Tag Archives: universe

5 Quotes that make Carl Sagan Unforgettable

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If you haven’t heard of Carl Sagan then you are missing out. Not only was the renowned astrophysicist a pioneering scientist, but a leader in the field of public science communication. And personally, one of the greatest people to have ever lived.

Without him, it is unlikely that many of us would know much about the universe beyond basic education. And without his television show Cosmosa generation of scientists may have never come to be.  But Carl’s greatest contribution to humanity was his unending patience, empathy and personal charge toward empowering people with knowledge.

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On his ‘ship of the imagination’, Sagan traversed the stars. Image courtesy of Flickr

Even now, his profound insights into human life ring true in arenas ranging from politics to social reform. So let’s count down our top list of his most enduring quotes, perhaps you will find something that you love.

1. On understanding and knowledge.

People are not stupid. They believe things for reasons. The last way for skeptics to get the attention of bright, curious, intelligent people is to belittle or condescend or to show arrogance toward their beliefs.

Throughout his career, Carl was persistent in his pursuit of public empowerment. By treating us all as friends, capable of the greatest feats, he established a paradigm of education by right.

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Carl Sagan’s Universe was one we could all explore, and he tried to be the greatest guide. Image courtesy of Flickr.

But with some controversy, he took what was privy only to a select few in academia and made it not just palatable, but wondrous to the rest of us. For Carl, you were not just deserving of the universe but enriched for understanding it.

And as an avowed skeptic of common wisdom and conspiracy, he approached each subject with evidence, understanding, and compassion. Simply, he forgave people human mistakes, where others would simply dismiss them.

We should do the same.

2. On the transience of human life and the immortality of words.

One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.

During one episode of his poetic homage to humanity, Cosmos, Sagan visited the ancient library of Alexandria. It was here, for a short while, that the world’s greatest minds came together in a shared mission of understanding.

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Books are nothing less than a voyage of discovery, be they history. science or fiction. Our words stay behind when we leave. Image courtesy of Flickr.

And although much of Alexandria’s history was lost, small amounts remain in collected writings. An enduring legacy of another time. But for Carl words were more than just communication between friends and colleagues, but a version of immortality.

Through the written word we learned to overcome death, share the wisdom of our time with those who would come after. The ‘information-organism’ of humanity finds feet in ink over millennia.

3. On the fragility of understanding and the wonder of creation

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

In this short epithet, Sagan reflects on the vast gulf between human knowledge and the nature of the universe. And depending on your interpretation, he is either jocularly revealing a comedy of nature, or providing a deep insight into the linearity of thought.

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All that we are was formed in ancient furnaces. Including apple pie. Image courtesy of Flickr.

To make an apple pie requires the ingredients created from the formation of our universe. All that is once was in the bellies of ancient stars, cast into our universe and eventually mealtimes by cosmic forces and eons of time.

But to understand the world we must first invent a way of understanding, and for that the best we have is science. It is through a skeptic and imaginative mind that we may create our universe.

4. On the humility of human life in an infinite universe (see video.)

In his famous soliloquy, Sagan reduces human accomplishment, greatness, cruelty and misunderstanding to the tiny significance it has in the greater universe.

Within his poetic testament he not only shows us just how small we are, but hints at how pointless our self destruction is.

And at the same time he conveys a message of hope disguised in a eulogy. He warns us that our future is down to us, and that hopefully by realising what we have, as tiny as it is, that we may create a better future.

Earth is our only home.

5. On the saving grace of companionship.

For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.

For all his poetry, lessons and foretelling, Sagan hits on something truly profound. Upon recognising the inescapable truths that are our mortality and ineffectual existence beyond a pale blue dot, he returns to what unites us all.

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In the infinite abyss of a dark universe hides rare moments of light and love. Image courtesy of Flickr.

By embracing love we can overcome any distance. And in that the paucity of meaning is rendered mute, bearable and even empowering, as through love we can find meaning in an ocean of irrelevance. Where science can bring humility, love can bring back purpose.

Throughout his career it appears to me that Sagan’s underlying driving force must have been a deep and powerful love for the universe and his fellow man. To continuously fight for public empowerment, against governments, critics and even himself, Sagan had a heart much greater than even his ‘ship of the imagination’ could explore

But to encapsulate Sagan in five quotes is impossible, so we encourage you to explore his work further.

So which was your favourite? What have we missed and what did you take away? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found yourself touched, please help us reach out  by sharing.

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Featured image courtesy of Flickr.

R.I.P Carl.

