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Worlds - On your quantum physics exhibit, you briefly touched
on the multiple realities theory. I was wondering if you could
go into a bit more detail.- Quinn
unfamiliar with quantum physics may want to visit our page
to get some background before reading this answer.
that we may live in a multiverse (multiple-universes) has gotten
increasing attention in the last few years. There are several
different reasons scientists think that we may live in a multiverse.
One multi-verse theory arises out of the idea that the universe
is infinite, and therefore everything eventually repeats itself.
Another theory is that since laws of physics that make life in
our universe possible are improbable, there must be infinite other
universes with different laws where life could not arise. However,
today we will talk only about multiple universes that arise out
of quantum theory, as that was the subject of the original article.
mechanics is the physics we use to deal with the smallest things
in the universe such as electrons, protons and other sub-atomic
particles. One characteristic of these particles is that we know
that they can exist in "superposition." That is they can be in
two or more possible locations or states at the same time.
have been puzzled by this. We never see this kind of thing in
the world of macro objects. (The paper weight on your desk is
always in only one location at a time) We also know that whenever
one of these particles in superposition is observed (or measured)
they seem to suddenly decide to jump into one definite state/location
or another. But how do the particles know they are being observed?
level, do we even care if they are in superposition or not? After
all they are just tiny, little things.
the problem is that we are made up of just tiny things like atoms
and molecules. So it seems that is possible that we might be able
to exist in two different states/locations at the same time too.
Yet, again, we never see this in our full-sized world.
that observation somehow causes the particles to jump into a definite
states/locations has bothered a lot of scientists. Why should
this happen with an observer? Why is he special? And if the observer
is also made of things that can be in superposition too, what
does that mean? American physicist Hugh Everett III suggested
that rather than these particles collapsing into definite states,
maybe instead the universe actually splits. One new universe for
each possible state or location that the particle could be in.
This gets rid of the whole concern about the particle jumping
into a state and the need for it to be observed (or measured)
to do that.
of multiple universes, which has gotten the moniker the "Many
Worlds Interpretation" (MWI), clears up a lot of problems with
quantum mechanics, so many of physicists think it might be right.
as one person pointed out, the accuracy of a theory is not determined
by polling scientists. However, many people are highly skeptical
about MWI. Since there are countless particle collapses going
on every second of everyday this easily means that there an infinite
universes. Many of them only slightly different than the one we
live in. What's more, it implies that if anything could happen,
then it does indeed happen in at least one universe. A lot of
people think that this is just too crazy to be true.
that find MWI crazy argue that Occam's Razor (a rule of thumb
that suggests the least complicated explanation is the right one
explaintation) indicates that MWI must be wrong. Proponents of
MWI, however, argue that describing the rules for one particular
universe is a lot more complicated than describing the rules for
all possible universes and that Occam's Razor actually favors
crazy possibility that comes out of this kind of MWI is that idea
of Quantum immortality. The idea that at every point where
a person might die, the universe will split into a least two:
one with the person alive, the other one with the person dead.
Since (barring an afterlife, which if it exists would probably
be outside a universe anyway) a person can only consciously experience
life, he will only ever find himself in a universe where he survived.
This means he will be immortal from this own perspective (though
he would be dead in many other versions of the universe). Because
there would be at least one universe where that person lived an
immensely long life, and that person would, from their own point
of view, would experience only that. However, let's note, this
effect, if true, would not protect one from growing old and increasingly
infirm, so it is not necessarily a good, healthy immortal life.
surrounding MWI will probably never be resolved until somebody
can figure out how to do a scientific experiment that will prove
if other quantum universes exist or not. In fact, some people
argue that since MWI cannot be tested, it is wild speculation,
not science. A few people have suggested an experiment that might
prove MWI, but we do not currently have the technology to carry
bizarre way of proving MWI is through a process that has been
nicknamed "Quantum Suicide." In this odd approach a brave (or
perhaps foolish) physicist creates a gun that has a 50% chance
of firing based on some quantum event. When he pulls the trigger
it either goes off, or he hears an audible "click." He then uses
it to attempt to kill himself multiple times. If the MWI is correct
he will (from his own perspective) never succeed and will always
only hear the "click." As in quantum immortality his conscious
will not continue in any of the worlds where he dies, only in
the worlds where he lives, so he will be able to prove, to at
least himself, that the MWI is correct. (It should be noted, however,
that he leaves a string of dead copies of himself in other universes,
each with a bereaved relatives and friends).
around the MWI has not kept it from showing up in popular culture.
Typical of these is the classic Star Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror"
in which Captain Kirk finds himself accidentally transferred to
a different universe where the typically good Federation of Planets
is replaced by a brutal empire.
we living in the MWI of quantum physics? Hopefully some bright
physicist will come up with an experiment that we can accurately
do that will tell us for sure.
Photons Look Alike? - If photons are all identical how
do they carry any properties of what they are reflecting off of?
let's start by defining what a photo is for readers that don't
know. A photon is a single packet of electromagnetic (or light)
energy. The actual term photon was coined by Gilbert Lewis in
1926, but the idea of light in the form of discrete particles
had been around much longer.
are constantly in motion and in a vacuum travel at the colossal
speed of 186,000 miles a second (The speed of light). Another
interesting characteristic of a photon is that they are both a
particle and a wave at the same time.
are created when radiation is emitted from an object. For example,
heating a piece of metal till it glows is causing the atoms in
the metal to radiate photons (This is how an incandescent lamp
works). Photons can also be absorbed by an object.
your question: How can all photons be identical to one another?
Well, they are in the sense that they are all made of the same
stuff, but that doesn't mean that a photon doesn't also have properties
that allow us to tell them apart. One property that they have
is the amount of energy they carry. This is expressed in the frequency
of their wave. To us the wave frequency of a photon appears as
its color. Low frequencies are seen as the red end of the color
spectrum and high frequencies are seen as the blue end of the
hit a green painted surface the photons that aren't at the green
frequency are absorbed while those with the green frequency are
reflected (which is why we see the surface as green).
property a photon can have how it is polarized. Photons that are
polarized vertically will not pass through a sheet of glass or
plastic that has a horizontal polarization. (This is used in 3-D
movies where the images going to your right eye are polarized
one way and images meant for your left eye are polarized the other.
You wear glasses with each lens polarized a different way to filter
out the unwanted image).
a word picture will help. Imagine two identical cars driving down
a road at the same speed. One is has just come out of the desert,
however, and is really hot. The other just came out of a freezer,
so it really cold. Identical cars traveling same speed, but they
have different kinetic energy levels. This might give them different
behaviors too. Imagine them hitting a wall made of ice very slowly,
the hot one might melts its way through while the cold one might
just bounce off.
UFO - How does an ionocraft work? I've only ever seen unmanned
models of them--is it possible to build a manned one? - Specboy
August 1964 issue of Popular Mechanics there was an article entitled
"Major De Seversky's Ion-Propelled Aircraft." It tells the story
of a wonderful new method of flight being developed at Electron-Atom
Inc., a research firm in Long Island City, New York, under the
direction of aviation designer Alexander P. de Seversky. The author,
Hans Fantel, describes watching a model aircraft with no props,
no jets and no wings lift straight up and fly silently around
the company's test facility. The engineers predicted that as soon
as some of the bugs got worked out they could build a full sized
aircraft that would climb straight up like a helicopter, but capable
of extremely high altitudes (300,000 feet) and super-high speeds.
As a bonus since it didn't generate heat it would be invulnerable
to heat-seeking guided missiles. They called this test model an
the 1960's the Soviet engineers speculated about building
to say those predictions from half a century ago have not panned
out. Still, the ionocraft is a fascinating device and many engineers
are still intrigued by it. It is simple, quiet and had has no
it work? Typically there are two major parts to an ionocraft:
At the top is a "Corona Wire." This wire is charged with positive
high voltage electricity. This will strip the electrons from the
surrounding air "ionizing" it and giving it a positive electrical
charge. The second part of craft is a collector which is negatively
charged and placed just below the corona wire. The positively
charged air is attracted to the collector and moves downward through
the gap between the two parts. As the charged air makes this move
it bumps into neutrally charged air pushing it downward also.
This creates a downdraft and this downdraft provides lift for
they were experimenting in the 60's had a metal grid for the collector
and rising above it spikes which created the corona. The ions
moved from around the spikes to the grid creating the downdraft.
The engineers pictured the full-size version as a cockpit would
hang below the grid, a bit like the way a basket hangs below a
you see today, however, are just science fair demonstrations.
They are usually built in a triangular shape with three corona
wires just above three collectors made of foil. By increasing
the voltage to any of the three corona/collector pairs the lift
of that section is increased. This allows for it to be steered
by just adjusting the voltage to each of the sides.
that the engineers ran into with the ionocraft back the 60's was
that the technology did not scale up well. They could never build
a vehicle that had enough lift to carry the equipment needed to
produce the electricity to drive it. Any version of an ionocraft
you see today has wires running to it that carry the electricity
from a power plant located on the ground.
engineers have not given up on using electrohydrodynamic lift
to create engines. NASA's developed their NSTAR electrostatic
ion thruster in the 1990's, which has been used to power a number
of deep space probes and satellites, using similar principles
as with the ionocraft.
has been somewhat of a revival in interest in electrohydrodynamic
lift in the last few years and recently researchers at MIT did
a study on the ionocraft and discovered it is actually a much
more efficient way to produce thrust than a jet engine.
