How Black Holes Are Born

In this cool video, we learn how black holes are created from the death of massive stars, leaving behind a collapsed star so dense and with such skull-crushing gravity that not even LIGHT can escape it! Here’s a cool fact… if you were floating towards a black hole, the atoms in your feet would accelerate towards it faster than the atoms in your head and so effectively, you would be instantaneously ripped apart. Fun!

Video Source: “The Birth of a Black Hole” Uploaded by Alexander Guseff to YouTube channel

The 2015 "Slushy" Waves of New England

It’s too bad that seawater is salty, because with a bit of sweet flavouring, everyone would have had access to unlimited slushy “Slurpee” a year ago, courtesy of Mother Nature!

Video Source: “Giant Frozen Waves Nantucket Beach” Uploaded by Galaxy 11

The United States spent much of February of last year in the frigid grips of a record-breaking icy winter. Yet, in addition to the usual suspects, which include deep snow and biting winds, the cold would seem to have even won over the briny seawater of the north Atlantic Ocean. This video shows a series of images of ocean waves breaking on the shores of Nantucket in New England (northeast USA), only, there seems to be something distinctly different about these waves!

The photographer, Jonathan Nimerfroh, is an avid surfing enthusiast and on a trip to the beach, he noticed something odd about the horizon. As it turns out, the temperatures are so low in the area the water has begun to freeze and so, what we are looking at are giant slushy waves! These icy waves have also been aptly called “Slurpee waves”

The maximum temperature on the day these pictures were taken was at a teeth-chattering -7 degrees celsius (17 degrees Fahrenheit).

What’s truly amazing about this is that salt is known to lower the freezing point of water to well below zero degrees celsius. This is precisely why we throw salt over our driveways to prevent them from icing up. The fact that even the salty seawater in northeast United States began to freeze is testament to the uncharacteristically cold winter they had last year.

Take it Down Sloooooooooow

Video Source: Uploaded by Slow Mo Lab to YouTube channel

Epic Rap Battles of History: Isaac Newton Vs. Bill Nye

This Epic Rap Battle is pure unadulterated GOLD. Watch Sir Isaac Newton serve Bill Nye truths of painful gravity and Bill Nye the not-so nice Science Guy retaliate with desert dry wit. As if that wasn’t good enough, halfway through the video a very special someone makes an appearance and I actually found myself making that sound teenagers make when watching a friend wipe out on a skateboard…

Ooooooo!!! No he didn’t!!

Video Source: “Sir Isaac Newton vs Bill Nye. Epic Rap Battles of History Season 3″ posted by ERB on Youtube channel

Queen and Quantum Mechanics

I’ve had quite a few readers ask me to explain String Theory to them in a way that is understandable to those without an advanced science degree in Physics. Until now I haven’t been able to think of an appropriate way to do so, quite simply because I don’t understand the darn thing myself.

Thankfully, A Cappella Science has put together a BRILLIANT and amazing science video that explains it all and it doesn’t even matter if you still don’t understand String Theory afterwards, because the lyrical manipulation and music is so damn good, nobody cares! Anything performed to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody is entertaining.

So, whoever told you the mash-up of Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and Oasis’ “Wonderwall” was the best that’s ever been done: they were lying and here’s why…

Video Source: Uploaded by A Cappella Science to YouTube Channel

Epic Rap Battles of History: Edison Vs. Tesla

We’re back with another Epic Rap Battle of History, this time between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.

Edison (1847 – 1931), also known as the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” was an American businessman and inventor credited for the innovation of the light bulb and the motion picture camera. Tesla (1856 – 1943)  not only has the coolest name, like ever, he’s also a mechanical and electrical engineer extraordinaire. Amongst other achievements, he came up with the idea of AC: alternating current.

In this epic video, these two giants of science and industry battle it out and in the end, you get to decide who wins!

Video Source: Epic Rap Battles of History by Nice Peter, epicLLOYD, Dave McCary and Maker Studios, as seen on YouTube channel


Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Photons Fly!

