Plus Blog

February 3, 2009
Tuesday, February 03, 2009

What can we learn from the British successes at the 2008 Olympics? Over the last few years in the lead-up to the London 2012 Games, there has been a massive influx of money and enthusiasm in the UK into Olympic sports and infrastructure. Other countries have shown similar improvement ahead of hosting the game. So is Britain's triumph an early result of the home advantage? And how will Britain perform in 2012?

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posted by Plus @ 2:38 PM

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February 3, 2009
Tuesday, February 03, 2009

What would you like to know about your Universe?

This poll is now closed. The most popular question was "What happened before the Big Bang?". We will publish an article and a podcast with an answer in the middle of March. At the same time we will launch our next Universe poll, so watch this space.

Do you ever look at the night sky and wonder where it all comes from, where it is going and what we are doing right in the middle of it? Do you wonder if there's life out there, or why the sky isn't bright with all the stars that are in it?

If yes, then now's your chance to put your questions to world-leading astronomers and cosmologists, including Astronomer Royal Martin Rees and author and cosmologist John D Barrow. From now until the end of the year Plus will hold regular online polls to find out what your most burning questions are, and do our best to find an answer with the help of experts in the field. You'll be able to read and hear what they have to say in Plus articles and podcasts, and there'll be plenty of room for discussion on our blog.

Our first online poll — one of a total of seven — opens today. It will remain open for a month and we'll publish the answer to the question that proves most popular in the middle of March. This is your chance to get involved with the most fascinating science of them all (except for maths of course), and it's our contribution to the International Year of Astronomy 2009. So get voting now, and if your question isn't on the list above, send it to us in a comment on this blog, and we'll include it in the next poll. Happy voting!

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posted by Plus @ 3:47 PM

23 Comments:

At 8:10 PM, Blogger Kuldeep said...

Is the universe finite or infinite?
What curvature (positive, negative or zero) does space have?

 
At 8:55 PM, Anonymous John said...

If the universe is expanding, it must have some sort of boundary, I assume. If this is so, what exactly 'is' this boundary and what is beyond it!?

 
At 12:18 AM, Blogger Stephen said...

When are scientist going to drop the arrogant assumption that there was nothing before the big bang?
They expect us through blind faith to accept the theory that everything in the universe, matter, energy and even time, was

created with the big bang. I have been berated by many so called learned ones for even suggesting another theory, that the

big bang was an issolated incident in our local area of a universe that has always been here and goes for ever and will be here

forever?
It's only a few hundred years ago they thought the earth was flat, until we were able to see beyond the horizon. Looks like some

things never change.

clear skies

 
At 12:33 AM, Anonymous axisofevil said...

How do we know that the speed of light is constant in all regions of the Universe?

 
At 4:05 AM, Blogger Chowok said...

What is a multiverse? Is there any other Universe beyond?

 
At 6:44 AM, Blogger G S S Murthy said...

Human brain and what we call human mind is part of this universe. This tiny part of the universe tries to work out a scheme of things in which its observations through sensory perception fit in as neatly as possible.Idea of bigbang and theory of Everything are all parts of this scheme. Can man simulate this on a man-made machine, I mean a computer?
GSS Murthy

 
At 10:03 AM, Anonymous The Plus Team said...

Thanks for all the questions! If yours doesn't get answered in the course of this poll, then we'll include it in the next.

 
At 7:40 PM, Anonymous Twm said...

I am very interested in the hypothetical bucket in which one could float Saturn. As we know, any other of the known planets would promptly sink.

This bucket would have some very interesting Properties. To begin with, Saturn has appreciable Gravitational Attraction, so the Bucket must be in some gravitational field, or the water would presumably be 'syphoned off' to form part of Saturn's planetary mass.

The bucket would have to be at least 60000km or so deep, or Saturn would 'ground' on the bottom. So the pressure at that depth would be immense. What would be the properties of water at that depth?

 
At 12:19 AM, Blogger Quantum_Flux said...

Can the Big Bang be replicated on a smaller scale? Can that amount of energy be used for rocket propulsion or powering cities?

 
At 12:20 AM, Blogger Quantum_Flux said...

Does the Big Bang prove that perpetual motion is possible?

 
At 12:59 AM, Anonymous Keith Mansfield said...

If light can't (by definition) escape from a black hole, then how can gravity? If gravitational force can be transmitted across an event horizon, how is that done?

 
At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Raoul Kemper said...

What is dark matter and what purpose does it serve in the universe as a whole?

 
At 5:17 PM, Blogger apd said...

What was there before the Big Bang?

Isn't a modified version of the gravity laws a more credible explanation to the behavior of starts attributed to presence of something unknown (dark matter/dark energy)?

 
At 7:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the answer to life, the universe and everything

 
At 9:08 PM, Blogger Plus said...

What do you get when you multiply six by nine?... hmmm....

 
At 1:23 PM, Blogger Shaun said...

If you look at the night sky you are looking at the past. How can the size of a telescope affect how far back in time you can see the universe?

 
At 9:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

why are all the planets round or oval.....why not any other shape...will these shape change or alter a few thousand million years after ??

 
At 6:59 AM, Blogger Quantum_Flux said...

Oh, one more why not. To what degree can electrical forces be cited as dark matter/energy sources?

 
At 2:19 AM, Blogger james said...

if at the time of bigbang all was energy (no mass implying no gravity) and the expansion and cooling converts energy to mass (increasing gravity) then at the end of this process when all is mass and gravity will be at its maximum, why then do we need dark matter when we still have light matter (energy) yet to be converted?

 
At 4:58 PM, Blogger Fivish said...

