Physics


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Saturn’s rings were discovered by Christiaan Huygens in 1659. This image was taken by the Cassini-Huygens mission in 2016 and shows the entire north pole bathed in the continuous sunlight of summer. Photo Courtesy NASA/JPL

Essay/
History of science
Huygens, senior and junior

How a father’s mere curiosity about nature evolved during the Dutch Golden Age into the son’s focused scientific enquiry

Hugh Aldersey-Williams

Engineers prepare to enter HAM 6 (left) to install the new septum window between HAM 5 and 6 through which LIGO’s laser beam passes. Staff must wear full bunny suits and goggles to protect their eyes from any stray laser light. The structure visible inside HAM 6 supports the photodetector that ultimately detects gravitational waves. Photo courtesy Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

Essay/
Philosophy of science
Keep science irrational

Is hard data the only path to scientific truth? That’s an absurd, illogical and profoundly useful fiction

Michael Strevens

Viewed from the International Space Station, stars glitter in the night sky above the Earth’s atmospheric glow. Photo courtesy Nasa

Essay/
Cosmology
Big space

Our planet is a tiny porthole, looking over a cosmic sea. Can we learn what lies beyond our own horizons of perception?

Katie Mack

A section of the Andromeda galaxy M31, from the largest and most detailed image ever taken with the Hubble telescope. The full image shows more than 100 million stars stretching across more than 40,000 light years. Photo courtesy NASA, ESA, J Dalcanton, B F Williams, L C Johnson (University of Washington), the PHAT team and R Gendler

Essay/
Astronomy
Does dark matter exist?

Dark matter is the most ubiquitous thing physicists have never found: it’s time to consider alternative explanations

Ramin Skibba

On a mountain road from Koya to Ryujin, Japan. 1998. Photo by Peter Marlow/Magnum

Essay/
Physics
From chaos to free will

A crude understanding of physics sees determinism at work in the Universe. Luckily, molecular uncertainty ensures this isn’t so

George Ellis

At the European Southern Observatory, La Silla, Chile. Photo courtesy Alan Fitzsimmons/ESO

Essay/
Cosmology
Fate of the Universe

Are we part of a dying reality or a blip in eternity? The value of the Hubble Constant could tell us which terror awaits

Corey S Powell

Photo by Peter Marlow/Magnum

Essay/
Philosophy of science
What’s everything made of?

To answer whether the fundamental building blocks of reality are particles, fields or both means thinking beyond physics

Charles Sebens

Parallax (Candles) (1951). Courtesy the Estate of Berenice Abbott/Getty Images

Essay/
Philosophy of science
But is it science?

Theoretical physicists who say the multiverse exists set a dangerous precedent: science based on zero empirical evidence

Jim Baggott

Photo courtesy ESA/Hubble/NASA, Fillipenko, Jansen

Essay/
Quantum theory
Splitting the Universe

Hugh Everett blew up quantum mechanics with his Many-Worlds theory in the 1950s. Physics is only just catching up

Sean Carroll

‘Hume’s philosophy of time shows the fundamental relevance of the relation between an observer and a reference object.’ Photo by Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times/Getty

Essay/
History of science
No absolute time

Two centuries before Einstein, Hume recognised that universal time, independent of an observer’s viewpoint, doesn’t exist

Matias Slavov

Out of time; ‘Rocket’ Ronnie O’Sullivan at the practice table during the German Masters snooker tournament at the Tempodrom in Berlin. Photo by Stefan Boness/Ipon/Panos

Essay/
Physics
The ABC of time

In our Universe, time seems to go from past to future, not in reverse. But what if time doesn’t even have a direction?

Matt Farr

Spaceborne Imaging Radar photo of the autonomous republic of Tuva, the subject of Richard Feynmann’s intense interest during the latter part of his life and documented in Tuva or Bust! by Ralph Leighton. Photo taken from Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1994. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL

Idea/
Thinkers and theories
Richard Feynman was wrong about beauty and truth in science

Massimo Pigliucci