Category Archives: Physics

Light That Is Not Light Interacts With Light That Is

Some of the strangest truths are found in physics. One of the rarest events humans have detected is the spontaneous turning of a photon of light into a virtual pair, an electron and a positron. Scientists working at the Large Hadron Collider beneath the French-Swiss border recently detected, after recording trillions upon trillions of events where photons did what was expected, that is, ignore each other, found 59 cases where photons did interact due to being very temporarily in this virtual pair state.

In case you didn’t realize it, photons are tiny little bits of light. In fact, they’re the smallest bit of light possible. When you turn on a lamp, gigantic numbers of photons spring from that bulb and slam into your eyes, where they are absorbed by your retina and turned into an electrical signal so that you can see what you are doing.

So, you can imagine just how many photons surround you at any one time. Not just from the lights in your room, but photons also stream in through the window from the sun. Even your own body generates photons, but all the way down in infrared energies, so you need night vision goggles to see them. But they’re still there.

And, of course, all the radio waves and ultraviolet rays and all the other rays constantly bombard you and everything else with an endless stream of photons.

… The laws of physics are such that one photon just passes by another with zero interaction. …

Usually, it’s a good thing that photons don’t interact with each other or bounce off each other, because that would be a total madhouse with photons never going anywhere in any sort of straight line. So, thankfully, two photons will simply slip by each other as if the other didn’t even exist.

That is, most of the time.

In high-energy experiments, we can (with a lot of elbow grease) get two photons to strike each other, though this happens very rarely. …

Particles like electrons and photons and all the other -ons continually fli p back and forth, changing identities as they travel. …

In the case of photons, as they travel, every once in a while (and keep in mind that this is extremely, extremely rare), one can change its mind. And instead of being just a photon, it can become a pair of particles, a negatively charged electron and a positively charged positron (the antimatter partner of the electron), that travel together.

… then, another photon would see one of those positrons or electrons and talk to it. An interaction would occur.

Now, in this interaction, the photon just sort of bumps into either the electron or the positron and goes off on its merry way without any harm.

Blink and you’ll miss it, because the positron and electron will find each other, and, as happens when matter and antimatter meet, they annihilate, poof. The odd pair will turn back into a photon. …

after trillions upon trillions of collisions, the team detected a grand total of 59 potential intersections. Just 59.

But what do those 59 interactions tell us about the universe? For one, they validate this picture that a photon isn’t always a photon. …

Read more at LiveScience

This means that built-in to light itself–actually all electromagnetic radiation, not just the portion we see as light–is a tiny element of apparent random chance that a photon will misbehave. Those with very sensitive instruments take heed. Even a perfect fiberoptic cable can not conduct light completely flawlessly forever due to the fact that light itself has tiny but measurable spontaneous random glitches.

Light has also been created out of “nothing” using very short lived virtual particles, further showing that this model, where “imaginary” particles create real ones, is the true strange nature of the current universe. It’s not that virtual or imaginary particles don’t exist while they are here in our universe, they do, but before and after they do, they don’t.

Makes you think…

Videos: The Simplest Motors

They look so simple that they should not work, yet homopolar motors do. A homopolar motor is a direct current (DC) electric motor which produces constant circular motion due to this fact: an electric current flowing through a wire that is in a magnetic field feels a force pushing it.

The same force can be used in a different way:

Unfortunately you can’t get much useful power out of this type of motor due to poor efficiency inherent in the design, but it’s an interesting demonstration.

Video: Copper’s Surprising Reaction to Strong Magnets

This video is fascinating to me, the best strange thing for today. It shows magnetic breaking using a large copper plate and a strong neodymium magnet. The slowing of momentum looks almost supernatural, like something in the Matrix.

The large copper plate is not magnetic, but it slows a strong magnet’s movement due to rapidly induced electron movement in the plate which creates temporary electromagnetic forces to oppose the approaching magnet. There is no attraction or repulsion in this interaction, just resistance to change.

Can you think of practical uses for this effect?

Brakes on trains and roller coasters are one application.

