News

Pioneer 10 sends its final decipherable message (2002)

posted Monday, 27 April 2015

The last successful reception of telemetry from Pioneer 10 occurred on 27 April 2002 —33 minutes of clean data received from a distance of 80.22 AU.

Position of Pioneer 10 in 2010[animate]

[magnify]

physics.info/news/?p=1409

Kelvin anticipates modern physics (1900)

posted Monday, 27 April 2015

Newton’s laws of motion and universal gravitation, the laws of conservation of energy and momentum, the laws of thermodynamics, and Maxwell’s equations for electricity and magnetism were all more or less nearly complete at the end of the Nineteenth Century. They describe a universe consisting of bodies moving with clockwork predictability on a stage of absolute space and time. They were used to create the machines that launched two waves of industrial revolution — the first one powered by steam and the second one powered by electric current. They can be used to deliver spacecraft to the ends of the solar system with hyper-pinpoint accuracy. They are mathematically consistent in the sense that no one rule would ever violate another. They agree with reality to a high degree of accuracy as tested in experiment after experiment.

At the end of the Nineteenth Century, physics appeared to be at an apex. Several people are reported to have said something like this

There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.

This has been attributed to William Thomson a.k.a. Lord Kelvin (1824-1907) in an address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1900, but I haven’t been able to find the primary source. A similar statement was made twice by the German-American scientist Albert Michelson (1852-1931) as was discussed earlier in this book. It is often reported that Michelson got the idea from Kelvin, but there is little evidence to back this claim up.

At the turn of the century, Kelvin wasn’t saying that physics was finished. In fact, I think he was saying quite the opposite. There were two clouds hanging over Nineteenth Century physics. Here’s the essential quote from a lecture he gave 110 years ago today.

The beauty and clearness of the dynamical theory, which asserts heat and light to be modes of motion, is at present obscured by two clouds. I. The first came into existence with the undulatory theory of light, and was dealt with by Fresnel and Dr Thomas Young; it involved the question, How could the earth move through an elastic solid, such as essentially is the luminiferous ether? II. The second is the Maxwell-Boltzmann doctrine regarding the partition of energy.

Kelvin is describing two problems with the physics of his time. They are highly technical in nature and not something you could easily describe to your grandmother (unless she had some training in physics). The first one refers to the now discredited theory of the luminiferous ether. The second one describes the inability of electromagnetic theory to adequately predict the characteristics of thermal radiation.

In essence, the first argument went like this: light is a wave, waves require a medium, the medium for light was called the luminiferous ether, it must be extremely rigid (since light travels so quickly), it must be extremely tenuous (since we can’t detect its drag), rigid and tenuous are adjectives that are incompatible (strong yet soft), Nineteenth Century physics cannot handle this, therefore Nineteenth Century physics is in trouble. The ray of sunshine that dispersed this dark cloud was the theory of relativity devised by Albert Einstein. The major revelations of this theory were that there is no ether, there is no absolute space, there is no absolute time, mass is not conserved, energy is not conserved, and nothing travels faster than light. For awhile, this was the most revolutionary theory in all of physics.

The second dark cloud is the solution to the problem Kelvin called "the Maxwell-Boltzmann doctrine" which lead to the most revolutionary theory in all of physics — quantum mechanics. The major revelations of this theory are that all things are both particles and waves at the same time and that nothing can be predicted or known with absolute certainty.

These arrival of these two revolutionary theories divided physics up into two domains. All theories developed before the arrival of relativity and quantum mechanics and any work derived from them are called classical physics. All theories derived from the basic principles of relativity and quantum mechanics are called modern physics. The word modern was chosen since the foundations of these theories were laid in the first three decades of the Twentieth Century. This the era of modern architecture, modern dance, modern jazz, and modern literature. Modern technologies were starting to appear like electric lights, toasters, refrigerators, sewing machines, radios, telephones, movies, phonograph records, airplanes, automobiles, subways, elevators, skyscrapers, synthetic dyes, nylon, celluloid, machine guns, dynamite, aspirin, and psychology. The early Twentieth Century was filled with revolutionary ideas and inventions. Life now seems unimaginable without them. Modern physics was just one important part of the modern era.

physics.info/news/?p=1406

Chernobyl Nuclear Disatser (1986)

posted Saturday, 25 April 2015

On 26 April 1986 at 01:23:45 Moscow Time, one of the four reactors at the Chernobyl power plant in northern Ukraine exploded. This was and still is the world’s worst nuclear accident.

physics.info/news/?p=1387

Einstein’s third letter to President Roosevelt (1940)

posted Saturday, 25 April 2015

This is only a fragment of Einstein’s third letter to Roosevelt. To read all four letters from Einstein to Roosevelt, follow this link.

April 25, 1940

I am convinced as to the wisdom and the urgency of creating the conditions under which that and related work can be carried out with greater speed and on a larger scale than hitherto. I mwas interested in a suggestion made by Dr. Sachs that the Special Advisory Committee supply names of persons to serve as a board of trustees for a nonprofit organization which, with the approval of the government committee, could secure from governmental or mprivate sources or both, the necessary funds for carrying out the work. Given such a framework and the necessary funds, it (the large-scale experiments and exploration of practical applications) could be carried out much faster than through a loose cooperation of university laboratories and government departments.

physics.info/news/?p=4365

Second North Korean nuclear weapon test (2009)

posted Friday, 24 April 2015

Date: 25 May 2009 (9:54 AM Korea Standard Time)
Code name: unknown
Type: plutonium fission
Yield: less than one thousand tons of TNT
Location: Kilchu-ŭp, North Hamgyŏng
Earthquake magnitude: 4.7

This test is thought to have been successful. The first nuclear weapons test by North Korea on 8 October 2006 is thought to have been a fizzle.

physics.info/news/?p=1534

Soyuz 1 Disaster (1967)

posted Thursday, 23 April 2015

Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov died when his spacecraft crashed on its return to earth. The cause of the crash was a faulty parachute. This was the first in-flight human fatality of the space program.

physics.info/news/?p=1385

Surveyor 3 lands on the moon (1967)

posted Monday, 20 April 2015

Surveyor 3 was the second successful lunar lander of the US space program. It was visited by the astronauts of Apollo 12 in 1969 and parts of it were brought back to earth to study the effects of long term exposure to the harsh lunar environment on human artifacts.

physics.info/news/?p=1381