This week has been really generous in terms of major physics breakthroughs and our job, as always, is to summarize these top discoveries. Thus here are the top 3 physics news stories of the week, including useful links. To receive these news straight to your email, register for our email newsletter.
The recent major astrophysical discovery of the minute gravitational distortions in polarized radiation from the early universe, as physicists believe, will play a major role in answering many important physics questions. An good example of this is the question of the mass of neutrinos. In particular, scientists could narrow down the current estimates of neutrino masses. In addition, the radiation could even provide physicists with clues to another outstanding problem about our universe: how the invisible “dark matter” and “dark energy,” which has been undetectable through modern telescopes, may be distributed throughout the universe.
The current limits indicate that neutrinos have masses below 1.5 electron volts. Chang Feng, the lead author of the recent paper on the discovery, said that the B-mode polarization data in his study, while consistent with the predictions of general relativity, is not statistically significant enough yet to make any firm claims about neutrino masses. However, the next year, he hopes to analyze enough data from POLARBEAR, and its successor instrument — the Simons Array — to provide more certainty about the masses of neutrinos. “Using the tools Chang has developed, it’s only a matter of time before we can weigh the neutrino, the only fundamental elementary particle whose mass is unknown. That would be an astounding achievement for astronomy, cosmology and physics itself,” said colleague Brian Keating.
Discovery after discovery, scientists are moving closer to the full understanding of the big bang
The humankind has been fascinating with lightning for hundreds of thousands of years, however, it is still not exactly how lightning bolts form. A recent discovery might hold a clue to the origin of lightning bolts. In particular, researchers at the University of Reading, UK, now say that solar wind has a role. As high-speed solar-wind particles travel through space, they can lead to localized strengthening of the magnetic field, which pushes some of the particles to even higher speeds. These so-called solar energetic particles (SEPs) — unlike other those that travel at slower speeds — have enough energy to penetrate Earth’s magnetic field and to travel through the atmosphere, down to the altitudes where thunderclouds form. To find out more about the discovery use the link above.
Imperial College London physicists have discovered how to create matter from light – a feat thought impossible when the idea was first theorised 80 years ago.
Breit and Wheeler, back in 1934, suggested that it should be possible to turn light into matter by smashing together only two photons, to create an electron and a positron – the simplest method of turning light into matter ever predicted. The calculation was found to be theoretically sound but Breit and Wheeler said that they never expected anybody to physically demonstrate their prediction. The new research, published in Nature Photonics, shows for the first time how Breit and Wheeler’s theory could be proven in practice. The proposed experiment, using already available technology, would recreate a process that was important in the first 100 seconds of the universe and that is also seen in gamma ray bursts, which are the biggest explosions in the universe and one of physics’ greatest unsolved mysteries.