Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
How to Fit the Entire Solar System into Maine
The Maine Solar System Model recreates the relative distances between the sun and planets along a stretch of U.S. Highway 1
Crossing the bridge over the Saint John River from Clair (New Brunswick) into Fort Kent (Maine), you arrive at the northern terminus of US Route 1. Its number reflects the fact that it is the easternmost of the north-south highways that were standardised in the mid-1920s (1). It is not the longest (2), although its southern terminus is at a stone’s throw from Havana, under the palm trees of Key West, a world away from the snows of Canada. Neither is it the most famous – that laurel goes to Route 66, connecting Chicago to Los Angeles.
But if US Route 66 is the Mother Road, then US Route 1 is America’s Main Street. US 1 runs through Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Washington DC, a few blocks from the White House. It skirts battlefields from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Large parts of it consist of shopping centres, strip malls and other sprawl, but it also runs through swamps, wilderness and forests. One of US 1′s longest rural stretches is in northern Maine, where it hugs the Canadian border east to Van Buren and then south to Eastport, before turning west to follow the coast until crossing over into New Hampshire.
Where the sparse, rolling landscape of northern Maine can get a bit monotonous, some relief is provided by the Maine Solar System Model (MSSM). The MSSM, constructed in 2000 by the University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI), is the fourth-largest solar system model in the world (3). It is centred at UMPI’s Folsom Hall, which houses the Northern Maine Museum of Science. The scale is 1 to 93 million, which means that one Astronomical Unit (AU) equals one mile (1.6 km). All of our system’s planets are located along US Route 1, in order to present drivers with the opportunity to get a feeling of the scale of our solar system. Its original length was about 40 miles (64 km), all the way to Pluto, at the Tourist Information Centre in Houlton.
Pluto has, of course, ceased to be a member of the planetary club. At a meeting in 2006, the International Astronomical Union decided to downgrade its status. It is no longer the smallest of the ‘regular’ planets, but the second-largest of the dwarf planets. The reclassification was necessary to avoid swelling the ranks of ‘regular’ planets with continuously discovered objects in the Kuiper belt, beyond Pluto.
Case in point is Eris, discovered in 2005, and 27% more massive than Pluto. Rather than elevating it to the status of planet, the choice was made to place it and Pluto together in a new category of dwarf planets. With its moon Dysnomia, Eris, at 96.7 AU from the Sun, is the most distant know natural object in the solar system – so far.
Rather than remove Pluto from the MSSM, the people at UMPI have chosen a more inclusive approach to the changed circumstances. Pluto stayed, and Eris was added, 54.5 miles south of Pluto, near Topsfield. The MSSM’s job is to place these distances in perspective, but the mind can’t help but be dazzled by the dimensions of the solar system, even if it is reduced to fit into Maine. For example: relative to the scale of the MSSM, light would travel at a speed of 7 mph (11.2 km/h). And the nearest star would still be 250,000 miles (402,336 km) away. That’s just over 100 times the entire length of US Route 1, and roughly the real distance from the Earth to the Moon.
This map was taken here at Astroguyz, a website dedicated to all things astronomical. A (dormant) website for the Maine Solar System Model can be found here on the website for the University of Maine at Presque Isle.
Strange Maps #428
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) US Highway 2, for example, runs from Houlton (Maine) to Everett (Washington), from east to west – albeit interrupted by a large slice of southern Canada.
(2) US1 is 2,377 miles (3,825 km) long; US20, from Boston (Massachusetts) to Newport (Oregon), is America’s longest road, at 3,365 miles (5,415 km).
(3) according to Wikipedia. Although that also hinges on the definition of ‘planet’ – the Scottish Solar System lacks Pluto, for example.
(4) Jupiter has over 60 moons, some of them quite small. Represented here are the four largest ones, also called ‘Galilean’ moons: Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede.
These alien-like creatures are virtually invisible in the deep sea.
- A team of marine biologists used nets to catch 16 species of deep-sea fish that have evolved the ability to be virtually invisible to prey and predators.
- "Ultra-black" skin seems to be an evolutionary adaptation that helps fish camouflage themselves in the deep sea, which is illuminated by bioluminescent organisms.
- There are likely more, and potentially much darker, ultra-black fish lurking deep in the ocean.
