These 9 Space Facts Will Change Your Perception of The Universe

Space is so unfathomably large and so unbelievably weird, that it can sometimes be difficult to convey basic facts. For example, you can fit all of our solar system’s planets in the space between the Earth and our moon. Here are 9 facts that may bewilder and dumbfound your perceptions of space.


Remarkable New Theory Says There’s No Gravity, No Dark Matter, and Einstein Was Wrong

Gravity is something all of us are familiar with from our first childhood experiences. You drop something – it falls. And the way physicists have described gravity has also been pretty consistent – it’s considered one of the four main forces or “interactions” of nature and how it works has been described by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity all the way back in 1915.

But Professor Erik Verlinde, an expert in string theory from the University of Amsterdam and the Delta Institute of Theoretical Physics, thinks that gravity is not a fundamental force of nature because it’s not always there.

Instead it’s “emergent” – coming into existence from changes in microscopic bits of information in the structure of spacetime.

Verlinde first articulated this groundbreaking theory in his 2010 paper, which took on the laws of Newton and argued that gravity is “an entropic force caused by changes in the information associated with the positions of material bodies”.  He famously stated then that “gravity is an illusion,” elaborating further that:

“Well, of course gravity is not an illusion in the sense that we know that things fall. Most people, certainly in physics, think we can describe gravity perfectly adequately using Einstein’s General Relativity. But it now seems that we can also start from a microscopic formulation where there is no gravity to begin with, but you can derive it. This is called ‘emergence’.

What’s more, the Dutch professor now published an elaboration of his previous work in “Emergent Gravity and the Dark Universe”, which argues there’s no “dark matter” – a mysterious kind of matter that along with dark energy theoretically makes up 95% of the universe, but has not really been discovered yet. Dark matter alone is thought to account for nearly 27% of the universe’s mass-energy.

There has undoubtedly been something scientifically disconcerting about giving so much significance to a force that’s never been detected directly. It’s existence has only been inferred through gravitational effects. Interestingly, it’s existence has been first suggested by another Dutch scientist – the astronomer Jacobus Kapteyn in 1922.

One way the existence of dark matter was used was to explain why stars in outer regions of space seem to rotate faster around the center of their galaxy than theory suggested. What Verlinde proposes is that gravity just works differently from how we previously understood it, and creating the concept of dark matter is irrelevant. He is able to predict the velocity of outer-rim stars and their “excess gravity” within his new theory.

“We have evidence that this new view of gravity actually agrees with the observations,” said Verlinde. “At large scales, it seems, gravity just doesn’t behave the way Einstein’s theory predicts.”

This aspect of Verlinde’s theory was actually tested recently with success by a team of Dutch scientists. One great outcome of Verlinde’s work is that it pushes us further towards reconciling quantum physics with general relativity.
“Many theoretical physicists like me are working on a revision of the theory, and some major advancements have been made. We might be standing on the brink of a new scientific revolution that will radically change our views on the very nature of space, time and gravity, “ explained Verlinde.


The World’s Largest Pyramid is Hidden Under a Mountain in Mexico

While Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza is by far the most talked-about pyramid in the world, it isn’t the biggest by a long shot. That title goes to the Great Pyramid of Cholula – an ancient Aztec temple in Puebla, Mexico with a base four times larger than Giza’s, and nearly twice the volume. Why is the world’s biggest pyramid so often overlooked? It could be because that gigantic structure is actually hidden beneath layers of dirt, making it look more like a natural mountain than a place of worship.

In fact, it looks so much like a mountain, that famed Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés completely missed it, and unwittingly built a church right on top of it, as you can see in the image above. To understand how awesome the Great Pyramid of Cholula is, we must jump back to well before Cortés and his army planted a symbol of Christianity on its peak.

Known as Tlachihualtepetl (meaning “man-made mountain”), the origins of the pyramid are a little sketchy, though the general consensus is that it was built in around 300 BC by many different communities to honour the ancient god Quetzalcoatl. As Zaria Gorvett reports for the BBC, the pyramid was likely constructed with adobe – a type of brick made of out of baked mud – and features six layers built on top of each over many generations. Each time a layer was completed, construction was picked back up by a new group of workers.

