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Duvessa
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Ask A Science Question!

Post by Duvessa » 12/10/09

No, really, ask!

I'd love for some people to throw out some science question they have always wondered about, and see if I can answer it. I need to work my brain, and satisfy my need to babble!

SCIENCE!

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Brighthawk » 12/10/09

Bottom of the ocean exploration VS Space exploration. We have not really done all that much with either field.

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Valkh » 12/10/09

Where do babies come from?

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Duvessa » 12/10/09

Peralin wrote:Bottom of the ocean exploration VS Space exploration. We have not really done all that much with either field.
Here's irony for you. It's FAR easier to live in space than it is to live in extreme depths. In both cases, it has to do with pressure.

It's relatively easy to protect against a vacuum. What's happening is that the air in your space ship, station, or habitat, wants to escape. All you have to do is seal off a space, and the air isn't going anywhere. Pressure wants to force to air OUT. But from our daily lives, we all know that air is pretty wimpy. We've had the technology since the 40's to create good enough seals to hold in air against a vacuum. Add some material strength to fight off impacts of small objects, and some radiation shielding, and you're golden, more or less. The problem is that getting anything to orbit is prohibitively expensive. It's "cost to orbit" that is the most enormous expense.

One idea some people had was to take the external fuel tank the Space Shuttle, and carry it into orbit. With some basic modifications, the tank could be made to serve as a big empty module. You could string a bunch together, and create enormous workspaces. NASA decided it just wasn't practical for the kind of space work they wanted to do, though.

By comparison, protecting against water pressure are deep ocean deaths is enormously hard. In that case, the sea wants to push IN, crushing you like a tin can. It's the material strength of your sub versus the constant crushing pressure of the sea. Most of the deep ocean is under pressures of 3000 to 9000 pounds per square inch (or about the equivalent of 100 to 300 times the air pressure in automobile tires). At the Mariana Trench, 35,802 ft (10,912 m) (and the deepest point on earth) the pressure is over 8 tons per square inch, or the equivalent of an average-sized woman holding up 48 jumbo jets. We just don't have the materials to easily survive those kinds of depths. This limits our exploration to small robotic vehicles and sonar probes mostly.

We CAN actually make it down that deep. As far back as 1960, the US Navy got a small manned probe to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. It's just so insanely dangerous that we prefer to send remote probes. Also, the bigger the ship, the harder it is to protect so much interior space against the pressure, so any manned missions are limited to very small craft. The smaller the craft, the less science you can do, and again, it just becomes easier to yield living space to instruments and leave the people on the surface.

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Szerath » 12/10/09

Do they use magnetic fields to contain volatile material?

They being users of science.

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Duvessa » 12/10/09

Valkh wrote:Where do babies come from?
Men make them. Men. Women are graciously allowed to carry them to term.

For example: Henry the VIII went through several wives, in part because they kept bearing him female offspring. Henry thought this was their fault. He was, of course right.

In 1536 Henry became engaged to Jane Seymour, one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting to whom the king had been showing favor for some time. In her, he finally found a woman strong enough to carry his man-seed without corrupting it. They were married 10 days later. At about the same time as this, his third marriage, Henry granted his assent to the Laws in Wales Act 1535, which legally annexed Wales, uniting England and Wales into one unified nation.

This was followed by the Act of Succession 1536, which declared Henry's children by Queen Jane to be next in the line of succession and declared both the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth illegitimate, thus excluding them from the throne. The king was granted the power to further determine the line of succession in his will. In 1537, Jane gave birth to a son, Prince Edward, the future Edward VI. The birth was difficult and the queen died at Hampton Court Palace on 24 October 1537 from complications relating to carrying such a manly man's man-child in her belly. After Jane's death, the entire court mourned with Henry for an extended period. Henry considered Jane to be his "true" wife, being the only one who had given him the male heir he so rightfully sought. He was later to be buried next to her at his death.

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Salvius » 12/10/09

Can mankind successfully interbreed with any other species? (Successfully for purposes of procreation. No. I'm not wanting to try.)

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Duvessa » 12/10/09

Szerath wrote:Do they use magnetic fields to contain volatile material?

They being users of science.
Yep! They're commonly called magnetic bottles! There's specific names for various kinds, "magnetic mirror", "Penning trap", and so on.

