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Acceleration Due to Gravity: Super Mario Brothers

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I've pointed to nerdy analysis of Super Mario Brothers before. Back in February 2008, I came across a video that discussed Quantum Physics in Super Mario World, in which an anonymous blogger used a hacked Mario game to demonstrate a principal of theoretical quantum physics. Well, today we're moving from quantum physics to good old-fashioned regular physics. Specifically, the physics you learn in high school.

High school physics teacher Glenn Elert's students write something called The Physics Factbook™. Elert describes it as "an exercise in library research methods in which students are sent out in search of a measurement with the intent of having them find more than just a number with a unit." My favorite article is Acceleration Due to Gravity: Super Mario Brothers -- a scholarly approach to the problem of physics in Super Mario Brothers, in an attempt to measure the relative gravity of various Mario games. Here's a snippet of the article and a sample chart:

Gravity is force which is responsible for keeping us on the ground. It is also the force that prohibits us from jumping 50 feet in the air. However, in Mario's world, gravity does not quite work that way. Mario is able to jump 5 times his height and fall with accelerations that would be deadly to humans.

We will find Mario's acceleration due to gravity by using the formula

s = s0 + v0t + ½ at2

where s is the distance he falls, s0 is his initial distance, which is 0, v0 is his initial vertical velocity, which is also 0, a is his acceleration due to gravity, and t is the time it takes for him to fall. When we solve this formula for a, we get

a = 2s / t2

Read the rest to learn whether gravity is getting more or less realistic as the games have progressed. (And a personal note: my favorite Mario game is SMB 2, in which, playing the Princess, you're able to sort of glide through the air for a few seconds while jumping -- completely bizarre physics, and great fun in the game.)

See also: Five Super Mario Brothers Videos, including various masterful feats of SMB athletics -- playing with feet, playing while not looking at the screen, etc.

(Via Waxy.org.)

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Pop Culture
Neil deGrasse Tyson Recruits George R.R. Martin to Work on His New Video Game
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Kevin Winter / Getty Images

George R.R. Martin has been keeping busy with the latest installment of his Song of Ice and Fire series, but that doesn’t mean he has no time for side projects. As The Daily Beast reports, the fantasy author is taking a departure from novel-writing to work on a video game helmed by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

DeGrasse Tyson’s game, titled Space Odyssey, is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter. He envisions an interactive, desktop experience that will allow players to create and explore their own planets while learning about physics at the same time. To do this correctly, he and his team are working with some of the brightest minds in science like Bill Nye, former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino, and astrophysicist Charles Liu. The list of collaborators also includes a few unexpected names—like Martin, the man who gave us Game of Thrones.

Though Martin has more experience writing about dragons in Westeros than robots in outer space, deGrasse Tyson believes his world-building skills will be essential to the project. “For me [with] Game of Thrones ... I like that they’re creating a world that needs to be self-consistent,” deGrasse Tyson told The Daily Beast. “Create any world you want, just make it self-consistent, and base it on something accessible. I’m a big fan of Mark Twain’s quote: ‘First get your facts straight. Then distort them at your leisure.’”

Other giants from the worlds of science fiction and fantasy, including Neil Gaiman and Len Wein (co-creator of Marvel's Wolverine character), have signed on to help with that same part of the process. The campaign for Space Odyssey has until Saturday, July 29 to reach its $314,159 funding goal—of which it has already raised more than $278,000. If the video game gets completed, you can expect it to be the nerdiest Neil deGrasse Tyson project since his audiobook with LeVar Burton.

[h/t The Daily Beast]

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Space
Flying Telescopes Will Watch the Total Solar Eclipse from the Air

If you've ever stood on the tips of your toes to reach something on a high shelf, you get it: Sometimes a little extra height makes all the difference. Although in this case, we're talking miles, not inches, as scientists are sending telescopes up on airplanes to monitor conditions on the Sun and Mercury during the upcoming total eclipse.

Weather permitting, the Great American Eclipse (as some are calling it) will be at least partially visible from anywhere in the continental U.S. on August 21. It will be the first time an eclipse has been so widely visible in the U.S. since 1918 and represents an incredible opportunity not only for amateur sky-watchers but also for scientists from coast to coast.

But why settle for gawking from the ground when there's an even better view up in the sky?

Scientists at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) have announced plans to mount monitoring equipment on NASA research planes. The telescopes, which contain super-sensitive, high-speed, and infrared cameras, will rise 50,000 feet (about 9.5 miles) above the Earth's surface to sneak a very special peek at the goings-on in our Sun and its nearest planetary buddy.

Gaining altitude will not only bring the instruments closer to their targets but should also help them avoid the meteorological chaos down below.

"Being above the weather guarantees perfect observing conditions, while being above more than 90 percent of Earth's atmosphere gives us much better image quality than on the ground," SwRI co-investigator Constantine Tsang said in a statement. "This mobile platform also allows us to chase the eclipse shadow, giving us over seven minutes of totality between the two planes, compared to just two minutes and 40 seconds for a stationary observer on the ground."

The darkness of that shadow will blot out much of the Sun's overpowering daily brightness, giving researchers a glimpse at rarely seen solar emissions.

"By looking for high-speed motion in the solar corona, we hope to understand what makes it so hot," senior investigator Amir Caspi said. "It's millions of degrees Celsius—hundreds of times hotter than the visible surface below. In addition, the corona is one of the major sources of electromagnetic storms here at Earth. These phenomena damage satellites, cause power grid blackouts, and disrupt communication and GPS signals, so it's important to better understand them."

The temporary blackout will also create fine conditions for peeping at Mercury's night side. Tsang says, "How the temperature changes across the surface gives us information about the thermophysical properties of Mercury's soil, down to depths of about a few centimeters—something that has never been measured before."

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