10 December 2005

Sci-Fried on Saturday

First, a poem:

I have lived on the lip
of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door. It opens.
I've been knocking on the inside!
Real value comes with madness
matzub below, scientist above.
Whoever finds love
beneath hurt and grief
disappears into emptiness
with a thousand new disguises.

—Rumi, found at Mind Hacks

Using radio telescopes, astronomers measured the parallax angle to the Perseus arm of the Milky Way: 6360 light years from the sun. Previous measurements had conflicted with one another, but parallax is one of the most accurate methods of measuring stellar distance. They "look" at the area while the earth is on one side of the sun, and again on the opposite side of the sun and look to see how far it seems to have moved (like closing your right and left eyes and seeing things shift). That gives the parallax angle, then simple trigonometry gives the distance.

Speaking of seeing things in different ways, it seems that ambiguity can really mess with our decision making skills. Though the notion of freezing in response to danger has always seemed...less than useful to me. It would only make sense when being tracked by something that relied almost entirely on vision, and whose vision relied on movement.

Also, a researcher questioning the placebo effect. It would be interesting to compare placebo results between different experiments, to see if there is any noticeable pattern. Like, time of year, or type of treatment, etc. However, there is too little detail in the linked article to draw any conclusions.

And the world may turn up-side down sometime soon... at least magnetically. Evidence shows that the earth's magnetic field flip-flops every so often. Incidentally, the North Pole is currently headed for Siberia. How do we know about past flip-flops? Because of the allignment of magnetic particles in rocks that formed from molten lava. Incidentally, on the sea floor this forms "strips" of different magnetic allignment in the rocks, and the dates obtained from assuming a relatively constant rate of spread on the sea-floor agree with those obtained by radioactive dating.

Last but not least, an entirely different kind of magnetism (also connected to dating): love** seems to have more power over the mind than sex. Try telling that to the media, though.

**Accidentally relinked to pole-shift article. Now fixed.


Fibonacci said...

Are there theories on why the magnetic poles would flip? Smaller magnets don't do that, do they?

Qalmlea said...

No one knows for sure yet. But since they think the earth's magnetic field is generated by molten iron circulating inside the earth (last I read, anyway), maybe the circulation currents slowly shift. Presumably the spin of the earth tends to make it more likely for the pole to wind up at the extreme south or north.
*checks* Yeah, it's called Dynamo Theory. And the reason for the shifts is not well understood. The cometary impact theory is interesting.