Is the Great wall of China Visible from the Moon?

cześć skeptics,

Today I am going to be talking about one of the most scientifically ridiculous memes in popular culture. Most people seem to believe that the Great Wall of China (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Wall_of_China, if you have lived under a rock your whole life) is the only man-made object visible from space, or from the moon, depending on your myth. It has appeared in every fact book or app I have ever read, and is one of the most popular myths in society. However, this myth is wrong on almost every conceivable level, which I will delve into today.

The level most impossible in this story is the idea that the Great Wall of China is the largest man-made object on earth. Even if it is true that the Great Wall of China is visible from space, the moon, or where ever, the Great Wall is not going to be the only thing visible. Consider the Great Wall of China. It is a pale white-brown coloured wall, and is, in the stretches of best condition, a few meters wide and in reasonable condition. It is very, very long, and in the bad stretches it is no more than rubble remains, in some stages. The Wall, when viewed from above, is a pale brown colour on a backdrop of green or brown mountainous area. This in itself points out something, a brown coloured anything on a similarly coloured background, is not going to be clearly visible from any reasonable distance, due to a low contrast.

Now consider other things which are of similar shape and/or size. A four or six lane highway, large buildings like the pentagon, and sports stadiums are all wider than the great wall of china, and would be sighted quicker due to their greater contrast in background. A 6 lane highway is black, on an often light or grey coloured background, the pentagon is grey on a green background, and sports fields are green and often situated in cities, grey in colour. So it is clear that the Great Wall of China is not the most contrasting in its background, or the largest man-made object around. So there are things more visible from afar than the Great Wall.

The second problem with this myth, is the facts. The two myths being questioned here, both have different answers on this subject. The Great Wall of China is NOT visible from the moon, but is visible from low earth orbit, just like highways and buildings.

The third speed-bump in this myth is the definition of space, a big question, with no real answer. I have already mentioned one possible definition of space, low earth orbit, the orbit which is taken by the space shuttle and others, allowing for orbit of the earth every 90 minutes. Another definition would be when 99% of the earths atmosphere is below you, then you would be in space. It could be the geostationary orbit taken by our GPS satellites. There are many possible choices, and the point is, space is not clear-cut, so when a claim is made about something being visible from space, you have to ask which space it is visible from.

The myth that the Great Wall of China is visible from the moon is ridiculous, while the idea that the Great Wall of China is visible from space is very blurry, and is only visible along with all of the other big things we have made.

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Is Lawrence Krauss’ Nothing Really Nothing? – Does it Matter

Sveiki Skeptics,

Not to long ago, Lawrence Krauss published a book entitled “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?”, and there was a lot of hype over it, he made all the rounds on the scientific, atheistic and religious podcasts, and was often criticized for many reasons. One of the most commonly argued points by the religious was that the nothing that Lawrence Krauss describes is not ‘strictly’ nothing. Today, I will not try to argue that it is nothing, or that we know how to get something from ‘strictly’ nothing, I am going to argue that it doesn’t really matter, and try to and explain why it is an important part of the progress of science.

First of all, an explanation of Lawrence Krauss’ ‘nothing’. When he talks about something coming from ‘nothing’ which has been proven by science, he is talking about  the vacuum of space, as well as a TOE and electromagnetic fields and gravity. In the vacuum of space, matter and antimatter are created fleetingly, and then come back together and collide back into nothingness. This has been proven by science, and is the reason Hawking radiation exists, causing the shrinking of black holes. One particle of antimatter goes into the black hole, and the other particle of matter goes off into other places, taking down the net weight of the black hole. This happens all the time, everywhere.

When he suggests that the universe can be created from nothing, he is talking about absolute nothingness + a TOE. He gets a lot of flack from the religious about that. They argue that it is really not nothing, and I agree. However, it is unscientific to just say, “Well, its not nothing, ergo God.”

The process of science is to continually discover more and more about the universe, and at no time saying that there is no more that can be found. Science works by looking and looking. But for the religious to just dismiss it because it isn’t quite nothing yet, is just terrible.

Another argument is that you cannot get something from purely nothing, and therefore it is pointless to even bother. But for the religious to just say that something can never come from nothing is hypocritical. The whole concept of religion is that god just IS, ad will always BE. Yet they say that everything has to have a cause.
“Everything has to have a cause… except God.”

The point that Lawrence Krauss’ makes, that something can come from almost nothing, is a valuable scientific contribution, and is important for the progress of science. And religious criticism of this is completely hypocritical, as is almost all cosmological arguments for god, or against natural arguments against god.

String Theory – Science or Sermon?

Hello skeptics and others,

I recently came across a question on twitter which went as phrased “String Theory, Science of Philosophy?” and I thought, as I had not done much with string theory, that now would be as good a time as ever to tackle this question which comes up with string theory often. But first, a bit of background on string theory.

String theory is the name given to a set of sums which attempt to explain things about the things we observe in particle physics. It is basically the claim that the 3 spacial dimensions and 1 time dimension we observe in our universe, are the left overs and that there are possibly up to 8 other dimensions which are all just packed in very tight so that we cannot see them. To explain this to you, I will use the same method Stephen Hawking has done.
Imagine a plastic drinking straw. From up close, you can easily see that it is a three-dimensional object, with height, width, and breadth. If you back it up to a distance of a few metres, the drinking straw starts to appear as two-dimensional, with only length and breadth, you can no longer make out the depth of the straw. As you back out further to a distance of about 20 metres, you can only observe one dimension, it only has length, and you can no longer observe the width of the straw.

