Down and Nerdy podcast

IN WHICH matters interstellar are celebrated, and a notable British showman raises eyebrows with a nifty trick.

Briana’s pick: The Hubble telescope

hubble telescopeOriginally I was going to continue the fantasy games theme this week (apparently Gossip Girl, Project Runway, plus a number of other tv shows have competitive gaming leagues similar to fantasy sports), but I was deterred by a more interesting and much more important event—new images of the universe thanks to the recent repair and improvement of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Regardless of how you feel about space exploration, in our lifetime, few scientific projects will rival the discoveries made by the Hubble. The instrument’s contributions to science (astronomy in particular) are some of the most significant of the last 50 years. Thanks to the depth and clarity of its work, scientists now know the age of the universe (13-14 billion years old), have a better understanding of how galaxies form and collapse, and confirmed the existence of dark energy (in turn proving the presence of black holes).

Since its launch in 1990, the Telescope has been serviced five times, most recently in May of 2009. It is the only telescope designed to be repaired by astronauts in space. Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of PBS show NOVA scienceNOW compares repairing the Telescope to changing a light bulb on a priceless chandelier, while wearing boxing gloves and standing on the top of a tall, rickety ladder to reach it (in the oxygen deprived death vacuum that is outer space).

You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to understand the awesomeness of the Hubble Space Telescope. It’s really really really freaking awesome. Really. Check out NOVA scienceNOW’s short segment on the Hubble’s recent repair by clicking here. Then for a more in-depth feature watch NOVA on KET-1, October 13th at 8pm.

James’ pick: Derren Brown’s lottery trick

Derren Brown is an “English magician, illusionist, mentalist, painter and sceptic.” He’s kinda like a blend of Penn & Teller, David Blaine and Criss Angel, but nowhere near as annoying as any of them. He does really amazing stuff using basic psychology, an understanding of human nature and the power of suggestion.

Let me tell you now, watching Derren Brown is a rabbit hole you will disappear into. You start watching for a few minutes on YouTube, and look up to find your Friday has disappeared. Truly addictive stuff.

This week he’s launching a new four-part series of BBC specials called “The Events,” and for the first one, he “predicted” the lottery draw, live on television Wednesday night. He promises to explain how it’s done in a one-hour special airing tonight (Friday).

Here’s the clip of him predicting the numbers, and revealing them moments after they were drawn on live TV:

It’s a good trick, isn’t it? He’s an amazing entertainer and showman, and the fact that he’s a skeptic makes it more fun, because he’s not hiding behind some goofy storyline – he’s just very, very smart and creative.

I think I know how he did this. Watch the left side of the screen very closely, right around 2:06, and you’ll see a subtle shift in the color and texture of the screen. You’ll also see the shadow on the base of the pedestal get a little bit darker. I believe we have a split screen here, and the left side of the screen is showing pre-recorded footage of the pedestal. While he’s writing the numbers down, an associate is putting the numbered balls into place. Right before he walks over, the cameras switch.

Still, amazing! And the exposition should be fun to watch, too.

Next week, he promises to use subliminal messages to make it physically impossible for people to get up and walk away from the TV.