Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Voyager 1 is finally about to leave the solar system!

Our lovely and comfortable home here on Earth is a long ways away from the end of our solar system. Don’t forget, there’s a lot of space in space.  Here on Earth concepts of boundaries involve rivers, lakes, mountains, human imposed borders, and so on.  However, this is not how the limits of our solar system are established.  There is no one thing at one point that defines the end, but there is definitely an end and it’s really far from here.

About 13 billion miles from home and well past all the other planets is an area known as the heliopause.  This is the part of space where the solar winds, over a significant distance, slow down and are eventually stopped by the interstellar medium.  Meaning this is as far as the impact of our sun can reach.  This area is also the extent of our solar system, where the sun’s influence is gradually overcome by the stellar wind of particles from other stars.

The heliopause is so far away that we are only now getting real time data from the outskirts of our solar system courtesy of the Voyager 1 spacecraft.   Traveling at a speed of nearly one million miles a day (912,000 miles per day to be exact) for the last thirty-five years, the Voyager 1 is finally approaching the heliopause.  This cosmic explorer will become the first human made object to leave our solar system and remarkably, it still works!

The Voyager spacecrafts were launched in 1977 to gather more data on our solar system and then to continue to travel beyond the heliopause into the vastness of space.  So, when will Voyager 1 reach another stellar system?  Well, not for a while.  In 40,000 years our then-power depleted spacecraft will be about 1.4 light years (8.23 TRILLION miles) away from its closest star.  The spacecraft have been loaded with plenty of analog data should they end up finding their way into the hands (or whatever appendages) of other beings way out there. 

So, even at that amazing speed it will take a long time (huge understatement) for it to reach another stellar system.  After all it took nearly thirty-five years just to approach the edge of our own cosmic neighborhood.  Don’t forget, there’s a lot of space in space.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

New Music and Your Brain!

Why do we like the music we like?

Think about all the music you've ever listened to.  Everything from Beethoven's 5th to "Call Me Maybe" are processed through the brain, but what about them allows the brain to say yay or nay?  

So, why do we like the tunes we like?  Well, there's no complete answer just yet, but scientists are exploring more and more about our brain and discovering some pretty neat stuff.  

First we must understand that music is indeed comprised of a lot of sound vibrations.  So, before we answer the question about why we like music we must understand that what we are really answering is why certain series of sounds feel better than others.  To answer this question we must dive deep into the human mind.  The brain is comprised of lots of compartments and relays.  One of those compartments is called the auditory cortex, this is the part that stores all the sounds you've heard in your whole life.  Remember those screeching tires, ice cream truck song, hammers hitting nails, the soundtrack to Lord of The Rings…and so on.  All of those sounds are cataloged by the auditory cortex including all the songs and patterns of sound that you've heard in your entire life.  Each person's auditory cortex is totally unique. 

In a recent experiment conducted by the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, the brain was studied to see how the auditory cortex communicates with the accumbens nucleus.   This is the part of the brain that shows signs of reward and pleasure.  In this study they noticed that the accumbens lights up when it hears new music after the song has been filtered through the auditory cortex.  Wait a minute…isn't the auditory cortex different for different people?  Yes, it sure is.  That's why different people like different music.  One possibility is that all the sounds you've ever heard in your life will dictate and determine the desire to hear similar sounds in the shape of new music.  

Your stored and cataloged audio experiences could have a lot to do with how you process your opinions on the new sounds you are hearing.  Pattern recognition and predictions of where the songs go are powerful processes that the brain computes as you hear the new songs coming into your ear for the first time!

The big question now, after more research how will this impact our lives?  Well,  this could be considered the ultimate targeted marketing plan or the ultimate musical survey.  We'll find out as time passes! 

Yet another insight into your complex and unique brain! 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Wecycle Project!

Tired of opening bottles the old fashioned way?

Say goodbye to busted teeth and those awkward stares from strangers by making your own recycled bike chain bottle opener!!

For this project you'll need an old bike chain, a bike chain cutter, a bike chain link set, and your favorite tasty bottled beverage!

Step 1: Get an old bike chain (be sure to clean it very well by using the right cleaners and let it soak for a few hours!!)

Step 2: Grab a chain cutting tool (if you don't have one go to your friendly neighborhood bike shop, they should have a few laying around!)

Step 3: Cut 12-16 links off your bike chain

Step 4: Admire your handiwork...very well done, good job you!

Step 5: Get your bike chain links

Step 6: Connect the two ends of the bike chain with your link

Step 7: Place on the bottle and pop-that-top!

Step 8: Enjoy your tasty bottled beverage!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What came first the chicken or the egg?

Science is the process by which we can ask and answer questions about our natural world.  Everything from your most routine activities all the way to the quest for our universe’s origins are fair game for the field of science!  So, let's put science to the test and answer an age-old question: What came first the chicken or the egg?

So without the egg there would be no chicken, right?  However, at the same time without the chicken would there be an egg?  Well, actually, yes there would be.   This is the story about the long and detailed process of evolution. Eggs are used by any species that sexually reproduces.  So to trace back the history of eggs we must look back at some of the earliest species that sexually reproduced.

First of all, some of the earliest eggs date all the way back to early sponges, literally hundreds of millions of years ago.   After millions upon millions of years of natural selection on mutations and variations an early avian species was produced, we’ll call this a “proto-bird”.  This early bird laid eggs that would, again after generation upon generation of natural selection, turn into a wide variety of bird species.

One of those bird species was what we could call a “proto-chicken”, meaning it was some variation of what we know as a chicken, but not exactly what we have available on Earth today.  Well, that “proto-chicken” laid eggs and eventually the species started to morph and change slowly due to natural selection and voila, an egg was laid that would hatch and give birth to what we now know as a chicken.  The egg allowed for the chicken to be born.

Now, why that chicken crossed the road is a whole different story all together...