos” He is awesome and anyone who has watched any of his videos, lectures or presentations will appreciate just how erudite and smart this man is.

But by far one of Neil’s greatest talents is the perfect balance between a sophisticated understanding of science and the ability to communicate with those who don’t. This makes him one of today’s most powerful and persuasive public figures in science and technology.

What’s In a Name? Bad Science, That’s What

One of the most interesting and thought-provoking books I have ever read is called ‘Bad Science’ and it’s by Ben Goldacre, an Oxford and London-trained doctor who also dedicates much of his time to writing and broadcasting. In his book, he takes a look at many different products and technologies that have more than just blithely sailed under the radar of good science: they’ve gone on to make their manufacturers billions upon billions of dollars in profits.

Ben Goldacre Bad Science
A must-read for anyone and everyone. Dr. Ben Goldacre revives the ailing enquiring mind by exposing the methodology of corporations using ‘science’ to sell. He runs an interesting blog too, which you can check out at http://www.badscience.net.

Any woman (or her husband) will know that when it comes to buying face cream, there are price discrepancies that could feed an impoverished third world country for a week. A 200ml tub of Nivea Crème, or cream if you had to drop the pretence, costs in the region of $3 and is readily available from Clicks, Boots or any other supermarket or pharmacy. I consider this a bargain. Chanel sells a face cream – ostentatiously named Precision Sublimage Serum Essential Regenerating Cream – that, at $375, is one hundred times more expensive. But Chanel is far from the costliest on the market. According to http://www.totalbeauty.com (at the time of writing)

Guerlain’s Orchidee Imperiale Cream Next Generation goes for *cough* $410-$420

Why? Because it contains special ‘molecular extract’ from orchids.

Orlane Crème Royale goes for *choke* $650

Why? Because it contains 24-carat gold and royal jelly (bee’s glandular secretion.)

Expensive face creams
Orlane Crème Royale goes for $650 a pot owing to its content of bee secretion and 24-carat bullshit, I mean, gold.

But the prize has to go to La Prairie Cellular Cream Platinum Rare, at *faint* $1,200, which is more than the standard income of a middle class South African.

Why, Larry, Why? Because its key ingredient is platinum, one of the rarest elements in the Earth’s crust, which not surprisingly goes for around $1,240 per fine ounce at the time of writing.

Against all Common Sense and Rationality, Platinum Will Make You Look Younger

Wow, impressive! No wonder it’s expensive. With ingredients that require the processing of thousands of acres of expensive and rare flowers, or thousands of tonnes of ore, it’s really no wonder that a tiny pot of cream is so damn expensive. MY question is what on EARTH is platinum going to do for my skin? Platinum is a totally stable and non-reactive metal that, even at high temperatures, is non-corrosive. So coating your face with it may prevent you from rusting IF you were the tin-man from The Wizard of Oz.

I’ve no doubt that the chemists, cellular biologists and other specialists these multi-billion dollar corporations have working for them could explain how vanilla extract might prevent the early signs of skin aging, or how 24-carat gold might make my face look more radiant. But I’m even more certain that there are abundant cheaper alternatives that do EXACTLY the same thing. Under a microscope, vitamin E oil from rare orchids that grow exclusively on the island of Madagascar looks exactly the same as vitamin E oil from something as commonplace as sunflowers.

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

expensive face creams

Keeping your skin looking healthy and young is about keeping it hydrated, which also means staying out the sun and avoiding habits such as tobacco smoking. And Dr. Ben Goldacre explains this beautifully in Chapter 3 of his book Bad Science (seriously, give it a read!) If you look at the list of ingredients on the tubs of these various moisturizing creams, there is almost zero different between the $3 tub of Nivea and $300 tub of Chanel. The difference that can be found lies in the addition of super strange and exotic ingredients that are almost always impossibly hard to find. You’re also paying for the brand name, which I can assure you does sweet FA for your skin.

It’s the schism between science and society that enables these cosmetic companies (and many, many other big brand names) to charge you an obscene amount of money for products that are essentially the same as their inexpensive and unpretentious counterparts. Trust me. If it had to be shown in a number of controlled scientific trials that, for example, gibbon ejaculate could reduce the evidence of aging more effectively than your standard moisturizer’s ingredients, I’m sure it would be huge news, complete with captivating headlines…

“Monkey Comes to the Rescue of Your Aging Skin”

“The Fountain of Youth Discovered!”

