Sunday, November 22, 2015

Interstellar Homework

This was the first time I saw the movie Interstellar, and I have to say I am completely blown away. It's easily one of the best movies I've ever seen, if not -the- best. The story behind the movie was just as entertaining as the physics. The movie introduced concepts to the public that few had ever considered possible and did it in a way that was scientifically accurate and believable. Perhaps chief among these and one of the highlights of the movie was the wormhole placed near Saturn by beings from a place with four spatial dimensions, who can apparently warp spacetime with "relative" ease (Eh? Get it? Relative?). Bad jokes aside, the concept of a wormhole is quite simple actually and is depicted very well in the movie itself with one of the characters folding a piece of paper in two and then sticking a pen through it to illustrate traveling from one spot to another over a great distance in a short time. The wormhole in question takes the crew to another galaxy with planets orbiting a black hole. Now, I'm not a rocket scientist (yet), but I'm pretty sure fixing Earth is probably easier than getting Earth's entire population into a massive ship, sending that ship to Saturn and then through a wormhole to another galaxy where the habitable planets are orbiting an enormous black hole named Gargantua. Personally, I would stay as far away from black holes as possible.

According to Kip Thorne, a wormhole is unnatural in our universe with our laws of physics, but for an "ultra-advanced" civilization from a higher dimension, it would probably be a cake-walk. The idea behind a wormhole is that it would require negative energy to remain stable and we have absolutely no concept of what negative energy might be or how to use it. For us, creating and stabilizing wormholes may be stuck in the realm of impossibility with laws of physics.

However if we were to indulge this theoretical idea, how would a wormhole look? Well the odds are it would be a sphere, and light traveling through it from the other side would come through, giving you a picture of what is on the other side. So if there were a planet on the other side, you would see that planet looking through the wormhole. The same goes for the opposite, if there were someone on the other side of the wormhole looking back through, they would see you looking at them.

One theory is that wormholes do actually exist, but they're on the subatomic level, a part of the theoretical "quantum foam." These wormholes are not visible to the human eye and would only be about a Planck Length long. Suffice to say, you won't be going anywhere fast with those wormholes.

The very idea of wormholes is strange in itself, but theoretically they could exist as an alternative to faster-than-light travel. Obviously there are no wormholes simply hanging around Saturn, and we really can't travel through subatomic wormholes on the off chance that they actually exist. So I suppose we'll just have to wait until a group of beings from a higher dimension place one for us to use. In the meantime, we'll continue trying to figure out how to create them anyway.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Many of the technologies we have to day were "predicted" by the Star Trek T.V. series such as hand-held communication devices and doors that open on their own. It's easy to see why so many scientists and science-lovers enjoyed the series. The physics and gadgets of the Star Trek series are mostly correct with only minor deviations from our laws and limits excluding things such as the Warp drive. These things were easily forgiven however, because they made for a great story and was necessary to advance the plot. The Warp drive itself has become quite famous and NASA has actually begun research on such a thing, the theoretical warp drive being named the "Alcubierre drive."

The Warp drive allows the crew and the ship to travel at many times the speed of light in order to travel from system to system in reasonable amounts of time, and it is one of the only hypothetical faster-than-light technologies that involves a travel time rather than instantly jumping from system to system. There are mentions of "warp factors" in the movies and T.V. shows and according to the Star Trek Technical Manuals, the warp factors are converted to multiples of c with the cubic function v = w3c. According to this equation, Warp Factor 1 would be c, or the speed of light. However, 
Warp Factor 2 would be 8 times the speed of light, Warp Factor 3 would be 27 times the speed of light and
so on. The warp core, which is the central part of the warp drive, is often known as the "gravimetric field 
displacement manifold," and is powered by matter-antimatter annihilation, meaning when matter and
antimatter come into contact, they annihilate and release enormous amounts of energy. So yes, it's very 
complicated and highly theoretical, but it makes sense. Sort of.

The warp drive is perhaps the most crucial part of the Star Trek series itself, making any and all travel 
between solar systems possible. How they solved the need for an infinite amount of Work at the speed of 
light is beyond me, but apparently they figured it out. Just to use an example of it's necessity for the plot; 
Spock would never be a part of the Enterprise crew because he was from the planet Vulcan, which was 16
light years away from Earth. The Voyager probe, traveling at 17 kilometers a second, will take roughly
73,775 years to reach Proxima Centauri, which is the closest star to Earth at 4.24 ly. So the warp drive is
clearly necessary for any alien species to be a member of Starfleet. 

