Jan 16, 2009
As Newton said, the whole ocean of truth is still out thereBack
United States|International Space Station|Mount Wilson Observatory|Christmas|Energy|Jet Travel|Mount Wilson Observatory|California Institute Of Technology|Bill Clinton|Fritz Zwicky|Hendrik Casmir|Isaac Newton|Kent Ford|Sinclair Smith|Steven Lamoreaux|Vera Rubin
© Reuse this
People said that the basic colour was ‘black on white’. The artist replied: “No, it is not black – it is midnight blue.” The group said it was black and the artist insisted it was midnight blue, and an argument ensued. I sat still and listened as it became more heated.
I decided that the artist was right. I had two reasons – the first was that he had studied the subject and so knew more about it than the rest of us, so we should respect his professionalism. Secondly, from a physics point of view, the midnight sky is dark but not black – it is suffused with a scatter of starlight from billions of stars.
So I put up my hand, entered the discussion and announced that the artist was right. That stopped the argument and the artist was really relieved. He later thanked me for saving his pride. That was an interesting learning experience for me too – to remember to respect the professionalism of others, even when an answer seems obvious to those not trained in the subject.
Before Christmas, I looked up into the night to watch the International Space Station (ISS) race across the sky. In fact, it seems to lazily drift across the star-studded background but, in reality, it is travelling at a tremendous speed, a speed that makes international jet travel appear to be a snail’s pace.
I knew exactly where to look and at what time and, exactly on time, the ISS appeared. It is emotional, because one knows that there are people up there looking down. I mentally waved and thought: “Hi guys, I wish I were up there with you.”
When Bill Clinton was President of the US,
I personally asked him to arrange a flight in the space shuttle for me, and he said he would tell the people concerned, which he then did as I stood there. Well, heck, I can hope, can’t I? I hoped that one of those aides would somehow filter my name back to the people who take such decisions.
During the early 1930s, Fritz Zwicky, a professor of astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, realised that faraway galaxies were moving “too fast” for the maths.
Zwicky was very hung up on symmetry, and he referred to people he did not like as ‘spherical’ bastards – ‘spherical’ because they were bastards, “whichever way you looked at them”.
By 1936, corroborating evidence had been found by Sinclair Smith, of the Mount Wilson Observatory. Over the next 30 years, the evidence mounted, but it was astronomers Vera Rubin and Kent Ford who clinched the case. The conclusion was reached that the universe is full of ‘dark matter’.
Famously, one cannot see a black cat in the dark, but this is not the case with dark matter. We cannot see it because we cannot see it – we don’t know why. It is not a case of it being invisible because no light is shining on it. So we still have to find out what it actually is. But it is there.
These particles grew to become galaxies as eons of time passed. So all the galaxies, stars, planets and our bodies came from nothing less than a quantum jitter.
This means that photons of energy suddenly appear out of nowhere, for a moment, and then disappear back into nowhere. This is happening all the time. Wow!
Dutch physicist Hendrik Casmir figured out how vacuum fluctuations of the electromagnetic field could actually be detected. In 1977, Steven Lamoreaux, of the University of Washington, experimentally confirmed Casmir’s predictions. So empty space is teeming with quantum activity.
As a new year unfolds, there are great volumes of wonderful stuff to explore and discover. Many great, wondrous revelations are still waiting in the wings to spring onto the stage of understanding.
Over 300 years ago, Isaac Newton said: “The whole ocean of truth is still out there.” It is still the case.
Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu© Reuse this Comment Guidelines (150 word limit)
Other Dr Kelvin Kemm News
Recent Research Reports
Construction 2015: A review of South Africa’s construction sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Construction 2015 Report examines South Africa’s construction industry over the past 12 months. The report provides insight into the business environment; the key participants in the sector; local construction demand; geographic diversification;...
Liquid Fuels 2014 - A review of South Africa's Liquid Fuels sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Liquid Fuels 2014 Report examines these issues, focusing on the business environment, oil and gas exploration, the country’s feedstock supplies, the development of South Africa’s biofuels industry, fuel pricing, competition in the sector, the...
Water 2014: A review of South Africa's water sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Water 2014 report considers the aforementioned issues, not only in the South African context, but also in the African and global context, and examines the issues of water and sanitation, water quality and the demand for water, among others.
Defence 2014: A review of South Africa's defence industry (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Defence 2014 report examines South Africa’s defence industry, with particular focus on the key participants in the sector, the innovations that have come out of the sector, local and export demand, South Africa’s controversial multibillion-rand...
Road and Rail 2014: A review of South Africa's road and rail infrastructure (PDF report)
Creamer Media’s Road and Rail 2014 report examines South Africa’s road and rail transport system, with particular focus on the size and state of the country’s road and rail network, the funding and maintenance of these respective networks, and the push to move road...
Real Economy Year Book 2014 (PDF Report)
This edition drills down into the performance and outlook for a variety of sectors, including automotive, construction, electricity, transport, steel, water, coal, gold, iron-ore and platinum.
This Week's Magazine
The international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope – which is to be jointly hosted by South Africa and Australia with, later, outstations in other countries – may not yet exist, but international scientific working groups are already deciding what...
A free Web-based solar power plant capacity-planning tool offers project planners and developers, as well as governments, a means to assess the solar energy potential of thin-film solar PV power over an area of land. The tool was developed by thin-film solar...
As yet, no specific methodology, timeline or costs have been finalised to remedy the water ingress, excessive to contractual specifications, into the Gautrain tunnel between emergency shaft two (E2) and Park Station, says Bombela Concession Company technical and...
The “seriously disruptive” electricity outages in South Africa have cost packaging group Astrapak more than R2-million in “irrecoverable downtime costs”, the company said on Monday, adding that the power cuts were negating some of the benefit of energy saving...
Bakkies and more affordable cars dominated South Africa’s new vehicle market in 2014. Unaudited data from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) shows that South Africa’s most popular vehicle in 2014 was the Toyota Hilux, selling 37 562 units.
Next ArticlePE ideally placed for nuclear manufacture