Black Holes – The Mystery of Outer Space

Photo by Yayimages

Ever wonder what a black hole is? If I told you that you would be stretched like a rubber band if you came near it, would have I captured your interest?

From planets that orbit around the Sun to galaxies that are bounded by a special force called gravity, the universe is full of surprises and one such surprise is the black hole. These entities have such a high gravitational pull that not even light can escape, which is quite fascinating and mind-boggling as well. 

The existence of black holes was first predicted by Albert Einstein, but the term was coined many years later. Though considered a theoretical object, the first physical black hole was discovered in 1971, but the first-ever image of a black hole was released only this year, which has opened up a new area of study on these magnificent entities. Researchers and astronomers now know what a black hole looks like. But for us, it is important to understand what it is.


First-ever image of a black hole. 53 million light-years from here in the M87 galaxy. Scientists used the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) which are scores of telescope arrays located in different parts of the world and synchronized to focus on the object on the same day and at the same time.

What is a Black Hole?

Before we begin, we need to identify two entities. One is matter. The other is gravity. We all know what gravity is, so let’s focus on matter, which is nothing more than any object that is made up of atoms. From the tiniest microorganisms to the largest stars, all objects are made up of matter.

The next factor to note is that all matter has gravity, which is proportional to its size, the larger the object is, the more gravity it will have (we are talking about objects that exist in space, not on Earth).

One example is our our planet Earth, which weighs about 13,170,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds (or 5,974,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilograms or 5.972 × 10^24 kg ). Yes, that’s a lot but from a universal standpoint, it is analogous to a grain of sand on a beach when talking about the universe. But its weight (or amount of matter it contains) is sufficient to have enough gravitational pull to hold the moon in its orbit and revolve around it.   

Another example is our Sun, whose gravitational pull keeps the Earth and the other seven planets revolving around it. If the Sun had no gravity, the Earth (and every other body in our solar system) would be endlessly floating through the universe with no direction. 

If our Sun collapses, which is expected to happen in about 4.5 billion years, it would fall into itself, as gravity would be pulling all its mass towards its center. The remains would be a piece of matter about the size of Earth, called a white dwarf. Since the star Sun doesn’t have a sufficient amount of matter to collapse any further, and subsequently not enough gravity to allow this to happen, it will remain as a white dwarf star.

But what about larger stars?

Now, just think of a star that is massive enough to have such strong gravity that all its matter gets pulled in to the point that it is much smaller than the Earth-size we mentioned before. In other words, it is packed or condensed to such an extent it becomes a time sphear, about 18 miles in diameter and since is it is condensed so greatly, it carries a much larger density. When this happens, it is called a supernova explosion and results in what astronomers call a neutron star.

You Still Didn’t Explain How a Black Hole is Formed?

Now, we will. Previously, those stars mentioned have insufficiently mas to collapse to the point that it produces a black hole. Now, for stars that are that big, 

A black hole is an area in outer space with an exceptionally high gravitational pull. So far, we have predicted the force exerted by the black hole. But it is so strong that even light cannot escape if it goes close to a black hole. 

Scientists, however, have understood the reason for such a high gravitational pull. It is because matter has been crammed into a very tiny place; a phenomenon that can take place when a star is collapsing. When huge stars die, they form black holes that continue to absorb all the mass in the surrounding vicinity. Scientists also believe that at times, a single hole can merge with other nearby black holes. It is also hypothesized that the center of any galaxy in outer space is actually a huge black hole. 

Since even light cannot escape, we cannot see black holes. They are invisible, but their presence can be felt. NASA has managed to develop special space telescopes which can help locate black holes. These special telescopes can also observe how stars close to black holes behave differently compared to other stars. 

Black holes can vary in size. A small black hole can be as small as a single atom, but it can have a mass equivalent to a mountain. So regardless of the size, what makes black holes unique is the mass of matter which is squeezed into it. 

Types of Black Holes

Astronomers and researchers have categorized black holes into four types.

Supermassive Black Holes 

The first type of black holes is also the largest. This type of black hole has an immeasurable amount of mass. Scientists believe that supermassive black holes are present at the center of galaxies in space. This type of black hole is also found in our solar system and is located at Sagittarius A*. 

Intermediate Mass Black Holes

So far, this is a hypothetical type of black hole. The mass in these black holes can range from 100 to 10 hundred thousand solar masses. There is no proof of the existence of this type of black holes. However, there is indirect evidence of the existence of such black holes due to the behavior of certain stars. 

Stellar Black Holes 

This type of black hole is formed when giant stars collapse. The mass of such black holes range from 5 to 100 solar masses. This can be observed as a hypernova explosion or a burst of gamma-ray. This type of black holes is also called collapsars. 

Mini Black Holes 

This is the last type of black hole. As the name suggests, they are small black holes with less than 5 solar masses. Mini black holes were introduced by Stephen Hawkings in 1971.

Major Black holes Near Our Galaxy 

So far, researchers have spotted three major black holes near our galaxy. 

A0620-00

Scientists believe that A0620-00 is a stellar black hole, which is approximately three thousand lightyears away from the Earth. This system of a collapsing binary star belongs to the Monoceros constellation. It comprises of an unidentified quantity of solar mass and a star. 

Cygnus X-1

Found in the constellation of Cygnus, this black hole was discovered in 1964. This is one of the few black holes which are widely accepted by scientists around the world. It is estimated that this black hole has 15 solar masses, and is about 5 million years old. Scientists also believe that it comes from a star that was originally more than 40 solar masses. 

V404 Cygni

V404 Cygni is also categorized as a stellar black hole equivalent to 12 solar masses. It also has a star. The star and the black hole orbit within a close range. Because of the proximity of the star to the black hole and the intense gravitational pull, this star continues to lose mass to the black hole. 

Beyond Black Holes

There is nothing more mystifying in outer space than black holes. So far, we only know that as we get closer to the edge of the black hole, nothing returns. The gravitational pull is so high that it attracts even the tiniest particles of light. However, we also know that the force is different from suction. So just like something falls on the ground due to gravity, it moves into the black hole due to the same pull. It is believed that pressure and temperature inside the black holes can be so extreme that it does not support any form of organic life as we know it. Considering life forms that are not organic, we can definitely not comment on it now. No one knows for sure what lies inside the black holes. On one end, there is a galaxy, but what lies on the other side still remains a mystery.

