The Largest Object in the Solar System

By Anupum Pant

On November 6th 1892, after being spotted by a British astronomer Edwin Holmes, comet Holmes was not seen again for several decades. Thus it came to be known as the lost comet. Out of the blue, more than 70 years later, the comet was again seen in the year 1964.

Now it is known that comet Holmes was captured by Jupiter several thousand years ago, and it never went back to the Kuiper belt. It is a Jupiter family comet. Every 6.88 years, the comet orbits the sun.

Even this year, on 27th of March, it was one of the most bright comets of the year. But it was something that happened back in the year 2007 which made it one of the most popular comets in the sky.

For a brief period, comet Holmes, which is also a part of our solar system, became the largest object in the solar system. Yes, even larger than the sun!

On November 9th 2007, the diameter of comet’s coma – a cloudy region surrounding the comet made up of very tiny shiny ice and dust particles – measured about 1.4 million km. The sun’s diameter rounded to the nearest hundred is estimated to be 1.392 million km. Agreed the coma wasn’t as massive as the sun, but the size of it did measure slightly more than the sun at that time.

It indeed is a great achievement to become the largest object in the solar system (for some time) for an object that is just a tiny mass of ice and dust that is only about 3.6 km wide.

That day, the cloud around it erupted due to a mysterious outburst which still puzzles scientists. Such outbursts have been seen in the past too and are thought to have been originated as a result of its collision with a meteor (or probably due to an internal steam eruption).

via [space]

A Piece of Paper as Thick as the Universe

By Anupum Pant

Linear growth is only what we can visualize well. Estimating things that grow exponentially, is something not many of us can do properly.

Here’s what happens when you fold a piece of paper. A paper of thickness 1/10 of a millimetre doubles its thickness. On the second fold it is 4 times the initial thickness and so on. It doesn’t really seem like it would grow a lot after, say, 10 folds, right?

After 10 folds, the paper which was about the thickness of your hair, turns into something that is as thick as your hand.

Without any calculation, how thick do you think would it become if you could fold it 103 times?  (I know, no one has ever folded a paper more than 12 times)

Think about this for a second: How many times do you think would you have to fold a paper to make it 1 kilometre thick? The answer is 23. Yes, it takes just 13 more folds to go from the thickness of a hand to a whole kilometre.

Turns out, if you manage to somehow fold a paper 30 times, it would become 100 km tall. The paper would now reach the space.

For the sake of imagining how exponential growth works, a paper folded 103 times would be about 93 Billion light years thick – which is also the estimated size of the observable universe.

Watch the video below to see one other great example of how exponential growth can mess with you.

Seeing Sound

You can skip everything under this subheading

Note: In the past, I’ve been requested by my readers to keep the articles on AweSci short. It made sense. Since I write one article everyday, for readers, it definitely is easier to read and digest a smaller article, day in and day out. Thanks to the rate at which short attention span is being nurtured by the internet, not all have the appetite to take in bigger pieces everyday.

I see it this way – doing a very little thing everyday religiously, compounds. It makes a huge difference in your life. Even devoting 2 minutes a day for a single thing makes big changes over time. Here, I’m doing more than an hour everyday! If you read these daily, you are devoting around 10 minutes a day to learn something. You’ll do great in life!

At the same time, smaller articles of about 300-500 words are good for me too. By sticking to smaller ones, I can accomplish my own goal of learning and writing about one new thing everyday, by doing less. Also, composing smaller articles doesn’t take a lot of time which allows me to take care of the primary daily activities.

However, today, a reader asked me about the decreasing length of my articles. It’s so good to know that readers actually care about these things. Nevertheless, as explained above, there’s nothing wrong in it, but it did make me think about what was causing it? Well, I’ve been busy with so much stuff for the past few days, I don’t have partners for the blog and it’s tough doing it alone. Still, with all the travelling and full day outings in a 40 degree sun for the past few days, I managed at least one article a day. Pat on the back to me for being able to do that.

Anyway, the point is that articles don’t have to be long. For the question my faithful reader asked me, I needed to write this to explain it to him. He deserves a good explanation for being faithful reader to my little blog. If I learn something and sleep a little bit smarter than the last day, I’ve accomplished my goal for the day. That way, the purpose of you reading this is served. That way, the purpose of the blog is served.

What do you say, long or short? Or, you are always welcome if you want to contribute on this blog. We have hundreds of people who’d come by daily to read your article!

Background

In the past, we’ve seen how geniuses at MIT have figured out a way to capture the beam of light on video, and have replayed it moving in slow motion. In simple words, moving light was captured on camera. Something which the human eye had never seen before was shown moving with the help of technique. But, then there are other invisible things too. Like sound!

Watching sound

Watching the iTunes visualization go, isn’t equivalent to watching sound. Visualizations and waveforms are merely a digital depictions of sound.

While listening to sounds can be too easy, seeing it with your eyes isn’t natural. For that, there is camera trick that can be used to see the actual sound waves travelling in the air. In fact, with this technique, any disturbance in the air can be seen which otherwise, would be totally invisible to the naked eye. It let’s you see sound!

The camera technique has a fairly confusing name. It’s called Schlieren flow visualization. But that shouldn’t confuse you because in simple words, with this technique it is possible to capture on film, the disturbances that are caused by things moving in the air. For example, the invisible disturbances that are caused in the air (a transparent medium) when someone claps can be made visible by using the technique – Schlieren flow visualization.

Here is how it works

Photograph of a wind tunnel model using a schlieren system along  with a schematic explaining the operation of the system

If I write it in words, I’ll only confuse you more. So, here is an NPR video that explains the mechanism very accurately. Otherwise, there’s always this NASA page for it.

Amazingly, like the video shows, it can be used to see the heat coming off the human body. Now, I can definitely think of some creative applications for that.