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How does a computer play chess?
Chess is a complicated game. The computer program views it as a tree structure of all possible moves corresponding to every possible move of the opponent. But, this entire tree would consist of 10^120 board positions. Just as a comparison, the age of the universe from the Big Bang is only 10^26 nanoseconds. Hence, even powerful computers create only 10 to 20 moves into the future. An evaluation function might assign points to each chess piece depending on its value. The program then tries to maximise the total points on the board compared to the opponent to win the game.
SCIENCE
Quark by Angshuman
9 July, 2020
How do pitcher plants trap their prey?
Pitcher plants have prey trapping mechanism and are known as carnivorous plants. The leaves get modified into a pitfall trap which helps in grabbing insects and other small organisms. The rim of the pitcher is slippery and possess nectar which attracts the insects. The plant has waxy scales with circular folds inward to ensure that the insect cannot climb out. Gradually the insect body gets dissolved in the pitcher. These plants naturally grow in soil which lack minerals or if the soil is too acidic.
SCIENCE
Quark by Satabdi
6 July, 2020
Why do popcorns pop?
The popcorn seed or kernel consists of a semi-permeable shell (called pericarp), sufficient water content and starch. These three components work together to make popcorns pop when heated. When we heat the popcorn kernels, the water inside it converts into steam and starts to expand, and the starch inside it turns into a gel-like substance. The steam, being enclosed within the shell, cannot go out. When the shell can no longer withstand the pressure, the kernel explodes - POP - releasing the steam and the gel. When this gel comes in contact with air, it rapidly solidifies forming fluffy popcorn.
SCIENCE
Quark by Angshuman
4 July, 2020
How many rovers have been sent to Mars?
Rovers are one of the several different types of spacecraft sent to Mars. A rover can drive around different areas, studying different chemicals, rocks, and soil, which may also give us evidence for extraterrestrial life. Until now, NASA has sent four rovers - Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity. These rovers come equipped with toolkits which are used to study precisely different things. Rovers derive their power from the solar panels attached to them. The new Perseverance Rover launched on 30 July 2020, is expected to reach the Jezero crater on Mars on 18 February 2021.
SCIENCE
Quark by Abhik
1 July, 2020
Why do lizards lose their tail?
They lose their tail to defend themselves from predators. When a lizard detaches its tail, the tail whips around and wiggles on the ground.Sometimes the tail keeps moving for half-an-hour as the nerves are active and are still communicating with each other. This behaviour helps to distract the predator. When the new tail grows back, it is a bit different from the earlier one. The new tail is made of cartilage, so it takes time to regrow. Some squirrels also lose their tail, but their tails don't grow back again.
SCIENCE
Quark by Satabdi
30 June, 2020
What causes the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights are most visible in the night from the belt which connects Central Alaska, Canada, the southern tip of Greenland, Iceland and the Northern parts of Scandinavia. The sun produces solar winds consisting of a large amount of erupted gas that is hurled out into space. The particles of the solar wind get deflected by the earth's magnetosphere towards the poles. These high-speed beams of particles collide with the Nitrogen and Oxygen atoms in the earth's atmosphere and excite them to the state that they start emitting colourful dazzling lights. This phenomenon is called the aurora borealis.
SCIENCE
Quark by Angshuman
27 June, 2020
What is a Rapid Antigen Test(RAT)?
Rapid Antigen Test detects the presence of viral nucleoproteins (antigens) expressed by COVID-19 virus in the nasal swab sample within 20 mins. The swab is processed with reagents to disrupt the particles of the virus and expose the antigens. If the target antigen is present in sufficient concentration, it will bind to the antibodies fixed in the test strip and produce coloured lines confirming the presence of COVID-19. However, this test can detect less than 60% of all positive cases. Therefore, if the rapid antigen test result is not positive, it has to be followed by the slower RT-PCR test.
SCIENCE
Quark by Satabdi
26 June, 2020
What are the different sleep stages and how does the cycle work?
The three sleep stages are - Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep, Deep Sleep and Light Sleep. Light and deep sleep are about 20% while REM is 50% of the night. You stay awake for the remaining 10%. Every sleep cycle ends with REM, the stage where you dream and the body paralyses itself as a defence mechanism. However, sleep talking and walking are not dreams but part of your deep sleep. This stage is mostly in the first half of the night. It induces immunity and growth hormones and is the most important part of the cycle. Never wake up a person from deep sleep.
SCIENCE
Quark by Abhigyan
24 June, 2020
How Maglev trains work?
