Science + Pop Culture, writing

The Science of Eurovision 2019

The 64th Eurovision Song Content (ESC) is taking place this week in Tel Aviv. All 42 41 (sorry MARUV) participating countries submitted their songs a while back (available for viewing/listening on the ESC’s official YouTube channel) but I’ve only gotten around to this post just now. Too much Netflix, too little time…

I’m going to keep doing science tangents on their lyrics until I get bored or someone pays me to stop.

The Songs…Or at least 8 of them…

Click below to jump to the county of your choice, or just start scrolling


  • Zero Gravity (Australia – Kate Miller-Heidke)
    • Lyrics: “I’m going where there’s zero gravity” (or ze-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-ro gra-a-a-a-a-a-aaaa-vity)
    • Science tangent: Where in the universe is gravity = 0?
      • First off, what is gravity?
        • According to Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, gravity is actually how we observe deformations in spacetime. The classic example involves either a trampoline or a bedsheet pulled taut, and then someone puts a bowling ball in the middle of it. Said bowling ball usually represents a planet or a star, and you’d roll a smaller ball (e.g. a billiard ball, representing a less massive body) straight past it to watch its path curve. In other words, gravity isn’t an actual “thing”. It’s a phenomenon. Which is kind of weird.
      • The further you are from a massive body, the less significantly spacetime is bent, and you feel less of a gravitational pull. But technically speaking, it’s only at an infinite distance that the gravity is zero. The physics equation for force of gravity on an object looks like F ∝ 1/d2. If you double the distance, the gravitational pull diminishes by a factor of 4.
      • So even in the void of space, there’s gravity.
      • There are spots where the mutual tug of two bodies cancel each other out, like two equally-matched sides in a battle of Tug of War. These are known as Lagrange Points in astronomy and we sometimes put satellites at them so we don’t have to put as much fuel (and therefore $$$) into their tanks to maintain their orbits.
      • 813_lagrange_contours
        Credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team
      • And finally, you can trick yourself into thinking there’s no gravity by sealing yourself in a windowless box and enter free fall. Gravity might be pulling you to your doom, but because you have no point of reference and both the acceleration of the box and you is constant, during your plummet you would appear to float around inside. This is exactly what the astronauts on the ISS do, but they’re moving so fast sideways (~17,500 mph) that the curvature of the Earth means they never actually hit the ground.

  • Storm (Estonia – Victor Crone)
    • Lyrics: “Even if the sky falls down”
    • Science tangent: Can the sky fall down?
      • Short answer: Yes.
      • Long(er) answer: Yes, but on Pluto.
        • Pluto has an incredibly thin atmosphere that, like Earth’s, is mostly made out of Nitrogen gas. It’s also got about 20 or so layers of haze that encircle the planet that contributes to its distinctive blue color
        • 640px-PIA20362-Pluto-Atmosphere-Released20160114
          Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
        • Unlike Earth’s, Pluto’s nitrogen comes from solid nitrogen (i.e. nitrogen “ice”) on the surface. Atmospheric pressure on Pluto is so weak (100,000 times weaker than our’s) that when it gets warm enough (up to 60 Kelvin…or -352 °F) some of that ice sublimates, or converts directly from a solid to a gas, and becomes Pluto’s atmosphere. And then when Pluto gets colder, the gas converts back into a solid and rains back down.
        • The atmosphere, or sky, literally does fall down.

  • Az én apám (Hungary – Joci Pápai)
    • Lyrics: “Még érzem a napfényét” (The English translation on eurovision.tv is “The rays of the sun make me warm”)
    • Science tangent: How does the Sun warm you up?
      • There are three methods of heat transfer. The one we care about is called “radiation”.
        • It’s different than the “radiation” you may think of — the stuff to do with nukes and whatnot. That’s more specifically “ionizing radiation” and while some of the light the Sun emits can fall under that category, it’s blocked by our atmosphere.
      • All light – whether we can see it or not (in fact most of it we can’t see) is a.k.a. electromagnetic radiation. This includes radio waves. Yes, radio waves are light. And microwaves. And Hulk-making gamma rays. But most importantly for us, infrared (often called “thermal”) radiation. IR waves are just longer than visible light – specifically red, hence the name.
      • The Sun emits a range of wavelengths, but not in equal amounts. It’s mostly visible light (400-750nm), followed by IR (750nm to it depends on who’s defining the term but it’s at least beyond the following chart’s right side:)
      • sunbb
      • Each wavelength of light has its own corresponding amount of energy, so when a photon hits you, your own particles can absorb that energy. (That energy also comes with an amount of penetrating power, so while x-rays could technically warm you up you wouldn’t feel it ’cause your bones don’t have a sense of temperature.) Different molecules absorb different wavelengths, which is why colors are a thing. Black clothing absorbs most visible light, so it gets heated up more.
      • The human body is very roughly 2/3rds water, and water is pretty good at absorbing IR (as opposed to just letting it pass through or bounce off of).

