13 random scientific questions I want answered

I understand that some of these I could look up, and perhaps I will eventually, but the purpose here is for me to post a few scientific questions I find interesting, and would like to know more about.

Quick note: A few of these questions (specifically some of those in biology) may sound immoral to some people. I am not necessarily suggesting we do these things depicted in the questions, I am just curious about the science behind them.

Astronomy:

  • We often times announce that the new “smallest planet ever found” has been discovered. How close would we have to be to a mirror of our own solar system before we could see the earth? How about the other 7 planets? How about Pluto? And the various moons?
  • If we saw this mirror solar system, could we determine is life existed on the 3rd closest planet to it’s star, and if so, how?
  • With current technology, how long would it take to send a probe to the next closest solar system?
  • Easter Island is the most isolated place on earth (at least I believe this to be the case). What would be the equivalent on a solar system level?
  • What we think of as “empty space” actually has dust, solar winds, etc in it. Is there a place (between galaxies perhaps) that would be the “most empty” place in the universe? How “empty” would it be compared to earth’s “air” (quantity of “stuff” per unit)?
  • As I understand it, we can currently see the entire universe (essentially), but in the future as the universe continues to expand, we will lose sight of distant galaxies, the microwave background radiation, etc… When will this happen? And what will we see when we look past the furthest objects we can see (will it be black, etc)?
  • Theoretically, if one could go faster than the speed of light (significantly faster for this hypothetical), if one left the earth going in any random direction, how long would it take before you were past the “furthest” galaxies (so looking ahead there is nothing, and looking behind there is “everything”?
  • (This one I believe is unanswerable, but just in case it is not, here goes) Same scenario, once you get to the edge of how far the universe has expanded, what does the border look like? What is on the other side of that border?

Biology:

  • What is the definition of a “species” vs that of a “race” or “breed”?
    For example, if it has to do with mating, is a chiwawa the same species as a wolf, or a great dane?
    If it has to do with genetic markers, are bonobos and chimpanzees the same species?
  • I know this sounds very Jurassic Park-esque, but could we create a neanderthal from the DNA samples we have? (this is not about the ethics, just the science)
  • If we took one of the first humans who left Africa 60,000 years ago, how tall would they be (people seem to have grown in height in just the past couple of hundred years, so I’d assume we’ve grown even more in 60k years).
  • Would they have the same intellect, physical abilities, as “we” do now?
  • We have obviously been able to create different “breeds” of various animals (most obviously dogs). If we started “breeding” intelligent people only with other intelligent people, and athletic people only with other athletic people, how long would it take before there would be noticeable differences between the two groups?

Update 6/12: I thought up one more Biology questions, so the total is no longer 13, but I felt this question was cool enough, I could not leave it out…

  • It seems to me that we have “helped” to guide evolution in specific directions in animal species in the past (domesticated animals specifically), so could we “guide” a species towards “higher intellect”? Specifically here I am thinking of chimpanzees and bonobos; could we “guide” them to a “human level” intellect? It seems to me, that a lot of the basics are already in place (empathy, jealousy, tool use, ability to use language, etc).
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About Rodibidably

Jeff Randall is a frequent volunteer for free-thought organizations, including the Center For Inquiry – DC. Having been blogging since January 2008, he decided that a community of bloggers would be an interesting new experience (or at the very least a fun way to annoy his friends into reading his posts more frequently). Since finding out about about the existence of, and then joining, the atheist/skeptic community in 2007 he has been committed to community activism, critical thinking in all aspects of life, science, reason, and a fostering a secular society.
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12 Responses to 13 random scientific questions I want answered

  1. Anastasia says:

    Nice list!

    I can answer at least 1 – species are generally defined as “can not produce fertile offspring” but the line is fuzzy. For example, if two species don’t breed in the wild (due to things like physical or behavioral characteristics) but can breed in captivity that doesn’t make them 1 species.

    As for breeding humans for specific traits, one only has to look around… there are outliers in any family, but like attracts like.

    The update question is awesome. I bet we could guide a species towards a more human intellect but the species would change in other ways. With dogs, they may be more able to communicate with humans than wolves are, but have lost traits needed in the wild.

    • Rodibidably says:

      Thanks for the comments.

      —–

      The problem I have with the idea of “fertile offspring” being the line for a species, is that there are many species (take my idea of a chiwawa, a wolf, and a great dane as an example) that PHYSICALLY may be able to produce viable offspring, but for whatever reason (distance, attractiveness, etc) don’t do so…
      Where exactly do we cut them off as a species vs a “breed”?
      I may be wrong, but I believe that a chiwawa, a great dane, a german shepard, etc are the same species, but wolves are a different species. But one could make the argument that a german shepard may be more similar to a wolf than to a chiwawa…
      It seems a bit fuzzy to me, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a firm definition before.

