Sunday 30 June 2019

Dark Stuff

Can you spot the dark stuff?

Time for another very sensible post. There will be no reference to Japanese snipers or ferrets (go Shagger!) in the following pontifications. 

The title of this post, ‘Dark Stuff’, refers to ‘stuff’ more commonly referred to as ‘Dark Matter’. I’m constrained/restrained from using the word, ‘matter’ in the title as we really have no idea of what this mysterious thing is composed of. In fact, we infer the presence of ‘Dark Matter’ mainly by the properties it doesn’t seem to have.

A little background: The Swiss astronomer, Fritz Zwicky, observed an interesting galactic phenomenon back in the 1930s. By measuring the light emitted from a remote galaxy cluster he was able to measure its total mass. The velocities of the galaxies in the cluster are governed by gravity and the extent of gravitational attraction is dependant on the overall mass present. He noted, that given the measured mass, the respective velocities of the galaxies in the cluster appeared too high. There seemed too little mass present to account for this aberrant cosmic choreography. Zwicky concluded that there must be an appreciable amount of invisible mass present which he called, ‘Dark Matter’. This observation remained an isolated anomaly until the 1970s when the cosmologist Vera Rubin Cooper noticed a similar mass deficit whilst measuring star velocities in a neighbouring galaxy. Rubin Cooper found that stars in the outer arms of the galaxy were moving faster than that predicted by their visible mass. Again to account for this discrepancy the presence of a large amount of none-visible matter was postulated. Subsequently, these observations have been confirmed using measurements on a number of celestial bodies.     

It appears that normal, or baryonic matter, comprises only 5% of the matter/energy in the universe, while a further 25% is composed of exotic dark matter. The remaining 65% seems to belong to an equally mysterious and intractable force now known as ‘Dark Energy’. The nature (or the un-nature) of dark energy will have to await another post.

The only positive attribute we can ascribe to dark matter is that it exhibits gravity. Gravity is an intrinsic property of matter and is best described as an artefact of mass warping space-time. I’ve pontificated upon the topic of gravity previously. My erudite musings can be accessed/expedited here and here. Intriguingly, dark matter emits no electromagnetic radiation, as far as we are aware, and therefore we are unable to detect its presence by conventional light or radio-telescopes. Dark matter does not appear to interact with normal matter in any way, or at least in any way we are able to discern. Furthermore, not only does dark matter have no truck with 'known matter' it also has no ambition to interact with itself: curiouser and curiouser.

Scientists are at a complete loss as to the nature of this exotic ‘substance’. There exists a particle in nature which appears to share the property of none interaction, the neutrino. Neutrinos are particles that do not exhibit an electromagnetic charge and thus are not repelled by the atomic forces present in the nucleus. It is this repulsive power of atoms which gives the illusion of solidity. As I write, millions of neutrinos are passing through my body before continuing their journey through the Earth. Most of what we call, normal matter, is empty space. Without the repulsive charge of atoms, our hands would simply pass through a solid object such as a chair. As neutrinos are without a charge they pass through objects without being impeded. It is only on the very rare occasion when a neutrino physically strikes a nucleus that this rather odd particle is liable to detection. These rare interactions with atoms result in the emittance of detectable (perhaps delectable?) photons. This option for detection seems denied to dark matter.