These real-life "force fields" take an enormous amount of energy to contain anything really big, using magnetism to hold material without it actually touching any other matter. There's two primary uses of magnetic containment: In capturing anti-matter, which would annihilate on contact with any physical container, and in high-energy plasma, which would melt any container we can currently create.

There's a very practical use for magnetic bottles. A fusion reactor would generate so much heat that no surface could contain it. However, it's possible to generate a magnetic field to hold in the plasma, keeping it millimeters from the containment vessel's physical walls.

Here's a shot of a magnetic containment system in action:

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And here's a levitating frog.

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Duvessa » 12/10/09

Salvius wrote:Can mankind successfully interbreed with any other species? (Successfully for purposes of procreation. No. I'm not wanting to try.)
If you mean naturally, then no, not even with our closest genetic relatives among the primates, there's just too many genetic differences. For a practical example, take a look at dogs. All dogs are descendants of wolves. Everything, from the husky to the poodle are the process of artificial selection by humans over 15,000 years. There is now so much difference between wolves and many species of dog, that they can no longer mate and produce viable offspring. If I recall correctly, male wolves can get female dogs pregnant, but the reverse almost never works.

The artificial selection in my example is just a speed up version of a natural process. The millions of years that separate our species from our closest relatives have done the same thing.

However, parahumans (the technical name for a human hybrid) are possible artificially. There is currently a project underway in Newcastle University and King's College London to make human-bovine hybrid embryos for disease research. These will never be brought to term, of course, and bring up a slew of ethical debates.

It may also be possible to create somatic hybrids, these are humans who would be hybrids after birth. If they had children, they would be natural-born humans. Giving hope to millions of furries and anime fans everywhere that tails and cat ears are in their future.

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Valkh » 12/10/09

Duvessa wrote:
Valkh wrote:Where do babies come from?
Men make them. Men. Women are graciously allowed to carry them to term.

I love you.

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Salvius » 12/10/09

Interesting answer, thank you!

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Audina » 12/10/09

Why do the electric currents in the brain go so totally awry in some people?

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Valkh » 12/10/09

Okay. Serious question.


How far along are scientists with particle teleportation? There used to be a research lab near a school I went to that worked on it and have always found it pretty fascinating.

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Duvessa » 12/10/09

Audina wrote:Why do the electric currents in the brain go so totally awry in some people?
WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY outside of any education I have, but....

Skipping all specifics, think of it this way... it's electricity and water. The opportunities for disaster abound.

When you're speaking of electrical activity in the brain, you're talking mostly about neurons aka "nerve cells", which communicate information using electrical signaling. There's more than one kind of neuron, specialized, for example, to process sound, touch, and other information taking from your various sensory organs.

There's a LOT of things that can go wrong. I'll only give a fix examples, but you could find tons more.

One is "demyelination". Myelin is an electrical insulator around the sheathes of neurons. Think of it almost literally like you would the plastic on a power cord. When a wire becomes stripped of its insulation, it can short out. Exactly the same thing can happen in the brain.

Chemical toxins can reduce neuronal activity. If you slow down the function of neurons in a specific region of the brain, for example, you get Parkinson's Disease. Genetics can play a factor too, causing malformed neurons.

There's also neurotransmitters, chemicals that relay and amplify the signal from a neuron to another cell. If those chemicals are imbalanced in some way, the whole internal communication system of the brain can break down. Epilepsy is often genetic, and is a release of too much neurotransmitters, to toxic levels.

Repeated electric shocks, chemicals, and scarring from physical trauma to the head can also cause lasting damage to the brains neurotransmitter systems.

Here's a great blog by a neuroscientist:

https://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?cat=8

I pre-set it to filter only his neurology articles. If you go to:

https://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/

You'll find all of his articles, which go well beyond neurology.

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Duvessa » 12/10/09

Valkh wrote:How far along are scientists with particle teleportation? There used to be a research lab near a school I went to that worked on it and have always found it pretty fascinating.
Right now we have the ability to do "Quantum teleportation", which is a way of transmitting quantum information from one system to an identical system on the other end. There are some interesting possibilities for light-speed communication here, but not faster than light, and no particles are transmitted. The super awesome thing about this is that the information transfer is perfect, and it works through anything. Radios have static, they can't go through walls, wired networks have packet loss, and so on. But you can't move matter with it.

Some physicists have speculated that we might one day be able to teleport atoms in some fashion, but it will be extremely difficult. Teleporting a person needs one of two things 1) Huge chunks of what we know about physics to be completely wrong. or 2) God-like levels of super technology.

