By: Alex G
I dunno what to talk about so my blog is going to be a bit scattered around random topics.
Some thoughts on SSP so far
It’s hard to believe that SSP is almost over already. In these short weeks I’ve learned soooo much, learning new concepts and techniques every day. I love how everything we learn is building up towards our ultimate goal of orbit determination, and we encounter many side topics along the way, plummeting into astrophysics, calculus, programming, material science, optics, telescopes, etc. The combination of an amazing community, supportive faculty, and thorough, rigorous curriculum make the Summer Science Program a truly unique and generally (not relatively) special experience that I will never forget.
Our team has been extremely unlucky in observing our asteroid. After 4 observing requests, we haven’t had a single success yet, running into unfortunate hurdles including bad weather, telescope changes, and other unknown issues. Hopefully, we can rock-et and observe our asteroid on our last attempt, but at this point it seems like our team is just cursed or something. Anyway, it’s not too big of a deal, as we can still use other team’s data and complete the asteroid orbit determination in the same way, only we may not have data to submit to the Minor Planet Center.
The people at SSP are all so amicable, comet-cal, and un-apollo-getically talented. Socializing during work-play and making new friends has been out this world! Chilling with Jackbox, playing bughouse chess, and hopping on the SSP minecraft server was a blast. One thing that doesn’t seem right though—how fast must this spaceship be moving that the stars in the background are moving by that quickly??? 🤔
Push The Button, a Jackbox game (gif from youtube)
The notion of setting physical constants to 1 is a practice common throughout physics. But learning the system of Gaussian units has helped me understand the full scope of its usefulness. After writing dozens of pieces of code, I realized how much of a pain it would be to carry around GM’s everywhere and repeatedly multiplying by constant factors; setting μ=k=1 makes everything so much simpler! But this made me question the fundamental idea of units. The Boltzmann constant converts a temperature to a measure of energy, as in E = kBT. But if we set kB=1, then temperature is just energy. In fact, we don’t even need a separate unit for temperature at all. But wait a second, do we even need any units? In special relativity, we set speed of light c=1; so E = mc^2 can be written as E=m—i.e. Energy is mass. Why not just set everything (the universal physical constants) to 1? c=1, G=1, ħ=1, kB=1 so all units are identical! These are Planck units, no units necessary!
Here’s an interesting physics paradox: Consider an infinite universe with infinite stars spread uniformly (i.e. uniform mass density). Due to gravity, we would intuitively expect every star to be attracted to each other, and so all the stars would eventually collapse to one point. However, if we consider any particular star, the net gravitational force is 0 by symmetry. So what happens? Does the universe remain static, or does it collapse? If it does collapse, to what point does it collapse? (Assume no dark energy and no expansion of the universe).
Dr. Nick Suntzeff pointed out the weirdness of why there is more matter than antimatter in the universe. Want to learn more? Research anomalous electroweak sphaleron transition baryogenesis and you’ll find out! Piece of cake! (I have no clue what these words mean)
Dr. Cornell’s presentation was especially fascinating—the idea of using frequencies of oscillations to measure some quantity very precisely is an insight that makes so much sense after you hear about it. After all, harmonic oscillations are a universal phenomena, appearing everywhere in physics. And just by waiting longer, you can increase the precision of your measurement. It’s mind-blowing how today’s technologies allow us to measure unfathomable scales, on the order of 10^-28 cm. This talk opened my eyes to what it’s really like to work in experimental physics.
Hi, my name is Alex, and I’m a rising senior from VCS in the Bay Area. I enjoy practicing piano, learning physics, playing fish, and not eating grapefruit :>