This incremental growth is what allowed the Great Pyramid of Cholula to get so big. With a base of 450 by 450 metres (1,480 by 1,480 feet), it’s four times the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

In fact, at roughly 66 metres (217 feet) tall, the pyramid’s total volume is about 4.45 million cubic metres (157 million cubic feet), while the Great Pyramid of Giza’s volume is just 2.5 million cubic metres (88.2 million cubic feet).

The Great Pyramid of Giza is taller, though, at 146 metres (481 feet) high.

The ancient Aztecs most likely used the Great Pyramid of Cholula as a place of worship for around 1,000 years before moving to a new, smaller location nearby.

Before it was replaced by newer structures, it was painstakingly decorated in red, black, and yellow insects. But without maintenance, the mud bricks were left to do what mud does in humid climates – provide nutrients to all kinds of tropical greenery.

“It was abandoned sometime in the 7th or 8th Century CE,” archaeologist David Carballo from Boston University told Gorvett at the BBC. “The Choluteca had a newer pyramid-temple located nearby, which the Spaniards destroyed.”

When Cortés and his men arrived in Cholula in October 1519, some 1,800 years after the pyramid was constructed, they massacred around  3,000 people in a single hour – 10 percent of entire city’s population – and levelled many of their religious structures.

But they never touched the pyramid, because they never found it.

In 1594, after settling in the city and claiming it for their own, they built a church – La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios (Our Lady of Remedies Church), on top of the hidden pyramid mountain.


It’s unclear if the Aztecs knew the mud bricks would encourage things to grow all over it and eventually bury the entire structure, but the fact that it looks more like a hill than a pyramid is probably the only reason it still survives today.

And just as well, because according to the BBC, not only is it the world’s largest pyramid, it retains the title of the largest monument ever constructed anywhere on Earth, by any civilisation, to this day. The pyramid wasn’t discovered until the early 1900s, when locals started to build a psychiatric ward nearby. By the 1930s, archaeologists started to uncover it, creating a series of tunnels stretching 8 kilometres (5 miles) in length to give them access.

Now, over 2,300 years after its initial construction, the site has become a tourist destination.


Hopefully, as our ability to study important sites using non-invasive tools continues to improve, archaeologists will gain a better understanding of how the structure was built, by whom, and how it came to look so much like a mountain.


Physicists in Australia Just Proved Reality Doesn’t Exist

Get ready to have your mind blown. According to an experiment led by two physicists in Australia, reality doesn’t exist. Turn on, tune in, and drop out man, because the world as you know it is all kinds of weird, at least on a quantum level.

Andrew Truscott and Roman Khakimov of The Australian National University used atoms to put a John Wheeler delayed-choice thought experiment to practical use. The Wheeler thought experiments ask, in theory, at what point does an object decide to act like one thing or another.

Truscott and Khakimov’s team used what is assumed to be extremely expensive and complex scientific equipment to trap a single helium atom and then drop it through a pair of laser beams that formed a scattered grating pattern.

Another set of lasers was then added at random intervals to recombine the beams, which, on a quantum level, made it seem like the single atom had traveled two different paths along the beams. When the second set of lasers was taken away, the atom seemed as if it only chose to go on one beam.

Are you still with us? Does your head hurt? Quantum physics is known to do that. According to Truscott, “If one chooses to believe that the atom really did take a particular path or paths, then one has to accept that a future measurement is affecting the atom’s past. The atoms did not travel from A to B. It was only when they were measured at the end of the journey that their wave-like or particle-like behavior was brought into existence.”

Instead of the common sense argument that the atom either went down one path or the other regardless of where it ended up, the quantum physics explanation says otherwise.

Whether you observed the atom going down one path or two only depends on how it was measured at the end of its micro-sized and kind of improbable journey, which in a sense means reality itself doesn’t exist unless you’re observing it.

If it makes you feel any better, this particular experiment is only feasible at the quantum level, and would be nearly impossible to apply to everyday life. But it also shows that fabric of space/time is absolutely nuts and hardly makes any sense. But don’t worry, reality doesn’t exist anyway.


World’s Smartest Physicist Thinks Science Can’t Crack Consciousness

I’ve been writing a lot lately about consciousness, the ultimate enigma. I used to think why there is something rather than nothing is the ultimate enigma. But without mind, there might as well be nothing.

Some mind-ponderers, notably philosopher Colin McGinn, argue that consciousness is unsolvable. Philosopher Owen Flanagan calls these pessimists “mysterians,” after the 60’s-era rock group “Question Mark and the Mysterians.”

