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Physics Week in Review: January 4, 2014


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Welcome to 2014! Just when you thought the excitement of the holidays was over: apparently today is Zero G Day! No, you won’t be able to float because of the combined gravity of Jupiter and Pluto. Phil Plait bringeth the smackdown on this pseudoscientific nonsense. “It’s hard for me to overstate just how wrong this claim is. After all, the physics is wrong, the claim about Pluto and Jupiter is wrong, and it’s based on a joke made by an astronomer nearly 40 years ago!”

In honor of the new year, we give you the Physics of Poppin’ Bottles: “just 5 percent of the carbon dioxide is spent propelling the cork.”  Related: The fluid dynamics of breaking out the bubbly: “Champagne owes much of its allure to its tiny bubbles.”

There also innumerable year-end listicles, like this one: Dark matter, acoustic lasers, black hole firewalls, and more: APS Physics editors share their Highlights of the Year. And the folks behind the FQXI podcast also reviewed the year in physics with Part I, Part II and Part III — because there was so much physics goodness last year, they couldn’t fit it into a single episode.

Isaac Asimov Predicts in 1964 What the World Will Look Like Today — in 2014. “Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books. Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica.”

Forest snow melts faster than flakes in open fields. “Trees became key players in melting snow in warmer locations.”

An interesting paper appeared on the arXiv this week, supposedly constituting “the most sensitive and comprehensive search yet for time travel from the future” — a search of social media, like Twitter and Facebook. Sadly, the search failed to turn up evidence of time travelers: “Given practical verifiability concerns, only time travelers from the future were investigated. No time travelers were discovered.” But perhaps there is good reason for that. “Maybe social media doesn’t persist in the far future, so time travellers don’t know how to tweet,” Columbia physicist Brian Greene told The Atlantic.

Magnetically aligned defecating dogs: a physicist weighs in.

Did Wigner’s friend kill Schroedinger’s cat? A tale of “an irresponsible friend, a possibly dead cat, and an even weirder configuration of quantum mechanics.”

Credit: Angela Kelly, http://kellyimagesandphotography.webs.com/

Mother and Son Blow Bubbles in Freezing Cold and Discover Something Beautiful.  Per Twisted Sifter: “After finding a soap bubble recipe online that consisted of dish soap, karo syrup and water; the mother and son braved the elements to see what would happen. … Not only did each bubble freeze with their own unique pattern but they also deflated and collapsed in spectacular fashion.”

Related: here’s How to Make Awesome Frozen Soap Bubbles Without Having to Brave the Cold.

How Fast Are The Cars In Angry Birds GO!? Rhett Allain investigates.

Michael Faraday in 1833, on Holding One’s Breath (and Surviving a Fall into a Cesspool).

Why Do Lights Sometimes Appear in the Sky During An Earthquake?

Slaves to the Algorithm: more and more of modern life is steered by algorithms. But what are they exactly?

Advanced Imaging Reveals a Computer 1,500 Years Ahead of Its Time. “X-rays and advanced photography have uncovered the true complexity of the mysterious Antikythera mechanism.”

When Did Galaxies Get Their Spirals? “even a tiny region of the sky that appears to be empty is actually stuffed full of faint, distant galaxies and in this particular observation, around 10,000 galaxies can be seen.”

Gone in 2013: A Tribute to 10 Remarkable Women in Science. Related: Voices, silence, strength and Judith Lumley: A women in science mentoring tale.

Scientists tell the Guardian their favorite jokes: “An electron and a positron walked into a bar…”

Waiting for a Supernova. “The poltergeists of physics. That is how scientists refer to neutrinos…”

“Granular materials like sand are sometimes very fluid-like in their behaviors, as this video demonstrates.”

How Robert Goddard, inventor of the liquid fuel rocket, Almost Killed Space Flight.

Of sensors and science students: “Doing and studying science can leave one feeling like a photodetector.”

Infinity is weird: what does it all mean? The final installment in a series of posts on the size of the infinite, as described in mathematical set theory.

Evaporating droplets may not look like much to the naked eye, but they contain complicated flow patterns.

Where in the solar system can you find the best French fries? The answer, as it turns out, is Jupiter.

One Step Closer to Hover Boards: Three-Dimensional Mid-Air Acoustic Manipulation.

Mind-Controlled Robot Legs Will Make the First Kick of the World Cup.

If measurements of Earth’s mass using GPS satellites turn out to be accurate, there could be non-baryonic dark matter surrounding our planet.

Underwater Microphones Eavesdrop On Icebergs: Hydrophone arrays complement satellites to monitor iceberg movements.

Photograph by Andre Ermolaev, http://andre.ru/

Apparently Iceland is One Giant Abstract Painting: Check out these gorgeous aerial photographs by Russian photographer Andre Ermolaev.

Mental Arithmetic by Sound, Imaginary Symbols, and Smell–Robert Galton, 1894.

The Story of Einstein’s Brain: A Japanese Professor Tracks Down the Organ in a Bizarre Documentary.

For those saying dark matter doesn’t exist, Matt Francis humbly suggests the evidence is against you.

Space geckos? Sticky-footed robots could climb future spacecraft.

To Create Advanced Robots, Let Them Evolve in Complex Environments.

Visualizing a Quantum-Mechanical Wonderland: “a mathematical fantasy landscape created by expanding the Mandelbrot set of fractals to three dimensions.”

A Fine Astronomical Engraving from Guillemin’s Le Ciel, Notions Elemenatiares d’Astronomie Physique (5th ed, 1877).

Falling Upwards: An Illustrated History of the Golden Age of Hot Air Balloons and How We Took the Skies.

A Loud Crack on a Cold Winter Night? It Might Have Been a Frost Quake.

Blaming the Last Guy: “When a student enters my class, the epic story of her education has been unfolding for years.”

Closing Time at the Astronomy Nightclub: A Woman Scientist Reflects On the Tricky Nature of Navigating Social Events at Professional Conferences. “We should be able to keep our mind in the game, and it’s the science game, not the courtship game that I’m interested in. This tips the balance because men don’t have to deal with this mixed set of rules while women often do.”

On a Beam of Light: The Story of Albert Einstein, Illustrated by the Great Vladimir Radunsky.

Remembering Glenn T. Seaborg, who helped discover plutonium: Reflections on the Legacy of a Legend (pdf).

What would the Higgs boson look like if you tried to explain what it is and what it does through dance? That’s what Yale physics professor Sarah Demers sought to answer when she collaborated with dancer and choreographer Emily Coates on a Higgs-related video project, thanks to a grant from the New Haven Arts Council. Various particle physicists used different analogies to explain the Higgs mechanism. Then, they were asked to speculate on what kind of dance might convey the same concepts. Check out the resulting video below. (Jen-Luc Piquant hopes they do a follow-up with an actual created dance, performed by Coates and her cohorts — although having the physicists dance along could be pretty fun, too.)

Jennifer Ouellette About the Author: Jennifer Ouellette is a science writer who loves to indulge her inner geek by finding quirky connections between physics, popular culture, and the world at large. Follow on Twitter @JenLucPiquant.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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