A little taste of everything that’s out there

A little taste of everything that’s out there

Enlarge

If the spectacular images from the NASA James Webb Space Telescope have you hankering to learn more about what’s Out There—or at least to see more pretty pictures of it—The Short Story of the Universe arrives just in time to sate your craving.

Like all of the books in the Short Story of… series, Gemma Lavender’s The Short Story of the Universe (Amazon, Bookshop) is organized into four cross-referenced sections. First is Structure, which begins with the Universe and ends with subatomic particles. Next is History and Future. It begins “Before the Beginning” (the “beginning” being the Big Bang, T=0, 13.8 billion years ago) and ends with “The Fate of the Universe” at T > 10100 years.

The shape of that future depends on how dark energy behaves. If dark energy weakens over time, “it may cause gravity to lead the Universe slowly to contract back on itself in a Big Crunch.” Alternatively, if dark energy strengthens or even stays the same over time, the Universe will just keep on expanding forever until either all matter entropically decays into radiation or the fabric of space-time gets torn in a Big Rip. We don’t know which path dark energy will take because we don’t yet know what dark energy is.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#ars-shopping, #book-review, #cosmology, #physics, #science

Betelgeuse is bouncing back after blowing its top in 2019

Artist’s conception in 2021 provided a close-up of Betelgeuse’s irregular surface and its giant, dynamic gas bubbles, with distant stars dotting the background.

Enlarge / Artist’s conception in 2021 provided a close-up of Betelgeuse’s irregular surface and its giant, dynamic gas bubbles, with distant stars dotting the background. (credit: European Southern Observatory)

Astronomers are still making new discoveries about the red supergiant star Betelgeuse, which experienced a mysterious “dimming” a few years ago. That dimming was eventually attributed to a cold spot and a stellar “burp” that shrouded the star in interstellar dust. Now, new observations from the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories have revealed more about the event that preceded the dimming.

It seems Betelgeuse suffered a massive surface mass injection (SME) event in 2019, blasting off 400 times as much mass as our Sun does during coronal mass ejections (CMEs). The sheer scale of the event is unprecedented and suggests that CMEs and SMEs are distinctly different types of events, according to a new paper posted to the physics arXiv last week. (It has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.)

Betelgeuse is a bright red star in the Orion constellation—one of the closest massive stars to Earth, about 700 light-years away. It’s an old star that has reached the stage where it glows a dull red and expands, with the hot core only having a tenuous gravitational grip on its outer layers. The star has something akin to a heartbeat, albeit an extremely slow and irregular one. Over time, the star cycles through periods when its surface expands and then contracts.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astronomy, #astrophysics, #betelgeuse, #physics, #science, #stars, #stellar-evolution, #surface-mass-injections

“Black widow” neutron star devoured its mate to become heaviest found yet

A spinning neutron star periodically swings its radio (green) and gamma-ray (magenta) beams past Eart. A black widow pulsar heats the facing side of its stellar partner to temperatures twice as hot as the Sun's surface and slowly evaporates it.

Enlarge / A spinning neutron star periodically swings its radio (green) and gamma-ray (magenta) beams past Eart. A black widow pulsar heats the facing side of its stellar partner to temperatures twice as hot as the Sun’s surface and slowly evaporates it. (credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

Astronomers have determined the heaviest neutron star known to date, weighing in at 2.35 solar masses, according to a recent paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. How did it get so large? Most likely by devouring a companion star—the celestial equivalent of a black widow spider devouring its mate. The work helps establish an upper limit on just how large neutron stars can become, with implications for our understanding of the quantum state of the matter at their cores.

Neutron stars are the remnants of supernovae. As Ars Science Editor John Timmer wrote last month:

The matter that forms neutron stars starts out as ionized atoms near the core of a massive star. Once the star’s fusion reactions stop producing enough energy to counteract the draw of gravity, this matter contracts, experiencing ever-greater pressures. The crushing force is enough to eliminate the borders between atomic nuclei, creating a giant soup of protons and neutrons. Eventually, even the electrons in the region get forced into many of the protons, converting them to neutrons.

This finally provides a force to push back against the crushing power of gravity. Quantum mechanics prevent neutrons from occupying the same energy state in close proximity, and this prevents the neutrons from getting any closer and so blocks the collapse into a black hole. But it’s possible that there’s an intermediate state between a blob of neutrons and a black hole, one where the boundaries between neutrons start to break down, resulting in odd combinations of their constituent quarks.

Short of black holes, the cores of neutron stars are the densest known objects in the Universe, and because they are hidden behind an event horizon, they are difficult to study. “We know roughly how matter behaves at nuclear densities, like in the nucleus of a uranium atom,” said Alex Filippenko, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley and co-author of the new paper. “A neutron star is like one giant nucleus, but when you have 1.5 solar masses of this stuff, which is about 500,000 Earth masses of nuclei all clinging together, it’s not at all clear how they will behave.”

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astronomy, #astrophysics, #neutron-stars, #physics, #science

X-rays reveal hidden Van Gogh self-portrait

The mysterious image was revealed by an X-ray taken when conservationists at the National Galleries of Scotland examined Van Gogh’s Head of a Peasant Woman (1885) ahead of a new exhibition called A Taste for Impressionism.

A routine cataloging procedure of a painting by Vincent van Gogh at the National Galleries in Scotland yielded an unexpected discovery: a hidden self-portrait on the back of the canvas. The portrait was revealed while conservationists were conducting X-ray analysis of Head of a Peasant Woman as part of a cataloging exercise in preparation for an upcoming exhibition. Once the exhibit opens, visitors will be able to view the X-ray image through a specially crafted lightbox at the center of the display.

As I’ve reported previously, X-ray imaging techniques are a well-established tool to help analyze and restore valuable paintings because the rays’ higher frequency means they pass right through paintings without harming them. X-ray imaging can reveal anything that has been painted over a canvas or where the artist may have altered the original vision. 

For instance, Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window was first subjected to X-ray analysis in 1979 and revealed the image of a Cupid lurking under the overpainting. And in 2020, a team of Dutch and French scientists used high-energy X-rays to unlock Rembrandt’s secret recipe for his famous impasto technique, believed to be lost to history.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#art, #art-conservation, #gaming-culture, #physics, #science, #vincent-van-gogh, #x-ray-imaging

New research into why woodpeckers don’t get concussions busts a popular myth

Slow-motion video of pecking by the pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus). The original video was recorded at 1600 frames per second. Credit: Robert Shadwick & Erica Ortlieb/University of British Columbia

Check out almost any popular science article about woodpeckers and you’ll likely find some mention of why the birds don’t seem to suffer concussions, despite energetically drumming away at tree trunks all day with their beaks. Conventional wisdom holds that the structure of the woodpecker’s skull and beak acts as a kind of built-in shock absorber, protecting the bird from injury. But a new paper published in the journal Current Biology argues that this is incorrect and that woodpecker heads behave more like stiff hammers than shock absorbers.

“While filming the woodpeckers in zoos, I have witnessed parents explaining to their kids that woodpeckers don’t get headaches because they have shock absorbers built into their head,” said co-author Sam Van Wassenbergh of Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium. “This myth of shock absorption in woodpeckers is now busted by our findings.”

As for why this particular myth has endured for so long, Van Wassenbergh told Ars, “To us humans, the first thing that comes to our mind when watching an animal violently smashing their head against trees is to wish the animal had some kind of a built-in cushioning to prevent it from getting headaches or concussions. It is logical for us to think of such action in terms of protection and safety, as if it is an accident.”

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#animals, #biology, #biomechanics, #concussions, #evolutionary-biology, #physics, #science, #woodpeckers

Polarized light reveals final fate of a star “spaghettified” by a black hole

If a star (red trail) wanders too close to a black hole (left), it can be shredded, or spaghetified, by the intense gravity. Some of the star’s matter swirls around the black hole, like water down a drain, emitting copious X-rays (blue).

Enlarge / If a star (red trail) wanders too close to a black hole (left), it can be shredded, or spaghetified, by the intense gravity. Some of the star’s matter swirls around the black hole, like water down a drain, emitting copious X-rays (blue). (credit: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss)

When astronomers first observed a star that was shredded, or “spaghettified,” after approaching too close to a massive black hole in 2019, they determined that much of the star’s matter was launched outward in a powerful wind from the optical light emitted from the blast. Now, astronomers from the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) have analyzed the polarization of that light to determine that the cloud was likely spherically symmetric, adding further evidence for the presence of that powerful wind.