Shanghai Maglev, the fastest train, reaches a whopping operational speed of 430 km/hour. The word maglev comes from 'magnet' and 'levitation'. The train doesn't run on wheels on tracks but floats over a magnetized coil running along the track, called a guideway. The maglev track allows the train to float with repelling magnets. A constantly alternating polarity of the magnetized coils creates a unique magnetic field in front of the train to pull the vehicle forward, and another magnetic field behind the train adds more forward thrust. The aerodynamic design and lack of friction help Maglev trains reach such high speeds.
SCIENCE
Quark by Angshuman
23 June, 2020
What is the most indestructible animal on earth?
It is the aquatic eight-legged 'Tardigrade' which is microscopic and can survive an apocalypse or mass extinctions. Hence, they belong to the category of animals called extremophiles. They exhibit a survival strategy called cryptobiosis, where they can become dormant until conditions improve. They can live without food and water for up to 30 years, tolerate extreme temperatures and even survive in the vacuum of space. They contain a unique protein known as Dsup (damage suppressor) that protects their DNA from harmful radiations. They have survived for 600 million years, preceding dinosaurs by about 400 million years.
SCIENCE
Quark by Angshuman
18 June, 2020
Who was the first living creature to visit space?
On November 3rd 1957, the Soviets launched the first-ever living creature to space. It was Laika - the space dog. Picked from the streets of Moscow, Laika was a small and calm dog. The mission was a guaranteed suicide mission as there was no technology to de-orbit her back to Earth. The Russians sent her on the Sputnik-2 spacecraft. The main aim was to see how long a living creature could survive on Earth’s orbit. Unfortunately, the cooling system inside the spacecraft failed; and the temperature increased, which Laika couldn’t withstand. Laika paved the way for other cosmonauts with her life.
SCIENCE
Quark by Abhik
16 June, 2020
What is the twin paradox?
The twin paradox is an interesting thought experiment involving two identical twins, one of whom moves through space in a high-speed spaceship (86.6% of the speed of light) returns and finds her twin who stayed on earth has aged more. For the twin travelling in the spaceship, her biological processes like heartbeats and her rate of ageing will also slow down. The very perception of time will change. The faster you move through space, the slower you move through time compared to an unmoving observer. This phenomenon of slowing down of time is known as 'time dilation'.
SCIENCE
Quark by Angshuman
13 June, 2020
What's worse – interrupted or shortened sleep?
We know that loss of sleep makes people ill-tempered and depressed. A recent study showed that less sleep is better than longer periods of interrupted sleep for our positive mood. The experiment concluded that interrupted sleep lacked slow-wave sleep, which is associated with the reduction in positive mood. In interrupted sleep, any interruptions can break into our sleep cycle unpredictably at random times, thereby disturbing the regular sleep pattern. However, if we wake up at the end of each sleep cycle, the impact on our mood won't be that adverse.
SCIENCE
Quark by Satabdi
10 June, 2020
Can you travel faster than light?
According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, when an object moves faster, its mass increases and length decreases. As an object approaches the speed of light, its mass would become infinite and length nearly zero - an impossibility. So, an infinite amount of energy would be required to speed up the object to the speed of light. Light is composed of massless photons, which possess natural energy as they travel in waves. This makes it possible for light to reach a speed of 299,792,458 m/s in vacuum. Paradoxically, the Universe expands at speeds greater than the speed of light.
SCIENCE
Quark by Angshuman
9 June, 2020
Why do baby spiders eat their mother?
Mother spiders make the ultimate sacrifice for their young ones. Not just mothers, but other female spiders also go to extreme lengths to save the colony's young ones. After the eggs hatch, the mother and the other female spiders begin producing a nourishing fluid, which consumes almost all their resources. In the end, the female spiders start to liquefy. The off-springs will finally crawl onto the depleted mother and start eating her. This process is known as 'matriphagy' and is an effective means of survival for these species. It is a rare behaviour found in some spiders, insects and some nematodes.
SCIENCE
Quark by Satabdi
4 June, 2020
Why plants don’t get sunburn?
Plants require sunlight to make their food, but they also need protection from its harmful rays. If plants are exposed to harsh ultraviolet radiations daily, then it may cause damage to the plant DNA. Plants can make their chemical sunscreen, which protects plants from harmful solar radiation (sunburn) and allows them to carry on photosynthesis. These natural sunscreens protect the plants much in the same way that sunscreen lotions protect the human skin from the dangerous effects of ultraviolet light exposures.
