Not the funky mirror used in this study.

Enlarge / Not the funky mirror used in this study. (credit: Getty Images)

One of the strange truths of the Universe is that magnets always come with two poles. It doesn’t matter how often you cut a magnet in two, both halves will always have a north and a south pole, even down to the level of the smallest particles. The electron, which appears to be indivisible, still has two poles.

But theory tells us otherwise. Theory says that life would be terribly convenient if nature allowed single-poled magnets, otherwise known as monopoles, to exist. The magnetic monopole would, for instance, explain why the electron has a fixed amount of charge. Yet colliders, telescopes, and other instruments have all looked in vain, but no natural monopoles have been found.

That doesn’t stop us from making them, though. What a team of physicists has created is not a true monopole but a kind of analogue of a monopole. As I’m fond of saying, you don’t learn much from analogies, so its existence isn’t necessarily exciting. The technique used to create it, however, was so cool that I couldn’t let that stop me.

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