Yearly Archives: 2012

Time Travel is Possible, Says Noted Physicist

Physics Professor Brian Cox has determined that time travel is theoretically possible and that time machines could one day be a reality.

The British professor, who is also a TV Presenter and pop musician (having some success with the Northern Irish band D:Ream in the 1990’s), used Dr. Who’s famous TARDIS as a broad example of the type of time machine that he believes to be theoretically possible as well as scientifically sound.

“Can you build a time machine?” asked Cox during his speech at the British science festival, before answering his own question with a resounding “yes”.

However, according to Cox’s research, whilst time travel to the future is theoretically possible, time travel to the past is completely impossible. In addition, the trip would only be one way; there would be no going home.

Cox isn’t the first person to make this announcement; in fact, he’s borrowing directly from Einstein’s theory of special relativity when he states that movement at speeds close to the speed of light would theoretically cause time to slow down, but only for the individual travelling at such speeds.

Says Cox, “If you go fast, your clock runs slow relative to people who are still. As you approach the speed of light, your clock runs so slow you could come back 10,000 years in the future,”

Some scientists have suggested that the use of ‘wormholes’ would be a theoretically acceptable form of time travel. In fact, wormholes are a staple of science fiction stories. A wormhole (perhaps better referred to as an Einstein-Rosen Bridge) is, effectively, a passageway, or ‘shortcut’, through spacetime. The effect of a wormhole would be the spacial equivalent of writing ‘A’ on the far end of a piece of paper and ‘B’ on the other side, then putting the two letters together and punching a hole through the paper with a pencil.

However, in his speech, professor Cox refuted the idea that such a ‘bridge’ could ever be truly stable, saying,

“In General Relativity, you can do it in principle. It’s to do with building these things called wormholes; shortcuts through space and time. But most physicists doubt it. Hawking came up with the ‘chronology protection conjecture’ – physics we don’t yet understand that means wormholes are not stable.”

On the heels of this announcement, Professor Cox, an ardent fan of Dr. Who, will be delivering a 60-minute speech about the popular TV show, which will be screened by the BBC on November 23rd. In the speech, the professor will share his thoughts on the possibility of extraterrestrial life, the potential discovery of new dimensions and, of course, time travel.

Tech We’d Like to See: Cities on the Moon

What it is:

Placing a city (or several) on the moon has long been a dream of science fiction writers, futurists and ambitious scientists. Recently however, renewed public interest in space exploration, together with a growing realization that the world is becoming dangerously overpopulated, has lead some scientists, artists and zealous would-be lunar colonists to start taking this ages-old dream extremely seriously.

Why we want it:

Because it could potentially be one of the only non-genocidal solutions to the eventual overpopulation of planet earth. Also, who wouldn’t want to sit on the moon and watch the Earth rise?

When can we expect it?

A couple of years ago, a group called Moon Capital launched a high profile competition, allowing scientists, architects and aspiring artists the chance to create scientifically plausible scenes of moon colonisation (in the style made famous by super-artist Chesley Bonestell).

The competition had (hypothetical) moon colonisation taking place in the year 2068. This estimate was good enough for the entrants of the competition, so it’ll be good enough for us, too. Hopefully, then, you’ll get your lunar colony in about 55 years time (just under a hundred years after Neil Armstrong took that one small step….)

Of course, the problems posed by such a feat of engineering are many-fold. For starters, the moon is some 380,000 km away from us at any given time, (which is quite a trip for a moving van, even taking speed cameras out of the equation), then there’s the difficulty of actually building a working city in such a hostile environment…

We’ve built space stations, of course, so we know we can construct things in space, but they aren’t exactly desirable places to live. Also, we can get people to the moon and back (we’ve been at it since the 60’s, no matter what the conspiracy nuts tell you), but the trip is still intensely dangerous and requires a great deal of training and preparation.

Finally, we come to the complete lack of breathable atmosphere on the moon; this would require scientists to create some sort of artificial environment (or else speed up development of terraforming methods, but that’s a story for another time).

Oh yeah, there’s no food either, not unless you like your Selenite steaks rare.

Yes, the idea of colonising the moon poses a number of mind-boggling obstacles, but if there’s one thing that we as a species excel at, its overcoming obstacles.

So, while it may seem far-fetched to imagine something like this actually happening, consider this; the first powered flight took place in 1903 and just 66 years later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were hanging out on the moon. Think on that for a second.

Cool Factor: 5/5

Cities on the moon? Now that’s cool.

Why Do Earphone Chords Get Tangled in Your Pocket?

The answer “because they just do” may be your first response to this question (indeed, it was mine), but its knot a good one (Yeah, yeah, I know…)

Actually, it has to do with Entropy (the second law of thermodynamics) and things tending toward disorder. In fact, the universe seems to exist in a state of ordered chaos (or chaotic order, whichever way you choose to see it) and your headphones are obeying the order of the Universe by causing chaos whilst in your pocket. Maybe.

Alternatively, Summer Ash of ‘NPR.org’ says that,

“Mathematicians have studied knots forever and developed all sorts of theories and classifications of their variations, but physicists have only recently began to explore what equations govern their formation”.

She goes on to describe an experiment, carried out by Physicists Douglas Smith and Dorain Raymer, which involved spinning a length of string with a motor to see if it was tangled or not, they did this 3,415 times. Why that precise number?

Well, according to Smith“The scientific answer is that 3,415 was around the point where we had statistically compelling results. The human answer is that 3,415 times was about as much as we could stand.”

You wouldn’t expect a guy who appears to have taken the term ‘String Theory’ literally to have a sense of humour, but there you go. I’ll let Summer explain the rest;

“They concluded that with a minimum length of string (18.124 inches) and sufficient space for the string to shift around in its container, knots formed fairly quickly, often within the first few seconds. Inputting these results into a computer model, they even managed to create a program that could identify the “Jones polynomial” for each resulting knot, a mathematical property based on parameters such as the number of string crossings”.

Ergo, when you consider the length of your headphone chord and how much space it has to move around in your pocket (especially when you’re out and about, going to/from work, jogging, walking the dog or whatever), it becomes clear that you’re knot going to avoid the odd entanglements (sorry. I’ll stop now). Its just physics. In fact, if it doesn’t happen all the time, you’ve probably beaten odds close to winning a decent amount on the lottery. Think about that.

Anyway, to sum up, today, we’ve now learned together that knotted headphone cables are a natural symptom of business as usual in the Universe. It is indicative of the great wide somewhere winking down at us and reassuring us that it’s all going to be alright and that everything is going exactly according to plan. A way of saying that the days of our lives are as predestined as every grain of sand on every single beach on every single world in every single galaxy…

Or, if you prefer, the Universe is basically a Grant Morrison re-write of a Phillip K. Dick wet dream.

Or, if you prefer:

Headphones get tangled up in your pocket. Why?  Because they just do.

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