Recently, physicist Edward Witten came out as a mysterian. Witten is regarded with awe by his fellow physicists, some of whom have compared him to Einstein and Newton. He is largely responsible for the popularity of string theory over the past several decades. String theory holds that all of nature’s forces stem from infinitesimal particles wriggling in a hyperspace consisting of many extra dimensions.

Witten is optimistic about science’s power to solve mysteries, such as why there is something rather than nothing. In a 2014 Q&A with me he said: “The modern scientific endeavor has been going on for hundreds of years by now, and we’ve gotten way farther than our predecessors probably imagined.” He also reaffirmed his belief that string theory will turn out to be “right.”

But in a fascinating video interview with journalist Wim Kayzer, Witten is pessimistic about the prospects for a scientific explanation of consciousness. The chemist Ash Jogalekar, who blogs as “The Curious Wavefunction,” wrote about Witten’s speech and transcribed the relevant section. (Thanks, Ash.) Here is an excerpt:

I think consciousness will remain a mystery. Yes, that’s what I tend to believe. I tend to think that the workings of the conscious brain will be elucidated to a large extent. Biologists and perhaps physicists will understand much better how the brain works. But why something that we call consciousness goes with those workings, I think that will remain mysterious. I have a much easier time imagining how we understand the Big Bang than I have imagining how we can understand consciousness…

Just because Witten is a genius does not mean he is infallible. He is wrong, I believe, that string theory will eventually be validated, and he could be wrong that consciousness will never be explained. I nonetheless find it newsworthy—and refreshing–that a scientist of his caliber is talking so candidly about the limits of science. For reasons that are perhaps too obvious, I like Ash Jogalekar’s take on Witten’s comments. An excerpt:


It’s interesting to contrast Witten’s thoughts with John Horgan’s End of Science thesis… The end of science really is the end of the search for final causation. In that sense not just consciousness but many aspects of the world may always remain a mystery. Whether that is emotionally pleasing or disconcerting is an individual choice that each one of us has to make.


The Secret Magic of Dividing by Zero

Never divide by zero. We were all taught this in school, and in most everyday situations, it’s good advice. It rarely makes sense to divide anything by zero, and if you try to ask Siri to do it, she will say you have no friends.

But why exactly is dividing by zero such a bad idea? And are there cases where dividing by zero can be a good thing? If you weren’t paying attention back in high school, a quick refresher can open your eyes to one of the many wonders of math.

Dividing by zero doesn’t make sense because in arithmetic, dividing by zero can also be interpreted as multiplying by zero. 3/0=X is the same equation as 0*X=3. Obviously, there’s no number that can be plugged in for X to make that equation work.

A similar situation results if you try and divide zero by itself. 0/0=X can be rewritten as 0*X=0, and the problem here is that every number works. X can be anything, so this equation isn’t very useful.

But there are some cases where dividing by zero actually does work, and in fact is essential for solving a problem. This was Newton’s insight when he invented calculus. Say, for instance, you’ve got a curve and you’re trying to find the slope of the curve below at a specific point. This is the same as trying to find the slope of a line that only touches the curve at that point, called a tangent line. In many cases, it is impossible to find that slope using algebra alone.

But there’s a trick that uses calculus and the magic of dividing by zero. Instead of finding the tangent line, it’s much easier to find the slope of a line that touches the curve at two points. If you move those two points closer and closer together, you get a line that’s close to the one you wanted.

If you move the two points so they’re on top of each other—such that there’s practically only one—you get the original tangent line you wanted, only this time you can find the slope. You’re essentially dividing zero by itself and getting an answer. The trick to divide by zero is essentially to create some extra context. The initial problem with 0/0 is that every number could potentially be an answer, so introducing some limiting factors can narrow down the possible answers.

And once you can divide by zero, a whole new world of mathematics is opened up. Playing with zeros and infinities and all sorts of impossible equations becomes commonplace. Learn to divide by zero and math will never be the same again.


Scientists Plan on Contacting the Closest Earth-Like Exoplanet to Our Solar System

Scientists are making preparations to send a transmission to Proxima b – the closest Earth-like exoplanet to our Solar System.

The team is putting together a plan to build or buy a powerful deep-space transmitter, and is now figuring out what our message should be – after all, we don’t want to make a bad first impression.

