As we've pointed out before, there are some startlingly simple questions that science can't answer. And then there are the special occasions where the universe up and does a freaking magic trick that seems to be designed by an unjust, all-powerful entity dedicated to making scientists slowly pull off their glasses while saying, "What in the hell?" For instance ...
6The Sun Can Make Stuff Hotter Than Itself
We intuitively understand the direction that energy travels -- from the thing with energy to the thing with less energy. That's why the second law of thermodynamics is among the first things you learn in science class that makes you say, "Well, shit, I could have told you that." If you're too hot, you move away from the campfire, not toward it. You don't need science to tell you that heat energy travels from the hot thing to the less-hot thing. Well, everywhere in the universe except the sun.
That asshole always has to be the center of attention.
There's a discrepancy between what science says should happen and what the sun actually does, and it's known as the sun's coronal heating problem. Essentially, when heat leaves the sun, the laws of thermodynamics just totally break down for a few hundred miles, and nobody can quite figure out why.
The facts are pretty straightforward; the sun's surface sits comfortably at a blazing temperature of roughly 5,500 degrees Celsius. No problem there. However, as the heat travels from the sun's surface to the layer a few hundred miles away from its surface (known as the sun's corona), it rises to a temperature of 1,000,000 degrees Celsius. Which is 995,000 degrees Celsius, or 1,791,000 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1 billion gigawatts per 1/4 gigabyte jiggawatt hour (metric) hotter than it has any right to be.
He's a loose cannon!
The heat source (the giant ball of nuclear explosions and plasma) should be the hottest thing, not the empty vacuum of space around it. This is the only instance in the known universe where the thing doing the heating is actually cooler than the thing it's heating.
And it's been plaguing solar physicists worldwide since they discovered the little disagreement reality has with our universe in 1939. How is it possible that the area around the sun is about 200 times hotter than its surface? It's not, according to the second law of thermodynamics and everything else we're supposed to know about how the universe works.
Would anything this awesome-looking follow rules dreamed up by some nerds?
5When You Look Closely, Gravity Stops Making Sense
There's a certain order to the world. Mice get eaten by wolves, motorcyclists get demolished by 18-wheelers and gravity presides over the whole crazy parade, keeping it stuck to the ground like a boss. Understanding where forces rank compared with one another allows us to predict and explain all the different ways in which they will interact. The problem is that gravity, the one force that's involved in just about every interaction that happens here on Earth, is kind of all over the map.
It's the functional alcoholic of forces.
When you look at it up close, gravity is decidedly on the mouse side of the hierarchy. Rub a balloon on your wool sweater (nice sweater, nerd) and pass it over a piece of paper. The tiny electromagnetic charge your sweater transferred to the balloon will lift the paper off the table, overcoming the Earth's gravitational pull. That's the same gravitational pull that tethers the moon in orbit around Earth. Up close, gravity gets its ass handed to it by a bond that's about as strong as worn-out Velcro. But over a distance of 234,000 miles, it acts like the chain on a mace being swung around the head of a planet-sized Viking.
Gravity: It'll smash your head in and violate your women.
This is what's known as the Higgs mass hierarchy problem. Gravity has a tendency to wreak havoc on scientific hierarchies because the closer you look at it, the more likely it is to disappear. It's predictable when you take a step back and watch it yank things out of midair, but on closer inspection, it completely vanishes. In fact, at the realm of particle physics, gravity is 10 ^ 32 times weaker than the second weakest force.
The Earth's mass is 5.97 x 10 ^ 24 kilograms, which allows it to generate the supremely powerful and inescapable force that has held you on the surface of the Earth since you popped out of your mom. The fact that the stray electricity hanging out on your sweater could counteract it makes as much sense as a starving African child being able to bench-press a skyscraper.
The second she puts a hat on, the tides will be fucked.