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Top 5 Incredible Discoveries In Space

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The Universe is really, really big. And there is a lot out there. Whether you have an interest in astronomy or not, the very wonder of the Universe is, well, universal. From Interstellar’s black hole to the curious ‘Pillars Of Creation‘, there is no denying that space holds a certain beauty. And under that aesthetic, the very laws of physics not only explain the beauty, but add to it. So today, I am taking on you a whistle-stop tour through our Universe, showing you what I feel is the best of the best. So as Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says; ‘Come with me.’

Number 1: Cassiopeia A

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Cassiopeia A. Image courtesy of Robert Sullivan

Cassiopeia A is what remains of a ‘supernova’ (an exploding star.) And its actually not that far away, at least in Universal terms. Situated about 11,000 lightyears away in our Milky Way. Not only is it an incredible sight, but also the strongest source of radio emissions beyond our solar system. These emissions are some of the many we receive every day, and others like them provide an  exciting avenue for detecting alien life.

Number 2: M101, The Pinwheel Galaxy

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The Pinwheel Galaxy. Image courtesy of Rob Sullivan.

The Pinwheel Galaxy is a spiral galaxy located in the Ursa Major constellation (the Big Bear.) At around 170,000 lightyears in diameter, it dwarfs our own Milky Way. And houses around 1 trillion stars. But unlike lots of galaxies, it seems to lack a central ‘supermassive black hole‘ at it’s centre. It’s mesmerising shape is a result of its rotation and gravity, as well as the influence of the gravity of other nearby Galaxies.

Number 3: The Pillars Of Creation

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The Pillars of Creation. Image courtesy of Jack Jacowski

No list of Universal art would be complete without The Pillars of Creation. Found in the Eagle Nebula are part of a ”stellar nursery”, a huge expanse of material from which new stars are born. Our own sun was forged deep in the heart of a such a nursery. But the Pillars give us a glimpse back in time. The myriad colours represent elements present in space, such as red for sulphur  and green for hydrogen. But, like any nursery, they won’t be around forever. Eventually, cosmic winds will simply blow them apart.

Number 4: The V838 Monocerotis Halo

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The Monocerotis Halo. Image courtesy of Maddox63.

This image captures the odd expansion and ‘echo’ of Monocerotis. The ‘halo’ itself is an artefact created by reflections of interstellar dust. The red focus is caused by the giant star itself.  During the event the star became 60,000 times more luminous than our sun. NASA followed by the phenomenon over January 2002, recording the expansion of the halo and sudden dimming of the star itself.

Number 5: Hercules A

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Hercules A. Image courtesy of Hubble Heritage

This interesting phenomenon shows two high energy plasma jets ejected by a supermassive black hole. These jets are usually a result of the high gravitational energy of a black hole, and the ring like structures outside the jets suggest that these are not the first. Hercules A is around 2.1 billion light years away. Not only do these jets provide a fascinating sight, but also tell us new things about radio waves emitted in deep space.

So thats it, a short jaunt through the Universe. But there is much more out there, so why not find your favourite and let us know? And as always, if you liked it, share it!

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of  Dr. Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates.If you liked this article and want to see more, check out Ben’s work with PORP.

 

 

 

 

Why Does The Colour Red Mean The End Of The World? How One Colour Gave Life, And How It Spells Our End.

Consider your heart. It is built of a specialised network of muscle, nerves, blood vessels and sensors. And from some moment early in the womb, it will beat roughly every second of every day until you die. And during that time, you will fall in love, make friends,  be unbelievably happy, deeply sad,  and  sometimes (this ones up to you,) full of wonder.

And one wonderful thing, one thing that makes your heart beat a little faster, is the colour red. But why do we love red? How has it helped us survive? And why is it the key to our future?

What Is Red?

Red, at is most fundamental level, is a collection of light wavelengths between 622-780 nanometres (that’s 622-780 billions of a metre.) Our brain sees this as ‘Red.’ Philosophers debate over whether ‘my red’ is the same as ‘your red’, perhaps your ‘green’ looks like my ‘red’. Who knows? But aside from those with colour blindness, or ‘Achromotopsia’ (seeing only in black, white and grey,) we can all see that an apple is ‘red’.

And this is vitally important. And like many things in nature, it is no accident. And according to some evolutionary theories, its all about the relationship between our ancient ancestors and fruit.

Foragers And Flags

‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution’ Theodosius Dobzhansky, Biologist.

Think back along the earth’s evolutionary tree. Its actually quite difficult. It isn’t very linear, and as you rush by its millions of splitting branches you will see all forms of odd creatures. But  most  of these creatures have a few similar traits. They need to eat for energy, to mate for reproduction, to spot and combat (or run from,) danger, and to find a home in which to pass their lives.

We don’t have to go back too far, just around 50 million years, to see our ape ancestors. Territorial tree foragers, they subsisted mainly on fruit. And their eyes were well adapted for spotting it, and certain familiar colours stood out. Spotting ‘ripe’ red* colour helped them survive, and with each subsequent generation those with better vision passed on the genes to better spot food.