Everything You Need to Know About Morganite

”Morganite

Photo by stellaryayimages.com

The Morganite gemstone is something you might be hearing about a lot nowadays. It has fast become a trend and for the people that have seen one in person, it is easy for them to understand why that’s the case. The Morganite is an exquisite violet-pink to light pink gemstone that has been a favorite among gemstone lovers for a few decades. It is an affordable yet resilient gem.

Morganite belongs to a family of minerals called the beryl and is often also referred to as Pink Beryl, Cesian Beryl and Pink Emerald. Morganite is one of the rarer variations of the beryl mineral and is considered second in rarity only to the red bixbite. The gemstone is a mesmerizing stone that has a pinkish and almost salmon colored hue, which sets it apart from the rest. This characteristic color for Morganite is because of the presence of manganese within the gem. Most Morganite gems are treated with heat that enhances the pinkish salmon hue even more.   

Here is a look at everything that you need to know about Morganite.

Morganite Color

The color of Morganite varies within a range of pinkish colors. They can be found in colors ranging from pink, rose, salmon to beach. The popularity of the Morganite gemstone in the market is for the rose and pink tints that the stone has. While there is still a demand for salmon and peach hues, they are not as popular as their pinkish counterparts.

The gemstone is almost always put through treatment that enhances the pink color. The treatment isn’t something you can detect. Heat treatment effectively drives out the orange and yellow tinge that Morganite has, leaving a purer pink color. The resulting color is stable and does not fade.

Clarity

Much like other variations of the beryl mineral, Morganite usually is a very clear gem. It does not have a lot of visible inclusions. The lesser clear varieties of Morganite are often cut or carved out as cabochons.   

Cuts

The Morganite gemstone has a very distinct color tone. The stronger color tones in Morganite are rare. Even if there are strong hues in the mineral, it has to be cut out from a fairly large stone in order to get the finest color from it. The orientation of the rough has to be considered carefully because of the pleochroism of this gemstone. It can be cut into all the standard shapes and sizes including unique designer cuts – this is one of the reasons why it is a popular gemstone for jewelry.  

Origin of Morganite Gemstones

Morganite can be found in different parts of the world. The two most prominent producers of the Morganite are Madagascar and Brazil. There are also sources of the gemstone that can be found in Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, China, Mozambique, Russia, Namibia, China and even the United States.

Gemological Properties of Morganite

  • Chemical Formula: Al2(Be3[Si6O18])
  • Color: Pale Pink to Violet Pink, Salmon, Peach
  • Crystal Structure: Hexagonal
  • Hardness on Mohs Scale: 7.5 to 8
  • Cleavage: Indistinct
  • Fluorescence: Weak: Violet
  • Luster: Vitreous
  • Transparency: Transparent to opaque

Properties of Morganite Gemstone

For those who believe in the minerals’ emotional effects, Morganite is considered to be a stone that brings empathy, compassion, tolerance, self control and balance to the wearer. Through wearing the Morganite stone, a person can become capable of bringing stability to their life and control their emotions a lot better than before. The stone is also associated with easing up the pain of people who have gone through separation from someone significant in their life.

Morganite is a Heart Stone, which is also called the Stone of Divine Love. This stone brings love to the life of the wearer. The stone also has the potential to light the fire from an old flame and ignite the passion that one has in his or her love life.

One of the most wonderful things about the Morganite gemstone is that it is an aphrodisiac, which does not just allow the wearer to attract love but also to maintain it for the long term. It works by bringing in the caring and loving thoughts that help the two become more loving towards each other. It instills a greater feeling of wellbeing in both partners that wear the gemstone.

The beryl mineral is known to be a stone that physically heals people by relieving them of several conditions affecting the liver, their glands and eyes. Since Morganite is one of the variations of the Beryl mineral, it does not only have the aphrodisiac properties, it also enhances the properties shown by other beryl gem. Morganite also helps to reorganize the cells, oxygenating them and helps with breathing issues. It clears out lung blockages and asthma. It also has the power to cure emphysema.

Reasons Why You Can Use Morganite

Because there are so many properties that Morganite has, there are several uses that this stone can have for people. Some of these uses include:

  • Wearing it in order to relax the mind and reduce stress in your life.
  • It challenges the wearer to become the best in everything that they do.
  • It enhances a person’s level of confidence and instills a calming and peaceful feel in them, allowing for better handling of tough situations.
  • It increases a sense of gratitude in the person wearing it.
  • Wearing Morganite also makes a person grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
  • It increases the wearer’s wisdom.
  • It transforms a person’s bad experiences into challenges that they would want to take on and overcome.
  • It brings about a positive change in the wearer.

Ten Interesting Facts about Floods in the US

A bench partially submerged in flood water
Photo by gufoto – yayimages.com

To experience the devastations of floods, you don’t necessarily need to live in a high-risk flood zone. Regardless of where you live, floods can severely affect you. As the global climate is changing, there is a tremendous increase in the frequency of floods. Every year, floods are becoming more intense and causing more damage to life and property. 

The United States experiences floods very often. This is because the country is prone to many other natural disasters. Some interesting facts in the United States are highlighted below. 

Floods Can Occur Anywhere 

Where there is water, there can be floods. This natural disaster can occur anywhere, anytime. In the United States, flash floods can occur in all 50 states. They are triggered by a preceding event like a hurricane or a storm. 

The eastern part of the US often experiences hurricanes and severe thunderstorms. Both of these conditions can trigger flooding. On the other hand, the western part of the US is more prone to snow melts and heavy rainfall. 

Flash Floods May Develop Quickly 

Flash floods may develop is as little as six hours following the triggered event. In case of a dike or levee breakdown or the collapse of a dam, flash floods can occur within minutes. They may take slightly longer in case of excessive flow of river water through ice melts.