Refuse those highly processed headlines and do the truth-seeking yourself. And the next time you consider spending more than $50 on face cream, ask yourself how many monkeys were touched inappropriately to bring this product to you.

angry funny gibbon monkey

15 Awesome Human Superpowers

Some people work hard, train hard, educate themselves and push themselves to the very limit to gain some kind of notoriety in life (and the money it tends comes hand-in-hand with). This video is proof that, in addition to being inherently gifted, there are other ways to become famous… be exceptionally stupid. Eating metal screws makes you an idiot. Just because you survive your diet of cars, wheelchairs and bad life choices doesn’t make you special.

Having said that, there are some incredible cases of human superpowers in this video, such as the “human calculator” and the man who learned conversational Icelandic in just one week. My only superpower is being able to make my one eye squint – actually I have two if you count the other one, but that’s far too lascivious to mention here – and so my concluding question to you is: what’s your superpower?

Video Source: “15 Real Life Human Superpowers” Uploaded by Planet Dolan to YouTube channel www.youtube.com/watch?v=dM3_s0rKBVc

Today’s Sciencey LOL

Okay, so it’s like the author of this has actually been watching me watch Big Bang Theory…

funny science jokes pictures

How To Bake a Diamond

Beautiful diamond gem

Diamonds have been getting men out of trouble for hundreds of years. They have also been getting men into trouble for hundreds of years. So, what’s so special about diamonds? They’re really pretty, they’re really strong, they have a great pair of tits…

Sorry, that’s Lara Croft.

DIAMONDS are really pretty, they’re really strong and they’re really RARE. They are also the gemstone of choice when it comes to getting hitched because, just like Shirley Bassey sang, diamonds are forever.

Diamonds are Forever… No, Really, They Are!

Aside from their unparalleled resilience and durability, diamonds are spectacular-looking rock minerals. Cut into a complex and intricate array of facets and planes, their refractive light properties send out a kaleidoscope of colour which spans the visible light spectrum, even though the gem itself appears totally translucent and colourless.

What are diamonds? What are they made of? How are they formed?

Yeah, yeah… what you REALLY want to know is what it takes to bake your own diamond so that you can become super rich and super lazy just like Paris Hilton. Well, just like everything else on this planet and in our universe really, diamonds are made of tiny, tiny building blocks. A closer look into their crystal structure tells us just how these highly coveted stones are formed.

Diamond, which is derived from the ancient Greek word adámas, meaning ‘unbreakable,’ is made from one of the most common elements here on planet Earth. It’s in the soil we walk on, in the air we breathe and in the food we eat. Here’s another clue: you’re made from it.

Carbon!

Diamonds from black carbon

It’s the same black crap your science teacher created from burning sugar, the same black crap the graphite in your pencil is made of and the same black crap shown in the picture above. Oh, how unromantic!

Surely such a rare and highly prized stone would be constructed from something equally as exotic and just as rare? Alas, my friends. It is not the building blocks of diamonds that make these stones so special, but rather the conditions under which they are forged. It’s like baking a cake: at the right temperature and with the right cooking time, the cake will come out beautiful, spongy, moist and delicious. At the wrong temperature and cooking time, the same batter will come out black, bitter, inedible and more appropriately used as a bludgeoning weapon.

Carbon + Contaminant = Colour!

Colorful diamond array

We’ve established that diamonds are made from carbon. Actually, they’re made from a carbon allotrope, just so that you geology geeks don’t get a kick out of correcting me. But for all intents and purposes, diamonds are essentially made out of carbon. And carbon is abundant. So, theoretically, you should be able to make your own diamonds! Just don’t tell anybody about it or you could throw a major spanner in the traditional works and symbolism of marriage, just like those pesky homosexuals who want equal rights. I mean, who do they think they are?

Hold on a minute! All it takes is carbon? Then what gives some diamonds their colour? Well noted, my avaricious rapscallions! Diamonds don’t ONLY come as colourless, expensive globules of carbon. Interestingly enough, the unique and very rigid arrangement of carbon atoms in the crystal structure of a diamond (cubic to be exact) makes it difficult for other chemical elements to infiltrate it, causing impurities. This explains why the insides of most diamonds look so beautifully pure and translucent.

Most, but not all.

Diamond, actually, is quite snobby. It only allows very particular elements into its crystal lattice and then again, it only does this on the rare occasion. To give you an idea of just how fussy diamond is, it is estimated that for every million atoms of well-behaved carbon, there is a single alien atom infiltrator. The result: a fantastic analogy for opening your heart to different races, creeds, genders and nationalities.

And colour!

The colour of a diamond can have a huge influence on the amount wealthy housewives get their husbands to pay for them. Blues and greens are exceptionally rare, so they will fetch a high price. Yellows and browns are more common. And there’s nothing like a brown diamond to make you feel REAL special.

