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Physical World

What are fire whirls? | Things to Know

VIDEO: Researchers examine the behavior of these tornado-like fire columns

Fast facts about the Milky Way | Things to Know

VIDEO: Our galaxy may seem humble, but here are a few things to know about what makes it an exceptional place

GPS is going places

Here are five things you didn’t know the navigation system could do

Lessons from scorching hot weirdo-planets

Hot Jupiters were the first kind of exoplanet found. A quarter-century later, they still perplex and captivate — and their origins hold lessons about planet formation in general.

Hotter than the sun: The mysterious solar corona

Several new missions aim squarely at a long-standing astronomical conundrum, with the promise of improving space-weather predictions

The next omics? Tracking a lifetime of exposures to better understand disease

Of the millions of substances people encounter daily, health researchers have focused on only a few hundred. Those in the emerging field of exposomics want to change that.

The life and breath of galaxies

Scientists track gas through time and space to better understand how conglomerations of stars are born and die

How the moon landings changed our view of the solar system

Lunar samples hinted at a barrage of debris pummelling planets billions of years ago. Fifty years after Apollo 11, that story is still unfolding. 

Plasmonics brings the molecular world into sharper focus

People have been using metals to manipulate light for centuries. Now researchers are using it to create powerful biosensors.

The mighty Milky Way

Our galaxy is far bigger, brighter and more massive than most others

As climate changes, so does life in the planet’s soils

To understand what might be lost, ecologist Janet K. Jansson taps molecular methods to explore Earth’s underground microbes, from the permafrost to the grasslands

The story of Snowball Earth

Ancient rocks suggest that ice entirely covered our planet on at least two occasions. This theory may help explain the rise of complex life that followed.

Nuclear goes retro — with a much greener outlook

Returning to designs abandoned in the 1970s, start-ups are developing a new kind of reactor that promises to be much safer and cleaner than current ones.

Unbound and out: Boosted by black holes, stars speed off, leaving clues behind

Space oddities may help reveal dark matter and other secrets in the Milky Way. Astronomer Warren Brown explains.

Lost world: An ancient ninth planet that went missing

Clues hidden in today’s orbits hint at the violent origins of the solar system — and a rogue giant kicked out long ago.

As the Arctic warms, it’s losing more than just ice

SLIDESHOW: Also at risk are the many hidden habitats built into the sea’s frozen wilds.

Humans beat robots, hands down

We can readily manipulate all kinds of objects; for them, versatility is a huge struggle. They need better mechanics — and a lot more of the intelligence that goes into handling things.

Pluto’s layered sky: Hazy with a chance of haze

Three years since New Horizons’ pioneering flyby, scientists consider how the probe has revolutionized our understanding of the dwarf planet’s atmosphere and mega-seasons