Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Exploring spiral-host radio galaxies

A galaxy is a gigantic system possessing billions of stars, vast amounts of gas, dust and dark matter held together by gravitational attraction. Typical size of galaxies can be anywhere from a few tens-of-thousands to a few hundreds-of-thousands of light-years.

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Those four new elements

The recent announcement of the official ratification of four super-heavy elements, with atomic numbers 113, 115, 117 and 118, has taken the world of science news by storm. It seems like there is an insatiable appetite for new information about the elements and the periodic table within the scientific world and among the general public.

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The world’s most (in)famous exoplanet vanishes

In 2012, a team of astrophysicists led by Xavier Dumusque caused a sensation when they announced the discovery of Alpha Centauri Bb: an Earth-sized planet in the Alpha Centauri star system, the star system closest to the Sun. If verified, Alpha Centauri Bb would be the closest known exoplanet to our own Solar System, and possibly also the lowest mass planet ever discovered around a star similar to the Sun.

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Holograms and contemporary culture

Holograms are an ironic technology. They encompass a suite of techniques capable of astonishingly realistic imagery (in the right circumstances), but they’re associated with contrasting visions: on the one hand, ambitious technological dreams and, on the other, mundane and scarcely noticed hologram products.

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Holograms and the technological sublime

The hologram is a spectacular invention of the modern era: an innocuous artefact that can miraculously generate three-dimensional imagery. Yet this modern experience has deep roots. Holograms are part of a long lineage: the ability to generate visual “shock and awe” has, in fact, been an important feature of new optical technologies over the past century and a half.

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Climate change – a very difficult, very simple idea

Planet Earth doesn’t have ‘a temperature’, one figure that says it all. There are oceans, landmasses, ice, the atmosphere, day and night, and seasons. Also, the temperature of Earth never gets to equilibrium: just as it’s starting to warm up on the sunny-side, the sun gets ‘turned off’; and just as it’s starting to cool down on the night-side, the sun gets ‘turned on’.

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Where did all the antihadrons go?

Describing the very ‘beginning’ of the Universe is a bit of a problem. Quite simply, none of our scientific theories are up to the task. We attempt to understand the evolution of space and time and all the mass and energy within it by applying Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. This theory works extraordinarily well. But when we’re dealing with objects that start to approach the infinitesimally small – elementary particles such as quarks and electrons – we need to reach for a completely different structure, called quantum theory.

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Max Planck and Albert Einstein

There was much more to Max Planck than his work and research as an influential physicist. For example, Planck was an avid musician, and endured many personal hardships under the Nazi regime in his home country of Germany.

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Einstein’s mysterious genius

Albert Einstein’s greatest achievement, the general theory of relativity, was announced by him exactly a century ago, in a series of four papers read to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin in November 1915, during the turmoil of the First World War. For many years, hardly any physicist—let alone any other type of scientist—could understand it.

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How and why are scientific theories accepted?

November 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. This theory is one of many pivotal scientific discoveries that would drastically influence our understanding of the world around us.

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The case for chemistry

What is all around us, terrifies a lot of people, but adds enormously to the quality of life? Answer: chemistry. Almost everything that happens in the world, in transport, throughout agriculture and industry, to the flexing of a muscle and the framing of a thought involves chemical reactions in which one substance changes into another.

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Max Planck: Einstein’s supportive skeptic in 1915

This November marks the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein completing his masterpiece of general relativity, an idea that would lead, one world war later, to his unprecedented worldwide celebrity. In the run-up to what he called “the most valuable discovery of my life,” he worked within a new sort of academic comfort.

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How did life on earth begin?

News broke in July 2015 that the Rosetta mission’s Philae lander had discovered 16 ‘carbon and nitrogen-rich’ organic compounds on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The news sparked renewed debates about whether the ‘prebiotic’ chemicals required for producing amino acids and nucleotides – the essential building blocks of all life forms – may have been delivered to Earth by cometary impacts.

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Cars – are they a species?

The Edwardian seer and futurologist, H. G. Wells, wondered whether aircrafts would ever be used commercially. He did the calculations and found that, yes, an airplane could be built and, yes, it would fly, but he proclaimed this would never be commercial.

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NASA discovers water on Mars again: take it with a pinch of salt

The discovery of water on Mars has been claimed so often that I’d forgive anyone for being skeptical about the latest announcement. Frozen water, ice, has been proven on Mars in many places, there are lots of ancient canyons hundreds of kilometres long that must have been carved by rivers, and much smaller gullies that are evidently much younger.

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The science of rare planetary alignments

The alignment of both the Sun and the Earth with another planet in the Solar System is a rare event, which we are seldom able to observe in a lifetime. The Sun-Venus-Earth alignment for example only takes place once every 105.5 or 121.5 years. Similarly, the next Sun-Earth-Mars alignment will only occur in 2084. But on 5 January 2014, we were lucky enough to witness one such rare event: the alignment of the Sun, Earth, and Jupiter. Much to our surprise, we saw a new physical effect never observed before.

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