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Science Quotes

Our five senses are faulty data-taking devices, and they need help.

Center for Inquiry, New York Academy of Sciences, July 21, 2009

The telescope… is a conduit to the cosmos.

[D]eep in the world of atomic nuclei, life is not always tranquil.

There are photons that have been traveling for 30,000 years, and I’m…snatching them from this journey and planting them into my digital detector. And then I started feeling bad for the photon, and I said maybe it wanted to continue but I got in its way. But then I said, no, those are probably happier photons than the one that slammed into the mountainside that will go unanalyzed and will not contribute to the depth of our understanding of the universe.

The value of science is not simply what the next model of the iPod you will buy next week, but its real value comes about when it’s time to distinguish reality from everything else. And to be scientifically literate is to be trained in what it is, to recognize your own frailty as a data-taking device.

Center for Inquiry, New York Academy of Sciences, July 21, 2009

Like no other science, astrophysics cross-pollinates the expertise of chemists, biologists, geologists and physicists, all to discover the past, present, and future of the cosmos—and our humble place within it.

NRAO Press Release: “Astronomers Unveiling Life’s Cosmic Origins,” February 13, 2009

[P]hotons are accurately and legitimately described as waves and particles at the same time. They are genuine “wavicles.”

UV is bad for molecules because its high energy breaks the bonds between a molecule’s constituent atoms. That’s why UV is bad for you, too: it’s always best to avoid things that decompose the molecules of your flesh.

So while you’re getting ripped apart head to toe [as you fall into a black hole], you will also extrude through the fabric of space and time, like toothpaste squeezed through a tube. To all the words in the English language that describe ways to die (e.g., homicide, suicide, electrocution, suffocation, starvation) we add the term spaghettification.

Gamma rays are the sort of radiation you should avoid. Want proof? Just remember how the comic strip character “The Hulk” became big, green, and ugly.

To achieve this density [of a neutron star] at home, just cram a herd of 50 million elephants into the volume of a thimble.

Note, however, that you cannot simply add temperatures the way you can add volumes or weights. Two people in bed, each with body temperatures of 98.6° Fahrenheit, do not normally create a 197.2 degree under-the-cover oven.

And extracting one molecule’s signature [in spectral analysis] from the rest of the signatures is hard work, sort of like picking out the sound of your toddler’s voice in a roomful of screaming children during playtime. It’s hard, but you can do it.

Your center of mass is a place you cannot visit but you always carry with you. Like memories, it is part of life’s baggage.

On Venus you could cook a 16-inch pepperoni pizza in seven seconds, just by holding it out to the air. (Yes, I did the math.)

But my vote for Venus’s most peculiar feature is the presence of craters that are all relatively young and uniformly distributed over its surface. This innocuous-sounding feature implicates a single planetwide catastrophe that reset the cratering clock…turning Venus’s entire surface into the American automotive dream—a totally paved planet.

Chimpanzees are an evolutionary hair’s-width from us.… Now imagine a species on Earth, or anywhere else, as smart compared with humans as humans are compared with chimpanzees. How much of the universe might they figure out?

Publicly and among themselves biologists rightly celebrate the diversity of life on Earth.… At the end of the day, however, their confession is heard by no one: they work with a single scientific sample—life on Earth.

Regarding the Gaia Hypothesis:

This influential, yet controversial idea requires that the mixture of species on Earth at any moment acts as a collective organism that continuously (yet unwittingly) tunes Earth’s atmospheric composition and climate to promote the presence of life.… But I’d bet there are some dead Martians and Venusians who advanced the same theory about their own planets a billion years ago.

While the Copernican principle comes with no guarantees that it will forever guide us to cosmic truths, it’s worked quite well so far: not only is Earth not in the center of the solar system, but the solar system is not in the center of the Milky Way galaxy, the Milky Way galaxy is not in the center of the universe, and it may come to pass that our universe is just one of many that comprise a multiverse. And in case you’re one of those people who thinks that the edge may be a special place, we are not at the edge of anything either.

If there were biologists among the extremophiles [organisms that live in extreme conditions], they would surely classify themselves as normal and any life that thrived in room temperature as an extremophile.

So you’re made of detritus [from exploded stars]. Get over it. Or better yet, celebrate it. After all, what nobler thought can one cherish than that the universe lives within us all?

We can trace the elements. They were forged in the centers of high-mass stars that went unstable at the ends of their lives, they exploded, scattered their enriched contents across the galaxy, sprinkled into gas clouds that then collapsed and formed stars and planets and life.

What scientists want next is a thorough comparison of what we and exosolar planets and vagabonds look like. Only in this way will we know whether our home life is normal or whether we live in a dysfunctional solar family.

The iron from that meteorite and the iron from your blood have common origin in the core of a star.