The Pacific blackdragon
Credit: Karen Osborn/Smithsonian<p>When researchers first saw the deep-sea species, it wasn't immediately obvious that their skin was ultra-black. Then, marine biologist Karen Osborn, a co-author on the new paper, noticed something strange about the photos she took of the fish.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I had tried to take pictures of deep-sea fish before and got nothing but these really horrible pictures, where you can't see any detail," Osborn told <em><a href="https://www.wired.com/story/meet-the-ultra-black-vantafish/" target="_blank">Wired</a></em>. "How is it that I can shine two strobe lights at them and all that light just disappears?"</p><p>After examining samples of fish skin under the microscope, the researchers discovered that the fish skin contains a layer of organelles called melanosomes, which contain melanin, the same pigment that gives color to human skin and hair. This layer of melanosomes absorbs most of the light that hits them.</p>
A crested bigscale
Credit: Karen Osborn/Smithsonian<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"But what isn't absorbed side-scatters into the layer, and it's absorbed by the neighboring pigments that are all packed right up close to it," Osborn told <em>Wired</em>. "And so what they've done is create this super-efficient, very-little-material system where they can basically build a light trap with just the pigment particles and nothing else."</p><p>The result? Strange and terrifying deep-sea species, like the crested bigscale, fangtooth, and Pacific blackdragon, all of which appear in the deep sea as barely more than faint silhouettes.</p>
David Csepp, NMFS/AKFSC/ABL<p>But interestingly, this unique disappearing trick wasn't passed on to these species by a common ancestor. Rather, they each developed it independently. As such, the different species use their ultra-blackness for different purposes. For example, the threadfin dragonfish only has ultra-black skin during its adolescent years, when it's rather defenseless, as <em>Wired</em> <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/meet-the-ultra-black-vantafish/" target="_blank">notes</a>.</p><p>Other fish—like the <a href="http://onebugaday.blogspot.com/2016/06/a-new-anglerfish-oneirodes-amaokai.html" target="_blank">oneirodes species</a>, which use bioluminescent lures to bait prey—probably evolved ultra-black skin to avoid reflecting the light their own bodies produce. Meanwhile, species like <em>C. acclinidens</em> only have ultra-black skin around their gut, possibly to hide light of bioluminescent fish they've eaten.</p><p>Given that these newly described species are just ones that this team found off the coast of California, there are likely many more, and possibly much darker, ultra-black fish swimming in the deep ocean. </p>
Using machine-learning technology, the genealogy company My Heritage enables users to animate static images of their relatives.
- Deep Nostalgia uses machine learning to animate static images.
- The AI can animate images by "looking" at a single facial image, and the animations include movements such as blinking, smiling and head tilting.
- As deepfake technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, some are concerned about how bad actors might abuse the technology to manipulate the pubic.
My Heritage/Deep Nostalgia<p>But that's not to say the animations are perfect. As with most deep-fake technology, there's still an uncanny air to the images, with some of the facial movements appearing slightly unnatural. What's more, Deep Nostalgia is only able to create deepfakes of one person's face from the neck up, so you couldn't use it to animate group photos, or photos of people doing any sort of physical activity.</p>
My Heritage/Deep Nostalgia<p>But for a free deep-fake service, Deep Nostalgia is pretty impressive, especially considering you can use it to create deepfakes of <em>any </em>face, human or not. </p>
How long should one wait until an idea like string theory, seductive as it may be, is deemed unrealistic?
- How far should we defend an idea in the face of contrarian evidence?
- Who decides when it's time to abandon an idea and deem it wrong?
- Science carries within it its seeds from ancient Greece, including certain prejudices of how reality should or shouldn't be.
Plato used the allegory of the cave to explain that what humans see and experience is not the true reality.
Credit: Gothika via Wikimedia Commons CC 4.0<p>When scientists and mathematicians use the term <em>Platonic worldview</em>, that's what they mean in general: The unbound capacity of reason to unlock the secrets of creation, one by one. Einstein, for one, was a believer, preaching the fundamental reasonableness of nature; no weird unexplainable stuff, like a god that plays dice—his tongue-in-cheek critique of the belief that the unpredictability of the quantum world was truly fundamental to nature and not just a shortcoming of our current understanding. Despite his strong belief in such underlying order, Einstein recognized the imperfection of human knowledge: "What I see of Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility." (Quoted by Dukas and Hoffmann in <em>Albert Einstein, The Human Side: Glimpses from His Archives</em> (1979), 39.)</p> <p>Einstein embodies the tension between these two clashing worldviews, a tension that is still very much with us today: On the one hand, the Platonic ideology that the fundamental stuff of reality is logical and understandable to the human mind, and, on the other, the acknowledgment that our reasoning has limitations, that our tools have limitations and thus that to reach some sort of final or complete understanding of the material world is nothing but an impossible, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01K2JTGIA?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">semi-religious dream</a>.</p>