The neutrino model represents an analogy which may bear no affinity to dark matter. Are there any other scenarios? Could it be that there is no extra ‘matter’ as such, but a form of extra ‘energy’ (cf Dark Energy). How could this energy manifest? Clearly, it is not a form of conventional electromagnetic wave energy, otherwise, we would be able to detect it using our current technology. Thus, the postulation of dark matter is not the only theory put forth to explain the problem of discrepant gravity. It could be argued that perhaps there are other mechanisms at work. Indeed, the theory of dark matter could be no more than a ‘fudge factor’ or the addition of a constant for which there is no evidence. Remember Einstein in the early 1920s assumed a static eternal universe and thus felt the need to add a ‘cosmological constant’ to the equations of general relativity. When it became known that the universe was expanding this constant became no longer necessary. Einstein acknowledged that the addition of his cosmological constant was his greatest blunder in an illustrious career. Perhaps scientists are looking in the wrong area/arena. Perhaps, therefore, there is no extra mass at all. Perhaps the problem lies with our interpretation of gravity. Could Newton and Einstein have been in error when it comes to understanding the fundamental nature of gravity? There have been several theories advanced that do not rely on the presence of invisible matter. These theories are lumped under the umbrella of Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND). They tend to be quite complex for the none specialist and rely on a thorough understanding of string theory (another post, perhaps?). These theories although able to explain some of the observations are not able to account for all the observed phenomenon. Strangely, the postulate of invisible matter appears to be the most accurate description of our universe- makes ya think, dun it?.

Tis ironic that our best model of the universe is actually no model at all. Our understanding of reality at the scale of the very large and the extremely small (quantum physics) is a mess of contradictions and confusion. Tis enough to send a sane man quite maaad: or a mad man sane?  I'll leave my gentle readers to be the judge.  

Tuesday 25 June 2019

The Adventures of George Formby and his Ukelele Grilling Banjo: Featuring, Shagger the Wonder Ferret

By day our intrepid hero, George Formby (for it is he), is a mild-mannered clerk at the Tipton Council, reviewing applications for Japanese sniper permits, but by night he transforms into the superhero, ‘George Formby and his ukelele grilling banjo’. Our daredevil superhero is ready to fight crime and minor littering offences and fend off the evil doings of the arch-villain, ‘Arthur Askey and his magic skateboard’. Diminutive Arthur became embroiled in a freak leg and cock ablation episode which robbed him of the power of independent locomotion and the ability to piss standing up due to his lack of legs and cock. By necessity evil Arthur teamed up with a skateboard of unknown, prior, provenance. It is said that the skateboard possessed outre magical powers. Thereby Arthur was able to propel himself (sans cock and legs) about the grime besmirched streets of Tipton. During his escapades, legless Arthur, no cock, would scour the borough looking for suitable places to deposit dog shit and sundry detritus to the chagrin of the local townsfolk. Our George (for it is still he) would spend the twilight hours seeking out evil Arthur in an attempt to thwart his nefarious and numerous littering offences and other reprehensible activities.

Twas just another Saturday evening for George, when out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Arthur in the act of wobbling a ferret of no fixed whiskers. “Hold hard there wicked Arthur and stop wobbling that ferret before he becomes too dizzy”. "Aha, Formby, you will never prevent acts of minor infringements against the family, Mustelidae (genus: Mustela )”. Aghast at the turn of events, George let loose his trusty grilling ukelele. The cast was true smiting Arthur’s never regions. However, as our legless fiend was bereft of cock this impeded his progress, not a jot and Arthur continued with his ferret inspired wobbling, unabated. Then fate conspired to lay low this heinous villain. For just at the moment the flying grill missed Arthur’s cock (he didn’t have one), the ferret partially recovered from a lull in the wobbling and proceeded to gnaw off one of Arthur’s fingers. Foiled again, our truncated villain made a hasty retreat on his skateboard leaving the mildly dizzy ferret supine on the grubby pavement. As he sped off, Arthur gave a cursory backward glance and shouted: “Drat you, George! Your grilling ukelele come banjo may have saved the ferret from a sound gyration, but I shall return to unleash a thousand furies and a few dog turds on the unsuspecting citizens/denizens of Tipton”.

Our hero, George, approached the prostrate ferret with tender ministrations and picked up the slightly discombobulated animal. George exposited thusly: “From this day forth I name thee, 'Shagger the Wonder Ferret’ and from now on we will forge a mighty duo to fight evil and ferret wobbling wherever it may be”. Shagger (for it is he), gave up his thanks by dropping the severed digit into George’s lap.

