The big physics news this week was the announcement of the long-awaited results from the Planck missions -- and the news is not good for the BICEP2 collaboration: the Study Confirmed Criticism of BICEP2's original Big Bang Finding. They may have had space dust in their eyes. Researchers on the Planck mission say galactic dust could fully explain the much-ballyhooed observation announced to great acclaim in March -- or at least part of the possible signal that BICEP2 claimed was evidence for cosmic inflation.
You can read the technical paper here (PDF) if you're so inclined, but note the title terms this "intermediate results," because it's not the final word. The two teams now need to compare their data side by side and do a joint analysis. Naturally, the members of BICEP2 were disappointed, but at least one member took the news in stride. "Whatever that answer is, we will do our best to report the evidence," BICEP2's John Kovac told National Geographic.
There was a good deal of interesting commentary to supplement the news stories, including Sean Carroll (a.k.a. my Time Lord), who admitted, "It's not looking good for gravitational waves." Richard Easther concurred with that assessment: "The results are discouraging for anyone hoping the original BICEP2 announcement would survive." Over at Nautilus, Paul J. Steinhardt, one of the most outspoken critics earlier this year, summarized what he thinks is wrong with inflation theory and his view of the Big Bang.
Matt Buckley observed on Twitter: "Today Planck told us that the Universe likes to kick dust in our eyes. Way to act like the tough guy at the beach, Universe." So that faint plaintive whimper you hear could be the sound of Nobel Prizes in physics being put on hold. Per Caleb Scharf, The Biggest Cosmological Problem Is… …living in a place that makes doing cosmology hard. Philip Ball was more positive in The Guardian: Scientists got it wrong on gravitational waves. So what? "The team involved has been criticised for publishing results before they were peer reviewed. But this is what science is: debate, discussion, deliberation."
Gravitational Waves Can Play Stars Like an Instrument: Finding Hints of Gravitational waves in the stars. "Scientists have shown how gravitational waves—invisible ripples in the fabric of space and time that propagate through the universe—might be "seen" by looking at the stars. The new model proposes that a star that oscillates at the same frequency as a gravitational wave will absorb energy from that wave and brighten, an overlooked prediction of Einstein's 1916 theory of general relativity."
The Maven spacecraft is now orbiting Mars, to investigate its missing air. After just eight hours at Mars, MAVEN sent back its first analysis of gases in the air. Bonus from The Onion: Mars Maven Begins Mission To Take Thousands Of High-Resolution Desktop Backgrounds.
There’s a new way to quantify structure and complexity. Analyzing information sharing among the parts of a system can help explain its behaviors on different scales.
Weak Nuclear Force Shown to Give Asymmetry to Biochemistry of Life. "Left-handed" electrons have been found to destroy certain organic molecules faster than their mirror versions.
What makes a lasso spin? Trick roping moves from the ranch to the physics lab.
Scirens Are Screen Sirens Advocating For Science: Taryn O'Neill, Tamara Krinsky, Christina Ochoa, and Gia Mora. "Scirens is a group of science enthusiastic actresses whose mission is to share and discuss science news, advocate for its literacy and inspire scientifically infused entertainment in all forms." (All four are good Friends of the Cocktail Party, so Jen-Luc Piquant is personally thrilled at the launch of their new Website.)
Einstein's time dilation prediction verified with unprecedented accuracy. Related: When Einstein turned 50, he released a flawed sequel to relativity. In this podcast Paul Halpern discusses the press reaction. Also: Einstein's greatest legacy was “simply a word: Gedankenexperiment, German for ‘thought experiment.’"
Physicist and artist Andrzej Dragan -- "the only quantum physics PhD who's also photographed David Lynch holding a chicken" -- has created these stunning surreal short films explaining time dilation and the bizarre behavior of quantum particles.
Here's why you don't have a jet pack yet. "One of the most common complaints against science is that we don’t have jetpacks yet, as was ‘promised’. This is not due to the inadequacy of scientists but the restrictions of physics and anatomy, not to mention the fact that jetpacks are a terrible idea." Bonus: Mitchell and Webb point out the obvious: the jet packs might be perfectly safe, but what about the people flying them?
Ephemeral Superheavy Atoms Coaxed Into Exotic Molecules: How to do chemistry with an element that doesn't exist in nature when you can make less than one atom of it per hour?
