Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Battling The Flat-Earthers

A while ago, I read this article on battling those who believe that the Earth is flat but forgot to highlight it here. I won't say much more about it other than have you read it for yourself.

But one quote stood out with me, because it sums up not just the way it describes why flat-earthers believe in what they believe in, but also a reflection on the issues of vaccines, face masks, etc. that we have been facing with during this pandemic and these fake-news stupidity. The quote is attributed to Lee McIntyre of Boston University:

Flat-Earthers seem to have a very low standard of evidence for what they want to believe but an impossibly high standard of evidence for what they don’t want to believe.

Replace "Flat-Earthers" in the quote above with any of the conspiracy theory believers and you have the gist of why they believe in the crackpottery. 

But the question that I have is, has anyone ever mention THIS to the flat-earthers themselves? Are they self-aware that this is what they are doing?


Monday, January 24, 2022

Media Reporting Failed Basic Central Force Motion Mechanics

This news report on The Telegraph written by Joe Pinkstone about the James Webb Space Telescope reaching its final position has a basic flaw that should be easily spotted by any intro physics student who has understood basic central force/circular motion topic.

It will stay at its current position, Lagrange 2 (L2), for its entire operational lifespan, which is expected to be around 20 years. L2 is a gravitational stable point on the other side of the Earth from the Sun, where the pull of the two bodies cancels out.

No, the pull due to the Earth and the Sun does NOT "cancels out", because if it does, then there is no centripetal force to keep the telescope to orbit around the sun! 

Rather, this is the location where the sum of the gravitational forces from the Sun and the Earth provides just the right centripetal force to keep the telescope in orbit around the Sun at the same angular speed as the Earth. It will always be on the opposite side from the Sun with respect to the Earth. You can read more explanation on what is this Lagrange2 (L2) point at the NASA website here.

This is the type of mistake that we expect to see in General Physics classes, not in major news media.


Friday, January 21, 2022

Seeing A Single Atom With The Naked Eye?

This is not a critique of the winning photo. Rather, it is an example of a "click bait", where the news report tries to entice you to read it because the title is so astounding. I guess it worked on me.

This news report, purportedly from Popular Mechanics, is highlighting a winning science/engineering photo of a single strontium atom being held in an ion trap. But what it says is a bit misleading:

Now, we have a photograph that shows a single atom floating in an electric field, and it's large enough to see without any kind of microscope.

This is wrong. It is not "large enough" to be seen.

They corrected this somehow later in the article, but it still does not dispel the error that this has nothing to do with size, and it requires a bit of elementary knowledge of atomic energy level to realize that the earlier description is a mistake.

The strontium atom in the photo is hit by a high-powered laser, which causes the electrons orbiting the strontium atom to become more energized. Occasionally, these energized electrons will give off light. With enough energized electrons giving off enough light, it's possible for an ordinary camera to image the atom.

In other words, the strontium atom was excited and this then causes it to emit light. This process is no different than the light that you see from neon signs or your fluorescent light bulb that has mercury vapor. The unique part about this setup is that you are seeing light from a single atom, whereas in your neon signs, you are seeing the light from many, many atoms. But the process is identical! Yet, we don't go ga-ga and proclaim that we can see an atom with our naked eye.

Just be clear, you are not seeing the atom in the normal sense. You are seeing the light from an atomic transition of this strontium atom. The fact that this is made by a captured single atom is remarkable. The fact that we can detect light from this atom with our "naked eye" does not mean that we are "seeing" the atom in the normal sense that most people understand it.