Gravity Waves Discovered: In Plain English

Social media has been abuzz with a breaking discovery in science and exploration, which tells us two things: (1) Our society has come a long way as far as interest in the sciences is concerned – people are actually getting excited over this latest discovery and are sharing the news via Facebook, Twitter etc. And (2) the news itself is absolutely revolutionary! Einstein’s theory has effectively been proven with the first real detection of gravity waves. But, I’ll let theoretical physicist and string theorist Brian Greene explain that to you…

Video Source:Brian Greene Explains The Discovery Of Gravity Waves” Uploaded by World Science Festival to YouTube channel www.youtube.com/watch?v=s06_jRK939I

How Black Holes Are Born

In this cool video, we learn how black holes are created from the death of massive stars, leaving behind a collapsed star so dense and with such skull-crushing gravity that not even LIGHT can escape it! Here’s a cool fact… if you were floating towards a black hole, the atoms in your feet would accelerate towards it faster than the atoms in your head and so effectively, you would be instantaneously ripped apart. Fun!

Video Source: “The Birth of a Black Hole” Uploaded by Alexander Guseff to YouTube channel www.youtube.com/watch?v=8grTbzAo0PA.

Gravity and the Laws of Attraction, Somewhat Revised

Here’s a bit of great news: no matter how ugly you are, scientifically speaking, you’re still attractive!

That doesn’t mean that the guy or girl you’ve crushed on for one year, eight months, 37 days, 12 hours and 33 minutes (who’s counting?) is going to jump into bed with you… but it does mean that your feet will always remain planted firmly on the ground. And this is because, to planet Earth, you are attractive.

How romantic!

Sir Isaac Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation

Sir Isaac Newton

I’m not being clever when I say you’re attractive, even though you could eat an apple through a tennis racquet with those teeth. I am being quite literal! Gravity is the force that holds everything to the surface of the Earth and it’s what makes even the lightest feather float teasingly towards the ground. A force of attraction exists between every single being and object on this planet.

Earth’s force of attraction on you – gravity – is the reason we all don’t float out to Space. In fact, gravity is the whole reason the stars and the planets came together. 

“Gravity is the natural phenomenon by which physical bodies attract each other with a force proportional to their masses.”

Sir Isaac Newton refined this definition by adding the fact that this force of attraction was inversely proportional to the distance between the two objects. This makes perfect sense: the further away you are from planet Earth, the lesser it’s gravitational pull on you, which is why astronauts float around in Space and your 600-pound mother-in-law has remained couch-bound since the 90’s.

Is the Force Strong with You?

Darth Vader sexy suit

Is there a way we can calculate how attractive you are? I’m so glad you asked, because the answer is yes! There is a formula we can use to determine the force of attraction between you and that hot guy in accounting. While this formula was developed for more austere means, science can also be fun and whimsical:

Gravitational force equation

F is the force of attraction between m1 and m2, which are two physical bodies (you and hot accounting guy). ‘d’ is the distance between these bodies and G is a gravitational constant (because nothing in physics is ever really simple). The value of G is approximately 0.00000000006674.

So, given this information, we can now calculate the force of attraction between you and your would-be beau. Let’s say that you weigh 70kg and he weighs 80kg. Right now he’s sitting at his desk a few cubicles away, chewing lightly on the back of his pencil like he always does when concentrating, knees folded under his chair, golden brown hair, soft skin…

Sexy business man

Focus!

If you had to draw a diagonal from where you’re sitting right now to his location, he’d probably be about 5 meters away from you and if you keep talking like that you’ll be legally required by a restraining order to make it 200 meters. Now, let’s plug these numbers into Newton’s equation:

F = G x [(70kg x 80 kg)]/(5m)²

F = G x 224 kg/m²

F = 0.00000000006674 x 224 kg/m²

F = 0.0000001914 Newtons

The gravitational pull of his sweet body on yours is 0.0000001914 Newtons.

This may seem like a paltry number compared to the bottomless pit of unrequited love you feel for him, but that’s precisely why we don’t go crashing into each other all the time. Not by accident anyway. We all exert a gravitational pull on each other, but this force is so small you just can’t feel it.

Jupiter’s Tormented Moon

Jupiter and the moon Io

Large objects on the other hand exert a stronger gravitational pull. Earth’s gravity is enough to keep us planted firmly on its surface. But Jupiter, which is a much larger planet – 318 times more massive to be precise – exerts such immense forces of attraction that its nearest moon, Io, is in a constant state of seismic catastrophe. Not only does this poor moon have to travel through Jupiter’s intense radiation field, but its very core is ripped up in continuous cycles of convection caused by Jupiter’s insane gravity. The moon is literally being turned inside out again and again and again.

Have You Thanked Your Gravity Today?

During the formation of the Universe – not the Old Testament version – when there was a veritable sh*tstorm of matter flying about, gravity is what caused the coalescence of the planets, stars and moons. Smaller pieces and fragments of matter would cling to larger pieces and fragments and the resultant balls of matter just got bigger and bigger and bigger until stars and planets were formed. This force of attraction, which is directly proportional to your mass or weight, is quite interesting and responsible for a number of things we take for granted.

