Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Travel at Light Speed?

Excerpted from: How Things Work.Virginia.edu

Louis A. Bloomfield fields questions about physics:


January 19, 1999

"If you were at the back of a bus going the speed of light, and you were to run toward the front, would you be moving faster than the speed of light or turn into energy?" -- TM, Ft. Bragg, NC

"First, your bus can't be going at the speed of light because massive objects are strictly forbidden from traveling at that speed. Even to being traveling near the speed of light would require a fantastic expenditure of energy.

But suppose that the bus were traveling at 99.999999% of the speed of light and you were to run toward its front at 0.000002% of the speed of light (about 13 mph or just under a 5 minute mile). Now what would happen?

First, the bus speed I quoted is in reference to some outside observer because the seated passengers on the bus can't determine its speed. After all, if the shades are pulled down on the bus and it's moving at a steady velocity, no one can tell that it's moving at all. So let's assume that the bus speed I gave is according to a stationary friend who is watching the bus zoom by from outside.

While you are running toward the front of the bus at 0.000002% of the speed of light, your speed is in reference to the other passengers in the bus, who see you moving forward. The big question is what does you stationary friend see? Actually, your friend sees you running toward the front of the bus, but determines that your personal speed is only barely over 99.999999%. The two speeds haven't added the way you'd expect. Even though you and the bus passengers determine that you are moving quickly toward the front of the bus, your stationary friend determines that you are moving just the tiniest bit faster than the bus. How can that be?

The answer lies in the details of special relativity, but here is a simple, albeit bizarre picture. Your stationary friend sees a deformed bus pass by. Ignoring some peculiar optical effects due to the fact that it takes time for light to travel from the bus to your friend's eyes so that your friend can see the bus, your friend sees a foreshortened bus--a bus that is smashed almost into a pancake as it travels by. While you are in that pancake, running toward the front of the bus, the front is so close to the rear that your speed within the bus is miniscule. Why the bus becomes so short is another issue of special relativity. "

Louis A. Bloomfield

Marilyn W. Lathrop, author of the Over the Edge science fiction series:

"Mr. Bloomfield's explanation applies to vessels powered by the usual means. But what if the vessel is powered by gravity?

"The concept behind the physics in Over the Edge is that the gravitational drive is able to use the increasing mass of the vessel to correspondingly increase the power it generates. Of course, you can't achieve 100% light speed, but I factor in achieving only 90%. If the vessel gains mass as it accelerates and that gain in mass, which essentially is an increase in gravity, can be transformed into more speed--what would happen then? In the Over the Edge series, "deep space" ships are powered by gravitational drives that transfer the force of gravity into power and power into speed.

"Will this work? Don't know, but it's certainly more plausible than Gene Roddenberry's warp drive or Scotty's transporters! Gravity is one of the last frontiers of normal physical forces we've yet to understand. Will we eventually understand gravity? Wait and see."

October 25, 2005

Marilyn W. Lathrop

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Science vs. Faith

Scientific American's September 2005 issue reports on a Templeton Foundation conference where the objective was to find common ground between science and religion. Antagonism between science and religion isn't a given; scientific pioneers such as Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton and Boyle were all devout Christians, yet they laid the foundation for modern science.

According to Scientific American, Biologist Richard Dawkins challenged physicist John Barrow's faith in a debate. Barrow emphasized the fine-tuning of the universe as an indicator of the existence of a Creator Designer.

Dawkins said, "Why not just accept that fine-tuning as a fact of nature? Why do you want to explain it with God?"

Barrow responded dryly, "For the same reason you don't want to."

"Everyone laughed except Dawkins, who protested, "That's not an answer!" Scientific American, pages 24 - 28, article titled: "Clash in Cambridge."

The foundational paradigms of persons involved in the debate are the crux of the antagonism. Barrow sees a Designer's hand at work while Dawkins refuses to. Just as Dawkins resists abandoning his paradigms, so too does Barrow and the opposing parties are at an impasse. Both assert the other party is not being reasonable or logical.

God insists He be accepted by faith. To Barrow, evidence in abundance to prove God's existence is obvious while Dawkins claims he's yet to see any. Martin Rees, author of Just Six Numbers says "the universe is unlikely, very unlikely, deeply, shockingly unlikely," yet he insists no Designer was involved. He believes our universe is only one of an infinite number of other universes, therefore it could still have been created by chance. His theory can't be proven--we can't see past the edge of our universe--he's accepting his theory by faith!

In the end, persons cannot escape the element of faith! No definitive, beyond-a-shadow-of-doubt, without-question proof that God exists and that He created everything will ever be discovered. No definitive, beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt, without-question proof God didn't create the universe will ever be discovered either. Whatever a person believes, it will be believed by faith. And that's just the way God wants it.

(The above image is a NASA photo)