Thought of the Week: Dark Universe

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Silesian Planetaruim (not the one we went to).

Silesian Planetaruim (not the one we went to).

I was at a planetarium this weekend with Little Satis and my family, and we watched a wonderful short presentation on dark matter narrated by the smooth-voiced Neil deGrasse Tyson. (Mrs. Satis actually dozed off because of his voice.) I’m pretty partial to anything space related, and although I didn’t learn any astounding, never-knew-that-before statistics, it re-awoke the old fascination in me about the origins of the universe, and space in general.

One of the revelations of the presentation was the fact that all of the matter and energy (stars, planets, heat, light, etc.) that we can observe represents about 5% of the total contents of the universe, calculable by the gravitational effects of dark matter on the rotation of galaxies and the expansion effects of dark energy on the universe as a whole. But things like that make me wonder, because there are a number of far-flung theories out there regarding the nature of the universe as a whole, and as an absolute lay-person I sometimes feel like I can almost piece it all together, if only I was a little brighter.


This would mean that every black hole in our universe is in fact a lower-dimension universe in and of itself…


Dak matter strings.

Dak matter strings.

String theory (to my limited understanding) essentially postulates that all particles in the known universe are actually space-time representations of ‘strings’ that permeate the entire universe. What this essentially means is that this hydrogen atom that I see spinning away from me is actually part of an infinite string, pulled along by the expansion of the universe itself. If such is the case, then it makes me wonder whether ‘dark energy’ is required to explain the expansion of the universe. After all, energy is required to explain the kinetic movement of objects in a three-dimensional space. However, if the movement of objects on the largest of scales is actually the act of the universe dragging them along, no energy, as I see it, is required.

It does still raise the question of why the universe is expanding at all, but what if that expansion is purely relative? For example, it’s been calculated that as the universe expands, it cools. Therefore, it was hotter in the past than in the present. But if our existence in the universe is dependent on the relative conditions at the moment in time in which we exist, then isn’t it just as likely that earlier in the universe’s life, the relative heat was no greater than it is now? In other words, to an observer ten billion years ago, the universe was no hotter than it is now, although for that observer, the universe was still hotter in the past and cooler in the future.

Does that make any sense? If it does, it means there may be no such thing as ‘dark energy’ at all, since the movement of distant galaxies and the temperature of the universe as a whole is entirely relative to the observer.

Super neat image of a black hole (not real).

Super neat image of a black hole (not real).

Another theory that I quite like the idea of is that the entire universe is actually the interior of a higher-dimension black hole. This is fun, because it explains the big bang as the point of creation of that singularity, and the expansion of the universe as the continued accumulation of matter and energy from that black hole’s event horizon. It could even explain the increasing rate of the universe’s expansion by the black hole going through a period of increased accretion, perhaps because it’s moving through a space of higher-density matter/energy in that higher-dimension universe.

This would also mean that every black hole in our universe is in fact a lower-dimensional universe in and of itself, which is an exciting thought. It aligns the thought that one can’t ask the question “what is outside the universe” because the universe is the entirety of existence with the thought that nothing can escape a black hole once in it in the first place. It makes me wonder what forms of life might exist inside black holes that we would never know of…

So that only leaves dark matter, which…well, I don’t have time or inclination to attack that now. This essay will have to stand as-is for the moment. Still – it’s exciting stuff. What do you think of the origins of the universe and the fate of its continued expansion?

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Thought of the Week: Forget Einstein, H.G. Wells was the Father of Quantum Physics

MenmoonfrontMy wife recently came across H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds on TV, which was not the War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise in it, nor the infinitely superior The War of the Worlds from 1953 with Gene Barry. Interestingly (as I discovered) she had never read the original novel, which meant the twists of the tale were quite a pleasant surprise. I will say that I did not watch this adaptation with her, but suffice to say that humans use some kind of virus to destroy the rampaging Martians.

This naturally got me thinking about our beloved prototypical science-fiction authors such as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, as well as, naturally, contemporary visionaries as well (amongst whom I would cite Gene Roddenberry as being one of the most influential). There is always a great danger in predicting the future, because it can be all too easy to become ensnared by the limitations of our mechanical knowledge, and lose sight of the true predictions: the state of human society, and the concepts that will develop over the following years, decades or centuries.

Jules Verne – the father of science fiction.

Jules Verne – the father of science fiction.

Though both Wells and Verne excelled at fantastical story-telling, to me it is undoubtedly Verne who gave the deepest thought to the progress of technology and its impact on the human race. Well’s visions of invading aliens and devolved humans in the far-flung future are engaging and frightening, but there is little reality for them to be based upon, and indeed the more we’ve come to learn of the universe, the more impossible these predictions appear.

The imaginations of Jules Verne continue to ring true through to the very present. This may be to do with the differences in their early lives; as a law student in Paris, Verne had access to some of the best literature and minds of the time, and essentially unlimited potential to nurture his fascination with travel and science. Wells, by contrast, grew up with little money, serving a number of unsatisfactory apprenticeships and teaching jobs, all in order to simply make a living. These themes ultimately reflect in his work, which appear to focus more on human interaction and class.

H.G. Wells – the father of quantum physics.

H.G. Wells – the father of quantum physics.

Verne’s fictional accounts of the future and the impossible have borne out in reality with uncanny accuracy. In 1873 he predicted the ability to travel around the globe at high speed in Around the World in Eighty Days. Fifty years later, it could be done in only three or four; today, in less than one. He famously predicted a self-powered submarine in 1870 with 20,000 Leagues under the Sea; today we have legions of such machines. He even imagined extra-terrestrial outposts such as in Off on a Comet, where a number of people are forced to coexist on a comet that pulled them from Earth as it passed nearby.

It comes as a surprise, then, that between the two authors’ visions of space travel (Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon in 1865 and Wells’ The First Men in the Moon in 1901), it is actually Wells who got it more ‘right’. Verne imagines people shot from a giant cannon; though technically possible, it would result in such phenomenal pressures that the unhappy astronauts would likely be mush by the time they left the Earth’s atmosphere.

Wells, on the other hand, creates a substance called cavorite, which has the interesting ability to repel gravity. At first glance this appears to be utterly impossible of course – far less likely than a moon-cannon – until we start to look into the world of quantum mechanics. Without diving too deep (for fear of losing myself!), I’d like to point out the theoretical graviton. When you boil the universe down to its most fundamental parts and start to observe all the wonderful weirdness that happens, one of the questions that arises is: what actually makes things attracted to each other? So far there is no answer, but one hypothesis is a massless particle called the graviton. If it exists, it would be responsible for the very thing that keeps our feet on the ground.

Given that, it then comes to mind that if gravity is the result of a particle, then that particle could be blocked. In fact, it may even have an anti-particle. If you could discover or create a material that could either cancel or block gravitons, you would essentially have created the potential for a free-floating object even in close proximity to extremely massive bodies – not just the earth or the sun, but potentially even black holes! Imagine the implications of that for astrophysics!

So ultimately, though Verne’s predictions have borne out more successfully and accurately, Wells holds the trump card for inventing quantum mechanics twenty years before anyone began doing any serious theoretical work in the field! Einstein, eat your heart out.

Wouldn't it be cool to be able to sit here – and not get sucked in?

Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to sit here – and not get sucked in?

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