Gravity is the reason extreme sports are dangerous. It’s the reason your keys hit the floor in the morning when, with arms loaded, you try to fiddle with that damn stubborn front door lock. The extreme stress it exerts on the core of planets is the reason the centre of, for example, the Earth is molten and it’s what initiates nuclear reactions in the hearts of stars. It’s the reason stars burn; stars being the forges of the heavier elements we are composed of!

Gravity is the reason we enjoy an annual trip around the sun. It’s the reason the oceans have tides. Even galaxies are held together by gravity. You may never have considered this force to be your best friend, especially if you were blessed with double D’s. But we all have a lot to be thankful for! Our very existence and the very order of things as we know it all comes down to gravity.

See what I did there? “Comes down”… Har har.

Spiral galaxy in deep space. Elements of image furnished by NASA

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

Contrary to what we know about the accepted model of modern day beauty, the heavier you are, the more attractive you are. The next time your chubby kid comes home crying from the taunting of some cruel schoolyard bully, you tell him or her to say:

“According to the 1687 works of Sir Isaac Newton, the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, my greater mass actually makes me more attractive. Furthermore, my preliminary understanding of the laws of gravitation makes me your intellectual superior and while I can lose weight, you will always be an idiot.”

Boom!

Success baby meme

Sciencey LOL of the Week

unny_science_test_answerI’m almost certain this kid knew the answer and, at the expense of one mark, decided this joke was too good to pass up on.

For those enquiring minds who really do want to know the answer…

Saturn is one of the largest planets in our solar system, in mass and size. It is known as a gassy giant because of its penchant for Mexican cuisine. I’m kidding. Because it is so massive and its gravity so great, that everything from giant space rocks to gass molecules were drawn in towards its centre at the formation of our solar system, approximately 4.5 billion years ago. If Saturn was just a little bit bigger (“a little bit” being an approximation for a whole lot), the intensity of its gravitational pull would have generated the central pressure and heat necessary to initiate nuclear reactions. And THIS would have made Saturn a star! The same applies to Jupiter, which is also a flatulant giant.

So, in other words, Saturn and Jupiter are failed stars… or that is what my astronomy professor always referred to them as.

Picture of planet Saturn
Saturn in all its real colour glory. This image was taken by the Cassini satellite in 2004. As a matter of interest, Saturn appears a sickly yellow colour due to the great glittering clouds of ammonia crystals held aloft in its atmosphere. I can only imagine what smells one would have to endure on a stroll around Saturn. Similar to your single toilet after you and 15 of your beer-soaked friends have relieved yourselves, I’m guessing.

Saturn’s rings are composed of orbiting particles of rocks and ice, some no bigger than snowballs and others the size of a bus, according to NASA’s fun cosmology website. Each of these particles, gargantuam and minute, are by definition moons, all in gentle orbit around the giant planet. They share this orbit with 63 other more “traditional” moons, the largest of which is the aptly-named Titan.

While it is unclear as to why all of this orbiting debris has accumulated into almost perfect geometric circles around the planet, the answer is suspected to lie in gravity. Over the many millions of years subsequent to the formation of the solar system (or seven days subsequent to creation), each particulate, snowball, moon and hunk of rock has had the time to settle into a position that reflects, in part, the force of attraction between itself and its giant parent planet. One might suspect that the larger, heavier particles will be arranged in belts closest to the planet, while the lighter and less dense particles will be in belts further away.

Saturn's ringsAnd you might suspect this because the force of attraction between two objects is proportionate to their respective masses and disproportionate to the distance between them. In other words, the heavier you are, the more attractive Earth finds you, which is why your bathroom scale groans every morning. You can refer to this spectacular blog entry for elucidation on this point: Gravity And The Laws of Attraction, Somewhat Revised.

This is precisely what I thought, but the picture is more complex than that. Each particle in orbit around its central giant – each particle of dust and each bus-sized space rock – is travelling at a certain speed. And while gravity acts to pull these particles in towards Saturn, they continue along a path that is perpendicular to it, rather than careening inwards. The force that propels these “moons” forward is called the centripetal force and you would have experienced that as a child when you were flung off a merry-go-round, because your douchebag brother seemed to think the word “stop!” meant “faster!”

Saturn’s rings are therefore organised into belts of particles that are travelling at different velocities. I have a very helpful reader to thank for this relevation and you will find his comment below.

And so, this gasy giant finds itself swathed in many beautiful, carefully arranged rings all consisting of particles, rocks, snowballs and moons travelling at varying velocities; trapped in an eternal dance around itself. Here’s something else: so does Jupiter and Neptune! The only difference is that the two latter planets’ bridal trains are thinner and far more translucent and so Saturn, with its ostentatious display, has become the planet in our solar system famed for its rings.

beyonce-put a ring on it

Sciencey LOL of the Week

Here – Your Revised Horoscope – you will find an absolutely hilarious – surprise! – revision of your horoscope as per Wednesday’s blog on Astrology.

It took me all of two minutes to read and I am still laughing.

Also, since we’ve been talking about gravity…