Monday, April 23, 2018

Not So Noble? Under Pressure, Helium Helps Atoms Come Together

Helium is the most chemically inert element in the universe, but last year, scientists proved it could successfully form a stable compound with another element. Now researchers suggest they know why—helium can act much like a peacekeeper, helping otherwise unruly atoms keep civil. These new findings also suggest that helium may form compounds more often than previously thought, including perhaps deep within Earth.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

In Search of New Worlds—Meet TESS, Humanity’s Newest Exoplanet Scout

A new voyage is hopefully setting sail tonight; one that could lead to the discovery of many new worlds, some of which may even harbor life. Guided by the moon and pointed toward the stars, the goal of TESS—the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite—is to identify rocky planets around nearby stars by detecting and analyzing distinctive dips in starlight.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Suspense in Failure: A Simple Model of Breakage Goes Universal

It’s a classic scene in action movies: The hero is dangling from a rope, staring down at certain death. Just as he starts climbing, a fiber snaps above his head. A suspenseful score swells as a hidden clock begins to count down until the final fiber breaks. We see another snap, and then another. Just in the nick of time, the hero lands safely on a ledge as the rope plummets into the depths.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

A Physics Video Game: Kirchhoff's Revenge

I remember the day I came to truly understand the concept of orbit—and why astronauts in the space station seem to be in zero-g, even though they're only 250 miles from Earth's surface, experiencing a gravitational pull close to 90% of what we feel here on Earth. It wasn't during a physics class, or during my time here at PhysicsCentral. I was in my friend's basement, probably 12 years old...playing Super Mario Galaxy.

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

How Far Can Laser Light Travel?

Have you ever played with a pocket-sized laser, wondering how far its light would travel? Could you, a naughty student inside a classroom on Earth, annoy a poor substitute teacher on Mars by waggling your laser pointer at him?​


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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Stealing Design Secrets from the Unexpected Master of Origami

According to folklore, earwigs like to crawl through the ears of sleeping humans, burrow into their brains, and lay eggs. Perhaps for this reason, or maybe because of their large rear-end pinchers, these insects tend to fall in the “creepy” category. Don’t be fooled through, earwigs are more sophisticated than they look: they're record-holders in the ancient art of origami.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Physicists Get to the Root of Randomness in Financial Markets

Unfortunately, no matter how much you know about a stock, you still can’t know for sure how its price will change next. In the same way, no matter how much you know about a coin before it’s flipped, you still can’t predict which face it will land on next. The common factor? Randomness.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Galaxy Without Dark Matter

Update: The study's authors have provided us with a link to a free .pdf version of the full paper!

In a revolutionary development, a team of astronomers has discovered that a faint smudge of a galaxy called NGC1052-DF2 (or DF2, for short) may have no dark matter at all; the group's results show that DF2 has less dark matter than predicted by a factor of at least 400. That’s a big deal. Astronomers have never seen a galaxy like this before, and it raises intriguing questions about galaxies and dark matter.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Meet the Undergrad Helping to Make Ultralight, High-Performance Metals a Reality

Adam Shaw is still working toward his degree, but he’s also working toward the creation of next-gen materials that could change the world of modern manufacturing. A senior at Harvey Mudd College in California, Shaw is part of an international team of physicists and materials scientists whose research could hold the key to making an entirely new class of durable, lightweight alloys—mixtures of metals that can crystallize together to be greater than the sum of their parts.

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Helping Soldiers Disappear in a Burst of Smoke

When an imminent threat means troops need to move, sometimes the most powerful cover is a smokescreen. Not a figurative smokescreen, but an actual burst of smoke that hides soldiers—and even tanks—from enemy eyes. Commonly created by smoke grenades, these bursts are valuable only as long as the enemy can’t see through them.

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