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Something incredible happens when you smash this glass bulb with a hammer



This teardrop-shaped object, called a Prince Rupert’s Drop, is a paradox wrapped in a glass structure.

It's created simply by plunging molten glass into cold water. 

But this reaction imbues the glass with some pretty amazing properties. Take a crack at hammering the head and it is nearly impossible to break.

But just slightly tweak its tail and the whole thing bursts into a glittery spray of exploded glass.

prince ruperts drop explode

But why?

The answer lies in its internal balancing act of compressive and tensile stresses. After the glass is dropped into the water, the outside layer of glass cools while the inside stays relatively hot. The outer layer of glass shrinks as it cools and forms a solid shape.

When the glass core of the drop eventually cools, the molecules inside have no where to shrink to because the outer layer is already set, so they pull toward each other, creating a super high tension inside the bulb, which eventually hardens. This tension is released when the tail is even slightly tweaked, it releases a cascade of energy that propagates the entirety of the tail and bulb, exploding it outward. 

Check out the whole video posted on YouTube by SmarterEveryDay for more awesome shots of glass breaking in slow motion. 


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50 groundbreaking scientists whose work is transforming how we see the world


bertolt meyer bionic manScientists who ask the right questions at the right time can make history and change the world.

We compiled a list of 50 scientists from across the globe who are doing just that — changing the world for the better.

These scientists' revolutionary research in human happiness, evolutionary biology, neutrino physics, biotechnology, archeology, and other fields is helping to advance our lives in more ways than we could ever imagine.

For the list, we selected scientists noted in the media for their recent achievements as well as scientists highlighted in the 2014 lists of Forbes Magazine's "30 Under 30," Popular Science's The Brilliant Ten, and MIT's "35 Innovators Under 30."

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Abe Davis is finding new ways to use video by using the vibrations in it to reconstruct audio.

No sound? No problem. Abe Davis and a team of researchers from MIT, Microsoft, and Adobe developed an algorithm that can extract audio from silent videos by analyzing the tiny vibrations of the objects as captured by a camera.

In one experiment, the team filmed earbuds playing a song with no discernible sound. The vibrations of the earbuds in the video was enough to recreate a song identifiable by the app Shazam. When the team tried the experiment using an everyday point-and-shoot camera, as opposed to an expensive high-speed version, the vibrations were still able to reconstruct the sound. Davis presented these findings in a paper for Siggraph, a computer-graphics conference, and gave a TED talk where he demoed the visual microphone. And there’s more to come: The latest research from Davis and fellow graduate student Katie Bouman will be out this summer.

Davis is a doctoral student at MIT.

Alan Stern is spearheading the most important space mission of 2015.

On July 14, 2015, the NASA spacecraft New Horizons flew by Pluto — closer than any other human-made instrument has ever been. Alan Stern is spearheading the mission, leading the team of scientists that made sure the spacecraft survived its nine-year journey through space

Until New Horizons reached its closest approach to Pluto, little was known about this dwarf planet and its system of five moons. Now the NASA spacecraft has collected data that Stern and his team will be analyzing over the coming months to understand the geology, composition, and atmospheric content of Pluto in significant detail, something that would never have happened without the New Horizons spacecraft.

Stern is the principal investigator for NASA's New Horizons mission.

Andrea Accomazzo was the first person to land a probe on a comet.

In August 2014, the Rosetta spacecraft began orbiting the comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko and transmitting images to Earth of the dusty space snowball that were more detailed than anything we'd ever seen.

Ultimately, Rosetta will give scientists a better idea of what comets are made of and how they work, as well as provide insights into the chemical makeup of the solar system. As the Rosetta flight director, Andrea Accomazzo helped design the mission and led the team that guided it toward 67P. Now he's working with the European Space Agency on their interplanetary missions to Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter.

Accomazzo is an ESA spacecraft-operations manager at Venus Express and the flight director of the Rosetta mission.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

The 15 most amazing women in science today


nina tandon in lab

In the science and technology industries, women are often massively underrepresented

But that doesn't mean they aren't making some of the most important and inspiring contributions out there. 

We've highlighted 15 female scientists who are doing amazing things, pulled from our recent list of groundbreaking scientists who are changing the way we see the world

From a woman who developed a revolutionary blood test that will transform the way we measure our health to an astrophysicist who's trying to find another Earth, here are the most amazing women in science today.

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Cori Bargmann is uncovering the causes of neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and autism.

Through her studies on roundworms, Cori Bargmann is uncovering how neurons and genes affect behavior. Because many of the gene mechanisms in roundworms mimic those of mammals, Bargmann is able to manipulate certain genes and observe how that affects changes in behavior.

For example, in one study she manipulated a gene that caused the male worms to bumble around while trying to mate, ultimately failing. Bargmann developed the Brain Research Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative, which researches the root causes of conditions such as Alzheimer's and autism by looking at connections between brain function and behavior.

Bargmann is the Torsten N. Wiesel Professor in the Lulu and Anthony Wang Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior at Rockefeller University.

Cynthia Kenyon is developing ways to help us live longer and healthier lives.

Cynthia Kenyon joined Google's Calico venture last year, where she helps a team of scientists develop methods to slow aging and prevent age-related diseases.

The goal of Calico is to extend human lives by up to 100 years. Kenyon gained prominence in the science community in 1993 for her discovery that altering a single gene in roundworms could double their life span. Since then, Kenyon has pioneered many more breakthroughs in aging research, including pinpointing which genes help us live longer and determining that a common hormone-signaling pathway controls the rate of aging in several species, humans included.

Kenyon is the vice president of aging research at Calico.

Elizabeth Holmes developed a groundbreaking blood test that will transform the future of healthcare.

Not only is Holmes on a mission to change the healthcare industry, she's the youngest self-made female billionaire in the US.

Holmes dropped out of Stanford during her sophomore year to create Theranos, a blood-testing company that uses a prick of blood to get the same test results as you’d get from an entire vial. The concept is disrupting and revolutionizing the industry by making blood tests faster, simpler, and, most important, cheaper. Theranos has raised $400 million in funding.

