December 12, 2004
A question of gravity
It seems that, according to the New Scientist magazine, at least, the question of the nature of gravity, or at least the effects of gravity, are currently exercising the minds of a number of important scientists. The cause of it all is the observation, first made almost a hundred years ago, that something strange appears to happen during a total eclipse of the sun. Essentially a pendulum loses its rhythmn during the apogee of the eclipse and becomes erratic.
Various attempts to replicate the original observation have met with varied success. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. One part of the problem seems to be the type of pendulum, but the rest seems to be eluding the scientific community at present. One thing is for sure - it actually calls into question at least part of Einstein's theory of gravity being relative. In this theory, the eclipse should have no effect at all - yet, clearly it does. So the BIG question is - why?
The next part of this question is raised by the fact that gravitational anomalies are now being discovered elsewhere - without the benefit of a solar eclipse to help explain them. So now we also have to ask the question again - why these anomalies?
For a sci-fi buff, this research may ultimately lead to the discovery of something without which all deep space travel is simply unthinkable - artificial gravity. I jest not. Consider for a moment how we train astronauts for the condition of weightlessness that they will encounter in space. We take them up in an aircraft and by flying fast and high in a series of shallow dives and loops the passengers can be given a few seconds of weightlessness in flight. These trips are made in aircraft aptly named "vomit comets" - because the sudden changes affect the passengers' stomachs rather adversely! Anyone who has had the experience of flying in a fast jet, or a light aircraft during aerobatics - or even a big helicopter doing a stall turn will know the sensation of weightlessness - and the wrench it gives the stomach!
Another form of weightlessness can be generated in a laboratory using massively powerful magnetic fields. Since all matter has a positive or negative electric "charge" if subjected to a powerful enough magnetic field - and we're talking mega-teslas here - it can be rendered "weightless" by countering the downward pull of the earth's gravitational field on the body. So far this can be demonstrated only with small objects. However, scientists can do it to a human body as well - it just requires a dose in the giga-tesla range! The report does add that this should not be attempted by anyone with "piercings". Just so; I don't think I'll go there - frankly the bind moggles!
The research does open up the debate - still raging - about the existence of something called "dark matter", a substance which some surmise may exist in greater quantity than that form of matter we can see and measure. They argue that this is the only way to explain the way gravity draws and links things across huge distances - and that it is the only way to explain another mystery surrounding gravity - that there is more of it than the "matter" we can see and measure should provide!
Well, I am not a scientist. I do, however, live in the hope that one day this research and other work will combine to allow us to explore beyond our solar system and out into the deepest reaches of the galaxy, perhaps even, one day, the universe. Then, perhaps, we will come to begin to understand the true wonderment of creation - and its Creator.
Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5, and Star Wars, to name but a few of the truly pioneering sci-fi films and shows may yet all be prophetic. It all depends on how we come to understand the simple matter of why gravity is and how it can be manipulated or generated so that we can leave this tiny speck of dust in the vastness of space and venture out into the stars.
A dream? Perhaps, but I think one worth pursuing.
Posted by The Gray Monk at December 12, 2004 11:07 AM
Ow, my fillings!
Posted by: The Sanity Inspector at December 12, 2004 10:41 PM