Henceforth, our dynamic twosome will bestride the streets of metropolitan Tipton (and parts of Netherton) forever vigilant for transgressors and particularly Arthur, the legless, cockless, fiendish villain of doom.

To be continued………..   

Shagger recovering from the wobbling

Saturday 22 June 2019


My posts have become very serious and cerebral of late. I’ve way too much time on my hands so I  tend to contemplate and write about grave matters and topics. There was a time when this blog was exceedingly silly and full of hilarious inanity and banality; replete with daring do tales of Arthur Askey and his arch-nemesis, George Formby and his grill. Tis time to redress the balance and issue forth a none too sensible post. This time I have chosen the highly fertile area of the ‘Album Cover’ genre. The album cover is the artist’s attempt to convey the quintessence of the contents therein. This is something not easy to do well. For every tasteful and resplendent cover, such as ‘Rumours’, we see an abundance of dross put forth by shit performers. I’ve attempted to put together a gaggle of covers which are piss poor at best culminating in the mildly disturbing, at worst. Some of the ‘artists’ gathered here are clearly not well and some, are incredibly unphotogenic. Read on and weep……..    

Why didn't he call himself, Richard or Rick? 

Indeed Sir, if you had been crucified you wouldn't be able to do the thing suggested in your name. At least not in public.

Oh dear, what an unfortunate name. I suspect his time at school was not a happy time. Kids can be really cruel about this sort of thing. Perhaps this is why this fella does not look too happy? Or could it be because he married the ugliest woman in Swansea? Looking at the 'fruit of the loins' from this union I can truly believe in retrogressive evolution. Looks like someone has been pissing in the gene pool.

Shit on a stick. I don't know about going back to Miami. I would think going back to the hairdresser would be the better of the two options. Tis a complete ecosystem sporting its own rainforest, fauna and a slug called Gerald. This is just as well as the lacquer needed to keep this concoction aloft must have released enough CFC gas to destroy the Brazilian rainforest. Why do I keep thinking of candyfloss?

I'm all for experimentation and I've certainly lived a life to the full (no shit, Flaxen). But even I find this menage a trois mildly disturbing. Apart from the dominant-submissive vibe going on, the dog looks like he's done this before (how disturbing). Like the peanut butter Rover has to lick up later, this cover is tasteless. Nuff said.

Get into da pot. I'm sure the social warrior brigade, rabid lefties and other assorted mirthless nerks will be deeply offended by this stereotypical image of our dusky brethren. On a practical/prosaic note: It is totally unfeasible that the 'duskies' would be interested in eating an aged white woman- she would be far too tough and would take a lot of boiling. Best to fry a few local, tender, young virgins. I'm sure they are easy to obtain on the black market, just a spear chuck away from the Zambezi river. A gentle pan fry would undoubtedly do the trick especially if you add a few mushrooms and shallots. Apparently, it tastes like pork. Arse.  

This is an album cover from a 'group' called Menudo. They are interesting because they keep regenerating. The band never dies. As a member of the group ages, they are replaced by a younger boy. Tis a metaphor for life, perhaps. As far as I'm concerned they look like a bunch of greasy adolescent gypos (Hola!). Am I being racist? Of course, I am. However, I live in a country which pays lip service to the right of free speech and more importantly I'm imbued with a wicked sense of humour. Hola! On an unrelated point: I also like burning stuff.   

Of course, he touched you - Jimmy, go tell it to the police and child services. The Pastor is a bad seed and needs to be serving 20 to 30 in the local penitentiary. There he can be the focus of the romantic attention of his cellmate, Big Bad Bubba, the only pigmented albino in the world. Actually, that is not totally correct as I'm aware of a few other pigmented albinos. I see albinos, everywhere.
Why is it that religious album covers are so fucking creepy?

Mein Gott! Tis the Zombie Trio coming to eat your takeaway of fish and chips (sans brains) if you let them. This family needs to get out more, especially the son. Might be a good idea if he stopped eating all those purloined fish and chips. Pray for anorexia and a personality you fucking weirdo. Mom needs to cut down on the nutritional
 intake as well.

