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Physics

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Microscopic Monets.

“Each ovary of the female fruit fly houses multiple ovarioles or ‘assembly lines’ in which individual egg chambers develop into fully formed fly eggs…In this picture, cross-sections of ten ovarioles from different female fruit flies are arranged with stem cells and early stage egg chambers at the center, and the more mature chambers at the periphery. The nucleus of each cell is stained yellow/orange. The cell membranes are stained blue.”

As written up by Aatish Bhatia at Wired, the winners of Princeton’s annual Art of Science competition are announced. “Among the entries are some wonderful ‘oops’ moments, where an experiment goes beautifully wrong, revealing art where you might not have expected to see it…But most of these submissions aren’t accidents. Many of these pieces reveal form, structure, and beauty hidden at a scale that our eyes can’t perceive.”

68 km/sec.

“Font-Ribera and his team…pioneered a method of measuring BAOs by using quasars, which are galaxies that are far brighter than normal due to the activity of a supermassive black hole at their center. As matter falls into the black hole, it grows extremely hot, radiating light at far brighter wavelengths and over farther distances than conventional galaxies. This allowed the scientists to measure the mass distribution of the universe out to 12 billion years.”

By incorporating quasars into the field of study, physicists determine the expansion rate of the universe to within 2.2 accuracy. That rate: 68 kilometers per second (which, for the Douglas Adams aficionados out there, translates into 42 miles per second.) “The uncertainty is plus or minus only a kilometer and a half per second.”

Flat Circle? Try Quantum Entanglement.

“‘In classical physics, we were struggling,’ said Sandu Popescu, a professor of physics at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom…”The tendency of coffee — and everything else — to reach equilibrium is ‘very intuitive,’ said Nicolas Brunner, a quantum physicist at the University of Geneva. ‘But when it comes to explaining why it happens, this is the first time it has been derived on firm grounds by considering a microscopic theory.'”

Once dismissed as a crank 30 years ago — this apparently happens to theorists of time often — an MIT professor finds his quantum theory of time gaining adherents. “Energy disperses and objects equilibrate…because of the way elementary particles become intertwined when they interact — a strange effect called ‘quantum entanglement.’…’What’s really going on is things are becoming more correlated with each other,’ Lloyd recalls realizing. ‘The arrow of time is an arrow of increasing correlations.'”

Small World, Big Universe.

“Most of us have trouble visualizing the height of buildings, or the distance it takes to get home from work, let alone things on an intergalactic scale. The above interactive graphic made by 14-year-old Cary Huang may be the best tool to help us understand our place in our vast universe. The interactive piece allows the viewer to zoom through scale and space, from quarks to galactic clusters.”

By way of Dangerous Meta and H-Twins, a handy and interactive chart of the scale of the universe. “The real genius of the interface is the ability to scroll back to a familiar object like a car — the time spent scrolling helps to convey a sense of size and distance.”

Only One Absolute…Everything Freezes.

“‘We’re going to study matter at temperatures far colder than are found naturally,’ says Rob Thompson of JPL…’We aim to push effective temperatures down to 100 pico-Kelvin.’ 100 pico-Kelvin is just one ten billionth of a degree above absolute zero, where all the thermal activity of atoms theoretically stops. At such low temperatures, ordinary concepts of solid, liquid and gas are no longer relevant. Atoms interacting just above the threshold of zero energy create new forms of matter that are essentially…quantum.”

In the nearest reaches of space (a.k.a. the ISS), NASA scientists plan to create the coldest spot in the universe, in order to toy with the fabric of reality. “No one knows where this fundamental research will lead. Even the ‘practical’ applications listed by Thompson — quantum sensors, matter wave interferometers, and atomic lasers, just to name a few — sound like science fiction. ‘We’re entering the unknown,’ he says.’

As A Matter of Fact, It’s All Dark.

“‘There is no escape from a black hole in classical theory,’ Hawking told Nature. Quantum theory, however, ‘enables energy and information to escape from a black hole’…[The paper] does away with the notion of an event horizon, the invisible boundary thought to shroud every black hole, beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape. In its stead, Hawking’s radical proposal is a much more benign ‘apparent horizon’, which only temporarily holds matter and energy prisoner before eventually releasing them, albeit in a more garbled form.”

Also in potentially earth-shattering space news, Stephen Hawking — “one of the creators of modern black-hole theory” — has released a new paper (not-yet-peer-reviewed) arguing that there are no black holes, really: Quantum theory suggests that matter eventually escapes from them. “A full explanation of the process, the physicist admits, would require a theory that successfully merges gravity with the other fundamental forces of nature. But that is a goal that has eluded physicists for nearly a century.”

Quantum Echo.

‘It’s really cool,’ says Jeremy O’Brien, an experimenter at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the work. Such time-separated entanglement is predicted by standard quantum theory, O’Brien says, ‘but it’s certainly not widely appreciated, and I don’t know if it’s been clearly articulated before.'”

By utilizing (as I understand it) the transitive properties of quantum entanglement, scientists in Israel manage to link two photons that never exist at the same time. “It’s really neat because it shows more or less that quantum events are outside our everyday notions of space and time…This sort of thing opens up people’s minds and suddenly somebody has an idea to use it in quantum computing or something.”

The Secrets Beneath.

“The Cryogenic Dark Matter Search experiment has detected three events with the characteristics expected of dark matter particles…A statistical fluctuation of the experimental background is likely to produce three or more events resembling this result a little over 5 percent of the time. However, all three of these events have energies more like those expected of a low-mass dark-matter particle, something that should happen by chance only 0.19 percent of the time.”

There are older things than Orcs in the deep places of the world: Symmetry Magazine checks in with the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search experiment happening a mile beneath Minnesota. As I’ve mentioned before, I came close to spending a summer in high school standing around a similar underground science project, searching for neutrinos. “The year 2013 should be an interesting one in the search for dark matter.”

Lightning Crashes…and Irradiates.

Unknown to [Ben] Franklin but now clear to a growing roster of lightning researchers and astronomers is that along with bright thunderbolts, thunderstorms unleash sprays of X-rays and even intense bursts of gamma rays, a form of radiation normally associated with such cosmic spectacles as collapsing stars. The radiation in these invisible blasts can carry a million times as much energy as the radiation in visible lightning, but that energy dissipates quickly in all directions rather than remaining in a stiletto-like lightning bolt.”

Here’s a superhero origin story for you: Astronomers and meteorologists uncover the heretofore unknown phenomenon of “dark lightning”. “Unlike with regular lightning, though, people struck by dark lightning, most likely while flying in an airplane, would not get hurt. But according to Dwyer’s calculations, they might receive in an instant the maximum safe lifetime dose of ionizing radiation — the kind that wreaks the most havoc on the human body.” (Lightning image via here.)

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