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Physics Week in Review: January 25, 2014


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This week on Virtually Speaking Science, I chatted with Drexel University physicist Dave Goldberg, who writes the io9 “Ask a Physicist” column and is the author of one of my fave physics books of 2013, The Universe in the Rearview Mirror. You can listen to it here.  Also, Jen-Luc made Buzzfeed’s list of 25 Must-Follow Twitter Accounts For Science Nerds; she is honored to be included in such august company.

Astronomers Used Quasars as Flashlights to Illuminate the Dark Matter Between Galaxies.  A glowing filament shows us where the dark matter hides.

Hawking questions nature of black holes in new paper on the arXiv, postulating that the notion of an ‘event horizon’ is incompatible with quantum theory; Info that goes into black holes comes out chaotically and isn’t lost. But retrieving it is like predicting weather.

After a teensy bit of a delay — hey, we don’t like to wake up on a Monday morning either — Rosetta, the Comet-Chaser, is awake! “I think it was the longest hour of my life,” said scientist Andrea Accomazzo. :There’s a really great animation here showing the long and loopy route of Rosetta so far, along with  7 Things You Didn’t Know About Rosetta, such as, the “Orbiter boasts 24 thrusters to control its motion and orientation.”

First beam of antihydrogen atoms produced at CERN.

In case you’re wondering why astronomers have been antsy today, it’s because they found an exploding white dwarf. KABOOM! Nearby Galaxy M82 hosts a NEW supernova.

"Abyss," from The Emily Dickinson Series. Credit: Janet Malcolm, 2013. http://www.loribooksteinfineart.com/exhibit_artwork.php?id=217

Journalist Janet Malcolm is also a collage artist. According to Slate, “Her most recent collection, “The Emily Dickinson Series,” juxtaposes clippings of Dickinson’s “fragment” poems, taken from scholar Marta Werner’s 1996 book Emily Dickinson’s Open Folios, with pieces cut from astronomy textbooks, found photographs, and other ephemera.” Her work is currently on display at the Lorie Bookstein Fine Art Gallery in New York City.

Physicists Produce Quantum Version of the Cheshire Cat: they separated a neutron from its property of magnetism.

A New Physics Theory of Life: the origin of life “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”

Scientists Dive Into The Mystery Of The Dog Paddle: canine swimming patterns tied to early aquatic mammals.

Researchers used pump-probe microscopy to study the hidden structure of Puccio Capanna’s The Crucifixion, c. 1330.

Battle Of The Batmobiles: Which Is faster, the ’60s Or ’80s Batmobile?

The Monk Of A Million Telescopes: “John Dobson’s life reads like a movie script.”

Forensic astronomers say Monet’s ‘Sunset’ masterpiece was painted at 4:53PM on February 5th, 1883.

The debate on infinite series rages on! Phil Plait posted a clarifying follow-up, and Evelyn Lamb also weighed in with an excellent explanatory post.: The Infinite Series and the Mind-Blowing Result  … Does 1+2+3… Really Equal -1/12? @evelynjlamb weighs in with an excellent post.  Meanwhile, Physics Buzz took a more controversial stance: “Yes, there’s a problem with 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + . . . = −1/12. The problem is with our failure to understand infinity.”  And mathemtician Terry Tao weighed in with both a highly technical post at his blog, and a more lay-friendly version on Google+.

And here’s another bloggy debate that raged this week: The Curious Wavefunction asked: Should physicists stop looking for fundamental laws? Chad Orzel of Uncertain Principles took issue with a few of those points, prompting a response from The Curious Wavefunction and yet another counter by Chad. We eagerly await the next round.

Frozen magnetic monopoles create new laboratory physics. “Spin ice is an unusual magnetic material in that it contains the magnetic equivalent of electrical charges – so called magnetic monopoles.”  …

Not with numbers but with notes: Math + Music onstage with playwright Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky.

A “three-dimensional topological Dirac semi-metal,” or 3DTDS, could make our hard drives obsolete. I think it needs catchier name.

I got your Dirty Martini under a microscope right here! Credit: Molecular Expressions Lab, https://micro.magnet.fsu.edu/store/index.html

BevShots, Microscope Images of Crystalized Alcoholic Beverages Turned Into Vibrant Modern Art. “Michael Davidson, a research scientist at Florida State University, who discovered the beauty of a crystalized drink under a polarizing light microscope and decided to use the images to raise money for his lab.” (Jen-Luc Piquant has been a fan of the Molecular Expressions site for years.)