Beautiful rainbow Grand Canyon

Image Source: “Rainbow Ignites” over Grand Canyon, uploaded by Cathy Smart to

Rainbows have enchanted humankind since our very beginnings, leading to the spinning of countless myths and legends about why and what they are. Just about every ancient civilization, culture and religion has its unique explanation of rainbows; all of them creative, but absolutely NONE of them correct. There is no pot of gold.

Aside from the fact that they look like a hippy has barfed across the sky, rainbows have quite a fascinating backstory involving the physics of light, which really isn’t all that complicated! In this blog, we’ll be taking a look at the physical laws and facts that give rise to some spectacular atmospheric masterpieces and a sky that would put a tie-dye T-shirt convention to shame.

The first ingredient on our palette is solar radiation…

You Need Sunshine, On a Cloudy Day!

One does not simply meme

Sunshine. It’s a simple concept: light from the sun. But one does not simply have interminable nuclear reactions without generating a spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. Our sun is a star and in keeping with the personality of stars, things are positively nuclear beneath its photosphere. These nuclear fusion reactions release a broad range of radiation types (see diagram below), from low energy, long wavelength infrared radiation (left) to the high energy, short wavelength Gamma radiation (right).


Image Source: The Electromagnetic Spectrum –

Slap bang in the middle of the electromagnetic spectrum is visible light, which only accounts for a narrow portion of the total energy generated by our sun day-after-day. This visible light pours out into space faster than Kris Jenner can say to Bruce “You’re becoming a what!?” covering the vast distance between the Sun and Earth in just 8 minutes and 20 seconds. It then smacks into our atmosphere and all its constituent gas and water vapor molecules. The photons (particles of light) that manage to escape atmospheric collision end their journey at the Earth’s surface, which is what brings warmth to our lives and color to our environment.

Snow White Light and the Seven Composite Colors

As I explained in the blog The Sky Is Only Sometimes Blue, visible (white) light is composed of seven different colors. Each of these colors has a different wavelength and ranges from the lower frequency, longer wavelength color red to the higher frequency, shorter wavelength color violet.

When visible light from the sun strikes a white surface, all of its seven dwarfs, I mean constituent colors get scattered in every direction, which is why we view the object as Snow White, I mean white. If that object is black, however, all of those seven colors become absorbed by the object, which is why you can cook an egg on the dashboard of your black Merc after leaving it in the sun for an hour.

visible light spectrum rainbow

Image Source: The Visible Light Spectrum – CultureLab/LabCulture at

What about colorful objects?

Violet surfaces, like your gay best friend’s curtains, selectively scatter light with a wavelength of around 400 nanometers and absorb the rest. As such, you perceive the color violet (and bad taste) when you look at them.

Blue surfaces, like your lover’s eyes, selectively scatter light with a wavelength of around 450 nanometers. As such, you perceive the color blue and experience inappropriate clenchings in the nethers.

MIRRORS, interestingly enough, reflect all the seven colors of incoming visible light, but instead of scattering them in random directions, they reflect them at precisely the same angle as they arrived at and so the integrity of the image is preserved.

WHAT does this have to do with rainbows?

This discussion is intended to help you understand and appreciate the nature of visible light and the fact that it’s composed of different colors, which are capable of acting independently of each other due to their different wavelengths.

Now it’s when visible light strikes water droplets in our atmosphere that the real magic can begin to happen, potentially making it look like a unicorn wiped its butt on the horizon…

Prism (Not a Katy Perry Album)

Prism rainbow

Image Source: All The Pretty Colors – SeeMore Sights,

So far, we’ve spoken about light as though it travels in a straight line, which is typically what it does between bouncing off of and being scattered by objects. However, this isn’t the case when it travels through water. When visible light travels from one medium to another – from air into the water – its pathway becomes slightly bent in a process termed “refraction.” This explains why objects under water look so strange: the light that enables us to perceive them is being refracted or bent and this makes your toes (or whatever body part you happen to be scrutinizing) look bigger and closer to you than they really are.