“This is the first time anyone has deduced the shape of the gas cloud around a tidally spaghettified star,” said co-author Alex Filippenko, a UCB astronomer. The latest findings appeared in a recent paper published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

As we’ve reported previously, an object that passes beyond the event horizon of a black hole—including light—is swallowed up and can’t escape, although black holes are also messy eaters. That means that part of an object’s matter is actually ejected in a powerful jet. If that object is a star, the process of being shredded (or “spaghettified”) by the powerful gravitational forces of a black hole occurs outside the event horizon, and part of the star’s original mass is ejected violently outward. This can form a rotating ring of matter (aka, an accretion disk) around the black hole that emits powerful X-rays and visible light. The jets are one way astronomers can indirectly infer the presence of a black hole.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astronomy, #astrophysics, #black-holes, #physics, #science, #spaghettification, #tidal-disruption-events

This is why the pistol shrimp is immune to its own powerful shock waves

A translucent "helmet" on the bigclaw snapping shrimp’s head shelters its brain from the shock waves generated by its claw-snapping.

Enlarge / A translucent “helmet” on the bigclaw snapping shrimp’s head shelters its brain from the shock waves generated by its claw-snapping. (credit: Kingston et al., Current Biology)

The tiny-but-mighty pistol shrimp can snap its claws with sufficient force to produce a shock wave to stun its prey. So how come the shrimp appears immune to its sonic weapon? Scientists have concluded that the shrimp is protected by a tiny clear helmet that protects the creature from any significant neural damage by damping the shock waves, according to a recent paper published in the journal Current Biology.

The snapping shrimp, aka the pistol shrimp, is one of the loudest creatures in the ocean, along with the sperm whale and beluga whale. When enough of these shrimp snap at once, the noise can dominate the coastal ocean soundscape, sometimes confusing sonar instruments. The source of that snap: an impressive set of asymmetrically sized claws; the larger of the two produces the snap. As I wrote at Gizmodo in 2015:

Each snapping sound also produces a powerful shock wave with sufficient oomph to stun or even kill a small fish (the shrimp’s typical prey)…. That shock wave in turn produces collapsing bubbles that emit a barely-visible flash of light. It’s a rare natural example of the phenomenon known as sonoluminescence: zap a liquid with sound, create some bubbles, and when those bubbles collapse (as bubbles inevitably do), you get sort bursts of light. I guess you could call it “shrimpoluminescence.”

Scientists believe that the snapping is used for communication, as well as for hunting. A shrimp on the prowl will hide in a burrow or similar obscured spot, extending antennae to detect any passing fish. When it does, the shrimp emerges from its hiding place, pulls back its claw, and lets loose with a powerful snap, producing the deadly shock wave. It can then pull the stunned prey back into the burrow to feed.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#animals, #biology, #biomechanics, #physics, #science, #snapping-shrimp

Physics meets paleontology: The hotly debated mechanics of pterosaur flight

Physics meets paleontology: The hotly debated mechanics of pterosaur flight

Enlarge (credit: Julius Csotonyi)

A group of researchers has recently made an astounding discovery.

Using an innovative imaging technique, an international team of scientists has uncovered remarkable details of a pterosaur’s soft tissue. Despite an age of approximately 145–163 million years, the wing membrane and the webbing between both feet managed to survive fossilization.

Armed with new data, the team used modeling to determine that this little pterosaur had the capacity to launch itself from the water. Their findings are published in Scientific Reports.

Read 38 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biology, #biomechanics, #features, #fossils, #paleontology, #physics, #pterosaurs, #science

Picasso‘s favorite pigment may one day recycle metals from your cell phone

A new method helps recover gold from E-waste at a higher rate than it can be extracted from fresh ore.

Enlarge / A new method helps recover gold from E-waste at a higher rate than it can be extracted from fresh ore. (credit: Reiko Matsushita/Shinta Watanabe)

Gold and certain other precious metals are key ingredients in computer chips, including those used in consumer electronics such as smart phones. But it can be difficult to recover and recycle those metals from electronic waste. Japanese researchers have found that a pigment widely used by artists called Prussian blue can extract gold and platinum-group metals from e-waste much more efficiently than conventional bio-based absorbents, according to a recent paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.

“The amount of gold contained in one ton of mobile phones is 300-400 grams, which is much higher by 10-80 times than that in one ton of natural ore,” the authors wrote. “The other elements have a similar situation. Consequently, the recovery of those precious elements from e-wastes is much more effective and efficient when compared to their collections from natural ore.”

Prussian blue is the first modern synthetic pigment. Granted, there was once a pigment known as Egyptian blue used in ancient Egypt for millennia; the Romans called it caeruleum. But after the Roman empire collapsed, the pigment wasn’t used much, and eventually the secret to how it was made was lost. (Scientists have since figured out how to recreate the process.) So before Prussian blue was discovered, painters had to use indigo dye, smalt, or the pricey ultramarine made from lapis lazuli for deep blue hues.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#chemistry, #electronic-waste, #physics, #recycling, #science

As the Large Hadron Collider Revs Up, Physicists’ Hopes Soar

The particle collider at CERN will soon restart. “There could be a revolution coming,” scientists say.

#cern, #dark-matter-astronomy, #fermi-national-accelerator-laboratory, #geneva-switzerland, #higgs-boson, #illinois, #large-hadron-collider, #magnets-and-magnetism, #neutrinos, #particle-accelerators, #physics, #space-and-astronomy, #your-feed-science

Quantum computer succeeds where a classical algorithm fails

Image of a chip above iridescent wiring.

Enlarge / Google’s Sycamore processor. (credit: Google)

People have performed many mathematical proofs to show that a quantum computer will vastly outperform traditional computers on a number of algorithms. But the quantum computers we have now are error-prone and don’t have enough qubits to allow for error correction. The only demonstrations we’ve had involve quantum computing hardware evolving out of a random configuration and traditional computers failing to simulate their normal behavior. Useful calculations are an exercise for the future.

But a new paper from Google’s quantum computing group has now moved beyond these sorts of demonstrations and used a quantum computer as part of a system that can help us understand quantum systems in general, rather than the quantum computer. And they show that, even on today’s error-prone hardware, the system can outperform classical computers on the same problem.

Probing quantum systems

To understand what the new work involves, it helps to step back and think about how we typically understand quantum systems. Since the behavior of these systems is probabilistic, we typically need to measure them repeatedly. The results of these measurements are then imported into a classical computer, which processes them to generate a statistical understanding of the system’s behavior. With a quantum computer, by contrast, it can be possible to mirror a quantum state using the qubits themselves, reproduce it as often as needed, and manipulate it as necessary. This method has the potential to provide a route to a more direct understanding of the quantum system at issue.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#computer-science, #google, #physics, #quantum-computing, #quantum-mechanics, #science

You’ll shoot your eye out: Popped champagne cork ejects CO2 at supersonic speeds

You’ll shoot your eye out: Popped champagne cork ejects CO2 at supersonic speeds

Enlarge (credit: Andy Roberts/Getty Images)

The pop of a champagne cork turns out to have something in common with a rocket launcher, according to a recent paper published in the journal Physics of Fluids. Scientists from France and India used computer simulations to reveal what happens in the microseconds after uncorking a bottle of champagne in full detail. They discovered that in the first millisecond after the cork pops, the ejected gas forms different types of shockwaves—even reaching supersonic speeds—before the bubbly settles down and is ready to imbibe.

“Our paper unravels the unexpected and beautiful flow patterns that are hidden right under our nose each time a bottle of bubbly is uncorked,” said co-author Gérard Liger-Belair of the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne. “Who could have imagined the complex and aesthetic phenomena hidden behind such a common situation experienced by any one of us?”

Liger-Belair could imagine it, for one. He has been studying the physics of champagne for years and is the author of Uncorked: The Science of Champagne. He has gleaned numerous insights into the underlying physics by subjecting champagne to laser tomography, infrared imaging, high-speed video imaging, and mathematical modeling, among other methods. 

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#champagne-science, #computational-fluid-dynamics, #fluid-dynamics, #physics, #science, #supersonic

Manipulating photons for microseconds tops 9,000 years on a supercomputer

Given an actual beam of light, a beamsplitter divides it in two. Given individual photons, the behavior becomes more complicated.

Enlarge / Given an actual beam of light, a beamsplitter divides it in two. Given individual photons, the behavior becomes more complicated. (credit: Wikipedia)

Ars Technica’s Chris Lee has spent a good portion of his adult life playing with lasers, so he’s a big fan of photon-based quantum computing. Even as various forms of physical hardware like superconducting wires and trapped ions made progress, it was possible to find him gushing about an optical quantum computer put together by a Canadian startup called Xanadu. But, in the year since Xanadu described its hardware, companies using that other technology continued to make progress by cutting down error rates, exploring new technologies, and upping the qubit count.