Holmes is the founder and CEO of Theranos.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

This crazy basketball trick isn’t an optical illusion — it’s just physics


Drop a basketball from a height, you've got a few flights of stairs to descend to retrieve it and you might even owe an apology to an angry passer-by.

But if you give it enough height and add a dash of backspin, you can watch it say GOODBYE, FRIEND as it curves a great distance away from its intended flight path.

This is the Magnus effect, where the descending, spinning basketball drags air around it, forming areas of lower pressure and high pressure, causing it to swerve away.

falling basketball gifCheck out this video below from Veritasium, where Derek Muler explains more about the fascinating phenomenon.


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German and Dutch intel agencies say that they caught a physicist who was spying for Moscow


putin angela merkel

German and Dutch authorities say they identified a Russian physicist who was spying for Moscow, according to a report by the NL Times.

The man in question was identified as "Ivan A.," a physicist who was appointed to the Dutch Eindhoven University of Technology in 2013, and visited the Max Planck Institute in Bonn, Germany, as a guest lecturer three times somewhere between 2009-2011.

The German intelligence agency's suspicions were aroused when they noticed the physicist meeting with a Bonn-based Russian diplomat once a month.

The diplomat, who Germany identified as a Russian foreign intelligence officer, according to Newsweek, reportedly gave money to Ivan A. in exchange for information during these meetings.

Ivan A. and his wife were later arrested in Düsseldorf Airport in 2014. He was released shortly after, but his photo and fingerprints were taken and a formal investigation was launched. 

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs revoked Ivan A.'s visa when he returned to Eindhoven, and he has since returned to Russia.

The NL Times notes that Ivan A. continues to deny any involvement in espionage activities, maintaining that he received the money for renting a Moscow apartment to the diplomat's friends.

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7 scientists who are helping us understand how the world works


michio kaku

Even within concrete sciences like math and physics, there are plenty of discoveries to be made.

From a physicist who is creating a hacker-proof way to transmit information to a mathematician developing a new type of alegbraic geometry, we've highlighted seven people who are changing the landscapes of math and physics.

All of these scientists also appeared on our list of groundbreaking scientists who are changing the way we see the world

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Andrew Shields is creating a better system for keeping hackers out of confidential information.

Last spring, Andrew Shields and his colleagues successfully transmitted secure quantum key distributions (QKDs) through the fibers used for traditional telecommunications, such as computers and telephones, creating a safer way to send confidential data over long distances.

Traditional data-encryption systems use a standard "key" of 1s and 0s, leaving their messages vulnerable to hackers. But when QKDs are intercepted, the act of eavesdropping on the key automatically changes it, making it impossible for hackers to use it to gain access to the information and alerting the senders of a security breach. While other teams had successfully transmitted QKDs in protected lab environments, Shields' team is the first to find a way to use the technology in real-world settings.

Shields is a quantum physicist at Toshiba Research Europe in Cambridge, England.

Francis Halzen helped discover what happens inside black holes and supernovas — some of the most powerful cosmic sources in the universe.

To study neutrinos — tiny, subatomic particles that fly through all matter — Francis Halzen helped build the largest particle physics detector ever, known as the IceCube Neutrino Observatory.

In 2013, the Antarctica-based observatory finally discovered cosmic neutrinos, the highest-energy neutrinos ever observed. The discovery gives astronomers a unique look at what happens at the core of many powerful cosmic sources, such as black holes and supernovas.

Halzen is a physicist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Jacob Lurie is rewriting how mathematicians understand complicated geometric objects.

Jacob Lurie is changing how mathematicians understand complicated geometric objects. He is a specialist in the field of algebraic geometry — the study of curves, surfaces, and their higher-dimensional counterparts intimately linked to the solutions of algebraic equations. Lurie has developed a radical new framework for this field called "derived algebraic geometry" that combines concepts from algebraic geometry and the related field of topology.

This new way of looking at the interplay between equations and shapes promises to lead to a much deeper understanding of geometry, and could also lead to breakthroughs in other areas of mathematics. Lurie is also a MacArthur fellow and recipient of the 2014 Breakthrough Prize in mathematics, and his work has been published in two books, "Higher Topos Theory" and "Higher Algebra," and numerous other journals and papers.

Lurie is a professor at Harvard University in the department of mathematics.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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Scientists are close to developing an invisibility cloak


Joseph Choi invisibility cloak

Ever wish you could just disappear? Turns out this may not be as far off as we thought.

In the past decade, scientists have made huge advances in developing super materials that may one day hide us from the prying eyes of those around us.

And with a little bit of engineering and ingenuity, perhaps it may come in the form of an actual cloak, a la Harry Potter.

But an invisibility cloak doesn't necessarily have to look like a wizard's cape. It could be fashioned out of extremely thin wires made of silica and gold, carbon fibers, silk, or a series of lenses.

There are various prototypes that cloak objects in different ways, but the most promising technique involves light.

As anyone who's tried to feel their way to the bathroom in the middle of the night at a friend's house knows, you need light to see the world around you. In a similar way that a bat uses sonar to bounce sound waves off of objects to discern how far away they are, wavelengths of visible light bounce off objects and back into our eyeballs, allowing us to see them.

When you look at an apple, you can tell that it's red because the fruit absorbs all wavelengths of visible light except for wavelengths associated with the color red. That wavelength bounces off of the fruit and into your eye, where it is then processed by your brain.

An invisibility cloak can sidestep this process by making wavelengths of light bypass an object. In a similar way to how water flows around a boulder in a river, special materials can make wavelengths of light hug around the edges of an object instead of deflecting them back into your eye. This tricks your brain into thinking the object isn't there.

Researchers from Duke University were the first to develop "metamaterials" that use rigorous mathematical and electromagnetic properties to conceal objects. These are the most promising materials for inventing an actual cloak.

But the lens approach could be useful for allowing doctors to see through their fingers while they're performing a surgery, or by giving drivers a visual edge by placing it in the blind spot of a car, for example.

To learn more about these and other ways scientists are tricking light into making things disappear, check out this nifty YouTube video from the American Chemical Society's Reactions channel:

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There's a sneaky trick that is allowing this biker to seemingly defy physics by driving on water



Australian stuntman Robbie Maddison has been tearing up the waves — and the Internet— with his insanely cool dirt bike.

