Atoms are governed by the strange laws of quantum physics—they can communicate across long distances, teleport, and perform myriad other acts that sound straight out of science fiction. But although we’re made up of atoms, we can’t do any of that stuff. We’re governed by the laws of classical, or Newtonian, physics, where there’s no teleporting allowed.
How many atoms have to get together for classical physics to take over? Many physicists would dearly like to know, and, in an effort to suss out just when the change-over happens, have set up numerous experiments in which they watch for signs of quantum behavior in ever-larger objects, from molecules to nanoscale slivers of metal. But a paper published this week in Science takes the cake. Researchers report that they have observed entanglement in two three-millimeter-wide diamonds. Read More
What’s the News: Physicists have worked out a new method of storing information in the quantum states of atoms in diamond crystals. The scientists linked the spin of individual nitrogen atoms in the diamond—impurities at the jewelry counter, but boons in the physics lab—to the spin of nearby electrons. They could form a quantum link between the spin of the nitrogen atom and the spin of a nearby electron, letting the electron store information more stably than if it were spinning on its own.
How the Heck:
What’s the Context:
Not so Fast:
Reference: “Quantum control and nanoscale placement of single spins in diamond.” David D. Awschalom, invited talk, American Physical Society March Meeting 2011
Image: Flickr / Swamibu
A couple of new exoplanets are leaving researchers scratching their heads in confusion.
So bright, so vivid! So prismatic!
A planet called WASP-12b is the first planet that’s been found to have more carbon than oxygen in its atmosphere, unlike most planets in our solar system. In the paper published in Nature, researchers suggest that the gas giant probably has a carbon-based core. And all that carbon has set the researchers eyes a-sparkle with possibilities:
The researchers say their discovery supports the idea there may be carbon-rich, rocky planets whose terrains are made up of diamonds or graphite. “You might see land masses and mountains made up of diamonds,” [said] lead researcher Dr Nikku Madhusudhan. [BBC News]
The alien planet was discovered in 2009 and is about 870 light-years away. It’s about 1.4 times as massive as Jupiter and sits just 2 percent as far from its parent star as the Earth is from the sun. Sadly, we can’t go mining there, since the hypothetical diamonds are surrounded by the gas giant’s scorching atmosphere (4,200 degrees Fahrenheit) of hydrogen. Even if you got down to its rocky core, any diamonds would likely be mixed in with graphite and even liquid carbon.
“This study shows that there is this extreme diversity out there,” study lead author Nikku Madhusudhan, now of Princeton University, told SPACE.com. “Fifteen years or so since the discovery of the first exoplanet, we’re just beginning to appreciate how different they can be.” [Space.com]
Both Uranus and Neptune have quirky magnetic poles—they’re located about 60 degrees off the geographic pole rather than very nearby, like ours is. The reason, researchers suggest in a new Nature Physics study, could be that oceans of diamond—yes, oceans of diamond—cover our solar system’s two most distant planets.
The diamond idea isn’t a new one, but it’s a terribly hard question to study because you have to get diamond to melt in the lab to study it, and this experiment was the first to document the pressure and temperature at which that happens. The mineral is notoriously hard, of course, but there’s something more: Diamond doesn’t like to stay diamond when it gets hot. When diamond is heated to extreme temperatures it physically changes, from diamond to graphite. The graphite, and not the diamond, then melts into a liquid. The trick for the scientists was to heat the diamond up while simultaneously stopping it from transforming into graphite [Discovery News].
Researchers say that diamond fragments from the dawn of time may contain evidence that life began on Earth as early as 4.25 billion years ago, just a few hundred million years after the planet came into existence–although they also say that their findings aren’t conclusive and that they may well be wrong.
Studying anything about the ancient earth is extremely difficult. Rocks that formed four billion years ago will long since have been beat up, metamorphosed, or melted [Nobel Intent blog, Ars Technica]. Researchers got around that problem by studying microscopic diamond pieces inside zircon crystals, which are themselves the tough remnants of ancient rocks that have long since disappeared. “We don’t have the rocks. These zircons are just little fragments of something that was broken up, weathered and redeposited as sediments,” explained [coauthor Martin] Whitehouse [BBC News].