Can I borrow a cup of sugar? NO, FUCK OFF. I don't give gratuities to strange folk with dead soulless eyes and bad haircuts. Get ye to a barber, but not the one that Mr Ecosystem (see above) goes to. Have a nice short back and sides with a side salad of self-respect. And stop looking like a serial killer.

Poor Jenny didn't get the supper on the table on time. What do ya expect when a man comes home after a hard day's graft and doesn't get a hot meal on the table. Jenny has been idling away on the internet again when she should have been slaving over a hot oven. She's lucky he didn't rupture her spleen. Next time Jenny, next time......... 

Look Jimmy's all grown up and still been touched. Methinks he likes it now. C'mon Jimmy you be a full grown man, tell him/them to stop! I'm starting to get bored now. Perhaps one last album before bedtime.

We have identified the miscreants messing with young/old Jimmy! To be honest they look like the usual suspects. Would you hire this quartet as baby sitters? I say, hang them all and hang them high. The Lord can sort out the guilty from the innocent. It's okay Jimmy, the nightmares will stop now.

That's enough tasteless album covers and equally tasteless commentary. Well, I'm off to bed to sleep the sleep of the righteous and just. Toodly Pip for now.

Wednesday 19 June 2019

Jesus of History: Brief Introductory Notes

Jesus of Faith?

Caveat: I am not a historian or biblical scholar. I have an amateur interest in the topics espoused. My views are the product of reading widely upon the subject over many years and therefore subject to my own personal interpretation, prejudices and analysis.

It is my contention that Jesus exists in two distinct states: the Jesus of history and the Jesus of theology. The Jesus of theology is a chimaera; a beast of many parts. A series of parts that do not always fit in a harmonious whole. I consider the Jesus of history as virtually unknown and mostly unobtainable. A viewpoint from theology determines the Jesus we would like to see. Often this Jesus is a reflection of our personal theology. This Jesus is mirrored in the austere reclusive monk or the American televangelist sporting a wig asking ‘parishioners’ for money to fund his new jet plane. There is a host of other Jesus’ of faith. A Jesus for all faiths and for all men. This Jesus interests me in only so far as it relates to the original historical figure of Jesus. For me, the Jesus of theology belongs to human sociology and psychology. My interest in the Jesus of history might intrigue my readers as I’m an unmitigated and unrepentant atheist. And here is why: Jesus is, without doubt, the single most important person to have influenced and fashioned Western society and history over the past 2,000 years. I would argue that his influence was not direct but due to the energies of one remarkable man, Saul or Paul of Tarsus- but that is another story. There are scholars who believe that Jesus did not exist at all and that he belongs to the realm of mythology; no more real than King Arthur or Hercules. I do not want to become mired in this debate, today. I would just like to say that, on the available evidence, I believe that Jesus existed as a biological entity 2,000 years ago.

To reconstruct the ‘Jesus of History’ we are totally reliant on the New Testament Gospels. Extra Gospel references are rare and possibly reworked by enthusiastic Christians. If we want to discern the historical figure of Jesus we must turn to the books of Mark, Mathew, Luke, John and Acts. Perhaps we should add Paul’s letters (and letters of others) to this list although I suspect there is little of historical worth in Paul’s letters as, strangely enough, Paul seemed completely uninterested in the historical Jesus. This is a great loss to historians as Paul’s letters represent the first Christian writings and predate the first Gospel, Mark, by several years. The first epistles of Paul have been dated to 49AD.