SCIENCE
Quark by Satabdi
3 June, 2020
How does Wireless Charging work?
Wireless charging works by transferring energy from the charger to a receiver on the back of the device via electromagnetic induction, which discovered by Michael Farraday in 1831. Charging pads work on the principle that a time-varying magnetic field induces a current in a coil. There are three types of wireless charging: tightly-coupled inductive, loosely-coupled resonant and uncoupled charging. Charging pads that are in usage today use the first two methods. The third method promises the possibility of contact-less wireless charging in the future. It can work just like a wifi network and charge all our devices.
SCIENCE
Quark by Angshuman
2 June, 2020
Why do Helium balloons rise upwards?
Helium is an inert gas and is used to inflate blimps and balloons. For a Helium-filled balloon to rise in the atmosphere, it must be lighter than the weight of the volume of air displaced by it. This phenomenon is called buoyancy. Gravity pulls the heavier air displaced by the balloon towards the Earth, and hence the Helium balloon goes up. In the absence of gravity, there would be no specific direction for the balloon to move. As the balloon ascends, the pressure of the surrounding air decreases and the Helium inside expands. Finally, the Helium balloon bursts.
SCIENCE
Quark by Satabdi
1 June, 2020
How do viruses jump from animals to humans?
Every virus evolves to target a particular species. So, after the initial evolution, the virus tends to jump from the host to a target species. When the virus passes to the new host (a process called zoonosis), it often causes more severe diseases. Because viruses and their initial hosts have evolved together, the initial host has had time to build up resistance. However, the new host species might not have evolved the ability to tackle the virus. Thus, if humans come in contact with animals bearing the virus, humans may develop deadly diseases, while those animals are themselves less affected.
SCIENCE
Quark by Satabdi
30 May, 2020
Can you fool a lie detector?
Lying makes the heart race, drives up the blood pressure, and makes people sweat. The polygraph uses these physiological changes to detect lies. The machine needs to baseline the vitals, and hence it needs to be calibrated with some “control” questions. The polygraph compares these reactions to those of the relevant questions. A simple way to beat the lie-detector is to induce stress while answering the control questions and keeping calm while answering the relevant ones. Biting the tongue, imagining a fall from a building, or trying to solve a difficult math problem can distort the baseline vitals.
SCIENCE
Quark by Satabdi
25 May, 2020
What is herd immunity?
A virus such as COVID-19 can spread like wildfire when no one is immune to the virus. When a fraction of the population becomes immune through natural exposure to the virus or vaccination, the spread slows down. Herd immunity is a state where immune individuals will protect non-immune individuals from the virus by slowing it down. Herd immunity depends on the reproductive rate of the virus (R0), which is the average number of people that an infected person could spread the virus. Herd immunity happens when (R0 - 1)/R0 fraction of the population becomes immune to the virus.
SCIENCE
Quark by Angshuman
24 May, 2020
Which is the creature with shortest lifespan?
Mayflies are aquatic insects with the shortest lifespan of about 24 hours. Actually, they consume algae in the larval stage for 1-2 years to emerge as winged adults. After they shed their larval shells, they have only 24 hours to take to the air, find a mate, breed and die. Adult mayflies don’t have functional mouth and don’t eat. They emerge in summer months in large numbers and are hence known as ‘mayflies’. Mayflies can only survive in clean water environments. The presence or absence of Mayfly larvae is an important indicator of water pollution.
SCIENCE
Quark by Satabdi
23 May, 2020
What is the smallest thing in the Universe?
Quarks are one of the most fundamental units of matter. They are the smallest thing in the universe. They are bound together by strong force carried by hypothetical particles called gluons and form ‘hadrons’ such as pions, neutrons and protons. Quarks sometimes pair with anti-quarks, which are identical to quarks but with some opposite nature. The evidence for their existence came from a series of inelastic electron-neutron scattering experiments carried out at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre. Until now, six types of quarks have been discovered: up, down, strange, charm, top, and bottom.
SCIENCE
Quark by Abhik
22 May, 2020
Why were pigeons used for sending messages?
Pigeons were used for sending messages because they could fly over 1600 miles at 60 miles per hour. A particular breed of pigeons called "homing pigeons" is especially suited for carrying messages. Pigeon post was widely used by the military, newspapers, and stockbrokers. Pigeons were transported by land over long distances in cages and attached with messages. Because of their natural homing abilities, they could fly back to their homes with the piece of parchment. Scientists believe that pigeons follow the Earth's magnetic field for guidance. Recent research shows that pigeons might be able to use low-frequency infra-sounds to find their way home.
