Thought Experiments


April Fools’ Physics

If you thought that physicists couldn’t take a joke, a web site called arXiv begs to differ.

Arxiv is a preprint server, meaning that it’s where you can get an advance look at papers that haven’t yet been published in scientific journals. Of course, not every paper that appears on the arXiv is bound for The Astrophysical Journal. And every year, just around April Fools’ Day, a crop of unusual papers tends to appear on the site.

After all, April Fools’ Day brings out the geeky best in us all. So let’s celebrate the week of pranks and pratfalls with some highlights from this year’s April Fools’ day haul:

Non-detection of the Tooth Fairy at Optical Wavelengths: “A wisdom tooth, freshly removed from the author’s lower left jaw, was placed under a pillow, upon which the author subsequently laid her head and fell asleep. The telescope was programmed to obtain an eight-hour time series of a six-meter-radius circle centered on the author’s sleeping bag. For a distance of 17 meters, the limiting absolute magnitude M is 99.7.”

On the influence of the Illuminati in astronomical adaptive optics: “It is clear that the Illuminati are alive and well in modern times (Brown 2000). For instance, it is well known that pop stars Britney Spears and Lady Gaga have been aided in their astronomical rise to the top by the Illuminati (YouTube 2012). The secret to success in ground-based diffraction-limited astronomical imaging is less well known.”

Gods as Topological Invariants: “We show that the number of gods in a universe must equal the Euler characteristics of its underlying manifold. By incorporating the classical cosmological argument for creation, this result builds a bridge between theology and physics and makes theism a testable hypothesis. Theological implications are profound since the theorem gives us new insights in the topological structure of heavens and hells. Recent astronomical observations can not reject theism, but data are slightly in favor of atheism.”

And one from last year:

Schrödinger’s Cat is not Alone: “Cat interferometry will inevitably lead to the ‘Many Cats’ interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, allowing to shed new light on old mysteries and paradoxes. For example, according to this interpretation, conservative estimates show that decision making of a single domestic cat will create about 550 billion whole universes every day, with as many replicas of itself.”

Of course, arXiv isn’t the only place to find physics pranks. The Museum of Hoaxes maintains a colorful list of the top scientific April Fools’ Day pranks, including:

The bigon: On April 1, 1996 Discover magazine announced the discovery of a new subatomic particle, the bigon. According to scientist responsible for the breakthrough, Discover reported, “Bigons could be responsible for ball lightning, migraines, the unexplained failures of equipment and soufflés, the spontaneous human combustion.”

The lost day: In 2004, Nature got in on the fun with a report the trade winds had blown an entire day—specifically, April 1—off the calendar.

Have you been a part of a great science prank? Tell us about it—or tell us about the prank you only wish you could pull off.

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Kate Becker

    Kate Becker is the editor of The Nature of Reality, where it is her mission to blow your mind with physics. Kate studied physics at Oberlin College and astronomy at Cornell University, and spent seven years as senior researcher for NOVA and NOVA scienceNOW. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.