The end of science, or so long analog broadcast

The United States is permanently changing over their television broadcast standard from analog to digital. The cut-off date is set for February 17. After that, it's all binary.

Since I don't watch TV, and my television is only set up to handle DVDs, you might be wondering why I care. I don't know if digital is better than analog (it probably is for quality), but with the analog TV comes the end of the first and best and easiest science experiment I ever conducted. More modern TVs have been ruining it for a long time, with their blue screens instead of static, but digital TV will kill it permanently.

Here's how to do it: turn on your old analog set, one so old enough that on a station without broadcast it only shows black and white and makes hissing sounds. Pick a channel, preferably above 20. Do you see black and white static instead ofthe blue screen (why did they pick blue? Blue screen of death anyone?) Now turn the volume up so that you can hear the static.

Notice the uniformity of the signal. That's your TV tuner trying to make sense of what ever is in the void. Whatever it's picking up, it's constant and uniform. Even static has its own picture. Everybody my age and older knows it. It doesn't look or sound like anything else. Fake static is obvious (cartoon network, I'm thinking of you).

You are now an astrophysicist, because you are watching and listening to the creation of the universe.

The static is caused by the cosmic microwave background radiation, which ranges between 1mm to 150mm (in wavelength). Since UHF's wavelengths are between 100mm and all the way up to 1m, much of the static interference you see and hear is thermal radiation left over from the big bang.

Watch here if your TV can't do science anymore. Isn't it amazing how easy it is to contemplate the universe and our smallness in it?

The left over radiation from the Big Bang is not just important because it confirms many theories about the creation of the univserse, but it has another neat application as well: the CMB could serve as the a cosmic GPS (UPS? Or is that already taken?). For if the CMB is constant throughout universe--and theory says it is--then you can tell anyone else in the universe where (and when) you are relative to the CMB. If we've discovered this, then any sufficiently advanced race who wished to tell us about themselves might include in their message where they are absolutely, something that heretofore was impossible without a static reference frame. Alternatively, if we ever master interstellar travel, planets and space ships would have a true star date--to borrow the term from Star Trek--except it would be more of a microwave date (which doesn't have the same ring to it. It sounds like a cheap date who can't be bothered to spring for a restaurant and can't cook).

Fare thee well, analog TV. You taught us so much. Maybe one day your signals will be heard again by other sentient beings. I hope they will teach them more about us than that we enjoyed Howdy Doody reruns or that Magnum PI was ever produced. You taught me so much, the most important thing being that there is so much to learn between the channels.

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Watch here if your TV can't do science anymore. Isn't it amazing how easy it is to contemplate the universe and our smallness in it?

The left over radiation from the Big Bang is not just important because it confirms many theories about the creation of the univserse, but it has another neat application as well: the CMB could serve as the a cosmic GPS (UPS? Or is that already taken?). For if the CMB is constant throughout universe--and theory says it is--then you can tell anyone else in the universe where (and when) you are relative to the CMB. If we've discovered this, then any sufficiently advanced race who wished to tell us about themselves might include in their message where they are absolutely, something that heretofore was impossible without a static reference frame. Alternatively, if we ever master interstellar travel, planets and space ships would have a true star date--to borrow the term from Star Trek--except it would be more of a microwave date (which doesn't have the same ring to it. It sounds like a cheap date who can't be bothered to spring for a restaurant and can't cook).

Fare thee well, analog TV. You taught us so much. Maybe one day your signals will be heard again by other sentient beings. I hope they will teach them more about us than that we enjoyed Howdy Doody reruns or that Magnum PI was ever produced. You taught me so much, the most important thing being that there is so much to learn between the channels.

Labels: , ,

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3 Comments:

At 1/22/09, 5:43 PM, Blogger C Hutchins said...

My 6th or 7th grade science teacher said that 1% of the static was from the big bang, and went on to say if we drew a 10x10 grid on our TV, one of the squares would be noise left over from the Big Bang.

Fascinated, I went home and drew such a grid on the TV, with a sharpie.

I was old enough to know better.

 
At 1/23/09, 5:46 AM, Blogger jenny said...

lol

 
At 1/23/09, 4:20 PM, Blogger Crinis said...

That's better than my story of taking a pen to the crotches of my sisters' barbies. I was definitely old enough to know better, and I fessed up to crime. I learned a valuable lesson: just because knight rider says telling the truth is the right thing, doesn't make it true. I wonder if I would have been caught (pen marks wind up all over the place amongst the toys of children) if David Hasselhoff hadn't led me on course.

 

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