There's no conceivable way right now to separate the individual atoms that make up an object. Even if you could, you'd have to separate every atom in the object at once. If you didn't, for example, a human would start bleeding out instantly from any space created by the atoms being teleported away. You'd have to know, with sub-atomic detail, the exact three-dimensional position of an atom, you'd have to take into account that an object is moving, even a little bit. Humans especially have all these moving bits. Everything has to be reconnected back together in exactly the right way, so you have to get it all at once, or not at all. We have no way of holding a person -perfectly- still for transport.

Assuming for the sake of argument that we could dis-assemble a person without destroying them, we have to then hold all of that information about them. So let's talk about storage. The number of atoms in one person is almost too big to write out. Let's assume an average adult weighs 70 kilograms. A 70 kg body would have approximately 7*10^27 atoms. That is, 7 followed by 27 zeros:

7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

That many atoms. But you need to store more than just the atoms, you need to store each atom's number of protons, neutrons, and electrons.

That's something like 84,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 separate particles. Your 3D positioning system has to hold 3 coordinates with a precision of a billionth of an inch for every single one of those particles and then transmit that data. Doing some calculations in my head, and playing very conservatively, at minimum, it would take 200,000,000,000,000 one terabyte solid state hard drives to store all the information on one person, and it be one tenth the size of the moon.

Clearly we have some problems to overcome. Transmitting that data would take a hell of a long time, and even assuming you could dis-assemble, store, and transmit someone, putting them back together would be insanely more difficult than the miracle of taking them apart.

BUT.

There is hope.

Teleportation like in Star Trek is more than likely never going to be possible on any practical level. But the universe just might be kind enough to allow us to create wormholes between two points in space, that we could just walk through. Taking matter apart and putting it back together so perfectly requires a technology I can't even begin to imagine, but wormhole travel, however crazy it might sound, is more within the realm of possibility than Star-Trek like transporters.

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Irrl » 12/10/09

Here is a fun one for you :D

How and why do astronauts travel forward in time?

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Duvessa » 12/10/09

Irrl wrote:How and why do astronauts travel forward in time?
Easy answer! Einstein did all the heavy lifting for me!

We tend to think of space and time as two separate things, but they are not, they're spacetime. Mass distorts spacetime. As everyone knows, gravity is created by mass. The bigger the mass of an object, the bigger it's gravity. Gravity is, simply (but not really), matter falling "down" in the direction of the distortion in spacetime created by a larger mass. That's the spatial distortion caused by mass, but mass also distorts time. Earth is heavy enough to slow down time compared to open space.

The further you are away from a mass, the less its gravitic and its temporal effects. Two atomic clocks have been synchronized on Earth, and one flown up in the Space Shuttle. The one that went into space came back running slightly faster than the one left behind.

Technically speaking you aren't moving forward in time, you're just experiencing the effects of relativity. The speed of time is relative to your location.

The speed of time is also relative to motion. Take the same two clocks, put them on the Space Shuttle, and accelerate the Space Shuttle to the speed of light. After three hours, ship-time, the Shuttle would come back to earth, something like 40 years later. According to general relativity, mass and energy are connected. You get the same distortions in spacetime with a small mass at enormous energy as you get with a huge mass at low energy.

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Aliee » 12/10/09

Duvessa wrote:
Audina wrote:Why do the electric currents in the brain go so totally awry in some people?
WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY outside of any education I have, but....

Skipping all specifics, think of it this way... it's electricity and water. The opportunities for disaster abound.

When you're speaking of electrical activity in the brain, you're talking mostly about neurons aka "nerve cells", which communicate information using electrical signaling. There's more than one kind of neuron, specialized, for example, to process sound, touch, and other information taking from your various sensory organs.

There's a LOT of things that can go wrong. I'll only give a fix examples, but you could find tons more.

One is "demyelination". Myelin is an electrical insulator around the sheathes of neurons. Think of it almost literally like you would the plastic on a power cord. When a wire becomes stripped of its insulation, it can short out. Exactly the same thing can happen in the brain.

Chemical toxins can reduce neuronal activity. If you slow down the function of neurons in a specific region of the brain, for example, you get Parkinson's Disease. Genetics can play a factor too, causing malformed neurons.