The second and perhaps the only invention in the Star Trek universe that even comes close to the level of
necessity that the warp drive has is the inertial dampers. What are the inertial dampers, you might ask? 
The inertial dampers keep everyone alive every time the ship accelerates. What happens when you get in 
a car and slam on the gas? You're shoved backwards into the seat. Now imagine that sensation at several
times the speed of light. Now you know why the inertial dampers are necessary. Without the inertial
dampers, everyone in the ship would simply appear as a bloody smear on whatever wall is in front of them
provided the ship didn't simply tear itself apart immediately as the warp drive was engaged.

The inertial dampers function on the idea of inertia negation, which is a hypothetical process of causing 
physical objects with mass to act as if they had lower mass or had no mass at all. Obviously there is no 
way to change the mass of an object to zero and even if you could, the object would no longer exist.
This is the big middle finger to the law of conversation of mass. So yeah. That's how that works, or
doesn't work. 

In conclusion, Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before. - Spock2015

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Nuclear Dilemma Homework

The production and use of Nuclear weapons is a highly controversial topic, debated on between scientists and military officials alike. The original rush for the creation of the atomic bombs was because of the horrible thought of Nazi Germany gaining them first and using them to dominate the world. Nowadays they're being continually developed to make them safer and to avoid malfunctions in the event they need to be launched. During the Cold War though, both the Soviet Union and the United States rushed to create an enormous number of nuclear weapons to try and bully the other into submission. This all came to a head with Soviet nuclear technology being transported to Cuba, a mere 90 miles south of the Floridian border.

Nuclear weapons are a moral dilemma. On one hand they act as a deterrent to war, an unspoken threat to anyone considering war with a nuclear nation. On the other hand, they are an extremely efficient way to end human life, and are terribly powerful. I personally am against the use of nuclear weapons, but I do believe that they should exist and continue to exist as a deterrent.

I believe that Nuclear weapons should exist because of their constant and unspoken threat. They deter war because no one wants to have their entire country destroyed in a matter of seconds. If I were a nuclear physicist working to improve nuclear weapons, I would simply quit my job. I refuse to create something that can kill millions indeterminately at the push of a button. I could not willingly contribute to the creation of weapons of mass destruction. However, if my job were to maintain the existing weapons and ensure the safety of anyone and anything within it's range, I would gladly do my job.

If I were forced to work on a nuclear weapon with the knowledge it would be used to kill innocents to end a war, much like the scientists involved in the Manhattan Project were, I don't know what I would do. Slow my work to a crawl, hope that I was kicked out because I simply wasn't working out, or if they refused to kick me out, intentionally delay the creation. I understand that this may be immoral in and of itself, but I would gladly delay the calculations in order to hope for a better solution. I would not sabotage the project physically, but if I had no choice, I would work the slowest I possibly could.

I would sign the petition the scientists in the Manhattan Project started, hoping that the creation would never be utilized, but I understood why they chose to work on the bomb. Nazi Germany getting their hands on it first was not an option, but I'm glad they petitioned against the use of it and I would have done the same in their position.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Day After Tomorrow Homework

Carbon Dioxide (often denoted as CO2) is the primary gas emitted by the burning of fossil fuels such as gasoline and oil. Carbon Dioxide is a pollutant, causing health conditions in major cities such as Beijing, China, where the air pollution levels are twenty times the maximum level stated by the World Health Organization. People who live in Beijing are expected to live a lifespan fifteen years shorter than the global average. Even the Chinese government is recommending that children and elderly remain indoors where they can breathe fresher air and if they must go outside, they should wear facial masks.

This is a picture of Beijing on a particularly bad day. This isn't fog, it's smog, a combination of haze and smoke/pollutants.
Death rates due to air pollution are the highest in China, unsurprisingly. As of 2008, the death toll was at nearly half a million compared to the next highest India at around one hundred and sixty eight thousand, as reported by the World Health Organization.
The cause of these deaths stem from the burning of coal, gas, oil, and other natural gasses for electricity, transportation, and industrial factories. Electricity is the largest cause of pollution at a rather shocking 37% while transportation is close behind with 31% of all CO2 emissions. Industry falls a little farther behind at 15% while the other 16% is made up of everything else. To cut down CO2 emissions by over a third, we would simply need to phase out power plants that burn coal and fuel and substitute them with things such as Nuclear power plants or solar energy.
The city of Beijing has smog so dense that it can be observed from the International Space Station.
The Chinese government is also hypocritical in their claim of attempting to lower pollution levels. On one hand, they offer a reward to the city of Beijing for reducing CO2 emissions, but on the other they agree to fund fifteen new large-scale coal mining projects. Seeing as the burning of coal and other natural gasses are the root of the problem regarding pollution, the Chinese government isn't helping the environment, simply destroying it even faster. This is not just a problem in China, however. The entire world has to deal with the issue of air pollution, China being the most extreme of examples. 
The reduction of CO2 emissions is paramount to the survival of the human species and the preservation of our world. If we continue on the path we are on today, the world will become uninhabitable, which would mean the end for our species and perhaps all life on Earth. The best case scenario if this does happen is humans survive at a distance, perhaps orbiting Earth in some sort satellite or the colonization and terraforming of Mars where we can begin anew the destruction of a planet.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

2001: A Grip Shoes Odyssey

The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968, drawn from the mind of the eccentric director Stanley Kubrick. Aside from the long run time, the random giant monoliths, the less than three-hundred words of dialog, the ten minute long continuous shots and of course, the space fetus in orbit... you'd never this movie sprang from the mind of Kubrick. You might actually think it came from a physicist-turned-director who got sick of Hollywood making a mockery of our laws of physics.