Scientist are afraid to say they dont know. Because of this they invent ludicrous theories and fiddle about with them when they cant make them fit reality. Eventually they will come up with a new theory which subsumes previous theories without the embarrasement of being totaly wrong. They are doing this with global warming, now called climate change, as the earth is actually colling!

 
At 8:27 PM, Anonymous Confused!!! said...

What would be the basis to traverse time, if any, if you think someday of building a time machine??? Will our watching the universe as it was some time before, play any role???

 
At 6:55 AM, Anonymous rowancasey said...

hi i am not a cosmologist but i would like to ask if my theory is correct I am assuming the big bang big crunch theory is true and the universe is expanding faster because the suns are still expending their outward energy as they burn out and turn into black holes expansion will slow and reverse and i am assuming that dark matter is something similar to or actually is black holes starting to form in the center am I right or do you even know?

 
At 10:59 AM, Anonymous The Plus Team said...

Hello Rowancasey,

you can find answers to these questions in our articles and pocasts listed here: http://plus.maths.org/blog/labels/IYA2009.html

Happy reading!

 
January 29, 2009

Thursday, January 29, 2009

You've got two more months to join our maths writing competition, the Plus new writers award 2009.

We are looking for the science writers of the future, who can make mathematical subjects lively and interesting for a general audience. Whatever your age or background, if you've got a favourite bit of maths you think the world should know about, then we want to read about it. If you're a teacher or lecturer, then pass this link on to your students — there are special categories for secondary school students and university students.

Winning entries will be read by an international audience of over a hundred thousand in the June 2009 issue of Plus, and the winners will receive an iPod, subscriptions to the journal Nature, and signed copies of popular maths books by some of the best science writers today.

The closing date is March 31st 2009.

If you think you can share your passion for maths with the general public, visit the competition page and get writing!!

The competition is kindly supported by the Maths, Stats and Operational Research Network, a Subject Centre of the Higher Education Academy.

January 27, 2009
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

2009 is the year of astronomy and Plus will be part of the celebrations!

In May 1609 Galileo Galilei received reports of "a spyglass by means of which visible objects, though very distant from the eye of the observer, were distinctly seen as if nearby." Intrigued, he set about building his own version of this curious device, and he succeeded: by the end of the year he had discovered mountains on the Moon, the moons of Jupiter and the make-up of the Milky Way. His observations revolutionised our understanding of the Universe, and his use of the telescope marked the birth of modern astronomy — which celebrates its 400th anniversary this year.

Read more ...

posted by Plus @ 10:33 AM

1 Comments:

At 4:26 PM, Anonymous Anna Faherty said...

And of course it is also 400 years since Englishman Thomas Harriot made the first recorded telescopic observations of the moon (on 26th July 1609).

 
January 23, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009

Shine a light on dodgy stats

This week both the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail ran stories claiming that switching off street lights could significantly increase the number of road deaths. The stories were based on a paper published in the Cochrane Library, which considered three studies into the connection between road accidents and street lighting. However, it seems that the headlines are a typical example of misinterpretation of statistics.

As David Spiegelhalter, Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, writes on his website Understanding Uncertainty, the studies suffer from three major flaws: poor data, publication bias, and what's known as regression to the mean. Spiegelhalter points out that the three studies underlying the paper were poor and conducted decades ago, with one dating from as far back as 1948 — not a very good basis for drawing conclusions about today's traffic. The term publication bias refers to the fact that studies which show dramatic results are more likely to be published than those that don't. It's quite possible that there were other studies, which found no connection between street lights and accidents, but that no-one bothered to publish such boring results. Regression to the mean is a commonly observed effect, which results from random fluctuations. If street lights were installed on a certain road, then this is most likely because that road recently experienced a spade of accidents. Such a freak period can be purely down to chance, in which case one would expect the accident rate to return to normal after a while. Thus the improved accident rate after the installation of lights may be purely down to chance, rather than the improved lighting.

All this doesn't of course mean that street lights are useless. It simply means that the evidence is nowhere near as sound as the newspaper headlines claim. The Daily Mail, to its credit, did consult an expert, namely Spiegelhalter, but it's probably the headline, rather than his warning, that will stick in readers' minds.

If you're interested in matters of uncertainty and risk, then visit the Understanding Uncertainty website, or read Spiegelhalter's column in Plus.

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posted by Plus @ 3:15 PM

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January 23, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009

Darwin and the web of life

One hundred and fifty years after the publication of On the origin of species, it seems that one of Darwin's most fruitful ideas, that the course of evolution can be represented in the shape of a tree, is in need of updating. Evidence is mounting that what we should be thinking of instead is a web.

Reconstructing relationships between species from genetic information is a mathematical exercise, as well as a biological one. Darwin's tree of life, as a mathematical object, is an example of a graph, a collection of nodes connected by edges, with the special property that there's only one route between any two nodes. There are no circuits in the graph because it was assumed that genes can only be transferred between parents and offspring. But as Plus reported last year, there is evidence that genes can also be transferred between species horizontally, for example through hybridisation or swapping of genetic material between unrelated species. An article in this week's New Scientists brings together many strands of evidence for horizontal gene transfer. According to the article, the evidence doesn't just concern strange unicellular beasts, but also humans and other mammals: it is estimated that "40 to 50 per cent of the human genome consists of DNA imported horizontally by viruses"!

As a result, many scientists now think that a more general form of graph, a network, is what is needed to describe life. Given the potential complexity of networks, genetics may soon be in desperate need of mathematicians.

posted by Plus @ 4:35 PM

1 Comments:

At 7:30 AM, Blogger Quantum_Flux said...

cool

 
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