Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Relativity or Gravitivity?

I love science. Not in a Dickie Dawkins increasingly fundamentalist way. Just in a childlike oh-my-god-would-you-look-at-that kinda way. Allow me to pretentiously slide my glasses up my nose for a second when I say that if art is the way in which we engage with the world, then science is the way in which we engage with the universe. Which is precisely what I was doing at 9pm last night when I watched a bloody brilliant edition of Horizon. It was all about gravity and the shortfalls in our understanding of it.

Here's a re-cap in my bestest pleb-vox:

Once upon a time, Isaac Newton observed an intrinsic force of attraction between a piece of fruit and our blissful English globe. In a "eureka" moment, (although that was Archimedes, but more of him later) Newton extrapolated the classical model of celestial bodies spinning around and acting upon eachother in general ie. an apple is subject to the same physical laws as the earth. Things don't move around the sun. They move around eachother. So, for three-hundred years, this theory (for twas all) was taken for granted until Einstein gatecrashed the Physics Tea Party with his sexy new theory of relativity.

Mr. Einstein reckoned that space wasn't just space. There was more going on than just rocks and dust spinning in a void. Space had time in it as well. In fact, space-time was a bit like water. Space-time gets displaced and distorted when things move and spin in it. So, like Archimedes jumping in his bath, there are ripples and waves in space-time. We call this force, gravity. But gravity is more than simply centripedal force, because gravity.... can bend fucking time man! It not only keeps those pretentious glasses on my nose, it keeps the clocks ticking regularly too. Put your clock into space and it moves quicker. Blimey!

But space is so full of stuff flying around, there's ripples and waves of space-time spilling all over the place. In fact, you can see these waves through telescopes, bending the light from stars as it passes through space-time. These waves are caused by things like neutron stars orbiting one another at mind-bending speeds. As the gravity of one pulls space-time into it's centre, the other spins it out the other way, like a vortex, and off it goes rippling into space, bending all the time and light it comes across. Not surprising, these ripples are called "gravity waves." Right now, there are some lunatics in America with a 4mile laserbeam, hoping a gravity wave will hit it so we can measure it's effects.

Now to get really complicated. Ahem.

Einstein's model of relativity only works in the cosmos. Space and time woven together? Tick. Gravity being a force of both? Big tick. Gravity displaying these properties all at the time? Doh, bollocks! We can't observe gravity within atoms. We assume it must be there, but we can't be certain on such a small scale. I know! Let's smash some atoms up and see what's in them: we've observed a nucleus, a proton, a neutron and an electron. Let's see if there's anything we've missed.

Ha ha, well whatdya kwow! There is an unaccounted energy loss when we smash atoms together in a particle accelerator. Whatever could the explanation be? Perhaps it's a "graviton;" a theoretical quantum particle that doesn't weigh anything at all. Where does it go in the particle accelerator? According to Horizon "maybe to another dimension. We don't know."

Hmmm. At this point I had to check wikipedia to clarify this in my own mind. Do gravitons exist? Well, I'd buy into them. Do they disemminate into "another dimension" when released? I doubt it.

Beleive it or not, the "problem" of gravity is one that's very close to my geographical heart. My parents live about 3miles (as the crow flies) from Warton Airbase. Owned by the military, it's the test-site for BAE Systems. Rumour has they've been testing and developing anti-gravity aircraft for some time. My mates can tell you all kinds of tales of strange lights and ungodly noises coming across the fields at night. Ironic then that anti-gravity pioneer, gyroscope enthusiast and infamous Royal Institute-heretic, Eric Laithwaite, hailed from just a few miles further in the Fylde (the mossy bit between Preston and Blackpool).

For more info, why not fire your imagination even more with this: .

See. I told you I love science!

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