Tagged With physics

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Over a thousand light years away, there's a planet that isn't conforming to your so-called rules. It isn't one of the jocks like Earth, or one of the preps like Saturn. WASP-12b probably sits beneath the bleachers dressed in its black outfit with the checkered wristbands it bought from Hot Jupiter Topic, listening to The Cure while making pentagram stick-and-pokes and discussing the inevitability of the Universe's heat death.

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Since early last week, the Sun has belched out a steady stream of solar flares, including the most powerful burst recorded in the star's current 11-year cycle. It sounds very alarming, but scientists say this is simply what stars do every now and then, and that there's nothing to be concerned about.

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Jupiter features the largest and most powerful auroral display in the Solar System. As spectacular as they are, however, very little is known about these dancing displays of Southern and Northern lights. A recent survey by NASA's Juno spacecraft is providing new evidence about Jupiter's auroras — and it's becoming increasingly clear they're not at all like what we expected.

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There are weeks where it seems like every piece of physics news mentions quantum computing — but we are nowhere near a quantum iPhone. You probably remember that computers can consist of billions of nanometre-scale transistors etched into silicon. Those chips used to be enormous, room-sized setups where instead of transistors, there were tubes the size of light bulbs. Physicists in the quantum computing world are still trying to pick out the best vacuum tubes.

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Science fiction doesn't exist to make movies about the stuff we know about — it explores the unknown physics, astronomy, biology and chemistry where real uncertainty about topics can lead to compelling, believable stories. That's what makes black holes such a popular subject; light can't escape them, maybe they're portals across space and time, and they seem to break the rules. But who needs fiction when there are already incredibly strange mysteries in the real world?

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Even if you haven't seen any James Bond films, you're probably aware that the space laser battle depicted in Moonraker ranks among the stupidest scenes in the franchise's history. But there's a new laser gun in town that's actually good and opening up for business. It is not a weapon.

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Should you find yourself inside a black hole, you will die. Should you find yourself near a black hole, you will also die. Aside from the fact that these massive, light-trapping monsters are impossible to reach on human timescales, there are simply not many ways measure the plasma surrounding them without dying or destroying the experiment. Scientists have to make do by recreating some of the features in the lab.

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The equations of physics are things that we humans created to understand the universe, and it can be hard to disentangle them from the universe's innate properties. It turns out that one of the weirdest things scientists have come up with, what Albert Einstein derisively called "spooky action at a distance", is more than just maths: It's a fact of reality.

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If you were to rank the wildest things in the universe, there are a few obvious contenders: Gamma rays, fast radio bursts and quasars, for example. But no list would be complete without black holes and the black hole's less-dense cousins, the neutron star. These hyper-compressed things can do some mind-boggling warping to the shape of space itself. So, what happens if one were to eat the other?

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Physicists make a lot of statements about stuff they hope will happen, but might not happen in their lifetimes. One physicist, for example, thought that in certain cases, the incredibly common but hard-to-detect neutrino particles would somehow make entire atomic nuclei wiggle. He thought it a silly idea to even propose, given how difficult such a measurement would be to make.

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It turns out the recognisable half-circle arch of a rainbow is a complete lie. When you're standing on the ground looking up at a rainbow in the sky, the curvature of the Earth usually blocks its bottom half. But when viewed from a higher vantage point, like from a plane, or the top of a crane, rainbows are magically revealed to be a complete circle.

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One of the most well-accepted physical theories makes no logical sense. Quantum mechanics, the theory that governs the smallest possible spaces, forces our human brains to accept some really wacky, uncomfortable realities. Maybe we live in a world where certain observations can force our universe to branch into multiple ones. Or maybe actions in the present influence things earlier in time.