Riding light and sending sounds in space

The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. That’s per second, not per hour. If you travel at the speed of light for an hour, you cover 671 million miles.

That’s fast, right?

Well maybe on Earth it is, but the universe is a big place. It took about five hours for the signal from the New Horizons probe to travel from Pluto to Earth. And that’s traveling at the speed of light.

To put it in perspective, take a look at this if you’ve got 45 minutes to spare:

That’s how long it would take to get from the Sun to Jupiter: 45 minutes.

Forty-five minutes of nothing but emptiness with a few big space rocks called planets, moons and asteroids showing up every few minutes to break up the monotony. I bore easily, so if it took this long to get to Jupiter, imagine how many “Are we there yet”s I’m going to ask on a trip to Pluto.

If we’re ever going to get to other parts of the galaxy, we’re going to have to break the light barrier. Which means we’re probably not going anywhere. Maybe a billion years from now, our robot satellites in space like Pioneer, Voyager and New Horizons will be picked up by some alien civilization, which will ask: What the hell is this?

This is the Golden Record we sent on Voyager back in 1977: a collection of greetings in different languages, sounds of life and selections of music, plus a roadmap to where we are. Voyager has left the solar system and is now in interstellar space.

So let’s say Voyager does end up on a planet in another part of the galaxy where there’s intelligent life. What do you think the aliens would say? Maybe this?

Check out the Speaking of Science blog at the Washington Post for more about the Golden Record.

Are we all holograms? Some physicists say it’s possible.

So maybe we’ve all been sucked into a black hole, but our data remains at the edge and projects itself in the form we currently believe we’re in?

I can’t even think of a “Star Trek” episode that was a complicated as that. But then, there’s another believe in physics and every possible existence we could have had, has or will happen somewhere in the universe.

So let’s take this a step further. If we are the data remnants on the edge of a black hole, then that should mean that, like numbers, when different data interact, you get a different result. And if that’s the case, the result in our “existence” could very possibly be the many worlds result of quantum mechanics.

Yeah, that’s a stretch. But I’m on the edge of a black hole, so what else should I be thinking about?

That’s a simpler way of explaining it. But there, there’s the theory that the universe talks to young white women:

Now that just makes no fuckin’ sense.


The real story behind the Yellowstone bear incident

So a bunch of tourist were at Yellowstone National Park when a family of bears attacked. At least that’s the frenzied media reaction I saw this week. But here’s what really happened (from National Geographic):

It started with what’s called a “bear jam,” the park’s term for when visitors stop their cars to gawk at a bear—in this case, a family of bears grazing on a hillside near a bridge.

Suddenly the bears, including a mom and her yearling cubs, took a wrong turn and ended up on the bridge along with the curious human onlookers. Their instinct was to get away from the people as quickly as possible, but the people got frightened and blocked her, says Kerry Gunther, head of bear management at Yellowstone.

“It’s obvious she gets a little nervous as she’s trying to get across the bridge,” says Gunther, who was not present but watched the video and spoke to a park colleague who observed the incident.

“The bear was not after people—it could have easily caught anyone it wanted,” he says, adding that the video shows the bears trying to get around the people, but being thwarted because the humans kept moving.

“Pretty much all the events [in the video] were influenced by human behavior.”

So the bears are minding their own business when a bunch of dopes hop out of their cars to take photos. The bears get scared and try to run away, but the people, instead of clearing a path, block the bears. And you see in the video, there are still a bunch of dopes taking photos.

When I saw the video this week, my first though was: “Those bears are moving kind of slow, aren’t they?” Because bears can outrun humans … and definitely these humans.

That’s the punchline about the two guys in a forest who see a bear coming their way and one says, “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you.”

Tourists and wildlife don’t mix. It causes too much distress for the wildlife.

Where the nitrogen wind goes sweeping down the plains

This is going to end badly.

On Friday, Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin signed a bill that allows the state to execute inmates using nitrogen gas in the event that traditional lethal injection drugs are unavailable. The use of nitrogen gas, which induces hypoxia, has never been tested on humans, but supporters maintain that the method is both humane and painless.

Let’s try a method of execution that’s never been tested before. I mean, what could go wrong?

There is something called nitrogen narcosis, which affects scuba divers and involves pressurized the pressurized inert gas.

1. Emotional Effects of Narcosis on Divers:

Depending upon the diver and the dive environment, narcosis may cause a diver to feel either positive, euphoric emotions or negative, stressful emotions. Both scenarios are dangerous.

A diver feeling overly relaxed and happy may fail to react appropriately to a dangerous situation because he feels that everything is fine. An example is a euphoric diver who notices that he has exceeded his tank reserve pressure, but decides to continue diving because he feels great and therefore isn’t worried about running out of air.

A diver who experiences feelings of dread or stress may perceive problems which do not exist or may react inappropriately to those that do. An example is a stressed diver who notices that he has reached his tank reserve pressure. He panics, inflates his buoyancy compensator, and rockets to the surface because he is afraid that he will run out of air if he makes a normal controlled descent, even though he has more than sufficient air to do so.

2. Narcosis Slows and Impairs Mental Abilities:

Narcosis affects a diver’s ability to reason, evaluate situations, decide on appropriate courses of action, and recall information. Narcosis also slows a diver’s thinking and reaction times. In effect, a diver experiencing narcosis thinks less clearly and more slowly than he normally does.

Foggy thinking and reasoning underwater is dangerous. Even normal situations can lead to potential disasters as a diver’s mental abilities decline. As an example, a diver who is negatively buoyant may fail to inflate his buoyancy compensator because he doesn’t recognize the problem (failing to evaluate the situation). Or, he may try to compensate for negative buoyancy by kicking himself up (failing to decide on an appropriate course of action).

I have no idea what happens when a person is confined to a room that’s only supplying nitrogen, but since this has never been tested on humans as a form of execution, it seems the possibilities are that:

1) Witnesses to the execution will watch a guy laughing his ass off before he collapses and dies, or …

2) Witnesses to the execution will watch a guy screaming his head off before he collapses and dies.

I think I would have nightmares forever if I ever saw that. Oklahoma is not OK.