But how was he able to so seamlessly ride across a Tahitian wave as he would a dirt hill?

If it was a plain dirt bike, it would've been near impossible. The wheels wouldn't be able to move fast enough to keep the bike afloat for very long.

Dirt bike

So, Maddison added skis — like the ones you use to water ski. There's one attached to the front wheel and one more toward the middle ending at the back wheel:

Screen Shot 2015 08 04 at 4.34.36 PM

In the case of the dirt bike, the wheels were in charge of moving the bike forward as it would on land while the ski kept the bike from sinking. Arthur Schmidt, a physics professor at Northwestern University, explained in an email how the wheels were able to keep the bike moving forward:

"The motor bike has to supply its own motivation through its rear wheel," he wrote. "A dirt bike is designed to run through mud, a fluid much like water only with dirt added. That too is not a far reach to apply to water surfing."

The most important factor, Schmidt said, is keeping the bike moving:

"The critical thing is to be able to develop enough force with the wheel treading water to oppose the frictional drag of the ski through water to maintain a speed sufficient to lift the ski and bike against gravity," Schmidt wrote.

Remember those force diagrams you used to be asked to draw in physics class? That's what's happening here.

Dirt_bike skitch diagram

It helps that the bike was moving fast before entering the water. A couple of years ago, the Mythbusters duo tested out a similar concept, called the Aqua Bike. But mostly, this was just a regular dirt bike without the added ski. Here's a video of how that turned out (hint: not quite as well as Maddison's cool wave-riding stunt).

After picking up speed before entering the water, the Aqua Bike's weight eventually becomes too heavy for the speed to counteract, causing the bike to slowly sink instead of skimming the surface. That's what happened to Maddison as well: about 30 to 40 times in the course of this project, he told Transworld Motocross magazine.

"Honestly, the whole way I imagined I needed to ride the wave on my bike was wrong," he told Surfer Magazine. "But after watching some footage, with my knowledge of surfing I realized I had to adjust to be up on the face of the wave —and I'm comfortable being there because I spent the majority of my life dropping in on the face of waves."

Here's the full video of Maddison's ride:

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Scientists are obsessed with this incredible material but have no clue what to do with it yet



Flexible computer screens, long-living batteries, and lightening fast microcomputers are just a few examples of the countless potential applications of graphene — one of the world's thinnest, yet strongest, materials ever synthesized.

Despite graphene's promise, though, no one has exactly figured out what to do with it. But scientists sure are trying.

Andre Geim, a physics professor at the University of Manchester, discovered graphene in the early 2000s. The media touted it as a "wonder material" that could "change the world," according to a story about graphene in The New Yorker.

Graphene is essentially made by shaving graphite — a crystalline structure composed of many layers of carbon atoms — until only one atom-thick layer remains.

Graphite crystalThis simple sheet lattice of carbon atoms has incredible heat- and energy-conducting properties, giving it the potential to revolutionize everything from medicine to electrical engineering and physics. Its applications are seemingly endless.

Displays everywhere

Tomas Palacios, a scientist in charge of the Center for Graphene Devices and 2D systems at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is "perhaps the most expansive thinker about the material’s potential," according to The New Yorker. Instead of using the supermaterial to improve upon current technologies, though, he's looking instead to harness graphene to create something completely new.

One of Palacios' groundbreaking ideas involves coffee cups, shoes, and windows. Palacios believes that graphene could turn everyday objects like these into an endless array of devices that can easily compile and transmit information, he told The New Yorker.

"Basically, everything around us will be able to convert itself into a display on demand," he said. Think the Internet of Things on steroids.

To make this possible Palacios' lab is designing a new 3-D printer that uses graphene as its ink — but getting it to work is the tricky part. They need to figure out how to create graphene in a liquid form so that they can use it as ink in a printer to produce on-demand graphene-based objects, or to paint graphene directly on to the surface of an object. As of late 2014, the printer only knew how to spit out plastic, according to the The New Yorker.

Palacios' most impressive project yet is the creation of "graphene origami," a self-folding graphene sheet that can mimic living structures, such as the curves, wrinkles, and folds of the inner components of human cells, or it can act as "smart dust," which he thinks could be used to collect data about pollution or scan for viruses and send real-time data back to your cell phone.

graphene strainAs with any new material, developing graphene for commercial use has been taking a long time. Joshua Goldberger, a chemist at Ohio State University, told Wired that these types of graphene technologies could take 10 to 20 years before they become available.

But still, graphene has been called the "granddaddy of the modern boom in materials science," and for good reason. If successfully incorporated into future technologies, it has the potential to be one of the biggest disruptive innovations ever made.

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We toured a giant 'time machine' hiding outside New York City



In the instant after the Big Bang, the only thing in the universe that existed was a hot plasma soup full of subatomic particles.

But to study that ancient plasma, you don't have to travel back in time billions of years to the Big Bang itself — just go out to Long Island, New York, where there's a gigantic particle collider.

Scientists like Stephen Hawking sometimes say particle colliders are the closest things we have to time machines, partly because they can recreate conditions present shortly after the Big Bang.

New York's "time machine" is called RHIC — short for Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider and pronounced "Rick"— and it's part of the Department of Energy-sponsored Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. Built in 2000 for $616 million and now valued at about $2 billion, it's job is to make quark-gluon plasma soup. And it's the only device in the US that can do this.

Keep scrolling to see how the device works, how it's helping physicists solve the mysteries of the early universe, and why its future operation may be in danger.

RHIC is part of Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), which sits in the middle of the pine barrens on central Long Island.

It's the only active particle accelerator of its kind in the country. And at 2.4 miles around, it's visible from space.

Essentially, RHIC is an underground ring that shoots two beams of particles (in blue and yellow) at each other from opposite directions.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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How physics helped me learn to surf for the first time


surfing not me

You can't leave Hawaii without taking a surfing lesson.

So, during a recent reporting trip to the island state, I hit the beach for a 90-minute tutorial.