Theory: Before Big Bang, Time Ran Backward in Mirror Universe

Here’s a strange theory: our universe has a mirror image where time runs backwards. If a mirror image of our universe existed before the big bang, it might simplify a lot of things in physics.

Like a mountain looming over a calm lake, it seems the universe may once have had a perfect mirror image. That’s the conclusion a team of Canadian scientists reached after extrapolating the laws of the universe both before and after the Big Bang.

Physicists have a pretty good idea of the structure of the universe just a couple of seconds after the Big Bang, moving forward to today. In many ways, fundamental physics then worked as it does today. But experts have argued for decades about what happened in that first moment — when the tiny, infinitely dense speck of matter first expanded outward — often presuming that basic physics were somehow altered.

Researchers Latham Boyle, Kieran Finn and Neil Turok at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, have turned this idea on its head by assuming the universe has always been fundamentally symmetrical and simple, then mathematically extrapolating into that first moment after the Big Bang.

That led them to propose a previous universe that was a mirror image of our current one, except with everything reversed. Time went backward and particles were antiparticles. It’s not the first time physicists have envisioned another universe before the Big Bang, but those were always seen as separate universes much like our own.

“Instead of saying there was a different universe before the bang,” Turok told Live Science, “we’re saying that the universe before the bang is actually, in some sense, an image of the universe after the bang.”

“It’s like our universe today were reflected through the Big Bang. The period before the universe was really the reflection through the bang,” Boyle said.

Imagine cracking an egg in this anti-universe. First, it would be made entirely of negatively charged antiprotons and positively charged anti-electrons.

Secondly, from our perspective in time, it would seem to go from a puddle of yolk to a cracked egg to an uncracked egg to inside the chicken. Similarly, the universe would go from exploding outward to a Big Bang singularity and then exploding into our universe.

But seen another way, both universes were created at the Big Bang and exploded simultaneously backward and forward in time.

This dichotomy allows for some creative explanations to problems that have stumped physicists for years. For one, it would make the first second of the universe fairly simple, removing the necessity for the bizarre multiverses and dimensions experts have used for three decades to explain some of the stickier aspects of quantum physics and the Standard Model, which describes the zoo of subatomic particles that make up our universe. …

Read more LiveSci

Is there such a thing as time running in reverse? If so, I can’t visualize it, but to people in such a universe, we would seem impossible, I suppose.

Claim: Cooling Without Energy Consumption

These scientists didn’t break a law of physics, but it appeared so at first. The second law of thermodynamics, one of the fundamental rules of this universe, says that heat can flow by itself only from a warmer to a colder object.

Now, however, in the strangest claim I’ve found for this Sunday morning, researchers at the physics department in Zurich used a Peltier element to cool a nine-gram piece of copper from over 100°C to significantly below room temperature without an external power supply.

Heat will not leave a cold object for a warmer one (to further cool the colder object) without help.

Heat is, fundamentally, the temperature dependent motion of electrons, atomic nuclei, and molecules. The 2nd law of thermodynamics says that at an atomic scale molecules in one area moving faster than those another nearby area will bump into slower molecules and will thus speed them up while losing some of their own momentum in the process. Heat transfer, in this way, flows from higher to lower energy states. So far so good. But …

Physicists at the University of Zurich have developed an amazingly simple device that allows heat to flow temporarily from a cold to a warm object without an external power supply. Intriguingly, the process initially appears to contradict the fundamental laws of physics. …

The results of a recent experiment carried out by the research group of Prof. Andreas Schilling in the Department of Physics at the University of Zurich (UZH) appear at first sight to challenge the second law of thermodynamics. The researchers managed to cool a nine-gram piece of copper from over 100°C to significantly below room temperature without an external power supply. “Theoretically, this experimental device could turn boiling water to ice, without using any energy,” says Schilling.

elements can transform electric currents into temperature differences. The researchers had already used this type of element in previous experiments, in connection with an electric inductor, to create an oscillating heat current in which the flow of heat between two bodies perpetually changed direction. In this scenario, heat also temporarily flows from a colder to a warmer object so that the colder object is cooled down further. This kind of “thermal oscillating circuit” in effect contains a “thermal inductor.”

