More from the Spherical Cows

In a very different way of translating scientific ideas into other forms and media, my friend, colleague and collaborator Lloyd Knox is back with a new series of short video documentaries under the auspices of his Spherical Cow Company. After a hiatus of a few months, they set themselves a challenge of producing three videos in three days.

The first video discusses the idea that the structure we see in the Universe today — galaxies, clusters of galaxies and the three-dimensional patterns that they form — was seeded by microscopic fluctuations traceable to the innate randomness of quantum mechanics, regions of slightly higher or lower density than average. These fluctuations were originally tiny both in size — much smaller than the scale of an atom, and in amplitude — the difference between the fluctuation and the average may have been only one part in a septillion (which is 1 followed by 24 zeros). A short early period of cosmological inflation caused the fluctuations to expand to macroscopic size, and 14 billion years of gravity caused them to grow, attracting more and more matter. But don’t take my word for it — go watch Lloyd’s video.

In the next two days, Lloyd moved the discussion closer to home. First, perhaps inspired by a sunny day in California, he talks about powering the sun, or more precisely, the initial spark to the sun’s burning provided by gravity as it was formed. Finally, on Friday, Lloyd talks about neutrinos, a by-product of the sun’s nuclear burning, which gives us a way of looking directly into the center of the sun — a very difficult way, since we can only detect a tiny fraction of all of the neutrinos streaming out towards us.

(The Company’s site also has an excellent discussion between Lloyd and one his readers about some of the subtle points of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation that both Lloyd and I have spent much of our careers thinking about.)