10 physics facts to make your brain explode: Part two

Click here for part one.

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  1. Observer’s effect

Now that we’re properly in the realm of the peculiar, here’s another little tidbit that can, at best, be described as bizarre. Immortalized in the form of the famous Schrodinger’s Cat experiment, the Observer’s Effect is known to confound every one. Basically, it entails (hypothetically) trapping a cat in a box along with a vial of poison, such that there is a fifty percent chance that the poison kills the cat. Now there is no way to verify whether the cat is dead or alive without opening the box (aka making an observation). So, Schrodinger hypothesized that as long as the box is closed the cat is both dead and alive and us making an observation causes the cat to either die or live.

Remember how we talked about light being both a wave and a particle? This thought experiment is the exact same thing. Light can be both a particle and wave. The cat can be both dead and alive. Our observation changes the result!

The mind-boggling part is, this experiment has been carried out and proven to be true. No actual cats were harmed, of course. The experiment is called the Young’s Double Slit Experiment and makes for an insanely interesting read.

  1. Black holes are more or less invisible

Enough with the idiosyncrasies of the tiny. Now let’s have a look at the eccentricities of the huge!

Thanks to the fame provided by Interstellar, black holes have become topics of everyday conversation. Mysterious regions of space that allow nothing to escape, even light.  One of the consequences of this is that we can’t directly see a black hole. Since they emit no light, there is no way we can detect them using simple telescopes. Don’t worry though. These star eating giants can be seen indirectly, by noting their effect on the surrounding space. So for example if a star gets too close to the black hole, it will begin to be sucked into it. As the star spills into the black hole, it forms a bright accretion disk (much like the one in Interstellar) and emits X-rays. These can then be easily detected.

Black holes are enigmatic. But they are not the only mysterious lurkers in our Universe…

  1. Dark Matter

Consider this. Take into account every observable thing in the Universe. From your favorite childhood toy to every Galaxy there is. Everything that can be observed directly or detected using instruments. Now, take a guess as to the percentage of the Universe this ‘matter’ forms. Ready? The correct answer is 5 percent. Yes, you read that right. A measly five percent. Everything that we have ever seen constitutes just five percent of the total matter in the Universe. In fact, the Universe is six times more populated with ‘Dark Matter’ than normal matter. But what is this dark matter? You see, we’re not too sure. We know that it’s invisible, that is, it doesn’t interact with electromagnetic force. We know it’s not in the form of planets and stars. We know it’s not antimatter. We also know that it’s the reason that galaxies are still intact in spite of their high-velocity rotation.

Lastly, we know there is a long way to go before we understand our Universe completely.

  1. Dark Energy

At its core, the Big Bang Theory is simple. (The actual theory, not the show.) Billions of years ago, there was a bang and out flew all sorts of debris that went to form the present day Universe. It’s a well-known fact that even today the Universe is expanding. But common sense suggests that after enough time passes, the rate of expansion will decrease. This was the prevalent notion of physicists before 1998. What happened in 1998? Well, we sent a telescope in space. And it showed that the rate of expansion of the Universe, was in fact, increasing! It is similar to throwing a ball up in the air and instead of slowing down and falling back on your face, it continues to accelerate indefinitely.

After a lot of chin scratching and exasperated grumblings, we came up with the notion of dark energy. Making up about 68% of the Universe, dark energy is a strange -and as of now- unexplained property of space whose effects are undiluted even in time. It is responsible for the acceleration of the expansion of the Universe and the inadvertent cause of much panic in 1998.

  1. Multiverse

If there is one thing that Physics has taught us, it is that the Universe is vast and complicated and replete with mysteries. But if there was one thing we were sure of (or thought we were sure of), it was that this universe was the only one. As it turns out, we aren’t quite the special snowflake. Although it’s still a hotly contested issue, many physical theories point towards the existence of an infinite number of parallel universes. Remember the cat that we trapped in a box with a vial of poison? Turns out it is both dead and alive, just in different Universes. Instead of considering only one possible outcome of the experiment as objectively true, we can choose to accept that all possible outcomes are true. The rules of quantum mechanics allow it. And quantum mechanics isn’t alone in predicting an infinite number of yous and mes. Other theories, such as the string theory, also hint at multiple parallel universes.

So there is a parallel universe in which you win the Nobel Peace Prize, one in which you are the President of the United States and even one in which the human race is ruled by egotistical, arrogant cats and the official language of communication is meownese.

So there you have it! I’d leave you to chew upon these whilst I go forage for something else interesting for next week.

Until next time.

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