While heavy rainfall is one of the potential causes of floods, other natural disasters including hurricanes, storms, and snow melts can also lead to flooding. 

Floods Follow Tornadoes

In terms of loss of property and lives, floods are the second most destructive natural disasters in the United States. Tornadoes are the only natural disaster that has caused more damage in terms of life and property compared to floods.  

In the year 2011, the total damages from floods were $8.41 billion. As the intensity and frequency of floods has increased over the last few years, the damages also hiked.

Flooding is a “Top 5 Causes” of Weather-Related Deaths in the US

In the year 2014, flooding was the 4th leading cause of weather-related deaths in the US. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration collected the data regarding fatalities due to natural disasters for the years 1984-2013. The data revealed that the average deaths related to flooding was 85 per annum. This was highest amongst other natural disasters including tornadoes, lightning strikes, and hurricanes.  

Floodplains Are Just 2% of the Earth’s Surface 

Floodplains are areas that have a higher risk of floods. They are low lying areas near the rivers and other water bodies. Naturally, only 2% of the Earth’s surface can be categorized as floodplains. The rest of the surface of land also gets affected by floods, but not as much as floodplains. 

Though floodplains experience extensive damage due to frequent floods, they play an important role in maintaining the ecosystem. Floodplains maintain the level of groundwater by absorbing flood water and releasing it gradually. They also provide clean water, wildlife habitat, and crops.  

Wetlands Save Costs

Flooding incurs a major repair cost as it extensively damages property and infrastructure. In the US, wetlands save more than $30 billion in damage repair. Since wetlands act as sponges, they absorb and store excess water. As a result, flood water does not remain standing. A single acre of wetland can absorb up to 330,000 gallons of water. This volume of water is enough to submerge thirteen homes. 

Apart from saving costs, wetlands play a crucial role in maintaining groundwater levels.  

Floods are Becoming More Frequent and More Intense 

Over the last few decades, the US has experienced major shifts in the weather. There has been a 20% increase in heavy rainfalls. Heavy rainfall has increased the frequency of floods. This, combined with the increased use of land, has intensified damages from the floods. The average annual loss from floods has increased from $6 billion in 2013 to $10 billion in 2017. 

Considering the global climate change, scientists have predicted that the weather will further worsen in the United States. The size of the floodplains in the US will increase by 40% in the next 50 years. This can have devastating consequences on future generations. 

Dikes or Levees Can Collapse 

Civilizations have been residing around rivers for centuries. When the technology was limited, people living near rivers built levees or dikes. This was their only defense against overflowing floodwater. As technology improved and dams were constructed, people continued to rely on levees. 

In the US, 100,000 miles of levees run across the nation. However, there is no record of the condition of these levees. An estimate of 40% of the population in the US lives in counties that still rely on levees. People now do not rely on levees for agricultural purposes alone; instead, homes and businesses are now constructed behind them. However, with the growing intensity of floods, levees are no longer a reliable option. 

Heavy rainfall induced by climate change, along with the deteriorating condition of the levees, can pose a threat to the population residing near rivers and streams. 

Ten Interesting Facts about Floods in the US

Floods are one of the world’s most common and most destructive natural disasters and usually are an after-effect of natural disasters. In fact, 90% of all natural disasters are followed by flooding. Heavy rainfall, melting glaciers, hurricanes, storms, tornadoes and earthquakes can all trigger floods. . 

To experience the devastations of floods, you don’t necessarily need to live in a high-risk flood zone. Regardless of where you live, floods can severely affect you. As the global climate is changing, there is a tremendous increase in the frequency of floods. Every year, floods are also becoming more intense and causing more damage to life and property. 

The United States experiences floods very often. This is because the country is prone to many other natural disasters. Some of the interesting facts about floods in the United States are highlighted below. 

Floods Can Occur Anywhere 

Where there is water, there can be floods. This natural disaster can occur anywhere, anytime. In the United States, flash floods can occur in all 50 states. They are triggered by a preceding event like a hurricane or a storm. 

The eastern part of the US often experiences hurricanes and severe thunderstorms. Both of these conditions can trigger flooding. On the other hand, the western part of the US is more prone to snow melts and heavy rainfall. 

Flash Floods May Develop Quickly 

Flash floods may develop is as little as six hours following the triggered event. In case of a dike or levee breakdown or the collapse of a dam, flash floods can occur within minutes. They may take slightly longer in case of excessive flow of river water through ice melts.

While heavy rainfall is one of the potential causes of floods, other natural disasters including hurricanes, storms, and snow melts can also lead to flooding. 

Floods Follow Tornadoes

In terms of loss of property and lives, floods are the second most destructive natural disasters in the United States. Tornadoes are the only natural disaster that has caused more damage in terms of life and property compared to floods.  

In the year 2011, the total damages from floods were $8.41 billion. As the intensity and frequency of floods have increased over the last few years, the damages also hiked.

Flooding is a “Top 5 Causes” of Weather-Related Deaths in the US

In the year 2014, flooding was the 4th leading cause of weather-related deaths in the US. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration collected the data regarding fatalities due to natural disasters for the years 1984-2013. The data revealed that the average deaths related to flooding were 85 per annum. This was highest amongst other natural disasters including tornadoes, lightning strikes, and hurricanes.  

Floodplains Are Just 2% of the Earth’s Surface 

Floodplains are areas that have a higher risk of floods. They are low lying areas near the rivers and other water bodies. Naturally, only 2% of the Earth’s surface can be categorized as floodplains. The rest of the surface of land also gets affected by floods, but not as much as floodplains. 

Though floodplains experience extensive damage due to frequent floods, they play an important role in maintaining the ecosystem. Floodplains maintain the level of groundwater by absorbing flood water and releasing it gradually. They also provide clean water, wildlife habitat, and crops.  

Wetlands Save Costs

Flooding incurs a major repair cost as it extensively damages property and infrastructure. In the US, wetlands save more than $30 billion in damage repair. Since wetlands act as sponges, they absorb and store excess water. As a result, flood water does not remain standing. A single acre of wetland can absorb up to 330,000 gallons of water. This volume of water is enough to submerge thirteen homes. 