But the advantage of optical quantum computing didn’t go away, and now Xanadu is back with a reminder that it hasn’t gone away either. Thanks to some tweaks to the design it described a year ago, Xanadu is now able to sometimes perform operations with more than 200 qubits. And it’s shown that simulating the behavior of just one of those operations on a supercomputer would take 9,000 years, while its optical quantum computer can do them in just a few dozen milliseconds.

This is an entirely contrived benchmark: just as Google’s quantum computer did, the quantum computer is just being itself while the supercomputer is trying to simulate it. The news here is more about the potential of Xanadu’s hardware to scale.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#computer-science, #optics, #physics, #quantum-computing, #science

‘Quantum Internet’ Inches Closer With Advance in Data Teleportation

Scientists have improved their ability to send quantum information across distant computers — and have taken another step toward the network of the future.

#computer-security, #computers-and-the-internet, #delft-netherlands, #delft-university-of-technology, #hefei-china, #nature-journal, #physics, #quantum-computing, #quantum-theory, #your-feed-science

Searching for What Connects Us, Carlo Rovelli Explores Beyond Physics

The physicist ranges widely — from black holes to Buddhism to climate change — in his new book, “There Are Places in the World Where Rules Are Less Important Than Kindness.”

#books-and-literature, #carnell-simon, #philosophy, #physics, #rovelli-carlo-1956, #writing-and-writers

Terahertz imaging reveals hidden inscription on 16th-century funerary cross

Georgia Tech's Alexandre Locquet (left) and David Citrin (right) with an image of the 16th-century funerary cross used in their study.

Enlarge / Georgia Tech’s Alexandre Locquet (left) and David Citrin (right) with an image of the 16th-century funerary cross used in their study. (credit: Georgia Tech-Lorraine)

In 1843, archaeologists excavated the burial grounds of Remiremont Abbey in Lorraine, France (the abbey was founded in the 7th century). It was medieval custom to bury the deceased with cross-shaped plaques cut from thin sheets of lead placed across the chest. The crosses often included inscribed prayers, but many of those inscriptions have been rendered unreadable over the ensuing centuries by layers of corrosion. Now, an interdisciplinary team of scientists has successfully subjected one such funerary cross to terahertz (THz) imaging and revealed its hidden inscription—fragments of the Lord’s Prayer (Pater Noster)—according to a new paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Our approach enabled us to read a text that was hidden beneath corrosion, perhaps for hundreds of years,” said co-author Alexandre Locquet of Georgia Tech-Lorraine in Metz, France. “Clearly, approaches that access such information without damaging the object are of great interest to archaeologists.” According to the authors, this approach is also useful for studying historical paintings, detecting skin cancer, measuring the thickness of automotive paints, and making sure turbine blade coatings adhere properly.

In recent years, a variety of cutting-edge non-destructive imaging methods have proved to be a boon to art conservationists and archaeologists alike. Each technique has its advantages and disadvantages. For instance, ground-penetrating radar (radio waves) is great for locating buried artifacts, among other uses, while lidar is useful for creating high-resolution maps of surface terrain. Infrared reflectography is well-suited to certain artworks whose materials contain pigments that reflect a lot of infrared light. Ultraviolet light is ideal for identifying varnishes and detecting any retouching that was done with white pigments containing zinc and titanium, although UV light doesn’t penetrate paint layers.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#archaeology, #gaming-culture, #physics, #science, #terahertz-imaging

“Oreology” investigates mystery of why Oreo creme filling usually sticks to one side

If you have to test the mechanics of an Oreo, what better fixture is there than an oreometer?

Everyone has their preferred method for snacking on tasty Oreo cookies: twisting the two halves apart to eat the creme filling first, perhaps, before dunking the chocolate wafers in a glass of milk. But you may have noticed that the creme typically sticks to only one chocolate wafer. MIT scientists tried to get to the bottom of why this is so often the case in a paper published in the journal Physics of Fluids. The authors playfully invoked a new scientific subfield they dubbed “oreology” (“Oreo” after the classic Nabisco cookie, “logy” from the Greek for “flow study,” rheo logia).

Co-author Crystal Owens, a graduate student at MIT, doesn’t study foods in particular; her primary focus is on 3D printing with complex fluid inks. “But great examples of complex fluids are all around us—many foods, sauces, condiments, yogurt, ice cream, and other products,” she told Ars. “So it’s natural and convenient to find foods to test our theories.” Early on in her Phd thesis research, Owens designed a novel rheology tool and tested it on hair gel and mayonnaise to make sure it would work with everyday materials.

There is rich scientific literature on what Owens calls “kitchen relevant flows.” For example, scientists have studied the structure of cheese; investigated the composition and flow of gluten-free batter and breads; discovered why strands of honey can get so long and thin as they drip without actually breaking; figured out a way to get cocoa butter to distribute more evenly in chocolate to enhance the perceived texture; studied why Brazil nuts rise to the top of a can of mixed nuts (aka the “Brazil nut effect“); and figured out how to “tune” the flow of Swiss cheese fondue by adding cornflour or wine.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#fluid-dynamics, #food-science, #oreology, #physics, #rheology, #science

Physicists devise precise laser-based method to measure a baseball’s drag

Scientists have devised a new method for determining the aerodynamics of baseballs in free flight.

Enlarge / Scientists have devised a new method for determining the aerodynamics of baseballs in free flight. (credit: Mike Kemp/Getty Images)

Baseball has long been a popular topic of research for physicists, largely because of the complex aerodynamics of a baseball in flight. Traditionally, scientists relied upon wind tunnel experiments to measure key properties like speed, spin, lift, and drag, but this approach can’t quite precisely capture tiny shifts in drag. And even small shifts in drag can have large effects—like a dramatic increase in the number of home runs.

That’s why two physicists have developed a laser-guided speed measurement system to measure the change in speed of a baseball mid-flight and then used that measurement to calculate the acceleration, the various forces acting on the ball, and the lift and drag. They described their approach in a recent paper published in the journal Applied Sciences and suggested it could also be used for other ball sports like cricket and soccer.

Any moving ball leaves a trail of air as it travels; the inevitable drag slows the ball down. The ball’s trajectory is affected by diameter and speed and by tiny irregularities on the surface. Baseballs are not completely smooth; they have stitching in a figure-eight pattern. Those stitches are bumpy enough to affect the airflow around the baseball as it’s thrown toward home plate. As a baseball moves it creates a whirlpool of air around it, commonly known as the Magnus effect. The raised seams churn the air around the ball, creating high-pressure zones in various locations (depending on the pitch type) that can cause deviations in its trajectory.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#aerodynamics, #baseball-physics, #physics, #science, #sports-science

Higher W boson mass hints at chinks in Standard Model’s armor

Illustration of a candidate event for a W boson decaying into one muon and one neutrino from proton-proton collisions, recorded by the Large Hadron Collider's ATLAS detector in 2018.

Enlarge / Illustration of a candidate event for a W boson decaying into one muon and one neutrino from proton-proton collisions, recorded by the Large Hadron Collider’s ATLAS detector in 2018. (credit: ATLAS Collaboration/CERN)

The Standard Model of Particle Physics has withstood rigorous test after test over many decades, and the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012 provided the last observational piece of the puzzle. But that hasn’t kept physicists from doggedly searching for new physics beyond what the model predicts. In fact, we know the model must be incomplete because it doesn’t incorporate gravity or account for the presence of dark matter in the Universe. Nor can it account for the accelerating rate of expansion of the Universe, which many physicists attribute to dark energy.

The latest hint as to how the Standard Model might need revising comes from a new precise measurement of the W boson by Fermilab’s CDF II collaboration. That measurement yielded a statistically significant higher mass for the W boson than predicted by the Standard Model—on the order of 7 standard deviations, according to the collaboration’s new paper published in the journal Science. It also conflicts with prior precision measurements of the W boson’s mass.

“The surprisingly high value of the W boson mass reported by the CDF Collaboration directly challenges a fundamental element at the heart of the Standard Model, where both experimental observables and theoretical predictions were thought to have been firmly established and well understood,” Claudio Campagnari (University of California, Santa Barbara) and Martijn Mulders (CERN) wrote in an accompanying perspective. “The finding … offers an exciting new perspective on the present understanding of the most basic structures of matter and forces in the universe.”

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#particle-physics, #physics, #science, #the-standard-model, #w-boson

No air currents required: Ballooning spiders rely on electric fields to generate lift

Image from a 2018 observational study of ballooning in large spiders depicting a crab spider just as it is about to take off.

Enlarge / Image from a 2018 observational study of ballooning in large spiders depicting a crab spider just as it is about to take off. (credit: Cho, M. et al., 2018/CC BY-SA 4.0)

In 1832, Charles Darwin witnessed hundreds of ballooning spiders landing on the HMS Beagle while some 60 miles offshore. Ballooning is a phenomenon that’s been known since at least the days of Aristotle—and immortalized in E.B. White’s children’s classic Charlotte’s Web—but scientists have only recently made progress in gaining a better understanding of its underlying physics.