I already knew how to skimboard — the miniature, not-as-cool version of surfing. Riding a big, buoyant board down a rolling hydrodynamic construct most people call a wave, however, is different.

I learned surfing boils down to some pretty simple physics, and thinking through all of the different forces helped me get the hang of it.

Step 1: Catch a wave

I booked a lesson in Kona on the big island of Hawaii. After subduing my irrational fear of sharks, I grabbed a surfboard, an instructor, and paddled out into the Pacific Ocean.

Thankfully, there are no monster-sized waves in Kona during the summer. They're mostly beginner-sized, which was perfect for me.

But small waves can move pretty fast. My instructor said they move at around 8-10 mph — about the speed of a leisurely bike ride. To catch a wave, you have to get in front so that it doesn't roll under you.

The problem is that it's nearly impossible to paddle as fast as a wave rolls. So surfers use a different method: They tap into the wave's gravitational potential energy.

You only have to paddle fast enough so that, as the wave starts passing by, you and your board lift up and start slipping down the face of the wave.

As you fall down the face, your gravitational potential energy converts into kinetic energy. If you keep going straight, you can build up enough energy to just outrun the wave as it drags you back up. That equilibrium is called, well, surfing.

If you want to catch a monster wave, however, you'll need some kind of watercraft to tow and pull you. Humongous waves move at speeds of around 35 mph, and there's simply no way a surfer can paddle fast enough to rely on gravitational potential energy alone.

Step 2: Stand up on the board

This is supposed to be the hard part, but standing up part can be surprisingly simple.

As you slide down the face of the wave, you can feel the wave lift up your board's tail end. It feels like the wave is going to flip you over, but that's when you paddle a couple more times then quickly (and carefully) lift yourself up on your feet to balance out the board.

Arching your back is crucial. You want most of your weight to stay low and near the back of the board; otherwise, you're in for head-over-heels wipeout.

A successful stand-up looks something like this:

Step 3: Enjoy the ride (while not falling off)

Just riding down a wave and using gravitational potential energy to outrun it is only half the fun.

Once you get the hang of standing up, the idea is to turn the board and surf across the face of a wave. To do this you need to create a little torque, also called twisting force. 

Every surf board has a center of mass: where the downward force of gravity and the upward force of buoyancy meet.


When you step back on the board, you move the upward and downward forces out of alignment. This creates the opportunity to generate torque, at least until the wave peters out and gravity and buoyancy line up again (or you wipe out).

Stepping back and shifting the weight on your back foot to either your heel or toes will let you turn and ride across the wave.

One more tip: You often see surfers holding their arms perpendicular to their bodies.

They do this to help control torque, and it just so happens that moving your forward arm in the direction you want to go helps steer you that way.

My 90-minute lesson didn't last nearly long enough for me to master turning, and I wiped out more times trying than I'd like to admit.

Beyond the concepts of gravity, buoyancy, and torque, there's a whole host of hydrodynamic forces at play in surfing, too. They shape the ocean waves, and push and pull on the surfboard. They're also why a board's length, fins, contours, and other design aspects are so important, and surfing in general takes a lot of practice to do well.

But thinking through the basic physics at least helped me learn how to catch a wave, find my balance, stop thinking, and just enjoy a few rides to shore.

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This insane new 12-mile-tall 'space elevator’ concept is driving engineers crazy


Thoth space elevator

Canadian space and defense company, Thoth Technology, announced that it has secured a US patent for a 12-mile-tall tower. The concept would deliver astronauts, supplies, and even tourists to stratospheric heights.

The plans are bold, and Thoth claims its tower "will herald a new era of space transportation" by shuttling astronauts toward the edge of space in an elevator. Then, Thoth says, they can hitch a rocket ride from a rooftop launchpad.

The structure's "active guidance system," Thoth says, would adjust its center of gravity to offset disruptions from external forces, like hurricanes.

But scientists are calling foul.

Andrew J. Lockley, moderator of a popular geoengineering forum for scientists, says the concept of a “space tower” brings even more challenges than the traditional concept of the “space elevator." First proposed in the 1890s, the latter idea requires a narrow, taut, strong, and as-yet-nonexistent cable to zip people and supplies between Earth and space.

“This is a big fat tower, and it's under compression,” Lockley told Tech Insider. “The graphics don't show any tethers or taper, and the sides are not obviously wind permeable. This means the torque [twisting force] at the base will be enormous. It's just not clear how it will actually stay up.”

Wind, rain, and snow constantly pushing on the structure would be a nightmare, Lockley said. He noted a cable-based space elevator wouldn't face as many problems from the elements: It'd be under high tension and the cable would be narrow, avoiding the punishment of high winds better than a building ever could.

space elevator

Another threat to the tower comes from an atmospheric phenomenon sailors nicknamed "the doldrums," officially called the inter tropical convergence zone (ITCZ). It’s a belt of stormy clouds that circle the globe near the equator, where high-pressure winds meet from the north and south.

The ITCZ is heavily influenced by the position of the sun, so it shifts throughout the year. That's an issue for a structure stuck in one place.

“Thunderstorms and icing would be a big problem,” Adrian Tuck, a visiting professor in atmospheric physics at Imperial College London, told Tech Insider. “Construct[ing] a tower to take wind gusts and turbulence arising from deep tropical convection looks very problematic to me.”

Ice would threaten the tower in the same way it does airplanes and drones at such high altitudes, by coating it and making it heavy. But unlike aircraft that can fly, a giant tower can't move or navigate around dangerous, icy weather.

“Even an F-15 can’t out-climb that except by very special zoom-and-climb maneuvers," Tuck said.

Brendan Quine, the inventor behind Thoth's patent, agrees that the structure may require de-icing with antifreeze during the winter, but he says that the icing will only happen occasionally, and that the sun would "rapidly heat and melt ice buildup during the day."

Quine, a space engineer and planetary physicist at York University, told Tech Insider in an e-mail that de-icing materials pre-loaded onto the elevator would clean the outer surface of the structure as it passes up and down the core.

"It is unlikely that the mass of any ice buildup would be significant by comparison to the overall mass of the structure," Quine says.

There's also concern that the tower would buckle under its own weight.

