Using Ancient Ovens to Trace the History of Earth’s Magnetic Field

Scientists have known for some time that the Earth’s magnetic field has undergone significant changes throughout the planet’s history. In fact, about once every few hundred thousand years, it completely reverses – what was once magnetic north is now magnetic south.[1. The planet’s magnetic poles are a small distance away from the geographic poles, which … Read more

Voyager’s Photos: Our Message to Space

Ok, I really should be getting on with the chapter on Energy, but I just had to post this.

Voyager 1, a space probe the size of a small car, will soon become the first human-made object to leave our solar system. Launched in 1977, it is still – amazingly – sending back new data about the mysteries of outer space 10 billion kilometers away, more than 35 years later.

Great Red Spot From Voyager 1
Jupiter's Great Red Spot, photographed by Voyager 1.
Voyagers 1 and 2 flew past Jupiter and Saturn, taking photos on the way. (Voyager 2 also went by Neptune and Uranus, but its path slowed it down a bit, meaning Voyager 1 is now farther from us.) Then they headed out towards interstellar space with the hope of being found, someday, by intelligent beings. Both probes were equipped with a golden record, which contained music, sounds, and images, as well as instructions on how to properly play the disks. (For more on the audio side of this project, you should definitely listen to this wonderful episode of Radiolab.)

The reason for today’s post is this gallery of images from the records, which I always find mesmerizing.

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How Galaxies Are Formed

I wanted to take a quick break from discussing the mysteries of energy to share a mesmerizing video. This NASA-created computer simulation illustrates how moving clouds of dust created in the Big Bang could accrete into the spinning collection of billions of stars that we call a galaxy. “This cosmological simulation follows the development of … Read more

Another Way to Learn Physics Online: Landmarks in Physics

This week, as undergrads and high schoolers everywhere are plunging into the world of Introductory Physics, I wanted to share another great resource for learning this material. It’s a course on Udacity called Landmarks in Physics. Udacity features a free, easy-to-use interface for self-guided courses taught through a combination of YouTube videos, interactive quizzes, and … Read more

Video of the Curiosity Landing

(Edit: I’ve replaced the original video with a much better one. The original can still be viewed here, but I don’t know why you want to.) Today being Wednesday, we would normally have carried on with the next chapter of our little textbook. But it’s still summer, and humanity’s got this new car-sized robot on … Read more

Curiosity Has Arrived!

The new Mars rover, Curiosity, has successfully landed on the surface of the red planet. This is a pretty big achievement. To understand why it’s so crazy that NASA was actually able to pull this off, check out this video from an earlier post.

Real Answers to Ridiculous Questions

Randall Munroe, author of the ever-popular geeky stickman webcomic XKCD, is also a physics & math nerd. So he gets a lot of weird hypothetical questions from his readers. Now he’s starting to answer them, and it’s pretty entertaining. Here’s a snippet from his first question, What would happen if you tried to hit a … Read more

Seven Minutes of Terror

In November of last year, NASA launched a rocket carrying a brand new Mars rover. Dubbed Curiosity, it is five times larger than the two previous rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) and is scheduled to land on August 6 of this year. As with everything NASA does, the Mars missions might seem a bit underwhelming at … Read more

What is Time?

You might have noticed that we’re slowing down the posts here at Pop Physics HQ. That’s because summer is in full, sweaty swing, the students are busy forgetting everything they’ve learned sitting at their school desks, and I want to make sure this site’s got some momentum when we pick up the pace again in … Read more