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Starts With A Bang

Welcome to the all-new Starts With A Bang!

Image credit: Jim Misti at Misti Mountain Observatory, via http://www.mistisoftware.com/astronomy/.

How a new year, a new platform, and the same core cosmic principles are coming together to bring you the greatest stories the Universe tells us about itself.

Beauty is everywhere a welcome guest.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If you’ve made it this far, it’s a pretty good bet that you and I have something in common: an appreciation for the natural wonder of how the Universe works at a fundamental level. If you roll it over in your mind for a while, the fact that we can even begin to make any sense of it is perhaps the most wondrous thing of all.

Image credit: R. Jay Gabany, of http://www.cosmotography.com/index.html.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for the very first intelligent creatures to come face-to-face with the natural world for the first time? When each one of us was born into this world, we had to face something not so different than that; there was no guarantee that anything would be consistent or make sense. What appears to be solid ground could give way beneath your feet at a moment’s notice with every step; the force of gravity holding you down on our world could stop working at any point; the brilliant orb shining in the sky could wink out of existence at any moment, dooming all life on the planet.

Yet these things do not happen, and there seems to be a simple but astonishing fact that underlies the reason why: there are immutable physical laws-and-rules that govern the working of everything in the Universe, and they are the same in all locations and at all times.

Image credit: U.S. DOE, NSF, CPEP and LBNL, retrieved from http://www.cpepphysics.org/particles.html; the Higgs has since been discovered.

This is not a requirement of the Universe; it didn’t need to work out this way. It just so happens that every observation and experiment we’ve ever made — of every place in the Universe we’ve ever measured — has been consistent with the assumption that this is the case. This is true for all of recorded human history, of every experiment performed, of every measurement taken, and of every observation not only on Earth, but of every object in the Universe.

In every direction, at all locations, and with any physical property imaginable, every particle, molecule, planet, star and galaxy in the Universe appears to abide by the same rules.

Image credit: Sloan Digital Sky Survey Team, NASA, NSF, DOE.

This might not strike you as a particularly “wondrous” fact, but to me, it’s the most amazing thing of all. Because it means that we can collect data, discover the rules, create-and-test hypotheses, and finally develop scientific theories that describe the behavior of every single particle in the entire Universe. We can then apply those theories, and they’ll tell us — to the extent that nature is predictable — what’s going to happen to every one of those particles at all times into the future.

That’s the power of science, and that’s the underlying theme behind each story that I’ll be bringing to you here on Starts With A Bang!

Image credit: Fermilab Visual Media Services, via http://fnal.gov/.

These stories aren’t about me, my ideas, or my own preferences; they are stories that the Universe tells us about itself, and I consider myself privileged to be in a position where — to the best of humanity’s knowledge — I get to tell them and share them with you. Every week, I’ll bring you a new set of stories, and here’s what you have to look forward to:

Image credit: Tenho Tuomi of http://www.lex.sk.ca/astro/messier/index2.html.
  • Mondays: the first comprehensive catalogue of deep-sky objects visible from Earth was the Messier catalogue, containing 110 wonders of the Universe, from just a few hundred light-years away to distant galaxies. We’ll be continuing our Messier Monday series here until we’ve covered all of them!
Image credit: Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
  • Mid-week: this is not the ambulance-chasing, hastily rewritten press-release-of-the-week you usually see when it comes to science on the internet. This is a one-of-a-kind story about how some physical phenomenon in the Universe — usually astrophysical — actually works, to the best of our current understanding. If I do my job right, you’ll come away having learned what we know and how we know it, and how it fits into the context of our greater understanding.
Image credit: Mt. Wilson Observatory.
  • Thursday: the best stories about the Universe aren’t ones that grow stale after a few days or weeks, but are just as relevant years later as they were when they were first written. I’ve written more than 1,000 articles over the years, and I’m pleased to share one of those timeless stories — reworked and improved for 2014 — with you on Thursdays. I’m really enjoying the clean, ad-free layout and improved image sizes and page formats here on Medium, and I think you’ll enjoy the stories here even more than you would have the first time around!
Image credit: Liz Banfield / Getty Images.
  • Friday: I recently started an Ask Ethan series, where I solicited reader questions and suggestions for topics, and the responses have been (and continue to be) overwhelming. So each Friday, I’ll formulate the best questions I can from your submissions and take it on as a question-of-the-week. If you want to ask me directly, you can always send an email to startswithabang AT gmail DOT com; I may not be able to respond (sorry), but I do promise to read and consider it! And finally…
Image credit: Matt Molloy, via his flickr gallery at http://www.flickr.com/photos/matt_molloy/sets/72157631635631443/.
  • On the weekend: it’s important to not be consumed by any one thing, and so each weekend I try and share with you something a little lighter, easier and wonderful that I’ve encountered, along with a song that you might not have come across otherwise. I’ll continue to bring you a Weekend Diversion as we move forward, and I hope you find it just as valuable as the science-focused articles.

And that’s what you can expect to find here on Starts With A Bang! (Well, that, and some breathtaking glimpses of the Universe!)

If you want to follow all the other things I’m involved in, you can also find me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. I’m really looking forward to taking advantage of this new storytelling platform and sharing all the best that the Universe has to offer with you!

So I hope you’ll stick around, come back, and explore all that Medium has to offer here. You can comment to the right at any point using your Twitter account (I’ll moderate them), enjoy posts on your mobile devices, get the RSS feed of Starts With A Bang, or check out our first original post of the new year! (And if you want to tear through all the old Starts With A Bang posts, they go back to April of 2009 here and even farther, to January of 2008 on the original site.) Thanks for joining me today, and may the new year be filled with wonderful adventures for you all!


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