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Physical World

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

How to build a mountain range

Geologists explore the rise of the Andes, whose high-altitude peaks and plateau alter global climate.

3-D printing finds a custom foothold in manufacturing

From rocket thrusters to shoe soles, additive technologies expand their sights

Making sense of many universes

The idea of a multiverse — multiple realms of space differing in basic properties of physics — bugs some scientists. Others find it a real possibility that should not be ignored.

Building planets, piece by piece

The theory of “pebble accretion” explains how infant worlds got so big so quickly

Invisibility aside, metamaterials are making waves

Materials that manipulate light and sound in ways not seen in nature may be ready for prime time, improving imaging and communications

Marine wildlife is starting to suffocate

Global warming and agricultural runoff have driven the loss of oxygen in oceans around the world, with looming ecological consequences.

The base of the iceberg: It’s big and teeming with life

Passing chunks of ice can fertilize ocean waters and play a role in the planet’s carbon cycle