Mike Albrow

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) demonstrated that, contrary to common understanding, heavy objects do not fall faster than light objects. They fall at the same rate. Galilei's work marked the dawn of the scientific age.

Now that anybody can post anything on the internet, made up or not, it can get difficult to know the truth, posing great danger to society. As schoolkids we were conditioned to believe authority. If teacher said it, it is true; that’s how we learned in kindergarten. “There it is, in black and white, in a book.” Too many adults still believe that, with TV and computers replacing books.

Ultima Thule was formed when two balls of rock, each about 10 miles across, collided slowly and stuck together. Photo: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

In 10 million years, will any signs of humanity remain on Earth’s surface? Nobody knows; possibly all the evidence will have been erased or buried. But there are some artifacts of our technology that should still be intact, in good condition, even in 100 million years! These are the spacecraft that we humans have launched to explore the outer reaches of the solar system.

Chicago in January may feel like the coldest place in the universe, but it’s colder at the South Pole. Scientists there are looking out into space and observing microwaves that have been traveling at the speed of light for 13.6 billion years. Once they were ultraviolet rays, but as the universe expanded, their wavelengths stretched, and they became blue, then red, then infrared (heat) and now they are microwaves, which you may have in an oven in your kitchen. Radio waves have even longer wavelengths.

“Wait,” you may be thinking, “I thought this was a science column. What has science to do with peace?” Those who visit Fermilab or CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Switzerland, understand. There are today many international scientific organizations, at least partly inspired by CERN’s success.

We might be able to predict the path of a baseball based on the motion of the bat, but even the tiniest adjustment in the swing could make a large difference in the ball's flight. Photo: Zach Putnam

In the 19th century some scientists thought that if we could know, at any given time, the position and velocity of every atom, we could in principle calculate the future. They believed the past determines the present, and the present determines the future.

On Aug. 12 a spacecraft left Earth on a mission that will take it as close as four million miles, streaking through the sun’s corona (the vapor-like “crown”) at the record speed of 120 miles per second.

What fuels the sun? Image: NASA

As you roast – or grill – on a beach this summer, you may be thinking the sun is hotter than usual. But of course, the sun is just as hot on a chilly winter evening; it doesn’t change.

Did the title make you think of powerful people and wonder who the second and third families are? This is a science corner, and these families are elementary particles.