SCIENCE
Quark by Satabdi
21 May, 2020
Do you think tortoises and turtles are the same?
Tortoises are entirely land creatures. They are a type of turtle that lives on land but are not equipped for living in water. Unlike turtles, who are omnivores, tortoises are vegetarians. The latter have shells that are large dome-shaped and are heavier than turtles, whose shells are mostly flat and streamlined. Tortoises have limbs with short bent legs that are designed for tucking around on land. But turtles have webbed feet with long claws. So, all tortoises are turtles but not all turtles are tortoises.
SCIENCE
Quark by Satabdi
20 May, 2020
What is the largest living structure on the Earth?
The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the world’s largest coral reef comprising of over 3000 individual reef systems. It is known for its breath-taking beauty and is called one of the seven natural wonders in the world. Spanning over 2300 km, it is larger than the Great Wall of China and is the only living structure that is visible from space. It is one of the richest and most complex natural ecosystems and is inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage. Rising water temperatures, water pollution, severe cyclones, and starfish outbreaks have weakened the reef’s resilience and threatened its very existence.
SCIENCE
Quark by Angshuman
17 May, 2020
Why is sponge considered as an animal?
Sea sponges are one of the simplest organisms and belong to the phylum Porifera meaning 'pore-bearer'. They are multicellular organisms without any nervous system, brain or heart. They have bodies full of pores and channels, allowing water to circulate through them. Though they can't move, they are considered aquatic animals and not plants. This is because they lack cell walls and cannot produce food through photosynthesis. They capture tiny microbes and planktons from the surroundings. They are one of the most primitive organisms on earth with fossils dating more than 635 Million years ago.
SCIENCE
Quark by Satabdi
15 May, 2020
How did vaccination start?
During the smallpox outbreak in the 18th century, people used to huff powders made of smallpox scabs or insert pus into their skin. They hoped that they would only get a milder version of smallpox and become immune. However, these methods were not full-proof. People still suffered from full-blown smallpox. Edward Jenner, a scientist, realised that milkmaids hardly ever got smallpox. He discovered that milkmaids were routinely exposed to a similar yet milder kind of disease called cowpox. So, Jenner inoculated a boy with cowpox; and, to his surprise, the boy became immune to smallpox too. Thus, vaccination came into existence.
SCIENCE
Quark by Abhik
14 May, 2020
Why do honeybees die after stinging?
Honeybees sting when they sense a threat to the hive as a defensive mechanism. However, it stings only when it feels a physical threat while foraging. When it stings, it dies. It cannot pull its barbed stingers back as it gets stuck in the victim's skin. Thus, it leaves a part of its digestive tract, nerves and muscles along with the stinger. This massive abdominal rupture kills the bee. The worker bees that die by stinging don't reproduce. They defend their reproducing relatives inside the hive. So, this sacrifice does make sense from an evolutionary perspective.
SCIENCE
Quark by Satabdi
13 May, 2020
Why do aircrafts leave trails behind them?
Ever wondered about the trails left behind by jets? These trails are basically called condensation trails called contrails. When jet fuel is burned, one of the products of combustion is water in vapour form. The temperature at 37,000 feet above the ground is below -40°C. So when water vapour exits the high temperature exhausts, it comes in contact with the very cold atmosphere and undergo rapid condensation. These water droplets soon turn into ice and thus we see contrails left behind. We see them some distance apart from the engine because condensation takes a slight amount of time.
SCIENCE
Quark by Siddharth
10 May, 2020
What is Imprinting?
Some new born birds or animals follow the first object they see. This is called 'imprinting' and it explains why some birds and animals behave exactly the way they do. They learn to recognise and mimic the actions of the first thing they see which is mostly their mother. The young ones have an instinct of following moving objects and learns from experience what object to follow. This is how young ones stay safe close to their mother and follow her everywhere. Did you know that birds can also imprint humans? So first impression is sometimes the last impression.
SCIENCE
Quark by Angshuman
9 May, 2020
Why do ‘Onions’ make us cry?
Onions belong to the Allium Family and produce tasty bulbs in the first year of its life-cycle to store energy. To stop predators from eating the bulb, it has a defence mechanism for its survival. Onions release a volatile chemical called propanethial S-oxide, which is also known as lachrymatory factor (LF). When onions are chopped, the cells within them are broken and release this eye-stinging volatile chemical. It quickly evaporates and reaches the eyes producing a small amount of acid. Reflexive tears well up as our defence mechanism to remove this pesky irritant from the eyes.