When sunlight passes through a water droplet, it deviates slightly from its incoming direction, because it’s refracted (see diagram below). A portion of this light is then reflected off the far surface of the raindrop. If this angle is at 40° – 42° to the original direction of incoming sunlight, we get a rainbow!

how rainbows are formed

Image Source: What Causes a Rainbow? NASA/NOAA –

So you see, rain droplets not only refract the sunlight that passes through them, they also act as prisms. The reason this process results in a rainbow is because the seven constituent colors of visible sunlight become refracted to different degrees: the shortest wavelength light (violet) becomes refracted the most and so it’s bent the most. The largest wavelength light (red) becomes refracted the least and so it’s bent the least. As such, when white light passes through a water droplet, it becomes split into its seven different personalities, from violet, blue and green to yellow, orange and red!

This is beautifully captured in the following 40-second video:

Video Source: “Light Split into Colors by a Prism” Uploaded by MadDogScience in YouTube channel

A Rainbow Is Made!

We can now understand how white visible light, upon passing through water droplets suspended in the atmosphere, is split into its seven constituent colors. The final piece of the puzzle is looking at this process on the large scale. There are billions of water droplets in clouds or mist and each one disperses and refracts the sunlight that hits it. The overall result is a vast display of color in a circular or semicircular arc. Obviously, to us here on Earth, most rainbows would appear to be semi-circular, because the ground gets in the way of us seeing the other half. However, viewed from the air or from the following rare perspective at the top of Zambia’s Victoria Falls, we can see the full glorious monty:

Rainbow, Victoria Falls, Zambia - Aug 2012

Image Source: Circle Rainbow Over Victoria Falls, Zambia – Aug 2012 by Nicole Cambré/REX (2105841a): FULL WORDS LINK:

What I haven’t mentioned yet is that perspective plays a major role in our ability to visually enjoy rainbows. The sun has to be behind you and the angle of dispersion – the angle between the incoming sunlight and the direction the refracted light is exiting the raindrop – has to be between 40° and 42°.

Beautiful rainbow pictures

Image Source: Rainbow Over Lake Ontario, uploaded by Melagoo on Weather Underground,

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

Rainbows have this wonderful effect on people: they make us look. They compel us to forget for just a few seconds everything it is we are thinking/worrying/stressing about and look up to the sky and admire. Really, all a rainbow is is water droplets playing with the paths and emotions of sunlight… but they are beautiful and a reminder that God – or whatever deity is or isn’t up there – is in fact a fan of gay people.

lgbt gay rainbow flag

Image Source:

Copyright © Thea Beckman 2015

Today's Sciencey LOL

Say it’s true!!

Funny science Emma Watson

Quantum physics is an established field of science that has revealed to us crucial insights into the behaviour of our physical environment and those that lie beyond the boundaries of our observable universe. As such, we can all look forward to the eventuality of banging Emma Watson. And if Hermoine Granger isn’t up your alley, or you don’t want her there, then you can always apply this probability to your favorite sexy celebrity.

That certainly is awesome.

Notes on Aeronautics and Becoming a Member of the Mile High Club

Aeronautics and Flight

She sits next to you on the plane, gripping the arm rests, her chest rising and falling with each laboured breath. Her eyes are closed, so you chance a sneaky glance at her face. She’s beautiful. A light sheen of sweat clings to her forehead and her hair cascades in blonde tresses down her neck. The airplane comes to a brief halt as the pilot waits for the runway to clear. It clears and the engines begin to roar. Her breathing gets faster and faster with every mile per hour the plane accelerates. The cabin is vibrating, the industrial scenery is whipping past, but all you notice is the pained expression on her face and the fact that her eyes are screwed shut…

A fear of flying is not uncommon. In fact, most first-timers or even frequent fliers will experience a degree of nervousness, if not downright crippling anxiety. Having said that, a fear of flying is much like a fear of sharks: you are much more likely to be killed by something else, so it doesn’t make any sense to stink up the cabin with your fear sweat.

Fear of flying

In theory, this fear is totally understandable, as you are hurtling through the thin upper troposphere in an aluminium tube held aloft by nothing more than a couple of clunky-looking wings fashioned from, surprise, metal. The cool thing is, if you understand the dynamics behind flight and therefore what is likely to send you spiralling Earth-bound in a plume of smoke and flame, you can provide your buxom neighbour with an insight that just might get you a first class ticket to the mile high club.