Subrata Roy of the University of Florida is working with NASA
to design a prototype airship called the Wingless Electromagnetic
Air Vehicle (WEAV) using a design similar to an ionocraft. Roy's
design calls for a vehicle that ionizes the air around it, then
pushes it away by using electromagnets. He has the same power
problems, however, as other engineers encountered with their ionocrafts,
but hopes to find a solution using either a battery, ultracapacitor,
solar panel or some combination of those items. The shape of Roy's
vehicle would be disc-like: In other words, a flying saucer.
this is why so many people have been fascinated by the idea of
the ionocraft for so long. These strange flyers sound so much
like the descriptions people have reported over the years about
UFO sightings: They make almost no sound (just a humming or crackling)
are disc shaped and can move in any direction. Perhaps if Roy
is successful we may actually see a flying saucer in our skies
someday, though instead of being from Mars it would be from Florida.
on Fire II - Last month Janie L. asked Is St. Elmo's Fire
a symbol related to "The Masonic Order? Though I searched
my resources I could not find a strong connection and invited
readers to help us out. Reader Ruth Austin came to my rescue.
According to Ms Austin:
a connection does exist between St. Elmo's fire and Masonic symbolism.
The rare phenomenon is represented as light from Heaven, coming
down to earth and being manifested as holy fire on the altar found
in the Masonic temple."
on to say:
to the 'Codex Veritas,' this flaming light has a dual meaning,
as most of the symbols in the Masonic beliefs have. It is associated
with the Urim and Thumim, the two sacred objects that were used
for divination purposes by the Hebrew high priest. When not in
use, they were safely kept in the breastplate of the priest."
a little research on these objects and found that nobody at this
point knows precisely what they were, but some scholars think
they may have been small, flat objects made of wood or bone kept
in a pouch on the high priest's vestments. When a divine judgment
was needed the priest would reach into the pouch and pull one
out randomly (this presumes that they were both identical to the
touch so he couldn't know which one he was holding). The Urim
essentially meant guilty and Thummim meant innocent. This might
have also been interpreted as "Yes" or "No" depending on the question
at hand. It seems likely that these devices might have been used
to choose Saul as King in the Bible at 1 Samuel 10:22.
original Urim and Thumim would shine with heavenly light when
the high priest needed a decision to be made, such as the guilt
or innocence of an accused person. The original Umim and Thumim
vanished when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the
'Codex Veritas' is an ancient text of Templar lore that I'm preparing
for publication. It was originally a Latin manuscript acquired
by Sir John Lindsay in 1246 AD, as he was returning from the Holy
Land. He was a Knight Templar and a Mason."
this sheds some more light on the original question. Thank you,
Ms. Austin, and good luck with your coming publication.
on Fire - Is St. Elmo's Fire a symbol related to "The Masonic
Order"? - Janie L.
fire itself is an electrical effect that occurs during bad weather.
It is often appears as bright blue or violet glow on high objects
like a ship's mast or church steeple d during storms.
can be caused by high voltage differentials are present between
clouds and the ground during thunderstorms. As the voltages approach
1000 volts per centimeter along an object, the air molecules ionize
(gain an electrical charge) and turn into a plasma which glows.
Where St. Elmo's fire appears on the surface of an object depends
a lot on its geometry. Sharp points lower the required voltage
making likely that objects, like lightning rods, will glow at
Fire has been known to appear on flag poles, spires, chimneys,
aircraft wings and even the horns of cattle. One theory holds
that the airship Hindenburg was the victim of St. Elmo's Fire
coupled with a gas leak.
that have to do with the Masons? Not all that much that I can
find. Although a fair number of Masons lodges use the name of
St. Elmo, St. Elmo's fire does not appear as a symbol in any of
the Masonic sources I have access to. However, since the Masons
are a secret society, the reference may be buried out of public
however, does led us to a vague, possible connection. There is
a secret club known as the St. Elmo's Society. It does not appear
to be related to the masons, but is a Yale club very similar to
the more famous Skull and Bones. It was founded in 1889
as an independent club for seniors within the nationally chartered
fraternity, Delta Phi, Omicron Chapter. St. Elmo's split with
the national fraternity in 1925. The Society still operates to
day and some of its former members include John Ashcroft, the
former United States Attorney General, and actress Allison Williams
of the HBO series Girls.
any other readers who know of any other connection between St.
Elmo's Fire and the Masons, drop us a line.
Away Over the Earth - When I was little, I thought of a
situation whereby one can, with the help of a machine, float in
the air, letting the Earth run past below him, as the Earth revolves
with great speed. But if that was so, then merely jumping up in
the street could cause a building (or a mast, billboard, tree,
etc.) to hit him, as it's fixed on the speeding Earth. Then I
came to realize that the Earth moves with everything on it and
in its -spheres. - I'm sure you get the picture now- Now, my question
is: since the higher a man goes above sea level, the lesser the
gravity and the pull, can one vertically float miles above (say,
in Poland,) and then vertically descend, dropping in Germany?
About how many miles would he go before the Earth starts moving
away from the spot whereon he rose? - Cheta
you are asking, "How far do you have to go up in the air before
the rotation of the Earth starts moving it under you and carrying
you away from where you started?"
the simple answer is, it never does, or it does immediately, depending
on how you approach the problem. Let me explain.
first law of motion is "Every object in motion tends to remain
in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to
it." So when you are standing on the Earth you being carried in
a easternly direction at about 1000 miles per hour (if you're
standing near the equator). You don't notice this because everything
around you - the ground, the buildings and the air - are moving
with you. (In much the same way as when you are on an airliner
moving at 400 mph everything around you seems still because it's
all moving at the same speed in the same direction.)
thing that Newton tells us is that when we are moving we will
continue in a straight line unless another force is applied. So
you might ask how come we follow the curve of the earth as we
move, instead of flying into space?
of course, is gravity. It pulls us down and keeps us stuck to
the earth forcing us to follow a curving path. But suppose you
had a personal anti-gravity device you could switch on that would
negate this force? (And let's also suppose that there was no atmosphere
with wind to blow you about). Well, the moment you switched it
on you would find yourself floating away because you would be
headed off on a straight line while the surface of the earth followed
Newton's first law tells us our movements does not change unless
an outside force is applied. So even as you rose above the earth
you would still be traveling at the same speed (let says a 1000
miles per hour) that you were standing on the surface. In fact,
you would continue moving on that straight line for the rest of
eternity unless you were acted on by some other force. So the
answer seems to be that you would never "slow down" so that Earth
would drift beneath you. However, things are just a bit more complicated
switched on your ant-gravity device it would appear that you were
drifting away into the sky, but what would actually be happening
is that the ground, following the curve of the earth, would be
falling away from you. You would be the one traveling on a straight
line. As you started to move away immediately the angle that you
would consider to be "straight down" would start changing. This
effect would grow slowly so you would need to be a great height
before you would start to notice it. It would appear that you
were slowly drifting backwards (westward) although you actual
speed would not have changed.
see you can make a case that in never does, or does immediately
depending on how you think about it. In reality if you were to
try this with a balloon the direction and speed of the wind would
be a far greater factor in how you moved that any effect from
the rotation of earth.
Travel in an Expanding Universe - We often say that one
day it may be possible to visit or even occupy (colonize) another
star system. Can this be possible when the universe keeps on expanding,
meaning that at any given time, the nearest star is getting even
further away? Won't there be this continually expanding distance
to consider, which means we should be traveling faster than the
rate of expansion to reach the nearest star? - Nanshir
a good question and to answer it we have to talk about the structure
of the universe on various levels. Let's start with the galactic
level. Galaxies are collections of stars that are held together
by their respective gravities. Our galaxy, known as the Milky
Way, has somewhere between 100 and 400 billion stars in it. It
is a typical spiral galaxy in the form of a disc about 110,000
light years wide and 10,000 light years thick at the center where
it tends to bulge outward.
the confines of a galaxy the force of gravity dominates over the
universal expansion. This means that within the Milky Way the
stars do not move apart and the galaxy stays basically the same
size. The stars within our galaxy (like our nearest neighbor Proxima
Centauri) do not tend to move away from each other. In fact,
they sort of just wander around pushed and pulled by the forces
of gravity. For example while Proxima Centauri is our closest
neighbor at 4.3 light years today, another star designated Ross
248 (which is currently at a distance of 10.3 light-years) is
coming toward us and will pass by us in about 31,000 years at
a distance of only 3 light years.
Andromeda Galaxy: Headed our way... (NASA)
so let's look at the next level up from our galaxy: the local
group of galaxies. Does the space between them always get larger
because of the expansion of the universe? Well, not really. Gravity
also works between galaxies and they often wander around in their
groups. For example, in our local group we are on a collision
course with our neighbor the Andromeda Galaxy. Don't sweat it
though. It won't happen for another 4 billion years (And even
when it does the stars of the galaxies don't actually hit each
other. The collision mainly changes the shape of the affected
only after we get beyond the local group of galaxies, and even
beyond the local cluster of groups, that we finally see the distance
between these collections of galaxies growing because of the universal
other stars in our galaxy will not be a problem at least as far
as the expansion of the universe is concerned. We would still
have the vast distances between stars to be worried about, however.