The movie opens with human ancestors on Earth a long time ago in a galaxy far far away (minus the last part). The apes are huddled around a puddle of mud (Lets be honest. It's not even a watering hole. It's just a puddle.) and another tribe/pack of apes chases them off. Then the good-guy apes are sitting under a rock feeling sorry for themselves until one of them has the brilliant idea to pick up the femur of an animal. Thus the age of "hitting soft things with hard things in order to make the soft things die" began. (Trust me, that's the actual name of the age.) Supposedly it was the monolith which gave our ancestors the intuition to pick up a bone and swing it at something. It's at around this point that the movie swaps back to what is supposed to be modern-day, or for us, fourteen years ago. This is where the dialog -really- starts to ramp up. I think this was the point where multiple people had an entire conversation. Then we're off to Jupiter with an evil AI who controls everything on the ship including life support. HAL 9000 ends up murdering everyone except the protagonist, who then disables him. Then he is sucked through what seems to be a wormhole and goes on a bad acid trip where he can smell, hear, and taste colors. Then the protagonist appears in a bedroom with his point of view changing every few minutes until he finally sees himself as a dying old man. Then there's a monolith at the bed, and suddenly a giant space fetus. The End.

Most of the physics of 2001: A Space Odyssey are spot on. I'd be hard pressed to find any glaring errors that are bad enough to be laughable. Things like the spinning spaceship to create artificial gravity by creating a normal force equal to that of what you would feel on Earth. It's also fascinating that Kubrick and his crew were able to come up with and implement ideas like orbiting space stations and ships that utilize centripetal force in order to create an artificial gravity. I don't think many people could even comprehend a computer program with human-like thoughts and responses, much less that one could malfunction and kill everyone. Artificial Intelligence isn't something we've mastered yet 47 years after Kubrick created a seemingly perfect one. Perhaps what added the most to the film was the absolute silence in the vacuum of space. There was no horrifying soundtrack as he ejected from the pod. There was absolutely nothing, which I found to be more powerful than anything else that could have been added. It gave the scenes an extremely unsettling and tense feeling, as if you were waiting for something you knew would never come.

Personally, I like the concept of the movie. I just don't like the way Kubrick decided to convey it. The long and drawn out shots of him running, or just.. breathing, the lack of dialog, and the ending just turned me off to the movie. I saw no semblance of a solid plot. I couldn't figure out if there was an actual story. I honestly think HAL 9000 malfunctioning and killing everyone but the protagonist would have made a better movie than monkeys, aliens, and space babies. As it stands, I'm not sure which was the focal point of the movie. HAL, or the aliens/monolith. If it were the latter, HAL malfunctioning seems like a bunch of filler scenes, and if it were the former... I think Kubrick decided to get high and write down whatever popped into his head as an ending.

Last but not least, grip shoes are amazing.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Superhero Homework

Superman is one of the most well-known fictional characters in history, rivaled only perhaps by the likes of Mickey Mouse and Sherlock Holmes. His powers make him quite literally invincible on Earth, which is why he's from another planet in the stories. Superman is Kal-el from the planet Krypton, son of Russell Crowe-- I mean Jor-el. So I've done some research regarding Clark Kent, and there are some interesting explanations as to why his powers work the way they do.

Beginning with the obvious of the bunch, Superman's strength. The idea behind Superman's strength is that he came from a planet that had a stronger gravity than Earth's, so his muscles are naturally used to being strained by that gravity. It's claimed that the gravity on Krypton would have to be at -least- fifteen times that of Earth. Which means that since Superman weighs around 225 lbs (which is about the same that I weigh, and Superman is only an inch taller than I am at six feet four inches), he would weigh 3375 lbs or over one and a half tons on the planet Krypton. Since Superman and I are pretty close in height and weight, I figure I should point out the fact that he appears to be all muscle and no fat, which isn't the case for me, This seems to create a discrepancy between Superman's height and weight. Two hundred and twenty five pounds seems rather light to me for a Man of Steel, who appears almost like a body builder. It seems to me he'd be at least 250 to 275 lbs, but that's a minor detail. What I'd like to point out as a major flaw in Superman's story is that, yes he was born on Krypton and his body was probably used to the gravitational pull for a while, but he lived out most of his life on Earth, where his body should have become acclimated to Earth's gravity. Or, if he did manage to keep the same physique he had on Krypton, he would have to exercise constantly in order to maintain it just like Astronauts have to exercise on the International Space Station so that they do not experience muscular atrophy.