Now, the other 2 dimensions still exist, but you can only make out one from this resolution, so for all intents and purposes, the straw is 1 dimensional. The same is true with the hypothesized extra 8 dimensions of string theory. They still exist, but we cannot observe them because they have been compressed in so small. It is physicists belief that these extra dimensions, ‘strings’, carry along them the elementary particles which create the four fundamental forces, gravitons, photons etc. in the world of particle physics. String theory is also said to be the most favoured path for the elusive Theory Of Everything (TOE).

String theory often comes under attack for a few reasons, being that it makes no specific predictions about the universe, it is no different from other theories about observed phenomena and there is so far no test of the ‘theory’. These criticisms all have legitimate reasons behind them.

It is true that string theory makes no predictions and it is indifferent about what we are already observing in the universe. String theory has not been of any real use to us yet other than jobs for people to do the maths behind string theory. In that way (except the maths), string theory is just like creationism… it makes no predictions or offer a hypothesis to test.

However, I think that just because string theory has not provided any scientific worth so far, it is in no way something we should give up on. It is a theory which has held up to all that maths has to throw at it, so there are no real internal problems with it, but the real question is “Is this how reality really is?” and that question is a long way off. String Theory is a path worth following, as it could be of value to future scientists. At best it is still only a hypothesis… not a theory, and should be treated as such. But it is worth the time and effort to work with and who knows, it may cough up a test for us, and it is worth waiting around for.

New Health Problems Found for Astronauts

Hello there, skeptical Bros.,

I was logged onto the computer at school yesterday (we had a computer lesson), and because there was nothing else to be done in class, I was reading through the abc.net.au news section, and I came across a new study in Astronauts. Because my immediate reaction to anything with space or astronauts is “READ READ READ!”, I read it, and it turns out that there could be new health risks for astronauts who spend long amounts of time in micro-gravity. The title here –>http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-13/study-finds-eye-problems-common-for-astronauts/3886698, Reads ‘Study finds eye problems common for astronauts’ and my heart sunk.

It turns out that this latest study have found yet another thing which astronauts have to worry about. It has been known for a long time that there would be long-term health effects for people who live in micro-gravity, but these were thought to be things like hearts and muscles loosing their strength. This study has shown that the brain and eyes have been effected, because of an unexplained pressure in the head, which causes excess cerebral-spinal fluid around the optic-nerve, and a flattening of the eyeball and bulging of the optic nerve, in roughly one-fifth of astronauts who spent more than a month on space-shuttle or ISS flights. But I’m not going to talk about the physiology, that’s not my niche, read that in the link above, I’m going to talk about what it means for longer term flights to Mars.

The solution for things like weak hearts and muscles was simple, exercise the heart and muscles by jogging for a while every day. But the solution to this problem is not so apparent, we can’t exercise our optical nerve.
We can’t fight the effect of micro-gravity, so we have to fight the cause. NASA scientists need to find a way to stop this unknown pressure, and the first thing we need to do is find out what this pressure is. A bit of study on the ISS should definitely be done.

I’m really disappointed because of what this means for Mars trips in the future. This is just one more item on NASA’s list of “Things we have to figure out before we fly to Mars”, along with radiation, water, food, power, shelter etc., all major problems to humans. Space Shuttle flights went for about a month or so, ISS shifts go for about 6 months, but a trip to Mars would take in excess of two years, so the effects we see here, could be greatly magnified. But you know what, I’m confident that science will find a solution to this problem, and then we will go to Mars, but this problem should be one of the first things worried about, because humans health are of the top priority.

That’s all for today, I’ll leave you with a quote from Stephen Hawking, “Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain lurking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space.”, Stephen Hawking, Theoretical Physicist, Cosmologist, author, lecturer and Science Popularizer of some note.

Nuclear Power: Why it’s great

Greetings skeptics, and fellow internet users.

Here in Australia there has been a lot of discussion about nuclear power, both political, and scientific, so I am going to add my voice to the talk with some points in both science and politics.
It’s a relevent discussion for a few important reasons.  One is the fact that the earth is warming and caused by man, and something had to be done about it. We are also eventually going to run out of oil, and we need something to replace it.

The first point I am going to make is that nuclear power is extremely environmentally friendly. There are no carbon dioxides emitted in the process. The only greenhouse gases emmited when creating nuclear power is what is used when the big machinery hauls the uranium out of the ground. This should sent the environmental nuts crazy, but apparently not. The only way to make them happy is to live in caves, liking lichen of the walls for food.

Apparently, if one blows up, then it will cause a huge amount of damage to the environment around it. Come on, in Australia, about 95% of the population lives on about 5% of our land mass, and the other 95% doesn’t have much other life on it either. If we plonk our nuclear power plants out in the middle of the Australian desert, then nothing will be harmed except sand and rocks.

Come on, surely we can find SOMEWHERE to put a nuclear power plant!

The next question raised by greenies (to use the conservative, outback term) is, “Where do we put all the waste from the plant?” I think this is another simply answered question. All of the places where we mine our Uranium is in the middle of no-where, if we put the power plant next to the uranium mine, then its a short trip, it goes from the hole in the ground to the power plant, it goes through the power plant, and then it goes back in the hole. It can’t really be that hard. Again, we have a huge amount of land that we don’t use for anything, this is a prime candidate for the dumping of our nuclear waste.

The last topic I will discuss here is the idea that nuclear power is dangerous, “look at what happened in Japan” They say. Well, they are all forgetting the point that this event happened on an Island about the size 1 twentieth the size of Australia, You could throw a stone from one side to the other. Even if one did blow up, it would endanger the lives of the workers there, and that’s it. These workers could be easily evacuated and the whole problem would be over with.

That’s all for today, I have a feeling I will be blogging about this sometime in the near future as the election comes up and this discussion looms, I will leave you with a quote from Ronald Reagan, “All the waste in a year from a nuclear power plant can be stored under a desk.” Ronald Reagan, a politician of some note.