Tag Archive: space

Try Again, Fail Again, Fail Better


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  A few months ago I wrote a piece on some of the most amazing scientific predictions to come out of classical literature. From IVF to space travel, it seems that an unexpected number of major technological innovations have been proceeded by the imaginations of great historical authors. But, if amazing scientific breakthroughs can be predicted before they happen, then surely the reverse must also be true. Indeed, history must be littered with examples of respected authorities confidently postulating the possibility of a discovery one minute, before shame-facedly back-pedalling in the next. So, with that in mind, here’s a run-down of science’s top-5 greatest hypothetical hick-ups.   5) Theory: Planet Vulcan, Proponent: Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier During the 1800s, astronomers were struggling to explain certain peculiarities in Mercury’s celestial orbit. Several scientists, led by Le Verrier, suggested that these disturbances arose due to the existence of another planet or  moon, which was named ‘Vulcan’, after the Roman god of fire. The theory drummed …

Astrology – part 1


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Just the other day a friend asked me about astrology, and whether it had any scientific merit. She said that she’d read all sorts of astounding claims about the validity of astrology, as well as “scientific proofs” of its efficacy. Well, as far as I can tell, it’s all bunkum, although, as we shall see, it does possibly have a certain psychological palliative value, I think. The first thing to note is that astrology was invented a very long time ago, when most people believed that the earth was at the centre of the universe, and was orbited by all the other planets, as well as the sun and the other stars. Needless-to-say, this outdated scheme fit very nicely with humankind’s sense of self-importance, a sense that comes out very clearly in the scriptures of many of the world’s religions -in which the creator of the universe puts human beings in the centre of all things. Anyway, this ancient belief is based on what is known as the terra-centric model of …

Poor old Pluto

pluto solar

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Two things happened in 1930 (well, ok, more than two things to be precise): Disney gave Mickey Mouse a big floppy, friendly puppy-friend; and a young astronomer, Clyde W. Tombaugh, 22 years old, and working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff Arizona, assigned to a meticulous task, after much arduous work, identified a new planet. Neither had a name at first. A few months after Tombaugh discovered it, an 11 year old British school girl (Venetia Burney), with an interest in classical mythology, suggested the name Pluto for it because the Roman god Pluto could disappear at will, and was thus as elusive as his namesake planet which had proved so hard to find; I’m not sure when and how Mickey’s dog acquired its name. It was all so simple then, any large body orbiting the Sun was a planet, and there were 8 of them until Pluto came along. New discoveries since however, seem to have rewritten the rules …

Tomorrow’s World


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Chances are, if you’re reading this, then you’re a bit of a Science Fiction geek. But even if you do happen to be one of those weird people who remain unfazed by the latest Star Trek trailer, you’re probably still familiar with some of Sci-Fi’s most famous ‘inventions’. From Captain Kirk’s wireless communicator to Marty Mcfly’s pink hoverboard, Sci-Fi has long been predicting the future, with widely varying degrees of success. Still, every once in a while an author comes along with an idea that is so groundbreaking and so accurate that it simply beggars belief. In honour of these scientific savants, we’ve trawled through the history books to bring you Science Fiction’s top five technological predictions.   5) Invention: In Vitro Fertilization, Author: Aldous Huxley In July 1978, Louise Brown achieved instant fame when she became the first baby to be born using in vitro fertilization. As well as bringing joy to her family and friends, her arrival also …

Mississippi Delta


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It may look like a branching blood vessel, but this image is actually taken 700km above the surface of the Earth. It is a false-colour image of the Mississippi Delta – the coastal region where the river flows into the Gulf of Mexico. To highlight the edges of the branching pattern of river channels, vegetation in this image have been coloured red. While engineers have done their best to control the course of the Mississippi River with a series of levees and artificial channels, it is still difficult to control the 17000 cubic meters of water that flow out of the mouth of the river every second. On its 2320 mile journey from its source, the river has picked up a large amount of sediment. As the water slows as it enters the Gulf, this sediment can no longer be carried by the moving water, and so is deposited. It’s not a coincidence the image shares a striking similarity with …

Deceiving desert looks like it is made of ice


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Maybe like me, you thought this image was of a mountain, climbing out of a snowy plain. In fact, it is a satellite photo taken of the Namib desert, in Namibia. The snowy plain is in fact a sand sea – a giant area filled with little but wind-blown sands. It has the appearance of ice and snow because the sand has a high level of reflectivity or albedo, bouncing the light back into space. The hills in the center of the image are devoid of sand, causing them to reflect different amounts of light back. This region of Africa has been arid for millions of years. The cause lies in its geography. Lying on the western coast of Africa, it sits next to the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Air masses in the region get cooled by the ocean, precipitating out their rain over the waters. By the time the air masses travel over the land, they are …

Awesome proof we landed on the moon

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Surely this is every kid’s fantasy – to be able to drive an awesome buggy not just off-road, but off the planet. The driver of the buggy (or Lunar Roving Vehicle as it’s more properly called) is Fred W. Haise, Jr., Commander of the Apollo 16 mission to the moon. From the footage, you can tell it was taken on another world for a number of reasons. Firstly, the scale of the environment the LRV is driving in – it goes on for miles in every direction. So, either NASA built the world’s largest set to film this in or it actually did take place on the surface of the moon. Secondly, look at the dust that flies out from under the vehicle. Notice how it falls much slower than it normally would. That’s because the moon’s gravity is sixth of that on Earth.  Also look at the way the dust behaves. On Earth, dust kicked up from a vehicle would …

Quiz 3 – Space


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Week 3 of 5 of Unpopular Science’s famous science quizzes. This week the theme is space. For those that don’t know, after 5 weeks, whoever has the highest cumulative score will win a copy of  Tiger Wars by Steve Backshall*.  If you want your score to be tracked, add your name and email. If you just want a bit of fun, don’t worry. You can start the quiz by simply clicking Next. To see the leaders of the first two quizzes, see our leaderboard. You can still join in, by doing our first quiz here and our second here. * In the event of a tie, names will be drawn at random and the Editor’s decision is always final. One entry per person. Prize will be announced soon. Also, good luck!   More posts from Unpopular Science The biology of Harry Potter… I recently wrote an article outlining how biological concepts are communicated through the Pokémon games and it got me thinking: what other popular …

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