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.



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.



Image 1, Image 2

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.

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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!):


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.

Destination: Black Hole

I like black holes. I like them a lot. They are in the top ten of my bucket list of destinations if I live for a thousand years.

Seems Legit

Seems Legit

Black holes in popular culture are notorious for being very dark objects. I will try enlighten the readers about their shady origins, and hope that people see them in a better light.

Stars run on hydrogen. In the extreme temperatures in their cores, hydrogen nuclei fuse explosively to form helium nuclei. The explosive energy released opposes the force of gravity of the star on itself. Thus the star continues its merry existence, until it runs out of juice, that is. When there is no more hydrogen left to fuse, the temperature at the core decreases, gravity takes over and the star contracts. The contraction again heats up the core to a level where helium fuses into carbon. This reaction is much more powerful than hydrogen fusion, and the explosive output causes the star’s shell to expand, making it a red giant.

If the star is less that 10.5 solar masses then it sheds its outer layers leaving behind a very dense white dwarf star made of oxygen and carbon. the white dwarf star is prevented from collapsing further by the electron degeneracy pressure. However, if the mass of the white dwarf is more than about 1.4 times the mass of the sun, even electron pressure cannot hold back gravity. And so the electrons fuse with protons to become neutrons, thus forming a neutron star. A neutron star achieves stability due to the quantum degeneracy pressure (that particles simply cannot have the same state and so must remain separate).

However, if the mass of the neutron star exceeds 1.5 to 3 solar masses, it collapses again into one of several exotic remnants, one of which is the black hole.



Famous Astronomers and other Stuff

astronomers lives

There are 5 scientists that are recognized as major astronomical figures in Europe:

Of the 5 of these people, 3 of them were alive and active at the same time (Galelio, Kepler and Brahe).

Nicholas Copernicus, in particular contributed a lot to out understanding of the Solar system. It was he who popularized the idea of a Heliocentric model of the solar system. He gave a series of assumptions which explained things such as Sunrise, sunset, star motion, retrograde motion etc. Even though some of his assumptions are incorrect according to modern science, they were still such good approximations that all that was needed was Galileo’s little struggles to put the final nail in geocentric theory’s coffin.

During his time, the world was undergoing some serious changes. The Americas were discovered in 1492, a discovery that literally changed the face of the earth (according to humans, at least). In 1526 King Babur, the great grandson of Tamerlane defeated the Lodhi Dynasty to establish the mighty Mughal Empire in the Indian Subcontinent. His victory marked the first use of cannons in India (that was why he won, mostly). While Copernicus was busy reforming our view of the universe, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was writing what would become one of the most recognized pieces of literature in the world. He is considered to be the greatest writer in English language and a trendsetter in literature of many other languages as well.

What I found so interesting was how differently I perceived scientific history from political history. Comparing astronomers to Columbus’s voyage makes astronomy seem really old (and the Americas really new). It was also a surprise to realize that the heliocentric model of the solar system was proposed before such a famous Empire was formed. Now the Taj Mahal seems like it was built yesterday.

To Stretch or Not To Stretch

Physics has the distinction of hosting the one of the weirdest concept hierarchies  Don’t get me wrong: physics is beautiful in its intricate connections. But sometimes, especially in the case of modern physics, one feels something like:


So, most of us know about special relativity. A quick summary for the unfortunate: Special relativity establishes the speed of light as constant in all inertial reference frames (that is, for all observers who are either at rest or moving at a constant velocity). One of its implications is that information (in the layman’s case:anything) cannot travel faster than light. This means that as one starts approaching the speed of light, stuff starts happening. Time slows down (according to an outside observer looking at you), your mass increases and weird lighting effects start taking place. I am concerned with length contraction: the shortening of length of objects which are moving at relativistic velocities.

After an unexpected abortion of its hiatus, my conscience prevented me from playing Ace Combat.  And so I was looking for something productive to do when I found this website. According to the article, even though relativistic speeds may cause measurable shortening of length, it most certainly is not observable. Instead the fast travelling object will actually “appear” elongated, while actually being “contracted” at the same time (Schrodinger’s cat, anyone?).  The more I progressed into the article, the more I was like:


But then, I went into scientist mode…

inception_meme__1_…and decided to do a little calculation of my own.

 Imagine there is an object moving towards you at a velocity ‘v’. The stationary length of the object is ‘l’. The distance between you and the farthest part of the object is ‘x’.


Just by looking at the image we can see that light from the back of the object takes longer to reach the observer. Mathematically:


We also know that we see an image when photons belonging to the same “plane” reach our eyes. From the equations above, we can see that photons reflected from the front “l/c” seconds later will arrive at the same time (i.e. on the same “plane”) as photons reflected from the back. However in ‘l/c’ seconds, the object will have moved by the distance:


So the image that will reach our eyes will be like:


The apparent length of the object will be:


Let us now assume that the object’s velocity is actually relativistic. So the measured length of the object will shrink to:


And it is this length that will undergo apparent distortion:


Where l(measured) is the stationary length of the object. The relativistic factor shrinks whereas the observational factor stretches the object. It all comes down to which one of those functions is more powerful. This is a graph of enlargement vs. speed. ‘1’ on the y axis represents no distortion.


Back to Ace Combat. ibrahim2016 out.

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.