Tag Archives: Physics

Prepping for a Flood of Heavenly Bodies

This is a story of getting the good out of the bad, said Mario Jurić. As a boy in Yugoslavia, he would page through an introductory physics book that belonged to his grandfather. He learned that stars came in different colors, and that these colors signified different temperatures. So for his eighth-grade science fair project, Jurić wanted to capture that spectral light. His teacher lent him a prism. Jurić connected that prism to an old-fashioned camera using a cardboard toilet-paper tube and duct tape. He planned to keep the shutter open for a couple of minutes, let starlight pass through the prism, and capture that spread-out light on film.

But Zagreb, where he lived, was home to about a million people. Under ordinary circumstances the city’s … Read the rest

Neutron Lifetime Puzzle Deepens, but No Dark Matter Seen

When physicists strip neutrons from atomic nuclei, put them in a bottle, then count how many remain there after some time, they infer that neutrons radioactively decay in 14 minutes and 39 seconds, on average. But when other physicists generate beams of neutrons and tally the emerging protons — the particles that free neutrons decay into — they peg the average neutron lifetime at around 14 minutes and 48 seconds.

The discrepancy between the “bottle” and “beam” measurements has persisted since both methods of gauging the neutron’s longevity began yielding results in the 1990s. At first, all the measurements were so imprecise that nobody worried. Gradually, though, both methods have improved, and still they disagree. Now, researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico have … Read the rest

Physicists Aim to Classify All Possible Phases of Matter

In the last three decades, condensed matter physicists have discovered a wonderland of exotic new phases of matter: emergent, collective states of interacting particles that are nothing like the solids, liquids and gases of common experience.

The phases, some realized in the lab and others identified as theoretical possibilities, arise when matter is chilled almost to absolute-zero temperature, hundreds of degrees below the point at which water freezes into ice. In these frigid conditions, particles can interact in ways that cause them to shed all traces of their original identities. Experiments in the 1980s revealed that in some situations electrons split en masse into fractions of particles that make braidable trails through space-time; in other cases, they collectively whip up massless versions of themselves. A lattice … Read the rest