That Twinkle In Your Eye

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Light takes up to 2.9 million years to travel from the Sun’s core to its surface.

It then travels the entire 93,000,000 miles (1 AU) to Earth in just 8 minutes and 19 seconds. This is pretty funky since the Sun’s core is “only” 430,000 miles from its surface.  

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For comparison, light from the Moon takes 1.278 seconds to travel the 240,000 mile distance to Earth. Granted, rocketing yourself Apollo style from the Earth to the Moon is equivalent to going halfway from the Sun’s surface to its core (the Sun is pretty big), but that’s still only 2.5 seconds compared to 2.9 million years, so… what gives?

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The Sun is so incredibly dense that it acts like a pinball machine covered in those spastic auto-bumpers. Our poor photon is a pinball that keeps running into other molecules and getting randomly bumped left, right, backwards, sideways, and every which way.  Astronomers call the phenomena the “drunkard’s walk” because the photon is randomly staggering until sheer probability gets it to the Sun’s surface.


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Most of the photons exiting the Sun are “only” 1,000 – 10,000 years old, but there are so many hundreds of trillions of photons entering your eyes every second that some of them were created 2.9 million years ago, others 100,000 years ago, and still more just 500 years ago.


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Every single second, of every single day of your life, photons enter your eye that were birthed during every significant moment in human history. A photon just entered your eye that was created the same moment that Augustus Caesar became the first emperor of Rome; that same second you saw a photon birthed the same moment that Christopher Columbus first spotted “India” (i.e. America); nearly simultaneously a photon entered your eye from the day that Abraham Lincoln was shot at the Ford’s Theatre.

 

Alongside those photons from human history was one from 2.9 million years ago – this photon was created before humans had evolved, we did not yet exist as a species. In fact, this photon was already 2.6 million years old when the first members of our species walked the African savanna. Another 300,000 years later this photon breached the Sun’s surface and soon hit your cornea.


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This happened to you today. It is not a thought experiment, it is one of the quirky realities of our universe.

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The universe is a strange place.

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The Tape of Superman: Scotch Tape and X-Rays

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Scotch tape emits x-rays when peeled in a vacuum.

How many x-rays? Enough to take an x-ray of a finger!
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Even under standard atmospheric conditions (STP) peeling Scotch tape emits a flash of light visible to the naked eye in a dark room.

Scotch tape is the Clark Kent of tape; it seems weak and feeble compared to any other tape, but it has hidden x-ray vision super powers. For instance, duct tape, the meat-head of the tape world, does not have this property. What exactly is going on to make this unassuming tape emit powerful and damaging radiation?
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This phenomena was confirmed just 6 years ago in 2008, and there are no conclusive answers – mostly because 3M keeps a tight lip on it’s secret adhesive formula for Scotch tape.

Soviet scientists reported discovering it in 1953, but no one seems to have believed them. To put this in perspective, the U.S. spent $20 million on remote viewing and clairvoyance research when they discovered the Soviets were doing the same. But when the Soviets said that Scotch tape may emit x-rays? The U.S. said no, freaking, way; not possible; not even worth testing.

Scientists do have a loose understanding of what is occurring. The visible light emitted when you step into a dark room and peel the tape is strikingly similar to what happens during a lightning strike:

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As the layers are peeled apart a difference in electric charge forms between the two separating pieces. Hundreds of strings of adhesive stretch then snap apart – this locks in the charge differential. A massive charge difference builds and builds until the laws of physics say it has gone too far, a single line of air molecules form an electric circuit by ionizing to transfer the charge, and ZAP lightning flashes. The view for an ant on the roll of tape would be no different than you observing an intense lightning storm.
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The mechanism for the x-ray emission in a vacuum is identical, but much more powerful for a simple reason. The strength of the charge difference that builds before the release is proportional to how easily charge can travel through a medium (air, water, metal, space, etc). The moment a charge difference is strong enough to travel the gap it does so.

This is why lightning has its odd zig-zag form – out of the hundreds of trillions of paths the charge could travel it automatically and instantaneously finds the easiest, laziest route. Think you’re lazy? The universe is lazier.

The Ninja Particle

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About 100 trillion neutrinos pass through you every second zipping through your skin, blood vessels, and organs before carrying onward unscathed.

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Don’t worry though! Neutrinos are so insanely tiny that they’re described as a “point particle” – they’re a particle, but they basically occupy zero space because physics is weird like that.

A proton is 0.0000000000017 millimeters  wide, and a proton is 1836 times more massive than an electron. An electron is so small that it is considered a “point particle” as well.

However, a neutrino is one ten-millionth the size of an electron! (even though both are “point particles”)

This Is How We Detect Neutrinos

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It Was Originally A Prison For Godzilla

Neutrinos are so energetically tiny that they’re nearly impossible to detect. The picture is of the Super Kamiokande in Japan, the world’s premiere neutrino detector. Since neutrinos travel through EVERYTHING it was built 3,330 ft underground in order to isolate them from other phenomena. When in operation it is filled with 12.5 million gallons of heavy water (deuterium). The neat looking bubbles on the walls are photomulipliers that detect when a neutrino collides with a heavy water molecule.

These photomultipliers are so sensitive that all we need is a single neutrino to hit a single molecule of water. that’s it. Mission successful. You’d think it wouldn’t be that hard, but neutrinos are the true ninjas of the universe.

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There are 127,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules of H2O in a single gallon of water, and there are 12.5 million gallons of heavy water in that tank. With over ten thousand trillion neutrinos (ponder that number for a moment) passing through the Super Kamiokande EVERY SECOND you’d think we’d be detecting a lot of activity, but we aren’t, which has given neutrinos the nickname “The Ghost Particle” – although, I still prefer “The Ninja Particle”.

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This Is A Recent Image of the 1987 Supernova Explosion Remnant

The Super Kamiokande most successful day was in 1987 when the shockwave from a supernova explosion in the Large Magellanic Cloud (a small galaxy orbiting the Milky Way) reached Earth. 19 neutrinos out of the billion trillion trillion trillion trillion neutrinos that passed through were detected!

Perspective: Light From 10 Billion Years Ago Hits Us Today

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This week, an entire new class of Supernova was discovered by analyzing light from a star that exploded 10 billion years ago.

A 300-year-old supernova remnant created by the explosion of a massive star.

This means a single photon of light began its journey to our eyes 10 billion years ago. It was created in the crucible of the most powerful explosion in the universe – over 100 times more powerful than the previous record-holder.

The power of the previous record? Several octillion (it’s a real number I swear) nuclear warheads igniting in synchrony.

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The majority of the life of the universe unfolded during this photons travels. It traveled through dust clouds birthing stars, across entire galaxies, surviving the vast, empty, cold void between galaxies for 10 billion years before ending its life by traveling through your tiny pupil, and exciting nerves in your cornea.

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The supernovae exploded when the universe was only 4 billion years old. “This happened before the sun even existed,” Howell explained. “There was another star here that died and whose gas cloud formed the sun and Earth. Life evolved, the dinosaurs evolved and humans evolved and invented telescopes, which we were lucky to be pointing in the right place when the photons hit Earth after their 10-billion-year journey.”

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