Things of Science

Technically speaking, science isn't just random bits of odd facts—it only appears that way until you learn how they all connect and what connects them and why the connections are important. The reverse is true of this page.

Start by wandering the virtual American and Hooper natural history museums. Keep up with our evolving knowledge with science news, always being careful of bad astronomy and other forms of bad science. For specific subjects, look out there, all around us, or inside us.


Start off your day with an astronomy picture.

Cosmology is the study of really large scales—where even galactic collisions are dinky. Bone up with a tutorial, a guide to its evolution, and a primer on the big bang, plus a nucleosynthesis calculator and other sites. This is the domain of general relativity, a subject often mystified and often explained, and sometimes even simulated. Don't forget the vexing questions of dark matter, dark energy, topological defects, the cosmological constant, and the value of the Hubble constant and other parameters.

After delving into the hows and whys of the universe, learn about its inhabitants: galactic clusters, galaxies (such as our Milky Way), quasars and active galaxies, stars (such as our sun) as they (and it) evolve, binary (double) stars, cataclysmic variables, supernovae and supernova remnants, nebulae, planetary nebulae, the interstellar medium and our heliosphere, cosmic rays, gravity waves, black holes, and neutron stars. Catch up on the principles of astronomy and space physics, with the help of an astronomer or two or three, a solar physicist (or not), Mr. Sunspot, an astrophysicist, or the sci.astro FAQ. The most exiting astronomy going is the search for extrasolar planets—for itself as well as offering the possibility of extraterrestrial life. For more advanced knowledge, search through astrophysical databases, web sites, articles, papers, and e-prints.

To get you started on the very long tradition of observing it all, several astronomy textbooks (which professors occasionally distill to lecture notes), some software, some online telescopes, some tips, and hints on what to look for this week (and where). You can even observe cosmic rays at home. Just be careful when looking at the sun. Several sites describe the constellations and their stars and myths and histories and pronunciation, and there are star maps galore. Just past the naked eye and the nearest stars (available in crystal), browse the Messier, NCG (photographed), NED, Arp, Sloan DSS, deep sky, and other catalogs. The big eyes combined produce the deep-sky atlas and images in full spectra. There's also the (deservedly) ever-popular pictures from the Hubble, Spitzer, and Chandra space telescopes.

Closer in, there's the nine eight planets. Many sites offer images of our neighbors, including not just one or two but three from NASA—not to mention a simulator. To help you get around, there are planetary gazetteers as well as tours of specific planets; inspired by the recent Pathfinder, Global Surveyor, Odyssey, Mars Rover, and Reconnaissance Orbiter missions, many sites cover Mars. If anything, our inconstant, proximate Moon, with all its craters, is more popular than our often very artistic Earth. There are even sites devoted to satellites of the outer planets, planetary rings, the Kuiper belt, and minor planets. Some temporary neighbors with odd orbits include comets and meteors. If you want to worry late at night, consider the effects of planetary collisions, the latest on near-earth objects, and the history of it happening to Earth.

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Start off your day with an earth science picture.

The Earth is dynamic planetalive with volcanoes and earthquakes, the result of plate tectonics working over geologic time-spans. Sites worldwide give recent earthquake information. Popular volcanoes include Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Erebus, and Hawai'i. There are even volcanoes on the Moon, Mars, and Io.

The materials being worked (into soil and tiny sand) are rockminerals and gems ranging from granite to garnets, from dolomite to diamonds, from topaz to tourmaline, and so on. All these crystals can be studied, simulated, and explored with microscope and x-ray diffraction. There are fossils in there as well—but that's a biobit. You can find out more by asking a geologist or two.

Between Earth and space is air. Meteorology tutorials have basic info. My other page has weather reports; but what the weather means to you depends on the wind chill factor and global changes. On a practical level, there's field guides to clouds and pretty things including bright lightning, snow, halos of many types, and similar atmospheric effects. Technically magnetospheric, not atmospheric, the auroras (in north and south) are startling, beautiful, alarming though somewhat predictable, and easily photographed and observed.

