In Space, No One Can Hear You Whistle

Whistle While You Work? Not in Space

Former astronaut Dan Barry has seven hours of spacewalking time to his credit. He tried whistling during his spacewalk on STS-96 in May 1999.

“It wasn’t something I hadn’t planned — I thought of it on the fly. It turned out that it didn’t work.,” he said.

Barry called down to Mission Control and said, “Houston, EV2. The science types might like to know that it is not possible to whistle during an EVA.”

If You Spin Me Up I'll Never Stop

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

You have to do this with a rotating system because of space considerations and I think the globe is really neat, but …

I have to pick nits here. I really wish the video makers/interviewer had drawn a better distinction between the granite globe and the earth. The globe in the video was certainly not created spinning as it is, and we know there is friction, so asking why it’s spinning (or not stopping, at about the 1:00 mark) is really the wrong question if you are going to discount answers that say it’s because there’s a force (or torque) on it. I’m not sure if I wouldn’t interpret “it’s not stopping” as meaning that it’s simply not coming to a stop while I’m watching it, rather than it will not come to a stop over a much longer period of time. A key in all this is the identification of friction as a force and not some inherent property — that sometimes requires some mental untangling. You have to be sure you’ve done that for a successful misconceptionectomy.

Plus, we know that the earth is slowing down as it trades angular momentum with the moon.

Been There, Done That

Under the Microscope: Fringe

In Fringe’s third season finale, for instance, Whitman and Chiappetta contacted physicist (and Exchange consultant) Sean M. Carroll for a particularly puzzling wormhole/radiation conundrum. “In the finale, which is set in 2026, a wormhole is opened in the middle of Central Park,” explains Whitman. “What we wanted the characters to realize, in a couple of lines of dialogue, is that the wormhole leads to a specific point in time, 250 million years ago. So the question was, what could they detect coming out of the wormhole that would allow for that conclusion?”

Boiling it down to a few lines of dialogue was not an easy task, but with Carroll’s help, the two story editors found a conceivable explanation. “We needed something that could make people go ‘Aha! That’s connected to another period of time!’” says Carroll. “We threw around a couple of ideas and [Whitman and Chiappetta] settled on an unknown form of radiation.” Since the season finale is set in the future, it is possible that scientists could discover a new form of radiation. So, Whitman and Chiappetta “discovered” kappa radiation, which became the series’ tell-tale sign that a wormhole goes through time, not space. “It’s not something that exists in known physics,” says Carroll, “but it is a plausible way that future scientists could tell something fishy was going on.”

Having been in a vaguely similar position, I have to say I think I like the solution. It’s plausible and doesn’t overtly contradict the laws of physics, so it’s within the realm of science fiction’s poetic license. They key is using it consistently and not going to that well too often, as I think Star Trek eventually did, which is precisely why I didn’t want to come up with a specific name and new kind of particle when I had the chance.

Journalism Doesn't Break Sensationalism Law … Again

Bristol physicists break 150-year-old law

By “break a law,” of course, they mean “find where the law doesn’t apply”. Can’t break a law when you’re in a jurisdiction that doesn’t have that law.

In 1996, American physicists C. L. Kane and Matthew Fisher made a theoretical prediction that if you confine electrons to individual atomic chains, the Wiedemann-Franz law could be strongly violated. In this one-dimensional world, the electrons split into two distinct components or excitations, one carrying spin but not charge (the spinon), the other carrying charge but not spin (the holon). When the holon encounters an impurity in the chain of atoms it has no choice but for its motion to be reflected. The spinon, on the other hand, has the ability to tunnel through the impurity and then continue along the chain. This means that heat is conducted easily along the chain but charge is not. This gives rise to a violation of the Wiedemann-Franz law that grows with decreasing temperature.

… because you have found conditions where the law does not apply. So: neat science. Predictable behavior from the title editor.

On the Subject of Me

Physics World Web Life: Swans on Tea

Swans on Tea is a blog written Tom Swanson, an atomic physicist at the US Naval Observatory who posts under the nickname swansont – hence the name of his blog.

Three posts a day is not uncommon, although many of these entries are quite short, consisting only of links to news stories, online videos, or photos, plus some brief comments from Swanson. Longer posts involving the author’s own work or non-work activities are much rarer, dwarfed by the sheer quantity of interesting stuff he manages to find elsewhere on the Internet.

Nothing you didn’t already know. Just in case you were wondering, though, I was not interviewed (meaning they actually read the blog). I heard about it when someone gave me an attaboy, and have been waiting for the online version to appear.