A map of physics, an introduction to the sprawling science of physics

Tuesday, 7 March, 2017

Physics surrounds us, and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together. And every other galaxy, and sub atomic particle within the cosmos. Or everything we can see, for that matter. Otherwise, physics is a complete mystery to many of us.

Especially me, given mathematics and physics are inseparable, and maths was something I could never comprehend, at anything more than a basic level, anyway.

Enter then The Map of Physics, by physicist, and science writer, Dominic Walliman, and an explanation of the science, together with its three main constituents: classical physics, relativity, and quantum physics.

Even then, it’s not so straightforward. There are many sub-branches, and many more unknowns.

For instance, physics only describes about five percent of what we know about. Put that down to dark matter, and dark energy, which makes up ninety-five percent of the universe.

In other words, there’s a long way to go before our understanding of the universe will be anywhere near complete. The Map of Physics makes a good starting point though.

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The universe will end in a vacuum, a false vacuum

Tuesday, 25 October, 2016

Well, this is cheery. A false vacuum may bring about the destruction of the universe. And there’d be no warning that the end was nigh. The only upside is that the process can’t move any faster than the speed of light. So it may be billions of years, if ever, before the entire cosmos succumbs to a false vacuum.

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The sun’s pretty big right, how hard then can it be to crash into it?

Thursday, 28 July, 2016

I’m no physicist, but I would have thought that the Sun would be the easiest object in the solar system to crash into. But what’s up with crashing stuff into the Sun, in the first place?

Well, people are interested in doing so, as they think it might help us get rid of nuclear waste that is stockpiling on Earth. If it were to be incinerated by the Sun, it would no longer be a problem, right?

Hitting the Sun, however, is far from simple, and if it were to be tried, would be easier to arrange from the outer reaches of the solar system, say where Pluto is, than from near Earth. Who’d have thought? I guess that’s exactly why I am not a physicist.

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When it comes to ageing, it’s about physics not biology

Monday, 16 May, 2016

Now I wish I had paid more attention in my physics classes… is ageing a function of biology, or rather physics? It seems it might be the latter, as opposed to the former.

This tendency is codified in the second law of thermodynamics, which dictates that everything ages and decays: Buildings and roads crumble; ships and rails rust; mountains wash into the sea. Lifeless structures are helpless against the ravages of thermal motion. But life is different: Protein machines constantly heal and renew their cells. In this sense, life pits biology against physics in mortal combat. So why do living things die? Is aging the ultimate triumph of physics over biology? Or is aging part of biology itself?

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Will the LHC confirm the existence of a mysterious new particle?

Wednesday, 4 May, 2016

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is due to resume operations soon, after a maintenance shutdown, and some scientists think that a batch of upcoming experiments will prove the existence of a new particle, one that might redefine their understanding of the universe. Fascinating…

Last year, researchers there recorded faint but extremely promising signs of what could be a new particle that does not fit within the current theoretical model. The LHC is now about to resume operation after being shut down since December for annual maintenance. If its next run confirms the existence of the new particle, that could open the long-sought passage to ‘the new physics’ – and, hopefully, answer some big, longstanding questions.

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This is what it sounds like when gravitational waves collide

Monday, 15 February, 2016

The existence of ripples in spacetime, or gravitational waves, was foreseen by Albert Einstein a century ago, and last September they were observed for the first time during the “merger” of two black holes, 1.3 billion light years from Earth. The event, although only brief, apparently generated fifty times more energy than all the stars in the observable universe.

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Albert Einstein’s general theory of science fiction

Monday, 30 November, 2015

It’s all rocket science to me, but concepts such as faster than light (FTL) travel, and wormholes, the staples of science fiction, derive from Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which is good, because that’s about the total sum of it that makes sense to me.

General relativity is a treasure trove of ideas that have enriched science fiction for decades. Take wormholes – a popular form of transportation for fictional space explorers and a consequence of general relativity’s stretchy space-time. “That kind of flexibility allows you in theory to kind of bend space so much that you actually get really a shortcut between different parts of the universe, potentially even opposite parts of the universe,” Pope said.

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Einstein’s special theory of relativity in ten hundred words

Friday, 20 November, 2015

It’s the problems of faster than light travel that I’m grappling with at present, in regards to a science-fiction project of mine, but that’s the great thing about sci-fi, those sorts of troubles are easily taken care of, thanks to the conveniently timed advent of some futuristic technology, or advances in the understanding of the laws of physics, between now and a certain future time.

The downside there of course is that people may take exception to such ideas, because they’re not scientific. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I reach it, because, by thinking fourth-dimensionally, by the time I arrive at the location where the bridge should be, it should have been built, and I can coast safely across the ravine.

Whether the laws of physics are sufficiently malleable to the point they may one day be manipulated so as to allow faster than light travel, remains to be seen. In the meantime, an understanding of Albert Einstein’s special, and general, theories of relatively, might help, and here they are, set out in relatively simple terms.

The first idea is called the special idea, because it covers only a few special parts of space and time. The other one – the big idea – covers all the stuff that is left out by the special idea. The big idea is a lot harder to understand than the special one. People who are good at numbers can use the special idea to answer questions pretty easily, but you have to know a lot about numbers to do anything with the big idea. To understand the big idea – the hard one – it helps to understand the special idea first.

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The tyranny of distance will not prevent electrons from entangling

Friday, 23 October, 2015

Fascinating. Apparently particles such as electrons can influence, or affect, each other’s behaviour, communicate it could be, even if there is some distance between them. No matter how great their separation, it seems they are somehow entangled.

The Delft researchers were able to entangle two electrons separated by a distance of 1.3 kilometers, slightly less than a mile, and then share information between them. Physicists use the term “entanglement” to refer to pairs of particles that are generated in such a way that they cannot be described independently. The scientists placed two diamonds on opposite sides of the Delft University campus, 1.3 kilometers apart.

I’ve always wondered if this type of… entanglement applies to other objects, entities perhaps, elsewhere. Though I’m being more philosophical than scientific there. Possibly this electron entanglement may have something to do with the way the rotation axes of black holes in quasars, far, far, distant from each other, align with each other.

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Destroyed but still there, the “information” retained by a black hole

Tuesday, 1 September, 2015

Nothing can escape from the immense gravitational attraction of a black hole. Not even light. Nor information either. Information, in this context, being a more palatable reference to the crushed and mangled remnants of whatever was captured by said black hole.

So it’s not data we that we might be able to do something useful with, were we ever to, somehow, retrieve it. Which we can’t. British physicist Stephen Hawking has been in the news recently, talking about this information, and offered a real world, easy to understand, explanation of this… stuff:

At Monday’s public lecture, he explained this jumbled return of information was like burning an encyclopedia: You wouldn’t technically lose any information if you kept all of the ashes in one place, but you’d have a hard time looking up the capital of Minnesota.

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