"The issue for tall towers is not strength but stiffness," Chris Burgoyne, professor of structural engineering at University of Cambridge, told Tech Insider.

Thoth says that it will sidestep this issue by supporting the weight of the structure with stacked rings of inflatable Kevlar cells.

Thoth space elevator landing pad

Once again, scientists not involved with the project are skeptical.

"The problem with this, assuming you could design one that you could actually build, is that it would be subject to the same problems of self-weight buckling," Burgoyne said. When one part of the internal cell starts to buckle, the volume of the gas inside does not change — which means it couldn't resist domino-like collapsing action, Burgoyne said.

Hugh Hunt, an engineer at the University of Cambridge, agrees. "There is an error in the basic concept," Hunt says. "Inflatable towers would be subject to exactly the same buckling conditions as any ordinary tower."

Burgoyne, Hunt, and the rest of their team know this because they once considered a giant-tower design to deliver climate change-combating chemicals high into the atmosphere. They completely ruled out a high tower based on the problems of weight alone, Burgoyne said.

But Quine disagrees. He says previous research shows his proposed tower's structure — with gas cells arranged in a torus shape — would prevent a catastrophic buckling event.

Beyond disagreements over physics, however, there are also serious material and cost limitations.

According to CBCnews, Thoth claims it can build a 9-mile-high version of its tower on top of a 3-mile mountain in 10 years. The finished structure would reach 12 miles above sea level and cost about $5 billion.

But Hunt says that the most feasible type of tower they determined that could reach such heights was a cylindrical tower made out of plastics reinforced with carbon fibers, called carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP). The material alone would cost about $500 billion — 100 times this smaller version of the tower's total projected cost — and Thoth would need 250 million tons of the stuff.

"Of course new materials may become available, but nothing much is on the horizon that is substantially better than CFRP," Hunt said.

Quine's response is that Thoth plans to use polyethylene reinforced with Kevlar 49, two materials that are widely available in industrial quantities. He also says the company will first build a 1-mile-high prototype to "grow production capacity" before attempting to build the full 12-mile-high version. Finally, Quine claims that since rockets eat up about 30% of their fuel during the first 12-mile ascent, the tower will offer the same savings in fuel compared to conventional rockets launched from the ground.

But this appears to be specious as well, according to Hunt's calculations.

"As for ThothX being used to launch astronauts into orbit, less than 1% of the energy required for orbit is saved by launching from a height of 20km," Hunt said. "There doesn't seem to be much benefit."

Quine says that Hunt's claim does not take into account the fact that the tower would reduce the number of "stages" needed for the rocket to reach orbit.

"Only one stage is required for a launch at 20 km versus 3 or 4 for conventional launch," Quine said." Electrical elevators are 50-60% efficient, leading to a significant fuel saving advantage that enables single stage to orbit space planes to fly from the top of the tower. These planes can also be completely reusable like a passenger jet as opposed to being single use like current rockets."

If Thoth's critics are correct, and the company really wants to revolutionize space travel, then it might have to get its head out of the clouds and rethink the concept from the ground up.

This post has been updated with comments from Quine

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Stephen Hawking came up with a way to escape a black hole, but it has a big snag


black hole

Whatever falls into a black hole never comes out again: It's trapped in a perfect prison, forever.

But Stephen Hawking, who already completely changed how we understand black holes once, just came up with another radical idea suggesting there is an escape method.

"If you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up,” he told an audience at a public lecture in Stockholm on Aug. 24. "There’s a way out.”

Black holes are zones in space where gravity pulls so much that not even light can escape — hence the name "black hole." We're taught that anything that falls into a regular black hole gets shredded or stretched out and "spaghettified." (Gigantic black holes are different story.)

Scientists agree that black holes destroy objects, but have spent nearly half a century arguing about what black holes do to the information of objects. That information can include, as one example, the number, arrangement, and order of an object's atoms. It also might also describe the object's energy levels, trajectory, and so on.

Einstein's theory of general relativity says that all information must be destroyed in a black hole. But another, newer theory called quantum mechanics says it can't be destroyed.

Using both theories leads to a conundrum known as the information paradox, and Hawking might have just come up with a solution: The information can escape because it doesn't actually make it all the way inside the black hole.

"I propose that the information is stored not in the interior of the black hole as one might expect, but on its boundary, the event horizon,” Hawking said.

The event horizon is the rim around a black hole that acts as the point of no return — if you drift past the event horizon then you can't ever escape the black hole's grip. Hawking is saying the information about a 3D object that falls into a black hole might be stored on the event horizon in the form of a perfectly flat 2D hologram.

And if that information doesn't drift past the event horizon, then it might be able to escape. That's because Hawking's new theory builds on one of his old ideas about black holes.

About 40 years ago, Hawking proposed an exception to the rule that nothing escapes a black hole: Hawking radiation. The idea suggests that energy could escape black holes in the form of tiny particles of light that form at the edge of a black hole, thanks to a weird thing called quantum fluctuation:

Hawking's new idea is that this radiation, as it bleeds out of a black hole, might pick up an object's  information on its way out — thus providing a means of escape.

This doesn't mean we could rebuild a coherent message from anything trapped inside a black hole, though.

"The information about ingoing particles is returned, but in a chaotic and useless form," Hawking said. "This resolves the information paradox." Yet for all practical purporses, we've still lost the information.

We'll know more details when Hawking and his team publish the formal paper in a few weeks. We'll also learn more about an idea that Hawking only touches on: how something could escape a black hole but end up in a parallel universe.

"The message of this lecture is that black holes ain't as black as they are painted," Hawking said. "They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought. Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly come out in another universe."

You can watch a clip from Hawking's lecture below:

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Scientists found something amazing when they filmed a beat boxer in slow motion



As any amateur rapper knows, simulating the beat of a drum or the scratch of a turntable with nothing other than the lips, voice, mouth, and tongue takes skill.

When done properly, a master can trick an audience into believing that a whole repertoire of instruments is creating a beat. When done poorly, well, he or she probably isn't going to be the next Doug E. Fresh.