SCIENCE
Quark by Satabdi
4 May, 2020
What is the farthest man-made object from us?
Voyager 1 - a space probe launched by NASA is the farthest artificial object from the Earth. Till now it has travelled a total distance of 17.9 Billion kilometres since its launch from Florida on 5th Sep 1977. Light takes around 16 hours to travel from the probe to us. The probe is still moving with a velocity of 17,087 m/s (38,200 mph or 61,400 km/h). Most of its scientific equipment have already been shut down due to lack of power. In a few years, it will no longer be able to power its remaining equipment.
SCIENCE
Quark by Abhik
3 May, 2020
Why do Stars Twinkle?
Although stars have a constant brightness, we see them twinkle. This is because of the earth’s atmosphere. Light from the distant stars acts as a point source and passes through various layers of the atmosphere differing in temperatures and densities. Each of the boundaries between these layers refracts the light bending it in a slightly different direction every moment. This makes stars twinkle. Interestingly, planets don’t twinkle that much as they are much closer. The light bouncing off from planets are in the form of a disc and not a single point like the distant stars. This averages out the twinkling effect.
SCIENCE
Quark by Angshuman
2 May, 2020
Can blind people dream?
Yes. Blind people can have dreams too. The subconscious mind starts functioning in our sleep and they are not an exception. However, the amount of visual dreams depend on what age they lost their sight. But people who are born blind mostly dream the same way as us with the other senses - touch, smell, hearing and taste. They do not have visual dreams. Not just humans, but do you know animals have dreams too? They dream about their day to day life, like grazing, hunting and surviving.
SCIENCE
Quark by Abhigyan
1 May, 2020
How is a star born?
Gravitational attraction causes a large amount of interstellar gas (mostly Hydrogen) to collapse in on itself. This causes the atoms to collide at great speeds generating enormous heat. This heat causes the Hydrogen atoms to merge while colliding, forming Helium atoms. The fusion of Hydrogen into Helium releases massive heat and light which makes the stars shine. This additional heat creates enough pressure of the gas to balance the gravitational force that prevents the star from collapsing. The whole process takes more than 10 Mn Years. Thus, a star is born.
SCIENCE
Quark by Angshuman
28 April, 2020
How electric eels produce electricity?
The bodies of electric eels have electric organs that are made up of electrolytes. These organs are lined up and stacked allowing them the ability to store power, much like small batteries inside a torch. Hence, each cell adds to a potential difference and a current of ions can flow through them. Electric eels, with their electric ability can communicate, navigate and stun their preys. They can discharge upto 860 volts and one ampere of current.
SCIENCE
Quark by Abhigyan
24 April, 2020
Is JellyFish really a Fish?
Jellyfish aren’t really fish but gelatinous zooplankton; composed of 95% water. The remaining 5% is structural proteins, muscles and nerve cells. They are made of a jelly-like material 'Mesoglea'. They got no brain, heart, bones or blood. They came 500 million years back, primitive to even dinosaurs. Some are even bioluminescent, producing their own light. Heard of Box jellyfish? The most venomous marine animals in the world! A type of jellyfish, Turritopsis Dohrnii is the only animal in the world that can reverse its lifecycle and hence called immortal.
SCIENCE
Quark by Satabdi
23 April, 2020
What causes Lightning?
Colliding particles of water vapour and ice inside clouds create electrical charges. Heavier negative charged particles sink to the bottom of the cloud and positively charged particles accumulate at the top. When these electrical fields become large enough, a giant spark of electric discharge is created. This causes lightning. Most lightning occurs between clouds but a few occur between clouds and the earth. A flash of lightning contains up to 1 billion volts of electricity and can heat the surrounding air to temperatures 5 times hotter than the sun’s surface.
SCIENCE
Quark by Angshuman
21 April, 2020
Why does the sky appear blue?
Sunlight is made of different colours of light which have different wavelengths. The atmosphere of the earth is composed of very small molecules of Nitrogen, Oxygen, Water Vapour, Carbon Dioxide, Argon and traces of other gases. These molecules scatter the shorter and higher-energy wavelengths of light more efficiently than other wavelengths. Though violet light is scattered more than blue light, our eyes respond more strongly to blue light and hence the sky appears blue.
SCIENCE
Quark by Angshuman
20 April, 2020