From colliding neutron stars to death dives into Saturn; we’ve rounded up ten awesome physics stories that hit the headlines this year.
First ever blueprint for large scale quantum computer unveiled
A team of researchers, led by a scientist from the University of Sussex, unveiled the first ever blueprint for building a quantum computer, considered to be the most powerful computer on Earth. Once built the computer would have the potential to create lifesaving medicines, unravel the unknown mysteries of deep space and solve the most mind-boggling scientific problems that a computer today would take billions of years to compute.
Seven Earth-sized worlds found orbiting dwarf star
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope detected seven Earth-size exoplanets orbiting a low-mass cool star called Trappist-1, located 40 light-years (235 trillion miles) away from Earth. The discovery set a new record for the largest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system, and all seven planets could have liquid water on their surfaces under the right atmospheric conditions.
Cosmic-ray particles reveal mysterious ‘void’ in Great Pyramid of Giza
A mysterious void was discovered in the Great Pyramid of Giza using a state-of-the-art scanning process called ‘muography’ that detects tiny cosmic particles called muons. Muons lose energy and decay when they move through matter, and if large numbers are detected it indicates a hole must exist to allow them to pass through unimpeded. A team of scientists from France and Japan announced that months of scanning unveiled a clear void in the pyramid, and Egyptologists believe this discovery could reveal how ancient tombs were constructed.
World’s most powerful X-ray laser unveiled
Europe unveiled the world’s most powerful X-ray laser, called the European X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL). It acts as a high-speed camera that will capture images of individual atoms in a few millionths of a billionth of a second, and its beam is 100 times more intense than all the sunlight hitting the Earth focused onto a single thumbnail. The laser will allow scientists to map atomic details of viruses and study the interior of planets.
Massive Iceberg breaks off Antarctic ice shelf
A giant iceberg four times the size of London broke off an ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula. Scientists say that the 5800-square-kilometre iceberg, weighing more than a trillion tonnes, has reduced the size of the Larsen C Ice Shelf by around 12 per cent and will change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula forever.
Total eclipse of the Sun sweeps across America
On 21 August, a total solar eclipse was visible across America, and was the first such eclipse to go from the west to the east coast of the US in 99 years.
Gravitational waves produced by colliding neutron stars detected for the first time
LIGO and Virgo made the first detection of gravitational waves from two neutron stars colliding. The collision took place in a galaxy called NGC 4993 – 130 million years ago – when dinosaurs roamed the Earth; it was so far away the light and gravitational waves have only just reached us. The neutron stars – small, dense stars that are formed when massive stars explode in supernovas – spiralled around each other and emitted gravitational waves that were detectable for about 100 seconds. When they collided, a flash of light in the form of gamma rays was emitted and seen on Earth about two seconds after the gravitational waves.
Cassini mission ends with probe plunging into Saturn
After thirteen years orbiting Saturn and its moons, the Cassini probe was commanded to destroy itself by plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere. This was because the probe was running out of fuel and there would be no way to control it, running the risk of it crashing into one of Saturn’s moons which could potentially host life and contaminating it.
© Bryce Vickmark / R. Hahn / Keenan Pepper
Gravitational waves win Nobel Prize in physics
This year’s Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to American physicists, Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish for the detection of gravitational waves. The gravitational waves were detected on 14 September 2015, a hundred years after Albert Einstein’s theory was published, and were generated by the collision of two black holes more than 1.3 billion light-years from Earth.
Bizarre shaped asteroid from interstellar space visits our Solar System
A cigar-shaped asteroid from interstellar space was discovered in our Solar System on 19 October 2017. It is suggested that the object, named Oumuamua (pronounced oh MOO-uh MOO-uh) originated in a planetary system around another star, and is about 400m long but only one tenth as wide. It was picked up by the Very Large Telescope in Chile as it swept past the Earth.