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Matthew Francis

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    Where Nature Hides the Darkest Mystery of All

    There’s no boundary quite like a black hole boundary.

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    What to Do When Genius Fails

    Isaac Newton’s diagram of the Philosopher’s Stone, a substance that could supposedly turn base metals into gold. Geniuses, however we define the concept, often evoke particular strong feelings. Many of us develop personal affection for them, defending them from criticism as fiercely as we would friends or family. It’s not enough for them to be […]

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    Earth’s Stash of Gold Comes From Colliders Fit for Gods

    Ron Dale via Shutterstock One of science’s greatest feats is having described where we came from—not as individual people, or as a species, or even as a planet, but as stuff, the very material we’re made of. The Big Bang forged all of the basic particles of our lives—electrons and the quarks that make up […]

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    Is Our Universe Like Oil & Vinegar or Homogenized Milk?

    Is our Universe inhomogeneous, lumpy and uneven on many size scales, like oil droplets in water?via Shutterstock   In the earliest moments after the Big Bang, the Universe was a turbulent mess, a high-temperature stew of quantum fluctuations. As with turbulence in water, the fluctuations acted at every level: If you could imagine observing the […]

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    “White Holes” Could Exist—But That Doesn’t Mean They Do

      A black hole is a one-way door to oblivion. According to general relativity, once anything crosses its boundary—the event horizon—it cannot return to the outside. For that particle, the black hole is the entire future. We’ll never actually get a chance to see the particle live out that destiny: Any light the particle emits […]

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    How to See Quantum Drops of Light

    An illustration of wave interferenceSybille Yates via Shutterstock Though we can see in remarkably low-light conditions, humans aren’t quite sensitive enough to see individual photons—the particles that make up all types of light. In our day-to-day lives, we are so awash with light that its particle nature is just as masked as the atomic nature […]

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    The Most Massive Object in the Universe—How Was It Created?

      The galaxy known prosaically as M87 doesn’t look like much. Unlike beautiful spiral galaxies (including the Milky Way), M87 appears as an orangish blob of stars through telescopes. Its only noticeable feature is the long streamer of gas emanating from the galactic center. The source of that jet is far from prosaic, however: It’s […]

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    How to Map a Galaxy When You’re Right in the Middle of It

    The barred spiral galaxy UGC 12158 probably looks similar to how the Milky Way does from the outside. http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/potw1035a/ ESA/Hubble & NASA The T-shirts and posters are common: an image of a galaxy, an arrow pointing to a spot in that galaxy, and a sign reading “You are here.” But it’s all a big lie. […]

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    Where Nature Hides the Darkest Mystery of All

      No known object in existence has as clear a division between “inside” and “outside” as a black hole. We live and see the outside, and no probe will bring us information about the inside. We can send radio messages or robotic spacecraft, but once they cross over into a black hole’s interior, we’ll never […]

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    The Freaky Celestial Events We See—and the Ones We Don’t

    On March 28, 2011, the orbiting Swift observatory spotted an extraordinary gamma-ray burst, a bright source of energetic light from a distant galaxy. Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are some of the brightest and most energetic events in the cosmos. Their measurable strong emission in most cases vanishes after about 30 seconds, but this particular event—known as […]