PHYS Physics

In quantum physics the future can affect the present

Quantum mechanics describes the strange behavior of photons, electrons and the other particles that make up the universe. Among its many outstanding mysteries, is the quandary of causality—whether events happen in a particular order. Generally, we experience things that seem to be triggered by earlier events. Astrophysicist Brian Koberlein writes, in an article for Forbes, that our lives follow a series of causes and effects—but, could an effect ever trigger a cause? In physics, this thought experiment is known as retrocausality. It is a concept of cause and effect where the effect precedes its cause in time.

In complex systems, order can be observed through entropy—basically the trajectory from ordered to disordered provides a clue about the direction of the event (e.g., a cup falling and shattering into a dozen pieces). However, there are quantum experiments where physicists try to mix up the order of cause and effect. As Koberlein explains it, quantum objects can sometimes behave similar to particles, and sometimes seem to behave like waves. These properties reveal themselves in different kinds of experiments. In the double slit experiment, when a beam of photons shines against a barrier with two slit openings, left unmeasured, the photons take on a wave behavior. However, if a detector is placed by each slit to measure which one each photon goes through, then the photons do behave like particles.

Things become fuzzier still in the delayed choice experiment, where you measure which slit each photon passes through, and measure where each photon strikes the distant screen, but before looking at the results, you destroy the data on which slit each photon passes through. In 1999, the experiment was conducted, and physicists discovered that delayed choice does determine the outcome. “[T]hat would mean destroying the data about the photons going through the slit would give the ‘wave’ interference pattern, even though the ‘particle’ data was collected at the time,” writes Koberlein. In other words, an effect can trigger a cause, and it is possible for the present to cause an outcome in the past.

NWT_Energy PHYS Physics

Last reservoir of ordinary matter discovered

A team of international scientists have found the last batch of ordinary matter hiding out in the universe, a new study in the journal Nature reports.

Ordinary matter — also known as “baryons” — makes up all physical objects in existence. However, though astronomers have long know that, they have only been able to track down roughly two-thirds of the amount physicists predicted was created by the Big Bang.

For the new research, scientists discovered the last missing third in the space between galaxies. Research shows it exists as filaments of oxygen gas that sit at temperatures of roughly 1,800,000 degrees Fahrenheit. 

This discovery is extremely important for the field of astrophysics because it could create a much better picture of how the universe first came about.

“This is one of the key pillars of testing the Big Bang theory: figuring out the baryon census of hydrogen and helium and everything else in the periodic table,” said study co-author Michael Shull, a researcher at the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences (APS), according to Science Daily.

Roughly 10 percent of ordinary matter sits in galaxies and 60 percent is in diffuse clouds that hang between galaxies.

Back in 2012 researchers predicted the missing 30 percent sat in a web-like pattern known as the warm-hot intergalactic medium (WHIM).

To test that theory, the team in the new study pointed satellites at a quasar known as 1ES 1553. Such bodies are black holes that sit at the center of their galaxy. Analyzing them is important because, by seeing how quasar radiation moves through space scientists can track missing baryons.

Using such information from 1ES 1553, the team discovered signatures of a type of highly-ionized oxygen gas lying between the quasar and our solar system.

That accounts for the missing matter, which then helps build a much more complete picture of the universe. Both for how it came about and the way it go to its current state.

“[T]he missing baryons have been found,” wrote the team, according to Gizmodo.

PHYS TECH_Technology

Discovery brings researchers one step closer to quantum computing

A group of researchers from the University of New South Wales have discovered what could be a major step forward in the field of quantum computing, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Communications.

The team managed to get quantum bits (qubits) — which are the most basic quantum computing units — to communicate with each other. As that has never happened before, this is a big break-through for the unique technology.

This discovery is important because it means scientists are one step closer to “entangling” their qubits, which essential to creating a function quantum computer.

Entanglement is a strange physical phenomenon where groups of small particles interact with each other in a way where they can no longer be described independently, no matter how far apart they are. That is key for future computing is because it would unlock their full power.

For instance, one quantum chip containing 50 or 60 qubits would have more power than the world’s fastest supercomputers. Once those entangled qubits reach 300 or more, there would be enough power to perform an unimaginable amount of calculations in a single instant, according to Newsweek.