It functions in the same way as an electrical oscillating circuit, in which the voltage oscillates with a constantly changing sign.

Passive thermal circuit

Laws of physics remain intact

Until now, Schilling’s team had only operated these thermal oscillating circuits using an energy source. The researchers have now shown for the first time that this kind of thermal oscillating circuit can also be operated “passively,” i.e. with no external power supply.

Thermal oscillations still occurred and, after a while, heat flowed directly from the colder copper to a warmer heat bath with a temperature of 22°C, without being temporarily transformed into another form of energy. Despite this, the authors were also able to show that the process does not actually contradict any laws of physics. To prove it, they considered the change in entropy of the whole system and showed that it increased with time — fully in accordance with the second law of thermodynamics.

Read more: SciDaily

* Updated after further reading.*

Here is a functional, though not a physics explanation of a Peltier element:

Thermoelectric coolers operate by the Peltier effect (which also goes by the more general name thermoelectric effect). The device has two sides, and when a DC electric current flows through the device, it brings heat from one side to the other, so that one side gets cooler while the other gets hotter. 

Via Wikipedia

How does the Peltier element actually work?

When the current flows through the junctions of the two conductors, heat is removed at one junction and cooling occurs. Heat is deposited at the other junction. … In every case, a DC voltage is required.

Via Marlow

That just says what it does. Why does it work that way?

Two unique semiconductors, one n-type and one p-type, are used because they need to have different electron densities.

Via Wikipedia

That’s a good clue, different electron densities are needed. Why? Here’s another clue:

The thermoelectric (Peltier) effect of a module is completely reversible. If the direction of the current through a module is reversed the heat flow through the hot and cold sides will also reverse. Thus, what was the cold side will now become the hot side, and what was the hot side will now become the cold side. …

Via Peltier-Info

Okay, I get the N-type side in the animation above. Elections hitting the heat conductor will bump into those atoms and transfer heat through the energy of their motion.

But for the P-type semi-conductor, what are holes flowing?

I believe the “holes” are net positive atoms jostling upward to bump the thermal conductor as the electrons flow down and around the circuit.

For the N-type, electron moment is part of what defines heat, so electron flow that transfers heat.

If the module has a red and a black wire, locating the positive wire is simple—the red wire is the positive lead. Positive current flowing into this wire will cause heat to flow from the cold side of the module into the hot side of the module.

I can visualize this part of the cooling system. It would reverse if the current reversed.

Since heat is also the motion of jostling atoms, I can imagine the P-type semi-conductor transferring heat (molecular jostling energy) upward in that way.

The p-type has less dense electrons, so the net flow of heat will be in the direction opposite the electron flow.

Follow so far?

I’m not a physicist or an electrical engineer, so corrections are welcome. This is just me trying to make sense of it from what I know. Now…

Still, the claim about powerless cooling requires a Peltier element, which by definition, uses an electric current. The current is the electric inductor of heat transfer (bumping electrons bump the atoms in the thermal conductor) but the claim seems to be that with no external push, a simple system composed of an inductance coil connected to a Peltier element will spontaneously start heat oscillating.

The title of this paper is:

Heat flowing from cold to hot without external intervention by using a “thermal inductor” A. Schilling*, X. Zhang and O. Bossen

What is a thermal inductor of heat transfer?

Thermal inductance refers to the phenomenon wherein a thermal change of an object surrounded by a fluid will induce a change in convection currents within that fluid, thus inducing a change in the kinetic energy of the fluid. It is considered the thermal analogue to electrical inductance …

Via Wikipedia

Re-reading the news coverage on this, the Independent says:

… thanks to a piece of equipment more commonly deployed in hotel minibars, known as a Peltier element, the Swiss team has shown for the first time an object can be cooled significantly below room temperature without any external power.

Via Independent

From reading the abstract, I’m now of the view that the direct current flowing through the system at the start due to heat provides power to start cooling element and start the system oscillating. The system dips below room temperature before it would eventually all return to room temperature.

Corrections welcome.

Space, the Final Illusion?