Superman's ability to flight is supposedly attributed to the fact that the civilization on the planet Krypton is millions of years ahead of Earth, and their bodies have reached evolutionary perfection. Since Superman is powered by the Sun, he can alter his own gravitational field with the energy he gathers and propel himself into the air any time he likes. Don't ask me how that works, I don't know.

The next ability is actually the most likely to make sense. Not so much as to how he has the ability, but more on how it works. The famous X-ray vision that young men dream about having. X-rays are outside of the visible spectrum and pass through your body all the time. Superman can see in this spectrum and look through buildings, clothes, people, skin, and all manner of other things except lead and other dense metals like Gold. In a similar fashion to being able to see in the X-ray spectrum, Superman can also see and utilize the Infrared spectrum to create heat and melt objects. Why they're shown as lasers is beyond me.

Source: SUPERMAN'S Secrets Exposed. By: Chiang, Mona, Science World, 10411410, 10/9/2006, Vol. 63, Issue 3

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Armageddon Homework

In the history of Earth, there have been five mass extinctions and arguably Humans themselves are the sixth mass extinction, causing species to die out at alarming rates and changing the climate so rapidly that many more are soon to follow. However, one of the most discussed extinction events is the asteroid impact 65 million years ago. The crater at Chicxulub, Yucatan is 180 kilometers across and 20 kilometers deep, taking the title of one of the largest impact events in the history of our planet with an asteroid of nearly 10 kilometers in diameter causing the most recent extinction event. Asteroid impacts are a very real threat and concern to humans. Objects the size of our moon float around in interplanetary space or the asteroid belt simply waiting for another stray rock to knock them out of their orbit and into ours. These rogue rocks and comets are known as Near Earth Objects, or NEOs and there are several organizations dedicated to finding, naming, tracking, and predicting these objects, and it's not a question of if we'll end up on one of these object's hit lists, but when.

There have been several proposed solutions to deflect or even destroy these objects before they can end up destroying our planet, including but not limited to; nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons, hitting it with something very big and fast to make it move slightly to the left, putting some sails on it and letting the sun push it away, attaching a probe to it and putting it into lunar orbit, and nuclear weapons. It seems to me that hitting it with a large object to change either it's speed or direction even the tiniest fraction to avoid a collision is the best course of action. One of my favorite science channels on YouTube, AsapSCIENCE, explains by way of guest host Bill Nye (the Science Guy) how changing the trajectory of an asteroid by altering it's speed or direction even the tiniest percent would work. Bill Nye (el Chico Ciencia) explains that an asteroid moving at 10 km/s toward Earth needs to be changed by 2 mm/s to avoid a collision. So a 10 kilometer asteroid is 10,000 meters, obviously, and one millimeter is one thousandth of a meter. So one thousand multiplied by ten thousand is ten million. So the object would need to be altered by one ten-millionth of it's original speed in order to avoid an impact, and of course, that's not very much. Yet, as Bill Nye (die Wissenschaft Kerl) points out; an asteroid with a mass of 100,000 tons is extremely difficult to move at all. It's going to take a lot of force to move something of that size even the tiniest fraction.

So as Bill Nye (le gars de la science) points out, the easiest and obviously the most scientific way of deflecting an asteroid is to take an enormous spacecraft and smash it into the side of the asteroid to change it's speed just a tiny bit. Now, the mass of a fully loaded Saturn V rocket is 2,970,000 kg, and during the third stage, the rocket is moving at 10.8 km/s. Assuming the asteroid with a mass of 100,000 tons (90909090.91 kg) is moving at 10 km/s, this means that the momentum of the asteroid is 909,090,909.1 kg km/s or 909,090,909,100 kg m/s and the momentum of the rocket is 32,076,000 kg km/s or 32,076,000,000 kg m/s, meaning the total momentum in the system is 941,166,909,100 kg m/s. If we divide the momentum of the rocket by the mass of the asteroid, we get a -.3528 m/s change in speed. This is far more than what is required to deflect the asteroid enough to avoid a world-ending collision.

Technically, this theory is feasible... If we could somehow get something with the mass of a fully loaded Saturn V rocket into space and on the correct course to slow the asteroid down .3528 m/s, though the size of a rocket needed to lift something the size of a Saturn V rocket into space would be unimaginably large for spacecraft standards, but still doable.

AsapSCIENCE video with Bill Nye (the Science Guy):