For years scientists have struggled to identify and classify the intricate sounds that emanate from a beatboxer's mouth. But a recent analysis has shown — quite literally— just how incredible the human body is at producing sophisticated noises. 

After putting a beatboxing man into a real-time MRI machine — an imaging technique that allows scientists to "film" a person's insides while they are performing an action, beatboxing in this case — they recorded the man while he performed a concoction of voice-activated sounds: rapping, singing, beats, freestyling. What they saw was one of the most detailed looks at beatboxing yet. 

The study subject, who spoke English, was able to produce some of the same sounds that are spread across the world's distinct language systems, Inside Science reports.

"It is absolutely amazing that a person can make these sounds — that a person has such control over the timing of various parts of the speech apparatus," phonetician Donna Erickson at the Showa University of Music and Sophia University told Inside Science.

beatboxing gif

Specifically, the sounds he made sounded similar to "clicks seen in African languages such as Xhosa from South Africa, Khoekhoe from Botswana, and !Xóõ from Namibia, as well as ejective consonants — bursts of air generated by closing the vocal cords — seen in Nuxálk from British Columbia, Chechen from Chechnya and Hausa from Nigeria and other countries in Africa,"Inside Science reports.

This is cool because it shows that the sounds an artist uses to create music are the same sounds humans use for speech. The study also highlights the astonishing control beatboxers have over the unique movements of the tongue and lips, which can be useful for informing novel speech therapies.

But how does beatboxing work?

To get a better look at what's going on when someone beat boxes, YouTuber SmarterEveryDay made a super slowed down video that clearly shows the lip and mouth movements that accompany the artist's vocal acrobatics. To be honest, the video is kind of disgusting, but it still illustrates some important scientific concepts.

Before we get into the science, here's an excerpt from the video:

beatboxer slowed down 3

Here he is again, even closer (and arguably even more gross).

beatboxer slowed down 2

And here he is again giving us crazy eyes.

beatboxer slowed down 1

The video mentions that "beatboxers are not just dudes with good rhythm, they're actually biomechanical synthesizers that specialize in the domination of not just the time domain but also the frequency domain."

Here's what SmarterEveryDay means by that.

When looking at a plot of the frequency of the beatboxer's sound, or a graphical representation of how many times a sound wave cycles across a particular period of time, you can see multiple yellow vertical bars representing sound waves across the graph. The x-axis represents time, the y-axis represents frequency. 

The brighter the color of the bars, the louder the frequency at that particular time. If you look closely, you can see that there are darker vertical bars in between the yellow bars. "It looks like frequency within frequency,"SmarterEveryDay says.

When looking at the texture of the recorded bass sound below, you can see that it's actually two different sounds working together. The top graph shows the normal tone coming from vocal cords, appearing as a regular-looking soundwave. The second graph shows the sound coming from the lips. When lips press together, the video explains, pressure builds inside the mouth until it blows the lip out again.

These different frequencies born from the pressure inside the mouth, the air flowing across the lips and the tightness of the lips slamming shut creates the unique sound signature inherent to beatboxing.

Beatboxing Spectrogram lips shut

You can watch the full video, uploaded to YouTube by SmarterEveryDay, here to see a more complete explanation. If you want to skip straight to the close-up disgusting part, start at 2:40. 

 If you want to learn how to beat box yourself, here's a handy guide.

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Here's how to make a cloud in your mouth



When water evaporates from oceans, rivers, and lakes and rises into the sky, it condenses on small pieces of dust or pollen to form microscopic water droplets.

When a bunch of these droplets cluster together, they form clouds.

We usually imagine this process happening in the sky. But with a few tricks, you can replicate cloud formation in your mouth, no cold room needed.

The resulting puff of smoke is what YouTuber Physics Girl has named the "Maculus Ridiculous"— because it makes you look ridiculous — cloud.

Here's how you do it:

First, you need to click your tongue to the roof of your mouth while it's closed but full of air for 30 seconds. This creates tiny droplets of water in your mouth that, when they evaporate, create warm and humid air.

Then you hold your lips shut with your hands while trying to blow out to create pressure inside your mouth. This heats up the air even more, because as the pressure increases, so too does the temperature. And warmer air will hold more moisture — or water vapor — than cold air.

Then as you slowly open your mouth, a puff of "cloud smoke" billows out.

The smoke is created because of the change in pressure between the inside and outside of your mouth. The tongue clicking and breath holding heat and pressurize the air and water mixture in your mouth.

When you open your mouth and let the air out, the pressure and temperature of the air inside your mouth, plummets. As the humid air from your mouth cools down, it loses its ability to hold onto the water vapor, which condenses into tiny water droplets, just like a cloud.

For more explanation of awesome cloud physics and a full demonstration, check out the full video here:

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Physicists finally solved the longstanding mystery of why no one can pull two interlaced phone books apart


Screen Shot 2015 08 27 at 9.47.38 AM

People, trucks, and even military tanks have tried and failed the task of pulling apart two phone books lying face up with their pages interleaved, like a shuffled deck of cards.

While physicists have long known that this must be due to enormous frictional forces, exactly how these forces are generated has been an enigma — until now.

A team of physicists from France and Canada has discovered that it is the layout of the books coupled with the act of pulling that is producing the force.

The power of approximation

Finding an approximate solution to a complex problem is an essential skill in science — and in life. Often we are faced with questions that we can't answer exactly, but sometimes good enough is, well, good enough.

Enrico Fermi, one of the greatest physicists in the 20th century, has given his name to such "Fermi Questions" — as he was famous for encouraging this skill in his students.

Here's one example: "How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?"

I have no idea, and I'm not sure Fermi knew either, but by estimating the population of Chicago, the fraction that might play the piano, and how often a piano needs tuning, you can come up with a pretty good guess, without diving into the phone book.

It's probably closer to 100 than to 1,000.

Doing these "back-of-an-envelope" calculations is usually the first step in approaching a scientific question. Sometimes that is as far as you need to go. Sometimes it tells us that the question is worth investigating more to find the exact answer.

This is exactly what the team investigating the friction of phone books did. The back-of-the-envelope answer is friction between the pages. But assuming the friction is proportional to the number of pages drastically underestimates the total force that is generated, which seems to rise exponentially with the number of pages.

