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What’s In It For Me?

In Big Science by Brian Koberlein0 Comments

Whenever I give a presentation to the general public, there’s one type of question I always get. Why should we spend money on this stuff? What good does it do? What about people who are starving in this country? What’s in it for me? The answer they’re looking for is typically an argument that this science will lead to something tangible. A better cell phone, draught resistant wheat, self-driving cars. But those kinds of breakthroughs typically come from targeted research, not pure science. The goal of studying gas clouds in distant solar systems is not better cell phones, but a deeper understanding of the cosmos. How could that possibly affect you on a personal level? It affects you in lots of subtle ways, such as increasing political stability in the world. Read More

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Big Science

In Big Science by Brian Koberlein0 Comments

It is often thought that science is about data, but at its heart science is about stories. The universe has a story to tell, and through science we can learn a part of that story. When I write about scientific discoveries, I try to tell that story. If I tell the story well, then it becomes both understandable and relevant to readers. But there is a part of the scientific story we don’t often tell. That’s why I’ve been working on a new projectRead More

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How To Tell If Your Solar Eclipse Glasses Are Safe

In Science by Brian Koberlein10 Comments

America will experience a total eclipse this month. Even if you aren’t in the path of totality on August 21, you will experience a partial eclipse, where the Moon blocks some portion of the Sun. Millions of Americans will be tempted to look up at the eclipse, which violates one of the most basic rules of astronomy: Do NOT look directly at the Sun. This rule always applies, even during a partial eclipse when the Sun looks like a crescent. You can permanently damage your eyes, so don’t do it. Fortunately, there are special eclipse glasses you can get that allow you to watch the eclipse without harming your eyes. Unfortunately, some eclipse glasses aren’t safe to use, so you shouldn’t use any eclipse glasses that haven’t been verified as safe. Read More

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Dark Matter Isn’t Warm And Fuzzy

In Cosmology by Brian Koberlein5 Comments

Dark matter is one of the big mysteries of cosmology. Theoretically it explains cosmic phenomena such as the scale at which galaxies cluster, and observationally we see its effect through things like gravitational lensing, but it hasn’t been observed directly. This means we have a limited understanding its exact nature. As a result, there have been lots of theoretical ideas about what dark matter could be. But we now know that whatever dark matter is, it isn’t warm and fuzzy. Read More

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A Tale Of Three Cities

In Stars by Brian Koberlein0 Comments

The constellation of Orion is popular among winter stargazers in the northern hemisphere. It is easily identifiable by three bright stars that form the belt of Orion. Slightly below the belt is a fuzzy region known as the Orion Nebula. It is about 1,300 light years away, which is relatively close in astronomical terms, and it is an active stellar nursery. It is thought that all stars, including our Sun, were produced in stellar nurseries, where vast quantities of gas and dust come together to produce hundreds of stars at a time before galactic rotation and intense stellar winds rip the nebula apart. But new observations of the Orion Nebula find that stellar nurseries could produce stars in multiple waves rather than a single burst. Read More

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The Eclipse And The Pendulum

In History by Brian Koberlein2 Comments

Next month a total solar eclipse will be seen across the United States. It is one of the few eclipses to trace a path through several densely populated areas, and that means there’s plenty of opportunity to do some experiments, including one that’s stirred a bit of controversy for the past 60 years.Read More

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The Magic Rock

In Physics by Brian Koberlein2 Comments

There is a magic rock in St. Cloud, France. It’s made not of stone, but of a metallic alloy that’s 90% platinum and 10% iridium, and it’s magic not through some supernatural force, but because scientists have declared it to have a mass of exactly 1 kilogram. Now many scientists would like to get rid of it. Read More