Science may be able to explain many things about how our world works, but communicating such things in a way that can be understood by 11 year olds (or the rest of us) is not easy to do. Take a flame, for example: just what the heck is going on there? This video, winner of Alan Alda’s Flame Challenge, explains it in an easy and fun way.
So, what is the Flame Challenge? Back when Alan Alda was 11 years old (this, for the record, was a little bit before M*A*S*H or Scientific American Frontiers or The West Wing), he asked one of his teachers what a flame was and was told “oxidation,” which is more or less meaningless to an 11 year old kid.
After being frustrated by this for 65 years, Alda came up with the Flame Challenge, which asked scientists (or anyone else) to come up with a fun (but scientifically complete) way of explaining the science behind how a flame works to kids. Here’s the winning entry, from quantum physics grad student Ben Ames.
Personally, I don’t think I really understood what flame was until I watched that video. Nice job, Ben, but now that you’ve proven that it’s possible to explain complex concepts in a simple manner, we’re going to start expecting all scientists to be able to do this. In fact, I for one think that from now on, scientists receiving government funding for their research should be required to make videos like these every time they publish.
Physics, because it governs so many things that are invisible to us yet are part and parcel of our lives and environments.
Chemistry, because the sheer diversity of the elemental interactions manifest in the most astounding ways.
Biology, because of the potential that resides within and grows from what is essentially a particular structure of molecules.
I think it’s safe to say that I enjoy all facets of science, though my boundaries of knowledge lie more within the first two.
If any words or phrases that I use don’t make any sense, feel free to ask me what they mean. Similarly, if you would like to know more about stuff that isn’t covered completely in other posts, I’m more than willing to explain them.
As it turns out, this question pertains to the data transmissions from the Voyager probes studying the properties of Jupiter and the planets beyond it. A recording of said noises can be listened to here:
The circumstances that result in this phenomenon are rather numerous. In this particular situation, what the Voyager probe is recording is the vibrations found in the energized particles surrounding Jupiter. Which sounds like a lot of technobabble. The list of premises that will later on be tied together are as follows:
- What we perceive as sound is generally the traveling of vibrations through the air (or water or solid, as the case may be). Our ears are capable of registering vibrations within a certain range, known as the human hearing range.
- Jupiter, being a gas giant, has no solid core to speak of. Its gaseous contents are primarily composed of hydrogen and helium.
- Jupiter has a very strong gravitational pull, and ridiculously violent weather patterns. The Great Red Spot is an enormous hurricane, larger than Earth. Also included in the package is a sizable magnetic field.
- Non-organic liquids will often have free moving ions and electrons, allowing for the movement of an electric charge.
- Magnetic fields can influence and induce electric currents, and vice versa. For example, an electromagnet is a device that projects a magnetic field when a current is flowing through it.
What basically happens is that the weather and gravity on Jupiter is enough to create small pockets of electrically charged liquids, which are then magnetically flung out of Jupiter itself, and dispersed into its immediate vicinity. The particles within the liquid remain very energetic, though, after such a violent ordeal. This energy is stored in them as vibrations, which are picked up by the Voyager probe’s sensor suite. And as it just so happens, the frequency of these vibrations fall within the range of human hearing. Not all planets will exhibit this property, though. I may be wrong, but I believe it is almost certainly exclusive to gas giants.
The video included earlier also has an explanation included in its description, which is decidedly far more concise.
This blog is for people to ask about scientific things (or concepts or whatever) that they might be curious about, which I am more than willing to address. I will attempt to explain the subject matter in a way that can be understood by anyone who may be reading. Flow charts and analogies may or may not be included. In the event that I cannot adequately explain something myself, I will endeavor to direct your attention to informative sites and videos.