An important point: None of the Gospellers or Paul was a witness to the historical Jesus and relied on oral tradition to flesh out their Gospels. Paul certainly had access to Jesus’ disciples and spoke with Peter and Jesus’ brother, James, in Jerusalem. This makes Paul’s disinterest in Jesus, the man, even more, galling as he would have had access to the historical Jesus through people who actually knew him. History cannot be told by ‘what if’ and we must be bound by the historical information we have. Therefore we are reliant upon the Gospels written at various times after Jesus’ death (?30-?90 years post mortem). The written Gospel, Mark, in part at least, reads like a historical narrative. However, neither Mark or the other Gospel writers were historians in the modern sense of the word. If history is present it appears to be present almost as an afterthought. The Gospels are primarily testaments of faith and the historical Jesus must conform to the Gospeller’s own theological agenda. This does not mean that the historical Jesus is not present in the bible, it means that his remains remain hidden and mostly dismembered. It is the scholar’s job to get his hand’s dirty and dig deep into the layers of theology and mythology and remove the bits of historical anatomy and attempt to piece them together to form a whole man. An impossible task perhaps, but not entirely fruitless.

Although the New Testament, in its present form, has been around for some 1,400 years, it is only in the past 200 years or so that scholars have scrutinised the bible openly for the historical Jesus. This is not to say that previous theologians didn’t ask pertinent historical questions, I'm sure they did. However, they mostly kept their research unto their breast unless it conformed closely to dogma. To do otherwise courted the epithet, ‘Heretic’ and after the 5th century AD, death.

So how do we get the religious texts to give up the Jesus of history? Firstly, historians treat the Bible with a heavy dose of scepticism no different from other ancient historical writings. The bible does not receive any reverential treatment in this regard. Clever theologians and historians have devised a series of methodologies in order to squeeze a little truth from the biblical narratives. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least 14 techniques. I don’t have space to analyse these different tools from a rather extensive toolbox, so will briefly consider two ‘slash and burn’ techniques. These methods are perhaps the easiest for the none specialist to understand and conform to a common sense approach. Rational historians have no truck with anything which smacks of the miraculous. This removes wholes swathes of the biblical record. Many Christians would argue that this technique emasculates the biblical message. This, however, is a consideration of the Jesus of faith and lies outside our remit. The historical Jesus must shed the physical reanimation of the dead and the walking on water. Other miraculous events must also be dealt with equal harshness. In a scientific and philosophically sophisticated world, miraculous events, or the suspension of natural law and causation, is an impossibility. Obvious mythologising must also go as well. For instance, the nativity stories in Mathew and Luke, apart from being incompatible, are clearly contrived devices to get Jesus to be born in Bethelem. Both stories are rather daft and totally implausible but they represent a way of dealing with the uncomfortable fact that Jesus was born in Nazareth contrary to biblical prophecy concerning the birth of the Messiah. The Messiah is to be born of the Davidic line and to be born in Bethlehem.

The above is a very simplified look at an extremely complex, convoluted and fascinating area of study. I entreat my readers to research the topic for themselves- wisdom is but a Google away. To do this topic justice would require a large number of separate posts of varying complexity. This post is a supplementary post on a series of posts I’m writing on the development of Christianity. The first in the series can be accessed here. Further posts are in development.

Jesus of History?


Sunday 16 June 2019

Atheism vs Agnosticism

Gratuitous piccy of Jack the alpaca
In today’s post, I’m making a foray into a difficult and controversial area of epistemology. I am going to consider what it means to be an atheist or an agnostic and examine the distinction between these philosophical viewpoints and why we should care.