There's also neurotransmitters, chemicals that relay and amplify the signal from a neuron to another cell. If those chemicals are imbalanced in some way, the whole internal communication system of the brain can break down. Epilepsy is often genetic, and is a release of too much neurotransmitters, to toxic levels.

Repeated electric shocks, chemicals, and scarring from physical trauma to the head can also cause lasting damage to the brains neurotransmitter systems.

Here's a great blog by a neuroscientist:

http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?cat=8

I pre-set it to filter only his neurology articles. If you go to:

http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/

You'll find all of his articles, which go well beyond neurology.
I hope you don't mind me butting in, Duvessa. You're not far off, but I thought I might add to your answer. Epilepsy is not my specialty, but "excitotoxicity" is my specialty, and "excitotoxicity" is a significant part of the problem in epilepsy.

Excitotoxicity means toxic or harmful levels of excitement. As Duvessa mentioned, neurons are "electrical" cells, but if you want to be more precise, neurons are "electrochemical" cells. Why do I make the distinction? Its the neurotransmitters, which are chemicals. Here's what happens in "normal" neuronal signaling, using the power-cord analogy that Duvessa used.

A sensory neuron picks up a signal and this signal generates an electrical impulse (think the flip of a switch in an electrical circuit). The electrical impulse travels the length of the neuron in much the same way electricity travels the length of a cord. Like Duvessa says, the neuron is insulated by myelin just as the electrical cord is insulated by plastic. Remove the myelin (or the plastic) and you short-circuit the signal. When the electrical impulse reaches the end of the neuron, it causes the release of neurotransmitters (chemicals). These chemicals are dumped into what's called the synapse, and they activate chemical receptors on the "post-synaptic" neuron, i.e. the next neuron in line. You can think of the synapse the way you might think of a wall-socket and plug. The chemicals generate an electrical impulse in the next neuron and the process repeats itself until it gets to its destination.

In things like "memory", you don't always reach a specific destination. You just send electrical pulses through the brain and these pulses cause permanent changes in your brain that scientists think relate to memory.

Alright... so what's happening in epilepsy then? Well, as Duvessa mentioned, a lot of things can go wrong to cause epilepsy, but here's what normally happens. First, during development, some neurons get out of place. We're not really sure why, but they just don't go where they are supposed to. They set up circuits that aren't supposed to be there and often the circuits loop back on themselves. What does that mean? In normal neuronal circuits, you initiate the electrical impulse and it travels down the line, sending the signal only once. In epilepsy, it sends the same signal thousands of times in rapid succession.

Second, unlike power cords, neurons "learn". The more you use a signaling pathway, the easier it is to activate that pathway. That's how we get memory (or at least how scientist think we get memory). In epilepsy, you have these pathways that aren't supposed to be there. That's bad. But its made worse by the fact that activation of these pathways makes it easier to activate them in the future. The neurons start dumping out more chemicals and they start building more receptors.

Third, neurons can only take so much abuse before they fry. This is where the "toxic" part of "excitotoxicity" comes in, and this is the part that I'm trying to learn how to stop. As neurons dump out more chemicals and as they build more receptors for that chemicals, they start running out of energy and start producing toxic by-products from their frantic efforts to produce more energy. As these toxic by-products build up in the cell, the neurons die. This has the rather unfortunate effect of dumping a whole bunch of unused neurotransmitter into the surrounding environment. Now you have neurotransmitter in areas where it isn't supposed to be and that neurotransmitter activates neuronal circuits that aren't supposed to be activated. The result? More seizures.

The good news is: Scientists are working on the problem. Epilepsy is a horrible, frustrating condition, but we are getting better at treating it, and one day, I really believe we'll lick it.

Anyway... hope that helps... and I hope that I didn't... I don't know... sound too... nerdy? I've been working on this stuff a long time :(

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Duvessa » 12/10/09

Oh thank Sagan. *hugs Aliee* First on a good answer, and second and confirming I wasn't talking completely out of my ass.

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Valkh » 12/10/09

Duvessa wrote:
Irrl wrote:How and why do astronauts travel forward in time?
Easy answer! Einstein did all the heavy lifting for me!

We tend to think of space and time as two separate things, but they are not, they're spacetime. Mass distorts spacetime. As everyone knows, gravity is created by mass. The bigger the mass of an object, the bigger it's gravity. Gravity is, simply (but not really), matter falling "down" in the direction of the distortion in spacetime created by a larger mass. That's the spatial distortion caused by mass, but mass also distorts time. Earth is heavy enough to slow down time compared to open space.