One way of solving this problem might be to use a "sleeper" ship
(where all the passengers would be put in to suspended animation
for the flight that might last decades of even centuries).Another
solution would be a "generational" ship (where one generation
would start the voyage, live out their lives on their spaceship,
and the journey would be completed by their children, or grandchildren).
course, if we could find a way to build engines that would "warp"
space - like on Star Trek - and defy the speed-of-light, then
we might be able to colonize planets by zipping between them on
a starship like the Enterprise.
From a Thunderbolt - Could a power company use lightning
rods to collect electricity?- John
that you might be able to harvest electrical energy from lightning
is one that scientists have found intriguing for many years. Anybody
who has seen the 1985 hit movie Back to the Future knows
that Doc Brown was able to use a bolt from a thunderstorm to power
his DeLorean/time machine and send Marty McFly back to his own
had one advantage in using lightning that most scientists don't,
however. Because of his time machine he knew exactly when and
where the lightning was going to strike. That's one of the major
problems with trying to harness this source of power. We don't
know exactly where lightning is going to hit, or how powerful
the bolt will be.
stopped scientist from trying to make it work. After all a lighting
strike can carry a lot of power. As much as five billion Joules
of energy which would be enough, by some estimates, to power a
single household for a month.
is to build a series of tall towers in an area that has frequent
thunderstorms in the hopes that they will get struck on a regular
basis. A sort of a "lightning farm." The best place for something
like this would be Florida or the Pacific Coast as those locations
get the most lightning strikes per square mile.
towers in those locations, however, strikes probably would not
be regular enough to make the system economical. However, it might
be possible to get lightning to strike on cue using a laser. Scientists
have been successful in using a high-powered laser with a short
pulse to create what's known as a laser-Induced plasma channel.
The idea is that the laser heats the air so much that ionizes
the gases to form plasma. The plasma conducts electricity much
more easily than the surrounding air so an electrical charge will
travel down the laser's path.
the development of this had been by the military. Imagine being
able to direct an artificial lightning bolt via laser to an enemy
target. It might be able to disable enemy weapons or detonate
munitions at a distance. Using smaller electrical charges (like
those in a Taser) you might be able to build a stun gun like those
seen on Star Trek.
application of the technology, however, might be to use the laser
to create a path from the lightning farm up into thunderclouds
to initiate a lightning strike directly onto your power collection
this brings a new concern. Can you really build a tough enough
system to withstand the surge of five billion Joules of energy?
An Illinois inventor named Steve LeRoy came up with an idea of
how to make it work and demonstrated it using an artificial lightning
bolt that lit up a 60-watt light bulb for 20 minutes. In 2007,
an alternative energy company called Alternate Energy Holdings,
Inc. (AEHI) tested his design. The idea was that a lightning tower
would capture the bolt and some of the energy would be sent to
a capacitor with the rest just being shunted off into the ground.
After working with the idea for a while the company's CEO, Donald
Gillispie, concluded that they "couldn't make it work," although
"given enough time and money, you could probably scale this thing
up... it's not black magic; it's truly math and science, and it
getting power from lightning still might be possible. Some experts,
however, question whether such a system will ever be practical.
Martin A. Uman, co-director of the Lightning Research Laboratory
at the University of Florida noted that while a single lightning
strike is fast and bright, only a small portion of the energy
it actually has reaches the ground. "The energy is in the thunderstorm,"
he explained. "A typical little thunderstorm is like an atomic
bomb's worth of energy. But trying to get the energy from the
bottom of the lightning is hopeless."
Mile-Per-Hour Wind - How do the Voyager spacecraft survive
the (according to NASA) "250,000 to one million per hour" solar
winds while traversing the heliopause? Shouldn't they be obliterated?
the first thing we should do is define what the solar wind is.
It isn't quite like the wind we experience here on the surface
of the Earth.
wind consists of charged particles of the sun that have some gotten
so much kinetic energy (from heat of the sun's corona) that they
can escape from the sun's strong gravity. These particles are
mostly subatomic elements (pieces of atoms) like electrons or
protons. Depending on the activity around the sun the particles,
as you noted, can pick up considerable speed.
our wind consists of air, which is molecules of gas (about 80%
percent of air is nitrogen and most of the rest is oxygen). The
air we have here on the surface is very dense because it is under
pressure. The pressure comes from the thickness of the atmosphere
above us which extends upward for around a hundred miles. This
causes the air to press against you if you are standing at sea
level at around 14.7 pounds per square inch. You don't really
notice this, however, because it comes at you equally from every
the wind pushes against you (its force) isn't just a function
of the speed of the wind, it is also involves the density of the
air. The lower the density of the air, the less the wind pushes
you were standing on Earth and you were hit by a million mile
per hour wind, there wouldn't be much left of you. That kind of
pressure applied to your body would tear it apart. Even a shock
wave of pressure (let's say from an explosion) traveling at a
few hundreds of miles an hour can be very damaging and knock down
there is a big difference between the density of the air at sea
level and the density of the solar wind in space. In fact it's
round a trillion to one difference. To get an idea of what this
means imagine a box one inch square filled with air at the pressure
it is at sea level. To get that air down to the density of the
solar wind you would have to extend that box so it was still was
one inch in height and depth, but almost 16 million miles long,
while still containing the same amount of air.
the solar wind can go whipping by at a million miles per hour,
the density is so, so low that it effectively creates no pressure
on something like the Voyager spacecraft. Yes, the probe carries
sensitive instruments that can detect the wind, but if you were
out there with the spacecraft you would be unable to feel any
pressure against your hand if you were able to hold it out in
the solar wind.
the further the solar wind gets from the sun, the slower it goes.
This means that the Voyagers at the edge of the solar system experience
much less solar wind than say the Apollo spacecraft that carried
the astronauts to the moon. The heliopause, which one of the Voyager
spacecraft just crossed, is actually the boundary where the solar
wind is so far from the sun that slows to a complete stop, blocked
by the interstellar medium (which is really the result of solar
winds from surrounding stars).
lead you to ask the question, "What happened to Voyager when it
hit the interstellar medium?" Well, the answer is "not much,"
because it, like the solar wind, has an extremely low density.
the solar wind is has little density, however, doesn't mean that
it can't have a big effect on the solar system. Most of the effect
it has, however, is due to the electrical charge of the particles.
A good solar flare can send a shock wave of highly charged particles
close to the earth that can damage the electronics inside satellites
and upset radio transmissions.
Shape of the Universe - Sir Stephen Hawking once said that
if one stands long enough at one spot, he can see the back of
his head, due to the curvature of space/time. Of course, this
will take billions of years. By the same token, now that Voyager
has left our solar system, will it ever come back to Earth having
circumnavigated the universe, assuming all things remain equal?
for this quote from Hawking and I haven't found it. However, this
type of example has been used by many cosmologists when they are
trying to describe the shape of the universe, so it's perfectly
believable that Hawking might have used it too.
scenario, called a closed universe, the universe curves back on
itself like a big sphere. It is said that if you stand somewhere
long enough (and with a powerful enough telescope) you could peer
deep into space and see you backside (provide you waited long
enough). By the same token the voyager spacecraft would eventual
comeback to Earth again in some very, very distant future by circumnavigating
the universe. (Imagine and ant walking across a basketball. The
ant is voyager and the universe is the basketball).
this example is great tool for college professors to explain the
shape of a closed universe to astronomy 101 students, it would
never actually work. The most obvious problem is that even if
we are in a closed universe, it is expanding and has been ever
since the big bang. The furthest parts of the universe are actually
moving away from us faster than the speed of light. So if you
were standing there looking for the back of your head through
a telescope you would never see yourself because the light that
bounced off of you carrying your image can never catch up the
with the expanding universe (Imaging an ant trying to walk around
a huge, rapidly expanding balloon. He can't do it because the
balloon expands much faster than he can walk).
voyager is going way slower than the speed of light, it hasn't
got a chance of actually returning to us through by this method
universe, however, is just one of the possible shapes the universe
can have. Much of the current evidence actually favors a flat
universe, like the top of a table.
data from NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP,
however, suggests the universe might actually be saddle-shaped.
(This might seem like a really odd shape for a universe, but it
permits the points along the outer edges to be as distant from
each other as possible).
was designed to investigate the Cosmic Background Radiation (CBR)
left over from the big bang. The CBR can be detected at every
direction in space and it was thought to be very uniform. However,
WMAP measurements have shown the CBR to be just slightly colder
in one direction than another. This might suggest that the universe
is indeed saddle-shaped (Another theory is, however, that the
difference might have been caused by another universe bumping
question of the shape of the universe isn't really settled yet.
One thing we can be sure, however, is that we won't see voyager
coming back to us anytime in the near future (unless it is carried
by a humongous alien probe like in the 1979 film Star Trek
the Motion Picture).
by Any Other Name... - In science fiction there
are sentient, intelligent alien species: Many are air-breathers,
but many more are methane-breathing or silicon-based creatures.
Scientifically speaking, can there actually be methane-breathing
and/or silicon creatures? - David
part of your question - "can there be methane-breathing creatures?"