Now, physicists have developed a new mathematical model incorporating all the various forces at play as well as the effects of multiple threads, according to a recent paper published in the journal Physical Review E. Authors M. Khalid Jawed (UCLA) and Charbel Habchi (Notre Dame University-Louaize) based their new model on a computer graphics algorithm used to model fur and hair in such blockbuster films as The Hobbit and Planet of the Apes. The work could one day contribute to the design of new types of ballooning sensors for explorations of the atmosphere.

There are competing hypotheses for how ballooning spiders are able to float off into the air. For instance, one proposal posits that, as the air warms with the rising sun, the silk threads the spiders emit to spin their “parachutes” catch the rising convection currents (the updraft) that are caused by thermal gradients. A second hypothesis holds that the threads have a static electric charge that interacts with the weak vertical electric field in the atmosphere.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#aerodynamic-drag, #aerodynamics, #biology, #biomechanics, #fluid-dynamics, #physics, #science, #spider-silk, #spiders

A cosmic mystery: Astronomers capture dying star blowing smoke rings

A rendering of the star V Hydrae, or V Hya for short. In its death throes, the star emitted a series of expanding rings that scientists calculated are being formed every few hundred years, per UCLA astronomer Mark Morris.

Enlarge / A rendering of the star V Hydrae, or V Hya for short. In its death throes, the star emitted a series of expanding rings that scientists calculated are being formed every few hundred years, per UCLA astronomer Mark Morris. (credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/S. Dagnello (NRAO/AUI/NSF))

Astronomers have caught a red giant star going through its final death throes in unprecedented detail, revealing an unusual feature. The star, known as V Hydrae (or V Hya for short), ejected six distinct rings of material, according to a preprint accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. The specific mechanism of these mysterious “smoke rings” formed is not yet understood. Still, the observation could potentially shake up current models for this particular late stage of stellar evolution and shed further light on the fate of our own Sun.

“V Hydrae has been caught in the process of shedding its atmosphere—ultimately most of its mass—which is something that most late-stage red giants do,” said co-author Mark Morris, an astronomer at UCLA. However, “This is the first and only time that a series of expanding rings has been seen around a star that is in its death throes—a series of expanding ‘smoke rings’ that we have calculated are being blown every few hundred years.”

Red giants are one of the final stages of stellar evolution. Once a star’s core stops converting hydrogen into helium via nuclear fusion, gravity begins to compress the star, raising its internal temperature. This process ignites a shell of hydrogen burning around an inert core. Eventually, the compression and heating in the core cause the star to expand significantly, reaching diameters between 62 million and 620 million miles (100 million to 1 billion kilometers).  The surface temperatures are relatively cool by stellar standards: a mere 4,000 to 5,800 degrees F (2,200 to 3,200 degrees C). So these stars take on an orange-red appearance, hence the red giant moniker.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#agb-stars, #alma, #astronomy, #astrophysics, #physics, #red-giants, #science, #stellar-evolution

Shining an infrared light on how “metal soaps” threaten priceless oil paintings

NIST researchers collaborated with the National Gallery of Art and other organizations to study "metal soaps" found in oil paintings. The soaps can cause the painting to degrade over time.

Enlarge / NIST researchers collaborated with the National Gallery of Art and other organizations to study “metal soaps” found in oil paintings. The soaps can cause the painting to degrade over time. (credit: National Gallery of Art/A. Centrone/NIST)

Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology collaborated with the National Gallery of Art and other institutions to study the deterioration of an oil painting, entitled Gypsy Woman with Mandolin (circa 1870), by the 19th-century French landscape and portrait painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. The researchers used three complementary techniques to analyze paint samples under infrared light to determine the composition of the damaging metal carboxylate soaps that had formed on the top layer of paint, according to a recent paper published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

“The painting had some problems that art conservators pointed out,” said co-author and NIST researcher Andrea Centrone. “It has 13 layers, many due to restorations that occurred long after the painting was made, and at the very least, the top layer was degrading. They wanted to restore the painting to its original state of appearance and find out what was happening on a microscopic level on the top layer of the painting, and that’s where we started to help.”

Back in 2019, we reported on how many of the oil paintings at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, had been developing tiny, pin-sized blisters, almost like acne, for decades. Conservationists and scholars initially assumed the blemishes were grains of sand trapped in the paint. But then the protrusions grew, spread, and started flaking off, leading to mounting concern. Some paintings have more pronounced protrusions than others, but even when the conservators restored the most damaged canvases, the pimpling (or “art acne”) returned.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#art-and-science, #art-conservation, #chemistry, #gaming-culture, #jean-baptiste-camille-corot, #metal-carboxylates, #national-gallery-of-art, #nist, #physics, #science, #spectroscopy

How to become a world-dominating supervillain for a measly $55 billion

Ryan North, creator of <em>Dinosaur Comics</em>, offers a step-by-step guide to becoming the next Lex Luthor in his new book, <em>How To Take Over the World: Practical Schemes and Scientific Solutions for the Aspiring Supervillain</em>.

Enlarge / Ryan North, creator of Dinosaur Comics, offers a step-by-step guide to becoming the next Lex Luthor in his new book, How To Take Over the World: Practical Schemes and Scientific Solutions for the Aspiring Supervillain. (credit: Ryan North, tweaked by Aurich Lawson)

Are you a fan of superhero comics who identifies more with the Big Bad? Do you dream of riding around on your own cloned dinosaur and kicking back after a long day’s evil-doing in your floating, secret supervillain base? Good news: Ryan North has got you covered. He’s the author of a new book called How to Take Over the World: Practical Schemes and Scientific Solutions for the Aspiring Supervillain, and there’s frankly nobody better qualified to guide the reader through a step-by-step process toward world domination.

North is something of a webcomic pioneer, having started Dinosaur Comics (aka Qwantz) way back in 2003. The strip’s signature six panels are the same every time, consisting of simple dinosaur clip art that North found on a CD; only the text changes. T-Rex is the main character, with Utahraptor appearing as a comic foil in the fourth and fifth panels. A third dinosaur, Dromiceiomimus, is featured in the third panel. North has said he did it this way because he can’t draw. It’s been a staple of nerdy webcomics ever since.

That early success led to North becoming the writer for several Marvel Comics series, most notably the Eisner Award-winning The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (a personal favorite) and Jughead. It was only a matter of time before he wrote his first popular science book: the delightfully irreverent (and best-selling) How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler. In each chapter, North demonstrated how the reader could invent any number of modern conveniences from first principles, as well as answering the burning question of whether it’s possible to tame a giant wombat.

Read 30 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#books, #dinosaur-comics, #gaming-culture, #physics, #popular-science-books, #ryan-north, #science, #supervillains

Absolutely bonkers experiment measures antiproton orbiting helium ion

Image of some bizarre looking machinery covered in silvery foil.

Enlarge / The hardware that slows down antiprotons so they can be used in these sorts of experiments. (credit: CERN)

In Wednesday’s issue of Nature, a new paper describes a potentially useful way of measuring the interactions between normal matter and exotic particles, like antiprotons and unstable items like kaons or elements containing a strange quark. The work is likely to be useful, as we still don’t understand the asymmetry that has allowed matter to be the dominant form in our Universe.

But the study is probably most notable for the surprising way that it collected measurements. A small research team managed to put an antiproton in orbit around the nucleus of a helium atom that was part of some liquid helium chilled down to where it acted as a superfluid. The researchers then measured the light emitted by the antiproton’s orbital transitions.

Why would anyone want to do this?

There are many reasons you’d want to get precise measurements of this sort of thing. For one, the measurements will be sensitive to the properties of antimatter and strange quarks, which are short-lived and are often created in environments that make precision measurements challenging. In addition, this system involves interactions between antimatter and regular matter, which can be difficult to capture due to their violent ends. Finally, the specific interactions here—between an atomic nucleus and an object in the orbitals that surround it—are sensitive to properties that are fundamental to the Universe.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#antimatter, #particle-physics, #physics, #science

How to tell if your spaghetti is perfectly done using just a simple ruler

Physicists at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have demonstrated that using a ruler—rather than the time-honored method of throwing a spaghetti strand against the wall—may be the best way to confirm when pasta is fully cooked.

Enlarge / Physicists at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have demonstrated that using a ruler—rather than the time-honored method of throwing a spaghetti strand against the wall—may be the best way to confirm when pasta is fully cooked. (credit: Nopadol Uengbunchoo/Getty Images)

Scientists found themselves working from home along with most everyone else when universities shut down in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic—including laboratories, posing a unique challenge for experimentalists in particular. That’s how physicists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) found themselves casting about for experiments that could be done at home in the kitchen. The physicists ended up investigating the physics of cooking pasta—first conducting home experiments, then repeating those in the lab once the university reopened.