      —–

      To me, the idea of creating another species that has “human level intelligence” (or close to it) would be one of the most fascinating things that we could ever do, and we would learn so much (from the process of creating it AND from observing and interacting with this new species) that even though I know many people would consider it unethical, I believe it’s something that we should at least consider and discuss…

    • jessie says:

      what…no it isnt! wowww…ur gayyyyy! im not a virgin

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  4. siddhigyrl says:

    Actually, wolves, coyotes, and the like breed all the time with domesticated/feral dogs. Having lived out west, I can vouch for encountering this. The reason the Chihuahua loses out is simply a matter of size. They’d more likely be viewed as food rather than as a potential mate. If Mr Chihuahua had stilts, he’d have as much a chance as the Shepherd.

    My only question about your afterthought question would be… if you genetically change a chimp, is it still a chimp, or has it become an entirely new species altogether? Are you talking strictly about breeding brainiac chimps to other braniac chimps? If so, you’re not likely to get chimps with human intelligence, well, because they’re still chimps.

    As for your astronomy questions, I don’t have a clue, but I’d gladly sign up for the trek out there to find out! 🙂

  5. Rodibidably says:

    To me it seems, based on appearance, that a shepard is closer related to a wolf than a chiwawa, but genetically I believe it’s reverse of that. But that sort of shows the point that it’s all a fuzzy line, and it’s hard to find the cutoff some times.

    But if you’re correct in that wolves and dogs do interbreed, that brings upthe question of what is a species vs a breed. If they can produce fertile offspring, are they all one species? If they are not one species, then what defines a species?

    And my idea for chimps would not be to breed humans and chimps, but to genetically manipulate the DNA of the chimp sperm/egg. I would guess that after a few generation probably become a new species, but it would depend on how radically we change each generation.

    • siddhigyrl says:

      Well, I owned a wolf/shepherd hybrid for several years. I’ve had friends out west who have had coydogs or wolfdogs. And these animals could reproduce. Does that make canis lupus, canis latrans, and canis domesticus the same species? Are they all really subspecies of a canid umbrella species?

      I have learned that there’s much debate that domestication started with jackals rather than wolves. DNA tends to favor jackals except with Arctic breeds of dogs (huskies, etc).

      Do you think the chimp would lose its chimpiness with each generation? If so, what would be the reason for creating Mojo Jojo if he couldn’t impart some chimpy wisdom?

    • Rodibidably says:

      I’m just not sure… To the best of my understanding, wolves are a separate species from dogs, so if this is the currently accepted idea than the ability to create a fertile offspring must not be one of the criteria for a species.

      As for the jackal idea; I believe the current thinking is that dogs came from some other wolf like ancestor, not the current wolves of jackals we have today. This would be similar to humans not coming from chimps, but sharing an ancestor with them.

      I’m not sure if it would lose it’s chimpiness or not, or how much it would lose.
      But right now we don’t know specifically what makes us so different from chimps (we know the DNA sequence, but not which parts of it make which differences). By creating a human level intelligence in a chimp hybrid, we’d learn so much more about chimps and humans, and in such a faster time that I think for educational purposes alone it has value.

      I’m not expecting the chimp to tell us the secrets of the universe or anything, and I’m hoping not to turn Planet of the Apes into reality, but I do think we’d learn a lot from this type of experiment…

  6. jadin says:

    To answer your last or second to last question about human breeding, it wouldn’t take long at all. You have already distinguished athletic people from more intelegent people before you even start the experiment, so what differences are you talking about? And by the way, ‘breed’ is just the word we use to distinguish between a group of species within a race who have a peculiar trait or traits in common, and who differentiate less amongst themselves than the rest of the species as a whole.

    Here’s a more intelegent cosmological question for you,
    Where did the laws of physics come from?
    Did magnetism ‘evolve’ from gravity?
    Why is there matter and energy as opposed to nothing?
    Why isn’t there nothing, but, rather peculiarly, something?
    What happened before the big bang?
    And what caused whatever happened before the big bang to happen?
    If there is one law from which all existence draws it’s being, is it not the law that something must exist?
    Why does the Universe seem to be ‘almost’ coherent as opposed to being absolutely coherent or absolutely incoherent?

    It may seem like more than one question, but, i believe, if you can answer one, you can answer them all.

  7. Neenu says:

    iam so thankful to you because i need some questions based on science.you helped me to get it thanks a lot.

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