- is easy to answer: Yes. And we don't even need to leave the
Earth to find them. They are called "methanophiles." One example
of them is Methylococcus capsulatus, a bacteria that is
often found in soils, landfills, sediments and peat bogs. This
little critter was in the news a few years ago because it was
the first methane breathing creature to get its genome sequenced.
Scientists interested in biotechnology are quite intrigued with
Methylococcus capsulatus as a possible mechanism to make
useful products or services.
isn't inconceivable at all that somewhere out in space you might
find creatures - maybe even intelligent ones - that breath methane.
In fact, scientists analyzing data from the Cassini spacecraft
that has been watching the Saturn moon Titan have suggested there
may be methane involved life on its surface. Hydrogen and acetylene
have been disappearing from the moon's atmosphere for no good
reason. It may be that there is a microbe on the planet breathing
in these compounds and breathing out methane.
of silicon based life, however, is a little more complicated.
Currently all the life we know on Earth (including Methylococcus
capsulatus) depends on organic molecules based on carbon.
Carbon in many ways is a unique element. Its bonding versatility
allows it to form itself into many molecules with differing structures
- rings, long chains and multi-ring chains. It can also double-bond
itself with some atoms. This allows it to make complex molecules
which, in turn, make life possible.
as you mentioned, science fiction stories often picture life that
might be based on another element, usually silicon. (Probably
the most famous of these is the original Star Trek episode "Devil
in the Dark" in which a silicon based life form, called a Horta,
finds itself at odds with Captain Kirk).
in many ways seems like a viable substitute for carbon. It's just
below carbon on the periodic table. It can also form many interesting
and complex molecules too. However, when we actually look for
these we see few of these molecules formed in nature.
point our telescope towards the skies and use the observations
of the spectra of light to see what elements are prevalent, we
find a lot of carbon and not much silicon. Even more important,
we can find a lot of complex organic (carbon-based) molecules
that form naturally, but very few similar complex molecules based
on silicon. This is because the processes that forms heavier elements
in the heart of stars favors carbon over silicon. Also many of
the structures that carbon so easily forms would be unstable if
you had the silicon equivalent. While the largest silicon molecule
observed in nature has only had six silicon atoms, there are molecules
found in nature that can have thousands of carbon atoms.
does not mean that some kind of silicon life might not be possible,
just unlikely. If you could find the right environment, perhaps
deep inside a planet with high pressures and temperatures, the
possibility of silicon life forming might be much larger.
and interesting idea. Could we make synthetic silicon life under
the right conditions in a laboratory? So far this is science fiction,
but who knows.
thought: Our computers use chips that are silicon based. While
computers don't have biological cells, one could argue that if
we ever make intelligent computers that can reproduce themselves,
perhaps we have indeed created a form of silicon-based life!
vs. Asteroid - I read somewhere that the reason a nuclear
bomb causes so much damage is that it superheats the surrounding
air which expands very rapidly to create the blast. I also read
that a way to stop large asteroids hitting the earth would be
to use a nuclear missile to either blow it up or use the blast
to move its orbit. How would this work in the vacuum of space?
of using nuclear weapons to blow up an incoming asteroid to save
the Earth has long been a theme of science fiction movies, short
stories and books. However, when the scientists at NASA that were
charged with coming up with a scheme to deal with an incoming
space rock were initially very concerned about the ramifications
of such a strategy. The problem is that many asteroids are not
so much a single large rock as a loose collection of boulders
clinging together based on their slight gravitational attraction
to each other. Scientists were concerned that if an asteroid large
enough to end all life on our planet (say 6.2 miles or 10 kilometers
across or bigger) was hit with a nuclear tipped missile it might
simply fracture into several different pieces, all bound for Earth.
The effect of these separate smaller impacts on Earth might be
even worse than a single large impact.
reason they thought the idea of using something other than nuclear
weapons to nudge the asteroid off course might be the way to go.
For example, using a robot spaceship to push the asteroid onto
a new course. Or having a spaceship fly alongside the asteroid
and use a laser to vaporize bits of the asteroid. The parts that
were vaporized would be turned into gas which would expand and
push the asteroid in the opposite direction. Even painting the
asteroid with a reflective color on one side, so the sunlight
reflected off it (imparting a slight nudge to it) instead of being
absorbed might be enough to change its direction over time.
with all of the above solutions, however, is that they take time.
You would have to know that the asteroid was going to hit Earth
several years in advance for these low power pushes to change
the asteroid's course. If you suddenly learned only a few weeks
in advance that a collision was going to take place, you'd need
to take a more direct approach.
that the most effective way to handle a last minute encounter
with an incoming space rock was employing one or more nuclear
weapons. They considered using surface explosions, delayed surface
explosions, subsurface explosions and standoff explosions. The
best solution was standoff explosions where a nuclear device is
actually not detonated on the asteroid, but at some distance.
The method was deemed the least likely to split the asteroid into
smaller, and perhaps more dangerous, pieces.
as you point out, that shock wave from a nuclear blast can't effectively
cross that vacuum of space, how would such a method work? Well,
the destructive force of a nuke doesn't just come from the shock
wave. It also destroys with heat. If you look at some of the old
atomic test bomb movies where they filmed a house in the path
of a nuclear blast you will see the first thing that arrives at
the building when the device goes off is an intense wave of electromagnetic
radiation, including light (especially infrared light which is
heat). The outside wall of the building starts smoking and catches
on fire. Then a few seconds later the blast wave hits and actually
knocks the building down.
you wouldn't get the blast wave because there isn't any air to
transmit it. However you do get the infrared light and other electromagnetic
radiation. This will vaporize the top layer of the asteroid in
the direction facing the blast. The expanding gas from the vaporization
will push the asteroid off course. Since the vaporization is widely
distributed across the face of the asteroid the push is unlikely
to cause a split.
part of this scheme is if it turns out that one standoff blast
isn't enough, you can immediately try another and another until
you pushed the asteroid far enough in one direction to miss the
Egyptian Lights - I have seen and heard many crackpot
ideas about Egypt and the most absurd to me is the assertion that
they had and used electric lighting. Yes, I know about the Bagdad
Batteries but I already know they don't have enough power to light
a modern LED, much less a normal incandescent lamp. My question
is this... Is there anything found among ancient ruins confirms
that they had access to electricity OTHER than the batteries?
often look at ancients pictures or reliefs and see something that
looks very modern. People have seen rockets, spacesuits and airplanes
in art work thousands of years old. The problem is, of course,
that just because an object looks familiar to our modern eyes,
doesn't mean that that our interpretation is what the ancients'
had in mind when the created the artwork.
the case of electric lights in Egypt two Austrian proponents of
the idea, Reinhard Habeck and Peter Krasa, wrote a whole book
about their theories called, Lights of the Pharaohs based
on some odd looking reliefs. (Unfortunately it appears that it
is no longer in print and can't be found on Amazon). The most
significant of these are found at temple of Hathor at Dendera,
which is about ten miles north of the ruins at Luxor. The relief
shows what appears to be a huge bulb (over six feet long when
compared with the associated human figures) mounted sideways.
Something that vaguely resembles a squiggly filament runs through
the bulb. At the base of the supposed bulb is what might be interpreted
as a cord that connects that "light" to a box, which is apparently
the source of the power.
experimenters have built what they consider to be replicas of
what the relief shows and have actually gotten them to work as
electric lights. But is there any evidence beyond this artwork,
which could be interpreted in several different ways, that what
was being depicted was actually a giant light bulb?
and Krasa argue that one of the reasons that no soot from candles
or oil lamps are found in Egyptian tombs, even though it must
have taken many hours of work in the dark rooms to create the
decorations there, is that the Egyptians used electric lights
to illuminate these areas (a competing theory is that they used
sunlight reflected into the tomb by a system of mirrors).
if you have electric lights, as point out, you need a power source.
Nobody digging in Egypt has ever found anything resembling an
electric generator. No artwork shows the details of such a generator
and no writing supports information about using or building any
kind of generator, either. So we are left with the concept of
mention many of those supporting that idea of ancient lights in
Egypt point to existence of the so-called "Baghdad
Batteries." There is much conflicting opinion on whether these
objects found in Iraq actually are batteries or simply jars. People
have built reconstructions of them and actually gotten them to
produce low voltages. Most of the people that conjecture that
the "Baghdad Batteries" were actually used to create electricity,
however, think that they were used in the process of galvanizing
metals an activity which only requires a very low voltage. One
of these batteries by themselves doesn't nearly produce enough
electricity to power a six foot long lamp (in fact they don't
really produce enough electricity to power a standard flashlight
could make bigger batteries, or hook a bunch together to get more
power, but that causes other problems. Frank Dörnenburg, who did
some experimentation with such a battery, estimated you might
need around 40 of these batteries (with a weight of nearly 200
pounds) to produce enough wattage to run a flashlight bulb.
about 8 hours these primitive batteries will run out of power
and have to be replaced. This also causes additional problems.
In this simple battery design like this iron is a required component.
