Quantum Paths Of Desire And Other Amazing Images Of The Week

Solving the mysteries of the universe

A Path Of Desire

In one way or another, we’ve all heard of the path of least resistance, or path of desire. In physics, this means that an object will travel from one point to another in the most efficient way possible. But for quantum particles, the laws of classical physics go out the window. After decades of fine-tuning the right tools and conditions, physicists at Washington University in St. Louis have finally been able to chart a quantum particle’s ideal path of desire.

A Lost Locust, Refound

50 years after it was found in the Dominican Republic, well-preserved amber is finally re-emerging from the vaults of the Illinois Natural History Survey. Inside the amber lies a unique array of impeccably-preserved insects that have given researchers new insights into how insects have evolved. In the amber, they discovered a new species of pygmy locust that lived between 18 to 20 million years ago. The locust had vestigial (non-functional) wings, which was a transitional phase between the winged locusts of the past and today’s non-winged varieties.

A Sexy Glow

Did you know that parrots are one of the few animals with flourescent feathers? Well, you can’t see it with the naked eye, but they know it’s there. These budgerigar parrots, illuminated here with UV light (like that sweet blacklight you would use at college parties), use their appealing plumage as a sexual signal; according to a recent study, females may prefer males with brighter plumage.

The Cheesy Microbiome

Sometimes the radiating aroma of a delicious stinky cheese serves as a good reminder for the gluttonous microbes and fungi that lie within. But even though humans have been making cheese for centuries, scientists didn’t know much about the unique makeup of microbes in different varieties of cheese. In a recent study, researchers found some surprises, like marine-based bacteria living in cheeses made far from the coast. This image is a closeup of robiola, an Italian cheese, with its resident fuzzy mold (left) and Proteobacteria (dots on right).

Wild Star-Forming Disks

Planets in a solar system all tend to orbit around the same plane. But for exoplanets outside, orbits are far less predictable; they can behave irregularly or have odd shapes or alignments. But researchers at the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile have gotten their first clear glimpse of two young stars with gas clouds that are in very different alignments, despite being a binary system. As the stars in HK Tauri cool, their gas clouds will clump together to form planets, which may be pulled in different directions thanks to the competing gravitational pulls of the misaligned stars. This image is an artist’s rendering of ALMA’s discovery.

Birds’ Flights Match Quantum Predictions

More quantum news this week takes a surprising shape: the movements of starling flocks, for example. Italian physicists recently noted that the movement of starling flocks mirrors the quantum dynamics of superfluid helium. For both the birds and helium, the point when they change direction is a moment of weakness; the flock isn’t flying as cohesively as it could, so that’s when predators like peregrine falcons have their best opportunity to attack.