Straight off I am going to state my own partisan viewpoint and declare, without reservation, that I’m an atheist and a rational atheist at that. To be intellectually consistent it is a good idea to start off with a couple of definitions; hopefully, this will aid clarity of thought. Atheist: An absence in the belief of deities. My definition of atheism is not the only one, but on balance, the definition given here is the most honest, useful and intellectually valid. It is best to see atheism, not as a belief system but a negative proposition. If a belief in god(s) did not exist then the concept of atheism would have no epistemological content. In the same way that a belief in an invisible supernatural entity called Fred living on the moon would make me an afredist (ie I have bo belief in such an entity). The reason I’m not a afredist (sorry Fred) is that no one believes in a supernatural invisible entity living on the moon called Fred (well I hope Fredists do not exist). Hence the expression, afredist, becomes superfluous. Agnostic: One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a god(s). This belief is based on the limitations of rational knowledge. Thus deities, if they exist, belong to a supernatural realm and by definition, supernatural realms cannot be accessed from the natural world. Agnostics, specifically agnostic-atheists, consider the presence of supernatural realms highly implausible but not impossible. But even if such a realm existed it would have no impact or influence on our natural world. Therefore, it could be argued that the ‘existence’ of a supernatural world is tantamount to non-existence and thus the rational difference between atheism and agnosticism becomes moot. I would like to add to this mix by proposing the following possibility. Is it possible for an agnostic to believe in the existence of god (agnostic-theism)? There have been agnostics who have believed in the existence of god but considered the nature of god unknowable. The medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides held such a view. I consider this form of agnostism intellectually unintelligible. Surely to ‘know’ that god exists is to state an attribute of god, ie god’s existence. This implies some knowledge about god which refutes god’s unknowability (this is a real word). This is an inconsistent stance and introduces a contradiction and we all know that a contradiction is an abomination unto the laws of logic. I thus determine that the term ‘agnostic-theist’ is without rational content and will receive no further consideration or discussion. What about the other side of the agnostic coin: the agnostic-atheist? The problem here, I think, is that the definition of atheism and agnostic-atheist tends to merge rendering agnostic-atheist, superfluous. It is my contention that agnosticism is not a rational and valid ‘third way’ as distinct from frank atheism or theism. To my mind, there are only two alternatives: belief and non-belief. I would be interested to hear what my thoughtful readers think about the topic. Do you agree on my stance or is it possible to rescue agnosticism from the epistemological rubbish tip?

One penultimate point………When someone says they are an atheist, we can’t infer any other beliefs in association. For instance, it is oft stated that atheists are communists. While it is true that communists are notoriously atheistic we can’t assume an atheist’s political stance on their avowed atheist belief. Again, ignorant folk will state that atheists are amoral as they lack the check on their behaviour due to the belief in an all-seeing/knowing deity. This is not a tenable position. Undoubtedly some atheists are amoral as are some theists and conversely the opposite is also true. The amoral atheist is amoral; the amoral Christian is a hypocrite.  

The point of this post is to promote deeper thought with regard to the concepts of theism and atheism and perhaps encourage some folk to evaluate some of the pertinent arguments involved. And a final point on this topic: some folk will state their agnosticism without a full appreciation of what agnosticism means, from a rational standpoint. Perhaps they are attracted to the concept as it carries a patina of intellectual respectability, at least in some quarters.         

I have several posts in the pipeline, all very sensible in nature. I’m working on a second post on Biocentrism which, hopefully, will come to fruition within the week. I’ve also resurrected (pun intended) a series of posts concerning the development of Christianity over the past 2,000.

It is noted that my posts are taking a serious (nay sensible) turn of late. I blame the new medication which keeps me lucid but robs me of my creativity. If I lose my essence, my muse, my innate insanity, what have I become? The dilemma I face is which pill I should eschew in order to retain/regain the unceasing and trenchant cacophony in my head? Not all the voices tell me to burn stuff. Often they direct me to perform a light but distinctive singeing. But when they do insinuate, tis always at 4 am as I lie naked, legs akimbo covered with a sheen of corruption (ie sweat- what did you think I was talking about?). Mayhap, I should stop taking the capsules of red and gold or perhaps the mauve tablets? I’ll leave the decision to my readers. Please state a preference in the comments. 

Gratuitous image of Shagger, looking cute

Friday 7 June 2019

One Year On........