Why These 15 Scientists Marched For Climate Change Action. “There is no point in doing the research if no one is going to listen to the results,” says one researcher.
The Astrologer's Triumph: How the world's most famous pseudoscience gave us access to the Universe
Watch a stargate form inside a rocket's fuel tank.
Physicist Laura Mersini-Houghton Claims to Have Proven Mathematically That Black Holes Do Not Exist in a (not yet peer reviewed) paper on the arXiv. Naturally, skepticism abounds. “The [paper] is nonsense,” [Bill] Unruh said in an email to IFLS. “Attempts like this to show that black holes never form have a very long history, and this is only the latest. They all misunderstand Hawking radiation, and assume that matter behaves in ways that are completely implausible.” So rumors of black holes' death have been greatly exaggerated.
How to Build a Magnetized Piano Harp. Andy Cavatorta "mounted a caboodle of magnets onto a piano's frame. Once the magnets are activated, electromagnetic vibrations pull and release the piano's steel strings in a bloom of various pitches in harmonic succession. By doing this, Andy has managed to feather dust an instrument that was created many centuries ago and offer it a new sonic vocabulary by tapping into the piano's uncharted harmonics."
King of the swingers: photographer builds giant pendulum to make amazing art. Paul Wainwright creates stunning images on the gigantic harmonograph he constructed in his New Hampshire barn.
Mathematics and Art Restoration: "Not only can mathematics help you see below the surface, it can help you make sense of what you see."
The Bear in the Moonlight: a wonderful collection of illustrated fables by Ben Oberlin discussing basic concepts in probability.
How Mandelbrot's fractals changed the world. Mandelbrot famously wrote: "Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line."
Are Weak Values Quantum? Don't Bet On It. A quantum conundrum: how the result of a single coin toss can turn out to be 100 heads.
Technology Unlocks the Mysteries of Bird Flight Network. "new research using creative technology on both starling murmurations and bald ibis’ migration reveals that complex flight dynamics and rapid-fire adjustments based on sensory feedback previously believed impossible for birds are indeed occurring."
When Research Worlds Collide: Particle physicists and scientists from other disciplines are finding ways to help one another answer critical questions.
Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space: Imaginative and Illuminating Children’s Book Tickles Our Zest for the Cosmos. Also: Robert Trotta's The Edge of the Sky: An Unusual and Poetic Primer on the Universe Written in the 1,000 Most Common Words in the English Language. Bonus: "To the Difference Engine!" You can now preorder Sydney Padua's The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace & Babbage.
The fascinating and tragic life of Hugh Everett, the man who gave us the multiverse.
Available online for a limited time only, so watch it soon: the short film, Entanglement. "Forced to care for her catatonic lover Malcolm after a secret quantum experiment goes awry, Erin is determined to uncover the cause of his condition — even at the risk of her own life."
Journey Through the Brain: Multiphoton Microscopy. "It works by shining infrared radiation through tissue, where it is absorbed by fluorescent proteins that have been genetically added to cells. Sensors pick up the emitted fluorescent light and plot the location of fluorescing cells. By directing radiation to focal points at different depths, scientists can chart 3D structure. Repeating this technique over days and weeks allows the identification and monitoring of the wiring remodeling dynamics in the living brain."
Trains of Clocks as a classroom activity to show Why clock synchronization is key to special relativity.
Kickstarter of the Week: Shoot the Moon, A Documentary About the Quest to Build an Elevator to Outer Space.
How to destroy the entire Universe: In theory, there’s a way to push the cosmic reset button. Here’s how.
There’s a Starman / Waiting in the Sky: An illustrated tribute to Yuri Gagarin, not just the first human being in space, but also the first to sing in space. Related: Female cosmonaut bats back questions about hair and parenting. Press ask Russia’s Yelena Serova how she will style her hair and how her daughter will cope while she is on space mission. Also: The Space Station's 42nd crew parodies Hitchhiker's Guide for official crew photo because astronauts are awesome .
A 5-Year-Old Named Timor Worries Voyager Will Get Lonely, Receives Best Answer Ever.
Extrapolation Gone Wrong: the Case of the Fermat Primes.
