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Tag archives: astrophysics

Physics World special report on Mexico is out now


By James Dacey

Today is Mexico’s Independence Day, marking the Grito de Dolores – the day in 1810 when the Roman Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo called on his congregation in the small Mexican town of Dolores to revolt against the Spanish colonial government. This “Cry of Dolores” is seen as the flash point that triggered the Mexican War of Independence.

Modern-day Mexico is still a place with its fair share of turmoil, as the government faces increasing pressure over its inability to deal with drugs, violence and corruption. One area that is starting to look more positive, however, is Mexico’s science base – the administration of president Enrique Peña Nieto has vowed to double Mexico’s investment in science and technology to 1% of GDP and has already sanctioned increases in 2013 and 2014.

To shine a light on what the Mexican physics community is up to, this month sees the publication of a new free-to-read Physics World special report on physics in Mexico. We believe that physicists in Mexico are doing engaging work that deserves to be more widely known. In choosing our coverage for the report, we have not only focused on the challenges for the Mexican community, but also hope to give you a flavour of the rich culture and geography of this most colourful of countries.


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The Magnus effect in action, destroying the world, an astrophysicist camps out in Manchester and more


By Hamish Johnston and Michael Banks

This week’s Red Folder opens with a fantastic video (above) from the folks at Veritasium. It involves dropping a spinning basketball from the top of a very tall dam in Tasmania and watching as the ball accelerates away from the face of the dam before bouncing across the surface of the water below. In comparison, a non-spinning ball simply falls straight down. This happens because of the Magnus effect, which has also been used to create flying machines and sail-free wind-powered boats. The effect also plays an important role in ball sports such as tennis and is explained in much more detail in our article “The physics of football”.


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Rachid Ouyed talks about quark novae and the quark stars they could produce


By Hamish Johnston

Recently I blogged about quark novae, which are a passion of the University of Calgary astrophysicist Rachid Ouyed. I caught up with Ouyed at the Canadian Association of Physicists Congress in Edmonton last month, where between sessions he was busy writing a paper about quark novae.

I managed to coax him away from his calculations for long enough to record the above video, in which he talks about quark novae – huge explosions that some astrophysicists believe could occur shortly after some supernovae. Ouyed also talks about the quark stars that may be left behind and how quark novae could affect how astronomers measure cosmological distances.

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Debating warp bubbles and quark novae over beer and samosas

Photograph of Miguel Alcubierre lecturing in Edmonton

Time traveller: Miguel Alcubierre works the crowd in Edmonton.

By Hamish Johnston at the CAP Congress in Edmonton, Canada

The first day of the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) Congress at the University of Edmonton closed yesterday on the theme of time travel. Surely that is science fiction, you are thinking? But Miguel Alcubierre of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) wasn’t joking when he delivered the Herzberg Memorial Lecture yesterday evening (although he did giggle a lot during his talk, which was very endearing). The session was called “Faster than the speed of light” and it was a fascinating romp through some of the more bizarre implications of Einstein’s general theory of relativity (GR) – which is 100 years old this year.


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On top of the volcano – part two


By Matin Durrani at Sierra Negra, Mexico

Just as my Physics World colleague James Dacey mentioned earlier, neither of us felt super-wonderful yesterday visiting the Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT), which sits at a height of 4600 metres above sea level.  Spectacular though the facility is, the air pressure is roughly 60% of that at sea level and there is so little oxygen that even walking up a flight of stairs made me feeling pretty light-headed.

So, James and I were both quite glad to descend with LMT director David H Hughes to a height of 4100 metres, where it was time to visit another leading Mexican astronomy facility – the High-Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) gamma-ray observatory.


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On top of the volcano – part one


By James Dacey at Sierra Negra, Mexico

Friday was the final full day of the Physics World Mexican adventure and we ended with a breathtaking experience, quite literally.

Matin and I rose early in Puebla to travel over a hundred kilometres east to the ominously named Sierra Negra volcano. This extinct beast is home to two of Mexico’s finest astrophysics facilities.


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The May 2015 issue of Physics World is now out

By Matin Durrani

A couple of years back, I had the pleasure of travelling 1100 metres below ground to visit a dark-matter laboratory at the bottom of the Boulby Mine on the north-east coast of England. The journey was certainly memorable – it involved plunging down in a rattling lift cage for several minutes with a group of miners setting off on their morning shift. Once in the lab – housed inside a souped-up set of trailers – I interviewed physicist Sean Paling about the experimental projects going on there.

Setting up an underground lab, like that at Boulby, certainly doesn’t come cheap and in recent years, many have started to diversify into new areas. In the May issue of Physics World, which is now out in print and digital formats, Paling and his colleague Stephen Sadler – who is director at DURRIDGE UK Radon Instrumentation – describe the renaissance in the science taking place far beneath our feet. Studies in underground labs now range from Mars rovers to muon tomography and from radioactive dating to astrobiology.


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Decoding the dark arts of Interstellar's black hole

moderately realistic, gravitationally lensed accretion disk

A moderately realistic, gravitationally lensed accretion disc around a black hole, created by Double Negative artists. (Courtesy: Classical and Quantum Gravity)

By Tushna Commissariat

In recent years, science and science fiction have come together in cinema to produce a host of rather spectacular visual treats, the best of the lot being Christopher Nolan’s epic Oscar-nominated film Interstellar. That actual science has played a major role in film is pretty well known, thanks to the involvement of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who was an executive producer for the project. But in a near-cinematic plot twist, it has emerged that Thorne’s work on trying to develop the most accurate and realistic view of a supermassive black hole “Gargantua” has provided unprecedented insights into the immense gravitational-lensing effects that would emerge if we were to view such a stellar behemoth.


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BICEP2 surprise visit, a bizarre rant, credible science fiction and more


By Hamish Johnston

The big story this week is that astronomers working on the BICEP2 telescope may have spotted the first direct evidence for cosmic inflation.  This is very good news for the physicist Andrei Linde, who along with Alan Guth and others did much of the early work on inflation. In the above YouTube video Linde, who is certainly in the running for a Nobel prize, receives a surprise visit from BICEP2 team member Chao-Lin Kuo. Kuo is the first to tell Linde and his wife, the physicist Renata Kallosh, the news that the theory that Linde developed more than 30 years earlier had finally been backed up by direct observational evidence. Not surprisingly, champagne glasses are clinking!

Here at we have tried to tell both sides of the story: the thrill of seeing the first hints of cosmic inflation, tempered with calls for caution that more data are needed before inflation is victorious over other theories describing the early universe.


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Are ‘sterile neutrinos’ dark-matter particles after all?

Graph showing recent constrains on sterile neutrino production

Could sterile neutrinos constitute dark matter? (Courtesy: Bubul et al./ arXiv:1402.2301)


By Tushna Commissariat

It is always interesting to us at Physics World when a particular topic suddenly attracts the attentions of the physics community, especially when it’s a rather hotly debated subject. The past couple of days, for example, have seen a lot of talk about “sterile neutrinos”, based on two papers – published in quick succession on the arXiv preprint server – that suggest the tentative detection of these hypothetical paricles.

Both papers are based on an unidentified emission line seen in the X-ray spectrum of some galaxy clusters obtained by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton observatory. Intriguingly, sterile neutrinos are also considered to be possible dark-matter candidates, meaning that – if discovered – they would be the first fundamental particles to lie beyond the bounds of the Standard Model of particle physics.


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