My friend Austin took this photograph last week, looking out his office window near the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis. That flare in the distance isn't Photoshop. Nor is it the nuclear annihilation of St. Paul. Instead, it's a sun dog — an atmospheric phenomenon that happens when light from the Sun is refracted off of ice crystals in the air. The light gets bent as it passes through the crystals and we see the bright flash of a "false sun" to the side of the actual Sun. The same process can also form rings around the Sun. Whether you get a halo or a sun dog depends on which way the ice crystals are oriented in relation to you. Read the rest
Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick's Feynman was one of the best science-oriented graphic novels I've come across (see my 2011 review for more). So I was delighted to learn that the pair are now working on HAWKING, a graphic biography of The Hawk himself, to be published in 2016. Read on for the official, exclusive announcement from FirstSecond, along with a sneak peek: Read the rest
Good news, everyone*! If you're tired of being splashed (or splashing others) with your own urine, the Brigham Young University Splash Lab has done the research and produced a series of helpful tips that will enable you to potty without the spotty. Research at the Splash Lab is heavily based on imaging and this video will show you how easy it is to reduce splash-back with simple changes like peeing against a vertical, rather than horizontal, surface.
And by "everyone", I mean "people who pee into urinals".Read the rest
Traversable Achronal Retrograde Domains In Spacetime is a new paper by Caltech/Memorial Gallifrey physicists Benjamin K. Tippett and David Tsang that attempts to describe the spacetime through which Doctor Who's Tardis travels; one that "goes forward and back in time, and left and right in space." It's a bit heavy going, so they've also published The Blue Box White Paper, a lay-friendly, 17 page summary for people with "no technical knowledge of Einstein's Theory of General Relativity." The discussion continues on Tippet's Tumblr. Read the rest
Research from UC Berkeley's Kater Murch and team has allowed fine observation of a quantum waveform collapse. Observing single quantum trajectories of a superconducting quantum bit, published in Nature, describes the experiment, which used indirect observations of microwaves that had passed through a box containing a circuit where a particle was in a state of superposition, allowing the researchers to view the collapse in slow-motion.
I finally came to have some (admittedly crude) understanding of what all this means in 1992, thanks to Greg Egan's novel Quarantine, which is one of the best -- and most exciting and comprehensible -- explanations of superposition and uncertainty I've ever encountered. Read the rest
The 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics was announced this morning and it is probably the least surprising Nobel of the year. People have been speculating for months that the award was going to be centered around the discovery of the Higgs Boson — the subatomic particle that helps explain why everything else in the Universe has mass. The Higgs Boson, itself, has been the physics pop culture celebrity for the last few years. It's even got its own blues.
So the big question going into today's announcement wasn't what discovery would the award be about. The question was who was going to end up being the named human recipients of said award. This was always going to be a tough call. The whole reason you've heard about the Higgs is because of a long-running effort to experimentally prove whether or not it existed. The very nature of experimental particle physics makes it a collaborative enterprise — proving a theory requires huge, expensive machines, international institutions, and lots of physicists. The Nobel Prize, meanwhile, can only be given to three recipients at a time. (Although an institute, like, say, CERN, could have been one of those, at least hypothetically.) The Nobel Committee gut this Gordian Knot by skipping over the experimental physicists altogether and giving the 2013 award to two theorists, alone — Peter Higgs and Francois Englert. Read the rest
Here's a clip from the BBC's Fun to Imagine series, in which Richard Feynman explains the amazing thing that happens when you stretch and release a rubber band. I'd always wondered why wide rubber bands got warm when you stretched them, and now I know! Feynman was a brilliant physicist and an even more brilliant physics-explainer, who busts out lines like "The world is a dynamic mess of jiggling things if you look at it right" (here's a transcript). Read the rest
If you love comics, you'll know Bone, Jeff Smith's Walt Kelly-esque independent funnybook that ran for an epic 13 years. It won just about every award in the field (deservedly so), and was a nigh-perfect mix of whimsy and action.
Now, Smith is back with RASL, another self-published epic, albeit one that's much darker than Bone. Rasl, the main character, is a art-thief on the run from his past. Specifically, he's running away from his former career as a Tesla-obsessed Defense Department physicist who discovered something in Tesla's notebooks that led him to believe he had it in his power to create the ultimate weapon -- or the end to war altogether. But when he tested the technology, he learned that it let him hop between dimensions -- and also discovered that his fellow researchers were willing to hand the military everything it needed to slaughter millions. So Rasl blew up the lab and hopped to another dimension, and discovered a lucrative career in stealing transdimensional Picassos that he fences through a crooked Vegas casino owner.
Rasl is an often-brutal, high-speed adventure about loyalty, sex, romance, Tesla and mysticism. It's delicious nerdbait, tailor-made for people like me who grew up idolizing Tesla and fantasizing about dimension-hopping. It's a very different kind of story than Bone ever was, but in an absolutely wonderful way. The giant, hardcover bound edition that comes out today is a great way to acquaint yourself with it.