Sunset on Mars is blue

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We are so accustomed to certain things in our daily life that we rarely wonder if they are the universal norm. Take sunsets, for instance (yes, I planned on getting straight to the point) — they are orange. Worse still, they are supposed to be orange. Or red. We associate warm colours with sunset, but the same sun on our neighbour, Mars, sets coolly.

I woke up to some feverishly exciting photographs this morning, sent in by NASA’s Curiosity rover. The land-based experiment vehicle which landed on Mars on 6th August 2012, sent back its first picture of the sunset 956 sols later. (A sol is one Mars day, which is roughly one earth day.)

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Have we crossed the Great Filter?

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One of the biggest arguments regarding the existence of aliens are the famous Drake equation and the equally famous Fermi paradox. I wrote about them four years ago and debated that aliens may still exist in spite of these arguments against them, and I still stand by that belief.

I was reminded of this again recently when I read about a so-called Great Filter theory that attempts to explain the standard sceptic’s question: if aliens exist, where are they? why haven’t we seen or met them yet?

Stemming from astrobiology, the idea behind the great filter is that a civilisation or species reaches a developmental wall it cannot cross. But some — including myself — like to believe that we have already crossed this wall, or filter. And that leads to some interesting ideas.

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The physics behind Interstellar — Christopher Nolan’s space drama

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As a man of physics, Interstellar is a film I would not miss for the world; if not for the physics, for the images — and director Chris Nolan’s images have always been powerful. Interstellar does not fall short on that. However, it helps for the layperson to learn a thing or two about physics before watching the film, which is why I wrote this article — and made sure there are no spoilers.

The film is really very small, but dressed as an operatic journey through space and time. The use of physics is interesting, almost exciting, and what holds the audience’s attention is (surprisingly) as much the science as the story of a parent-child relationship.

And yet, like so many films before it, Interstellar falls short merely because it was hyped far too much and it set itself an unrealistically high barrier.

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Presentation: On theories

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This presentation was made to explore what a theory is, how it is developed, what makes a good theory as well as related topics such as the concepts of accuracy and precision, the scientific method, Karl Popper’s requirements of a theory, Occam’s razor, the ideas of  provability v. unfalsifiability etc.

Download the PDF file .

You are free to download a .pdf version of this presentation and use it according to the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.

Abraham Lincoln’s unitary method problem

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They say Lincoln had very little or no formal education. The former US president himself is known to have spoken few good things about his childhood schooling.

However, sometime back in June last year two mathematics professors in Illinois confirmed the discovery and authenticity of two papers believed to have been part of Linoln’s cyphering book — that is a 19th century term for “workbook”, in case you are wondering.

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On projecting an octahedron onto ellipses

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I recently came across an interesting animation that was shared with a rather poor choice of words: “Dots that are moving around in a circle! Connect them and you’ll get a moving octahedron…”

I find that this statement is faulty for reasons I will explain below; but first, the animation in question:

I will try to limit the mathematics to the necessities; generally, neither is this a two-dimensional figure, nor are those circles. I think the animation, in its present form, merely benefits from a rather tricky choice of perspective.

Before we actually talk about this, I hope to clear up a few things (read, prove a couple of lemma) regarding the construction and structure of an octahedron.

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