The most surprising thing I heard recently, which I believe will prove to be true, is that distance is not real, at least not in the way we think of it. Lee Smolin, a professor of physics, has an impressive article at which speculates that space and distance are a certain kind of illusion, an average of more fundamental processes. The beauty of this view is that it explains repeated observations that entangled particles influence each other instantly at a distance, faster than the speed of light, which should be, by our current model of space-time, impossible.

The Last Illusion: Distance

… the takeaway lesson is that the intuitive idea that objects influence each other because they are close in space is soon to become another of those easy beliefs that turn out to be wrong when we look deeper. The smoothness of space is soon to become an illusion that hides a tiny and complex world of causal interactions, which do not live in space—but which rather define and create space as they create the future from the present.

via SciAm

This is mind blowing. There is much I didn’t follow, but overall, I got the picture and it makes a strange new sense.

As an article in New Scientist in 2016 put it: “Spooky action at a distance – the dislocated effect of the quantum world – is real without a doubt. So the problem must lie in our perception of space and time.”

If distance is an illusion, then isn’t time as well? This may explain otherwise unexplained things I’ve experienced, true strange things. If space-time is not what it seems, then can we break the apparent rules? Perhaps we can because we already have.

Someone once told me that there is no imagination, that everything we imagine is real, just not in this current illusion of space-time, so imagine good things.

What came to mind when you read that last sentence? Interesting.

Now, hold out your hand and close your eyes and your future self will drop a thumb drive through a hole in space time telling you where to go and what to do at specific dates and times, simple little things that will give you a little edge just when you need it. And why not? Because a thumb drive can be lost or taken. It’s not a physical object, it’s a little voice in your head, your own voice, but years wiser. Follow it and you’ll have a string of good surprises, in time.


The Largest Known Structure in the Universe

The scale of the universe is mind-boggling. Within that boggle is a strange fact: the largest “structure” we have observed in the universe is so large that it should not exist according to current science. The largest structure (so far as of March 29, 2019) is the “Her-Cr Great Wall”.

Why should this sheet-like group of galaxies not exist, though? Well, the universe’s maximum light travel distance is supposed to be only 13 billion years. With the speed of light is a constant and given the known expansion rate of the universe, the Her-Cr Great Wall structure should not have been able to become 10 billion light years across and also 10 million light years away from us because that adds up to more than the distances possible in our understanding. This assumes everything started in the same place with the big bang, because everything else astronomers have observed seems to support that concept.

The Hercules–Corona Borealis Great Wall is the largest known super-structure in the universe. It is a huge group of galaxies forming a giant sheet-like pattern. It is about 10 billion light-years long, 7.2 billion light-years wide, and almost 1 billion light-years thick. It is about 10 billion light-years away in the constellations of Hercules and Corona Borealis, hence its name.

via Wikipedia

“The Her-CrB GW is larger than the theoretical upper limit on how big universal structures can be,” Dr. Jon Hakkila, an astrophysics professor at the College of Charleston in South Carolina and one of the astronomers who discovered the structure, told The Huffington Post in an email. “Thus, it is a conundrum: it shouldn’t exist but apparently does.”

via HuffPost

According to the paper, this structure is 10 billion light-years away, and 10 billion light years in size. 10 billion + 10 billion = 20 billion light-years, which is larger than the visible universe’s light travel distance of 13.798 ± 0.037 billion light-years.

Meet the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall (Her-CrB GW).

A now dethroned previous record holder was the LQG at 4 billion light years across, which was stunning itself when discovered:

Astronomers have discovered the largest known structure in the universe – a group of quasars so large it would take 4 billion years to cross it while traveling at speed of light. The immense scale also challenges Albert Einstein’s Cosmological Principle, the assumption that the universe looks the same from every point of view, researchers said.

The findings by academics from Britain’s University of Central Lancashire were published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and reported on the society’s website … This newly discovered large quasar group has a dimension of 500 megaparsecs, each megaparsec measuring 3.3 million light-years.

Because the LQG is elongated, its longest dimension is 1,200 megaparsecs, or 4 billion light-years, the society said.

