How much water would you need to put out the sun?

The sun is a giant ball of gas that burns at the centre of the solar system. And the adjective giant is not unearned: the sun constitutes 99.86% of the mass of the solar system. Without it life as we know it would not exist. Water would not be liquid. Plants would not be able to photosynthesise. Without the sun the earth would just be a big icy rock floating through interstellar space. But let’s assume you have a death wish and want to try to put it out. How much water would you need?

The USSR landed probes on Venus over 30 years ago, is it time to go back?

The atmosphere of Venus is over ninety-five per cent carbon dioxide, the pressure at the surface is 92 times that of earth and the average surface temperature is 735 K (462 °C; 863 °F), higher than the melting point of lead. Not to mention that there are large clouds of sulphuric acid raining down corrosive droplets and winds on the surface that can reach 300 kilometres per hour (190 mph). Not exactly the most forgiving place. With the recent fervor around the possibility of life on mars, fuelled by the landing of the Curiosity rover last summer, no one seems to …

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The World’s Longest Running Experiment

Do you know what a pitch is? If you’re a sports fan, the first thing that comes to mind is perhaps the field football is played on or the throw a batter tries to hit. Or maybe since this is a science blog and maybe you’re also musically minded, you think of the frequency of a tone. What I am referring to here though, is the name given to the most viscoelastic solid polymers known, such as Bitumen. All that means is that it’s a plastic that exhibits viscous (like honey) and elastic (like a rubber band) characteristics when under …

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Paralysed and unaware of it – Brain lesions and anosognosia

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Dunning-Kruger effect which affects people who are so incompetent that they don’t realise that they are incompetent. Dr David Dunning, after whom the effect is named, described the Dunning-Kruger effect as the “anosognosia of everyday life”. Which, as far as scientific analogies go, is a pretty good way of putting it. Unless you don’t know what anosognosia is. But don’t worry, I’m just about to tell you.

Is the ‘supermoon’ really super?

Just a week ago, the whole internet was getting ready for the supermoon, a full moon that is slightly (ever so slightly) bigger than usual. But there is really nothing special about ‘supermoons’, it’s just an astronomical coincidence that is practically impossible to notice. To the naked eye it does not look any different. What exactly is a ‘supermoon’?

Unskilled and unaware of it – The Dunning-Kruger Effect

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool. -Shakespeare, As you like it, Act 5 Scene 1 In 1995 a short, fat, very recognisable man called Macarthur Wheeler robbed 2 banks at gunpoint in Philadelphia. He didn’t bother to cover his face. Obviously, the police had no trouble identifying and arresting him. He was quite puzzled. After all, he claimed, he had covered his face in lemon juice.

The birthday paradox

Take a group of 23 people. What is the probability that two of them share the same birthday? Or let’s take a different approach. How many people do you need to make sure that the probability that two of them share the same birthday is close to 100%? On first glance, 367 seems like a probable answer (as there as 366 days during a year including February 29th). But while you would need as many to get to exactly 100%, you need much less to reach 99% probability.

Why is yawning contagious?

There is no doubt that yawning is contagious. I mean, imagine someone with their mouth wide open, squinting eyes, taking a long breath in, then a short one out. Are you yawning yet? Almost anything that reminds us of yawning, like reading about it, seeing a video of it, will cause us to yawn. Just thinking about yawning can be enough. It’s actually quite hard to write about yawning because you start yawning all the time. During the research and writing of this post I yawned 34 times. I counted. Ok, make that 35 times.

What can marshmallows teach us about self-control?

The ability to delay gratification, being able to focus on the important things and plan for the future, rather than just taking the easy, immediate reward, has been linked to success in life. But do people have an innate sense of self-control? And how do we test it? As it turns out, with marshmallows.