Iron, however, was extremely rare in Egypt. It would need to be
imported. There is no indication in any of the ancient Egyptian
records of large amounts of iron being transported into the country
to make hundreds of batteries. Nor has anybody found the remains
of the hundreds of thousands of old batteries that would have
accumulated from a single tomb project.
is that Egyptians really didn't need the headache of making all
these batteries to produce a little light. They had a simple lamp
(a wick floating in olive oil) that was easy to build. Why don't
we see soot in the tombs? Well, first of all olive oil burned
in the lamps produces very little soot. Secondly, the tombs are
not actually soot free. In many tombs soot on the ceiling can
be seen. If not from the Egyptians' lamps, then from the candles
and torches of the many people who visited the tombs during the
centuries before the electric light became common in the modern
do the reliefs at Dendera actually show? Most archeologists think
they are a lotus flower, spawning a snake inside, which represents
certain aspects of Egyptian mythology. Their argument is supported
by a close look the object inside the bulb that Habeck and Krasa
claim is a filament. It has eyes and a mouth. Something a snake
has, but a filament doesn't.
more while no Egyptian writings have been found that support the
idea of giant light bulbs, batteries or generators, we do have
records from the Valley of the Kings that show how many wicks
and how much oil were issued to workers for their lamps during
many people argue that the ancient Egypt used the electric light,
the proof is just not there.
Cycle - How do plants turn carbon dioxide into oxygen?
plants do of carbon dioxide into the oxygen in the air is part
of the "carbon cycle." Carbon dioxide, which makes up a little
more than 3% of air, is composed of two parts carbon and one part
oxygen. That means a single molecule of it has one carbon atom
attached to two oxygen atoms.
takes the carbon dioxide molecule and splits it apart using energy
from the sun. It keeps the carbon atom, which it wants, and kicks
some of the oxygen out into the atmosphere. The carbon gets combined
with hydrogen (the plant gets its hydrogen from splitting up a
molecule of water - a hydrogen atom and two oxygen atoms) The
carbon, the hydrogen and some of the oxygen together make sugar
(twelve hydrogen atoms, six oxygen atoms and six carbon atoms
to be exact). Sugar is, of course food and a major ingredient
and humans, of course, do the opposite of plants. They breathe
in oxygen, eat carbohydrates, and then combine them to make carbon
dioxide. This action of combining these releases the energy (which
the plants originally took from the sun) . We use this energy
to walk, play checkers, ride bikes, write essays on our computers,
it the carbon cycle because plants do one half of the operation
by taking carbon dioxide out of the air and releasing the oxygen,
which is really their waste product. Animals complete the cycle
by taking oxygen back out of the air, eating the plants, getting
energy by combining these and breathing out carbon dioxide (which
is our waste product). The carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere
so that other plants can using it again in a circle of activity.
The whole thing keeps going as long as the plants have sunlight
to split the carbon dioxide apart again.
exactly does a plant do that? The process is called photosynthesis.
Light, of course, is a form of electromagnetic energy. Plants
use a material called chlorophyll which takes the light energy
and creates a series of chemical reactions that spit the carbon
dioxide and water apart and recombine them to make sugar and free
light energy most plants use little solar panels we call leaves.
This is where most of the energy is captured and chemical reactions
is also what makes a plant green. It tends to absorb red and blue
light waves, but reflects the green. Since what we see are the
colors not absorbed, but reflexed, plants appear mostly green
to our eyes. The truth is that scientists aren't really sure why
plants aren't black. It seems like this would be the most efficient
color for a plant as it could absorb all the wavelengths and get
the most energy out of the smallest area. However, as you can
observe by walking through a meadow, most plants are green, not
black, and were not really sure why.
the coolest things about the carbon cycle is that plants are really
making themselves out of thin air. Yes they do get water and some
trace materials from their roots, but the carbon, which makes
up so much of their structure, just comes from the carbon dioxide
in the air
is true when we exercise and lose weight. Our carbs disappears
into the thin air. The food you eat (carbon) is combined with
oxygen and breathed out as carbon dioxide.
probably also mention that photosynthesis isn't limited to just
plants. Algae, and cyanobacteria can do it too. What's more it
isn't the only game in town. Chemotrophs are organisms that obtain
energy by oxidative chemical reactions and don't need sunlight.
An example of these are the bacteria that live in the deep ocean
near hydrothermal vents. It is too dark down there for them to
use photosynthesis, so they get energy by oxidizing iron is dissolved
in the sea water near the hot vents.
Einstein - If you had a pair of scissors sufficiently large
enough, can the tips of the scissors exceed the speed of light?
Einstein published his theories on relativity and stated that
nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, people have
delighted in trying to find a way around this rule. For example,
if you took a flashlight and pointed the beam into space (then
waited for the tip of the beam to get, let's say a light year
away) then suddenly swung the beam across the sky to the opposite
direction you might try to argue that the tip of the beam must
have traveled faster than the speed of light.
the "tip of the beam" is more of an intellectual concept than
an actual thing. The photons that make up the beam keep streaming
out in the straight line you had them pointed in even after you
moved the flashlight and only photos emerging from your flashlight
after you changed its direction would go toward a different point
in the sky. You can picture what is happening with a stream of
water from a garden hose. Point it in one direction, then swing
it in suddenly across your yard. The tip of the stream of water
doesn't move immediately, but lags behind the motion the hose's
example of trying to get around the speed of light is to build
a giant rod between two planets one light year apart. You might
try to get around the limit on information traveling no faster
than the speed of light by pushing the rod on one end as a signal
and expecting the person receiving the signal on the other end
to see the rod on his end to move immediately. If it did, he would
get your signal faster than the speed of light.
here is that though we expect the rod to be perfectly rigid, it
really isn't, especially when dealing with an object that would
be a light year in length. Pushing on rod on one end would compress
it slightly and this compression would move along the rod at no
faster than the speed of light, so your signal would not be received
on the other end for at least a year.
example has similar problems. Like the rod the blades of your
scissors are not going to be perfectly rigid. As you close them
the tips will bend and lag behind the portions of the blades closer
to the scissors fulcrum. If you do manage to get the tips of the
scissors to approach the speed of light you will find that their
mass will grow and grow and you will require more and more energy
to try and close the blades. In fact as the tips get near the
speed of light their mass will near infinity and the energy you
need to close the blades will also approach infinity. Since you
don't have limitless energy, you will never be able to close the
blades fast enough to get the tips to the speed of light (In addition
are also some problems with transmitting the energy to the tips
since we already established the blades aren't perfectly rigid
usually the problem with trying to get anything going at the speed
of light. As you accelerate the object it becomes more and more
massive and eventually there isn't enough energy in the universe
to accelerate it all the way to the speed of light. The only things
that can travel at the speed of light are photons, which have
no rest mass.
you might be able to get around this rule by building a spaceship
the can "warp" space and compress it in front of your ship and
stretch it behind your ship (this is where we get the Star
Trek term "Warp Drive" from). In this scheme your ship wouldn't
actually be exceeding the speed of light, but would simply be
carried ago by a bubble of space. It's a very interesting way
to cheat Einstein, but nobody knows if you could ever make such
a propulsion method actually work.
Steam? - In the movie "Wild Wild West" starring Will Smith
there was a giant Steam powered spider machine: I already know
it was just a special effect but I would still like to know this...
Aside from steam-powered ships and locomotives, what is the largest
steam-powered vehicle ever made? - David R
is a tough question. The best I might be able to do is to suggest
a couple of big steam machines that move and see if any of our
readers can think of anything bigger.
question implied steamships and locomotives were some of the most
powerful and heavy objects ever moved by steam. Other devices
were relatively light. One of the reasons for this is that steam
engines, especially those built in the 19th century, didn't generate
a lot of horsepower for the weight of the engine compared to later
internal combustion engines. This was fine if what you needed
was a stationary source of power. You could just build your steam
engine as large as you needed, since it wasn't going anywhere.
example of a large stationary steam engine was the Corliss Steam
Engine built for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in
1876. It generated 1,400HP and powered virtually all of the exhibits.
Though there would be more powerful engines ( The Ellenroad Ring
Mill Engine built in 1917 could produce almost 3000HP) the Centennial
engine was well-known and became an icon of the era of steam.
It wasn't small, however, and stood 45 feet tall with a 30 foot
diameter flywheel. Hardly portable.
heavy engine needs to be mounted on something big to be movable
which is why powerful steam engines worked so well with ships.
One of the biggest of these was the SS United States, an ocean
liner launched in 1952 that could develop 240,000HP. It still
holds the record for the fastest commercial crossing of the Atlantic.
also a natural place to use steam because the steel tracks and
well-built roadbeds would support a lot of weight for a big locomotive.
The largest of these was probably the 1941 Union Pacific Railroad's
4000-class nicknamed "Big Boy" which could generate at least 6,000HP.