Apart from saving costs, wetlands play a crucial role in maintaining groundwater levels.  

Floods are Becoming More Frequent and More Intense 

Over the last few decades, the US has experienced major shifts in the weather. There has been a 20% increase in heavy rainfalls. Heavy rainfall has increased the frequency of floods. This, combined with the increased use of land, has intensified damages from the floods. The average annual loss from floods has increased from $6 billion in 2013 to $10 billion in 2017. 

Considering the global climate change, scientists have predicted that the weather will further worsen in the United States. The size of the floodplains in the US will increase by 40% in the next 50 years. This can have devastating consequences on future generations. 

Dikes or Levees Can Collapse 

Civilizations have been residing around rivers for centuries. When the technology was limited, people living near rivers built levees or dikes. This was their only defense against overflowing floodwater. As technology improved and dams were constructed, people continued to rely on levees. 

In the US, 100,000 miles of levees run across the nation. However, there is no record of the condition of these levees. An estimate of 40% of the population in the US lives in counties that still rely on levees. People now do not rely on levees for agricultural purposes alone; instead, homes and businesses are now constructed behind them. However, with the growing intensity of floods, levees are no longer a reliable option. 

Heavy rainfall induced by climate change, along with the deteriorating condition of the levees, can pose a threat to the population residing near rivers and streams. 

Tectonic Movements: How Earthquakes Happen

Earth cutaway schematic of the Earth

Felling the earth rumble under you has got to be one of the scariest moments one could experience. It feels like the whole planet is moving and you are helpless to stop it or even run somewhere for safety. If you are one of those unlucky people who have actually experienced this, you are not alone, as thousands of others have experienced the same horror.

Fortunately, these movements, more commonly called by their every day name – earthquakes, only last less than a minute, but the damage it leaves behind in both human lives and property is incomprehensible.

So you ask yourself – why did this happen? What can be done about it? Let’s delve into what causes earthquakes and see if we can remove the mystery of why the earth moves.

The Tectonic Plates

Map of earthquakes across the world
Fault lines across the world. Red indicates heavy plate movement and black depicts most intensive or most destructive earthquakes.
At a level that is just under the earth’s service, within an area called the lithosphere, platforms called tectonic plates exist. According to scientific studies, these plates move a about 0.6 inches per year. Nothing to really get excited about. It is when there is heavy movement that we need to worry.

The plates are broken up into 12 regions, like 12 pieces of a jig saw puzzle that are connected to each other. When the plates move, they bump into each other at their (jig  saw) connections, officially called boundaries, causing collisions, or conversely, break away from each other. The image above depicts where these boundaries exist, which are called fault lines. The colors represent how intense the earthquake was. It is at these fault lines that when the plates move, volcanoes, mountains and tsunamis occur. As you can see, there is an abundance of fault lines across the entire west coast of the United States.

What lies directly under these plates is the source that causes the tectonic plates to move.

The Earth’s Mantle

Under the Earth graphic cut away
Under the tectonic plates is the mantle, which consists of magnesium and iron-bearing silicates. You can think of the tectonic plates as the ‘skin’ of the earth, analogous to the skin of an apple. Proportionally they are about the same in depth. So when the there is movement in the mantle, the plates above it feel this movement and they will then move accordingly. How much movement is dependent upon the intensity of the changes within the mantle.

What Occurs When the Teconic Plates Collide?

Earthquakes are caused by these collisions, as one plate moves over the other, the Earth shakes. The measurement of intensity is rated using a Richter Scale, which records the magnitude of the collisions, with ‘1’ being unnoticeable, up to ’10’, which can cause massive death and destruction. Fortunately, an earthquake of ’10’ is very rare.

What is the Current Theory of Plate Movement?

The reason why the plates move is still under conjecture, but one theory is that heat from radioactive processes within the planet’s interior is what causes the plates to move.

The latest theory is called slab pull, where areas of the lithosphere becomes less dense than the asthenosphere. This causes these areas above to sink further down into the mantle, pulling slabs of the lithosphere apart,  causing the plates to move in different directions. As a result, these regions are spreading or rifting,

Tetonic activity map over the Earth's history
Tetonic Activity Map Over the last One Million Years

The Latest Findings

But as it turns out, such interactions between continental plates is not the only reason for these various geological processes. Research led by a joint team of the University of Toronto and University of Aberdeen researchers have achieved an enormous breakthrough!

According to the research that uses supercomputers to run a model of the Earth’s upper mantle and crust, the prehistoric geological events could have left deep ‘scars’ that may play a significant role in earthquakes, tsunamis, formation of mountains or ocean trenches and many other ongoing geological processes.

The models created by the researchers indicate that the previous plate boundaries could stay buried deep below the surface of the Earth. These structures, which are no less than many millions of years old, are located far from the current plate boundaries and may cause drastic changes in the surface properties and structure of the interior of the continents.

The researchers went a step further to propose a new map highlighting the ancient geology of the Earth. The ‘perennial plate tectonic map’ explains through illustrations how the prehistoric geological events could affect today’s geological processes. The map is based on the common tectonic map, which is taught in elementary school, but it has been modified to include the concealed, ancient plate boundaries that may be involved in plate tectonic activity in the past as well as the present.

Owing to this recent breakthrough, some major revisions are required to the fundamental idea of plate tectonics. The research paper titled, ‘Lasting mantle scars lead to perennial plate tectonics’ appeared in the Nature Communications issue of June 10, 2016.

Conclusion

So we see that plate movements below the Earth’s surface can cause these disturbances to occur, but how they occur is still a forum for debate. At least we know where it happens most (fault lines) and precautions have been and will be taken for earthquakes to minimize damage.

The Fundamental Forces of Nature

Everything which happens around us is a result of the interaction of forces and we mean everything, from a fruit falling from a tree (Remember Isaac Newton?) to Earth orbiting around the Sun, aa matter around us interacts with other bodies around it, This phenomenon is based on four fundamental forces. 

Gravity, the weakest of the four natural forces is present in our everyday lives. It determines how and why things around us stay at a certain height and why some objects fall down, while others take longer. 