But previous attempts to improve this simple model — by including the effects of gravity and air pressure pushing the pages of the books together — have all failed to explain the result.

Surprisingly simple

So, when the back-of-the-envelope calculation fails, things get serious. In this case, the traction instrument was brought out — think the opposite of a vice — it was used to pull books apart while measuring the force required to do so.

But not just any books: Rigorously prepared test books with specific numbers of pages, built from paper sheets of exact dimensions, interleaved to high precision.

Data in hand, a mathematical model was put together, and it turned out to be driven by a surprisingly simple fact. The pages of each book are separated by the interleaving and end up "spreading out," lying at a slight angle from the spine.

When the books are pulled away from each other, the pages want to move back closer together and end up squeezing the interleaved pages from the other book. And gripping something tightly greatly increases the friction.

As an example, imagine a person with long hair in a swimming pool. While floating underwater, their hair can spread out — much like the pages of the books are spread out by the interleaving. Then, if our volunteer swims off, their hair will naturally move close together, following their head, which is pulling it along.

The pages of our books also want to move close together behind the thing pulling them — the spine of the book — but instead just squeeze more tightly on the pages of the other book, which are in the way. Pulling harder on the books only increases the friction.

This is an example of the geometrical amplification of friction, or how the layout of the books produces forces far beyond what is expected. Knots are another example, looping a rope around itself greatly increases the friction, resulting in a secure grip. The authors point out the recent resurgence of interest in this kind of problem and the general field of tribology, the study of surfaces in relative motion.

This is being driven by the need to understand the structure and behavior of new micro- and nano-engineered materials, which have impact on many aspects of life from medical applications to solar cells.

Interleaved carbon nano-tubes as the material of the future, anyone?

Gavin Hesketh is a lecturer in particle physics at UCLThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.

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A weird property of water is a third of the reason oceans are rising fast


water ice volume temperature thermal expansion

Earth's oceans rose an average of three inches since 1992, and the warming waters show no signs of stopping, NASA announced on August 26.

Steve Nerem, a climatologist who leads NASA's Sea Level Change Team, said "we're locked into 3 feet of sea level rise, and probably more" if the present rate continues.

But as the ocean continues to absorb heat from global warming, that estimate could be an understatement. At risk are low-laying cities like New Orleans, which hurricane Katrina devastated 10 years ago.

Melting glaciers and ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica are responsible for at least two thirds of sea level rise. The missing piece of the puzzle is a bizarre phenomenon called thermal expansion, which is when heat causes water's volume to expand.

Water is weird. It’s one of the only liquids that expands as it freezes, at 0 degrees Celsius, yet contracts as you warm it up to 4 C. (This is why water ice floats while most other types of ice sink.)

But if you warm up water beyond 4 C, the molecules violently push on one another, expanding the total volume of liquid and making it take up more space.

Earth’s surface has warmed by about 0.8 degrees C on average since 1880, soon after the industrial revolution kicked off.

This increase doesn’t sound like much, explains NASA Earth Observatory, but it has major consequences:

A one-degree global change is significant because it takes a vast amount of heat to warm all the oceans, atmosphere, and land by that much. In the past, a one- to two-degree drop was all it took to plunge the Earth into the Little Ice Age. A five-degree drop was enough to bury a large part of North America under a towering mass of ice 20,000 years ago.

And our world is under going some extensive warming, especially in the northern pole:

nasa global warming temperature anomalyThe Earth’s oceans are especially at risk — they have responded to this increase by soaking up more and more heat as global temperatures climb:

ocean water heat content

And since water expands when heated, this excess heat absorption has expanded the volume of Earth’s oceans.

As of right now, this volume increase by only a mere fraction of a percent of the ocean's original volume.

Yet applied to even part of the planet's 335 million cubic miles of water, e.g. surface waters, this increase adds up to significant sea level rise — on top of increased water runoff from the world's melting ice reserves.

sea level rise accelerating

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, sea levels rose about 8 inches from 1880 to 2009, with thermal expansion as the predominant cause.

The new data from NASA show a rise of 3 inches since 1992 — a big jump compared to the past 100-or-so years.

Again, this doesn’t sound like much. But any increase gives storm surges that much of a leg up to overwhelm coastal marshes, topple levees, and cause damage deeper and deeper inland.

This is a simplistic illustration of what that looks like for coastal cities, but it's a dangerous scenario:

storm surge baseline sea level rise ucs

What’s more, the rate of sea level rise is only accelerating as oceans soak up more heat, expand, and icebergs and glaciers continue to melt.

sea level rise thermal expansion melting ice contribution

Earth is maddeningly dynamicespecially the oceans. That’s partly why it takes so long to reveal these trends in the first place; you have to take measurements over long periods of time to see the trends.

To that end, researchers are still uncertain about the interplay of surface water and deep-ocean warming. But it’s a given that if the planet keeps warming, as it’s on track to, and oceans continue to soak up heat, vulnerable coastal cities like New Orleans are in a heap of trouble.

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Pink light doesn't really exist


Australia pink lake

We all think that the visible spectrum of light — every color we can see — is represented in the rainbow. But this isn't actually true.

When you hold up a crystal prism to a beam of light, you see red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet and every color in between coming out the other side. But where does pink fall?

Colors look different to our eyes because they have different wavelengths — ranging from 400 nanometers from purple to 700 nanometers for dark red:

Electromagnetic spectrumMost colors that our brain sees are associated with specific wavelengths that fall in these numbers. All shades of green fall between blue and yellow in the spectrum and therefore have wavelengths that fall between those of blue and yellow.

But if you look closely, you'll see that pink isn't anywhere in there. There's no specific wavelength of light that looks pink.

That's because, according to this super-short explanation from Minute Physics, there's actually no such thing as pink light.

When we see the color pink, otherwise known as fuchsia or magenta, what we are actually seeing is a mix of red, blue, and purple light — light colors that don't intersect in a rainbow so there's no intermediate wavelength that is "pink."

The minute physics video shows this by rolling up the electromagnetic spectrum into a kind of color wheel, connecting one end to the other, showing that pink would theoretically fall in the gap between red and purple.

