Earth 2.0 – have we found a replacement?

Fancy jetting off somewhere new and exotic for your holidays this year? How about the newest, most expensive option out there?

Proxima b is your newly discovered, closest neighbouring habitable planet. Only 4.25 light years away, this rocky planet orbits our nearest star, Proxima Centuri. With a mass 1.3 times that of Earth, and a surface temperature which may, hopefully, if there’s an atmosphere, allow liquid water oceans to form, this planet may just be visit-able. A year long holiday on this planet is the perfect length – it lasts only 11.2 Earth days, excluding the 70,000 years of travel on modern spacecraft each way.

Okay, so the average surface temperature could be anything from…

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Mapping the stars

The biggest ever map of the sky has been created. It includes the location and brightness of 1,142,000 stars, and two million of these also have their motion across the sky mapped.

Pictures from ESA’s Gaia satellite have been compiled by a team of 450 scientists and software engineers. The satellite is half way through its five year mission to collect data on billions of stars in the Milky Way, just 1% of all the stars in the galaxy. The pictures come from the first 14 months of the mission.

Soon, the team will…

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One equation to rule them all? This new equation might be able to link the two biggest theories describing the universe

ER = EPR. It doesn’t look like much. In fact, it doesn’t look like anything at all. But this is the equation that could unite the two most successful theories describing the universe.

We’ve all heard of quantum mechanics and general relativity. They both explain a range of complicated phenomena exceedingly well, but if you tried to combine them, you would find that the maths just doesn’t work out.

Enter ER = EPR. This new equation…

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The electric shock to science: has a room temperature supercurrent been achieved?

Supercurrents seem like the stuff of science fiction. But they’re real, and they’re what happen when particles move without any resistance, so they don’t lose any energy. They’re usually only possible at very low temperatures of below -150°C, but now a group of scientists think they might have gone one step further, and produced a supercurrent at room temperature.

According to the paper, which was published by an international team in Nature Physics, a supercurrent is “a macroscopic effect of a phase-induced collective motion of a quantum condensate”. Put simply, it’s a quantum effect seen on a much larger scale than the tiny world of quantum.

It is only possible to set up a supercurrent…

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A lumpy model for a lumpy universe

Computer models are used for all sorts of applications, from designing cars to predicting the weather. They are even used to simulate the whole universe, to work out how it was born, and what might happen next. Until now, the universe has been modelled using numerical simulations, which are quick and simple, but limited by the assumptions they make and their use of Newtonian gravity instead of Einstein’s general relativity.

A typical numerical simulation assumes that the universe is isotropic and homogeneous, meaning that all of its matter is distributed evenly throughout. This is true on a large scale, but on smaller scales the matter is gathered into clusters of galaxies and dark matter, and the rest of space is empty. This means that expansion of the universe occurs at different rates in different places – spots dense with matter will be pulled closer together by their gravity and expand slower, and empty spaces will expand unhindered (28% faster than the average rate of expansion!).

Two sets of code have now been written independently using…

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Alive and dead and in two places at once: the mystery of Schrodinger’s cat

We all know the story of Schrodinger’s cat – the unlucky beast that spends its days both living and dead in a box until someone lets it out. Well, now it can get out, sort of. Scientists have shown that the cat can be alive and dead, and can also be in two boxes at once.

Originally, the cat was the protagonist in a story used to explain the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. He (or she) is sealed in a box along with a radioactive particle, which could decay at any time, and a vial of poison gas, which will break if the particle does decay. Schrodinger argues that until we open the box and find out if the cat is alive or dead, it is both, in what theoretical physicists like to call a “superposition of states”. In short…

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A Super Computer for a Super-long Proof

Some maths is just too hard or complicated for humans. Some would just take too long. A new proof for the Boolean Pythagorean triples problem is too long even to be read by a human. At 200TB (or 46,600 DVDs worth!) it is the longest mathematical proof ever – even the shortened version (still a hefty 68 GB) would take 30,000 hours for a computer to process.

The Boolean Pythagorean triples problem asks whether it is possible to assign all of the natural numbers (positive integers) a colour of either blue or red, so that the numbers in no Pythagorean triple are all the same colour. A Pythagorean triple is a set of three integers that satisfies the condition a2 + b2 = c2. This equation is useful for finding the lengths of the sides of a right angled triangle.

The problem is harder than it looks. Some integers are part of…

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Move over standard model – possible evidence for an unpredicted new particle found

In July 2012, physicists at CERN announced something amazing – the discovery of the Higgs boson, a previously undetected particle predicted by the standard model. Now some more exciting and surprising evidence has come to light.

The Large Hadron Collider has been closed since December 2015 for maintenance, so scientists at CERN have been reanalysing their data, and have found something odd. A cluster of photons, or a diphoton excess, has been detected in a previously ignored energy range. It suggests…

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How scientists are going to find the new Pluto

When Pluto lost its planetary status in 2006 it left a dark hole in our hearts. Luckily, the existence of another planet in our solar system was predicted in 1846, and recently it has started to seem like there might be enough evidence to support that prediction. A few months on, astronomers think they may have worked out a way to find it.

Mathematical modelling and computer simulations done by Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown at Caltech show that if a ninth planet does exist, it will explain the strange behaviour of six dwarf planets in the Kuiper belt, beyond Neptune. These dwarfs ‘clump together’, and have elliptical orbits tilted out of the plane of the rest of the solar system, which has a probability of occurring of just…

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High Pressure Hydrogen: Predicted Metallic Phase is Almost Reached

Hydrogen is a light, explosive gas at Earth’s atmospheric pressures, but in the centre of a gas giant such as Jupiter, scientists believe it exists in a metallic, superconducting phase.

Metallic hydrogen is thought to play a vital role in the inner workings of gas giants. In the centre of a gas giant, at pressures of over 4,500 million times the atmospheric pressure of Earth, hydrogen is metallic and is thought to be able to conduct electricity with zero resistance. In January, Physicists at the University of Edinburgh came close to recreating this phase on Earth, by compressing a micron cubed of hydrogen between two diamonds to pressures up to…

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