Jan 16, 2009
As Newton said, the whole ocean of truth is still out thereBack
© 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
Steel 2015: A review of South Africa's steel sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Steel 2015 report provides an overview of the key developments in the global steel industry and particularly of South Africa’s steel sector over the past year, including details of production and consumption, as well as the country's primary carbon...
Projects in Progress 2015 - First Edition (PDF Report)
In fact, this edition of Creamer Media’s Projects in Progress 2015 supplement tracks developments taking place under the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, which has had four bidding rounds. It appears to remain a shining light on the...
Electricity 2015: A review of South Africa's electricity sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Electricity 2015 report provides an overview of State-owned power utility Eskom and independent power producers, as well as electricity planning, transmission, distribution and the theft thereof, besides other issues.
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.
This Week's Magazine
While economic forecasts for the African continent are most favourable, African airlines may not be able to benefit from the expected growth in the region’s gross domestic product (GDP), International Air Transport Association VP: Africa Raphael Kuuchi has warned....
The Automotive Production and Development Programme (APDP) will need to change substantially post 2020, says Metair Investments South African operations COO Ken Lello. “We must not make tweaks. We have to change. What we are doing is not sustainable.”
Banking group Absa’s forecast is for the rand to end the year at around R13 against the dollar, weakening further to R13.50 by 2016, says Absa sectoral analyst Jacques du Toit. He warns that possible interest rate hikes in the US may see capital being pulled from...
The Dispute Resolution Centre at the Bargaining Council for the Civil Engineering Industry (BCCEI) is now open to handle party-to-party disputes. The BCCEI represents the interests of all level four to nine Construction Industry Development Board companies.
Communications technology firm Ericsson sub-Saharan Africa head Fredrik Jejdling says the company’s commitment to sustainability and corporate responsibility has been integrated into all facets of its operations, which has provided it with sustainable revenue...
Next ArticleSA ready to start building nuclear plants