Thursday, October 19, 2017

AWARENESS TO THE POWER OF N – Finding Our Place In Infinity

Have you ever seen this amazing video by Danail Obreschkow that attempts to show, in just three minutes, the vastness of the known universe? It starts with a close-up of a woman’s face. The camera then begins to draw back. The woman, lying on grass, gradually becomes a small dot in a complex of buildings. The scene soars continuously into ever-broader panoramas: the whole city, then rivers and mountain ranges, sea coasts, the recognizable outlines of continents.

Out and out the eye travels. Soon the earth itself shrinks to a pin point; then it’s the solar system lost in the distance; then the Milky Way; then other galaxies. And, finally, at about ten billion light years away from the woman’s face, we’re looking at a fine mist each of whose nano-droplets is a galaxy.

This has all happened in 60 seconds. Then the process reverses; the camera starts back toward infinitesimal Earth. Falling, falling…until once again that apartment complex appears, that little speck on the lawn, and finally the woman’s face.

As if that weren’t enough with the perspective thing, the view now moves seam- lessly into the woman’s left eye and navigates a comparable journey into inner space—from cells, to molecules, to electrons…all the way to quarks.

     Why, one might wonder, do we keep wasting 
     the effort to measure something we all can be 
     quite sure is immeasurable?

How stunning, for a visual learner like me, to see this perspective illustrated so graphically. But a few numbers I've come across recently can also make the point.

Yes, our world—this earth—is us. But in terms of its place in the solar system, meh, we’re just another of eight apples in the sack. (Nine, if one accepts the presence of the as-yet-unseen “planet nine.”)

And the solar system? Our all-powerful sun is just one of at least 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and who knows how many of those twirl their own planets around them?

So you think we’re rhetorically zoomed out far enough to maybe begin grasping the vastness of the universe? Not quite. Take our little galaxy with its billions of stars…and multiply it by another 200 billion. That’s how many galaxies astronomers were thinking existed.

Hubble took this 100-hour exposure of a spot in space previously thought to be virtually empty.
PHOTO: Robert Williams and the Hubble Deep Field Team (STScI) and NASA

That was a decade ago, when the NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope was providing its earthshakingly clear examination of the universe. Current research suggests even that number is at least ten times too small.* Does anyone at all believe that these wild stabs at enumeration won’t just keep growing?

It’s like economic hyperinflation; the currency of classification becomes so worthless that we keep having to issue new, ever-larger “denominations” of terminology. So now, acknowledging the futility of counting even galaxies, scientists are beginning to think in terms of a “multiverse,” comprising numerous universes.

Why, one might wonder, do we keep wasting the effort to measure something we can all be quite sure is immeasurable?

It’s beyond me.

         We are part of this universe; we are in this universe, 
         but perhaps more important… the universe is in us. 
         Many people feel small, because they’re small and the 
         universe is big, but I feel big, because my atoms came 
         from those stars. ~ DR. NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON

* NASA galaxy count    

Friday, October 13, 2017

CITRUS PARADISI – An Odoriferous Ode to Grapefruit

Years ago, when I started taking Simvastatin (generic Zocor), they said I shouldn’t eat grapefruit. I’m sure glad I stopped—the Simvastatin, not the grapefruit.

There's nothing quite like eating a good, fresh grapefruit. There’s that wonderful sweetness-acidity balance; the fragrant flavor and slightly bitter aftertaste—unlike that of any other citrus fruit; and, of course, that riotous explosion of juice.

And visually, I mean come on, just look at this feast of form, texture and color. The tough, pigskin-like rind, its mottled structure running all the way through. (These distinct little oliferous vesicles* contain aromatic oils that are released when cut or abraded.) The skin’s moist, cottony, cream-white lining (albedo) laced with pink-tinged veins.

Then there are the fine, gossamer membranes encasing each segment; the wrinkled, irregular seeds; and the feathery, fecund little cavern that runs through the fruit’s core when the central column is removed.

And, best of all, the dense packing of all those glistening, translucent little water balloons (juice vesicles) bursting with liquid.

     Grapefruit was not recognized as genetically 
     distinct from the pomelo until the 1830s.

This sublime fruit so engages me that I have to do a little research. I find that grapefruit’s existence was first documented in Barbados, in 1750. At that time it was referred to as “Shaddock”—for a sea captain said to have first bred it—or “forbidden fruit.” More likely, though, it’s a naturally occurring hybrid of Jamaican sweet orange and Indonesian pomelo.**

Grapefruit was not recognized as genetically distinct from the pomelo until the 1830s, when it was assigned the scientific name citrus paradisi.