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Posts from the ‘Science’ category

Nobel-Rondell, Nobel Rondel, Nobel Prize, Stadtfriedhof, Göttingen, Niedersachsen, Lower Saxony, Germany,

Göttingen: Physics & Chemistry Nobel-Prize Round-of-8

Göttingen is a university town in central Germany. Not only will I find a memorial to Nobel Prizes, I’m here also to acknowledge my academic training. I spent many years studying physics and astronomy, and while I’m no longer active in science research, I enjoy the search and discovery of the final resting spots for scientists whose work formed a significant part of my education. Visiting their graves provides direct historical connection to “academic predecessors”; to go beyond the abstraction of simply learning their names and contributions to science, the gravestones belong to real people with keen minds, family lives, and all too human imperfections.

To date, 45 Nobel Prize laureates have been or are connected with the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen. That’s a phenomenal number, as this single institution accounts for 8 per cent of all Nobel Prizes (585 as of 2017).

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Mengenlehreuhr, set theory clock, Berliner Uhr, Berlin Clock, Sixt, Europa-Center, Budapester Strasse, Charlottenburg, Berlin, Hauptstadt, Germany,

My Berlin: An Unusual (Set Theory) Clock

I had read about this unusual clock years ago; the unusual mathematics connection was an additional “plus”.

I leave the crowds at Gedächtniskirche and Breitscheidplatz and head on over to the SixT car rental outlet on Budapester Strasse. What’s standing in front is most certainly a curiosity, even as passers-by look at me curiously.

The Berlin Clock is known in German as “Berliner Uhr”. The alternate name is “set theory clock” or “Mengenlehreuhr”, a German compound word consisting of “Menge” for quantities (sets), “Lehre” for theory, and “Uhr” for clock. The Guinness Book of Records claimed “the Berlin Clock was the first clock in the world operating according to the principles of set theory1“.

Created by inventor Dieter Binninger, the clock first stood at the corner of Kurfürstendamm and Uhlandstrasse in West Berlin from 1975 to 1995. Local business arrangements were made with Binninger’s widow for a long-term loan including maintenance costs, and the clock was moved in 1996 to its present location at the Europa-Center.

Here is how one reads the Berlin Clock:

  • Top circle: light flashes every 2 seconds; ‘on’ 1-second, ‘off’ 1-second
  • 1st row: hour of day in 5-hour increments, up to 20
  • 2nd row: hour of day in 1-hour increments, up to 4
  • 3rd row: minutes in 5-minute increments, up to 55
  • 4th row: minutes in 1-minute increments, up to 4

Time shown in the above featured image is 1310 hours or 110pm, which breaks down as (2 x 5) + (3 x 1) hours and (2 x 5) + (0 x 1) minutes.

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UN FAO International Mountain Day. International Mountain Day celebration 2015 in Chile/Brazil: photo by College João Paulo of Brazil and the University of Magallanes (UMAG).

December 11: International Mountain Day

Since 2003, December 11 is International Mountain Day as designated by the United Nations General Assembly. Annually, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) observes the day:

… to create awareness about the importance of mountains to life, to highlight the opportunities and constraints in mountain development and to build alliances that will bring positive change to mountain peoples and environments around the world.

•   Mountains cover almost one-quarter (22 percent) of the Earth’s surface.
•   Up to 80 percent of the world’s freshwater supply comes from mountains.
•   One in eight people (13 percent) around the world lives in the mountains.
•   Mountain tourism accounts for almost 20 percent of the worldwide tourism industry.

The following provides a glimpse to the mountain environments around the world and to the challenging conditions our ancestors would have faced and endured.

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Bayerische Vertretung, Behrenstrasse 21, Euler-Haus, Berlin Mitte, Germany,

Berlin Mitte ‘Math’: where Euler lived for 23 years

In Berlin Mitte at address Behrenstrasse 21 is the Bayerische Vertretung, whose functions are described as “… die Aussenstelle der Staatskanzlei in der Bundeshauptstadt,” or “branch office of the Bavarian State Chancellery in the German capital.”

Swiss scientist Leonhard Euler spent some 20 years (1743-1766) in Berlin, living in this very building and working at the Académie Royale des Sciences et Belles-Lettres de Prusse (now, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences). Euler’s name is very familiar to anyone who’s encountered and studied mathematics and physics. He is well known for his study and work in the fields of physics, astronomy, and engineering. But for his contributions to notation, functional analysis, number theory, and graph theory, Euler is considered one of the greatest mathematicians in history. Euler departed Berlin in 1766, accepting an invitation from Russia’s Catherine the Great to return to St. Petersburg where he lived the rest of his life.

