Tag: Einstein

Will We Ever Travel Faster Than Light, a la Star Trek?

By Eliza Strickland | May 15, 2009 6:25 pm

EnterpriseJust because Albert Einstein said that the faster-than-light travel is impossible isn’t any reason to stop trying for it, a number of Star Trek-loving theoretical physicists have declared. To achieve the starship Enterprise‘s fabled warp speed, they propose simply bending the rules of physics a bit.

The speed-of-light speed limit, they argue, only applies within space-time (the continuum of three dimensions of space plus one of time that we live in). While any given object can’t travel faster than light speed within space-time, theory holds, perhaps space-time itself could travel. “The idea is that you take a chunk of space-time and move it,” said Marc Millis, former head of NASA’s Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project. “The vehicle inside that bubble thinks that it’s not moving at all. It’s the space-time that’s moving” [SPACE.com].

But how do you move a bubble of space time around the universe? For an answer, researchers Gerald Cleaver expands on a theory first proposed in 1994 by Mexican physicist, Michael Alcubierre. It might be possible to expand space behind a vehicle, say the Enterprise, and shrink space in front of it, thereby creating a bubble that could move through Einstein’s space-time fabric at speeds much greater than the speed of light…. Cleaver, who earned his doctorate at the California Institute of Technology, in the heart of surfing country, likens it to “surfing a wave” [ABC News].

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math, Space

Spotted: Signature of Water in Microwave Laser Produced by Distant Galaxy

By Eliza Strickland | December 17, 2008 6:01 pm

water maserIn a galaxy far, far away—11.1 billion light-years away, to be exact—researchers have discovered the telltale signature of water. The water molecules seem to be located in the galaxy’s center, where a supermassive black hole called a quasar is spewing out tons of radiation as material falls into it. The water molecules lie in clouds of dust and gas that feed the black hole, and appear to be amplifying radio waves at a specific frequency, forming what’s called a maser, or the radio equivalent of a laser [Wired News].

The quasar, called MG J0414+0534, is so far away that the light researchers are observing originated when the universe was only 2.5 billion years old. “We now know water is out there,” says Violette Impellizzeri from the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany. “Because water masers arise close to the cores of galaxies, our result opens new interesting possibilities for studying supermassive black holes [at the galactic cores] at a time when galaxies were forming” [New Scientist].

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space

Galaxy Clusters Stunted by Gravity's Bizarro Twin: Dark Energy

By Eliza Strickland | December 16, 2008 5:23 pm

dark energyThe mysterious force known as dark energy that is causing the universe’s expansion to accelerate is also preventing galaxy clusters from getting too big for their britches, a new study suggests. The existence of dark energy was first proposed a decade ago but the stuff has never been directly detected, and there’s much we don’t know about it. However, all the indirect studies have agreed that it acts like a kind of anti-gravity: A repulsive force that permeates empty space and, bizarrely, grows stronger with distance, precisely the opposite of what happens with gravity [Washington Post].

In the new study, researchers used NASA’s orbiting Chandra X-ray observatory to examine the growth patterns of galaxy clusters. After bulking up rapidly in the first 10 billion years of cosmic time, clusters of galaxies, the cloudlike swarms that are the largest conglomerations of matter in the universe, have grown anemically or not at all during the last five billion years, like sullen teenagers who suddenly refuse to eat. “This result could be explained as arrested development of the universe” [The New York Times], said lead researcher Alexey Vikhlinin. He says the findings support the idea that the gravity of the clusters drew in more and more matter for billions of years during their growth spurts. But gravity’s alter ego, dark energy, was tugging at the edges of the clusters, pulling matter away from the galaxies and stalling growth.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math, Space

Confirmed: Scientists Understand Where Mass Comes From

By Eliza Strickland | November 21, 2008 10:54 am

quarks gluonsThe standard model of physics got it right when it predicted where the mass of ordinary matter comes from, according to a massive new computational effort. Particle physics explains that the bulk of atoms is made up of protons and neutrons, which are themselves composed of smaller particles known as quarks, which in turn are bound by gluons. The odd thing is this: the mass of gluons is zero and the mass of quarks [accounts for] only five percent. Where, therefore, is the missing 95 percent? [AFP]

The answer, according to theory, is that the energy from the interactions between quarks and gluons accounts for the excess mass (because as Einstein‘s famous E=mc² equation proved, energy and mass are equivalent). Gluons are the carriers of the strong nuclear force that binds three quarks together to form one proton or neutron; these gluons are constantly popping into existence and disappearing again. The energy of these vacuum fluctuations has to be included in the total mass of the proton and neutron [New Scientist]. The new study finally crunched the numbers on how much energy is created in these fluctuations and confirmed the theory, but it took a supercomputer over a year to do so.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math

Einstein's Green Refrigerator May Be Poised for a Comeback

By Eliza Strickland | September 22, 2008 10:34 am

Einstein refrigeratorMany years after he revolutionized the field of physics, Albert Einstein took up a new task: inventing a better refrigerator. The 1930 appliance that he patented in partnership with a former student, Leo Szilard, had no moving parts and required no electricity, but was quickly forgotten as more efficient refrigeration technology was invented. Now, an electrical engineer has built a prototype of the forgotten Einstein fridge as part of a three-year project to develop more robust appliances that can be used in places without electricity [The Guardian].

Einstein and Szilard were reportedly spurred to inventive action by a news report of a Berlin family that died when toxic gas leaked from their refrigerator; the two physicists decided to create a system without moving parts to reduce the likelihood of accidents.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math, Technology

Entangled Particles Seem to Communicate Instantly—and Befuddle Scientists

By Eliza Strickland | August 13, 2008 6:37 pm

light photon fiber opticsOf all the weirdness in the universe, the quantum mechanics phenomenon called “entanglement” may be the most mind-boggling. Physicists have long shaken their heads at the theory that two particles that become entangled will always and instantly mirror each other’s properties, no matter how far they are separated, which seems to go against all other physical understanding. In the everyday world, objects can organize themselves in just a few ways. For example, two people can coordinate their actions by talking directly with each other, or they can both receive instructions from a third source…. But quantum mechanics allows for a third way to coordinate information [Nature News].

Einstein rebelled against the notion of quantum entanglement, derisively calling it “spooky action at a distance”  [LiveScience]. Entanglement would look a lot less spooky if we could prove that an entangled object releases an unknown particle or some other signal at high speeds to influence its partner, giving the illusion of a simultaneous reaction [LiveScience]. But a new study shows that if some hidden signal is passing between the separated particles, it would have to travel at 10,000 times the speed of light. As this explanation seems impossible, the research team favors the alternate, weirder idea: that a measurement on one photon instantly influences the other [New Scientist].

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math

Neutron Stars Prove Einstein Right (Again)

By Eliza Strickland | July 7, 2008 9:44 am

pulsar twin starsA new study of a pair of neutron stars has proven that Albert Einstein got the details right on his theory of general relativity, which describes the interactions of gravity, space, and time in our universe. A team of astrophysicists examined two newly discovered neutron stars, the small and dense stellar bodies formed after a supernova collapses, and found that Einstein accurately predicted their movements more than 90 years before the unusual star system was first sighted.

In Einstein’s relativistic universe, matter curves space and slows down time, and the speed of light remains the only constant. But those are the big effects. The theory of relativity also includes some more esoteric details, one of which is called spin precession. The idea goes like this: Two massive bodies orbiting near each other will warp space enough to disturb the central axis around which both are moving, causing them to begin wobbling just like spinning tops. Strong gravity creates this so-called precession, and the more massive the objects, the easier the precession is to observe [ScienceNow Daily News].

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math, Space
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