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New Time Travel Simulation May Resolve ‘Grandfather Paradox’

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On June 28, 2009, the world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking threw a party at the University of Cambridge, complete with balloons, hors d’oeuvres and iced champagne. Everyone was invited but no one showed up. Hawking had expected as much, because he only sent out invitations after his party had concluded. It was, he said, “a welcome reception for future time travelers,” a tongue-in-cheek experiment to reinforce his 1992 conjecture that travel into the past is effectively impossible.

But Hawking may be on the wrong side of history. Recent experiments offer tentative support for time travel’s feasibility—at least from a mathematical perspective. The study cuts to the core of our understanding of the universe, and the resolution of the possibility of time travel, far from being a topic worthy only of science fiction, would have profound implications for fundamental physics as well as for practical applications such as quantum cryptography and computing.

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GRANDFATHER PARADOX

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Black Holes May Explode Into ‘White Holes’ And Pour All Their Matter Into Space, Physicists Say

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Black holes might end their lives by transforming into their exact opposite — ‘white holes’ that explosively pour all the material they ever swallowed into space, say two physicists. The suggestion, based on a speculative quantum theory of gravity, could solve a long-standing conundrum about whether black holes destroy information.

The theory suggests that the transition from black hole to white hole would take place right after the initial formation of the black hole, but because gravity dilates time, outside observers would see the black hole lasting billions or trillions of years or more, depending on its size. If the authors are correct, tiny black holes that formed during the very early history of the Universe would now be ready to pop off like firecrackers and might be detected as high-energy cosmic rays or other radiation. In fact, they say, their work could imply that some of the dramatic flares commonly considered to be supernova explosions could in fact be the dying throes of tiny black holes that formed shortly after the Big Bang.

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Artist’s conception of a black hole. | MARK GARLICK via Getty Images
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Quantum Computer Technology May Advance Using Rare Holmium Atoms, Scientists Say

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Quantum computers could crack codes and run more complex simulations than current machines, but actually building one is hard to do. The bits that store this complex data don’t last long, because they are made of single atoms that get knocked around by stray electrons and photons in the environment.

Enter a team of physicists at Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. They found a way to get the bits to last long enough to do computations with, using the magnetic properties of a rare earth element called holmium and the symmetry of platinum. The experiment, detailed in tomorrow’s (Nov. 14) issue of the journal Nature, is an important step in creating quantum computers and making quantum memory useful.

What makes quantum computers powerful is the nature of the bit. Ordinary computers have bits that are 1 or 0, stored in the current in a circuit or the alignment of magnetic fields on a disk. Due to the weirdness of quantum physics, quantum bits, called qubits, can be both 0 and 1 at the same time. That means a quantum computer can do certain kinds of calculations much, much faster.

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quantum computer

Quantum computers can process information much faster than current machines. This image depicts “ion trap” technology developed for quantum computing in a similar, unrelated study at Oxford. | Jeff Sherman | Flickr
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‘Schrodinger’s Cat’ Thought Experiment Put To Test By Physicists In Canada, Switzerland

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The strangeness of the world of the very small that allows a particle to be in two states at once may extend to larger scales, two new studies reveal. If the research proves true, that would bolster the validity of a thought experiment suggesting a cat can be both alive and dead at the same time.

The idea, called Schrödinger’s Cat after the physicist,Erwin Schrödinger, who proposed it in 1935, goes like this: Put a cat in a box with a vial of poison gas. The vial opens when a tiny piece of radioactive metal emits an alpha particle (the nucleus of a helium atom) as it decays. Emitting an alpha particle is a quantum-mechanical process, which means that whether it happens in any given stretch of time is basically random.

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schrodinger's cat

Erwin Schrödinger, Austrian physicist. New research bolsters the validity of his thought experiment suggesting a cat can be both alive and dead at the same time.

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