Electromagnetic forces run our electric and digital machines and allows us to access the universe from the comfort of our homes. 

The other two natural forces, namely the strong and the weak nuclear forces, operate at the atomic level. They influence the fundamental particles of an atom including the proton and electrons. 

Each of the four fundamental forces of nature has unique properties and characteristics. Every single interaction which takes place in the universe can be explained through these forces. However, there are certain interactions which appear to be bizarre and are not explained by these four forces. This raises the question of the existence of a fifth, unknown and unexplained force of nature. Physicists are still struggling to find the answer.  

Gravity – The Weakest Force of Nature

If a pen slips out of your hand, it will immediately fall down and touch the ground. For humans, gravity appears to be the strongest and most obvious force of nature. In reality, gravity is actually the weakest of the four elements. 

Simply defined, gravity is the attraction between any two objects which have a mass. The force depends upon the mass of the objects. According to the law of gravitation, the magnitude or intensity of the gravitational force can be calculated by multiplying the masses with the universal gravitational constant ‘G’. The resultant is then divided by the square of the distance between the centers of the masses. There is a different force of gravity constant for each object in the solar system and for that matter, the universe. The formula is F = G*m1*m2/r2 . One example would be the force of gravity on Earth is 9.8 meters per second squared, or 9.8 m/s2

Gravity is very weak on the atomic level, but since most objects around us have so much mass, the force of gravity becomes stronger and more apparent. The force becomes stronger and more evident for universal objects with larger masses including the planets and stars. In this case, gravity is strong enough to keep them in an orbit. When it comes to galaxies, the mass further increases and gravity plays a crucial role in attracting galaxies even when they are far apart.  

The Weak Nuclear Force 

The weak nuclear force is much stronger than the gravitational force (1010times). However, the force is only stronger within a certain range. It acts at a distance within the size of the proton. The particles which carry the weak nuclear force are called the weak vector bosons and have symbols w+, w and z0. The interaction between these particles causes one type of charged particle to turn into another type of charged particle. This interaction is responsible for phenomena such as beta and other radioactive decay

Electromagnetic Force 

The electromagnetic force is far stronger than the gravitational pull and has a much wider range than the weak nuclear force. This third strongest force of nature is 1040 times stronger than the gravitational force. An easy way to assess the strength of the electromagnetic force is to hold a magnet against a few paper clips. Gravity will attract the paper clips downwards but the electromagnetic force, which is stronger than gravity, will end up attracting the paper clips upwards. 

The electromagnetic force allows the interaction of particles with an electric charge. When the charged particles are at rest, they interact through electrostatic forces. When in motion, they mingle together through both electrical and magnetic forces. 

Though less powerful than the strong nuclear force, the electromagnetic force is by far the most prevalent force in the world. It can affect objects with a fair amount of power when they are at a reasonable distance. 

The Strong Nuclear Force

The strong nuclear force is the strongest fundamental force of nature. It is the biggest influence on the fundamental particles of the universe. It is this force which binds together the nuclei of the atom. However, the range of the strong nuclear force is only limited to subatomic particles. 

The nuclei of an atom is made up of a positively charged proton and a neutral charged neutron. Since like charges repel, each proton in the nuclei is working hard to get away from the other proton. This is where the strong nuclear force comes in. The strong force allows particles called gluons to stick together and create nucleons. These gluons can interact with other gluons and further strengthen the bond within the nuclei. The presence of the strong nuclear force is the reason why so much energy is released when the nuclei of an atom breaks down. 

The Fifth Force – Fact or Fiction 

Physicists around the world have unanimously agreed that the four fundamental forces explain every phenomenon that takes place in the universe. However, there are various mysteries of physics which cannot be explained by these four fundamental forces of nature. One such mystery is the existence of dark matter. After immense research, physicists have agreed that dark matter is a form of a stable and huge particle which experiences gravity but no other known forces. Researchers have failed to identify the reason why dark matter does not experience any force other than gravity. 

There are many ideas about why other forces do not act on the dark matter. One famous hypothesis is the presence of an unidentified fifth force. Physicists around the world are studying the possibilities of existence of a fifth fundamental force of nature. But it is too early to claim its presence.  

How Mountains are Created

Mountains big and small have been the result of plate teconics.

The formation of the Himalayas was created when the Indian subplate burrowed under the European continent and formed the Appalachian Mountains.

When the North American and African plates collided, a large separation of earth materialized and the Atlantic Ocean opened up.

The volcanic and seismic activity of the West Coast of the US occurs as a result of grinding of the North American and Pacific plates.

The above are just a few examples of the effects of plate tectonics. The geological history of Earth is littered with such phenomena that have made the Earth what it is today.

Some of the Most Environmentally Dangerous Places on Earth

Kilauea Volcano with smoke plume rising
Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii © SS

You’ve heard the term: “It’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there”. Well, we going to explore places that appeal to some for a short visit but wouldn’t want to overrun their stay. 

The Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii is one of these places. A live volcano that spits out lava like a bottle pouring ketchup on a hamburger, but it doesn’t have a peak, instead it is rather flat; nevertheless, it is a live volcano.

Big Island Hawaii volcano areaJust walk along the charred ground leading up to the lava plume and you will see what I am talking about. A friend of ours traversed this chard ground, passing many warning signs of “danger to your health and possible death.” He walked for about a mile to the ocean to see the molten lava spewing down into the water from the rocks above. It was a sight to see and a place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to camp out there, not to mention live there.  

There are however, locations on this planet that are a little more charitable and surprisingly, some people do make the places their home. Maybe not as treacherous as the Kilauea Volcano, but tough and scary just the same, as they are sitting right in the middle of mother nature’s hidden fury. 

According to the World Health Organization, about 90,000 people are killed every year due to natural disasters. Globally, natural disasters affect almost 160 million people yearly. They have an immediate effect on the lives and property, but in the long run, it can be detrimental to human survival. 

The places which are most prone to natural disasters are considered to be the most dangerous places on earth. Let’s take a look at where they are. 

