On November 28, 1964, the Mariner 4 spacecraft was launched. It continued on toward Mars and was the first probe to return close range images of that planet. As a result of this successful mission, November 28 is known as Red Planet Day. So let’s take a few minutes to learn a bit about Mars.
The planet Mars has been known since antiquity, and its rusty color gave our ancestors the idea that it was associated with blood and, by extension, the god of war.
In more modern times, the telescope was used to try to study Mars. One notable scientist was Giovanni Schiaparelli. Because Mars, even when at its closest to Earth, appears much smaller than the Moon (about 1.3% the apparent size of the Moon), it is difficult to see detail on Mars from Earth. When humans look at something near its resolution limit, the brain tends to “fill in the gaps” and create optical illusions of lines and features that aren’t really there. Schiaparelli used the word “canali” to describe some of the lines he thought he saw. The word “canali” means “channel,” and due to a mistranslation, was translated as “canals.” Suddenly Mars had canals and the speculation about life on Mars began. Intelligent lifeforms were struggling to survive on the dry desert world and must have built canals to funnel water from the polar caps to survive. More »
If I may be so bold as to make a value judgment, kids are—if nothing else—totally super awesome. A little over two years ago, we wrote a blog post entitled “10 Fun Questions Kids Can Answer with Wolfram|Alpha.” Since then, however, our blogs have focused on expanded functionality, socioeconomic data, sports data, and all sorts of things that are really cool but, truthfully, geared toward people whose ages are in the double digits. Luckily, Wolfram|Alpha can compute answers to all sorts of queries kids (or people who self-identify as kids) have, too.
So let’s start out with dinosaurs. I recently learned that the brontosaurus is formally called an apatosaurus. Wolfram|Alpha knows that not everyone knows that, though, so if we query “Compare T-Rex, Brontosaurus,” we get information on both Tyrannosaurus Rex and Apatosaurus. “They never saurus coming!” you could say. The apatosaurus is potentially twice as long as the T-Rex, and weighs several times as much—but curiously enough, the public is more interested in the T-Rex, as evidenced by how many more times its Wikipedia page is queried. More »
Since President Reagan declared it in 1987, every third week in November in the United States is celebrated as Geography Awareness Week. Related to that, one of my favorite novels—Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy—is coming to cinemas today. Thanks to Wolfram|Alpha, I’ll be able to discuss these two seemingly unrelated things with you. My nerdy dream has finally come true.
If you’re unfamiliar with Anna Karenina, I won’t spoil the content, but suffice it to say that Anna is a Russian socialite and aristocrat whose lover, Count Alexei Vronsky, due to various reasons best discovered on your own, takes her across Europe, later returning to Russia. There’s a lot of discussion about ethics and morality, with some deeply flawed characters making interesting if non-ideal decisions, to say the least. What matters for this blog post, though, is that Anna visits a bunch of places. And she’s from Russia, which is huge. It’s about the size of Pluto. More »
Recently we asked educators who use Wolfram|Alpha to participate in our contest and tell us their story. After spending the last few weeks sifting through entries, our Education Outreach team has finally chosen a winner. A very sincere congratulations to Christopher Benshoof in Fairbanks, Alaska, a teacher at Lathrop High School! More »
This week is American Education Week (November 11–17), and in a very fundamental way, our goal as a company is to improve educational standards and accessibility around the world with our technology. For over 20 years, Wolfram Research has been at the forefront of combining technology with education. It started with Mathematica and grew with Wolfram|Alpha, mobile apps, the Wolfram Demonstrations Project, Wolfram SystemModeler, and much more. From simple elementary math to highly complex physics, Wolfram’s tools are used not only around the nation, but around the whole world. More »
Comets are a fascinating area of astronomy that holds a special place in the hearts of the public, not just astronomers. This fact mainly holds due to the potential for a new comet to become visible to the naked eye, a rather uncommon event. Maybe the same mechanism that keeps this fascination going in the public is the same one that makes gamblers keep going back to the poker table. Usually, you will lose at gambling, but every now and then you might win big. In a way, the same holds for comets. More »
The US elections are over, and with a few exceptions, we can now answer the question “What happened?” We know who won the 2012 presidential election, we know there was an upset in the Massachusetts senate race, and we know that Republicans maintained control of the House of Representatives. So now, whatever race you’re most concerned about, the big question is, “Why did it happen?” More »
At 2am on Sunday, November 4, the United States (sans Arizona and Hawaii, which are special) will end daylight saving time. The result is that Americans will essentially “gain” an hour. I thought it would make for a fun blog post to tell you about what you could potentially do with your extra hour, in part because none of my real-life friends would listen to me. More »
Culinary fortitude is not merely creating extravagant or exotic food. It’s not just the massive amount of hours you’ve spent on Foodgawker and TasteSpotting drooling over perfectly photographed morsels set on pretty little dishes. It goes far beyond the fact that you can, or know of someone who can, eat a raw bird’s eye chili and not have to drink three glasses of cold milk afterward. Culinary fortitude comes down to numbers. At Wolfram|Alpha, we do numbers best. More »