Normal computers can exist in one of two states: 0 or 1. However, qubits can exist in 0, 1, and everything else in between. That means they can perform multiple calculations at once, making them much more powerful than normal computers.

While the world’s first scalable, silicon-based quantum computer is still a ways off, there is no doubt that the new discovery has a lot of potential. Quantum computers would help many fields and enables scientists to process information in a brand new way. This is the first step on a long journey, but it is an important one nonetheless. 

“There’s nothing to prohibit us getting them closer,” study co-author Michelle Simmons, a researcher at the University of New South Whales, according to The Guardian. “The great thing is that the devices are small enough that we can make predictive models for the theory. Every time we get results we benchmark that with a theory and that helps us understand the system so much better.

PHYS Science

Large Hadron Collider shatters previous records in amazing experiment

The world’s largest particle smasher continues to surprise researchers in ways never though possible. The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)’s Large Hadron Collider has been smashing protons into one another at almost the speed of light, and has been setting new records like it’s nobody’s business.

Images released on Thursday, May 21 have dazzled scientists and nuclear enthusiasts across the globe. According to Live Science, the pictures depict the fallout from these high-speed collisions, and they are the first images from the research facility in Geneva, Switzerland to reach the public in about two years.

A test run this week smashed protons into each other along a 17-mile long corridor inside of the LHC, which lies deep below the surface of the Earth. The protons reached energies of 13 tera-electronvolts (TeV), nearly double what the collider was capable of achieving prior to its recent repairs and upgrades.

The energy produced by the protons is similar to the energy produced by a mosquito buzzing through the air. This may not seem like much, but it’s all relative; the protons were much smaller than a mosquito, which makes their ability to produce this amount of energy all the more amazing. According to Greg Rakness, the run coordinator for one of the LHC experiments, the particles producing the record-breaking energies were about a million times smaller than the width of a human hair.

The LHC speeds up 100 billion to 1,000 billion protons at a time and shoots them around a ring using a series of powerful magnets in order to achieve a collision. Occasionally, these high-speed particles can crash into equipment and cause damage, and the two-year repair period sought to address this issue. After the first test, researchers at CERN are confident that they’ve tweaked the LHC in the right direction.

The tests were conducted so researchers could figure out where to place “collimators,” or large blocks of metal designed to block speeding protons from vulnerable equipment within the collider. The test was hugely successful, and it set a new energy record to boot.

With the new setup inside the LHC, scientists are excited to start more high-energy collision tests, and hope to discover more exotic particles like the Higgs-Boson, which was discovered in 2012. The experiments conducted by CERN consistently challenge our views of the way the universe functions, and as efficiencies in the LHC improve, we can only imagine what’s in store for the future.

PHYS Physics

Without scientific data, ancient philosophers created theories that remain true today

Pre-Socratic philosophers pondered some of the more arcane questions of existence, sometimes coming up with answers that hold true today. Still, they are rarely credited with progress in the scientific field largely because they lacked scientific proof for their theories. According to Joe Carmichael in an article for Inverse, philosophy and science share a long, intertwined history, and these early philosophers were the Western world’s first empiricists.

Ancient philosophy professor at Brigham Young University, Daniel Graham, tells Inverse that these early philosophers have been discredited, because despite their incredible ideas, they had “no way of proving or disproving any of their theories.” The danger, Carmichael suggests, is that history will repeat itself and modern scientists may be ignored or repudiated by future researchers even if they uncover new paths to knowledge. Carmichael points to Parmenides, who developed a cosmology and was the first person in history to determine the earth’s true shape. Leucippus and Democritus, in late-5th-century B.C., hypothesized that atoms exist, while Anaxagoras discovered how eclipses work.

Graham believes that modern scientists should look to ancient philosophers as “soul mates” because they were people that already thought like scientists, even without access to the tools of science. “Proof follows conjecture,” Carmichael writes. In fact, concepts like the Big Bang began as speculation. The methodology of science is always the same, says Yasunori Nomura, a theoretical physics professor. “You just make the theories based on what you can measure.” As Carmichael puts it, scientists ought to consider any theory that is robust, steeped in evidence, and falsifiable.

Business PHYS TECH_Technology

Facebook invented a new unit of time

The Oculus team at Facebook has invented a new unit of time known as the “flick” that could help make video and audio production much smoother.