I-44 Tornado Corridor 

Large tornado moving towards a house in a rural area
“crazy tornado” by rustybrick is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Ranked as one of the most dangerous places to live, the I-44 tornado corridor is located between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. This geographical location has been hit by hundreds of tornadoes since 1950. The only period when there were no tornados was between the years 1992 and 1998. The following year has been known to be one of the most deadly years in the history of Oklahoma and Tulsa. 

In 1999, the area was hit by a series of 70 tornadoes which swept thousands of homes and killed hundreds of people in multiple cities. This series of tornadoes affected the areas of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.  

The areas of Oklahoma City and Tulsa are densely populated and are a home for over a million people. The spring season is particularly damaging for this location as the cool and dry air from the mountains collide with the warm, hot and humid air of the coastal area. As a result, most tornadoes hit the region in the spring season making it very difficult for people to live. 

Guatemala

A rural area in central Guatemala showing houses and people“Guatemala” by Green Empowerment is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A relatively poor country south of Mexico in Central America, Guatemala is constantly affected by natural disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. According to a survey, natural disasters between 1975 and 2015 have caused damage that has cost a total of $9.1 billion. 

A hurricane hit the country in 2005 caused severe damage. It also triggered landslides and floods. Multiple villages disappeared. With changes in the global environment, Guatemala is likely to experience an increase in temperatures and heat waves, which can affect more lives.  

Indonesia

Fishermen boats in Cirebon, west Java, Indonesia

“Fishermen boats in Cirebon, west Java, Indonesia.”by USAID Digital Development is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Indonesia has managed to survive many natural disasters, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis. With a recorded history of natural disasters dating back to the 13th century, Indonesia has endured multiple disasters in the last three decades. 

The most famous being the deadly tsunami of 2004, which caused 227,898 deaths. Being started by an earthquake of magnitude 9.1, this tsunami affected many other Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, Thailand, Maldives, and Sri Lanka. 

Due to changes in the global climate, Indonesia has experienced one major natural disaster every year since the 2004 tsunami. 

Africa’s Killer Lakes 

Lake Kivu, Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun, located in Congo and Cameroon are known as the “Killer Lakes of Africa”. These lakes have large volumes of methane and carbon dioxide stored underneath their surface. Eruption of these gases from the lakes have resulted in creation of a gas cloud which has killed thousands of people in the region. According to research, the reason for this eruption is the volcanic activity taking place under the surface of these lakes. 

Lake Kivu, located between Congo and Rwanda is the home for over 2 million people. However, this is a very dangerous zone as Lake Kivu, holds 2.3 trillion cubic feet of methane gas. It also holds around 60 cubic miles of carbon dioxide gas. Both these gases have a greenhouse effect. However, release of these gases can immediate kill the entire population in the region. 

Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun which also holds large reserves of these dangerous gases are located in Cameroon. People living around these lakes have experienced the eruptions of these harmful gases. The cloud of gas which formed after the release of CO2 and methane gas has killed thousands. Not only does it kills human beings, but it is also deadly for all creatures including plants and animals. 

The population living there is under immense threat as any volcanic eruption under the lakes can kill the entire population living in the region. 

The Cold Pole 

The toughest place for human survival is near the poles. The cold and dry climate not only hinders the growth of vegetation and animals but is also detrimental for the human survival. The oldest city located in the heart of Siberia is known as the Cold Pole. The Cold Pole is known to be the coldest place which is inhibited by humans. The Russians have been living in this harsh climatic zone for more than three centuries. 

The river which flows in the region is frozen for nine months in a year and the city hardly sees sun during winters. During summers which range from September to March, the area gets sunlight for less than five hours per day. The temperatures during winters can go down to -60 degrees Fahrenheit, but this area of extreme climatic conditions is still home for 1,500 people.  

China 

The most populated country in the world has probably endured the most dangerous and deadly natural disasters in history. China is prone to many natural disasters, including earthquakes, floods, and typhoons. 

China is located in a region where the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates are always colliding. This makes China one of the most dangerous countries in the world when it comes to natural disasters. Out of the 10 most deadly earthquakes on the planet, the top three were experienced by China. Not only earthquakes, but China’s coastal region is regularly hit by typhoons and storms. 

Between 2000 and 2015, natural disasters in China have affected 1.6 billion people and resulted in damages worth $300 billion. 

Creeping Sandbox, China 

If China doesn’t have enough to worry about, the once fertile oasis located in the Minqin Country in China is now an arid land. The people residing there are under an extremely tough situation as they are trapped between two deserts which are growing at a rapid rate. Human activities like deforestation has increased the rate of desertification and each year, the desert is growing by 10 meters. As a result, the land is becoming arid and barren and farmers living there are unable to meet their agricultural needs. 

Around two million people reside in this difficult climatic zone where there are 130 days of wind and sand storms each year. Due to extreme weather conditions and increased deforestation, the area of cultivable land has decreased from 360 sq. miles to 60 sq. miles. A number of farmers are relocating because of difficult living conditions. The government has also officially announced the relocation of displaced farmers in January this year.

Sahel Region of Africa 

Slightly change the definition of natural disasters, and you will notice that drought can also be disastrous to a region – a natural disaster in its own right. The dry and arid region of the Sahel region situated right next to the Sahara desert is prone to droughts. 

According to the UN Environmental Program, the drought in the Sahel region killed more than 100,000 people between 1972 and 1984. Over 750,000 people were dependent on food aid as they were unable to grow their crops due to extreme weather conditions and shortage of water. Studies have shown that the exploitation of resources by humans has further increased the risk of drought in the future, making it one of the world’s most dangerous places. 

Lake Nyos, Cameroon 

As soon as you hear about a death toll of 1,700 people, the kind of natural disasters which may come to mind are earthquakes, volcanic eruption or a flood. No one can imagine that this high death toll can be the result of the release of carbon dioxide.

Lake Nyos is located in Cameroon with no signs of volcanic activity. However, this silent blue lake killed 1,700 people and thousands of animals due to an abrupt turnover of water. Studies have shown that the volcanic activity taking place underneath the surface release carbon dioxide gas (CO2). This CO2 dissolved in the depths of the lake and the water became saturated with CO2. 

