The science of invisibility cloaks

Something like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak might actually be the best way to become invisible in real life. Unfortunately, it surely won’t be here for your next Christmas gifts, although scientists are trying (with some success) to understand how to make one.

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How to find a Mayan city with physics

Thousands of previously unknown Maya structures reveal interconnected cities, defensive walls, landscape architecture, plus space and organization indicating millions of people living there. And they were found thanks to physics.


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How do metal detectors work?

You know the drill: hand luggage in the X-ray thingy, put coins-phone-keys-bracelets-watch-necklace in the tray and ready for the metal detector. How the eff does it know I forgot to take off my stupid belt?!

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Phenomenal cosmic power, itty bitty living space

Wouldn’t it be great to take the universe in the lab? Astronomy is one of the most captivating parts of physics. I mean, one can’t scoff at the idea of unveiling the mysteries of the cosmos. Unfortuntely, galaxies and black holes don’t exactly cooperate as far as experimenting goes.

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Two equations are enough to go to the Moon

Even though going to the Moon seems hard (I think someone mentioned it), it actually takes just two simple rules. Both were discovered by world-renowned physicist and a-hole Isaac Newton, whose birthday is at some point during the holidays.

What a jolly festive fellow! credit:

First off, the mighty a=F/m (more widely known as F=m a). It simply means that dividing the force (F) acting on an object by its mass of the object (m), gives by how much the object accelerates (a). This general formula tells you your rocket will move, so it’s clearly rather important for your journey to the moon.

Not only that, it’s also at the core of how rockets move at all. In fact, rocket propulsion is based on that weird “equal and opposite reaction” business you probably heard of.

Take a balloon and inflate it: if you let it go, it flies away (making a fart noise). The air inside it is pushed out by pressure. However, if you take the balloon and air combined, no new force is acting when you release the balloon, so, as a whole, balloon and air must have zero acceleration. Because the balloon is pushing air out, there must be a force as intense (equal) pushing back (opposite) on the balloon. Rockets are the same, just with fancy tech to be more efficient.

CC-BY-ND mfrascella/flickr

The other equation Newton found was the one to calculate the force of gravity. That was pure genius. And it’s pretty important for your lunar journey, since gravity most of the force you’ll have to navigate: Earth’s, chaining your rocket to the ground and yanking it off the sky, and the Moon’s, tugging it to its destination. Know gravity’s workings and you can start charting your way to the stars.

Easy, ain’t it?

Not so much: astronauts—freaking jet-fighter pilots with engineering degrees—take theoretical classes to learn how to steer spacecrafts. And even before that, you’ll need a spacecraft. It’ll need enough oomph to escape Earth, but be sturdy enough to not explode in the process, and take you back in one non-crispy piece.

That’s why Newton never went to space.

Still, at its core, space travel is all about his equations. All the research from all the super-smart people in space agencies: it’s all aimed at improving our use of those two simple rules.

Thanks and happy birthday, you insufferable genius! Whenever it is.

And to you all: happy holidays!
If you want more
  • If you get a chance, watch episode 3 of Cosmos: you haven’t heard about Newton’s work on gravity if you haven’t heard Neil deGrasse Tyson tell you about it
  • Space tech might be on the way to surpass Newton. But it’s all very vague—and frankly weird

Cover photo: CC0 27707/pixabay