Forget Da Vinci: Try Solving the Piero Della Francesca Code. “How, then,” Banker asks, “did this young man from a provincial town 79 miles west from Florence and 169 miles from Rome and without an extensive formal education become, along with Leonardo da Vinci, both an outstanding geometrician and the most intellectual painter of the Quattrocento?”
'Space bubbles' may have led to deadly battle in Afghanistan. In 2002's tragic Anaconda operation, radio operators trying to send a critical message may have been thwarted by a little-known source of radio interference: plasma bubbles.
Via FYFD: "The freediving del Rosario brothers have created a real treat with this underwater film. There are no computer-generated special effects, just some clever tricks with camera angles, perspective, and buoyancy. The end result is slightly surrealistic and captures some of the fluid beauty of the ocean. And don’t miss the excellent bubble ring vortices."
The Coming Era Of Self-Assembly Using Microfluidic Devices. Researchers are assessing the potential of an entirely new way to make exotic materials based on microfluidic self-assembly.
For sale. Nuclear window used in Manhattan Project. Quite clean, not radioactive.
How a Second Language Trains Your Brain for Math by strengthening the brain’s executive control circuits.
A Computer Scientist Tells Mathematicians How To Write Proofs.
The Mysterious Phenomenon Of "Gravity Darkening" in stars.
Peering Ever-Deeper Into Matter: As microscope technology improves scientists figure out better ways to "see" incredibly small things.
At 125 Years Old, the Kilogram Is Approaching Retirement. "soon we may have no need for the one kilogram to rule them all. It’s been known for a while that the kilogram isn’t as constant as we might hope; comparisons between the prototype and its copies have been known to show divergence. At the last check in 1989, there was a difference of about 50 micrograms, which the Engineering and Technology Magazine explains is presumably down to chemical interaction with the atmosphere."
Design Like a Scientist. "The design “scientist” sees design as a process of empirical exploration, during which tweaks to a product are matched against changes in observed user behavior. If the changes are negative (less of the desired behavior), the designs are scrapped. If the changes are positive (more of the desired behavior), the designs are kept and built upon. It’s an iterative, evolutionary process."
Love Is Not Algorithmic: Online-dating platforms can tell us a lot about potential partners, but people are not made of steady data points, and love is not just about matching interests.
Big Data Has Potential to Both Hurt and Help Disadvantaged Communities.
A Look Inside the Tiny, Gorgeous Worlds of Self-Assembling Microarchitectures. Science magazine justly lauds this "creation of a series of functional and uniquely beautiful structures in a "bottom-up" fashion, using different solutions and different pH levels to generate ... silicate and barium carbonate structures..."
How a space-obsessed schoolgirl battled the odds to become a top scientist. Her childhood was divided between 13 schools, and she has dyslexia. But Maggie Aderin-Pocock has since designed a host of space instruments, and now presents The Sky at Night.
Making Astronomy Accessible for the Visually Impaired.
What if the Manhattan Project had been like an Alzheimer's Disease Drug Discovery Project.
Critical mass and herd immunity: How anti-vaccination is like a nuclear bomb.
UCLA Spinlab has another great video demonstrating the effects of rotation on a fluid.
Amazing Timelapse Of Asperatus Clouds Reminds Us That Clouds Can Act As A Fluid Too.
Mythbusters Proves Most Airlines Board Planes All Wrong.
On Optimal Paths & Minimal Action. "Perhaps for us sentient human beings the goal is not simply to get from Point A to Point B."
Films and Science: quantification and analysis of the use of Science Fiction films in scientific papers. (Sub req'd)
Chelyabinsk: Portrait of an asteroid airburst.
The Value Atrophy Problem, or Why you’re terrible at calculating risk. "the common marketing practice of throwing the kitchen sink into a promotion in order to make it seem more valuable is counterproductive."
Introducing "Valleytronics": Harnessing an unusual 'valley' quantum property of electrons offers a new possibility for next-generation electronics.
Take a 180-Degree Helicopter Ride Above Griffith Observatory.
The feedback loop is a better symbol of life than the helix; The DNA helix gave 20th-century biology its symbol. But the more we learn, the more life circles back to an older image.
Iron Filings Move to Music in Kinetic Art Installation by TechnoFrolics. Per Laughing Squid: "The movement of the iron filings is dictated by computer controlled electromagnets."