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Showing posts from August, 2017

Snowstorms on Mars and Diamond Rains on Neptune

Two separate discoveries this week show how spectacular the weather can be on other planets in our solar system. First, a paper from Nature Geoscience explains a mechanism that can create snowstorms on Mars. A separate paper from Nature Astronomy discusses how diamonds can rain down on giant icy planets such as Neptune and Uranus.

Coffee Ring Science: What’s in Your Water?

As the Flint water crisis so vividly highlights, those of us lucky enough to live in places with clean tap water often take it for granted. The problem is that when something goes awry, it’s usually discovered after people have already started getting sick. Even without criminal negligence and cover-ups, like those in the Flint crisis, contaminated water can have devastating consequences.

Tales of Totality: The Great American Eclipse, part IV

It's almost here...the first total solar eclipse to grace the mainland US in close to 40 years! While this is a big one for the USA—visible as a total solar eclipse in 16% of the country and as a partial eclipse everywhere else—we know that not everyone is going to be able to make it to the path of totality.

Even for those of us who've traveled to see this astronomical phenomenon in its full glory, chancy weather and the threat of clouds mean that nothing is a guarantee. To that end, the Physics Buzz team is deployed across the country to bring you coverage of totality—from our home base's (College Park, MD) Eclipse at the Ellipse event to the relative wilderness of Idaho Falls, selected for its relatively low incidence of cloud cover this time of year.


That means that our readers on the east coast will hopefully get a preview of the eclipse, roughly an hour and a half before it comes their way courtesy ofDr. Becky Thompson. PhysicsCentral editor Stephen Skolnick is in no…

Ask a Physicist: Balancing Gravity

Greyson wrote in this week to ask:
What would happen if you put a metal object in between the earth and a magnet that had the same pull as gravity?

Get Your Science On: The Great American Eclipse, Part III

The 2017 total solar eclipse is almost upon us, and we’re sure you’ve been hearing a lot about it over the past few weeks (including our eclipse posts Part I and Part II). Whether it’s your first solar eclipse or one of many you’ve witnessed, the event promises to be a show-stopper—weather permitting, of course.

Getting to the Heart of Circuit Breaker Arcs

If you want to see a stunning demonstration of nature colliding with modern technology, do a simple image search for lighting strikes a power line. A chance strike can wreak havoc on the daily lives of those nearby and on the wallets of those responsible for restoring power. Most of us lucky enough to live with stable electric grids take for granted the traffic lights, internet connections, refrigerators, air conditioning, lights, coffee makers, and credit card readers that are essential to our way of life. A major interruption to the grid is a serious and often dangerous issue.

Dark Days Ahead: The Great American Eclipse, Part II

Are you ready? We* are just one week away from a total solar eclipse, an event NASA calls “one of nature’s most awe inspiring sights.” Considering all of the inspiring sights NASA has unveiled over the years, that’s saying a lot! The total solar eclipse will be visible from a narrow band of the United States stretching from coast to coast on August 21. Weather permitting, everyone in the United States (including Hawaii and Alaska) along with people in regions of South America, Africa, and Europe will have the opportunity to see at a least partial solar eclipse. For more on logistics and geography, check out The Great American Eclipse, Part I.

Primordial Particle Soup Smashes Spin-Speed Record

The particles in your body, the device you’re reading this on and everything else around you once swam in a primordial soup that existed just after the universe came into being. This bizarre fluid is the hottest, densest and freest-flowing substance ever known to exist. And the physicists who recreated it believe it can claim a new record: fastest-spinning.

Fractal Retinal Implants Could Restore People's Sight

From the gecko’s sticky feet to the sophisticated sniffing ability of dogs, nature often provides inspiration for new materials and technologies. Recently, nature has inspired something that could help many people see life a little more clearly; in research recently published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers from the University of Oregon show that fractal-inspired retinal implants could be the first viable approach to helping people with retinal diseases regain sight to the point where they can navigate without assistance.

Perspective: Why Don't Sunbeams Look Parallel?

Not too long ago, I had an internet run-in with a "flat Earth" type who hit me with an argument I'd never heard before: the sun, they insisted, is actually only a few hundred miles from Earth, as can be proven with some simple mathematical analysis of sunbeams. By measuring the apparent angle between sunbeams striking the opposite sides of a valley that they knew the width of, they could trace back and use geometry to calculate how far away the source must be! I want to share this little anecdote because it's a great reminder of how important a diverse and well-rounded education is: someone with training in visual arts would never have missed the error that this person made.

Measuring the Very Real Pressure of Virtual Photons

Under some conditions, quantum fluctuations of light can put real, physical pressure on an object. In new research that came out just yesterday in the journalPhysical Review Letters, a team of scientists from the RIKEN research institute in Japan show that it’s theoretically possible to “see” and study the virtual photons that make up these quantum fluctuations.