The water which is rich in CO2 does not mix or circulate, causing layers to form. These layers do not mix with each other. However, there is a periodic turnover of water which releases the trapped CO2 into the environment. 

This turnover which occurred in 1986 resulted in a sudden and disastrous release of CO2 in the atmosphere and killed many people. This periodic turnover continues to be a threat for people living near Lake Nyos in Cameroon.

Conclusion

There are many other places on earth which experience natural disasters of varying intensity, making them very dangerous places to live. With changes to the climate, the intensity and frequency of natural disasters have drastically changed. However, natural disasters are nothing but Mother Nature’s way of restoring balance to the earth. 

Uses of Silicon in Everyday Life

The 14th element in the periodic table, silicon is a grey, shiny metalloid with multiple uses. Besides oxygen, silicon is the second most readily available element on Earth and the 8th most common element found in the universe. Naturally, silicon occurs as a compound, bound up with other elements. 

Silicon is one of the seven elements that are known as metalloids, which refers to elements that possess the properties of both metals and nonmetals. This makes it ideal for uses in many different industries and is the main component in making alloys (mixing metals with non-metals). Silicon is not only used in the construction industry, but high tech equipment like computer chips, solar panels, and transistors are all made up of silicon. 

The fact that silicon can act as a semiconductor, by allowing control of electrical current, makes it ideal for virtually all electronic equipment. 

Facts About Silicon

Silicon is one of the most interesting elements in the periodic table. Some facts about this element are as follows:

  • Naturally, silicon is not found in its pure state and is always combined with other elements. 
  • Over 90% of the Earth’s crust is made up of silicon-containing compounds. 
  • Most meteorites contain large amounts of silicon. 
  • On the Mohs scale of hardness, silicon carbide scores an impressive 9-9.5, which is slightly less than a diamond. 
  • The hardness of silicon compounds makes them an ideal abrasive for industrial use. 
  • Silicon was first isolated to develop silicon-only crystals in 1854. 
  • Silicon has a higher density in liquid form as compared to when it is solid. 
  • Unlike most metals, the conductivity of silicon improves when the temperature increases.

Properties of Silicon 

Due to its metalloid nature, silicon does not behave like a typical metal or non-metal but shares the properties of both. Certain factors like temperature and combination with other elements affect its behavior and properties. Some properties of silicon are: 

Silicon is a Semiconductor 

Silicon does not behave like a typical metal or nonmetal. This is the reason why silicon is considered as a semiconductor. It can act as a conductor of electrical current or an insulator depending upon the temperature. As the temperature increases, silicon’s conductivity gets better.  

Melting and Boiling Points 

Though silicon is not a pure metal, it is has a very high melting and boiling point. The melting point of silicon is 1410 degrees Celsius, whereas the boiling point is 2355 degrees Celsius. 

Reaction with Other Elements 

Pure silicon is highly reactive. Since there are four valence electrons available, silicon can form an ionic or covalent bond by sharing or giving away its electrons. This is the reason why it is not available in its pure form naturally. In its solid form, silicon remains an inert element and does not react with oxygen or water.

Uses of Silicon 

The structure and properties of silicon make it a suitable element for a number of industries. Though silicon is hardly used in its pure form, silicon compounds are more commonly used for industrial applications. 

Alloy Making 

This metal is widely used in making alloys. It is produced at very high temperatures and when heated, it  can easily react with other elements like iron. Ferrosilicon is one of the most commonly used silicon alloys and is used in the manufacturing of steel. This alloy of iron and silicon gives hardness and strength to steel. It is also used as the prime deoxidizer in steel manufacturing and helps in removing impurities from the steel. 

The aluminum industry also heavily relies on the use of silicon alloys. These alloys are used in welding and manufacturing of molds.  

An electronic mother board for a computer

“Resistors and Transistors”by Andrew Mason is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Electronics 

One of the most important properties of silicon is that it works as a semiconductor. Its high melting point and ability to conduct electricity makes it ideal for its use in the electronics industry. 

Prior to its use for electronic devices, silicon is refined in two stages. First, oxygen is removed from the compound, and then it is further refined to produce hyper pure silicon, which is a semiconductor grade element. Hyperpure silicon is used in the manufacturing of many electronic devices, including transistors, circuit boards, and microchips which have multiple uses. 

A recent milestone in computer technology using silicon-based chips is the invention of quantum computers. These computers can outperform normal computers. Using silicon, these computers can replace normal computers in the near future. 

A recent development in medicine is the use of silicon nanoneedles. These are tiny needles which are used for intracellular drug delivery. 

Solar panels on the roof of a house

“Solar Panel”by Marufish is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Solar Panels 

With climatic changes and a high concentration of greenhouse gases, there is much emphasis on the use of renewable sources of energy. Solar energy is one of the most environmentally friendly sources of energy. Using solar panels, we can easily convert the energy of the sun into electricity without damaging the environment. 

Most solar cells and solar panels are created using silicon because of its physical and chemical properties. Silicon’s ability to work as a semiconductor makes it the most suitable element for solar panels. However, pure silicon is not used as it is a poor conductor. Silicon is mixed with impurities (also known as doping) so that it can absorb the energy from the sun and convert it into electricity. 

Initially, using silicon in the manufacturing of solar panels was an expensive technology. With recent developments in research and technology, silicon solar panels are now affordable for most people. 

Nature has provided mankind with all the resources it needs for survival. It’s up to us how we harness and utilize the bounties of nature without damaging the environment. 

Summary

The discovery of silicon has had a major impact on how we live our lives everyday. Although it is not apparant, it would be hard to imagine how we would live today without the use of silicon.

Ten Gorgeous Diamond Cuts for Engagement Rings

Groom and bride holding hands with ring showing on her fingerDiamonds are eternal – just like your bond with your life partner. That’s why these sparkling rocks are the one and only choice for an engagement ring. Proposals can leave you in a bundle of nerves but what’s even more stressful is getting the right ring for her. Diamonds come in a variety of clarities, sizes, shapes and cuts, and you can pay an arm and a leg for them. Since you are probably going to invest a huge part of your savings on an engagement ring, you should know about some stunning diamond cuts which would surely make her say ‘yes!’

