A curious observer’s guide to quantum mechanics, pt. 4: Looking at the stars

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One of the quietest revolutions of our current century has been the entry of quantum mechanics into our everyday technology. It used to be that quantum effects were confined to physics laboratories and delicate experiments. But modern technology increasingly relies on quantum mechanics for its basic operation, and the importance of quantum effects will only grow in the decades to come. As such, physicist Miguel F. Morales has taken on the herculean task of explaining quantum mechanics to the rest of us laymen in this seven-part series (no math, we promise). Below is the fourth story in the series, but you can always find the starting story plus a landing page for the entire series thus far on site.

Beautiful telescopic images of our Universe are often associated with the stately, classical physics of Newton. While quantum mechanics dominates the microscopic world of atoms and quarks, the motions of planets and galaxies follow the majestic clockwork of classical physics.

But there is no natural limit to the size of quantum effects. If we look closely at the images produced by telescopes, we see the fingerprints of quantum mechanics. That’s because particles of light must travel across the vast reaches of space in a wave-like way to make the beautiful images we enjoy.

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