sexta-feira, 5 de setembro de 2014



Diagram of deaths
Mathematicians had been struggling with the idea of the square root of minus one. There seemed to be no number on the number line whose square was negative. Yet experts knew that if such a number existed it would transform their subject.

But where was this number? It was a picture drawn independently by three mathematicians at the beginning of the 19th Century that brought these numbers to life.

They created a two dimensional map of numbers where the numbers we'd known about since the Ancient Greeks ran east-west along the horizontal axis while these new imaginary numbers like the square root of minus one extended vertically in the north-south direction.

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The Pioneer plaque diagram

Continue reading the main story
The Pioneer plaque diagram

1. The image of a naked man and woman might prove meaningless scribbles to a life form that looks very different to our own.

2. Echoing Copernicus's picture of the sun-centred solar system, Sagan and Drake drew a picture of the planets and included Pluto.

3. A picture of the Pioneer space probe at the end of a line emanating from the third planet of the Solar System tells aliens where the message comes from.

4. The numbers in the Pioneer plaque are binary - a vertical line for 1 and a horizontal line for 0. The numbers on planets indicate relative distance from the Sun.

5. There are further binary numbers. We write numbers in decimal because we have 10 fingers. Aliens probably have an entirely different anatomy and hence number system

6. The star map locates the Sun. The radial lines locate pulsars, stars emitting a regular electromagnetic pulse. A binary number shows the frequency.

7. This is a unit of measurement of time and distance. The circle represents a hydrogen atom. When the orbiting electron flips states it corresponds to a wave with frequency 1,420 MHz and wavelength 21cm. These are the diagram's units of measurement.

8. The image of the Pioneer space probe gives aliens an idea of the height of humans relative to the probe.

9. The height of the woman is in binary: 1,000 units of length. The unit of length is 21cm given by the wavelength of the hydrogen atom as it flips states. As 1,000 is eight in binary, the woman's height is 8x21cm=168cm.

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