  • Hatrið mun sigra (Iceland – Hatari)
    • Lyrics: “Tómið heimtir alla” (The English translation on eurovision.tv is “The void will swallow all)
    • Science tangent: Is the end of the universe one big void?
      • No, but it might be as close to one as possible. It all depends on what dark energy’s doing and how much ‘stuff’ is in the universe.
      • While the universe has been expanding since its creation, about 4 billion years ago, dark energy became stronger than gravity, so the rate of the universe’s expansion started speeding up.
        • If this continues, it could get so strong it pulls galaxies apart (right now it’s not strong enough that gravity still overpowers it on a smaller scale)
          • If it continues continuing, it will eventually overpower the other fundamental forces — first, the electromagnetic force, pulling all electrons off of their atoms.
          • If it keeps on going after that, it could get so strong it overpowers the force holding protons and neutrons together. Lone neutrons eventually decay into protons, electrons, and a certain flavor of antineutrinos, so we’d just end up a giant soup of most fundamental subatomic particles.
          • research-big-rip-illustration-p4
            Credit: Jeremy Teaford/Vanderbilt University
        • If it stops soon enough, the universe will continue to expand forever. Gravity will be strong enough to keep galaxies together, and stars will continue to die and get reborn…at least for a while.
          • Eventually, there won’t be enough hydrogen close enough together to collapse to make new stars.
          • There are already stars out there that will live longer than the age the universe is know – super low mass red dwarfs – but they too will fade, shedding their outer layers and their cores collapsing into white dwarfs. Those white dwarfs will then begin a long process of cooling down, ending up as black dwarfs.
          • Then, the last lights in the universe will be extinguished.
          • Eventually all particles will lose as much energy as physics allows. We’ll be in a state of maximum disorder and reach the Heat Death of the Universe.
      • The ultimate fate of the universe depends on the total amount of dark energy, dark matter, and regular matter plus stuff like light and neutrinos. We’re pretty sure we live in a universe that will end in the latter of the previous scenarios, as opposed to “The Big Rip” (or “The Bing Crunch”, where gravity gets so much stronger than dark energy that it pulls everything back in on itself)
      • It won’t ever be empty, though.

  • Run With The Lions (Lithuania – Jurij Veklenko)
    • Lyrics: “If you want to see / Just open your eyes”
    • Science Tangent: Can you see without opening your eyes?
      • It depends on how you define sight. Obviously I am quite capable of distinguishing light from dark with my eyes closed. Otherwise I wouldn’t need my sleep mask.
      • There are several animals (no mammals, though) that have a so-called “third eye” (aka parietal eye) on the top of their heads that can only distinguish degrees of illumination. It helps regulate body functions that vary over the course of the day/night cycle.
      • Anolis_carolinensis_parietal_eye.jpeg
        Credit: TheAlphaWolf, CC BY-SA 3.0
      • Single-celled organisms (e.g. green algae) have “eyespots” that also can detect light – it’s to make sure they know which way the sun is so they can navigate exactly where they should go to do their photosynthesizing.

  • Chameleon (Malta – Michela)
    • Lyrics: “I’m bluer than the ocean”
    • Science tangent: Why is the ocean blue?
      • Because water is blue.
        • No, seriously. It’s better at absorbing shorter wavelengths meaning it reflects shorter ones. (This is different than why the sky is blue, wherein atmospheric particles scatter all wavelengths, but shorter wavelengths get scattered is more direction.)
        • You just can’t see this unless you’ve got a lot of water. Like at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, which measures 202 ft (62 m) x 102 feet (31 m) x 40.5 ft 6 (12.34 m), and holds 6.2 million gallons (23.5 million litres) of water.
        • 64013_152235448147545_2516844_n
        • I’ve seen it in person. It really is that blue.

  • Scream (Russia – Sergey Lazarev)
    • Lyrics: “But tears aren’t quiet things / They burn and scar and sting”
      • Science tangent: Can tears really do that?
        • Aquagenic urticaria is a rare form of hives that forms on skin upon contact with water. It is sometimes referred to as a “water allergy” but it’s not a true allergic reaction (After all, as I mentioned above, the human body is mostly water…)
          • Symptoms include both a rash and itch and last anywhere from half an hour to an hour after exposure to water ceases.
        • There’s also aquagenic pruritus, which is just severe itching.
        • No, we don’t know exactly what causes this. And with only a few dozen people on the planet that have it, research is slow. But there is some literature out there in actual academic journals…not just Daily Mail articles. Because Lordi knows I wasn’t going to link to one of those.
        • But yes, as tears are mostly water, they could in fact make you feel rather cranky. Probably won’t scar you, though.

  • Too Late For Love (Sweden – John Lundvik)
    • Lyrics: “I could be the sun that lights your dark”
      • Science tangent: Besides setting someone on fire, how do you make a human a light source?
        • Humans are already light sources. It’s just mostly infrared, and therefore invisible to the human eye. But not thermal cameras.
        • imag0914.jpg
        • So the answer is just give your S.O. IR night vision goggles.

 

Good luck to this year’s contestants, even the ones I don’t want to make it through the semifinals. There aren’t any Jessica’s to root for this year…at least to my knowledge, but I have my favourites.

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