The boys await the arrival of visitors
It has been a year since I retired and set up home in rural New Zealand. To be honest, I’ve taken it fairly easy and have kept myself busy with household projects, hobbies and general writing and the prospect of paid work have not been high on my mind or agenda. However, over the weekend my old boss came to visit and offered me the opportunity to work one day per week. After thoughtful rumination, I decided to take up the offer. At least it will give me a little pocket money to pay for my expensive hobbies of archery and astronomy. Quality bows and decent arrows are not cheap and I’ve recently reawakened my old interest in astronomy and purchased a 10” Dobsonian reflector telescope. Where I live there is no light pollution and I obtain stunningly clear views of the night sky. Luckily telescopes with good quality optics are reasonably priced in comparison to similar instruments purchased in the past. As a snot-nosed kid, I bought a 60mm refractor telescope for the princely sum of £27 back in 1969. It took the best part of a year to save up the money from my paper round to buy this optically modest scope.

I’ll have to catch the train to work which will take about 2 hours to reach sunny Wellington. I’ll stay overnight with my son who lives in the centre of the city. I suspect my duties will not be too onerous or demanding. My old duties of training, lecturing and providing wisdom and guidance to students has been passed on to younger and more nimble minds. Nonetheless, I’m sure I’ll be gainfully employed and it will be pleasant to reconnect with old friends and colleagues. The funding available will provide a work opportunity for eight months with the possibility of renewal thereafter.  

To date, we have been subsisting without income and have been relying on our savings and investments and I’ve been seriously thinking of obtaining some form of additional revenue. To this end, we have recently joined Air BnB. For those unfamiliar with the scheme: Basically, we provide a ‘bed and breakfast’ service which is administered by an independent company. The company handles the bookings from vetted guests and provides insurance just in case things go awry. It won't be huge amounts of money but it will provide a steady, modest income. We signed up less than a week ago and already have verified bookings. I’ll endeavour not to get too drunk and shoot the guests, lonely backpackers excepted. Accidents do happen of course and at least I’ve plenty of land to dispose of the bodies. I hear tell that pigs are very good at corpse recycling- mayhap I should invest in a flock of swine. Before I sign off I would like to leave my readers with a philosophical conundrum. If I subsequently eat a pig which has previously dined on human flesh, would the act of ingestion of the trotters constitute a form of cannibalism on my part? Time for my meds.


Monday 3 June 2019

Space, the final frontier.......

In today’s post, I’m taking a very sensible peek at the possibility of interstellar travel and some of its implications.

Some of my canny readers may have noticed that this post disappeared for a few days. This was for the purpose of revision as Sackerson had pointed out an error of fact in the article (refer to comments). Woe is me. The reference with respect to the time a spacecraft travelling at 90% the speed of light was incorrect. I have addressed the problem. I would like to thank Mr Sackerson for his keen observation and erudition. I do endeavour to keep inaccuracies in the blog to a minimum but occasionally even the golden-haired one is prone to error. Also, I'm a bit mad.  

The speed of light in a vacuum is the fastest possible speed that information can travel and at  186,000 miles per second this is blisteringly fast. Light expressed as a wave is massless but particles with mass are unable to reach light speed as predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity. For a particle with mass to attain light speed would require an infinite amount of energy- not really a practical proposition.

In a previous post, one of the reasons I gave for the lack of alien visitation is the great interstellar distances between the Earth and potentially advanced civilisations and the implausibility of travelling between these vast distances. Advanced civilisations capable of space travel are likely to be in excess of 100s or 1,000s of light years distant from Earth. Even if they could travel at great speeds, let’s say 90% of the speed of light, it would take a very long time for the aliens to reach us. Perhaps we should be thankful for that? There is no reason to consider that technically advanced alien species are benign.