If we want to start an exchange over the course of many generations, we want to learn and share information,” president of the San Francisco-based Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) organisation, Douglas Vakoch, told The Mercury News.

METI’s plan is similar to that of the former NASA mission, Project Cyclops, which was backed by the space agency but shelved in the 1970s due to a lack of funding. Project Cyclops proposed patching together a network of radio telescopes on Earth to reach out as far as 1,000 light-years into space, and METI has similar ambitions.

The non-profit organisation is planning a series of workshops and a crowdfunding drive to make the scheme a reality – and it’s estimated they’ll need to raise around US$1 million a year to run the transmitter. By 2018, the team wants to have laser or radio signals beamed out to Proxima b, which orbits Proxima Centauri – the closest star to our Solar System, at around 4.25 light-years away.

Part of METI’s work will be to figure out what we should say, and to consider the possibility that other lifeforms will have developed the same mathematical laws and scientific hypotheses that we have. The researchers at METI also want to reassess the Drake equation, written in 1961 by astrophysicist Frank Drake to calculate how many other civilisationsthere could be in the Universe, based on factors like star formation rates and the ratio of planets to stars.

But not everyone agrees that broadcasting our existence into the unknown is a such a good idea: in a recent paper in Nature Physics, physicist Mark Buchanan argued that we might be “searching for trouble” if we start flinging messages out into space. Stephen Hawking agrees, recently arguing that it’s too risky to try and chat to civilisations that are probably far more advanced than we are – lifeforms that could have the same opinion of us that we have of bacteria.

Despite the opposition, the experts at METI are convinced that the benefits of reaching out into space and learning more about our place in the Universe outweigh the risks.

“Perhaps for some civilisations… we need to take the initiative to make first contact, the role of scientists is to test hypotheses. Through METI we can empirically test the hypothesis that transmitting an intentional signal will elicit a reply.” Vakoch writes in Nature Physics.

It won’t be the first time we’ve sent messages out into the void, but METI is planning communications that are more regular and will reach further than ever before. Perhaps the best argument for METI’s scheme is that someone needs to make the first move, as astronomer Andrew Fraknoi from Foothill College in California, told The Mercury Times.


“If everyone who can send a message decides only to receive messages, it will be a very quiet galaxy,” he says.


7 Types of Advanced Cosmic Civilizations

As we go about our daily lives, it helps to step back and take a look at the bigger picture. We are living in what seems like an advanced civilization, but let’s not kid ourselves – we are still technological infants.

In 1963, the Russian astrophysicist Nikolai S. Kardashev came up with a hypothetical way to understand just where exactly we fit in. He created what’s come to be known as the Kardashev Scale, a method of measuring how advanced a civilization’s technological achievements are based on the amount of energy it can harness.

As he outlined it in his influential paper “Transmission of Information by Extraterrestrial Civilizations”, an advanced (probably alien) civilization would have the capacity to transmit radio signals far into the cosmos. Kardashev initially came up with 3 types of civilizations, a scale that has since been expanded in a variety of ways by others, focusing not only on communication technology but additional factors.

Type 1 civilization (also known as the planetary civilization) has the capacity to harness all the energy of its home planet, utilizing all the energy that reaches the planet (like solar) and all the energy it can produce (thermal, hydro, wind, etc). Kardashev described it as having “technological level close to the level presently attained on the Earth”.

As he outlined it in his influential paper “Transmission of Information by Extraterrestrial Civilizations”, an advanced (probably alien) civilization would have the capacity to transmit radio signals far into the cosmos. Kardashev initially came up with 3 types of civilizations, a scale that has since been expanded in a variety of ways by others, focusing not only on communication technology but additional factors.

Type 1 civilization (also known as the planetary civilization) has the capacity to harness all the energy of its home planet, utilizing all the energy that reaches the planet (like solar) and all the energy it can produce (thermal, hydro, wind, etc). Kardashev described it as having “technological level close to the level presently attained on the Earth”.

What’s next after such an advancement? Kardashev didn’t see a need to hypothesize any further civilizations, but prognosticators since then have proposed that a type 4 world would be able to harness the energy of an entire universe, while a type 5 can do the same in a multiverse, drawing power from multiple universes.

What about type 6? We are talking god stuff here, controlling time and space, creating universes at will. Type 7? We can’t even imagine and understand what that could be like.