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Pluto with data from LORRI, RALPH instruments, Pluto, NASA New Horizons,

Ultimate in “travel photography”: New Horizons at Pluto

(27 July 2015)

Photographs have the power to answer long-standing questions.

Pluto is one of the last objects in our Solar System to be explored. Pioneer 10 and 11 and Voyager 1 and 2 provided photographs, science, and insights about the gas giants: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. New Horizons is the latest spacecraft to encounter and fly past the outer reaches of the Solar System, and eventually wander into deep interstellar space.

  • Long arduous travel and journey? Check.
  • To a place where human technology will reach for the very first time? Check.
  • Learn new things about a previously unexplored corner of our “backyard” known as the Solar System? Check.

New Horizons made its close-approach flyby at 1148h UTC on 14 July 2015 (0748h EDT in North America), passing within 12500 kilometres of Pluto’s surface and 28800 kilometres from Pluto’s primary moon Charon.

A few basics

  • Distance between Earth & Sun about 150 million kilometres; known also as 1 “Astronomical Unit”, or 1 AU.
  • One-way light travel-time, Sun to Earth: 8.3 minutes
  • Distance to Earth when New Horizons flew past Pluto: 32 AU, shade under 5 billion kilometres
  • One-way light travel-time, New Horizons to Earth: 4.5 hours

Over the years we’ve had limited insights to Pluto, even though its status was switched from “planet” to “dwarf planet” by the International Astronomical Union. Images immediately before the flyby encounter hinted tantalizingly of ice and terrestrial-like surface features.

Does Pluto have more than one moon or satellite?

Pre-encounter imaging showed the existence of four additional satellites, bringing thus far a total of five moons for Pluto: Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra.

How does Charon look like?

Pluto’s primary moon, Charon, is 1200 km across, or about one-half the size of Pluto. This satellite-to-primary size-ratio is one of the largest in the Solar System. By comparison, the Moon-to-Earth size-ratio is between one-quarter and one-third (0.27).

Is there evidence of (recent) geological processes on Pluto?

The presence of frozen hydrocarbon ice-plains, nitrogen ice-flow patterns, and high mountains suggest ongoing dynamic processes on the planet’s surface, despite the very low temperatures.

Is there an atmosphere on Pluto?

What happens when a spacecraft flies past a (dwarf) planet and looks back into the backlit shadow? What the following shows is an answer to that question: Pluto has an atmosphere with two hydrocarbon layers between the surface and a height of 80 kilometres. If there was no atmosphere, there would be no ring of scattered light around the disk.

Pluto's hydrocarbon haze atmosphere, Pluto, NASA New Horizons,

Pluto’s hydrocarbon haze atmosphere

Imagine a picture of your region, your city from a geostationary satellite from a height of over 35 thousand kilometres above the Earth’s surface. Reduce the distance by a factor of about 30 to a height of 1000 kilometres. Reduce the distance by a factor of 1000 to a height of 1 kilometre. Reduce the distance by another factor of 1000 to a height of 1 metre. You’re not going to see the roses in your garden from the geostationary satellite, but from 1 metre, not only will you see the roses, you’ll also see the bees. And that’s a reduction of distance by a factor of 35 million (i.e., 35 thousand kilometres divided by 0.001 kilometre).

So, it’s remarkable how distance to an object changes the amount of detail you see on the object and the way you view that very same object. To Pluto a spacecraft was sent, specifically to “check in” and have a look at the planet and its surroundings. From a distance of 5 billion kilometres to a flyby closeup encounter of 13 thousand kilometres above the planet’s surface, Pluto’s appearance goes from a faint fuzzy blob to being able to discern surface features for the first time, with a reduction of distance by a factor of almost 400 thousand.

All this appeals to my inner physicist/astronomer who’s been fascinated with the planets from a young age, and to my traveler/photographer for the pictures coming from a place at the outer reaches of the Solar System. Given bandwidth limitations imposed by onboard hardware and the amount of data recorded by New Horizons, there are months of downloads for NASA scientists and undoubtedly more surprises to come.

A lot more …

•   Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University
•   NASA New Horizons
•   Why Pluto joins Ceres and Eris in a new family of “dwarf planets”

All images are from New Horizons; click here for the spacecraft’s present location. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at at

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