A near miss by a sizable asteroid has spurred people to construct an impact-proof vault in the permafrost on the island of Svalbard. What is this vault intended to store and protect, to ensure that it is preserved for posterity?
- Critical historical documents and archaeological relics.
- Examples of important technological devices and instructions on how to build them.
- Top secret information on satellites, security, and communication contributed by world leaders.
- A stash of Oreo cookies and the recipe thereof.
"As an added precaution," Nabisco announced, "the Oreo packs are wrapped in mylar, which can withstand temperatures from -80 degrees to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and is impervious to chemical reactions, moisture and air, keeping the cookies fresh and protected for years to come."
This week's Skeptophilia book recommendation of the week is about one of the deepest mysteries in science: the origin of time.
Most physical processes are time-reversible. If you looked at a video of a ball bouncing off a wall, then looked at the same video clip in reverse, it would be really difficult to tell which was the forward one and which the backwards one. Down to the subatomic level, physical processes tend to make no distinction based upon the "arrow of time."
And yet our experience of time is very, very different. We remember the past and don't know anything about the future. Cause and effect proceed in that order, always. Time only flows one direction, and most reputable physicists believe that real time travel is fundamentally impossible. You can alter the rate at which time flows -- differences in duration in different reference frames are a hallmark of the theory of relativity -- but its direction seems to be unchanging and eternal.
Why? This doesn't arise naturally from any known theory. Truly, it is still a mystery, although today we're finally beginning to pry open the door a little, and peek at what is going on in this oddest of physical processes.
In The Order of Time, by physicist Carlo Rovelli (author of the wonderful Seven Brief Lectures in Physics), we learn what's at the cutting edge of theory and research into this unexplained, but everyday and ubiquitous, experience. It is a fascinating read -- well worth the time it will take you to ponder the questions it raises.
[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]