Some thoughts on the science of queueing.  Queuing theory “refers to the science that has its focus on reducing delays, irrespective of where they may be experienced: at a traffic signal; over the phone to speak to a representative (music and ads playing in the background); or, more critically, in a virtual queue of hundreds of patients, each waiting for an organ transplant.”

From the There’s A Sucker Born Every Minute Dept: Dubious Cold Fusion Machine Acquired By North Carolina Company. “The Energy Catalyzer (E-Cat) has never been proven to work. Then again, it hasn’t been conclusively proven not to…”

A young Iranian woman fights for the right to be an astronomer.

Zebrafish Stripes Caused by Cells That Chase Each Other.

‘QBists’ tackle quantum problems by making science subjective (Part 1 of 2).   Gell-Mann, Hartle spin a quantum narrative about reality (part 2 of 2).

A Maldives Beach Awash in Bioluminescent Phytoplankton Looks Like an Ocean of Stars.

Murmurations: amazing Video Clips Visually Isolate the Flight Paths of Birds.

Here’s a photograph of Albert Einstein Holding an Albert Einstein Puppet (Circa 1931).

Check out these, geometric Public Space Sculptures on the Streets of Belgium by David Mesguich.

Forget quantum gravity: Carlo Rovelli says physicists need a theory to unite general relativity with thermodynamics.

A Mirror Held Together by Lasers: “Imagine a [lightweight] space telescope the size of a football field….”

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of the Ising Model – Part 2. “I won’t say [Onsager] was the world’s worst lecturer, but he was certainly in contention.” -Robert Cole.

Photographing Time – Gorgeous photographic slideshow on the speed of photography through the ages, including this astonishing capture of light in motion. “Ramesh Raskar and his ream at MIT used a modified streak tube to capture the movement of a single pulse of light from a femtosecond laser across a screen, in this case a tomato against a wall. The laser light served as both flash and subject, and lasted just two trillionths of a second.”

Japan’s space agency, JAXA, is testing a giant, magnetic space net as a way to clean up space junk.

Water vapor has been seen steaming off icy dwarf planet Ceres.

Optical illusions such as kaleidoscopes, magic lanterns taught Victorians what to trust. What can they teach us?

Powerful Black Hole Beast Blasts Galaxy-Sized Gaps in Space.

For All Mankind: vintage Nasa photographs, 1964-1983 – in pictures.

Puppets add harmony (and silliness) to Chris Hadfield’s “Space Oddity.”

Breaking Math: The Time Indiana Nearly Passed a Law Declaring “Pi = 3″ — what’s a few decimal places, anyway?

Are We Alone? NASA’s 30-Year Goal to Answer Astrophysics’ Greatest Question. “For the first time, we will identify continents and oceans—and perhaps the signatures of life—on distant worlds,” says NASA in its 30-year vision for astrophysics.

Feynman’s second wife allegedly — ALLEGEDLY! — divorced him for “working calculus problems in his head as soon as awake, while driving car…” That’s just one intriguing allegation in these declassified documents.

Say, do you need a good science demo? Here’s a Website with some suggestions.

Philosophers and physicists say we might be living in a computer simulation, but how can we tell? Does it matter?

Ask Ethan #20: Is the Mars One crew doomed?

The Fuelshark Won’t Save You Gas Because It Runs On Bullshit: an in-depth investigation.

Simulated Sticky Tape and Universal Behavior: Chad Orzel models his experiment in Python.

Why Couldn’t the MythBusters Flip a Truck With an RPG?

Here’s a Miniature Crystalline Forest of hoar frost, which forms when water vapor in the air condenses directly into ice.

Good vibrations: Researchers tune the chemical bonds of buckyballs.

Quantum Computers Get Real: Fighting decoherence to scale up quantum technologies.

Emptied Gestures: Physical Movement Translated into Symmetrical Charcoal Drawings by Heather Hansen. “Her body contorts into carefully choreographed gestures as her writing implements grate across the floor, the long trails resulting in a permanent recording of her physical movements. Part dance and part performance art, the kinetic drawings are a way for Hansen to merge her love for visual art and dance into a unified artform. The final symmetrical patterns that emerge in each pieces are reminiscent of a Rorschach test, or perhaps cycles found in nature.”

Antarctic ice: beautiful and unpredictable: ice is always moving, breaking, melting, re-freezing, flowing.

How the Seashell Got Its Stripes – new model shows patterns are a residue of conversation among neurons.

Four Ways to Venus: An Artist’s Assignment: Irving Geis drew these diagrams re: interplanetary exploration.

A Sound of Cosmic Thunder: Earth-Impacting Asteroid Heard by Nuke Detectors.