Everyone knows that we as creatures are most vulnerable when we are anxious or scared. With a brief lecture on the physics of flight and some careful massaging, I mean, assuaging of her fears, you could face the somewhat challenging task of cramming two bodies into an aircraft toilet. Alternatively, there are always those free blankets they hand out on some of those long haul flights: they’re great for camouflaging iniquitous activities. Not that I would know.

So, how is it possible? How can something that weighs, on its own, in excess of 400 tonnes lift you, hundreds of passengers, thousands of kilograms worth of luggage, countless bottles of duty-free liquor and the occasional spoilt first-class pet into the air? The dynamics behind it all are quite elementary my dear Watson.

Businessman Airport Terminal

Air is a Fluid, Physically Speaking

We like to think that air is nothingness, emptiness, vacuous and that it doesn’t really consist of anything. But physicists know better. Just grab a mouthful of air and, closing your oesophagus, try compressing it against your palate with your tongue. You can’t. Without an exit route, that air may as well we a block of concrete. That’s how NOT nothingness air is and moving air is exactly what allows an airplane to leave the runway to infinity and beyond.

Air is classed as a fluid. A very airy fluid, but it behaves just like a liquid in the way it moves and flows. So, whether you’re talking about the air, water or any other fluid for that matter, the physical laws that govern the way they behave are the same. As such, it can be said that fish fly through the air and airplanes swim through the atmosphere. Physically speaking.

Thrust, Drag, Lift and Weight

forces on an airplane 

Photo Credit: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

These concepts may sound like they belong in the gym (or the bedroom), but the delicate dance between thrust, drag, lift and weight is responsible for getting something that weighs hundreds of metric tonnes into the air. Let’s take a closer look at the four forces that play such an important role in flight and how they contribute to getting you to your domestic and international destinations…

Thrust and Drag

Funny Drag Queen

“Thrust” and “drag” may be your camp gay friend’s two most favouritest words, like ever, but they’re also fundamental in flight. Thrust is the aerodynamic force that propels something forward. An aeroplane gets its thrust from an engine or from a propeller. Since air in not nothingness and consists of gazillions of molecules, it exerts a counter force on any body hurtling through it. That force is called drag. If you want to feel drag, stick your hand out of a moving car window or ask your sister for some of her old dresses.

Drag is essentially air resistance and it is caused by all those air (or water) molecules crashing into the molecules that make up, for example, your hand when you stick it out the window of a moving car. The greater the surface area of the object moving through the fluid, the greater the drag or resistance. This is why, when your hand is turned edge on into the wind, you don’t feel much resistance. Then, when your hand is flat and palm open towards the rushing air, it feels as though you’re being high-fived by the invisible man. Having said all this, drag cannot exist if BOTH the object and the air are stationary. There has to be a difference in relative speed.

The concept of minimizing drag in the manufacture of things designed to go fast is called aerodynamics and it applies to a mind-boggling number of everyday technology. Fast cars and trains are manufactured in such a manner so as to promote the flowing of air over their bodies. This reduces drag and allows them to go faster. A square car would be about as efficient on the racetrack as a baboon with a Sudoku puzzle.

bullet train at a station

 The nose of the bullet train has been specially designed to channel airflow over its top so as to reduce drag and maximise speed. 

Airplanes are also made to be extremely aerodynamic. At speeds of 1,000 km/hr. anything sticking out would be subject to such intense drag forces that they’d likely be ripped right off the fuselage (the main body of the plane). This is why the landing gear is retracted after take off. This is also why you should not repeat the hand-out-the-window experiment on an airplane or else your entire arm would not accompany you to your final destination.

In order for a plane to take off, the thrust must be at least the same as or greater than the force of drag. You’ll notice that when your plane comes in for landing, the pilot lifts the flaps on the wings of the plane, effectively increasing the surface area of the wing facing the rushing air and therefore the drag. At this stage, drag is greater than thrust and the plane slows down. I can only imagine that landing a plane at cruising altitude wouldn’t be very much fun for anyone on board.