And for the plants, it meant those with the most easily spotted food were eaten, digested, and their seeds spread. Together the plants and apes grew  reciprocal evolutionary path, and over time this was reinforced. Today we still see red things as ripe, attractive and life sustaining.

No wonder we like the colour red, it kept us alive. But has it served its purpose, or has ‘red’ got more in store for us?

 

Red Runs Away

“The greatest beauty is organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty of the universe.’ – Robinson Jeffers

As fascinating as our history with the colour red is, the familiar wavelength is also the key to one of the most fascinating discoveries of recent times. During the 1500’s Nicolaus Copernicus suggest the ‘Heliocentric Theory‘ of the Universe. That the solar system was centred (centric,) around a star (Helios.) Not long after, astronomers used telescopes to examine distant stars. We suddenly got our first glimpse of how small we really are.

But it wasn’t until 1929 that Astronomer Edwin Hubble made a startling discovery. When looking at distant galaxies, he found that all of the light coming from them was ‘red shifted’. This meant the wavelength of the light was stretched, as if the galaxy was moving away. He also found that those galaxies the furthest away were ‘redshifted’ further, as if they were moving faster.

Edwin Hubble, thanks to the colour red and some mathematics, had discovered that the Universe was expanding, and speeding up as it went. And from that, how it began, and how it is likely to end (a big crunch, rip or freeze.)

So consider again your heart, the little red thing that keeps you alive. Isn’t it just incredible that its very colour has told us so much?

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates.  Image courtesy of John Voo.

*Note. Red is not the only colour that is important to us. Think of bees, wasps, snakes, crossing signs, cheetahs, leopards… 

 

 

 

Are You Eating? Good! But Did You Know You Are Violating Cosmic Law?

First there was the Big Bang. Then, a few years later, there is the Big Mac. The future of our Universe is much like that of a Big Mac; to eventually decompose to nothingness. But you, at least for a while, can prevent that using the very energy a Big Mac delivers. How? Well within physics, the study of how matter works, you are actually opposing the Universe every time you take a bite.

Entropy and the End of the Universe

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A Broken Cup will never rebuild itself…

Imagine dropping a cup of tea (or coffee, whiskey, whatever you want.) First that cup will shatter, and its contents spread out to fill as much space as it can. This may just seem natural to you, but its actually a process. One of the laws of nature is that nature is lazy, and will often follow the path of least resistance. This is why water flows from high to low, and wind travels from high pressure to low pressure.

What happens is very simple. If a substance can drop to a lower energy state, it will. So to rebuild your tea cup you must use energy, kinetic energy from your hands, electrical energy in your brain and chemical energy in the glue. To refill it you must use electricity to boil water and kinetic energy to stir the tea and add sugar and milk. By re-dropping the broken cup you will never rebuild it.

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The Universe will eventually break down to almost nothing.

The universe has a tendency to disorder called Entropy. And that means over time all substances (be they huge planets or tiny atoms,) will eventually decompose into their constituent parts. This, theoretically, is one of the possible ends of the Universe. It is called ‘Heat Death‘, and will leave all we know as a dark, cold place. And it will happen to all of us (if we survive that long!)

How we Fight Entropy

Accepting that all structures will break down, how do we, a complex biological structure, prevent our own demise? Well, first we must understand something, pretty much everything in us is dead. We are formed of countless atoms, arranged in complex ways to perform different functions. Our looks, behaviours, lifespans and quirks are all based on evolution, which as acted on molecules for time immemorial.

The life bit is something quite special, and we still don’t know quite what it means. But all those dead bits need energy to become alive.

Biological structures need energy to work. Even as you read this you are using energy. Your heart is beating, your brain ‘thinking’ and your cells performing trillions of tiny operations to keep you alive. Its all wonderful, but needs energy to work. Without it, everything would fail, and break apart. When we die we follow the ultimate path of the Universe, to decompose and become molecules and eventually atoms ourselves.

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Kittens, like us, use energy to stay together.

Remember the Lion King, its a little like that, but without the Gazelles (for most of us!) By consuming energy we prevent our death, and in the terms of physics, entropy. We hold ourselves together at a molecular and biological level. By simply eating we defy the universe, and with it, keep ourselves alive.

So next time you have a cup of tea, remember that!

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  • Read up on Entropy and the other possible ends of the Universe

The opinions above represent those of Dr Janaway alone and not necessarily those of his affiliates. I have relied heavily on the great work of Kurzgesagt, so give them a visit! If you have any ideas for articles, or would like to write with me, let me know on Twitter or drop me an email.

Images: 

Joanna Bourne

John Smith

Fuzzy Gerdes

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