Tag: Sixty Symbols

Don't cross the LHC stream!

By Phil Plait | September 21, 2010 7:05 am

There are a lot of questions in science that seem simple, but in fact lead to profound concepts. Why is the sky dark at night? Why does gravity pull me down? Why is the Sun hot?

And some questions seem silly and frivolous, but it turns out are really hard to answer, and in fact scientists might disagree on the answer. Case in point: what happens if you put your hand in the beam of the Large Hadron Collider?

So the folks at Sixty Symbols asked this of several scientists, and the first four minutes of this video are the result:

Fantastic! I love how different scientists think of different angles on this, and come up with different answers. Clearly, they hadn’t really thought about this before, so as they realize various aspects of this the answer changes.

It’s complicated! You have to think about the energy of the beam, of course, but also the energy of a given proton as it moves at 99.9999% the speed of light. But that number doesn’t mean anything if the proton doesn’t actually interact with the matter in your hand, so you have to consider the "cross-section" of the atoms in your hand. Think of it this way: if you shoot a gun at a target, you make a hole. But if you shoot a gun at a fishing net, it might pass right through. Most of the area of a fishing net is holes! The nuclei of atoms are very small compared to the atoms themselves, so in a sense most of you is empty space.

And there’s more. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Science, Top Post
MORE ABOUT: LHC, protons, Sixty Symbols

Happy Valentine's Day. Love, 60 Symbols

By Phil Plait | February 14, 2010 2:30 pm

A final cosmic Valentine’s Day wish from the wonderful Sixty Symbols site: a video valentine.

Check out the other videos at the Sixty Symbols site, too. The woman introducing the video is my friend astronomer Amanda Bauer, aka Astropixie, and you should read her blog as well. She’s pretty cool.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Geekery


By Phil Plait | January 18, 2010 12:21 pm

My pal Amanda Bauer — aka Astropixie — has been posting a great series of short videos called Sixty Symbols, where scientists discuss the meanings of a given symbol in science, and the story behind them. In the latest, she tackles the pronunciation of the planet name Uranus — the name is Greek, so I think the title of this post is correct — but the video she made has lots of info on the planet, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.

Related post (and to pre-empt any Futurama jokes):
Yes, yes, rings around Uranus, haha


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