Minute Physics's explanation is that that gap contains all the wavelengths you can't see — radio waves, microwaves, infrared, X-rays, and gamma rays.

And because we can't see any of those wavelengths, our vision instead invents pink to fill the gap.

And since light being reflected by objects is what gives them a color, some think this means that the color pink doesn't really exist. In reality pink is an illusion created by our brains mixing red and purple light — so while we see the color pink, it doesn't have a wavelength.

But of course, pink lovers argue that Minute Physics' description oversimplifies the whole electromagnetic spectrum.

According to Scientific American, and in reality, it would be impossible to roll up and connect one end of the electromagnetic spectrum to the other, because it "extends from a wavelength of zero meters all the way up to infinity."

But because of how our eyes and minds work, there does seem to be a gap in the rainbow, which our brains fill in as pink when they see a combination of purple and red.

On a certain level, all of the colors in the rainbow are imaginary "sensations that arise within the brain" and not "a property of light or of objects that reflect light," according to Scientific American.

From that perspective, pink is in some sense imaginary, but then so are all the other colors that make up the rainbow.

Watch the whole Minute Physic video below.

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If we live in one of multiple universes, here's how we could find out


The existence of parallel universes may seem like something cooked up by science fiction writers, with little relevance to modern theoretical physics.

But the idea that we live in a "multiverse" made up of an infinite number of parallel universes has long been considered a scientific possibility — although it is still a matter of vigorous debate among physicists. The race is now on to find a way to test the theory, including searching the sky for signs of collisions with other universes.

It is important to keep in mind that the multiverse view is not actually a theory, it is rather a consequence of our current understanding of theoretical physics. This distinction is crucial. We have not waved our hands and said: "Let there be a multiverse". Instead the idea that the universe is perhaps one of infinitely many is derived from current theories like quantum mechanics and string theory.

The many-worlds interpretation

You may have heard the thought experiment of Schrödinger's cat, a spooky animal who lives in a closed box. The act of opening the box allows us to follow one of the possible future histories of our cat, including one in which it is both dead and alive. The reason this seems so impossible is simply because our human intuition is not familiar with it.

But it is entirely possible according to the strange rules of quantum mechanics. The reason that this can happen is that the space of possibilities in quantum mechanics is huge. Mathematically, a quantum mechanical state is a sum (or superposition) of all possible states. In the case of the Schrödinger's cat, the cat is the superposition of "dead" and "alive" states.

But how do we interpret this to make any practical sense at all? One popular way is to think of all these possibilities as book-keeping devices so that the only "objectively true" cat state is the one we observe. However, one can just as well choose to accept that all these possibilities are true, and that they exist in different universes of a multiverse.schrodingers cat

The string landscape

String theory is one of our most, if not the most promising avenue to be able to unify quantum mechanics and gravity. This is notoriously hard because gravitational force is so difficult to describe on small scales like those of atoms and subatomic particles — which is the science of quantum mechanics.

But string theory, which states that all fundamental particles are made up of one-dimensional strings, can describe all known forces of nature at once: gravity, electromagnetism and the nuclear forces.

However, for string theory to work mathematically, it requires at least ten physical dimensions. Since we can only observe four dimensions: height, width, depth (all spatial) and time (temporal), the extra dimensions of string theory must therefore be hidden somehow if it is to be correct.

To be able to use the theory to explain the physical phenomena we see, these extra dimensions have to be "compactified" by being curled up in such a way that they are too small to be seen. Perhaps for each point in our large four dimensions, there exists six extra indistinguishable directions?

A problem, or some would say, a feature, of string theory is that there are many ways of doing this compactification —10500 possibilities is one number usually touted about. Each of these compactifications will result in a universe with different physical laws — such as different masses of electrons and different constants of gravity. However there are also vigorous objections to the methodology of compactification, so the issue is not quite settled.

But given this, the obvious question is: which of these landscape of possibilities do we live in? String theory itself does not provide a mechanism to predict that, which makes it useless as we can't test it. But fortunately, an idea from our study of early universe cosmology has turned this bug into a feature.

The early universe

During the very early universe, before the Big Bang, the universe underwent a period of accelerated expansion called inflation. Inflation was invoked originally to explain why the current observational universe is almost uniform in temperature.

However, the theory also predicted a spectrum of temperature fluctuations around this equilibrium which was later confirmed by several spacecraft such as Cosmic Background Explorer, Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe and the PLANCK spacecraft.

While the exact details of the theory are still being hotly debated, inflation is widely accepted by physicists. However, a consequence of this theory is that there must be other parts of the universe that are still accelerating.

However, due to the quantum fluctuations of space-time, some parts of the universe never actually reach the end state of inflation. This means that the universe is, at least according to our current understanding, eternally inflating. Some parts can therefore end up becoming other universes, which could become other universes etc. This mechanism generates a infinite number of universes.

By combining this scenario with string theory, there is a possibility that each of these universes possesses a different compactification of the extra dimensions and hence has different physical laws.plank universe map of cosmic background radiation

Testing the theory

The universes predicted by string theory and inflation live in the same physical space (unlike the many universes of quantum mechanics which live in a mathematical space), they can overlap or collide. Indeed, they inevitably must collide, leaving possible signatures in the cosmic sky which we can try to search for.

The exact details of the signatures depends intimately on the models — ranging from cold or hot spots in the cosmic microwave background to anomalous voids in the distribution of galaxies. Nevertheless, since collisions with other universes must occur in a particular direction, a general expectation is that any signatures will break the uniformity of our observable universe.

These signatures are actively being pursued by scientists. Some are looking for it directly through imprints in the cosmic microwave background, the afterglow of the Big Bang. However, no such signatures are yet to be seen.

Others are looking for indirect support such as gravitational waves, which are ripples in space-time as massive objects pass through. Such waves could directly prove the existence of inflation, which ultimately strengthens the support for the multiverse theory.

Whether we will ever be able to prove their existence is hard to predict. But given the massive implications of such a finding it should definitely be worth the search.

Eugene Lim is Lecturer in theoretical particle physics & cosmology at King's College London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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