Walking into a jewelers shop can be a bit intimidating. One can easily get confused when surrounded by all the different cuts and designs. Before delving into the cuts, it’s important to distinguish between the cut and the shape. The shape is the geometric appearance of the gemstone, whereas a cut is what makes a diamond bright and shiny. A gemstone sparkles when light reflects from it.

The facets (flat surfaces that allow more light to be reflected; hence, more brilliance) and angles (how the facets are placed on the gem to bring in the most light), their quantity, symmetry, and proportions are all responsible for the reflection of light. A diamond is intricately cut to maximize this reflection, but not all diamonds are equal. Some have less quality cuts then others and hence the price difference you will see as you shop, but the better the cut, the more brillance, the more she will like it, but the more you will pay for it.

Cutting a diamond too shallow would allow most of the light to pass through the bottom, making this an extremely poor cut. If cut too deep, a diamond would reflect light from its sides and would fail to produce the required gleam and glitter. A perfectly cut diamond would reflect all its light from its top face and would shine brilliantly. The more radiant a diamond appears, the more expensive it will be. 

Now, let’s look at the ten most popular diamond cuts that would be perfect for an engagement ring:

Round Cut

Top face and side view of a round cut diamond
Brilliant Round Cut Diamonds

This cut is one of the most popular and most famous type of cut for engagement rings. About 50% of engagement rings have a round cut diamond. This particular cut gives maximum shine to the diamond, partially do to the large amounts of facts (58) and the ideal position at which they are set. You’ll find a range of grades, styles, and settings for a round cut diamond. A simple gold or platinum ring with an isolated round-cut diamond looks like a personification of “beauty lies in simplicity”. You can also try a solitaire setting to add glamour to this cut. 

Round cut diamonds are considered the most expensive of the cut variations, but they display the most brilliance. You can’t go wrong with a round cut diamond. 

Princess Cut

Diamonds with Princess Cuts
Princess Cut Diamonds

Also known as a square modified brilliant cut, the princess cut is  a popular choice for engagement rings. First created by Betazel Ambar and Israel Itzkowitz in 1980, princess cuts appears like a square or rectangle from the top.

It has four beveled sides and a bottom that resembles an inverted pyramid. You’ll find this cut in 30% of the rings. It looks a bit familiar to the Asscher or Emerald cut but it has more facets at the top as opposed to the flat top face of Asscher.

Emerald Cut

Top face and side view of a princess cut diamond
Emerald Cut Diamond

This cut derives its name from the famous gemstone emerald because these stones are usually cut in this manner. However, this cut looks equally classy for diamonds. It is a stepped cut that seems to have an aura of enduring beauty. Its top face is a narrow rectangle with trimmed corners. Since this cut is not used as frequently as a round or princess cut, it is relatively inexpensive and so a ring with a high-grade emerald cut diamond will cost you less or if you were going to sell one, you won’t get what you would get if you had a round cut stone; however, those with smaller hands prefer the emerald cut because it makes their fingers look longer.   

Oval Cut

Top face and side view of a princess cut diamond
Oval Cut Diamond

Oval cut exhibits a classic and traditional impression. This cut has gained popularity in recent years. It beautifies the hand as it has a lengthening effect. The oval cut is a great choice for East-West trendy rings. It is about 25% more affordable than a round cut diamond ring. Its greater surface area makes the diamond appear bigger. However, an oval cut has one undesirable feature called ‘the bow-tie effect’ which means the cut will show a darker area in the middle if one looked down upon it. The greater the bow tie effect, the poorer the stone quality. Excellent quality diamonds will have a very subtle darker region.

Asscher Cut

Ascher Cut Diamond
Ascher Cut Diamond

Created in the early 1900s, it came into light in the 1920s. It was named after its creators the Asscher Brothers who ran Holland’s Asscher Diamond Company which later became the Royal Asscher Diamond Company. It was an attractive cut with a vintage feel about it. Similar to an emerald cut, it has a square or rectangular appearance with cropped corners. It has 74 large step facets and a high crown which makes yields more brilliance than the emerald cut. It is set in a four-prong setting and reflects light like a never-ending corridor lined with mirrors on all sides. 

Cushion Cut

Cushion Cut Diamond
Cushion Cut Diamond

A cushion-cut, also known as a pillow cut, is made to emphasize clarity. This cut is almost 200 years old which gives it a vintage flair. On the other hand, it looks extremely stylish and modern with a square top face with rounded corners. To further elevate this symbol of understated love, you can mount it in a halo setting for a perfect engagement ring.

Marquise Cut

Marquise Cut Diamonds
Marquise Cut Diamonds

Considered bold and beautiful, Marquise cut is also known as the football-shaped cut, the eye-shaped cut, and the boat-cut. It exudes a dramatic persona with an elliptical shape with pointed ends and 58 facets. Its French history is as interesting as the cut itself. Back in the 18th century King Louis XV of France ordered a jeweler to design a cut inspired by his mistress’ lips. A diamond ring in this cut would require multiple prongs and a setting which can act as a stable base for the stone.

Radiant Cut

Radiant Cut Diamonds
Radiant Cut Diamonds

A radiant cut gets its name from its matchless radiance. Since a radiant cut diamond has numerous facets, it reflects light in all directions and appears luminous. This cut also has a square or rectangle shape with trimmed corners. Looking directly into the top face of the stone would reveal a circular pattern in the center. 

Pear Cut

Pear Cut Diamonds
Pear Cut Diamonds

This would be an ideal cut for those looking for something elegant and sophisticated. The pear cut has the best features of marquise and round cut diamonds. It is so beautifully proportioned that it looks like an angel’s teardrop. It makes the hand appear slender due to its pointed corner. The cut makes the diamond look bigger than it actually is.   

Heart Cut

Diamonds in heart shape cutA heart cut diamond looks very exquisite and lovely. When buying a ring with a heart-cut diamond, make sure you check its proportions closely. Give enough attention to the body and the cleft of the heart shape. This cut would require a setting with more prongs.

Howard Fensterman Minerals