Cooking instructions on most packaged dried pastas typically recommend an 8 to 10 minute cooking time, but it’s an imprecise method that can result in a great deal of variation in the resulting consistency of the cooked pasta. Among other findings, the UIUC physicists came up with a simple technique, using just a ruler, to determine when one’s spaghetti is perfectly al dente, with no need for the time-honored tradition of throwing a cooked strand against the wall. A paper on their findings has just been accepted for publication in the journal Physics of Fluids, and two of the authors presented the work at this week’s meeting of the American Physical Society in Chicago. 

There have been a surprisingly large number of scientific papers seeking to understand the various properties of spaghetti, both cooking and eating it—the mechanics of slurping the pasta into one’s mouth, for instance, or spitting it out (aka, the “reverse spaghetti problem”). The most well-known is the question of how to get dry spaghetti strands to break neatly in two, rather than three or more scattered pieces.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#aps-march-meeting, #kitchen-physics, #materials, #pasta-science, #physics, #science

Microsoft announces progress on a completely new type of qubit

Image of a graph with two obvious peaks.

Enlarge / Microsoft says it sees two clear peaks at the ends of a wire, with a nice energy separation between those and any other energy states. (credit: Microsoft)

So far, two primary quantum computing technologies have been commercialized. One type of hardware, called a transmon, involves superconducting wire loops linked to a resonator; it is used by companies like Google, IBM, and Rigetti. Companies like Quantinuum and IonQ have instead used individual ions held in light traps. At the moment, both technologies are in an awkward place. They’ve clearly been demonstrated to work, but they need some significant scaling and quality improvements before they can perform useful computations.

It may be a bit surprising to see that Microsoft is committed to an alternative technology called “topological qubits.” This technology is far enough behind other options that the company just announced it has worked out the physics to make a qubit. To understand Microsoft’s approach better, Ars talked to Microsoft engineer Chetan Nayak about the company’s progress and plans.

The foundation of a qubit

Microsoft is starting behind some competitors because the basic physics of its system weren’t entirely figured out. The company’s system relies on the controlled production of a “Majorana particle,” something that was only demonstrated to exist within the last decade (and even then, its discovery has been controversial).

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biz-it, #majorana-particle, #microsoft, #physics, #quantum-computing, #quantum-mechanics, #science

Black hole “billiards” may explain strange aspects of 2019 black hole merger

Illustration of a swarm of smaller black holes in a gas disk rotating around a giant black hole.

Enlarge / Illustration of a swarm of smaller black holes in a gas disk rotating around a giant black hole. (credit: J. Samsing/Neils Bohr Institute)

In 2019, the LIGO/VIRGO collaboration picked up a gravitational wave signal from a black hole merger that proved to be one for the record books. Dubbed “GW190521,” it was the most massive and most distant yet detected, and it produced the most energetic signal detected thus far, showing up in the data as more of a “bang” than the usual “chirp.”

Furthermore, the new black hole resulting from the merger was about 150 times as heavy as our Sun, making GW190521 the first direct observation of an intermediate-mass black hole. Even weirder, the two black holes that merged were locked in an elliptical (rather than circular) orbit, and their axes of spin were tipped far more than usual compared to those orbits.

Physicists love nothing more than to be presented with an intriguing puzzle that doesn’t immediately seem to fit established theory, and GW190521 gave them just that. New theoretical simulations suggest that all those bizarre aspects can be explained by the presence of a third single black hole horning in on the binary system’s final dance to produce a “chaotic tango,” according to a new paper published in the journal Nature. 

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astronomy, #astrophysics, #black-hole-mergers, #gravitational-waves, #ligo, #ligo-virgo, #physics, #science

Russian Scientists Face Isolation Following Invasion of Ukraine

International collaborations are unraveling as researchers, including many in Russia, speak out against the invasion of Ukraine.

#cern, #geneva-switzerland, #higgs-boson, #intergovernmental-panel-on-climate-change, #international-congress-of-mathematicians, #laboratories-and-scientific-equipment, #large-hadron-collider, #linde-andrei-d, #particle-accelerators, #physics, #rabinovici-eliezer, #russia, #russian-invasion-of-ukraine-2022, #space-and-astronomy, #thorne-kip-s, #ukraine, #war-and-armed-conflicts, #your-feed-science

Study ID’s simple rules for how floating fire ant rafts change shape over time

Fire ants form a protrusion from an ant raft.

Enlarge / Fire ants form a protrusion from an ant raft. (credit: Vernerey Research Group/CU Boulder)

Fire ants are a textbook example of collective behavior, capable of behaving as individuals, and also banding together to form floating rafts in response to flooding. Now a pair of mechanical engineers from the University of Colorado, Boulder, have identified some simple rules that seem to govern how floating rafts of fire ants contract and expand their shape over time, according to a new paper published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology. The hope is that by gaining a better understanding of the simple rules underlying fire ant behavior, they can develop better algorithms controlling how swarms of robots interact.

It’s not a matter of brain power or careful planning. “This behavior could, essentially, occur spontaneously,” said co-author Robert Wagner. “There doesn’t necessarily need to be any central decision-making by the ants.” Indeed, “Single ants are not as smart as one may think, but, collectively, they become very intelligent and resilient communities,” said co-author Franck Vernerey.

As we’ve reported previously,  a few ants spaced well apart behave like individual ants. But pack enough of them closely together, and they behave more like a single unit, exhibiting both solid and liquid properties. They can form rafts or towers, and you can even pour them from a teapot like a fluid.  Fire ants also excel at regulating their own traffic flow.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biological-physics, #biology, #collective-behavior, #computational-biology, #emergence, #entomology, #fire-ants, #physics, #science

If Dilophosaurus ran the 100-meter against Usain Bolt, who would win?

University of Toledo physicist Scott Lee came up with the exercise to inspire undergrads in his introductory physics course.

Enlarge / University of Toledo physicist Scott Lee came up with the exercise to inspire undergrads in his introductory physics course. (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

The early Jurassic dinosaurs known as Dilophosaurus proved to be scene stealers in the 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park, taking out a full-grown man who thought they were just cute, harmless critters—right until they disabled him by spitting venom into his eyes. But how would Dilophosaurus fare in a different kind of contest: racing the 100-meter dash against eight-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt? It wouldn’t be much of a fight—Bolt would easily beat the 900-pound beast by a good two seconds.

That’s the conclusion of physicist Scott Lee of the University of Toledo, based on a physics exercise he developed for his undergraduate students in introductory physics. Lee has loved dinosaurs ever since he was a kid, when he would hunt for fossils with his family, and he has brought that love into the classroom. “One big issue in physics education is to generate student enthusiasm for the course material,” he said. “These dinosaur problems really spark a lot of interest among the students.” He described his pedagogical process in a new paper published in The Physics Teacher.

Bolt made his mark on history in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, when he broke his own world record in the 100-meter final, blazing past the competition to win the gold with a time of 9.69 seconds. He was so far ahead of the pack—the silver medalist finished in 9.89 seconds—that Bolt visibly slowed down in celebration right at the finish. Had he kept running at full speed, Bolt would have finished in 9.52 seconds, his coach estimated. This conclusion was borne out by an analysis by physicists at the University of Oslo, whose calculations predicted a finish in about 9.55 seconds.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biomechanics, #dinosaurs, #paleontology, #physics, #physics-education, #science, #usain-bolt

Astronomers: “Vampire” star stripped the atmosphere from its binary partner

Artist's conception of binary star system.

Enlarge (credit: ESO/L. Calçada)

Back in 2020, astronomers discovered an unusual star system just 1,000 light years from Earth. However, two different teams disagreed on the nature of the system, which was dubbed HR 6819. One team argued that it was looking at a trinary grouping with two stars orbiting a black hole. The other team thought HR 6819’s properties could just as easily be explained by a two-star system without a black hole.

To resolve the issue, the two groups collaborated on collecting additional observational data. The result: HR 6819 is indeed a binary system with no black hole, according to a new paper published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. But HR 6819 is nonetheless a rarity: astronomers captured the binary system just after one star had stripped its partner of its atmosphere in a process known as “stellar vampirism.”

As we previously reported, scientists think there are far more black holes in the Universe than we have discovered to date—probably hundreds of millions of them, given the age of our Universe. We have discovered so few black holes because, instead of being able to observe them directly, we can only infer their presence by their effect on surrounding matter. A black hole’s gravitational effects can influence the orbits of nearby stars, for example, or infalling matter can form an accretion disk of hot gas rapidly orbiting the black hole, emitting powerful X-rays. Or an unfortunate star will get too close to a black hole and be torn apart for its trouble, with the infalling remnants also accelerating and heating up to emit X-rays into space.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astrophysics, #binary-stars, #black-holes, #european-southern-observatory, #physics, #science, #very-large-telescope, #very-large-telescope-interferometer

New fast radio burst found in area that shouldn’t have any sources

Drawing of a bright, spherical object with many flares leading away from it.