Now, gather your cooking implements and turn the oven on… HOT.

Hot temperature oven

Diamond Recipe

What You’ll Need:

  1. Carbon
  2. A choice of chemical impurity or radioactive element (for colour)
  3. Titanium metal
  4. A shovel
  5. Patience
  6. A degree in town planning

Step 1: Take carbon and mix in desired chemical impurity, or pilfer local science laboratory for radioactive element*.

* If you want to bake a blue diamond like the one Rose threw into the ocean at the end, you need to add boron to your mix of carbon. If you want to bake a yellow diamond, you’ll need nitrogen. If you want your diamond to turn a more exotic shade of purple, pink, red or orange, then make sure you bury it close to a radioactive element, such as plutonium or uranium. Other colours, such as black, brown and sometimes even red and pink are caused by structural flaws that harbour dark impurities that only make them appear the colour they are.

Step 2: Put ingredients into an air-tight and incredibly durable box.

Step 3: Phone NASA for left-over titanium to build said box. If you struggle to get past some power-tripping secretary, you can always melt down your brother’s professional tennis racquet; a legacy from the days he actually thought he’d be a professional at anything. If THAT fails, dental implants are made from titanium, but whatever you do, don’t get caught at the morgue.

Step 4: Bury carbon-filled box at a depth of between 140 and 190 kilometres, or 85 to 120 miles, where there exist conditions of immense pressure and temperature. An ambient temperature of at least 1,050 deg Celsius is what you’re aiming for.

Step 5: Bake for at least one billion years, but it could take as long as three billion years. This is where patience comes in handy.

Step 6: Wait for a super-deep volcanic eruption to bring the box of crystallized carbon to the near-surface of the Earth.

Step 7: Plant a flag at the location, build a town, exploit the native inhabitants as your labour force and dig a big hole in the ground to retrieve your creation.

Step 8: Allow to cool before eating.

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

Beautiful gem diamonds

It’s probably better to buy a diamond than make your own.

This aside, the next time you walk past a jewellery store or stare lovingly at your own engagement/wedding ring, you should look – really look – at the diamond. Know that the real beauty of these radiant gems transcends the price tag affixed to them. Diamonds are approximately half the age of the Earth, they will last your lifetime and millions more like yours and they’re composed of carbon, the very same building blocks as you and me.

The very same material that is forged in the hearts of dying stars.

What’s Your Star Sign?

In celebration of our latest blog on the non-science that is astrology (Astrology Owes You An Apology)…

funny astrology picture

And my absolute worst…

funny astrology

Astrology Owes You an Apology

Horoscope circle astrology

What’s your star sign? Sagittarius? LIAR!!

If your horoscope a little out of scope, it’s because you’re reading the wrong one.

This is not really your fault. How are you to know that things have changed in the heavens since the zodiac was assigned to each calendar month just over 2,500 years ago? This is the problem with astrology in the 21st Century. It is the single most ridiculous cluster of notions that have ever been conceived, second only to the idea that womankind was created from the rib of a man. How insulting! If anything, man was created from the rib of a woman. Why else would men have nipples?

On the upside, on issues of astrology and horoscopes, I’ve finally found something I can agree with Christians about.

If you’re keen on these subjects, I am really sorry to burst your bubble. I’m all for esoteric beliefs if it distracts people from judging thy neighbour and killing in the name of You-Know-Who. But the entire rational framework of astrology is completely and inexcusably flawed. This isn’t only from a logical standpoint, but for one very particular reason, which we shall discuss shortly.

First, let’s find out what on Earth our ancient counterparts were thinking…

The Gods are Grumpy Angry gods fist smash

A cluster of ridiculous notions is forgivable of an ancient civilization that has no understanding of the physical world around them and of all its beautiful and intricate macroscopic and microscopic complexity. Back in the day, a sickness was not the result of a virus running rampant in your body: it was a punishment for wrong-doing or an expression of some deity’s dissatisfaction with your most recent sacrifice. Even though said sacrifice was your sister…

Lightning wasn’t an electrical discharge between a negatively charged sky and a positively charged Earth; it was Zeus throwing his toys out the cot. The stars were not balls of intense and unending nuclear reactions held together by gravity, they were the souls of dead people (or fireflies, if you’re a Lion King fan).

Every civilization has sought to explain the physical observable universe using what little bits and pieces of knowledge they had. A few thousand years ago, in the absence of powerful telescopes, super computers, mathematical equations and the cumulative work of tens of thousands of scientists, that knowledge stemmed from tradition, superstition and beliefs that had been passed down from generation to generation.

Scientific these explanations were not.

