Here is a list of 10 scientific phenomenon that will screw your mind.

1. Magnetars

10. Magnetars

These things throw bigger tantrums than your nephew, and are the universe’s poster boys for the Napoleon Complex. They have an average diameter of just 20 kilometers, and are more massive in mass than the Sun.

The really impressive thing about these stars is their ridiculously strong magnetic fields, which are billions of times stronger than the Earth’s. Even at a distance of 1000 kilometers from the star, its magnetic field is so strong that it makes the chemistry of life impossible because of how much it warps the electron clouds around an atom, and the atom itself.

But wait, there’s more! These tiny terrors can polarize space and as if that wasn’t enough, they fire off bursts of gamma rays at random. These bursts aren’t as strong as full blown gamma ray bursts, but they make up for that by not being a one-time thing.

2. The Quantum Zeno Effect

9. The Quantum Zeno Effect

Many of us have at least heard of radioactive decay. You have an unstable particle, such as the nucleus of Uranium. The Uranium nucleus is unstable, and so to reach a more stable, lower energy state, it splits into two smaller nuclei and releases some energy in the process. There’s no question about whether this will happen; it will decay.

Unless it doesn’t… Enter the Quantum Zeno Effect. It seems that radioactive particles get stage fright just like us humans. Jokes aside, this is a really weird occurrence. By observing the system before it decays, you essentially freeze time for the particle, causing it to stay in its original state. This is the equivalent of taking photos of your child so much that she doesn’t age, or staring at last night’s turkey dinner so that it doesn’t go bad.

3. Gravity

8. Gravity

Depending on what theory of physics you subscribe to, gravity might be real, or it might not.

Particle physics will often employ the use of the graviton to smooth out the wrinkles that arise in theories when you try to apply quantum physics to gravity. On the topic of particle physics and gravity, it’s worth mentioning that gravity makes absolutely no sense. It’s by far the weakest force, but is also the force responsible for matter forming structures like galaxies and clusters.

However, other theories don’t consider gravity to be an actual thing, let alone a force. Instead, these theories, namely general relativity, say that matter exists in spacetime, and that spacetime is distorted by matter. What we observe as gravity is actually just matter tending toward the lowest energy state in our region, the center of the source of the distortion. This removes the necessity for a gravitational force, and thus, the necessity for the graviton.

4. Forces

7. Forces

No, not the Dark Side and the Light Side. The fundamental forces in our universe. The two known to most people are gravity (see above for gravity) and electromagnetism. There are, however, two others: the weak and strong nuclear forces.

So, what’s weird about forces? Well, for starts, forces act between particles by exchanging what are called “force carrier particles”. Even weirder is that these particles are considered virtual; they only exist for a limited time. As the image shows, each force has its own force carriers. Each of these force carriers has a unique mass, usually given in units of electronvolts.

What’s really cool about the particles is that they help explain why some forces-like the weak and strong nuclear forces-have such short ranges, while the others such as gravity and electromagnetism have infinite range.

Basically, the more massive the virtual force carrier, the more energy is required to keep it in existence without breaking the conservation of energy and mass. This means that force carriers with higher mass don’t last as long as lower mass force carriers. In the cases of gravity and electromagnetism, the force carriers are massless and travel at the speed of light, thus meaning they have infinite range.

5. Dimensions

6. Dimensions

Getting a headache trying to figure out how the motion in the animation above could happen? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. In fact, no human can visualize how it’s happening.

Why? Because it’s moving in a higher dimension than we experience. Visualize an x, y graphing plane. The two axes intersect at right angles to each other. Now throw in a z axis perpendicular to both and you end up with what’s called a space. Now try adding another axis that’s perpendicular to the x, y and z axes. Getting a headache again?

The thought experiment you just did is actually rather old. The question of higher dimensions existing has been around for quite some time, but only recently have physicists started taking the possibility seriously. In fact, many versions of String Theory, the most likely candidate for a “Theory of Everything,” require higher dimensions in order to work properly.

Another property of higher dimensions that many of us may have learned from sci-fi shows is that higher dimensions can act as shortcuts between two points in our 3 dimensional spacetime. A good analogy is this: You have a worm on an apple that wants to get to the other side. It could crawl along the surface of the apple, in which case it can move in only 2 dimensions, up and down or forward and backwards. Or, it could move in the third dimension by crawling through a hole in the apple. Taking the 2nd route, the worm would travel a shorter distance to reach the same point.

And that’s where the term “wormhole” comes from!

6. Curvature of Space

5. Curvature of Space

This topic ties in pretty closely with that of dimensions, but I thought that it was cool enough to merit its own number.

