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Monday, June 4, 2012

Might As Well Be Walking On The Sun

Summary: Venus takes a stroll.

Why It's A Mind Blow: By now, you've probably heard that tomorrow marks a once more in a lifetime opportunity. Starting at about 6 PM EST, our nearest celestial neighbor will pass in front of the sun.

The next time Venus will make a "transit" will be in 2117, so this is probably your last chance to see it (unless you're Ray Kurzweil). There will be plenty of websites broadcasting the event live but if at all possible, I suggest viewing it with your own eyes. There's just something special, more real, and more personal about looking up in the sky and seeing these things for yourself.

Just remember, looking at the sun is dangerous business! DO NOT DO IT without the proper equipment (protective lenses, etc.) Another option is to find a local viewing party. Here in Vermont, they'll be opening up the observatory at Middlebury College to the public so if you like, and if the clouds don't ruin things, you can stop by there after work and have a look-see.

If none of these options are viable, you can always use a pair of binoculars and a white sheet. Place the sheet about three feet in front of you and, with your back to the sun, hold the binoculars over your shoulder. Once again, DON"T LOOK directly at the sun. Rather, use the binoculars to project an image of the sun onto the sheet. It really works and yes, that little black dot really is another world. You really are watching it pass in front of a star.

These are times of wonder. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Saturday's Simple Beauties 7

Summary: Planet Earth at peace....another mind blow that speaks for itself.

Friday, June 1, 2012

What's in a Day?

Summary: Depending on your position in the cosmos, a day can be many things.

Why it's a Mind Blow: The length of a day on Planet Jupiter is much shorter than a day here on Planet Earth. The sun comes up, the sun goes down, and it starts all over again every 9.84 hours. Mercury and Venus, on the other hand, spin much slower. Their rotations span 58.7 and 243 Earth days respectively.

I spend many of my days on other worlds. It is my fancy and my nature. Hence this blog, Daily Mind Blow. It remains my intention to share some of the most mind-blowing news on Planet Earth with you on a daily basis. However, due to the nature of my voyage, I cannot promise that these updates will come with the regularity of an Earthly existence.

So stay tuned. Daily Mind Blow isn't going anywhere. I will continue to post here every day. I cannot, however, foresee the length of that day. It all depends on where I land tomorrow. In the mean time, thanks for coming along for the ride!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

No Harm In Trying

Summary: A sixteen year old has solved the "unsolvable" math problem.

Why it's a Mind Blow: Three hundred and fifty years ago, Sir Isaac Newton posed what he deemed to be an unsolvable problem and for three centuries, the greatest mathematical minds on Planet Earth did little to disavow his claim. The problem involved predicting the behavior of a projectile acted on by the forces of gravity and air resistance.

Enter Shouryya Ray. At age sixteen, the young man stared right in the face of the impossible and said, "well, there's no harm in trying." Even though his teachers told him the problem had no solution, Shouryya had a crack and wouldn't you know it, he solved the problem.

So go ahead. Try. What's the harm? And who knows, you might even succeed.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jimmy's Neutron

Summary: Neutron stars are loco.

Why it's a Mind Blow: Our universe is full of fantastical, mind-boggling, crazy-weird wonders. One of the most bizarre phenomena out there has to be neutron stars.

Neutron stars form when a normal star reaches the end of it's life and goes supernova. During these stellar explosions, the core of the dying star compresses. What remains is comprised mostly of neutrons (neutrally charged atomic particles) crushed into a smooth, white-hot sphere about 10 miles in diameter.

Neutron stars are massive, The crushing force of gravity pulls the pearl of atomic matter in so tightly that the mass is one to two times that of our own sun. Remember, it's only 10 miles across! Neutron stars are so massive, that if you dropped a grain of sand one meter above the surface, it would accelerate to 7.2 million kilometers per second as it fell. The force of it's impact on the surface would actually destroy the component atomic parts, thus converting the sand into more neutron star.

A neutron star is so massive, that a teaspoon of it's material contains the same mass as the Great Pyramid at Giza. It is so dense, that every human on Planet Earth would be compressed together to the size of a sugar cube on it's surface. And it spins so fast, up to several hundred revolutions a second, that you could travel from New York to L.A. and back again in that same second!

So why am I telling you all this, (lest you think your Daily Mind Blow might degenerate into a glorified science text book)? Simple - the wonders of nature are so numerous and comprehensively bizarre, that it blows my mind. Neutron stars are a great example. Just imagine, they're actually real and what's more, we figured out how to understand them! Crazy.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Re-Blow: A Whale of a Tale

Summary: Periodically, I will re-post a Mind Blow that some of our newer readers may have missed. In this first re-blow, a mother Gray Whale, known for her affection toward human visitors, is found with a 125 year old harpoon in her back. 

Why It's a Mind Blow: Humans usually assume that we are the most intelligent species on planet Earth and yes, we do have the highest capacity for cognitive reasoning. But defines intelligence more broadly, as the "capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude for grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc."

"Aptitude for grasping truths"; this phrase resonates with me. For what deeper truth has history taught us than the necessity of forgiveness as a cornerstone of progress and ultimately, survival. 

And yet, even as we may realize this intellectually, our track record as a species seems to suggest that we lack the deeper intelligence necessary to put that knowledge into practice. Humans hold grudges. As societies, we go to war on the basis of millenia old transgressions and, as individuals, we often go to our graves with bitterness in our hearts.

So we have a lot to learn from Gray Whales. Before the end of commercial whaling in North America, these gentle giants were actually known as "devil fish". They were easy targets in the shallow waters off the coast of Mexico, and in order to protect their newborn calves, mother Grays would often ram whaling boats head on.

Now under protection, these birthing grounds are visited by thousands of "eco-tourists" every year. The whales, young and old, often swim right up to small craft and allow people to pet them.

One such mother Gray, famous for her generous and playful interactions with human visitors, recently passed away. In her back, scientists discovered a 125 year old harpoon head. This creature, once labeled a devil fish for her defensive attacks against human aggressors, was now one of our most trusting friends.

"Aptitude for grasping truths; capacity for understanding." I'll let you decide where intelligence truly lies in our world.


Monday, May 28, 2012


Summary: Planet Earth's most powerful radio telescope, the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) will be constructed across two continents and will peer deeper into the cosmos than ever before.

Why it's a Mind Blow: The announcement came down last week. The SKA will be constructed at sites in Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Kenya, Zambia, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and even the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius and Madagascar. The 1.5 billion Euro project will form the most powerful radio telescope on our world and, at this scale, perhaps well beyond.

Now, I've pummeled you with a fair bit of telescope news over the last two months. I want you to know that it's not for lack of consideration of other topics. It just so happens that telescope news is coming fast and furious, and I honestly believe it is the most mind blowing development on the planet today.

Why? Quite simply, the SKA will be unimaginably powerful. Spread over thousands of kilometers in the southern hemisphere, it will be able to observe the universe at its very earliest moments. It will be able to precisely map the location and movement of the billion galaxies closest to our own, furthering our understanding of dark matter and perhaps refining Einstein's explanation of gravity.

How big is the SKA? Well, put it this way: it makes the Very Large Array in New Mexico look like something Galileo built in his garage. The very mechanics of reality will be observed in magnificent detail, to say nothing of the implications for the search for extraterrestrial life. By the time the SKA is completed in 2025, we will have a long list of candidate star systems, and this array will give us the power to listen in for civilizations even less developed than our own. First contact, it seems, may be a call placed from Planet Earth!