The further you are away from a mass, the less its gravitic and its temporal effects. Two atomic clocks have been synchronized on Earth, and one flown up in the Space Shuttle. The one that went into space came back running slightly faster than the one left behind.

Technically speaking you aren't moving forward in time, you're just experiencing the effects of relativity. The speed of time is relative to your location.

The speed of time is also relative to motion. Take the same two clocks, put them on the Space Shuttle, and accelerate the Space Shuttle to the speed of light. After three hours, ship-time, the Shuttle would come back to earth, something like 40 years later. According to general relativity, mass and energy are connected. You get the same distortions in spacetime with a small mass at enormous energy as you get with a huge mass at low energy.

Brain. Hurt.

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Duvessa » 12/10/09

OK... um.. how's this.

More gravity, slower time. Less gravity, faster time.

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Urdis » 12/10/09

Duvessa wrote:
Valkh wrote:Where do babies come from?
Men make them. Men. Women are graciously allowed to carry them to term.

For example: Henry the VIII went through several wives, in part because they kept bearing him female offspring. Henry thought this was their fault. He was, of course right.

In 1536 Henry became engaged to Jane Seymour, one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting to whom the king had been showing favor for some time. In her, he finally found a woman strong enough to carry his man-seed without corrupting it. They were married 10 days later. At about the same time as this, his third marriage, Henry granted his assent to the Laws in Wales Act 1535, which legally annexed Wales, uniting England and Wales into one unified nation.

This was followed by the Act of Succession 1536, which declared Henry's children by Queen Jane to be next in the line of succession and declared both the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth illegitimate, thus excluding them from the throne. The king was granted the power to further determine the line of succession in his will. In 1537, Jane gave birth to a son, Prince Edward, the future Edward VI. The birth was difficult and the queen died at Hampton Court Palace on 24 October 1537 from complications relating to carrying such a manly man's man-child in her belly. After Jane's death, the entire court mourned with Henry for an extended period. Henry considered Jane to be his "true" wife, being the only one who had given him the male heir he so rightfully sought. He was later to be buried next to her at his death.

This is the best answer i have ever seen for any question, ever.

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Irrl » 12/10/09

*Applauds the thread*

Loving this so very much :mrgreen: And that was possibly the most concise explanation of general relativity I've ever seen!

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Mynx » 12/11/09

If you went back in time and changed something, when you returned to the present wouldn't you just be in another parallel universe? If, of course, parallel universes exist. Would you then have disappeared from the original universe you came from?

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Re: Ask A Science Question!

Post by Duvessa » 12/11/09

Mynx wrote:If you went back in time and changed something, when you returned to the present wouldn't you just be in another parallel universe? If, of course, parallel universes exist. Would you then have disappeared from the original universe you came from?
There's lots of theories about time travel, and general relativity DOES allow for time travel. We, as of yet, have no way of answering your question. There is some interesting speculation though. Some theories put out by legitimate scientists try to address your question.

The Novikov self-consistency principle states that it is possible to travel back in time without paradox because whatever you did in the past was ALWAYS that way. You can't kill your grandfather, because we already know you didn't.

Everett's many-worlds theory supports your idea. Time travel is another way of creating parallel universes. Changing the past spawns a new reality.

Stephen Hawking has laid down some serious limitations to time travel, though, stating that while time travel is possible, it likely only happens on the quantum level. In other words only the tiniest bits of the tiniest components of atoms (called Fermions) could actually travel back in time. If he's right, this happens all the time, and more or less does nothing at all that would be noticeable on a human scale.

The "Chronology protection conjecture" Hawking created seems to be supported by some elements of string theory, though we currently lack the complete quantum framework of the universe (we haven't licked quantum gravity) that could confirm or deny the possibility to time travel for human beings.

In real time travel as speculated by physicists, wormholes would most likely be used to travel back in time. However, the best mathematical models that can be applied with our current understanding of the universe seem to imply that a real time machine would create an infinite amount of energy at the boundary to the wormhole, promptly destroying the time machine the moment it was turned on.

To quote Stephen Hawking, "It seems that there is a Chronology Protection Agency which prevents the appearance of closed timelike curves and so makes the universe safe for historians."

An American physicist named Ronald Mallett believes he is on the verge of creating a machine that can violate causality, and send information backwards in time, though he has some serious detractors, and obviously, has failed to make the machine work. Yet.

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