Saturday, April 12, 2014

Pale Blue Dot Redux

Back in the 1980s, Carl Sagan realized how important it would be for society to see what our home looks like from as far away as possible. For years he worked for years trying to convince NASA to use the Voyager 1 spacecraft to turn around before it left the solar system and take a photo of Earth.

It finally did, and the photo above is the result. The very small barely blue pixel is Earth as viewed from 6 billion kilometers away was the subject of a very moving speech/book by Carl Sagan, but we'll come back to that in a second.

In 2013 July something very unique also happened. A couple of forward thinking scientists on the Cassini space probe team had a very Sagan-like moment but with a twist. They realized that with the advent of technology it would be possible to broadcast to the world ahead of time that a certain space craft would be turning around and taking a photo of you. The Day the Earth Smiled was the result of that.

On July 19, 2013, this beautiful photograph of the same "pale blue dot" was taken while thousands of people looked up at the sky:

That tiny blue beautiful dot is us. Only Carl Sagan's thoughts can do justice to this pivotal image in human history. I can only imagine how much more he would have to say if he'd been here to witness it.

Click play below and listen.

"Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light." - Carl Sagan

Peace has been a difficult to acquire commodity for Earth, and violence seems to continue to endure almost anything thrown at it form across the globe. Perhaps this is what is needed; to step out of our scope of understanding and obliterate it with a perspective so powerful and staggering, to maybe one day eradicate such short sighted hatred. Maybe.

Looking Into the Past

When I started this blog I sought to share with everyone what might be considered "weird science". Not weird because it's not true, or it was discovered in some strange fashion but because the conclusions it gives us are not easy to accept into our daily lives.

The fact that the measured speed of light tells us that we are often looking into the past is one of those.

Let's start with some easy examples:

The Moon

The Moon is approximately 400,000 km (the amount of kms most cars end up going in their lifetime!) and speed of light is about 3 m/s, so the time it takes light to travel between Earth and the Moon is: 1.26 seconds.

So..if the Moon blew up, we wouldn't see the explosion for 1.26 seconds

The Sun

The Sun is about 150,000,000 km (no car can put that much on it's engine, not even a Honda) away from Earth. 

So ..if the Sun blew up, we would still see the Sun up in the sky for about 8.3 minutes

Everything Else

Just recently I talked about a famous image from the Hubble space telescope containing thousands of galaxies. Now, if we apply the concept above to these images we get an astounding conclusion:

The stars and galaxies we are seeing in all of these images are actually in the past, not a few seconds or minutes..but years and years into the past:

As you can see from the image above the further out a telescope captures an object the further back it is in time as far as we can see (i.e almost a billion years).

Basically the light waves from that object took a billion years to reach us, so we have no idea what it's current state is and we wont know for another billion years.

Just another example of #Scale.

Always in the Past

My final thought that I want to leave you with is this. If light travels at a certain speed and is not instantaneous, does this mean we're always seeing things in the past? The simple answer is yes.

But, it's so fast that for all intents and purposes it's instant (nanoseconds). Still something to think about when you see your friend waving at you from a distance...

Space Images

Space photography gives us some of the most breathtaking and awe inspiring photos in history. I figured it would be a travesty if I didn't explore it on my own blog!

My Favorites

Space Station transit across Moon
Photo Credit: Thierry Legault (
The International Space Station doesn't get nearly enough attention. I mean in light of all the fancy space ships in sci fi movies ... not many seem to accept that we've already got one out in space! Maybe it's because how hard it is to relate to it. So that's why this picture of the ISS flying in front of the moon is incredible. For a moment it's very much within our realm of perception.

The Hubble Deep Field

This one is one of the earliest images that captured my imagination. Released in the mid 1990s, this very dense image, filled with close to 3000 galaxies doesn't look very interesting but here's the kicker; the image represents a very very..very small section of the sky. It's about the size of a grain of sand held at arm's length. Yep, there's is a lot of stuff out there.

Nice try Hollywood...

This last piece will be about a set of images actually. All credit goes to NASA for this. They thought it'd be neat to see if they had any images that resembled the photography in the 2013 movie Gravity. What an awesome idea. You can check them out here but here are some of the most striking ones:


Friday, April 11, 2014

The Ruthless Red Giant

It may sound like a typical villain in an upcoming children's film this summer, but it's far from that. This is the ultimate fate of our Sun; the next stage in it's natural life cycle.

As the Sun ages it will use it will use up more and more of it's hydrogen core which will in turn increase it's size, luminosity and energy generated i.e the Sun will get hotter and larger. In fact in about 4.8 billion years the Sun will compare to its current size like this:

Yah that's a huge upgrade. And a huge problem for Earth. So big in fact that as I alluded to life will survive.