All this is held together by physics and chemistry—in particular, the physical laws, equations, and constants. The basics are explained in some physics and chemistry tutorials, a physics program of study, a physics textbook and encyclopedia, a chemistry textbooks and other instructional materials, chemistry links, or some chemistry glossaries; for additional help, ask a chemist or physicist. Then you can putter in any of several virtual labs using chemistry and physics calculators, or play in a bubble chamber. Further explorations take you from atoms, which get built up into many different molecules (there's scads of MOTM and MOTD sites), some of them hazardous, that's analyzed using NMR and spectroscopy; through semi- and superconductors; around various engines, temperature, entropy, and the second law of thermodynamics; past periodic tables, orbitals, isotopes, nuclides, and atomic spectral lines of light; ending up at the origin of the elements in plasma fusion including adventures with the fundamental particles, partons, and antimatter. The standard model explains all this except for the strange oscillating neutrino, cold dark matter, and quantum gravity; it might be fixed by supersymmetry or string theory (aka M-theory) and its second revolution. But you may not want to go there—best to wander back to saner subjects, like Bose-Einstein condensation or nuclear physics.

Mathematics is the language of it all. The Internet Math Library, PlanetMath, Math Pages, and KaBoL can get you going, or for help, ask Dr. Math. Check out its long history, periodic mathematicians, and the wonders of classical mathematics. Have fun with favorite constants, random math facts and quotes, math utilities, and other miscellany. Refresh your knowledge of the basics, good logic, geometry and its formula junkyard, plane curves, polyhedra, fractals (more and more), cellular automata, Fibonacci forgeries, number theory, probability, statistics, calculus, and so on. Beyond those are heavy topics such as the axiom of choice and proving it all.

For recreation, try topics ranging from all those primes to quines, from really large numbers (like the Moser, infinity, and others hard to name) to applications of probability and statistics to Monopoly—not to mention pseudorandom and random numbers. Introduce yourself to cryptography, the art of ciphers and encryption, but please play fair and don't hide messages in plain sight. On the topic of special numbers, I have a page on Pythagorean triplets. Try optimal juggling, ringing bells, packing spaces, projecting maps, using an abacus or slide rule, or visualizing Euclid's Elements—or just play with knots and plots and shoelaces. You can also play with Klein bottles or other 4-dimensional objects. Getting abstruse, there's the theory of abstract objects. And then there's everyone's favorite irrational number, pi: read its history, download the whole schmere, pick out particular digits, search for your birthday or name, calculate it on your own, wonder whether it's normal, and—ah, heck, here's links to graze on.

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I have no biology training; this section's paucity reflects that. What life sciences I know are side effects of other interests. For example, paleontology (where evolution is the thread that binds it all together) goes hand in hand with geology and climate change. And, yeah, at 10 I was waaay into dinosaurs (and their tracks). Similarly, I know a little bit about human history, and this carries over into archaeology (nautical archaeology and archeoastronomy fascinate—and both dendrochronology and primitive ways such as flint-knapping are cool) and anthropology (including how we treat kinship, class, inequality, behavior, borders, territory, death, games played both for fun by kids and in earnest, gestures, symbols, metaphors, writing, language, poetry, and so on). When I hike the Arizona mountains, I see much ecology and bits of biomes ranging from desert to forest, and likewise, living in a desert, I encounter all sorts of nifty, prickly plants.

I could, I suppose, try to learn more by reading a biology textbook. But even then, all I'd get is random links on topics ranging from bioluminescence to butterflies, from paleobotany (fossil plants) and palynology (fossil pollen) to fossil horses, from forensic entomology to social wasps, from pretty bugs both large and small to trilobites, from diatoms to optical illusions, from spider webs building to astrobiology, from biodiversity to genomes of humans and other beasts, from carnivorous plants to cephalopods and echinoids, from ant cams (ants!) to lichens, from all about fungi to guides to nearly every type of very useful local flora, from nearly everything you ever wanted to know about photosynthesis but didn't know how to ask to genetics, from taxonomy (not to be confused with phylogeny) to ontogeny. Or maybe just advice on creationism and teaching evolution.

Thus this plea: If you know any general biology, medicine, or social sciences pages that might fit in here, please tell me.

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