Category Archives: Science

Mother Nature don’t care

A really cool picture from 2009 resurfaced on Reddit today.

Image credit: NASA/ISS/Expedition 20 Crew, Scientific American

Pictures such as this one remind me of two things:

1. The world – nay, the entire universe – doesn’t care a wit for our species. It doesn’t owe us happiness or security or meaning. It just is, and we owe it respect in that regard.

2. In its infinite hostility, the world provides us daily with beauty that surpasses our imaginations. Science sheds light on that beauty. Knowledge isn’t just power; knowledge is elegance.

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TIL Tuesday: The Mysterious Cue Ball

Pool TableA couple of nights ago, I frequented my town’s one and only pub, and I played a couple games of pool. The pub in question uses a coin-operated pool table, and I’ve always been a bit curious as to how pub pool tables know to return the cue ball when you scratch. After all, the other balls, when hit into the pockets, return to a holding area where they rest until the next 50 cents is inserted into the table. My hypothesis was that the cue ball was in some manner heavier or larger (or both) than the other balls in play. However, once the question formed in the ol’ brain, I refused to let it sit dormant. Therefore, I present you with today’s TIL: The Mysterious Cue Ball

It turns out that I may have been correct about the pool table at my local pub. Coin operated pool tables return the cue ball in one of two ways: with either a slightly larger cue ball, or with a magnetic cue ball. In the case of a larger cue ball, the difference is only about 1/8 inch. Presumably, that’s large enough to notice if a player was to actually take the time to observe the cue ball next to another ball.

When the table uses a magnetic cue ball, the table is designed with a magnetic sensor that moves a track inside the table when the magnetic cue ball falls through a pocket. In this case, the cue ball would appear identical in size to the other balls on the table. Learning of this method also led me to check out this site in order to brush up on my knowledge of magnets.

This post isn’t overly exciting, but I’m glad that I finally answered this question that has been nagging at the back of my head for some while. I may be the annoying patron who asks the bartender what type of pool table is used next time I visit the pub. Any updates will be posted here. Happy learning!

Most of the credit of this post goes to The Straight Dope for being an endless stream of knowledge. 

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TIL Tuesday: Saturn is One Coollike Planet

Instead of explaining what I learned today myself, I’m going to let Charlie McDonnell – creator of the Fun Science series on his YouTube channel, charlieissocoollike – do the talking.

This video alone taught me more about Saturn than I ever learned in high school. Plus, Charlie’s got a ton of other engaging videos about science.

P.S. The content of the above video was approved by Phil Plait (the Bad Astronomer), so I highly trust its accuracy.

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TIL Tuesday: Carnivorous Veggies

I’d like to introduce this blog with something I plan to do every week: TIL (Today I Learned) Tuesday. As I’ve said, I want this blog to be as much about me exploring and learning as it is about me publishing  my own opinions and findings. With that in mind, I’ve decided to include in these posts a weekly theme promoting the exploration of science, nature and the universe. This week, I learned some fun things about carnivorous plants.

I’ve been thinking about Venus Flytraps (Dionaea muscipula) all day, and I don’t know why. (OK, that’s a lie – I saw one in a commercial, and though I can’t remember what was being advertised, I distinctly remember a Flytrap eating a frog.) When I was a kid, I desperately wanted one, and my parents actually got me one in elementary school. I, being a careless little boy, managed to kill it either by over-feeding or neglect (one can’t be sure).

Aldrovanda

Aldrovanda
Photo credit: Monika, Odd Stuff Magazine

Little did I know that the Flytrap has a deceased (read: extinct) cousin – who operated completely underwater! The Aldrovanda (Aldrovanda vesiculosa) had the same predatory, clamp-like heads that capture its prey, but they were able to feed on victims through the currents. Its traps closed incredibly fast (.01 to .5 seconds); a fact even more incredible when you consider that the plant had to push through water (much more dense than air). The plant floated freely, and used sensors similar to that of the Flytrap to trigger its snapping.

The history of the Aldrovanda’s name is also quite amusing. When Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, named the plant after Italian naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi, he misspelled Ulisse’s last name, but the nomenclature of the plant stuck. Charles Darwin, who helped us to understand that the plant was carnivorous, nicknamed the plant “the miniature aquatic Dionaea,” thus assimilating it with the Flytrap, and bringing this blog post full-circle.

What a fun bath-time toy that would have made…

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