That size is 1,600 times larger than the distance from Earth’s Milky Way to the nearest galaxy, the Andromeda.

“While it is difficult to fathom the scale of this LQG, we can say quite definitely it is the largest structure ever seen in the entire universe,” Roger Clowes, leader of the research team, said in a statement. “This is hugely exciting – not least because it runs counter to our current understanding of the scale of the universe.” …

via Astronomers discover largest known structure in the universe | Reuters.

This animation explains the situation with measuring distances in an expanding universe:

This is the problem of defining a distance in an expanding universe: Two galaxies are near to each other when the universe is only 1 billion years old. The first galaxy emits a pulse of light. The second galaxy does not receive the pulse until the universe is 14 billion years old. By this time, the galaxies are separated by about 26 billion light years; the pulse of light has been travelling for 13 billion years; and the view the people receive in the second galaxy is an image of the first galaxy when it was only 1 billion years old and when it was only about 2 billion light years away.

More: AtlasOfTheUniverse

In short: things can not move faster that light by theirselves, but they can move faster than light due to universal expansion. The more far away, the faster they go away.

via AstronomyStackEx

How fast is the universe expanding? Well… the further away you are from us, the faster it is expanding. Something 3.3 million light years from us (1 megaparsec) is racing away at 152,112 mph (68 km/s). While the expansion of the universe at that distance is nowhere near the speed of light, 670,616,629 mph (299,792.458 km/s), it is nothing to sneeze at.

… space is expanding everywhere in all places, and as a result distant galaxies appear to be expanding away from us faster than closer ones. There’s just more “space” to expand between us and them in the first place.

So, here we are in an expanding universe. What are we going to do about it?

Thank you for enjoying things like this with me.

A Rock is a Clock: Physicist Uses Matter to Tell Time

What is stranger than time itself? Have you thought about what time is? Wondering about that since he was a kid growing up in Germany lead Holger Müller to come up with a fundamentally new way to measure time as assistant professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. To accomplish this, he used the fact that matter, like light, has a frequency.

Taking advantage of the fact that, in nature, matter can be both a particle and a wave, he has discovered a way to tell time by counting the oscillations of a matter wave. A matter wave’s frequency is 10 billion times higher than that of visible light.

“A rock is a clock, so to speak,” Müller said. …

While Müller’s Compton clock is still 100 million times less precise than today’s best atomic clocks, which employ aluminum ions, improvements in the technique could boost its precision to that of atomic clocks, including the cesium clocks now used to define the second, he said. …

Müller can also turn the technique around to use time to measure mass. …

“When you make a grandfather clock, there is a pendulum and a clockwork that counts the pendulum oscillations. So you need something that swings and a clockwork to make a clock. There was no way to make a clockwork for matter waves, because their oscillation frequency is 10 billion times higher than even the oscillations of visible light.” …

One morning…, however, he realized that he might be able to combine two well-known techniques to create such a clockwork and explicitly demonstrate that the Compton frequency of a single particle is, in fact, useful as a reference for a clock. In relativity, time slows down for moving objects, so … a cesium atom that moves away and then returns is younger than one that stands still. As a result, the moving cesium matter wave will have oscillated fewer times. The difference frequency, which would be around 100,000 fewer oscillations per second out of 10 million billion billion oscillations (3 x 1025 for a cesium atom), might be measurable. …

“This is a beautiful experiment and cleverly designed, but it is going to be controversial and hotly debated,” said John Close, a quantum physicist at The Australian National University in Canberra. “The question is, ‘Is the Compton frequency of atoms a clock or not a clock?’ Holger’s point is now made. It is a clock. I’ve made one, it works.”

via SciDaily

I find it interesting that matter has a frequency 10 billion times greater that of light. I can’t visualize that at all. In New Age circles, light is described as a being “higher vibration” than matter, but it isn’t. Light is a 10 billion times lower vibration than matter… but light can, of course, do amazing things that matter cannot…. like travel at the speed of light. Matter can’t.

