Thursday, September 03, 2015

Escape From a Black Hole

The black hole: the inner boundary of the known universe, the point of no return. This is the region in the vicinity of a gravitational singularity which, once entered, cannot be left.
Or can it?

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Coriolis Effect Provides Clue on Moth Navigation

Like sailors putting a finger to the wind, migrating moths check the atmospheric conditions around them and adjust their headings accordingly, a new study finds. They do it by sensing turbulence, which helps them determine whether the wind is blowing them off course.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

More Than a Statistic: Social Science and "Physics Envy"

In a recent think piece from Drexel University's The Smart Set, author Michael Lund boldly proclaims that it's time for western academia to throw in the towel on a decades-long failed experiment: "hard" social science.


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Friday, August 28, 2015

NASA's Microgravity Hoax

Yes, astronauts landed on the moon. But that doesn't mean NASA has been completely honest.

Free fall aboard NASA's vomit comet, where gravity is anything but micro.
Starting in the 1970's, for some reason I have yet to discover, NASA started lying to us about the basic physics of space flight -- that is, they invented the word microgravity.

OK, maybe they didn't invent it. I'm not sure if it's possible to figure out exactly who coined the term. Still, some time in the late seventies or early eighties, NASA (and a lot of other scientists) enthusiastically embraced the the idea of microgravity. The problem is, NASA is using it wrong - and I believe that's a very bad thing.


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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On Pi and Tau

In 2010, physicist and educator Michael Hartl published something he called The Tau Manifesto, a piece of writing which put forth arguments for a surprisingly controversial assertion: π is wrong.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Danger! High Voltage

A few weeks ago, we put up a "Fermi problem Friday" post about the odds of being struck by lightning. That post was met with some criticism in the comments section, so it's currently down while we revise it to reflect our readers' concerns. But last Friday, we made a discovery here at PhysicsCentral headquarters: your odds of getting zapped go up exponentially if your boss brings her old Van de Graaff generator to work!

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Liftoff: Hydrophobic Fibers Fling Condensation From Their Strands

I recently moved to the DC area in the middle of the summer where, on a bad day, being outdoors is a lot like being inside a rice cooker; sometimes I wish I could stop sweating, because evaporative cooling doesn’t really work when the air is already practically saturated with moisture. As such, the dehumidifier has become my new best friend. This miracle of modern technology that keeps the mildew out of my apartment works by blowing air over a refrigerated mesh of wires, where the water condenses and falls into a bucket, sometimes at the surprising rate of a few liters per day.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

The Heavyweight Champion of the Universe

About 3.4 billion light-years away, in the general direction of the constellation Draco, lies one of the heaviest singular objects in the known universe. Designated H1821+643, it has roughly 30 billion times the mass of the sun, with an event horizon that could swallow our solar system—28 times over.


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Friday, August 14, 2015

What's more radioactive than a nuclear power plant?

A lot of things, it turns out. But the one you'd probably least expect? Waste from a non-nuclear power plant, by a factor of 100.

Would we feel different about fossil fuels if this 
warning were mandatory on coal-fired power plants? 
Image courtesy Torsten Henning, Public Domain
On Wednesday, we published a Physics+ article about radiation, written in memory of the bombing of Hiroshima, 70 years prior. While the author did a fantastic job in describing the state of the art on low-dose radiation research, I was troubled by a line where he cited "widespread deployment of nuclear power" along with medical scans and air travel as a potential contributor to chronic low-dose radiation. I took issue with the line because, counterintuitive as it might be, widespread deployment of nuclear power is acting to decrease the radiation burden of the average individual. To understand how, we'll need a smidge of radiation biophysics knowledge, along with a touch of nuclear engineering. If that sounds scary, don't worry; I promise to keep it simple.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Disappointing Truth About Lexus' New Hoverboard

By now you've probably seen the latest video of Lexus' hoverboard technology, a two-minute spot produced as part of their "Amazing in Motion" advertising campaign. The board itself is incredibly cool—literally—the technology relies on superconductors, cooled using liquid nitrogen to somewhere below -200°C, and as a result it emits a trail of futuristic-looking fog (actually condensing water vapor) wherever it goes. Unfortunately, the video, which shows a number of skateboarders trying out their favorite sport sans wheels, is more than a little misleading.

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