Here’s a comic strip from Futurism that gives a fun rundown of the civilization types:


6 Surprising Downsides Of Being Extremely Intelligent

You might think life would be easier, happier, and infinitely more fulfilling if only you could rack up a few more IQ points. But that’s hardly the case, as evidenced by the 100-plus answers on a Quora thread titled, “When does intelligence become a curse?”

Users wrote about everything from the absurdly high expectations that people place on them to the trouble of constantly being perceived as a braggart. Below, we’ve rounded up some of the most thought-provoking responses and explained the science behind them.

Quora user Marcus Geduld says he generally understands his emotions really well and can tell other people about them — but he never feels the relief of expressing them.

“This is a common problem for smart people, especially ones who are highly verbal. They use words as a smoke screen, and it’s all the more effective when their words are true. Less articulate people tend to vent through physicality. They yell, punch, kick, run, scream, sob, dance, jump for joy… I explain. And when I’m done explaining, everything I’ve explained is still stuck inside me, only now it has a label on it.”

Geduld’s observation highlights the distinction between cognitive and emotional skills. Scientists can’t say for sure whether and how the two factors are related, but some interesting research suggests that high emotional intelligence compensates for low cognitive ability, at least in the workplace. In other words, it would seem that people who are super smart might not need to rely on emotional skills to solve problems.

2. People frequently expect you to be a top performer

“You are automatically expected to be the best, no matter what, you have nobody to talk to about your weaknesses and insecurities.” writes Roshna Nazir. ”

What’s more, you’re panicked about what would happen if you didn’t perform up to snuff.

“This makes you so cautious about your failure that you cannot sometimes afford to take risks just fearing that what would happen if you lose,” writes Saurabh Mehta.

In an excerpt from “Smart Parenting for Smart Kids” posted on PsychologyToday.com, the authors write that parents are generally most anxious about their kids’ achievement when those kids are smart and already doing well in school. Unfortunately, they write, “sometimes that can lead to too much focus on what they do rather than on who they are.”

3.You might not learn the value of hard work

A number of Quora users mentioned that intelligent people feel like they can get by with less effort than other people. But a high IQ doesn’t always lead directly to success, and highly intelligent people may never develop the perseverance required to succeed.

According to Kent Fung, “Intelligence becomes a problem when those who have it discover early in life that they don’t need to work as hard to keep up, and thus never develop a good strong work ethic.”

One study found that conscientiousness — i.e. how hard you work — is in fact negatively correlated with certain types of intelligence. The researchers propose that highly intelligent people might feel like they don’t need to work as hard to accomplish what they want.

4. People may get annoyed that you keep correcting them in casual conversation

When you know that someone’s just said something completely inaccurate, it’s hard to stifle the urge to clarify. But you’ve got to be extremely sensitive to the fact that other people may be embarrassed and offended by your actions — or risk losing some friends. Being intelligent is a bummer, says Raxit Karramreddy, “when you correct people each and every time to a point that they stop hanging around with you or stop talking with you.”


5. You tend to overthink things

A common theme in this Quora thread was the pitfalls of spending too much time contemplating and analyzing. For one thing, you may get maudlin when you try to find the existential significance of every concept and experience. “You realize how moribund everything is and that nothing really means anything. You search for answers and it drives you crazy,” writes Akash Ladha.

Indeed, a widely covered study published in 2015 found that verbal intelligence really is linked to worry and rumination. From a practical standpoint, all that perseveration means smart people may find it impossible to make a choice. Tirthankar Chakraborty writes: “An understanding of the possible ramifications of your decisions, especially the tendency to over-analyze those consequences, makes it so that the decision is never taken.”

6. You understand how much you don’t know

Being super-intelligent often means appreciating the limits of your own cognition. Try as you might, you’ll never be able to learn or understand everything. Writes Mike Farkas: “Intelligence is a curse when … the more you know, the more you feel the less you know.”

Farkas’ observation recalls a classic study by Justin Kruger and David Dunning, which found that the less intelligent you are, the more you overestimate your cognitive abilities — and vice versa.

In one experiment, for example, students who’d scored in the lowest quartile on a test adapted from the LSAT overestimated the number of questions they’d gotten right by nearly 50%. Meanwhile, those who’d scored in the top quartile slightly underestimated how many questions they’d gotten right.