This time measurement is one seven hundred and five million six hundred thousandth of a second. While it may seem odd to focus on such a small duration, 1/706,600,000 is an important number because it divides evenly into 8, 16, 22.05, 24, 25, 30, 32, 44.1, 48, 50, 60, 90, 100, 120. All of those numbers are either framerates, frequencies, or mediums like film or music. For example, 24 frames per second, 120 hertz TVs, and 44.1 Khz sample rate audio.

Nearly all fractions used in current encoding resolve into inconvenient decimal series, which then requires shorthand or estimations. For instance, the 1/24th of a second used throughout the entire film industry is equal to 0.041666666666666. As a result, it is typically abbreviated to 0.04167 for convenience, TechCrunch reports.

In contrast, if researchers use flicks, almost all of the important fractional frequencies turn into exact round numbers that do not need estimation. If you use Facebook’s new measurement with 1/24th of a second, it breaks down into a clean 29,400,000 flicks.

While those numbers can still be difficult for humans to remember, they are easy for computer systems to match up without creating a inter-format fraction that has to be resolved by adjusting frequency.

“When the numbers used are not integers, errors can gradually creep into computer calculations. These errors can build up over time, eventually causing inaccuracies that become noticeable,” said Matt Hammond, lead research engineer at BBC Research and Development, according to BBC News.

This new measurement eliminates the fractions or decimals needed in such systems, opening the door for much cleaner computations down the line. Fractions have long been a problem for numerous technological industries, and the flick could help fix those issues. 

“[I] think perhaps a very fixed way of describing these time steps allows for developers to have a bit more flexibility in dealing with latency issues and making sure videos stay in sync,” added an Oxford University professor who asked not to be identified, according to BBC News.


New method leads to discovery of extremely massive neutron star

Using an innovative method that yields higher accuracy than any previous one, a team of astronomers discovered one of the most massive neutron stars observed to date.

Also known as pulsars, neutron stars are the remnants of 10-30 solar-mass stars that died in supernova explosions. Although these stellar remnants are small in size, with diameters of about 12.4 miles (20 km), they are more massive than the Sun and thus very dense.

Researchers from the Astronomy and Astrophysics Group of the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya (UPC) in Barcelona, Spain, and of the Canary Islands Institute of Astrophysics (IAC) found this particular neutron star, known as PSR J2215+5135, to have approximately 2.3 solar masses.

This makes it one of the most massive of the 2,000 plus neutron stars scientists have discovered.

PSR J2215+5135 is part of a close binary star system, for which the new method is aimed. Its companion is a Sun-like star, which the neutron star bombards with radiation.

Because the two stars orbit a common center of mass, known as a barycenter, the more massive the neutron star is, the faster the regular star moves.

With the new method, scientists use the spectral lines of hydrogen and magnesium in the companion star to measure the speed at which both sides of the companion star travel. By measuring the companion’s irradiated and non-irradiated sides, researchers can then determine the mass of the neutron star.

For the study, the research team used data collected by the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC), which is the world’s larges optical and infrared telescopes; the William Herschel Telescope (WHT); the Isaac Newton Telescope Group (ING), and the IAC-80 telescope, all located in Spain’s Canary Islands, as well as computer models of binary star systems with irradiation.

As a next step, scientists plan to use this method to measure the many similar neutron stars discovered within the last ten years as well as stellar mass black holes, which are also supernova remnants, and white dwarfs, the remnants of lower-mass stars, in binary systems.

A paper detailing the study has been published in the Astrophysical Journal.



NWT_Energy PHYS Physics

Time travel might be possible after all

As strange as it might sound, scientists from Ohio State University believe that time travel may one day be possible. Not only that, but they believe we might be much closer than many think.

Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity states that time changes based on how fast someone moves through it. That idea is at the core of the new theory.

“The faster you move through space, the slower you move through time,” said Paul Sutter, an astrophysicist at Ohio State University, according to Tech Times.

Scientists previously found that astronauts living on the International Space Station move faster through time than people on Earth. As a result, they age slower than normal humans. In fact, cosmonaut Gennady Padalka — who spent 879 days in space — found that when he returned to Earth it was 1/44 of a second into the future.

In that way, he was a tiny bit in the past.

Using that principle, researchers believe the Large Hadron Collider is an example of a time machine. The giant device shoots protons at the speed of light, which makes their relative speed through time roughly 6,900 times slower compared to human observers.