Also, to be clear, matter waves are not electromagnetic waves sped up 10 billion times. Matter waves cannot be radiated in empty space unlike electromagnetic waves. They are associated with the particle, not emitted by it. Their group velocity is smaller than ‘c’ (the speed of light) and phase velocity is larger than ‘c’, 10 billion times larger. Phase velocity is visualized below as the red square.

Imagine this animation below, the whole thing, is a zoomed in view of some matter. This shows the difference between group vs phase velocity.  Got it?

Frequency dispersion in groups of gravity waves on the surface of deep water. The red square moves with the phase velocity, and the green circles propagate with the group velocity. In this deep-water case, the phase velocity is twice the group velocity. The red square overtakes two green circles when moving from the left to the right of the figure.

It is still a very strange concept that matter has a wave property.

Matter waves are a central part of the theory of quantum mechanics, being an example of wave–particle duality. All matter can exhibit wave-like behavior. For example, a beam of electrons can be diffracted just like a beam of light or a water wave. …

Matter waves were first experimentally confirmed to occur in George Paget Thomson‘s cathode ray diffraction experiment and the Davisson-Germer experiment for electrons, and the de Broglie hypothesis has been confirmed for other elementary particles. Furthermore, neutral atoms and even molecules have been shown to be wave-like.

via Wikipedia

What can we do with this knowledge? I don’t know, but when I go to the ocean, it waves at me.

Higgs-like particle suggests end to universe

Did you konw that an expanding bubble of nothingness could make the entire earth wink out of existence in an instant? It could, according to physics, but some have calculated the odds are exceedingly low that this will ever happen. Most certainly, nothingness will not engulf the earth in our time. If that is wrong, you will never know it.

This photo of supernova (explosion of a star) SNR 0509-67.5 was recently released by NASA and is a testament to how beautiful even the farthest reaches of the natural (or celestial) world can be. The pink ring is the gas being superheated by the resulting shockwave of the explosion – though not evident in this little photo, the supernova is 23 light-years across and is expanding at over 11 million miles per hour.€  – link

This is not an image of a Universe eating vacuum, but it was the closest I could find visually to what I imagine the following article proposes.

If the “Higgs-like particle” discovered last year is really the long-sought Higgs boson, the bad news is that its mass suggests the universe will end in a fast-spreading bubble of doom. The good news? It’ll probably be tens of billions of years before that particular doomsday arrives.

That’s one of the weirder twists coming out of the continuing analysis of results from Europe’s Large Hadron Collider, which produced the first solid evidence for the existence of the Higgs boson last year. Current theory holds that the Higgs boson plays a role in imparting mass to other fundamental particles. Confirming the discovery of the Higgs would fill in the last blank spot in that theory, known as the Standard Model.

Physicists discussed the state of the Higgs quest in Boston on Monday during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. …

So what’s the outlook?

“If you use all the physics that we know now, and we do what we think is a straightforward calculation, it’s bad news,” Lykken said. “It may be that the universe we live in is inherently unstable. At some point, billions of years from now, it’s all going to be wiped out.”

He said the parameters for our universe, including the Higgs mass value as well as the mass of another subatomic particle known as the top quark, suggest that we’re just at the edge of stability, in a “metastable” state. Physicists have been contemplating such a possibility for more than 30 years. Back in 1982, physicists Michael Turner and Frank Wilczek wrote in Nature that “without warning, a bubble of true vacuum could nucleate somewhere in the universe and move outwards at the speed of light, and before we realized what swept by us our protons would decay away.”

Lykken put it slightly differently: “The universe wants to be in a different state, so eventually to realize that, a little bubble of what you might think of as an alternate universe will appear somewhere, and it will spread out and destroy us.”

That alternate universe would be “much more boring,” Lykken said. Which led him to ask a philosophical question: “Why do we live in a universe that’s just on the edge of stability?” He wondered whether a universe has to be near the danger zone to produce galaxies, stars, planets … and life.

via Will our universe end in a ‘big slurp’? Higgs-like particle suggests it might – Cosmic Log.

It could already be heading for us. To wink out of existence at the speed of light would be an experiential non-event, most likley, unless you were shifted into another universe, perhaps a universe with an earth that has mountains made of ice cream. Yum.