However, all that weight came with a price. This monster weighted
over a million pounds when you included the tender, so it needed
the firm footing provided by a track bed to avoid sinking into
to your question: What the biggest steam machine that moves that
isn't a loco or a ship? Certainly steam-traction engines might
be a possibility. These were steam powered tractors that were
popular before gas and diesel tractors became available. Even
heavier were steam-rollers which were basically steam traction
engines built with big fat wheels used to flatten roadbeds.
for a really big and heavy steam machine we need to go back to
your inspiration: The Wild, Wild West film from 1999. I'm not
thinking about the huge mechanical spider shown in the climax,
but the steam powered tank from earlier in the movie.
were indeed a few attempts to build steam powered tanks in the
early 20th century. In 1916 or 1917 a company named Holt built
a "Three Wheeled Steam Tank" that was tested at the Aberdeen Proving
Ground in Maryland. The monster weighed about 17 tons, so it was
probably heavier than most traction engines, but only developed
about 150HP, so it was pretty under powered. According to reports
it easily became stuck in the mud during testing.
tank-like device was a contraption built by the Army Corps of
Engineers in conjunction with Stanley Steamer in 1918. This guy
weighed in at 50 tons (around twice as heavy as the other tanks
of the era) and had two engines totaling 1,000HP to drive it forward
at a maximum speed of 6 mph. This machine was armed with a flamethrower
on a turret (which makes me think of the tank from the James Bond
film "Dr. No") and four .30 caliber machine guns. Apparently a
prototype, christened "America," was shipped to France at the
end of World War I, but arrived too late to see any action.
steam was chosen as the source of power because internal combustion
engines of the time couldn't generate enough force to really get
something this heavy moving (The 26 ton British tanks of the time
used a 105HP engine that could only move them forward at about
3 ½ mph). Steam perhaps isn't the best source of energy for this
type of project, however. Working next to a hot boiler in a windowless
tank must be awful and there is always the chance of a steam explosion
it the machine is pierced by even a small round.
anybody think of a bigger steam-powered machine that would qualify
as a vehicle? If so, drop us a line and we'll feature a column
Falling from the Sky: I've read a lot about sky falls...
where things like fish fall from the sky. In Honduras, over 10,000
fish fall from the sky at the beginning of rain season. It is
only in one village and my friend from Honduras won't believe
me. I tell her that she didn't live in that village and that it
DOES happen in another village. Am I right?- Cocobean
(Nothing to do with the most recent 007 thriller, I'm afraid)
are some of the most puzzling of anomalous phenomena. The list
of things that fall from the sky that don't really belong there
are endless: fish, frogs, snakes, alligators, salamanders, turtles,
lizards, worms, grain, straw, leaves, seeds, slime, stones, hazelnuts
along with other items too numerous for me to list here. Even
things might belong in the sky often come down in very odd ways:
blue ice, and blood red rain are a couple of examples.
of these events, especially since the invention of the airplane,
can be explained easily. Blue ice may well be the result of a
leak from an airliner's potty tank. However records of many of
these events go back way before the invention of the airplane
(for example a large fish fall in India in 1830) and even today
some of the falls are of such size and duration as to make it
unlikely the source was an aircraft.
wisdom is that a storm or waterspout pick up these objects and
deposit them in another location. The problem with this theory
is that most falls from the sky are highly selective in their
type. For example, if a storm scooped up the contents o f a pond
and dropped it a few miles away you might expect that you would
get a mixture of fish, frogs and water plants. You also might
expect that the fall would last a short time, or be scattered
randomly over a large area. That is not always the case however.
Let's look at a few examples:
of 1922 thousand of young toads (no fish - no old toads) fell
- for two days - on the town of Chalon-sur-Saone in France.
In 1947 near the town of Marksville, Louisiana, fish fell for
an hour onto a strip of land just 75 feet wide and one-thousand
also expect that if a storm were the cause, then the objects that
fell might be from the local area. In the case of the Marksville
fish, however, a biologist determined they were of a species that
didn't live in the local waters. And a scientist observing a fall
on the South Pacific island of Guam in 1936 noted that some of
the fish that fell there appeared to be tench (Tinca tinca)
which are thought to live only in the fresh waters of Europe.
one of the strangest things to fall from the sky is money. In
May of 1982 near the Churchyard of St. Elisabeth in Redding, England,
a local candy store owner informed the Rev. Graham Marshall that
children had been coming in a buying candy in large amounts. He
was concerned that perhaps they'd raided the church poor box.
No money was missing from there, so the Reverend spoke to the
children involved. Apparently they heard the money fall and tinkle
on the sidewalk in the churchyard. Marshall decided to conduct
his own investigation and came to the conclusion that the coins
must be falling from a great height as some were embed edgewise
in the ground, an effect he couldn't reproduce by just tossing
coins in the air or even throwing them down with some force. In
this case there were no storms in the area or tall buildings nearby.
storms don't seem to explain many of the falls, people have come
up with some wild theories about might cause this phenomenon.
In the 1950's UFO enthusiast Morris K. Jessup suggested such things
like fish falls were the result of flying saucers dumping their
hydroponic tanks. Others have suggested that these events are
a product of teleportation - the instantaneous transportation
of objects from one place to another. Others have suggested channels
that somehow open to another parallel universe are responsible.
is as much as the storm theory seems inadequate to explain many
sky fall events, most of the alternative theories are wanting
also. The simple truth is that nobody had come up with a mechanism
that explains all cases of objects falling from the sky. More
likely it isn't a single mechanism anyway, but several different
your friend's skepticism about such falls, they clearly do occur
and thousands of incidents have been reported throughout the years.
As for exactly why they occur, well on that subject the jury is
Can't We Drink Seawater? - Why is it not ok to drink sea
water, but ok to put sea salt on our food? - John
one of the things your body really needs to function. Without
it you wouldn't be unable to maintain the proper fluid balance
in your blood cells. It's also essential to transmit information
through your nerves and muscles. Finally, it is also used in the
absorption of certain nutrients from your small intestines.
as we need a little salt (like the small amounts that you sprinkle
on your hamburger), too much of it is a really big problem. It
can lead to seizures, unconsciousness, and brain damage. And as
your kidneys get over worked by trying to remove the excess salt
from your system they can overload and shutdown leading to sure
is that the amount of salt in your blood stream must be kept very
close to 0.9%. The amount in seawater, however, is around 3.5%.
If you try and drink seawater the amount of salt in your blood
rises closer to that of the seawater and your body desperately
tries to get rid of it. Water flows out of your cells to dilute
the salt in your blood, making the cells dehydrate. Your kidneys
work to remove the salt from your system, but your kidneys can
only concentrate salt into your urine at a level less than the
3.5% in the seawater. Therefore it takes more water to get the
salt out of your system, than you originally got from drinking
the brine. Instead of quenching your thirst the seawater accelerates
seawater in small amounts (say accidently gulping some while swimming
in the ocean) isn't really dangerous as long as you had enough
fresh water to avoid dehydration. If you are stranded at sea in
a lifeboat, however, and you can't get any fresh water, drinking
seawater to get rid of your thirst will kill you after a while.
are some reports that sailors short on fresh water have been successful
in stretching their supplies by mixing it with saltwater. Adventurer
Thor Heyerdahl reported drinking seawater in a 40/60% ratio without
a problem during his famous Kon-Tiki expedition across the Pacific
Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands in 1947. However,
unless you are extremely desperate, such a course of action seems
our blood seems to contain the same proportions of minerals
and salts as there is in seawater, just at a lower level. This
has led some scientists to speculate that blood developed in our
distant, distant ancestors from a more diluted form of seawater
that existed in prehistoric times. In fact, seawater, diluted
so that the salt level is the same as that found in blood, has
been successfully used as a replacement for blood plasma.
- Since scientists are able to teleport light particles,
could we use this teleportation method to travel in space rather
than a propulsion based rockets? - Christal
talk about teleportation what most people think about is Star
Trek. In this 1960's SciFi classic (as well as in the new
movie reboots) Captain Kirk was able to hop onto a little pad
and Scotty would beam him down from the Enterprise to the planet
below in a couple of seconds. This allowed the Captain to avoid
the trouble of climbing into a small "shuttlecraft" and to take
an hour or so ride down to reach the surface. (More importantly
it saved the show's producers money and kept the pace of the story
is probably the one most people think about when they hear that
scientists are teleporting photons (bits of energy) around: A
photon gets plopped onto a pad on one side of the lab, a switch
is thrown and the same photon suddenly appears on the other side
of the lab.
quite what is happening, however. What the scientists are teleporting
are the physical properties of the photon, not the photon itself.
They exploit quantum mechanics (specifically something called
"entanglement") to "read" the photon and transmit the properties
to another photon on the other side of the lab and give it the
same state as the original. Since you can't tell the replica apart
from the original (whose state was destroyed in the process) for
all practical purposes the photon has been "teleported."
able to do this is a very powerful technique that can be used
in quantum computing and we will probably eventually get ultrafast
computers out of it. However, it isn't clear that the same process
could be used for transporting solid objects. Scientists have
been able to teleport a single atom, but a human consists of about
a trillion, trillion atoms, which makes the problem of teleporting
them about a trillion, trillion times more difficult. Some scientists
think we might be able to pull off teleporting something as complicated
as a virus by the end of the century, but even that may just be
we were actually able to teleport a human, it would raise some
interesting ethical questions. If a teleport machine works not
by moving the actual atoms that make up a person, but just recreating
the person's structure with new atoms, have we transported the
person or just made a duplicate? (The duplicate would think it
was the original because it would have all the same thoughts and
memories.) Also, if the original person is destroyed in the process,
have we just murdered him, despite creating a duplicate in another
that you could switch out all the atoms in a person and still
have the same person isn't just a hypothetical situation either.
Studies at the Oak Ridge Atomic Research Center found that 98%
of the atoms in our body are replaced with new ones each year.
