Of all the secrets and mysteries of science, I find myself most fascinated by the universe. It’s birth and evolution, its future and unexplored depths–these stories keep me coming back for more. Perhaps the most exciting part is that there is so much we do not know. We sit on our lonely planet, pondering how everything came to be and where it is going. If one phrase can describe the history of cosmology, it is the proverbial “the more we learn the less we know.”
When NASA scientists began to analyze samples from the moon landing in 1960, they discovered something fascinating. The moon rocks the team had brought back resembled the rocks and dust on Earth. In fact, aside from lower water and iron content, the moon’s chemical composition was almost identical to the Earth’s. This was huge.
In case this does not seem significant, let’s get some perspective on the matter. The moon is without a doubt the most studied astronomical body in history, but by the end of the nineteenth century, scientists still had no idea how it got there. Theories had ranged from the plausible (the Earth and the moon formed together) to the farfetched (the Earth used to have a really big atmosphere and was able to capture a rogue, pre-formed moon), but further scrutiny uncovered holes in them all. By 1900, the predominant though mathematically questionable explanation involved centrifugal force from a fast-spinning Earth throwing off material that coalesced into the satellite.
In the first half of the twentieth century, physicists discovered something alarming about the sky. When they looked up, they saw the sun—and it was shining. You see, according to their calculations this was impossible. Their models stated that the sun was not enough energy to shine. Despite their efforts to explain the problem, the numbers were loud, clear, and anything but bright.
First, some background on the sun. Like all stars, the sun converts its mass into energy via nuclear fusion. In short, the gravity of its outer shells heats the core until it can convert hydrogen into helium, producing enough energy to support itself. This process gives off immense radiation, which we perceive as heat and light. I explained how stars work a few weeks ago—click here to learn more.
Stars. They are such stuff as dreams are made on. They shine in the night sky, reminders of our insignificance and the vastness of the universe. They may sit millions of light years away, but they are closer than you think.
Simply put, stars are massive balls of plasma held together by their own gravity. Once a critical mass of interstellar dust and debris and accumulates, its gravity pulls it together, heating its core enough to fuse hydrogen into helium. The heat from these reactions balances the gravitational force of the outer shells, preventing the star from collapsing under its own mass. Stars spend most of their lives on what is called the main sequence, fusing hydrogen into helium as they orbit galactic centers at incredible speed.
Everybody, there’s something I need to get off my chest: I am a nerd. Yes, I am an avid Boston sports fan. Yes, I spend too much time at the gym. But deep inside I am as weird as everyone else. I say everyone because I have a hunch that I am not alone: behind our mainstream interest and normal-person façades, we all have our oddities—our guilty pleasures, if you will. Below are even more of my nerdy secrets most people do not know about. I hope that this post can inspire others to share their guilty pleasures as well because let’s be honest: being a nerd is a lot more fun than being normal! Click here for part one and part two!
I can’t stop watching Pokémon
I’ve already confessed about how much I love Pokémon (I’m currently making my way through Pokémon White), but this brings it to a whole new level. Nintendo recently released a free iPhone and Android app called Pokémon TV. The app streams the episodes from every season of the Pokémon anime for free—and I’m hooked. I can’t believe I’d forgotten how awesome this show is. Whether battling gym leaders or exploring each region, Ash and friends have drawn me back into this amazing (yet shockingly twisted) world. As of now I’m halfway through season six. Thank goodness there are fifteen-plus seasons! Can anyone else recite Team Rocket’s motto by heart?