Ant Colony Sets Up Home On ISS: “I, for one, welcome our new space insect overlords….”

Almost Everything in Dr. Strangelove Was True. “This is absolute madness, Ambassador.”

The Mantis Shrimp Sees Like A Satellite: it has twelve different photoreceptors.

The Lawyer and the Scientist Who Predicted the Atomic Bomb in 1915.

Snow falls differently on the nanoscale. “if you ever play basketball, you know the taller guys get more rebounds.”

From Galileo to Sagan, Famous Scientists on the Art of Wonder, the Mystery of the Universe, and the Heart of Science.

39 Ways to Love Math: “Love that it’s an art project of the mind, and your easel is always handy.”

Discontent with the Northern Lights alone, Finland has mesmerizing ‘light pillars’ too.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Mathematical Model 009, Surface of revolution with constant negative curvature, 2006. http://www.sugimotohiroshi.com

The Art of Science: Hiroshi Sugimoto Gets Right to the (Infinity) Point. “For Conceptual Form 009, a model of the equation for a surface containing a single point extended to infinity, Sugimoto succeeded in creating an infinity point with a mere one millimeter diameter, the minimum width before the material itself becomes structurally unstable.”

Watch Where I’m Going: Predicting Pedestrian Flow. “Researchers with Siemens and the Munich University of Applied Sciences examined video recordings of commuters walking through a major German train station on a weekday, during both the morning and evening peak commute times. Scientists analyzed the videos to determine individual pedestrians’ paths and walking speeds, and used the resulting data to set the parameters for a simulation of pedestrian traffic flow. ”

The Greatest Rocket Scientist Who Ever Lived. “A fringe thinker is someone who thinks outside the box. Sometimes they even invent their own box and then think outside of that.”

Astrotropes: Ocean Planets in Science Fiction. “When you consider it, any planet is a sphere of solid material, wrapped in a thin layer of volatile chemicals. Water is the third most abundant molecule in the Universe, so the probability of a planet forming with copious amounts of water in its atmosphere is really very high.”

There are citizen scientists out very late at night, to size up the Kuiper belt.

The Physics of Figure Skating (video), part of a series on the science of the Winter Olympic Games.

Relax–we’ve got an extra few hundred million years before Earth fries to a crisp.

Love Actuarially: UCLA Mathematician Chris McKinlay hacked OKCupid to find the girl of his dreams.

The British amateur who debunked the mathematics of happiness.

The Sciences Sing a Lullaby:”Physics says go to sleep. Of course/ You’re tired.”

Mathematical savant Daniel Tammet muses on the scientific complexity of a simple snowflake.

A Big Question for your Tuesday: How can the study of complexity transform our understanding of the world?

Beautiful Science: new exhibit at British Library will link classic diagrams to work of contemporary scientists.

How Do You Measure the Magnetic Field?

Into Thin Air: Weight Loss At High Altitudes. “I’m not fat, I just live too close to sea level!”

The Mind-Blowing Mathematics of Sunflowers [Video].

The Sweet Promise of Sugar-Powered Batteries.   …

The Mysterious Case of the Loaded Leprechaun. “the restaurant’s existence may not be 100% reality-based.” http://www.improbable.com/2014/01/22/the-mysterious-case-of-the-loaded-leprechaun/

The sound of space: Voyager provides music from solar system and beyond. Scientist Creates Music From Voyager Space Probe Data.

Argyle Fighters, A “Classy” (sic) ‘Star Wars’ Shirt Design Featuring a TIE Fighter Argyle Pattern.

Electronic Whiskers Could Help Robots Sense Their Surroundings.

This terrific interactive uses live data to show every one of the 1000s of commercial planes currently in the air.

Particle Fever! It’s now a movie coming soon to a theater near you (or somewhere). “Some people will doubtless feel that a movie about particle physics is self-indulgent and unnecessary. The polite term for such people is ‘poopyheads.’”

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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  1. 1. jtdwyer 5:34 am 01/25/2014

    “Astronomers Used Quasars as Flashlights to Illuminate the Dark Matter Between Galaxies. A glowing filament shows us where the dark matter hides.”

    I have to point out that dark matter has still not been illuminated – the quasar illuminated an enormous gas cloud in intergalactic space. See http://www.nature.com/news/light-from-ancient-quasar-reveals-intergalactic-web-1.14550

    Link to this
  2. 2. vulcantaylor 6:26 pm 01/27/2014

    The Rosetta comet chaser link “really great animation here” should link to http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Rosetta/The_long_trek without extra characters at the end. A web page can be checked for bad links at http://validator.w3.org/checklink but it reports many false positive bad links.

    Link to this

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