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Stories by George Musser

The Emperor, Darth Vader, and the Ultimate Ultimate Theory of Physics

PASADENA—The theory is so obscure there's not a Wikipedia page about it yet. It might be impossible to formulate mathematically. One theoretical physicist calls it the Emperor Palpatine of theories, even more powerful and inscrutable than the Darth Vader theory that he and others have been studying intensively...

March 30, 2012 — George Musser

Could a Balloon Fly in Outer Space?

Here’s the sort of crazy idea that animates our office conversation at Scientific American . It all started with my colleague Michael Moyer’s joke that a certain politician could build his moon base using a balloon: just capture the hot air and float all the way up...

January 26, 2012 — George Musser

Magnetoastrocoolness: How Cosmic Magnetic Fields Shape Planetary Systems

AUSTIN, Texas—Astrophysicists have a funny attitude toward magnetic fields. You might say they feel both repelled and attracted. Gravitation is assumed to rule the cosmos, so models typically neglect magnetism, which for most researchers is just as well, because the theory of magnetism has a forbidding reputation...

January 13, 2012 — George Musser

Astronomers Catch Black Hole Spitting Out Material

AUSTIN, Tex.—One of the great ironies of the universe is that black holes, the ultimate vacuum cleaners, create more of a mess than they clean up. (It is a complaint that many people who finally prevailed on spouses and roommates to clean up after themselves might appreciate.) How is it that, in sucking up surrounding material, they squirt much of it right back out?...

January 10, 2012 — George Musser

Science Is the 99 Percent

AUSTIN—A regular feature of American Astronomical Society conferences is an evening lecture on the state of science funding. Let's just say it's not a great date night.

January 10, 2012 — George Musser

Melting Glaciers Muck Up Earth's Gravitational Field

Photographs never quite capture the sparkling blue tint of glacial ice, so when I visited the Perito Moreno glacier in Patagonia on a backpacking trip through South America some years ago, I was happy to get this camera angle: the blue of the Argentine flag gives you a sense of what the blue of the ice looks like in person...

December 22, 2011 — George Musser

What the World Looks Like, If You Move Backward in Time [Video]

Oops, I said my last post on the recent Foundational Questions Institute conference would be my final one, but I can't resist just one more. At the conference, Gavin Crooks at Lawrence Berkeley Labs, who studies molecular machines and gave a great talk on how life balances time asymmetry with thermodynamic efficiency, showed this brilliant short film by Rocketboom...

September 26, 2011 — George Musser

How Life Arose on Earth, and How a Singularity Might Bring It Down

It didn't take long for the recent Foundational Questions Institute conference on the nature of time to delve into the purpose of life. "The purpose of life," meeting co-organizer and Caltech cosmologist Sean Carroll said in his opening remarks, "is to hydrogenate carbon dioxide." Well, there you have it...

September 23, 2011 — George Musser
Do Physicists Make the World a Better Place?

Do Physicists Make the World a Better Place?

This past week, I’ve been attending the Foundational Questions Institute conference on the nature of time, and in the coming weeks, I hope to share with you some of the mind-blowing things I’ve found out...

September 2, 2011 — George Musser

Can You Really Get Solar Panels Installed for Free?

It sounds too good to be true: you can go solar without paying a cent. I first mentioned this proposition, known formally as a power-purchase agreement, two years ago: a company such as SunRun or SolarCity installs panels on your roof at its expense and, in exchange, collects the government subsidies...

August 22, 2011 — George Musser
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