Enlarge / Artist’s conception of a high-energy burst coming off the surface of a magnetar. (credit: Goddard Space Flight Center)

Fast radio bursts were an enigma when they were first spotted. At first, each FRB followed the same pattern: a huge surge of energy in radio wavelengths that lasted less than a second—and then the burst was gone, never to repeat. We initially suspected FRBs might be hardware glitches in our detectors, but over time, the bursts’ recurrence convinced us that they were real.

Since then, we’ve identified sources of repeated bursts and associated the FRBs with a source that produces energy outside the radio range. This ultimately helped us point the finger at a single source: magnetars, or neutron stars that have extremely intense magnetic fields.

Now, reality has gone and thrown a monkey wrench in that nice and simple explanation. A new repeating source of FRBs has been identified, and it resides in a location where we wouldn’t expect to find any magnetars. This doesn’t mean that the source isn’t from a magnetar, but we have to resort to some unusual explanations for its formation.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astrophysics, #fast-radio-burst, #magnetar, #physics, #science

Latest success from Google’s AI group: Controlling a fusion reactor

A dark space with a toroidal material that glows purple.

Enlarge / Plasma inside the tokamak at the EPFL. (credit: EPFL)

As the world waits for construction of the largest fusion reactor yet, called ITER, smaller reactors with similar designs are still running. These reactors, called tokamaks, help us test both hardware and software. The hardware testing helps us refine things like the materials used for container walls or the shape and location of control magnets.

But arguably, the software is the most important. To enable fusion, the control software of a tokamak has to monitor the state of the plasma it contains and respond to any changes by making real-time adjustments to the system’s magnets. Failure to do so can result in anything from a drop in energy (which leads to the failure of any fusion) to seeing the plasma spill out of containment (and scorch the walls of the container).

Getting that control software right requires a detailed understanding of both the control magnets and the plasma the magnets manipulate. Or it would be more accurate to say, getting that control software right has required. Because today, Google’s DeepMind AI team is announcing that its software has been successfully trained to control a tokamak.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#ai, #computer-science, #deepmind, #fusion, #physics, #science

The robber fly is an aerodynamic acrobat that can catch its prey in midflight

A miniature predatory robber fly (<em>Holcocephala fascia</em>) feeds on a captured rove beetle. A new study reveals that the fly approaches its prey from underneath, aiming for a future meeting point wth the target.

Enlarge / A miniature predatory robber fly (Holcocephala fascia) feeds on a captured rove beetle. A new study reveals that the fly approaches its prey from underneath, aiming for a future meeting point wth the target. (credit: Samuel Fabian)

Robber flies are aerodynamic acrobats, able to spot their prey, dodge around obstacles, and capture smaller insects at high speeds in midflights. Scientists have taken a closer look at how robber flies manage this amazing feat despite having brains on par with a single grain of sand. According to a new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, the flies combine two distinct feedback-based navigation strategies: one that involves intercepting the prey when the view is clear, and another that allows the flies to swerve around any obstacles in their flight path.

One of the challenges in robotics is how to design robots that can navigate cluttered environments—something humans and other animals manage to do instinctively every day. Per the authors, many robotic systems rely upon a kind of path-planning: using sound (sonar) or lasers to send out signals and then detecting the reflections. That data can then be used to build a distance map of the surroundings.

But compared to using simple visual cues (i.e., “reactive methods”), path-planning is a costly approach in terms of energy use. Humans and other animals don’t require elaborate maps or specific knowledge about a target’s location, speed, and other details. We simply react to any relevant stimuli in our environment in real time. Devising navigational behavioral algorithms based on biological systems is thus of great interest to roboticists.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#aerodynamics, #arthropods, #biology, #biomimicry, #insects, #physics, #robber-flies, #robotics, #science

Five seconds, 59 megajoules: A new record for tokamak fusion

The interior of JET, configured as a scale model for ITER, overlaid with an image of a plasma present in the tokamak during experiments.

Enlarge / The interior of JET, configured as a scale model for ITER, overlaid with an image of a plasma present in the tokamak during experiments. (credit: EUROfusion)

On Wednesday, the EUROfusion consortium announced that the Joint European Torus (JET), located near Oxford in the UK, had set a new record for released energy. Over the course of a five-second “pulse,” 59 megajoules of energy were released, double the previous record for tokamak fusion set at JET in 1997.

Despite the impressive numbers, the results are still well short of the break-even point where the fusion energy released would match the energy input required to trigger the fusion. Still, the work provides an important validation of the approach being taken at the next major fusion project, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER.

Two ways to fuse

Fusion takes place when atomic nuclei are brought close enough together that they merge, creating a heavier element. It’s the process that powers stars, and it could produce vast amounts of energy from small amounts of hydrogen isotopes if we could reproduce the temperatures and pressures found in stars here on Earth. So far, we’ve taken two main approaches to the process.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#fusion, #iter, #jet, #physics, #plasma, #science

Benedictine monk wrote earliest known reference to ball lightning in England

Benedictine monk wrote earliest known reference to ball lightning in England

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images | Trinity College)

On October 21, 1638, people were congregating at a church at Widecombe-in-the-Moor, in Devon, England, when a severe thunderstorm broke out. Witnesses described an 8-foot ball of fire hurtling through the church, tossing large stones from the walls to the ground, smashing pews and windows, and filling the church with smoke and the pungent odor of sulfur. Four people died and many more were injured in what has been widely recognized as the earliest known account of ball lightning in England—until now.

A British historian and a retired physicist have found an even earlier credible account of ball lightning in the writings of a 12th-century Benedictine monk, Gervase of Christ Church Cathedral Priory in Canterbury. According to a recent paper published in the journal Weather, Gervase of Canterbury recorded in his Chronicle a “marvelous sign” that “descended near London” on June 7, 1195. The sign was a “fiery globe” emerging from below a dark and dense cloud, and it predates the Widecombe-in-the-Moor account by nearly 450 years.

“Ball lightning is a rare weather event that is still not understood today,” said co-author Brian Tanner of Durham University (emeritus). “Gervase’s description of a white substance coming out of the dark cloud, falling as a spinning fiery sphere and then having some horizontal motion is very similar to historic and contemporary descriptions of ball lightning. If Gervase is describing ball lightning, as we believe, then this would be the earliest account of this happening in England that has so far been discovered.”

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#ball-lightning, #features, #gaming-culture, #history-of-science, #medieval-england, #medieval-manuscripts, #physics, #science

A simple mathematical model can account for lizard’s green-and-black pattern

The patterns of the ocellated lizard are predictable by a mathematical model for phase transitions.

Enlarge / The patterns of the ocellated lizard are predictable by a mathematical model for phase transitions. (credit: UNIGE / Michel Milinkovitch)

Zebras and tigers have stripes, cheetahs and leopards have spots, and the ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus) boasts a labyrinthine pattern of black-and-green chains of scales. Now researchers from the University of Geneva in Switzerland have demonstrated with a simple mathematical equation the lizard’s complex patterns, according to a recent paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

“These labyrinthine patterns, which provide ocellated lizards with an optimal camouflage, have been selected in the course of evolution,” said co-author Michel Milinkovitch, a theoretical physicist at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. “These patterns are generated by a complex system, that yet can be simplified as a single equation, where what matters is not the precise location of the green and black scales, but the general appearance of the final patterns.”

As we’ve reported previously, a common popular (though hotly debated) hypothesis for the formation of these kinds of animal patterns was proposed by Alan Turing in 1952, which is why they are sometimes referred to as “Turing patterns.” Turing’s seminal paper focused on chemicals known as morphogens. His proposed mechanism involved the interaction between an activator chemical that expresses a unique characteristic (like a tiger’s stripe) and an inhibitor chemical that periodically kicks in to shut down the activator’s expression. The key is that the inhibitor diffuses at a faster rate than the activator, creating periodic patterning.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#animals, #biology, #camouflage, #complexity, #emergence, #ising-models, #lizards, #mathematics, #phase-transitions, #physics, #science, #turing-patterns

Physicists discover that clouds of ultracold atoms can form “quantum tornadoes”

An image of quantum stuff looks like twisty fiery lines.

