How do black holes emit light?

Black Hole Accretion Disc Light Massive Color Picture Artist's Rendition Weekly Show

If there’s one thing everyone knows about black holes, it’s that they give off no light. These behemoths of time and space erase objects from history, swallowing everything in their paths. Yet a few minutes of research will tell you we can detect black holes through their radiation. In fact, black holes are supposedly some of the brightest objects in the universe. Welcome to the bizarre world of astrophysics.

First of all, your science teachers were telling the truth: black holes give off no light. As their namesake implies, these objects have grown so massive not even light can escape their gravity. If a rogue black hole flew between us and the stars, the only way to detect it would be through its gravity. Astrophysicists have shown, however, that most matter in the universe clumps together. Stars live in galaxies, and galaxies move in clusters. Black holes often live at the centers of galaxies or alongside stars throughout them.

Black Hole Accretion Disc Light Massive Color Picture Artist's Rendition Weekly Show

An artist’s rendition of an accretion disc. Scientists have yet to understand why the black hole emits particle streams on polar axes.

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Confidence + Confidence = Over-confidence?

Over Confidence Picture Cartoon Inflated Ego Weekly Show

I’ve been thinking lately, and not just about Pokémon and food. I’ve met many smart people in my life, all of whom deserve to feel proud and confident of their ideas. Yet some of them exude more self-assuredness than others, a fierce conviction that borders dogma. What is the difference between confidence and over-confidence?

Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” This begins to embody our question. Some friends of mine, for instance, are sure of themselves in an unflattering way. It is one thing to believe you have a valid point; it is something else to believe your point is undeniably correct.

Over Confidence Picture Cartoon Inflated Ego Weekly Show

At what point does self-assuredness become detrimental?

Part of the inspiration for this post came from dinner with a friend last week. She is a smart person, and I respect her. Even so, if you mention her name to someone, the first topic to come up is how aggressive she is with her opinions. I alluded to this at dinner by way of asking why she argues so forcefully in even the silliest discussions. Her response went something like this: “I’m not overconfident, Andrew. I have constructed an argument, and other people are insinuating it is wrong. I am simply defending what I believe to be true—I wouldn’t argue for something I don’t believe in.”

What bothers me in particular about this outlook is the hostility toward alternative interpretations. Though it certainly has its time and place, framing all discussions like this has its pitfalls. First, it suggests first that there exists a right and wrong in every situation. This is closed minded. Second, it assumes that solutions and conclusions are singular, which paves the way for dogma.

Over Confidence Picture Cartoon Cat Dogs Funny Meme Weekly Show

“Those does have no idea what’s coming for them.”

The most inspiring moments in my life have been instances of discovery, but not in the traditional sense of empowerment. Every day I develop a fuller appreciation of the saying “The more I see, the less I know.” While I become more confident in my abilities and passionate about certain topics as I learn, it becomes strikingly clear to me there are many ways of understanding the same situations. I am inspired by the vastness of the unknown, the potential for learning, and our ever-growing insignificance. We sit on a lonely rock orbiting a lonely star in a snapshot of space and time…if there is one takeaway, it is that there is much we do not know.

In this week’s episode of Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson pointed out that science doesn’t care about name or reputation. All that matters is the quality of your facts and the logic of your argument. As soon as we embrace an idea for the wrong reasons, however, we hold ourselves back. Overconfidence can thus be characterized as believing for the wrong reasons. While my friend might not like to admit it, she believes her opinions not because of their logic but because she has accepted them as true. The emotional attachment undermines her validity as a thinker. As soon as we become convinced of something “because it is right,” we lose the ability to question it.

I need to go to sleep, so I’m going to postpone this thought for now. I can write/ramble more about this in a future post. If you want to hear more about food, Pokémon, music, and science, go ahead and check me out on Twitter. As always, please share, like, comment, and subscribe if you like the post. Don’t forget to subscribe for more science/ramblings every Wednesday–it’s FREE!

Comment question of the week

Where does confidence become over-confidence? Is Mark Twain right?

You might also like:

How Earth Destroyed the Ninth Planet

You Are Made of Beautiful Stardust

Is It Okay to Question Science?

In the news:

How to Be More Confident: 5 Research Backed Methods (TIME)

Jon Hamm: Over-Confidence Is Delusional (Yahoo)

Christiane Amanpour Calls “Confidence Gap” B.S. (NY Mag)

Scanning electron microscopes will blow your mind

How do we see things that are really small? Classical microscope technology can let us see all but the tiniest of objects, but some are so minuscule as to evade our eyes. Enter the Scanning Electron Microscope. This marvel of math and engineering fires a stream of electrons and measures the way they bounce off objects. This data reveals the topology of what the electrons hit, producing precise recreations of surfaces. These images give us insight to an alien world on the smallest of scales. Check out the following images of the world beyond our eyes.

Scanning Electron Microscope Cool Insect Tiny Cells Scary Science Weekly Show

A worker ant.

Scanning Electron Microscope Cool Insect Tiny Cells Scary Science Weekly Show

Surgical mesh.

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Does vitamin C really prevent the common cold?

Vitamin C Common Cold Health Myth Weekly Show Pills Supplements Oranges Citrus

Gluten-free. Low carbs. Vitamin supplements. While some of these habits have demonstrable benefits, some seem a little…weird. For instance, what would you say if I told you eating fifty-one bananas a day was the key to healthy living? Many people swear by obscure diets and practices without researching what they actually do. Let’s examine a common one: vitamin C’s ability to cure the common cold.

In 1970 famed chemist Linus Pauling published Vitamin C and the Common Cold, the culmination of his studies on vitamin C. Pauling advocated high intake of the vitamin to prevent the common cold, and in the following years championed oral and intravenous doses to increase the longevity of terminally ill cancer patients. According to his trials, vitamin C intake extended the patients’ survival as much as four times.

Vitamin C Common Cold Health Myth Weekly Show Pills Supplements Oranges Citrus

Pauling’s claims have been widely rebuked by the medical community.

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Breakthough study finds remnants of Big Bang

Inflation Big Bang Expansion Image Diagram NASA Science Universe Weekly Show

The universe is a big place. Most physicists say it is infinite, and estimates of our observable universe fall around 93 billion lightyears across. Fortunately, math and science give us the tools to unravel what we cannot see, such as last week’s breakthrough discovery of the “echo” from the Big Bang.

The Big Bang theory posits the universe burst from a single point some 13.7 billion years ago. In a fraction of a second it underwent staggering expansion, growing exponentially at speeds faster than light. Early phases of the universe contained plasma so “dense” (high-energy) that photons could not escape. About 380,000 years later, the plasma cooled enough to let light push through, giving the universe its first moment of transparency. This theory is widely accepted by the scientific community and explains many properties of our universe, such as cosmic background radiation, large-scale structures, and the large presence of light elements (more on these in future posts).

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