The smallest object that we can see, even under a microscope, contains millions of atoms. To see the atoms in a baseball, we would have to make the baseball the size of the Earth. If a baseball were the size of the Earth, its atoms would be about the size of grapes. If you can picture the Earth as a huge glass ball filled with grapes, this is approximately how a baseball full of atoms would look.
The step downward from the atomic level takes us to the subatomic level. Here we find the particles that make up atoms. The difference between the atomic level and the subatomic level is as great as the difference between the atomic level and the world of sticks and rocks. It would be impossible to see the nucleus of an atom the size of a grape. In fact, it would be impossible to see the nucleus of an atom the size of a room. To see the nucleus of an atom, the atom would have to be as high as a fourteen-story building! The nucleus of one atom the size of a fourteen-story building would be about the size of a grain of salt. Since a nuclear particle has about 2,000 times more mass than an electron, the electrons revolving around this nucleus would be about as massive as dust particles."
Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics
3 Sep 2012 / 12 notes
Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (via superfluidity)
24 Aug 2012 / 5 notes
I’ve been reading this book on the train in the mornings, bit by spellbinding bit. It’s a must-read if, like me, you’ve never had a gift for understanding the sciences. Sullivan explains complex phenomena and experiments in terms everyone can understand (this is not to say that the concepts are easy to understand, which is why I am reading it slowly), and more importantly, with words instead of mathematical formulas. Like the new Alan Lightman novel, which I read a couple of months ago, and Calvino’s Cosmicomics, which I am reading in tandem, Sullivan takes the abstract and tells it like a great story, permitting us to laugh gently at the more humorous anecdotes, the more far-fetched conclusions. He reminds us that it’s terribly important to mix disciplines, to see the cosmos through as many different windows as we can.
I didn’t know, previously, that it was once postulated that a planet stood between Mercury and the sun, which they called Vulcan. Although many people who spent a great deal of time staring directly at the sun reported seeing “spots” that could be a planet orbiting, its existence was never confirmed.
23 Aug 2012 / 10 notes
10 Aug 2012 / 15 notes
A team of astronomers has announced that they have detected what they are calling the “death cry” of a star as it was devoured by a supermassive black hole. The black hole is called Swift J1644+57 and is 3.9 billion light-years away from Earth. The black hole is located in the constellation Draco and was discovered on March 28, 2011.
The black hole was discovered by NASA’s Swift satellite as the satellite conducted its gamma ray search. The satellite discovered a gamma ray burst from the black hole that faded out gradually, nothing similar had been detected before. Close observation of the black hole revealed the faint, periodic signal that astronomer Jon Miller of the University of Michigan says corresponds in frequency to an ultralow D-sharp.
Scientists believe that the signals emanate from material that is about to be sucked into the black hole. According to the scientists, the star that was sucked in by the black hole would have been subjected to powerful tidal forces as it neared the black hole and was torn apart. Some of the gas would’ve been sucked into the black hole and formed an accretion disk of material around it. The innermost part of that disc would’ve been heated to a temperature of millions of degrees causing it to emit x-rays. The black hole was discovered as it consumed the star because one of the jets of matter emitted by the black hole was pointed straight at Earth. According to the scientists, the star being sucked in the black hole committed a “cry” every 3.5 minutes."
6 Aug 2012 / 9 notes
“I do not myself believe in the existence of an all-knowing being, but sometimes I feel I understand those who do better than those who don’t.”
Read Jacque de Vries’ debut today on a snippet from the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
What de Vries expresses in the above quote, I feel to the utmost, but in reverse. I have grown up with belief in God, have cherished it as much as I have cherished the innumerable doubts that go along with it. If I am courageous (cowardly) enough to believe something, I am also responsible to concede that the opposite of my belief is also absolutely, simultaneously true. We don’t live in a vacuum; opposing forces are the fabric of our being, exposure to them our primary means of growth. Faith of any kind flourishes best when surrounded by non-faith, or different faith. I hope never to be unpleasantly (angrily) surprised by the revelation of any “truth” — I’d rather live my life in childlike wonder, continually awed by what is discovered. Humbled (exalted).
So the question is not “Is this true or false?” but rather, “Would I be disappointed if this turned out to be true/false?” There are no limits to this subtle hubris.
Back to Bonhoeffer. A more recent biography, which I began before Christmas, is long enough that I can still dabble in it between appointments or during the commute. His faith was militant, which is an uncomfortable idea for much of my generation. But considering that it was militant against Nazism when the rest of the German church was content to sit back and watch the show from a safe distance, we can’t help but admire. In any case, his part in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler was discovered, and he was imprisoned and later executed. There is a great difference between perceived evil and practical evil. I should be willing to die for only one of them.
1 Aug 2012 / 0 notes
and other things you might read on a fashion blog
31 Jul 2012 / 10 notes
If you’re inordinately hard on yourself, it’s more than likely that you’re also hard on those around you.
It’s surprising how much of your personal happiness depends on how happy you want the people around you to be.
30 Jul 2012 / 277 notes