Thursday, January 12, 2017

Putting “Life” in Order with Acoustical Tweezers Designed for Widespread Use

Whether you’re pulling out a splinter of wood or an eyebrow hair, tweezers are the go-to tool. For these and many other situations that involve moving an object too small to grasp with human hands, a $1.49 pair of metal tweezers is good enough. However, moving an object too small to see requires a much more complicated and expensive kind of tweezers.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Step Aside, WIMPs!

It seems the search for particles of dark matter has come up short once again, leading some scientists to question whether we should be looking for particles at all. Two of the world's most massive detector projects—China's PandaX-II collaboration and the US's LUX group—have ended up empty-handed in their search for weakly interacting massive particles (or WIMPs), long considered one of the most plausible explanations for our galaxy's surprising rotational behavior.


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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mysterious Radio Signals: The Sequel

Less than two months, ago we brought you the mysterious tale of fast radio bursts (FRBs), bright flashes of radio waves that last for just fractions of a second and most likely come from outside of our galaxy, but which we know little else about. Last week, the sequel to that story was released. In a press conference at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society, coordinated with a cover story in the journal Nature, astronomers announced that they had identified the origin of an FRB for the first time: a small, faint, dwarf galaxy more than 2.5 billion light years away. Companion papers have also been published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters (here, here, and here).

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Monday, January 09, 2017

How Tiny Swimmers Put the “Super” in Superfluid

For Superman and Supergirl, it’s alien DNA. For Spiderman, it’s the bite. For Iron Man, it’s the suit. But for some “superfluids,” it’s the tiny, self-propelled swimmers that are the source of their power.

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Friday, January 06, 2017

Part-time Pulsars: Another Milky Way Mystery

If you’re a Physics Buzz regular, you’ve read about radio pulsars before (most recently here). A pulsar forms when a massive star explodes and its outer layers are blown away. The inside core contracts, resulting in an extremely dense, rapidly rotating neutron star. Pulsars have the strongest known magnetic fields in the universe, and beams of charged particles spew out from their magnetic poles. Like a lighthouse signal sweeping across the water, we detect pulsars by very regular radio pulses sweeping across the Earth. Currently, astronomers have detected about 2500 radio pulsars in our galaxy.

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Friday, December 30, 2016

Raising a Glass to Vera Rubin & Dark Matter

“Fame is fleeting. My numbers mean more to me than my name. If astronomers are still using my data years from now, that’s my greatest compliment,” astronomer Vera Rubin told Discover in 1990. In honor of her passing on Christmas day, this post will focus on her data.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Crowdsourcing Discovery: Meet the Massive Binary System Detected by Einstein@Home

As fingertips and keyboards cool off from the flurry of online shopping and term papers, it’s time to relax and let device processors do the work. Did you know that while you binge on TV shows and holiday leftovers, your laptop and smart phone could help discover an exotic astrophysical system? Just ask the Einstein@Home volunteers whose otherwise idle devices discovered two neutron stars locked in a tight orbit. The massive binary system could inform the search for gravitational waves and may turn out to be a unique cosmic laboratory.

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Ask a Physicist: Exploding Coffee

Nick, from the US, wants to know:
"After retrieving my medium sized ceramic cup of coffee from the microwave that had been in for 2 minutes, I quickly stirred the coffee with a thick straw. Immediately bubbles started to rise and overfilled the half full cup, unfortunately burning my thumb. Could you please tell me what reactions caused this to happen? Thank you very much."


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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Electron “Leapfrog” Could Lead to Low-Power Nanoscale Devices

Remember leapfrog? Not the electronic tablets currently in Santa’s bag, but the outdoor, no-equipment-required game where your friends crouch down in a line and you vault over each person until you reach the front? It turns out that electrons play a variation of this game too.

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Drag-Racing CubeSats for NASA's CubeQuest Challenge

In 2014, NASA announced the CubeQuest Challenge: a contest for homegrown teams to build their own small satellites—cubesats—and compete against each other by demonstrating technological feats. Five million dollars in prize money will be divided among teams who can get into orbit around the moon, maintain a stable orbit for a long time, or make it almost all the way to Mars’ orbit while still communicating with Earth.


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