Enlarge / (l-r) A quantum gas appears first as an elongated rod. As it rotates, it becomes helical, then it breaks up into blobs, each a swirling mass. Between the blobs tiny vortices appear in a regularly repeating series. (credit: MIT/Nature)

Physicists at MIT have succeeded in getting “quantum tornadoes” to form in clouds of ultracold atoms, according to a recent paper published in the journal Nature. This is the first direct, in situ documentation of how a rapidly rotating quantum gas evolves, and per the authors, the process resembles how the rotational effects of the Earth can give rise to large-scale weather patterns.

The MIT scientists were interested in studying so-called quantum Hall fluids. First discovered in the 1980s, quantum Hall fluids are composed of clouds of electrons floating in magnetic fields. In a classical system, the electrons would repel each other and form a crystal. But in quantum Hall fluids, the electrons mimic the behavior of their neighbors—evidence of quantum correlation.

“People discovered all kinds of amazing properties, and the reason was, in a magnetic field, electrons are (classically) frozen in place—all their kinetic energy is switched off, and what’s left is purely interactions,” said co-author Richard Fletcher, a physicist at MIT. “So, this whole world emerged. But it was extremely hard to observe and understand.”

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#bose-einstein-condensates, #kelvin-helmholtz-clouds, #physics, #quantum-mechanics, #science, #ultra-cold-atoms

Spinning black holes may prefer to lean in sync

A simulation of a black hole merger.

Enlarge / A simulation of a black hole merger. (credit: LIGO/Caltech/MIT/Sonoma State (Aurore Simonnet))

I was pretty excited when LIGO, the giant double-eared gravitational wave observatory in the US, detected the first gravitational waves. When Virgo came online, triangulating gravitational wave signals became possible, and gravitational wave astronomy became a reality.

Once the initial excitement of seeing individual events died away, it was only a matter of time and statistics before scientists started pulling new insights out of the data. A pair of new papers has looked at black hole merger statistics, and the papers’ results suggest that there might be something unusual in the distribution of black hole spins.

The revealing death spiral

Gravitational waves are the result of mass moving through space and time. The mass stretches space and time, causing a ripple effect, much like the bow wave from a boat moving through water. And, just like a bow wave, the heavier and faster the mass, the bigger the wave. Unlike water, space-time is very stiff, so it takes more than an ocean liner to create a noticeable gravitational wave.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#black-hole-binaries, #black-hole-mergers, #general-relativity, #ligo-virgo, #physics, #science

Study: Leidenfrost effect occurs in all three water phases: Solid, liquid, and vapor

Slow-motion video of boiling ice, a research project of the Nature-Inspired Fluids and Interfaces Lab at Virginia Tech.

Dash a few drops of water onto a very hot, sizzling skillet and they’ll levitate, sliding around the pan with wild abandon. Physicists at Virginia Tech have discovered that this can also be achieved by placing a thin, flat disk of ice on a heated aluminum surface, according to a new paper published in the journal Physical Review Fluids. The catch: there’s a much higher critical temperature that must be achieved before the ice disk will levitate.

As we’ve reported previously, in 1756, a German scientist named Johann Gottlob Leidenfrost reported his observation of the unusual phenomenon. Normally, he noted, water splashed onto a very hot pan sizzles and evaporates very quickly. But if the pan’s temperature is well above water’s boiling point, “gleaming drops resembling quicksilver” will form and will skitter across the surface. It’s called the “Leidenfrost effect” in his honor.

In the ensuing 250 years, physicists came up with a viable explanation for why this occurs. If the surface is at least 400 degrees Fahrenheit (well above the boiling point of water), cushions of water vapor, or steam, form underneath them, keeping them levitated. The Leidenfrost effect also works with other liquids, including oils and alcohol, but the temperature at which it manifests will be different. 

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#fluid-dynamics, #ice, #leidenfrost-effect, #phase-transitions, #physics, #science

Physicists have created “everlasting bubbles”

The shell of a water/glycerol gas marble (bubble) remains liquid and spherical even after 101 days, and it reacts as a liquid film when punctured. These human-made bubbles could be used to create stable foams.

The shell of a water/glycerol gas marble (bubble) remains liquid and spherical even after 101 days, and it reacts as a liquid film when punctured. These human-made bubbles could be used to create stable foams. (credit: A. Roux et al., 2022)

Blowing soap bubbles never fails to delight one’s inner child, perhaps because they are intrinsically ephemeral, bursting after just a few minutes. Now, French physicists have succeeded in creating “everlasting bubbles” out of plastic particles, glycerol, and water, according to a new paper published in the journal Physical Review Fluids. The longest bubble they built survived for a whopping 465 days.

Bubbles have long fascinated physicists. For instance, French physicists in 2016 worked out a theoretical model for the exact mechanism for how soap bubbles form when jets of air hit a soapy film. The researchers found that bubbles only formed above a certain speed, which in turn depends on the width of the jet of air.

In 2018, we reported on how mathematicians at New York University’s Applied Math Lab had fine-tuned the method for blowing the perfect bubble based on a series of experiments with thin, soapy films. The mathematicians concluded that it’s best to use a circular wand with a 1.5-inch (3.8 cm) perimeter and gently blow at a consistent 2.7 inches per second (6.9 cm/s). Blow at higher speeds and the bubble will burst. If you use a smaller or larger wand, the same thing will happen.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#bubbles, #fluid-dynamics, #physics, #science

Silicon-based qubits take a big leap forward

Subatomic particles create a shape like a four-leaf clover.

Enlarge / A representation of the two phosphorus nuclei (Q1 and Q2) with the electron (Q3) that helps mediate their interactions. (credit: Tony Melov / UNSW)

Over the last few years, the big question in quantum computing has shifted from “can we get this to work?” to “can we get this to scale?” It’s no longer news when an algorithm is run on a small quantum computer—we’ve done that with a number of different technologies. The big question now: When can we run a useful problem on quantum hardware that clearly outperforms a traditional computer?

For that, we still need more qubits. And to consistently outperform classical computers on complicated problems, we’ll need enough qubits to do error correction. That means thousands of qubits. So while there’s currently a clear technology leader in qubit count (superconducting qubits called transmons), there’s still a chance that some other technology will end up scaling better.

That possibility is what makes several results being published today interesting. While there are differences among the three results being announced, they all share one thing in common: high-quality qubits produced in silicon. After all, if there’s anything we know how to scale, it’s silicon-based technologies.

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#physics, #quantum-computing, #quantum-mechanics, #science, #silicon

Radio astronomers scouring the archives spotted black hole devouring a star

Artist's conception of a Tidal Disruption Event (TDE) -- a star being shredded by the powerful gravity of a supermassive black hole. Material from the star spirals into a disk rotating around the black hole, and a jet of particles is ejected.

Enlarge / Artist’s conception of a Tidal Disruption Event (TDE) — a star being shredded by the powerful gravity of a supermassive black hole. Material from the star spirals into a disk rotating around the black hole, and a jet of particles is ejected.

There are decades of radio astronomy data in the archives of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), and there are still new discoveries lurking within it. Astronomers have spotted the telltale signature jet from a black hole devouring a star several decades ago in archival data collected by the Very Large Array (VLA) telescope in New Mexico. According to a new paper published in The Astrophysical Journal, it’s only the second such candidate event discovered in the radio regime; the first was discovered in 2020. The discovery was presented virtually yesterday at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

As we’ve reported previously, it’s a popular misconception that black holes behave like cosmic vacuum cleaners, ravenously sucking up any matter in their surroundings. In reality, only stuff that passes beyond the event horizon—including light—is swallowed up and can’t escape, although black holes are also messy eaters. That means that part of an object’s matter is actually ejected in a powerful jet.

If that object is a star, the process of being shredded (or “spaghettified”) by the powerful gravitational forces of a black hole occurs outside the event horizon, and part of the star’s original mass is ejected violently outward. This in turn can form a rotating ring of matter (aka an accretion disk) around the black hole that emits powerful X-rays and visible light—and sometimes radio waves. Those jets are one way astronomers can indirectly infer the presence of a black hole. They’re known as “tidal disruption events” (TDEs). 

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astronomy, #black-holes, #physics, #radio-astronomy, #science, #tidal-disruption-events

Astronomers discover a strange galaxy without dark matter

Astronomers mapped out the stars (shown here in blue) and gas (green) of the strange galaxy known as AGC 114905.

Enlarge / Astronomers mapped out the stars (shown here in blue) and gas (green) of the strange galaxy known as AGC 114905. (credit: Javier Román and Pavel Mancera Piña)

Three years ago, Filippo Fraternali and his colleagues spotted a half dozen mysteriously diffuse galaxies, which looked like sprawling cities of stars and gas. But unlike almost every other galaxy ever seen—including our own Milky Way—they didn’t seem to be enshrouded in huge masses of dark matter, which would normally hold those stellar metropolises together with their gravity. The scientists picked one to zoom in on, a modest-sized galaxy about 250,000 light-years away, and they pointed the 27 radio telescope antennas of the Very Large Array in New Mexico at it.