So in essence we are all undergoing a slow teleportation and getting
new bodies (though the structure still remains the same, so we
still age - sorry). This raises an interesting question however.
Are we actually the same people we were a year ago, or just duplicates
with all the same memories?
are also some theological concerns with teleportation too. Some
people believe that humans have a "spirit." If a person we teleported,
would that "spirit" automatically jump to the duplicate person?
suppose that the original person wasn't destroyed and you wound
up with two of them? Who is the original if both of them are exactly
the same? Which one gets to go home to their spouse and kids?
interesting SciFi fiction on this dilemma check out Think Like
a Dinosaur a novelette written by James Patrick Kelly and
later turned into an episode on the seventh season of The Outer
Limits (2000). It available to watch on Hulu for free.
Extraterrestrial Astronomers See Us? - If an alien being
with a telescope from an exoplanet looks at our solar system,
would they detect our planets using the methods we use or would
they see a "fuzzy" nebula looking orb due to the Oort cloud? -Rowell
first do a quick review about how scientists can detect planets
around distant stars. Just pointing a powerful telescope at a
star system and trying to pick out the planets going around it
generally doesn't work. The star itself is too bright and outshines
any planets it has (perhaps by a factor of a million to one).
Also at the interstellar distances we are talking unless the planets
are very large and hot they are generally too small for even the
most power telescopes to find.
productive way of discovering new stars is by indirect methods.
One of these is to measure the light coming from the parent star
and watch for tiny shifts in the wave lengths. As planets move
around a star their gravity can cause it to "wobble" a bit and
this causes the wavelength of its light to shift because of the
Doppler Effect. By observing a star long enough and recording
the size, timing and length of the shifts scientists can estimate
the number planets and how far they are from the star, although
it is difficult to tell exactly how big those planets are.
most productive method to find exoplanets is to watch the slight
dimming of the star as the planets pass between it and telescopes
on Earth. With this method scientists can detect the number of
planets, how far away they are from their star and even estimate
their size. Occasionally they can even use a spectroscope to detect
what their atmosphere might be like. The only problem with this
method is that it only works on star systems which are oriented
in such a way that at least one of the planets transits its star
as seen from Earth.
are other methods to detect exoplanets, but let's talk about how
an Oort cloud would affect these two approaches.
let's first talk about what the Oort cloud is. In the 1950's Jan
Hendrik Oort speculated that out beyond the orbit of Neptune there
was a large number of comets that might extend as far out from
the sun as 3 light years. Subsequent observations proved this
true and the cloud was named for him. However it isn't a cloud
in the normal sense we would think of when we look at clouds in
the sky. The density is very low. The only parts of it we can
detect are the few comets that occasionally leave the cloud and
make a passage into the inner solar system. The rest of the cloud
is too thin and dim for us to detect with our current instruments.
it is so thin it doesn't interfere with our ability to look at
the stars beyond or use the above methods to find planets around
those stars. By the same token astronomers on distance stars would
not have any problem with using these same methods to detect planets
in our solar system. The Oort cloud is too thin to block their
observations. It is also very likely that the solar systems we
have found so far have their own versions of an Oort cloud and
these don't seem to hinder our observations.
or Virus? - Is there a difference between a germ
and a virus? - John
use the dictionary the pertinent definition for the word "germ"
is "microorganism" (Especially a microorganism that causes illness).
A microorganism is a microscopic, living organism often composed
of one or just a few cells. Bacteria like Vibrio cholera,
which causes Cholera would fall into this category. Also a fungus
like Trichophyton rubrum, which causes athletes foot would
also quality, as would a protozoa like the Entamoeba histolytica
amoeba which causes a type of dysentery.
a virus is not exactly the same thing as germ which includes all
these other types of organisms. However, you could argue that
a virus, like a bacteria, or a protozoa is a type of germ.
a virus be considered a germ? There are certainly microscopic
and many varieties of them can make us sick. But does a virus
qualify as a microscopic living organism? Well, the problem is
that not all scientists can agree that viruses are actually alive.
Generally for something to be living in scientific terms it needs
to have seven different properties. One of the most important
of these properties is the ability to reproduce. All the microorganisms
we named above, bacteria, fungus, protozoa (and a few we didn't
list) can reproduce themselves. A virus can certainly reproduce
too, but only by invading the body of a living host cell and stealing
the use of its reproduction machinery.
reason the scientific community has gone back and forth on this
issue whether viruses are alive for many years. Some scientists
make the case for viruses being living things, others argue that
they are not.
19th century when viruses where first identified by scientists
they figured that they must be the most diminutive members of
the family of life. They clearly seemed to act like bacteria,
but they were just much, much smaller.
until 1935 that a researcher named Wendell M. Stanley was able
to crystallize the tobacco mosaic virus and take a close look
at it. Stanley realized that though the virus contained complex
biochemicals it couldn't carry out the normal metabolic functions
that most living organisms did. Since metabolism (which is the
chemical reactions necessary to sustain life) is one of the seven
qualities of a living organism, Stanley made the case the viruses
were simply inert chemicals.
scientists are comfortable with this however, and argue that viruses
really span the region between the living and the non-living.
Alone they are just packages of inert chemicals. When they enter
a cell, however, suddenly they take on many of the characteristics
of a living organism. A few researchers like to compare virus
to vampires: like the legendary nosferatu viruses are dead, unless
they use living cells and drain them of their energy.
a virus a germ? The truth is you can make the case that it is
or it not depending on your whether you think viruses are alive.
Through the Earth - If it were possible to shoot an unstoppable,
elevator-sized cannonball vertically into the ground (let's say
at the North Pole), it would speed all way out from South Pole.
Good. So what if a man decides to make a quick trip to South Pole(from
the North Pole) by way of jumping into the hole created, would
he defy gravity by surfacing from South Pole's ice (probably continuing
into space)? - Cheta Anuonye
start by saying that this scenario, having a tunnel go from the
North Pole to the South Pole is a great thought experiment, but
wouldn't really work in reality. Since the core of Earth is molten
and semi- molten rock the tunnel that you made below a certain
depth would quickly close up as the rock flowed back into position.
say that this isn't a problem and you can actually build a shaft
for a distance of 7926 miles from pole to pole, then you jump
down into it. What would happen?
of course you would start by falling. But let's back up and figure
out why that occurs. The answer is that gravity pulls you downwards.
But where does the gravity come from?
is a force in nature that pulls all matter together. It is the
weakest of the basic forces in nature, but also the most tenacious.
(If you doubt this, just think about what happens when you use
a small magnet to pick up a paperclip. The magnet is tiny when
compared to the Earth, yet the magnetic force it has overpowers
the entire gravity force of the earth to pull the paperclip away
from it. However, the magnetic force does not have the range of
gravity and the magnet can only pick up the paperclip if they
are very close together).
you are reading this gravity is pulling your body toward the computer
(or cell phone, or tablet depending on what you are using) while
your body pulls the computer toward it. However with small objects
like this the force of gravity is so low that you can't feel it.
It takes a really big object (like planet earth) to create a significant
gravity force. The amount of the force is directly the result
the mass of the object, so since the moon is only 1/6 the mass
of Earth, the gravity of the moon is only 1/6 what it is here
on Earth (If you weigh 120 pounds here on Earth you would weight
only 20 pounds on the moon).
mass of the Earth creates gravity. Let's say that you jump into
your tunnel at the North Pole. You are pulled down toward the
center of the Earth. As you got closer and closer to the center,
however, more and more of the Earth's mass would be above you
and less and less below you. The mass above you would start to
pull you up, while the mass below continues to pull you down.
When you found yourself at the exact center of the planet, with
all the mass of it around you equally in all directions, the gravity
would cancel out and you would be weightless.
by the time you reached the center of the Earth you would have
so much speed you would go shooting right though the zero gravity
section. As you continued on more and more of the Earth's mass
would be behind you, slowing your speed down. Eventually you would
stop before you reached the surface and reverse direction.
you would be doomed to spend the rest of your life oscillating
back and forth in the tunnel, losing a little speed to air friction
as you made each trip until you eventually got stuck at the center
of the planet in the zero gravity area.
a Jump - Can a person survive a dive into water from five
from personal experience on my summer vacation, I can tell you
that you can dive into a river from 2 and ½ stories up (25 feet)
and suffer no ill effects. In fact, Olympic style diving is typically
done from a 33 foot platform (3 stories) with no problems. Finally,
cliff divers in Acapulco, Mexico jump from 136 feet (13.5 stories),
head first (using their hands to break the water), into the sea
on a daily basis. So a five story (50 foot) dive into water is
about heights of 15 stories and above? The higher you get the
more critical the position you enter the water becomes. A study
by Dr. Richard Snyder of people who jumped or fell off the Golden
Gate Bridge found you had the best chance of living through it
if you hit the water vertically, feet first. The roadway of the
Golden Gate Bridge is around 250 feet above the water, about 25
stories. It has become a magnet for people who want to do themselves
in by jumping off the bridge. Some die from the impact, others
drown in the bay, but a few people do live to tell the tale. These
people went in feet first in a vertical position.
didn't make it was a stunt diver called Kid Courage. He went off
the bridge in 1980, but landed on his back and suffered fatal
internal injuries. He was dead when the pulled him from the water.
