A Day on a World

This is a short story I wrote for my astronomy assignment. We had to write an account of how a typical day on a colonized planet might pass. What I actually extracted from the assignment prompt was: write a story about some dudes on a planet. So here is my contribution:

 

Liberty.

Ha! What a farce.

The world darkened and quietened as fifteen-g’s of acceleration attempted to fuse my back with the metal. My skin became a series of ripples trapped in space: constantly undulating but never quite moving. I could have plucked it away along with the flesh if I wanted. Alas, I did not. The blood in my torso rushed to my limbs, numbing my senses. One by one, in agony, and electrocuted by nervous impulses, the organs gave up their share of the scarlet nectar. Until at last only two remained: the mind and the heart, pulsating in their reluctant congress. Dichotomies in symbiosis. It was so ironic I wanted to smile. Alas, my lips could not. Just then I felt warmth spreading across my thighs. I willed it to stop. It didn’t; my bladder would not.

Not a moment too late, the pneumatics in my suit hissed into life. The ringing silence in my ears gave way to the faint hum of the ship. I tasted rust on my tongue as blood surged with a renewed vigor through my body. I shook my head to clear my vision. My neck protested with a surge of pain, but I would not listen. No, not today. I was about to witness a monumental reformation in the Sol system. The outcome of this mission would ripple across the solar colonies, changing them forever. Change is good, they said.

“Liberty to Freedom, come in.”, the radio crackled to life somewhere on the control panel. “You are approaching terminal velocity. ETA to corrosive atmospheric drag is sixty seconds. Mark. Engage reverse thrusters. Initiate ion sheath generators. Acknowledge.”

Engage what? With a sudden wave of crippling horror I realized that I had been hearing without listening and looking without seeing. I had been in such awe of the glory of my mission that I had forgotten where I was. Now I was in awe of the prospect of my death. I looked and saw the Jovian North Pole looming ahead, its majestic swirls in a controlled stasis, belying the 360 kilometers an hour winds ripping the clouds apart. The ship was hurtling towards the surface at Mach twenty. At least it would be a quick death.

“Freedom to Liberty. Acknowledged.” The silhouette beside me stirred to life. Ah, the captain; I’d forgotten. “Blackout in ten seconds. See you on the other side.”. He flipped a couple of switches, then solemnly added: “Light in darkness…”

“… and Liberty in chaos” came the reply from the radio, “Godspeed”. The captain gave me a cursory nod as he went about prodding the controls. He was a quiet person, perhaps that was why he was chosen for this mission. Mission: the word seemed grossly inadequate. I recalled our training. My selection had been such an honor. They had told us how our actions today would affect humankind. But our work had to remain a secret, they said, for to put a face on a task of such gravity would polarize the revolution. That was a good reason, I thought, so it was alright.

The emergency light started blinking. Blackout. I braced myself. The ship was getting closer to the north pole. The magnetic field was getting stronger. It would soon disrupt communications and power. Soon afterwards, the ship would leave the Sun below the horizon as it descended into darkness. And then there would be light. I smiled, closing my eyes.

Liberty and Chaos. Chaos and Liberty. Like the light and the dark, opposites in symbiosis. I remembered the struggles of my ancestors two centuries ago. They had rebelled against the tyranny of an empire for liberty. There was chaos, and there was blood, and then there was peace. My struggle was not so different: Man’s curiosity had taken him to the edge of the solar system. All of the planets had been colonized in the name of the Allied Union of Earth. It was a small leap from there to the United Empire of Earth. There was prosperity and peace. But like the light that becomes insignificant in the day, and the darkness that loses meaning in the night, men mistakenly thought that liberty was lost in the peace. And so was formed the Patriots’ League, intent on bringing back the prosperity. The Union, also confounded by the stagnated utopia, enforced new measures to reform the empire. The two groups eventually came into conflict over the colonies’ freedom. Lines were drawn. In the name of liberty, the subjects were forced to choose. My parents chose the wrong side, the side that lost the war. The League went into hiding in stations in the asteroid belt, in underground complexes on Titan, and in the shadow of Olympus Mons. And so I was born, a refugee and an immigrant. Always running and hiding. I lived a life of a prey, indoctrinated to fear the Empire, until one day, tired of running, I just could not. Someone noticed my rebellion. My name came up in the Patriots’ clandestine meetings. And five years later, I was on the mother-ship Liberty, preparing to ride Freedom into the heart of the Jovian stronghold of the Empire.

