‘Solar Twins’ Reveal the Consistency of the Universe

Sometimes we must look to the heavens to understand our own planet. In the 17th century, Johannes Kepler’s insight that planets move in elliptical orbits around the sun led to a deeper understanding of gravity, the force that determines Earth’s tides. In the 19th century, scientists studied the color of sunlight, whose distinctive properties helped […]

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The High-Temperature Superconductivity Mystery Is Finally Solved

When electrons couple up, further quantum trickery makes superconductivity unavoidable. Normally, electrons can’t overlap, but Cooper pairs follow a different quantum mechanical rule; they act like particles of light, any number of which can pile onto the head of a pin. Many Cooper pairs come together and merge into a single quantum mechanical state, a […]

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The Physics of Scuba Diving

Another unit is the bar, where 1 bar is equal to 14.5 psi. The value of 1 bar is very close to the pressure of air on Earth. The atmospheric pressure of the air that surrounds you right now is probably 14.5 psi. (Yes, I said “probably” because I don’t want to judge you. Maybe […]

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How to Use a Super-Intense Laser to Kick an Electron out of a Molecule

For all its possibilities, nature tends to replay one particular scene over and over again: the confrontation between matter and light. It stages the scene in a practically infinite number of ways, but in the most familiar versions, light kick-starts a physical process that begins when a photon hits an atom or molecule. In photosynthesis, […]

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Your Phone Can Determine If a Bridge Is Busted

Because you’re a very responsible person who doesn’t text and drive, when you roll over a bridge your smartphone is stuck to the dash, where it is perhaps giving you directions while streaming a WIRED podcast. But in the background, your device is also gathering reams of accelerometer data. One day, this could help diagnose […]

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Three-Way Entanglement Results Hint at Better Quantum Codes

Last month, three scientists won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work proving one of the most counterintuitive yet consequential realities of the quantum world. They showed that two entangled quantum particles must be considered a single system—their states inexorably intertwined with each other—even if the particles are separated by great distances. In practice, […]

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The Problem With Spinning Spacecraft

While it would be awesome for people to be able to live in space, a “weightless” environment poses some serious challenges. Humans function best on Earth’s surface, where they are affected by a constant gravitational force. Without it, there are well-known consequences of long-term exposure to microgravity, including bone mass loss and muscle atrophy. So […]

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The Fibonacci Numbers Hiding in Strange Spaces

McDuff and Schlenk had been trying to figure out when they could fit a symplectic ellipsoid—an elongated blob—inside a ball. This type of problem, known as an embedding problem, is pretty easy in Euclidean geometry, where shapes don’t bend at all. It’s also straightforward in other subfields of geometry, where shapes can bend as much […]

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Could Namor’s Ankle Wings From ‘Black Panther 2’ Really Work?

But you don’t have to be a superhero to experience this kind of flight. If you have a set of carbon-fiber wings and four engines, you can fly like Yves Rossy, also known as “Jetman.” Flying Like a Rocket Photograph: Moviestore Collection/Alamy  Illustration: Rhett Allain Iron Man doesn’t have wings. He doesn’t need them. Instead, […]

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Worried About Nuclear War? Consider the Micromorts

Putting a percentage on the likelihood of a nuclear disaster can feel icky—like you’re boiling down the immensity of human suffering into a spreadsheet. “I think what people dislike about this is that people are thinking about the unthinkable,” says Spieghalter. But confronting the unthinkable is unavoidable if we want to reduce the risk of […]

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The New Math of Wrinkling Patterns

A few minutes into a 2018 talk at the University of Michigan, Ian Tobasco picked up a large piece of paper and crumpled it into a seemingly disordered ball of chaos. He held it up for the audience to see, squeezed it for good measure, then spread it out again. “I get a wild mass […]

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A Reboot of the Maxwell’s Demon Thought Experiment—in Real Life

In addition, the second law of thermodynamics signifies the statistical nature of the universe. Its building blocks are not stars, planets, humans, or bacteria—they’re the atoms and molecules that make us up. You can think of the atoms in the universe as a deck of cards, constantly being shuffled and reshuffled. By the end of […]

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The Physics of Smashing a Spacecraft Into an Asteroid

There are a couple of things to notice. First, after the collision DART is moving backwards, because it bounced. Since velocity is a vector, that means that it will have a negative momentum in this one-dimensional example. Second, the kinetic energy equation deals with the square of the velocity. This means that even though DART […]

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How Far Would You Have to Tunnel Underground to Lose 20 Pounds?

Now, what if I move outside this sphere? It turns out that the gravitational field due to a spherical distribution produces the same gravitational field as if all the mass was concentrated into a single point at the center of the sphere. This is kind of nice, as it allows us to easily calculate the […]

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Self-Taught AI May Have a Lot in Common With the Human Brain

For a decade now, many of the most impressive artificial intelligence systems have been taught using a huge inventory of labeled data. An image might be labeled “tabby cat” or “tiger cat,” for example, to “train” an artificial neural network to correctly distinguish a tabby from a tiger. The strategy has been both spectacularly successful […]

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A Wheel Made of ‘Odd Matter’ Spontaneously Rolls Uphill

In a physics lab in Amsterdam, there’s a wheel that can spontaneously roll uphill by wiggling. This “odd wheel” looks simple: just six small motors linked together by plastic arms and rubber bands to form a ring about 6 inches in diameter. When the motors are powered on, it starts writhing, executing complicated squashing and […]

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The Physics of Going Fast—but Not Too Fast—on a Giant Slide

Really, the only difference is that this is a downward-curving path with the center of this circular curve below the slide instead of above. (Once again, the gray C-shape represents the path of the rider on the slide and the circular trajectory of their body, and the dot is the center of the circle.) That […]

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Randall Munroe Is Back to Answer Your Impossible Questions

I was first just reading about how MRIs have got really big magnets in them, and thinking: I know that the magnetic field extends out away from them. It can’t extend out forever, because when I drop my keys, they don’t go flying off to the nearest MRI. So the first question is: How far […]

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Humanity Is Doing Its Best Impression of a Black Hole

The one thing that all human civilizations have in common is that they end. For 10,000 years or so, that’s been the common factor.  You can make an argument that civilizations tend not to last very long once they get to a certain level of tech. When they get to the point where they would […]

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Could Climate Change Alter the Length of the Day?

Let’s consider an example with an imaginary planet. In this solar system, the planet completes one orbit around its sun in 8.6 solar days, instead of 365 days, as the Earth does. (I’m using a shorter year because it magnifies the difference between solar and stellar days, so you can see it more easily.) Here […]

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