After gathering 40 hours’ worth of data, they mapped out the stars and gas and confirmed what the earlier snapshots had hinted at: “The dark matter content that we infer in this galaxy is much, much smaller than what you would expect,” says Fraternali, an astronomer at Kapteyn Astronomical Institute of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. If the team or their competitors find other such galaxies, it could pose a challenge for scientists’ view of dark matter, the dominant perspective in the field for at least 20 years. Fraternali and his team published their findings in December in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astronomy, #dark-matter, #physics, #science

Entangled microwave photons may give 500x boost to radar

Entangled microwave photons may give 500x boost to radar

Enlarge (credit: NASA)

Quantum radar has been on the… ahem… radar for a while now. Unfortunately, the theoretical and practical results from our explorations of the concept have been underwhelming. But before we get to the disappointments, let me give all you radar enthusiasts a reason for hope. A new paper demonstrates that, under conditions of low signal-to-noise ratios (at the edge of the radar’s classical range), employing quantum technologies may offer a very significant boost in accuracy.

Quantum radar?

Radar, at its simplest, involves sending out pulses of radiation that reflect off an object. The reflected signal is detected, and the time of flight is measured. The time of flight is then translated into a range, while the direction that the radar antenna was pointed when it picked up the reflection tells us the direction.

The horrible thing about radar is that the signal drops off very rapidly—as the fourth power of the distance. This is because the power of the radiation we send out drops as the square of the distance between the transmitter and the object. And then it drops as the square of the range again after it’s reflected and has to travel back to the receiver. You get clobbered by the inverse square rule twice.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#physics, #quantum-entanglement, #quantum-mechanics, #quantum-radar, #radar, #science

Study: 1960 ramjet design for interstellar travel—a sci-fi staple—is unfeasible

Artist's impression of the Ramjet propulsion system proposed in 1960 by physicist Robert W. Bussard

Enlarge / Artist’s impression of the Ramjet propulsion system proposed in 1960 by physicist Robert W. Bussard (credit: NASA)

In Poul Anderson’s 1970 novel Tau Zero, a starship crew seeks to travel to the star Beta Virginis in hopes of colonizing a new planet. The ship’s mode of propulsion was a so-called “Bussard ramjet,” an actual (though hypothetical) means of propulsion which had been proposed by physicist Robert W. Bussard just a decade earlier. Now, physicists have revisited this unusual mechanism for interstellar travel in a new paper published in the journal Acta Astronautica, and alas, they have found the ramjet wanting. It’s feasible from a pure physics standpoint, but the associated engineering challenges are currently insurmountable, the authors concluded.

A ramjet is basically a jet engine that “breathes” air. The best analog for the fundamental mechanism is that it exploits the engine’s forward motion to compress incoming air without the need for compressors, making ramjet engines lighter and simpler than their turbojet counterparts. A French inventor named Rene Lorin received a patent in 1913 for his concept of ramjet (aka, a flying stovepipe), although he failed to build a viable prototype. Two years later, Albert Fonó proposed a ramjet propulsion unit to increase the range of gun-launched projectiles and eventually was granted a German patent in 1932.

A basic ramjet has three components: an air intake, a combustor, and a nozzle. Hot exhaust from fuel combustion flows through the nozzle. The pressure of the combustion must be higher than the pressure at the exit of the nozzle in order to maintain a steady flow, which a ramjet engine achieves by “ramming” external air into the combustor with the forward speed of whatever vehicle is being powered by the engine. There is no need to carry oxygen on board. The downside is that ramjets can only produce thrust if the vehicle is already moving, so they require an assisted takeoff using rockets. As such, ramjets are most useful as a means of acceleration, such as for ramjet-powered missiles or for increasing the range of artillery shells.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#bussard-ramjet, #gaming-culture, #interstellar-travel, #physics, #ramjet-propulsion, #science, #science-fiction

Moonfall trailer is gloriously ridiculous

Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson co-star in director Roland Emmerich’s latest film, Moonfall.

Hello, police? I’d like to report a murder—the sacrifice of credible science on the altar of entertainment, as evidenced in the latest trailer for Moonfall. It’s the latest epic disaster blockbuster from director Roland Emmerich, in which the Earth’s existence is threatened by the Moon getting knocked out of its orbit and into a collision course toward Earth.

Look, I love me some Roland Emmerich. Independence Day (1996) is top-notch entertainment, and while his Godzilla (1998) was widely panned by critics, it featured a world-weary Jean Reno as a French scientist constantly bemoaning the lack of decent coffee in America, which was worth the price of admission alone. But in recent years, the director has pivoted to what can only be called climate-change inspired “disaster p*rn,” with over-the-top films like 2009’s 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow (2004).

Both films made big bucks at the box office, despite mixed critical reviews and dings for their sloppy use of science. In fact, The Day After Tomorrow frequently winds up on people’s lists of most scientifically inaccurate films. That’s not a deal-breaker so long as the film is entertaining. As screenwriter Jeffrey Nachmanoff pointed out at the film’s Berlin premiere, “This is a disaster movie and not a scientific documentary, [and] the film makers have taken a lot of artistic license.” Thus far, Emmerich has shown a talent for pushing an audience’s willing suspension of disbelief to the limit without crossing the line into utter ridiculousness (or at least, audiences will be having so much fun, they’ll cheer on the ridiculous aspects with glee).

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#entertainment, #film, #film-trailers, #gaming-culture, #lionsgate, #moonfall, #physics, #roland-emmerich, #science

Physicists captured, quantified the sound of champagne’s effervescence

The physics behind champagne's bubbly delights is surprisingly complex—including the source of its distinctive crackling sound.

Enlarge / The physics behind champagne’s bubbly delights is surprisingly complex—including the source of its distinctive crackling sound. (credit: Jon Bucklel/EMPICS/PA/Getty Images)

There’s rarely time to write about every cool science-y story that comes our way. So this year, we’re once again running a special Twelve Days of Christmas series of posts, highlighting one science story that fell through the cracks in 2020, each day from December 25 through January 5. Today: Researchers have uncovered the specific physical mechanism that links champagne’s distinctive crackle with the bursting of its tiny bubbles.

There’s nothing quite like the distinctive crackling and fizzing sound of a glass of freshly served champagne. It’s well established that the bursting of the bubbles produces that sound, but the specific physical mechanism isn’t quite clear. So physicists from Sorbonne University in Paris, France, decided to investigate the link between the fluid dynamics of the bursting bubbles and the crackly fizzy sounds. They described their work in a paper published back in January in the journal Physical Review Fluids.

As we’ve reported previously, the first mention of a sparkling wine dates back to 1535 in the Languedoc region of France. The classic brand Dom Perignon gets its name from a 17th-century monk who had the job of getting rid of the bubbles that developed in his abbey’s bottled wine, lest the pressure build up so much they exploded. Legend has it that upon sipping such a bubbly wine, the monk realized the bubbles might not be such a bad thing after all, declaring, “Come quickly, brothers, I am drinking stars!”

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#12-days-of-christmas, #acoustics, #bubbles, #effervescence, #fluid-dynamics, #food-science, #hydrodynamics, #physics, #science

How We Make Sense of Time

January 2022 arrives as our methods of keeping time feel like they are breaking. Calendar pages turn, yet time feels lost. In this year of all years, what does it mean for a year to be new?

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #lunar-new-year, #new-year, #philosophy, #physics, #rosh-hashana, #seasons-and-months, #space-and-astronomy, #watches-and-clocks

Tiny tardigrades walk like insects 500,000 times their size

SEM Micrograph of a tardigrade, commonly known as a water bear

Enlarge / SEM Micrograph of a tardigrade, more commonly known as a water bear or “moss piglet.” (credit: Cultura RM Exclusive/Gregory S. Paulson/Getty Images)

There’s rarely time to write about every cool science-y story that comes our way. So this year, we’re once again running a special Twelve Days of Christmas series of posts, highlighting one science story that fell through the cracks in 2020, each day from December 25 through January 5. Today: the amazing physics of the humble tardigrade.

Is there nothing the tiny tardigrade can’t do? More commonly known as water bears (or “moss piglets”), these amazing micro-animals can survive in the harshest conditions: extreme pressure, extreme temperature, radiation, dehydration, starvation—even exposure in outer space.  That hardiness makes them a favorite case study for scientists.

Earlier this year, researchers at Rockefeller University examined the water bear’s distinctive gait and concluded the creature’s movement resembles that of insects 500,000 times their size, according to a paper published in August in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#animals, #biology, #biomechanics, #biophysics, #physics, #quantum-entanglement, #quantum-physics, #science, #tardigrades, #water-bears