put the outside limit on survival of a fall into water at around
260 feet. By then a human body has usually reached a speed of
greater than 80 miles per hour and hitting even a liquid at that
speed is a huge shock.
there are rare reports of people who have fallen into water from
great heights and survived. In June 1963 Marine pilot Cliff Judkins
was forced to bail out of his F-8 Crusader at 15,000 feet and
his parachute failed to open. It is likely he hit the ocean at
nearly the human terminal velocity of 120mph, but survived despite
huge odds against it.
and Cold - Is cold the absence of heat? Or is heat the
absence cold? - John
you first look at this question it sounds a little bit like a
riddle: Which came first the chicken or the egg? We need to first
understand what heat and cold is before we can get to the bottom
of this riddle however.
physics point of view heat is simply the exchange of thermal energy
from one object to another. Now you might ask "What is thermal
energy?" Thermal energy at the smallest scale is the movement
(mostly vibration) of the particles that make up matter: Atoms
and molecules and the things they are composed of - protons, electrons
and neutrons. The more movement these particles have, the higher
the temperature of the object they are in will be. At a certain
point if the particles are bumping around fast enough the object
will actually change form.
look at water. When the particles aren't moving much water can
take a solid form: ice. As the thermal energy increases the water
molecules eventually bounce around so much that they reach a point
where they break away from the solid form and flow freely by becoming
liquid water. If the temperature of the water continues to rise
the molecules will eventually be jumping around so much that they
can't even stay in liquid from and become a gas: steam.
the transfer of that thermal energy from object to object. For
example, when you hold an ice cube in your hand you are heating
it because the thermal energy in your hand is higher than the
thermal energy in the cube and the energy flows from one to the
other. Thermal energy always seeks an equilibrium when it can
find it. Just like water will flow from a full container to an
empty container if there is a connection between the two until
the levels in both are equal. The result is the ice cube starts
to melt as its thermal energy rises and your hand starts to feel
cold as the thermal energy in it drops.
go back to the original question: " Is cold the absence of heat?
Or is heat the absence cold?" Well, since heat is the transfer
of thermal energy and cold can be defined as an area of low thermal
energy I think you can make an argument for the first case. Cold
is an area of low thermal energy which hasn't gotten a transfer
of energy (heat - which is absent in this scenario) from another
location with a higher amount of thermal energy.
Wonders - I've always been curious about the possibility
of wormholes in space. If a wormhole existed, how would it affect
space travel? - Anonymous.
start by defining what a wormhole is for those people not familiar
with the term. Way back in 1957 theoretical physicist John Archibald
Wheeler coined the term to describe a theoretical shortcut between
two distant parts of the universe. If you think of the universe
as a flat sheet of paper it might be possible to fold the paper
over on itself so the rear surfaces touch. A hole poked through
the sheet at that point would create a way to travel between two
distant areas quickly.
the universe is not flat and two dimensional, like the sheet of
paper, this example does give us a way to visualize how it would
work. The existence of a type of wormhole that could do this called
an Einstein-Rosen bridge was first suggested by Albert Einstein
and his colleague Nathan Rosen in 1935. Wheeler later showed that
this particular type of wormhole would not be stable long enough
before it collapsed for anything, even a photon, to get through
physicist Kip Thorne, however, proposed that you could build a
wormhole that would be stable using exotic matter that would have
an anti-gravitational effect that would force the wormhole to
remain open (Such a wormhole that stays open so things can go
through it is known as a traversable wormhole).
wormholes have become a favorite of science-fiction writers who
need to find a mechanism to move spaceships from one location
to another across the vast distances of interstellar space in
less than a human lifetime. In fact, it was Carl Sagan, the astronomer
who wrote the bestseller Contact (later made into a movie)
who need such a plot device and pushed Thorne into devising his
scheme using exotic matter. A naturally occurring wormhole was
also made a part of the Star Trek series Deep Space Nine
which made it possible for the characters to travel to a distance
part of the galaxy in the blink of an eye.
a wormhole could be used not just to link to parts of the same
universe however, but also two completely different universes.
the strangest thing possible to do with a wormhole is to turn
it into a time machine. According to Einstein's theory of relativity
anything that is accelerated is subject to time dilation. In other
words time slows down for it. While the effect of this is too
tiny for us to notice when we take a transcontinental flight,
if you were able to fly a spaceship to another star and back again
at near the speed of light, you would find that something like
a year had passed for you on board the spaceship, but ten years
had passed for those who stayed home on planet Earth.
could create a wormhole and leave one end on Earth and take the
other with you on that spaceship the end left at home would age
more than the one that you took with you. This difference would
mean that anything that entered that mouth of the wormhole on
the older end would emerge at the young end in the past (though
it would be impossible to go back further in time than when the
wormhole had been created).
could build wormholes could we use them for interstellar travel
like in the movies? Yes. We could even use them to travel into
the past. Here's the bad news, however. Nobody has ever observed
a naturally occurring wormhole and building them seems well beyond
our engineering capability for the foreseeable future. Indeed
it might not be possible at all. It isn't even known if the type
of exotic matter required for Thorne's wormhole even exists.
despair, however. When Einstein first came up with the concept
of a black hole it was thought to be just a theoretical concept
not actually occurring in nature. Now we have pretty good evidence
that black holes actually exist and may explain many of the things
we observe in the universe.
we haven't seen any wormholes, it hasn't stopped scientists from
imagining what a wormhole would look-like if we could build one.
They suggest it might look like a mirrored sphere, except instead
of reflecting our world it would actually be showing the location
at the other side of the hole. Here's a link to some videos that
researchers at Tübingen University created to show what a wormhole
would look like that connected their campus to a beach in France.
Try it out!
Majestic 12- I have often read about the Roswell Incident.
Supposedly a strange UFO crashed on a ranch outside Roswell in
I've also heard that none of this seemed to come to light
until the 60's or 70's due to some strange documents that turned
up, and everyone had bought the government's explanation up till
that point. - Michael
that you are referring to are supposed to be related to secret
group of scientists, military leaders, and government officials
that were authorized to investigate UFOs. Supposedly this group,
the "Majestic 12" (or MJ-12 for short), was established by order
of then President Harry S. Truman on September 24, 1947.
surfaced in 1984 after having been sent to TV producer and UFO
enthusiast Jaime Shandera in a brown paper envelope encoded on
a roll of 35mm film. One of the items on the film was an eight
page, official- looking document that gave a briefing to President-elect
Dwight Eisenhower about the recovery of the remains of two crashed
spaceships, with alien bodies, by government agents during the
also supposedly included a memo from President Harry Truman that
gave MJ-12 the power to investigate the Roswell situation. The
members of this secret group were allegedly Adm. Roscoe H. Hillenkoeter,
Dr. Vannevar Bush, Secretary James Forrestal, Gen. Nathan F. Twining,
Gen. Hoyt S. Vanderberg, Dr. Detlev Bronk, Dr. Jerome Hunsaker,
Mr. Sidney W. Souers, Mr. Gordon Gray, Dr. Donald Menzel, Gen.
Robert M. Montegue, and Dr. Lloyd V. Berkner. All of these men
had died by the time the documents came out in '84, so none of
them were around to comment on the authenticity of the material.
was suspicious that the documents might not be real and sat on
them. If they were real it would be a tremendous news scoop and
would prove just what the UFO conspiracy people had been saying
for years: That the U.S. government had been hiding the truth
about extra-terrestrials on earth. If the papers turned out to
be fakes, however, he would be a laughing stock. Without good
proof one way or the other, Shandera decided not to go public.
Several years later a copy of the film was given to British UFO
researcher Timothy Good who was working on a book called Above
Top Secret (1987). Good was a little less cautious and decided
go public with it. This lead to an article about the documents
in the newspaper The Observer in May of 1987. After that
Shandera decided also to admit that he had copies of the papers,
UFO skeptic Philip Klass urged the FBI to look in to the matter.
They decided to investigate under the premise that if the documents
were indeed real, U.S. law had been broken in their release. The
FBI, however, quickly came to the conclusion that the material
was "completely bogus."
split the UFO research community into two groups. Those arguing
against the authenticity of the documents pointed out various
problems with them: wrong formats, wrong type face, shaky providence
, etc. (For example several documents from the 40's seemed to
have been typed on a IBM 72, which dates from 1961).
who believe that the MJ-12 documents were real also found some
justification for their thinking: For example, a memo entitled
"NSC/MJ-12 Special Studies Project" from July 14, 1954 that apparently
refers to the "Majestic 12" group was found in the National Archives.
While this document might have been faked it, it would have been
hard to insert it into the official governmental records.
involved in researching UFO seemed to have come to the conclusion
that the documents are indeed false. However, a minority still
argue that they are real. Among those people who think they are
false, however, there are those that think that they were part
of a deliberate "disinformation" campaign by the government designed
to discredit the idea of UFO's and extra-terrestrials. They support
this claim by observing that the hoaxer apparently had access
to a number of obscure, but clearly real government documents.
If M-12 was disinformation from the government, just what, they
ask, was the Uncle Sam trying to hide?
more Q&A check the archive!
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Copyright Lee Krystek
2000. All Rights Reserved.