Twinkle Twinkle Little Planet

Sounds wrong because the extra syllable blemishes the aesthetic quality of the symmetry of the rest of the poem.


Planets do twinkle, in fact. Its just that we do not notice. And it is the hallmark of a truly good (and bored) scientist to correct a misconception, even if it is only superhuman vision that can salvage the fallacy.

The atmosphere is a sea of air. Air is a fluid. Which means it is not vacuum. Therefore it has a refractive index. The density of air changes with altitude, so the refractive index also changes. Any light that enters the atmosphere (except from the normal vector, obviously) is bent.

Stars are very far away. They are so far away that they appear as point sources of light. So if we were to draw a ray diagram for a star, we would only need a single line to denote star light. It so happens that due to the constant ‘flow’ of the atmosphere, some times that star light is refracted so that it momentarily does not reach our eyes. That is called twinkling.



Planets are not that far away. Since they are nearer they can be resolved as light sources with a dimension. So a ray diagram for a planet will have multiple lines denoting light coming from different points on the planet. That light is also bent the same way as star light. And individual rays also sometimes bend enough so that they do not reach our eyes. But there are enough rays that do reach our eyes that we do not notice the slight change in the planet’s brightness. Hence we do not notice the planet twinkling.

Image Source

If Light Travelled Really Fast…

According to prevailing theories in Physics, the speed of light, denoted by ‘c’ is a universal constant. It means that it is intrinsically related to the very nature of the universe. We exist because we are the culmination of almost fourteen billion years of conformation to this value by every single one of the atoms in the universe. So what I am about to write is pure conjecture. The consequences of the minutest change in ‘c’ will lead to fundamental reformation of the universe and even a Dumbledore/Voldemort/Gandalf/Chuck Norris mutant wouldn’t be able to prevent you from not existing.

Having placated any fundamentalists out there,let us imagine then that the speed of light increases exponentially one fine morning but the change strangely refuses to harm the wise homos on planet earth. Let us also exercise tradition and ignore the fact that the universe is literally falling apart. Now then,

1. David Blaine would become homeless

If you don’t know who he is, I salute your choice of TV content. But for the sake of this article, let me explain: he is a illusionist who sometimes does levitation tricks. Why would he go out of a job? Because everyone could levitate if light was really fast. You would still not hold a candle to Superman but you would be able to fly in a very crude sense. That’s because the speed of light is directly related to the electromagnetic force. It is the force that repels the atoms of the earth and your body from merging together. So if the speed of light increased, that force of repulsion would increase and stuff would literally start to levitate.

2. You would become really hot and World Peace will be in jeopardy

That’s it, that’s it. Don’t get your hopes up. I meant literally. And the ‘and’ was not intended to indicate causality. It was more in the flavor of: a goat and a microwave. Anyways,  a greater electromagnetic force would mean that chemical/nuclear reactions would become more ‘vibrant’. The reactions that require lots of energy to start would need even more energy. But the ones that release energy, well lets just say if someone decides to pull another Hiroshima it would vaporize the earth’s atmosphere. Back to hotness, so the human body also burns up chemicals for energy. And that burning up is exothermic. And it would be so vigorous that you would feel as if you are on fire. The up side is that you wouldn’t ever feel cold again.

3. Dragon Ball fans will have a field day and Master Chief will lose his edge


Okay, just ignore everything but the fist.

With your body’s chemical burning being so over-productive, your muscles will become really powerful. You will be able to run faster, jump higher and strike with lightning speed. And the increased repulsive forces between you hands and the air molecules will allow you to create a shock-wave of awesomeness with every punch in the air.

4. Star trek will reboot as a reality show

The enthusiasm of exothermic reactions will also apply to fuel. Cars (or perhaps levitation pods) will become very fuel efficient. So will rockets, thus reducing cost of space travel. You could actually go to mars on the same fuel that you now use to go to your grandma (who incidentally might be moonlighting as a ninja, given the circumstances). Whats even better is that you could reach and even exceed the old speed of light using conventional means. So interstellar travel will become a very possible possibility.

5. But in reality…

Stars wouldn’t exist. Nuclear fusion, the process that runs stars, happens when two atoms over come their repulsion and fuse to release energy. But then the repulsion will be so high that atoms wouldn’t even want to come close to one another. Since there will be no stars, there will be no supernovas that release heavier elements (including carbon) into the universe. Had the speed of light been faster since the big bang, we would not even have existed. There would be no black holes since the speed of light will be too large to be captured by the gravity-well of any body. So any dreams we might have of making a shortcut through space time to achieve time travel or actual FTL communications will be quashed.

I’ll end with an awesome limerick:

There was an old lady called Wright
who could travel much faster than light.
She departed one day
in a relative way
and returned on the previous night.



If light travelled really slow…

The speed of light is one of the fundamental constants in the universe (along with the Gravitational constant, permitivitty etc.). Changing any constant even slightly will have deadly consequences. But if we manage to survive (somehow), we would find ourselves in a very ‘interesting’ universe.

The constant for the speed of electromagnetic waves ‘c’ has a value of 300 million metres/second. Imagine that some one hacks the universe’s secure servers and changes ‘c’ to 1. The following is a roughly chronological list of things that would happen in a universal conspiracy to end the human race:

1. We would shrivel up and die

Literally. The speed of light is directly related to the strength of electromagnetic force. This is the same force that prevents you from falling out of your house when you lean against a wall, or from falling through a chair while you are sitting. It also helps you keep you in shape while gravity is doing its best to pull you to the ground. If the speed of light were to suddenly decrease by several orders of magnitude, all matter (or most of it) would start to collapse under its own gravity. The world would literally shrink out of existence.

2. The sun would go out

Again: literally. As matter collapses under its own gravity, its gravitational pull on the surface increases and stuff like rebellious atoms and people who can afford a rocket will need higher speeds to escape a body’s gravity. Eventually the ‘escape velocity would exceed the speed of light. And since classically one cannot productively travel faster than light, including light, all matter with high escape velocities would become black holes, including the sun and the earth and all the planets in the solar system.

3. Time will s l   o    w     d       o        w          n

If by any miracle we are still alive we will notice (that’s putting it subtly) that everything has shrunk. The gravitational field will be extremely strong. And since light is so slow, our every motion will be at relativistic speeds. That means that on a jolly morning when I decide to go out for a walk, I might as well come back to my house to find it in ruins from age. In other words we wouldn’t need to wait an entire week for new episodes of our favourite shows.

4. The world will look W13rD

Take a look at these pictures:

Light captured at super high frame rates,

Light captured at super high frame rates,

Simulated reflection of light at super slow motion.

Simulated reflection of light at super slow motion.

This is what light looks like if it is slowed down. On a post-hacked universe, you could stand behind something heavy and literally make copies of yourself (gravitational lensing, kage bunshin no jutsu! for Naruto fans). Since light will bend under extreme gravity, you will be able to see whats happening on the other side of the earth, or the back of your head for that matter. You could swipe your hand through the ‘air’ and turn your palm into a black hole and deflect bullets with a wave of your hand.

All in good time. In the real world we would just stop existing the moment a single constant was changed. If all universal constants were scaled down proportionally, we might have a chance, but alas we don’t even know all of them. So why did I conjure images of a Matrix/Naruto/Avengers/ Harry Potter universe? Simple. I just got carried away.