#3. The Law of Conservation of Energy? More of a Suggestion, Really
Let's say you have a toy truck, and you angrily smash it into bits with a hammer (because you're a troubled child). You would still have the same amount of truck that you started with, just in a different form than the original. But as you lift your hammer from the pile of toy parts following your last whack, you find that they've completely disappeared from existence.
You know this can't happen because matter cannot be created or destroyed. So at the end of Terminator 2, when the T-1000 fell into the pit of molten ore, that glowing pool of lava had the T-1000's mass and atomic components swimming around in there. The same thing happens when an asteroid gets sucked into a black hole. Even though we can't see inside the black hole, we can tell matter isn't being destroyed because the mass of the black hole increases by one asteroid. This is all making good sense, and then the universe makes like the Terminator timeline and just goes nuts. This happens when the black hole just up and evaporates, leaving scientists wondering where everything that got sucked in there went.
Black holes evaporate over time, and by "evaporate" we mean "disappear from existence," along with everything it sucked in. The science behind this gets pretty complicated, but to put it as simply as possible, when black holes evaporate, they should emit a record of everything that was sucked in there written in the radiation. But according to Stephen Hawking, the black hole only gives off random heat energy.
In layman's terms: If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of getting sucked into a black hole, you disappear completely from existence, as does any evidence that you ever existed.
"And this is possible thanks to a little principal called no goddamn clue. Sorry, guys."
If they'd only thrown the T-1000 into a black hole, and the Terminators had to go back in time before that happened, he wouldn't be in that timeline. Even with time travel, the universe wouldn't know how to put him back together since the black hole that ate him disintegrated into nothing.
#2. The Particle That Knows We're Watching
If you're a sports fan, you've probably experienced the irrational belief that your team's success relies on whether or not you're watching the TV. If you're a nerd, you're probably familiar with the weeping angels from Doctor Who who never moved when being observed. Old wives have been documenting the dramatic effect observation has on whatever you're watching when they noted that "a watched pot never boils."
Tireless research by our interns and the people who hold our interns at gunpoint has found that watched pots do, indeed, boil.
This is, of course, just the human mind finding patterns where they don't exist. To believe their eyes are controlling the outcome of the game, sports fans have to ignore the fact that they are one of thousands who probably believe the timing of their piss break is crucially important to the outcome of the game. The old wives' tale is really just a testament to how boring life used to be for married women over the age of 30. And Doctor Who is about an ugly guy who time travels via phone booth, so it's not the height of scientific rigor. Except that the alien race of angels -- statues when you looked at them, capable of moving at incredible speeds when you weren't -- were actually based on a real, observable scientific paradox known as the Quantum Zeno effect.
Nerds 1- House wives and their football watching husbands 0.
Over the course of a day spent observing some unstable uranium, scientists in Texas noticed something strange. Uranium is unstable and decays over time in a process called radioactive decay. And when they left it alone, unwatched in the petri dish, the uranium did as it was told. But whenever they tried to watch it, the uranium just sat there not really doing anything, like a pot of water mocking an old spinster from a burning stovetop.
The second day came and the same thing happened; the uranium that should have been breaking apart like a sandcastle getting pounded by the waves of each passing second just sat there mocking them. The lab reported their findings to other labs, presumably after putting each other through rigorous psychiatric testing. And somehow, against all reason and logic, it turned out the initial experiment wasn't just everything in Texas being crazy like usual. Everyone else saw the same thing. Certain particles will never decay if you're observing them, which means that you can essentially stop time by paying attention to certain particles.
"I'm God as long as I don't blink."
The paradox defies the law of entropy, as well as common sense, logic and we're pretty sure the Harry Potter universe. This is the equivalent of taking photos of your child so much that she doesn't age, or staring at last night's turkey dinner so that it won't go bad.
We know that certain unstable elements decay. We have evidence of it everywhere in nature. But put them under a microscope and they seize up like a dog who refuses to do the trick you taught him when the neighbor's watching. Except radioactive isotopes aren't supposed to be able to notice stuff like the giant eyeball staring at them behind that plate glass window.
So in case you ever feel like we've got the universe figured out, keep in mind that in certain conditions, the universe appears to be actively keeping secrets from us.
Nobody move. They're watching.
#1. Einstein's Theory: Relatively Full of Crap (Also? Time Travel!)
If the universe had speed limit signs, they would all read 299,792,458 meters per second. That's the speed of light, and according to Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity, this is the maximum speed that energy and matter can travel. For those of us raised on warp speed and hyperdrives, it's easy to miss just how important and concrete this law is. It's the central assumption of Einstein's theory, and pretty much everything that's been written about science for the past half-dozen decades rests on Einstein's theory being true. Back in the 1940s, the scientific community decided to take him at his word because he was on the cutting edge of modern hairstyles and usually knew what he was talking about when it came to science, and they never really looked back.
"Look at the man's mustache. Of course he's an expert."
Enter the experiment known as OPERA (Oscillation Project with three sciencey words that aren't Earned Run Average). In September of 2011, scientists at CERN (Europe's particle-physics lab near Geneva in Switzerland) shot a beam of particles 730 kilometers away to the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Gran Sasso, Italy. The problem was that they showed up 60 nanoseconds early, which doesn't sound like a big margin until you understand that in order for this to happen they would have to have traveled faster than the speed of light.
Those particles were in an awful hurry to get to a pretty boring mountain.
Come on, Italy! Didn't we just go over this -- remember Einstein? We're pretty sure Moses even included something about this in the 10 Commandments. So obviously the entire world was a little skeptical of the discovery and wanted the tests redone. So they did, and scientists worldwide shit their collective pants with each retesting of the findings: Every single rerun produced the same results.
This recent flipping of the modern physics model on its head means that faster-than-light travel is now possible. Not for you (yet), but certain particles can now travel distances that should take thousands of years to cross in seconds. The corners of the farthest galaxies are now fair game, but the most important implication of all is that because the neutrinos travel faster than light, they aren't affected by time the way everything in the visible universe is affected by time. This recent discovery has scientists at CERN toying with the notion of sending neutrino messages to their past selves. Though it's likely a long way off in the future, you did hear that correctly; time travel is now a very real and attainable possibility.
Pictured: The wild-haired man who advanced our understanding of the time space continuum, and some guy with a mustache.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn how to cut your hair just like Einstein's.
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