The ship shuddered as the aero-brakes deployed and the generators came online, bringing me back from my reverie. We were in the upper clouds of Jupiter, being swept along with the winds, and in a downward spiral towards the core. My muscles sagged under the planets’ gravity. My breathing became labored, but I held on to my senses. I could see the first thunderstorms through the ammonia and the ammonium hydrosulfide clouds. The flashes were bright and the thunder reverberated through Freedom’s body. Down we went, plunging through the starlit sea of gases tinged with red. The pressure was increasing noticeably. Occasionally the ship would creak, and seem to cave under the pressure, but the graphene nanolayers held the fuselage in place.

Once we had passed the water clouds, the ship started accelerating again. The layer below was of supercritical hydrogen cooled to more than two hundred degrees Celsius below zero. It was almost frictionless, and eerily transparent. The lightning flashes above would light up the sky, but just sink through the gas below. It reminded me of the dark pictures of earth’s deep oceans I had seen as a child. No. I could not afford to show fear now. We were almost there.

“Higgs Field Drains activated” the captain informed Liberty. “Walking on water in five…four…three…two…one…success”.

My seat harnesses cut into my shoulders as invisible parachutes slowed down the ship until it was floating on hydrogen. The Higgs Field Drains, they were the cornerstone of our operation. They punctured the Field and decoupled the ship’s atoms from their mass until it was so light that it could float on a gas. They worked the other way around too. We had stolen them from a shipment to Ganymede’s fusion reactors. They would have noticed the missing pieces by now. It didn’t matter to me; it wouldn’t matter to them too in a short while.

“Liberty to Freedom, prepare the canisters.”

“Copy that. Suspension activated. Injecting anti-protons. Stand by.” The Captain nodded at me. I was up.

The Patriots had had their sights on the Jovian system for quite some time. It was the Allied Union’s industrial jewel. If it were rendered useless, the Empire would crumble. The plan was simple. Ever since the colonization of the outer planets, the settlements there had to deal with extremely low temperatures. A lot of solutions had been proposed over the centuries. In one of our raids, we had discovered a two hundred year old document about a project called Operation Lucifer. It was divine intervention. The project files had stated that Jupiter’s thermal energy output could be enhanced by several orders of magnitude. Jupiter was three quarters hydrogen by mass. Hydrogen could be fused to provide the required heat. The only condition was that a stable fusion reaction would need Jupiter to be seventy-five times more massive. That would disrupt its protective magnetic fields, bringing down radiation on the orbiting colonies, thus forcing the imperial loyalists to flee from the Galilean moons. Nobody could manufacture enough field drains to make it possible. My suggestion had solved the conundrum: we would only need a few Drains and a few kilograms of the exotic anti-matter. The drains would increase the mass of the antimatter canisters so that they could sink through the metallic sea of hydrogen and settle near the rocky core of the planet. Then I would turn off the insulating suspension.

If no loyalists was all that the Patriots wanted, then no loyalists was all that the patriots would get.

I finished calibrating the Field Drains. The captain noticed and relayed the progress to Liberty. The radio played static for a few seconds until:

“Liberty to Freedom. Acknowledged. Commence operation Doosra Aaftab.”

Thud.

Thud.

Thud.

One by one the canisters left Freedom. Their descent would take several hours. By then we would be in the safe embrace of Liberty. I harnessed myself in my seat. The captain powered up the Drains, and we started our ascent. At T minus one fifty minutes, we rose through the thunder clouds. At T minus one hundred minutes, we were being buffeted by the rusty swirls of ammonia. A while later, we were in orbit around the planet, rising in small increments. It was several hours before I could make out Liberty orbiting one of the smaller moons in Jupiter’s shadow. It was good that we had completed our mission within a Jovian day. Any stay longer than twelve hours would have registered with the surveillance grid. By the time we boarded Liberty, the canisters had already landed. I was anxious to feel Jupiter’s new warmth, even if it would be there only for a few moments.

And From a distance far, far away. Operation Second Sun did not get its name from dramatic exaggeration. I closed my eyes in wait.

 

Liberty and Chaos. Chaos and liberty. The two seasonal gods of the human race. Each heralding and shadowing the other. Every time in history when they exchanged reins, a human sacrifice was required. Last time, during the first Solar War between the Patriots and the Union, the price had been a million lives. The Galilean moons’ population was only a quarter of that number.

The gods, I mused, were getting cheaper.

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Holes and Wrinkles

There is a lot of misconception about two of the more arcane forms of proposed space travel: Warp Drives and Worm Holes. They work on the same principles but function in wholly different ways.

General Relativity explains that any mass or energy can bend space and time. Since there is energy everywhere space and time are already curved. We can there fore tweak with the curvature of space-time in different ways to produce different effects.

For example, Worm Holes are analogous to tunnels. When there is enough mass or energy concentrated at two points, the space-time bends to form a tunnel between the two locations.

time-travel-wormhole1

 

This means that we can reach another point before light, not because we are faster, but because we have a lesser “distance” to travel. So for example if a wormhole were to connect earth to the moon, you could step into the wormhole and go to the moon, and then quickly get back. But since light had to travel a longer distance, your image on the moon might reach you when you came back to earth. You would literally be able to make a thousand virtual copies of yourself. However, wormholes are extremely unstable. Some equations predict that they will immediately collapse as soon as something passes through. Negative energy and negative matter will be needed to stabilize a wormhole. Mankind is still far away from producing and using antimatter at a large scale, so worm holes will remain, for the near future, a fantasy.

Warp Drives also use the same principle. However they only distort space and time around the traveler while keeping him in a “bubble” of normal space-time. Imagine a small toy car on a bed sheet. The car can only travel a few centimetres per second. But you want to reach the other end of the bedsheet quickly. So you scrunch up the sheet in front of the car, effectively reducing the distance it has to travel. Once the car has traversed the wrinkles, you stretch out the sheet again. In a sense a Warp Drive is a less extreme version of the Worm Hole. A worm hole is just like the portals in the game Portal: the distance between destinations is effectively zero. But in a warp drive, you still have to cover some distance. Consequently it is also easier to make. But where worm holes can facilitate inter-galactic travel, warp drives are only viable for interstellar journeys.

240px-Star_Trek_Warp_Field

 

Image 1, Image 2

Mars: an infograpgic

mars-planet-profile-101111-02

 

I was stumbling on the internet when I came across this awesome infographic. Many people believe that Mars is the optimum place for human habitation. However as the picture shows, the radically different atmospheric composition and less than half the earth’s gravity make permanent settlements on Mars very unlikely.

First the thin atmosphere allows harmful radiation through. It also somewhat negates carbon dioxide’s greenhouse effect, leading to low temperatures and hazardous exposure to sunlight. This will make agriculture or any other extensive surface based activity very costly (because of the additional preventive infrastructure).

Second, low gravity means the human muscles will start to atrophy if they stay for long on Mars. This will be specifically true for children or older people. So unless some sort of artificial gravity technology is made, Mars will remain strictly a research or a tourist spot.

Link to picture

Things You can Do with a WMD

If your knowledge is lacking, historically…

A WMD stands for a Weapon of Mass Destruction. Commonly they refer to nuclear weapons: fission based and fusion based. Fusion based weapons are more powerful. I will talk about fusion based weapons. Because they make a bigger bang. I like big bangs.

Remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Exactly. But fusion reactions are three to four times more energetic than fission. Therefore their destructive output is significantly larger. Add this to the fact that unlike fission that requires a critical reactant mass to happen, fusion can happen for an indefinite time, given that the right conditions are present. Therefore a fusion based weapon can lead to a potentially cataclysmic, near-apocalypse outcome.

But Lets think positively: Infinite Energy

That was an overstatement. But for humans, there is no difference. Fission (usually) requires Uranium-235. That isotope is only 0.72% abundant. On earth, there are an estimated 5.5 million tonnes of Uranium, which means about 36,000 tones of fissile Uranium. Compared to this we have about 4.68 trillion tonnes of oil reserves. Fusion, however, requires hydrogen atoms. Most of the hydrogen atoms on earth are tried up in water in the oceans. Compared to these two, we have 15 million trillion tonnes of hydrogen in the oceans. How’s that for unlimited?

…and Exploring the Ends of our Galaxy

Another overstatement. Poetic licence, you see. Anyways, NASA came up with a proposal about explosion propelled space ships.

Project Orion

Project Orion

They would have a thick metal shield at the back. At set intervals a nuclear explosion would be set off and the shock waves would accelerate the space ship. With each explosion, the mass of the ship would decrease and it would accelerate even more , eventually reaching relativistic speeds. That would technically allow us to access the stellar neighborhood, if not the entire galaxy.

Alas! Fusion’s too Good for our Technology…

Fusion requires extremely high temperatures (millions of Kelvin) to occur. And no material known to man can withstand the heat. Scientists are still experimenting with magnetic  and inertial confinement. In magnetic confinement, the hydrogen plasma is confined within a solenoid so that it does not touch the surface or the container. In inertial confinement, beams of lasers heat up the particles in suspension to cause fusion. you can read more about these two methods here.

Fusion Reactor

Fusion Reactor

In the end, we’ll have to just wait for and see,

For a Genius of a Man to Solve the Mystery.

But if you really think that you are Worthy,

Step forth, Champion, and Tame the WMD!

Last semester, I took some poetry,

It seems some of it rubbed off on me.

I will stop now.

image1, image 2

Trous Noirs And trous noirs

For an explanation of the title, see the link at the end.

If you are seriously, irreconcilably frustrated by your significant other (or lack thereof) and you never want to see your significant other (or yourself) ever again, please accept a sincere piece of advice from me: Do not- I repeat: DO NOT throw them(or yourself) in a black hole. That would be a bad idea.

"I wasn't gonna push her!"

“I wasn’t gonna push her!”

Now the sensible will decimate my sagely wisdom because of the sheer improbability of a black hole ever crossing two recently uncrossed star crossed lovers. But the curious(and the willing) will ask: Why?

Because the face of the victim will adorn the cosmos for the rest of your life. That kind of kills the point of throwing someone into a hole which never spits anything out. Why?

In my previous article I wrote about how a black hole is formed. Now I will write about why black holes are great advertisement spots and potential reminders of every regretful thing you did in your life. Einstein pointed out in his general theory of relativity that gravity distorts space and time. So for an observer at an arbitrary distance, a clock near a massive object will appear to run slow. The nearer the clock is to the object’s center, the stronger will be the gravitational field, and the slower it will run (for less massive objects the clock will have just to be nearer to the center). However, there is a problem with heavy objects: they are usually very large. Therefore a clock won’t be able to get closer than the radius of the object. So the effects of time dilation won’t be apparent.

Black holes, however, have a zero radius. So objects can get close enough to experience significant relativistic effects. I will be using the case of you, and your significant other (real or imaginary) who recently lost his/her position of significance (and their balance on the space ship, apparently; sshhhh!):

time_dilation_gravity

In this picture, the green line represents the time measured by the observer(you) away from the influence of the black hole. The red line represents the time measured by the, uh, test subject. According to you, your time proceeds normally (the green line is not warped). The red line, even though it appears distorted to you, appears straight to the subject; just like you only have to walk straight without a care for the earth’s curvature to go to your destination, even though you appear to be moving in an arc to an observer in space. The numbers on both lines represent the hours elapsed since the break-up. Notice that the length between the hour intervals is the same for both green and red.

Now imagine that you both have clocks. Assume that the subject’s clock sends out a signal every hour. Also assume, for the sake of simplicity, that the signal reaches you instantaneously. As the warping of space time increases with decreasing distance to the black hole, you will get consecutive signals at ever increasing intervals, until at one point the next signal will take infinite time to reach you. However according to the subject, time will seem to pass normally because according to the subject, the red timeline is perfectly straight (just like with you and the earth). As you can see from the picture, no matter how far into time you progress, you will still get signals from the clock. That is to say, the simple act of disappearing forever will take your significant other an unimaginable long amount of time; and they wont even notice that you are getting impatient. As I said: bad idea.

To understand how the timelines work click here.

An explanation of the title here.

Planning for the Future

I was stumbling around the internet when I came across this series of pictures. If any one of you is interested in long term investments, high return savings, that sort of thing, this is a really good view of what the coming years will bring.

future

Investment Outlook for the really meticulous planners

Click here if animation doesn’t play.

But seriously, this image had a profound effect on me. A lot of people consider themselves lucky to be living in this age of innovation, on the pinnacle of existence. And believe me, I am not ungrateful. There is Naruto and Xbox and the Grand Unified Theory, and trips to the moon and probes to Mars; there is the internet, the standard bearer of the freedom of expression, and there is Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. And most important of all there is the asymptotic ideal of liberalism that, ever so faithfully, supports one’s occasional venture into the more “contestable” realms of morality, hiding behind the slippery paradox of the ownership of the intangible.

I am, of course, talking about The Pirate Bay.

Circumlocution at its Finest

Circumlocution at its Finest

I get excited when I write about things I like. Anyways: profound effect, ok. What I was trying to say is this: when you look at the larger picture of the universe, the largest picture that you can ever picture yourself in, you realize how insignificant of a speck you are. Despite living in an age of exponential progress, there is infinitely more that you have not yet beheld. The universe has so much yet to unveil. At every point in time, mankind has perceived itself as teetering on the pinnacle of progress, having reached the absolute limit of evolution. Every time, we have been proven wrong. Perhaps it is instinctive for us to identify with an unstable equilibrium, cautious creatures that we are. And it is this tendency of ours that forces us to ignore the broader realities of nature: that its progress is eventual, inevitable and perpetual.

I thought this picture is profound not because it is humbling, but because it showed me how much I will miss. I can’t fast-forward this show, I can’t torrent re-runs. I can only hope to experience the living daylights out of an infinitesimal period in the Universe’s life; a period that in all probability might be one of the more mundane parts of the universal timeline.

Just something to think about in times of inflated optimism.

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

shockwave_punch_small

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.

3025-if-you-know-what-i-mean

 

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.