"Earth’s distant orb appeared the smallest light that twinkles in the heaven; whilst round the chariot’s way innumerable systems rolled and countless spheres diffused an ever-varying glory. It was a sight of wonder: some were hornèd like the crescent moon; some shed a mild and silver beam like Hesperus o'er the western sea; some dashed athwart with trains of flame, like worlds to death and ruin driven; some shone like suns, and as the chariot passed, eclipsed all other light." From "Queen Mab" by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1813)

Monday, 1 March 2010

Science Questions

One of the great things about science is that the more you find out, the more questions you have. Sure it would be nice to have all the answers but that would be pretty boring now wouldn’t it?

So, at the risk of embarrassing myself, here are some questions I have after a lifetime of interest in science. If you do have the answers then please fill in the blanks for me. Ta very much. Here we go...

What is light? OK, I know it's a particle and a wave at the same time but really, that's just a cop-out isn't it? It's Schrödinger's cat sitting on the fence, surely? Why is it that nothing can travel faster than light? What is it about light that makes it the fastest thing there is? Could it be that there is something that travels faster than light, so fast we can’t detect it? Obviously, if we can't detect it we wont know, but in theory perhaps? And if so, could that be the mysterious dark energy? And what propels it, why does it travel at all?

Calculating Matter
I understand that the amount of matter in the universe has been calculated and that it’s not enough to account for how galaxies maintain their individual shapes or to stop them flying away from each other. How do we know this? How is it possible to calculate the amount of matter in the universe and what is the margin of error? Excluding dark matter and dark energy, how do we know that all we can see or detect using earth or space based equipment, is all that is detectable in the universe? Could there be more matter out there that is so far away that we can’t detect it (yet)? Could it simply be hidden by some of the material we can see?

Big Bang #1
If the universe is radiating out from the big bang, where is the central point where the big bang took place? What shape is the universe?

The Big Bang #2
Could it be that the cause of the big bang is that the four fundamental forces of the universe cannot exist together in one dense body and that when they are combined, as matter was at the big bang, they simply repel one another, leading to the formation of the universe? So not so much an explosion more just matter flying away from itself.

The Big Bang #3
As I understand it, at the time of the big bang all the matter in the universe was combined into one extremely small but incredibly dense body. Was the cause of the big bang that all this matter, in clumping together, became so hot that its gravity failed? I ask this knowing that I'm confusing what can happen to magnets when they get heated, and gravity. Magnetism and gravity aren't the same thing, right?

Dark Matter/Energy #1
What is a dark matter halo surrounding a galaxy? Has it been detected yet or is it only a theory at this stage? If it has been detected how was this done and what does it tell us about dark matter/energy generally?

Dark Matter/Energy #2
If we can assume that the universe will continue to expand and cool till all that is left is cold, dark rock, over a vast distance, then assume that universes are coming into being every now and again over a huge time period (assuming I understand the term “multiverse” correctly and that is what is happening) then could it be that this left over material from a dead universe could have a gravitational, or indeed any kind of, effect on the new universe? If our universe is not the first, then could this be happening now? Is this what dark matter and dark energy is? Are galaxies not so much speeding away from one another, more that they are being drawn to matter outside our universe, matter that was left over from a previous universe?

Dark Matter/Energy #3
If we see distant galaxies as they were (close to the age of the universe at 13.7 billion years) then could it be that how they actually are now is affecting things in the universe? Could how they are now (not what they looked like then) account for dark energy, for example?

Black Holes #1

I’m told that the laws of physics breakdown inside a black hole and that basically all bets are off and anything could happen. Surely, black holes obey the physical laws of black holes? Is it not that, rather than the laws of physics breaking down, laws which work under such immense gravitational pressures take over? Does all the matter consumed by a black hole get condensed into a very small but very dense body? Is there a very dense rock at the centre of a black hole?

Black Holes #2
When a black hole consumes a body, does the black hole’s gravity then become even stronger? Is the combined gravity of the black hole and let’s say a star it consumes, equal to the two separate bodies, or does something happen to a body in a black hole that reduces or expands that gravity?

Black Holes #3
Is it possible that a super-massive black hole at the centre of a galaxy will eventually consume the entire galaxy that surrounds it? If this happens will the gravity of this black hole be enough to attract another galaxy to it? What I have in mind is that once all the super-massive black holes have consumed their galaxies that they then consume each other (big crunch) and form a super-super-massive black hole, that then explodes into a new universe. Could that happen?

Black Holes #4
If a black hole consumed a galaxy what would the effect on the rest of the universe? Might it, for example, be exerting a gravitational pull on very distant objects? Is this what dark matter/energy could be?

Right, that’s all the questions I have for the moment. No doubt I have massively misunderstood a lot of what I have read or watched on TV about these subjects meaning that the questions posed are actually meaningless. If that’s the case, then put me straight please.

If I am asking the right questions, and if you think you know the right answers then please leave me a comment, I’d really like to know. I’m not so hot on maths so if you can leave the answers in a form I stand a chance of grasping, I’d really appreciate it.

If you are Professor Kathy Sykes you have an open invitation to dinner at my place. I’ll cook (I’m a pretty good cook) and you can try and explain the answers to me over a bottle of wine. No funny business, my partner will be there too. This is a genuine offer, we live in Bristol.

Suggested reading: New Scientist Magazine http://www.newscientist.com/

1 comment: