Randall "XKCD" Munroe's new "What If?" feature answers one wild hypothetical per week. The first two are corkers: Relativistic Baseball baseball asks what would happen if a baseball pitcher could throw a ball at 0.9C; the second, SAT Guessing, looks at the (very long) odds against getting a perfect SAT by bubbling in random guesses. Here's a taste of Relativistic Baseball:
The ball is going so fast that everything else is practically stationary. Even the molecules in the air are stationary. Air molecules vibrate back and forth at a few hundred miles per hour, but the ball is moving through them at 600 million miles per hour. This means that as far as the ball is concerned, they’re just hanging there, frozen.
The ideas of aerodynamics don’t apply here. Normally, air would flow around anything moving through it. But the air molecules in front of this ball don’t have time to be jostled out of the way. The ball smacks into them hard that the atoms in the air molecules actually fuse with the atoms in the ball’s surface. Each collision releases a burst of gamma rays and scattered particles.
fusion illustration fusion zone of baseball
These gamma rays and debris expand outward in a bubble centered on the pitcher’s mound. They start to tear apart the molecules in the air, ripping the electrons from the nuclei and turning the air in the stadium into an expanding bubble of incandescent plasma. The wall of this bubble approaches the batter at about the speed of light—only slightly ahead of the ball itself.
That point of light between Saturn’s rings is Earth, captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on April 12. More about the image here at NASA JPL. It reminds me of the last photo taken by the Voyager I spacecraft before engineers shut off its imaging systems. Carl Sagan had persuaded NASA to turn Voyager I’s cameras […]
As AI improves, the mystery of consciousness interests more programmers and physicists.
Most of us need a computer interface implanted in our brains like we need a hole in our head. That said, there are benefits to bridging the gap between mind and machine. Joel Murphy is the founder of OpenBCI, an inexpensive, and non-invasive, brain-computer interface (BCI) platform. People have used OpenBCI to control robots, compose […]
They probably just sleep a lot. But still, you can remotely keep an eye on them when you’re at work and missing them deeply with this HD monitor from Kodak.If you have a new puppy that destroys everything in sight, or you just want to be a little more security-conscious, this WiFi camera is a […]
Thinking of a business idea is the easy part. Doesn’t even have to be a “good” idea, you can still get people to throw money at a non-existent venture, but to do that you need to at least have something even resembling a viable business plan. Why doesn’t anyone do it then? Because building that semi-viable […]
The Twisty Glass Blunt is an intriguing product that claims to abolish the need to ever buy or use rolling papers. And, well, it does if you so choose. You can cut down on the waste this 4/20, and everyday after when you’re smoking with this clever piece.Built with a German-engineered glass tube and inner […]