Meet the Babylonians

The Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way, Babylon,The Pergamon Museum

Humans are inherently creative and seek symbolism in just about everything around us, so naturally the patterns perceived in the arrangement of stars against the night sky became other people, animals and objects. These constellations were then bestowed with significance over and above their random scattering across the sky.

And who can blame our ancestors? Back in the day there was no TV, so our ancient counterparts looked to the sky for their daily and seasonal weather forecasts; the stars were their GPS. If a decent crop yield depended on you sowing seeds at precisely the right time of year, you too would regard the sky as something sacred and symbolic. Your life could depend on it.

Around 7th century BC, Babylonian astronomers (dudes who puzzled over the sky and made attempts to measure and record the migrations of the stars and planets) divided the constellations that coursed across the Milky Way into the zodiacal signs, which, in Latin, literally means “circle of animals.” Think “zoo.”

astrology and zodiac

Although some of the constellations that make up the zodiac have origins elsewhere and in other times, the Babylonians were the ones who landed the Oscar for incredible breakthrough work in scientific observation, measurement and recording. They were the ones who divided the sky into the co-ordinate system that has largely survived to this day (with subtle modifications and a greater accuracy, of course.)

Each calendar month was assigned a ‘star sign,’ beginning with the constellation that was positioned behind the sun at the time of the spring equinox. This was around March and April in the northern hemisphere. Remember, back in these days, the seasons very much governed the life and times of these people. Spring was an auspicious time of year because your farm animals would start bonking like mad, which was a good thing if you wanted your farm animals to make baby farm animals.

Funny Goat picture

At the time this was all cooked up (just over 2,500 years ago), the constellation that took position behind the sun at the spring equinox was Aries, the ram. Baaa. Every year at the same time, the same star sign would resume its rightful position in the sky.

But the Earth’s movement relative to the stars changes year after year. Every time we make our way around the sun, our aspect is very slightly different thanks to Earth’s wobbly axis of rotation. Just under three millennia later, the constellation positioned behind the sun at the time of the spring equinox is no longer Aries. It’s Taurus.

What does this mean?

The Zodiacal Identity Crisis

Cute lion pictures
“Screw this, I’m not a Leo anymore… I see myself as a Virgo anyway.”

What’s your star sign? Libra? Nope! Actually, you’re a Scorpio. When you were born, the constellation positioned behind the sun was Scorpio, not Libra. So all that crap about being sensitive, artistic, fickle and in love with the idea of love blah, blah, is just that: crap. Whatever star sign you thought you were, you are actually one ahead:

Aries’ are Gemini’s

Gemini’s are Cancer’s

Cancer’s are Leo’s

Leo’s are Virgo’s

And so on and so forth.

Everything you’ve ever read about yourself in a horoscope – what kind of person you are, your personality traits, your likes, loves, potential health problems and more – is all fundamentally flawed because you are reading the wrong star sign. Plain and simple. What’s the point in reading the horoscope for, example, Sagittarius when you’re actually a Capricorn? And why don’t astrologers or whoever writes this garbage picked up on this very simple, yet grave error?

Little Gypsy Fortune Teller

My birthday is on the 19th October. Every horoscope I have ever read in any magazine, newspaper or book has told me that my star sign is Libra. But every single one of them has been inaccurate. The constellation behind the sun on the date of my birth is Scorpio, which makes far more sense because I can be quite a bitch.

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message 

Milky Way over the mountain
The Milky Way, the spiral arm of our galaxy, courses across a darkening sky.

The idea that the stars and planets play a part in forecasting our future is a very romantic one. It makes us feel very important. But those giant impartial elemental worlds composed of ice, rock, fire and air have about as much to do with your love life as scientology has to do with science.

Sure, those horoscopes you read in People while sitting on the porcelain throne can make sense sometimes. But horoscopes are self-fulfilled prophesies. If Madame Zola tells you that your love life is about to get hot and heavy, you’re immediately primed to see significance where there is none. You regard the world with fresh eager eyes; watching and waiting for your Prince Charming or Pussy Galore (guys) to come and sweep you off of your feet.

The bottom line is: stars are far too busy exploding and being catastrophically nuclear to worry about your office dynamics and how that bitch down the aisle keeps stealing your stapler. The planets couldn’t be less interested in how flaccid your sex life has been recently and the moon couldn’t give two hoots about what colour you should dye your hair next.

Perhaps it’s our innate fear of being ordinary that compels us to seek evidence of our extraordinary nature outside of ourselves – in the relative orientation of the stars and planets – when in fact we already ARE extraordinary.

We’re made of star dust, aren’t we?