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6 Things Brian Cox Has Taught Us
It’s safe to say that Professor Brian Cox is quickly becoming the David Attenborough of the physics world and judging by the popularity of his shows, the public would agreed. He’s managed to take some pretty complicated theories and scientific principles, and explain them in a way that is engaging to us all.
Here’s our roundup of some of fascinating things he’s taught us, including the physics of lightsabers and why gold is so rare.
We know that the Earth is round, but do we know why it’s round? Well we do know, thanks to Professor Brian Cox. It turns out that once an object is larger enough, it will always be shaped into a perfect sphere by gravity. The “potato radius” is what determines the minimum circumference of an object required for gravity to mould it into a ball, rather than a potato shape, hence the name. If you look at asteroids, you’ll notice that they’re all oval shapes because their mass isn’t large enough for gravity to form them into perfect spheres – like planets.
If you’ve ever browsed the display of a jewellery shop, you’ll know that gold usually comes with an impressive price tag attached, but have you ever wondered why it’s so pricey? Well, it turns out that gold – along with platinum – is one of the heavier elements that can only be forged in the dying heart of stars. So, not something that we can just make more of if we run out (at least, not in a cost-effective manner). Creating gold requires a process known as nuclear fusion, and if we created gold using it, the result would be a very small yield and a lot of radioactive byproducts. Nasty!
The power of gravity on an object will depend on the object’s size, and the gravitational force exerted on an object will always increase in relation to its size. For example, if you drop two objects of different sizes from the same height, the smaller one is far more likely to remain unharmed because gravity will have had a less powerful effect on it than on the larger object.
Anything that can be explained by smashing things is a winner in our books, and this video expertly demonstrates the power of gravity with some fruit that takes a rather messy trip from a balcony.
Did you know that ice is the only commonly-occurring solid that floats on its own liquid? Pretty impressive for everyday water. Ice isn’t particularly exciting, so it makes a nice change to hear about how unique it actually is.
The reason why ice floats in its own liquid is because, unlike other liquids, water reaches its maximum density at 4°C and as it freezes it actually becomes less dense thanks to hydrogen bonding. As water freezes, these bonds expand and form crystal lattices, spreading the same amount of mass over a larger surfaces, making ice 9% less dense than water.
Did you know that matter cannot be created or destroyed, so there is the same amount of stuff in the universe today as there was right after the big bang? The mass in the universe can only convert, and this is where the death of stars comes in. When stars die and collapse in on themselves, the process creates the elements as we know them, through different stages of fusion.
At first, while the dying star still has a supply of fuel to burn, the core is stable However, once the fuel runs out and the core collapses, hydrogen and helium are all that are left behind. As temperatures rise in the star’s dying core, two of the elements vital to life as we know it are created; carbon and oxygen. In the final stages of a star’s death, carbon fuses into magnesium, neon, sodium and aluminium. As each stage becomes hotter and shorter than the last, the elements created become heavier.
Black holes are mysterious little devils, and in reality they’re far more complicated than the ones you might have seen in sci-fi movies. They are the results of stars dying, and their gravitational force is so strong that not even light can escape, hence their name.
The only thing stranger than black holes, is what happens when you get close to one – or what scientists theorise happens because if you got near one it’s doubtful that you would live to tell the tale. Once you near the event horizon – or the point of no return – of a black hole, the force of gravity would be so strong that any object would be spaghettified as it was sucked into the hole.
If you want to get up close and personal with our very own Professor Brian Cox, you can now find him at Madame Tussauds Blackpool doing what he does best. That’s right, he’s teaching us about the wonders of the universe thanks to a 3D hologram that is joining his wax figure.
So, if you need to brush up on your science, head on down. Don’t forget to book your tickets in advance to get the best deal.