That discrepancy is interesting because it is the closest science has ever come to time travel. It may only be a fraction of a second difference, but it is a start. The goal is one day to send humans through time, but that is still an extremely long way off.

The above examples show that it could one day be possible. However, scientists are not sure quite how it could be possible. There are many gaps between where science is and Einstein’s theories, but researchers hope more research will slowly close such voids in knowledge.

“When it comes to the past the mathematics of general relativity does allow a few strange scenarios where you can end up in your own past,” added Sutter, according to “But all of these scenarios end up violating other known physics, like requiring negative mass or infinitely long rotating cylinders. Why does general relativity allow past time travel, but other physics always jump in to spoil the fun? We honestly don’t know.”


Quantum effect evident in space near neutron star

A prediction made 80 years ago regarding a quantum distortion effect might be finding its first evidence in observations of empty space near a neutron star.

Phys.Org explains that a quantum effect called vacuum birefringence may have been observed near a neutron star called RX J1856.5-3754.  Scientists observed the light coming from the highly magnetized star using ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT).  The polarization of the light as it passed through empty space near the star suggest that vacuum birefringence is at play.

The star in question lies about 400 light-years from Earth, making it one of the closest neutron stars to our solar system.  Neutron stars are extremely dense and have very strong magnetic fields which can be billions of times stronger than the Sun’s magnetic field.  The fields are sufficiently strong to affect the empty space surrounding them.

The vacuum of space, as surrounds RX J1856.5-3754, is generally considered empty, such that light can travel unchanged through the vacuum.  Quantum electrodynamic (QED) theories hold that this empty space actually contains virtual particles that constantly flash in and out of existence.  A strong magnetic field, such as that of a neutron star, is thought to be able to interact with the quantum particles and thus affect the polarization of any light passing through the area.

“According to QED, a highly magnetized vacuum behaves as a prism for the propagation of light, an effect known as vacuum birefringence,” Roberto Mignani of INAF Milan said.

Scientists have not yet successfully demonstrated this quantum effect in lab experiments.

“This effect can be detected only in the presence of enormously strong magnetic fields, such as those around neutron stars. This shows, once more, that neutron stars are invaluable laboratories in which to study the fundamental laws of nature,” Roberto Turolla of the University of Padua said.

The researchers found evidence of linear polarization of the star’s light, hinting that the quantum effect is taking place near RX J1856.5-3754.

“The high linear polarization that we measured with the VLT can’t be easily explained by our models unless the vacuum birefringence effects predicted by QED are included,” Mignani said.  “Polarization measurements with the next generation of telescopes, such as ESO’s European Extremely Large Telescope, could play a crucial role in testing QED predictions of vacuum birefringence effects around many more neutron stars.”

The study will appear in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Business PHYS TECH_Technology

Laser technology allows self-driving cars to see around corners

Researchers working at Stanford University have developed a new laser imaging technique that could one day allow self-driving cars to see around corners, a new study published in the journal Nature reports.

The process works exactly as imagined, which means it can help autonomous cars stop at blind turns or navigate through tricky roads to avoid potential danger. In testing, the team found it helped stop cars that would normally hit a child coming around a turn.

This technology is important because traffic accidents — which claim more than 1.2 million lives a year — are the second leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 14. As a result, implementation of the system could significantly cut down on those numbers.

“This is a big step forward for our field that will hopefully benefit all of us,” said study co-author Gordon Wetzstein, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University, in a statement.

To build the new system, researchers installed a laser device next to an incredibly sensitive photon director. That then allowed them to shoot laser beams at a wall and reflect them onto a hidden object. From there, those beams then traveled off the detector and back to the car.

That process — known as a scan — takes between roughly a couple of minutes to an hour to complete. Then, an algorithm takes in the protons as blob-like shapes and transforms them into crisp images in less than a second.

The team calls the technology “confocal non-line-of-sight imaging” or C-LOS imaging. While this is not the first time such a process has been used to find hidden objects, it is one of the furthest along. The team hopes they can further expand on the system to make it quicker and more efficient.

“If the other vehicle or person is arriving too fast, implying that there could be a collision, then the system could feed this information to the car, which could then autonomously decide to slow down,” said Daniele Faccio, a physicist at Heriot Watt University who was not involved in the research, according to Tech Times.