Our nearest stellar neighbour, Alpha Centauri, is a modest 4.37 light years distant. If we ever aspire to travel interstellar distances then the cosmic speed limit imposes a severe problem. According to the Drake equation, there should be at least 50,000,000 technically advanced civilisations in our Milky Way galaxy alone. Some folk are of the opinion that aliens are already here. Why is it that aliens only anally probe mad people? I’m not convinced that UFO sightings are evidence that aliens have found us. Before we consider the least likely explanation we must rule out the most likely. We must apply Occam’s Razor like a sharp winnowing stick. Moving on at sub-light speed………

To explore the universe it would be great if we could find a loophole in Einsteinian physics to exploit. There are objects in our universe moving away from each other faster than the speed of light. The further galaxies are away from each other the faster they apparently recede. This phenomenon was first detected by the distinguished amateur astronomer, Edwin Hubble, in the 1920s and his observations showed that we are living in an expanding universe. If the distance between two galaxies exceeds 13698567863 light years they will recede from each other faster than the speed of light. This appears to contradict all that we hold true of the universe but it is entirely consistent with known physical laws. The expansion is due to the creation of new space between the galaxies. The further apart the galaxies the more space is being generated between them. Why new space is being generated in our universe is another story for another time. In fact, the galaxies are moving relatively slowly through space. As an analogy envisage numerous dots placed equidistant from each other on a partially inflated balloon. As the balloon inflates the dots move away from each other ‘faster’ depending on their relative distance from each other.

Perhaps we could generate sufficient energy to warp space so it contracts in front and expands behind the spacecraft to form a ‘warp bubble’. In this way, it may be possible to ‘travel’ faster than light speed without violating the laws of causality. This concept was proposed by the mathematician, Dr Alcubierre, in 1994. Unfortunately, it was calculated that the energy required for such a propulsion system would require 10 times the energy available in the visible universe. The concept has been refined somewhat and it is now estimated that the energy requirement would be modest- just the energy contained in two Jupiters. An advantage of this form of travel is that space/time dilation would not occur. According to Alcubierre’s principle, space and time would move and distort around a stationary craft.   

Another possibility is to accept that faster than light travel is not possible but aim for extremely fast sub-light speeds, for instance, 90% the speed of light. There is nothing here that violates the laws of physics however, it would be extremely difficult, from a technical point of view, to pull off. Realistically we would have to exploit the property of anti-matter to annihilate normal matter to produce prodigious amounts of energy according to the formula: E=MC2 . First, we would have to find a way to manufacture large amounts of anti-matter. Storage of anti-matter is clearly a problem. Initially, it would have to be rendered inert by placing the exotic matter in a huge magnetic field to prevent premature detonation. Once the controlled annihilation is activated the reaction would produce extreme amounts of directionless gamma-ray radiation which would promptly vapourise the space craft’s inhabitants. Before this could happen, the radiation would have to be converted back to a particle. Then the particles could be directed by a magnetic field to provide thrust. 

 In theory, we could attain very fast sub-light speed travel, perhaps 90% of the speed of light (or more). At these high speeds the macroscopic consequences of relativity would kick in and significant time dilation would occur. Thus, people on a spacecraft travelling at 90% the speed of light would experience time differently according to their internal frame of reference in comparison to an observer on earth. For the astronauts on the craft travelling at 90% light speed, the journey would take 2.12 light years! How can this be as it suggests that the craft is travelling faster than light speed? However, there is no rupture of the constant physical laws that determine the universe as the astronaut would experience the trip as shorter in total distance. Isn’t relativity completely bizarre and counter-intuitive? Time dilation is only going to get worse as we travel faster and approach the speed of light. From a practical standpoint, this means that interstellar travel at sub-light speeds is a one way trip for the astronauts. How would they feel to come back home to find their grandchildren dead of old age?    

Space exploration will no doubt continue. The extent of that exploration is heavily dependant on the attending technology. To be honest we are not even close to designing a manned craft for serious interstellar travel. The challenges involved in ‘space travel’ are not to be underestimated and drives sufficiently powerful may take decades or even centuries to develop.

I'd like to finish with a thought experiment. Imagine that it is possible to travel at the speed of light. At light speed, the universe would become but a point and the time taken to travel this point would be instantaneous. Makes you think, dun it?

Warp factor 10, methinks