Posted in Electromagnetism

The Geomagnetic Blitz of September 1941

Seventy-five years ago next week, a massive geomagnetic storm disrupted electrical power, interrupted radio broadcasts, and illuminated the night sky in a World War II battle theatre.

Seventy-five years ago, on 18–19 September 1941, the Earth experienced a great magnetic storm, one of the most intense ever recorded. It arrived at a poignant moment in history, when radio and electrical technology was emerging as a central part of daily life and when much of the world was embroiled in World War II, which the United States had not yet officially entered.
Posted in Physics

The secret lives of long-lived particles


A theoretical species of particle might answer nearly every question about our cosmos—if scientists can find it.

The universe is unbalanced.

Gravity is tremendously weak. But the weak force, which allows particles to interact and transform, is enormously strong. The mass of the Higgs boson is suspiciously petite. And the catalog of the makeup of the cosmos? Ninety-six percent incomplete.

Almost every observation of the subatomic universe can be explained by the Standard Model of particle physics—a robust theoretical framework bursting with verifiable predictions. But because of these unsolved puzzles, the math is awkward, incomplete and filled with restrictions.

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Posted in Physics

The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

The cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman uses evolutionary game theory to show that our perceptions of an independent reality must be illusions.

As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions — sights, sounds, textures, tastes — are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it — or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion — we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.

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Posted in Cosmology

Recreating Our Galaxy in a Supercomputer

Astronomers have created the most detailed computer simulation to date of our Milky Way galaxy’s formation, from its inception billions of years ago as a loose assemblage of matter to its present-day state as a massive, spiral disk of stars.

The simulation solves a decades-old mystery surrounding the tiny galaxies that swarm around the outside of our much larger Milky Way. Previous simulations predicted that thousands of these satellite, or dwarf, galaxies should exist. However, only about 30 of the small galaxies have ever been observed. Astronomers have been tinkering with the simulations, trying to understand this “missing satellites” problem to no avail.

Posted in Education

How to Raise a Genius

On a summer day in 1968, professor Julian Stanley met a brilliant but bored 12-year-old named Joseph Bates. The Baltimore student was so far ahead of his classmates in mathematics that his parents had arranged for him to take a computer-science course at Johns Hopkins University, where Stanley taught. Even that wasn’t enough. Having leapfrogged ahead of the adults in the class, the child kept himself busy by teaching the FORTRAN programming language to graduate students.

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