If you start from the equator on the Earth and head straight up to the North Pole, turn left 90 degrees, walk down to the equator, turn left 90 degrees again and walk straight, you’ll find at some point that you’re back where you started. But wait, how? In order for that to happen, you’d have to make another 90 degree left turn!

That observation would be true if you were moving on a flat surface. An interesting visualization is how, when moving on the surface of the Earth, it seems we are taking the shortest path when walking straight towards a location. However, if you were to watch someone from orbit as they move from point A to point B on the surface, you would note that they are actually taking a curved path, not a straight one, due to the 2 dimensional surface of the Earth being curved. The same could be said for a being in the 4th dimension observing us moving in the 3rd dimension. As it turns out, physicists are pretty confident that our universe is naturally flat.

7. Quantum Entanglement

4. Quantum Entanglement

One of the few things that has remained constant in physics for the last 100 years is the speed of light being the maximum speed possible. No matter where we observe it, its speed is always the same, and nothing goes faster than it.

Well, maybe not everything. Like many things in quantum physics, quantum entanglement doesn’t seem to care about what we think shouldn’t happen.

The basic example of quantum entanglement is with two electrons. Essentially, the pair can only have one electron with an up spin, and one with a down spin (not really spinning, it’s just an analogy). Once you observe the spin of one, you instantly know that the other electron has the opposite spin. Doesn’t seem to confusing, right? Correct, until you consider the fact that this is the case no matter how far away from each other they are. They could be on opposite sides of the universe, and you would still gain that information instantaneously, meaning that you just obtained information from the other side of the universe faster than light can travel! Neat, huh? Although the things you can do with this information is, put simply; jack squat, well at least for now.

8. Black Holes

3. Black Holes

The object at the center of a black hole is pretty weird in and of itself, since it is an object that, in this case, has mass, but is dimensionless. It’s basically like if you gave one of the points on a coordinate plane the ability to warp the plane around it.

Additionally, if someone were to watch you as you approached the event horizon of a black hole, you’d never win. The closer you get to the event horizon, the slower you appear to move to an outside observer, until you eventually just stop for them. But for you, it’s a different and more painful story.

Your story begins with why a black hole is black. The escape velocity, the velocity you need to reach in order to break-free of black hole’s gravitational pull is higher than the speed of light. Light basically ends up orbiting the black hole. Now, for you, you actually cross the event horizon without too much difficulty. However, as you get closer to the singularity, the gravitational forces at your feet are immensely stronger than those at your head, stretching you and your atoms out like a spaghetti noodle, an event termed “Spaghettification” (yes it’s a real scientific term). Any path you take once you pass the event horizon always leads back to the singularity, and eventually become one with the singularity itself.

9. The Quantum Foam

2. The Quantum Foam

We’ve heard it since at least sixth grade: “Space is a vacuum, and vacuums are empty, so space is empty!” For the most part this is correct. But once again, quantum physics just has to be different, and so we get phenomena like the Quantum Foam.

Down at the Planck Length (1.61619926×10−35 meters, the smallest length we can see down to), spacetime starts looking like a hallucination of someone tripping on massive amounts of LSD. Stuff literally just pops into existence for a millionth of a fraction of a second and disappears. Black holes; wormholes; particles and their antimatter analogues appear out of nothing and then collide with each other and annihilate; baby universes (which our universe might have started off as).

But how? Turns out that down at the Planck Length, the Uncertainty Principle allows energy to change into particles and their antiparticle analogue.

10. Physics and Sentient Beings

1. Physics and Sentient Beings clip_image011

Of all the fields of study, physics unarguably has more mind screws than any other. This is an inherent part of the field; each time we find the answer to one question, hundreds more take its place. Suddenly, all the things we thought we understood are flipped on their heads, and we’re given a whole new way of seeing even the simplest of events and objects.

As our technology progresses and our grasp of mathematics strengthens, scientists find themselves able to test and do things once relegated to the realm of metaphysics or science fiction: once seen as the epitome of metaphysics, other universes with different laws of physics are a completely acceptable implication in a number of popular theories. Recently, MIT and Harvard scientists have been able to get two photons to bind together and form a molecule; last year CERN announced the discovery of the Higgs Boson, something physicists have been looking for since 1964, and plays a pivotal role in the Standard Model.

Arthur C. Clarke gave a remarkably accurate description of the nature of physics and the progression of the understanding of it we have in his 3 concise laws:

1) When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

2) The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

3) Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

However: physics; the universe; mathematics; everything, even nothing, is meaningless without something there to look at it and, in whatever their equivalent to human thought is, ask “what,” “where,” “when,” “how,” and, most importantly, “WHY.” Your ability to do this and in your own unique way- get the answers to those questions, makes you the weirdest thing to exist.

Last Update: July 22, 2020

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