But that's the ending of the story, how about the things that will happen along the way?
  • [50,000 Years from Now] Niagara Falls will continue erode into Lake Erie will no longer bexist
  • [50 Million Years From Now] Africa will be divided into two continents as Red Sea floods into the East African Rift
  • [250 Million Years From Now] All the continents may fuse back together into a supercontinent
  • [500-600 million Years From Now] Supercontinent breaks up 
  • [1 Billion Years From Now] Surface Temperature reaches 47 degrees celcius. Most water has evaporated. Most multicellular life has died out (yes that's us)
The Earth is 4.5 billion years old. 1 Billion years from now it will no longer sustain life. Therefore...the Earth has already been around more than 80% of it's expected life.

The earth post-destruction by the Sun

It's truly amazing that something that gave us life (The Sun) will also likely take it away from us. The Human Species has a very likely end date. Depending on what scale you look at things, things won't really stay the same...

Or..things will stay the same. 

Consider this, Humans (Homo Sapien) on Earth have only been around for about 400,000 - 250,000 years ago. That's not even a million years. The Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years. 

We've only been around for 0.003 % of Earth's existence. Therefore to us things really do stay the same.

Like I've said all's all about Scale.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Collision Course

We're all headed for a gigantic a few billion years.

The view from Earth as the collision begins to happen
It's true. It's pretty much an accepted prediction that about 4 billion years from now (Earth itself formed 4.5 billion years ago) our Milky Way Galaxy is about to collide with one of our nearest neighbors; the Andromeda Galaxy

As horrible as it sounds and despite the fact that each galaxy containing billions of stars, the scale is so large that the stars are way too far apart to actually collide with each other. 

Expected views from Earth as the collision takes place..really really slowly (3 billion years)

But that doesn't mean there won't be drastic changes for us on Earth...(if we're actually around).

1) Our Solar system will likely get re-located some where further away from the center and this will likely change what the sky looks like
2) The collision itself will take about 3 billion years to complete
3) As the Andromeda Galaxy approaches closer and closer, about 3.75 billion years from now it will fill the sky much like the first image in the posting
4) Once the collision begins the sky will be filled with bright new star formation

It's bound to be an incredible light show that will alter human behaviour. Except here's the part I didn't tell you, 

Humans are likely not going to be around to catch it. Find our more in the upcoming Part 2 of this post.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


I was ADD-ing furiously at work the other day when I suddenly realized that I hadn't even looked up what movies were coming out this year (the horror) and whether any of them were good thoughtful sci-fi movies and I came across this potential gem: Transcendence, directed by Wally Pfister (cinematographer who's worked with Christopher Nolan) and has Nolan himself as the executive producer. But looking past the talent on board it was the topic that interested me the most.

The technological singularity...

The above graph depicts the exponential rate that computing power has been increasing relative to computing power of various brains of animals including humans. This chart was put together by Ray Kurzweil and his work called The Singularity Is Near. As you can see the extrapolated path is on a collision course with human brain power...

The singularity is understood as a point in the not too distant future where the computing power and ability of artificial Intelligence will surpass that of the collective ability of the human mind. It's predicted to happen within the next 50-100 years. That's not that far folks.

And when it happens it will apparently cause a shift in the way we go about out our existence. Imagine, knowing that we, the human species are no longer the most intelligent and powerful thinking entity on earth. 

Transcendence is actually the second major film to focus on this concept, last year`s surprise success Her also explored this idea.

Despite the fact that this is just a theory at this point and is not without it's detractors, it is a uniquely powerful dilemma that could have huge ramifications for mankind.

We're living in very interesting times, let's just hope it continues to be a positive (sort of) influence on society!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Kilroy was here


Everyone likes to talk about them now, but few (including me) truly understand it. What's the difference between a meme and a joke? Was "joke" too simple of a definition and had to be expanded to become memes? How do you pronounce it? Why is it such a silly looking word? 

Who knows. 

But what I did come across after reading about Richard Dawkin's book that references memes (which I talked about here) is that one of the first memes ever was the Kilroy Was Here phenomena back during World War II when the term meme didn't even exist. 


It's a simple graffiti that by most accounts started (published) when a worker in a US shipyard used it as part of his daily duties to confirm something, sort of like a visual marker. It was then replicated (retweeted / reshared) when countless army personnel begin to use these ships during the war and were baffled/inspired by the inadvertent graffiti and begin to use it on military equipment and war zone buildings e.t.c. (early evidence of trolling?)

Eventually it lost it's popularity after the war but it definitely left its mark. Rumors have swirled about how both Hitler and Stalin had run-ins with this graffiti character. 

I always find strange little snippets of history like this incredibly interesting; especially when they're connected to such a modern concept (memes). Street art is a recognized form of visual art but I still didn't expect it to be the medium where the first meme would have originated.