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    First Black-Hole Image: It’s Not Looks That Count

    FIRST LOOK: The Event Horizon Telescope measures wavelength in the millimeter regime, too long to be seen by eye, but ideally suited to the task of imaging a black hole: The gas surrounding the black hole is almost transparent at this wavelength and the light travels to Earth almost undisturbed. Since we cannot see light […]

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    The Day Feynman Worked Out Black-Hole Radiation on My Blackboard

    After a few minutes, Richard Feynman had worked out the process of spontaneous emission, which is what Stephen Hawking became famous for a year later.Wikicommons The amazing image of a black hole unveiled Wednesday, along with data from the Event Horizon Telescope, may not substantiate Stephen Hawking’s famous theory that radiation, an example of spontaneous […]

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    In Quantum Games, There’s No Way to Play the Odds

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. In the 1950s, four mathematically minded U.S. Army soldiers used primitive electronic calculators to work out the optimal strategy for playing blackjack. Their results, later published in the Journal of the American Statistical Association, detailed the best decision a player could make for every situation encountered in the game. Yet that strategy—which would evolve into […]

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    Nassim Taleb’s Case Against Nate Silver Is Bad Math

    Nassim Nicholas Taleb has overplayed his hand this time and is left looking, well, klueless.Photograph by Salzburg Global Seminar / Flickr Since the midterm elections, a feud has been raging on Twitter between Nate Silver, founder of FiveThirtyEight, and Nassim Nicholas Taleb, hedge-fund-manager-turned-mathematical-philosopher and author of The Black Swan. It began, late last year, with […]

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    A Precursor Piece to DNA Was Found in Star Material

    April—National Poetry Month—prompted me to reread some of the work of English-American poet W.H. Auden. In “Funeral Blues,” famously recited in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Auden pairs musings on the cosmos with those on the human condition. The last four lines of “Funeral Blues” evoke grief over the loss of a loved friend: The […]

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    The Dam Problem in the West

    On a raft trip down the Green River, a writer faces her environmental preconceptions.

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    How Supermassive Black Holes Were Discovered

    Astronomers turned a fantastic concept into reality.

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    Paradox Is Illuminating the Black Hole

    How reconciling opposites is driving the science of black holes forward.

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    How Black Holes Nearly Ruined Time

    Quantum mechanics rescued our understanding of past and future from the black hole.

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    The Strangeness of Black Holes

    From quantum information to the Schwarzschild radius.