Weight and Lift

You should know what weight is. Your bathroom scale groans with it every morning. Weight is the force any object exerts on the ground and is a product of its mass and gravity, conveyed in the unit Newton according to the following equation:

Weight = Mass (kg) x Gravitational constant (on Earth it’s 9.8 m/s2)

A 60 kg woman on planet Earth is not only a bitch; she is a 588,6 Newton bitch. On the planet Mercury, she is a 217,8 Newton (dead) bitch. The greater your mass, the more you weigh. The larger the planet you stand on, the greater its gravitational pull on you and therefore, the more you will weigh. So you can imagine that a standard Boeing airliner full of passengers and luggage will weigh a considerable amount, even on Mercury. That’s okay because this is where lift makes its glorious stage entrance.

Lift is the opposite force of weight in effect and just like drag, it cannot exist if the object in question is not moving or if the air (or fluid) around it is still. As long as there is a difference in the relative speed of the object and the surrounding air, lift and drag can be achieved. This explains why kites, which don’t make use of any source of thrust to fly, can stay in the air as long as it’s windy, but will dive-bomb you like a kamikaze bat should the wind cease. It also explains why airplanes, which make use of jet engines or propellers for thrust, can fly on windless days.

So now you know the difference between thrust, drag, weight and lift. But, how does this explain how 400+ tonne airplane gets in and stays in the air?

The Mechanics of Flight

Funny Drag Queen

When a moving fluid, be it water or air, encounters an obstacle, it seeks a path around it. In the case of aeronautics, the wings (or airfoils as they are known in the industry) are the obstacles and the air is the fluid. The wings of the plane split the air into two pathways: one flows over the top of the wing and the other flows beneath it. The wings of airplanes are specifically shaped so as to promote the faster flow of air over the top of the wing than the underside. The slower flow of air underneath the wing causes a build-up of pressure beneath the wing, while the faster flow of air on top causes a localized decrease in air pressure.

This region of high pressure caused by the faster flowing air exerts a greater force on the underside of the wing than the air on the opposing side and this creates lift. In other words, the high pressure beneath the wing is physically pushing it upwards (see the rather useful diagram below). By adjusting the angle at which the wing faces the oncoming air, a pilot can control the difference in air pressure above and beneath the wing, thus controlling lift.

Lift forces on airfoil

How does a pilot do this?

While you are distracted by the pretty airhostesses and are desperately trying not to miss the free snack and drinks cart, tiny green gremlins abseil down the fuselage, dismantle the take-off wings and replace them with specially shaped cruise wings. This is why, without a cloud in sight and at 10,000m in the air, the plane goes through patches of turbulence. It’s those damn gremlins playing around with the airfoils.

In a more realistic scenario, the pilot controls the shape of the wing using flaps and slats. When cruising, these lie flush against the wings thus having no effect on flight speed or altitude. When opened, flaps and slats serve to decrease speed and lift, allowing the plane to descend and land safely. Or at least land. The safely part is up to the skill of the pilot.

Funny dog dressed as pilot 

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

So there you have it! Next time you’re seated on a plane next to a nervous blonde, or anxious brunette, distract him or her with your supreme knowledge of the physics of flight. Calm their nerves by explaining how elementary the concepts behind getting an immensely heavy hunk of metal into the air are and that once in the air the chances of things going wrong are highly unlikely. It’s times like this that you REALLY don’t want to be one in a million.

If you ever do manage to get seated next to someone attractive and takes things so far as a conversation on aeronautics, please do let me know all about it. I’ve been on too many flights to recall and the kind of people I have sat next to have included a 6 foot something Russian (who took a nap on my shoulder without buying me a drink first), a young gentleman with flatulence issues, a 50-something pianist with a severe case of verbal diarrhoea and a woman whose butt took up more than its fair share of seating.

Remember, if you are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, put the “naughy” in aeronautics and take one for the team!

stewardess back sexy

TED Talks with Mythbusters' Adam Savage

Adam Savage is one half of the insane genius behind the hit TV show Mythbusters and in this illuminating short TED Talk, he explains to us how some of history’s most profound discoveries have come from really simple, yet insightful methods: Eratosthenes’ calculation of the Earth’s circumference (200 BC) and Fizeau’s measurement of the speed of light (1849).

It’s a lesson in how you don’t have to have a PHD behind your name to conceive mighty concepts.

Amazing Science Video Source: “How simple ideas lead to scientific discoveries” – TED Talks. Uploaded by TED-Ed on YouTube channel

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