Gravity Waves

There’s something that’s been on my mind for quite a while now but I just couldn’t seem to get inspired to write about it.  In addition to seeming like I couldn’t get inspired, I actually couldn’t get inspired.  And if I had gotten inspired, I would have written this already, wouldn’t I?  Just saying.

All that changed recently when the detection of gravity waves was announced. I don’t know if it has already occurred to you, but it occurred to me, that The Gravity Waves actually sounds like a great name for a band. (Well maybe not great, but at least sort of quirky.) Again, just saying.

In order to get to the thing that has been on my mind for a long time, I first need to talk about gravity.  But now I can’t bring up gravity without giving gravity waves a nod.  But I can’t talk about gravity waves without giving spacetime a nod.  So let’s start there.

Until Hermann Minkowski came along and gave the matter serious thought, we had this idea that space and time were two different things, like Bernie Saunders and Hilary Clinton. In 1908, he (Minkowski, not Bernie Saunders) came up with the notion that the best way to look at the Universe is with a 4-dimensional coordinate system called spacetime, consisting of three spatial dimensions and a time dimension thrown in for good measure.

Spacetime is great because it helps us do the math to understand why objects that move really fast look smaller, and don’t age as fast as slower-moving objects.  This could explain why Jane Fonda doesn’t look like she is 78 years old; she’s probably spent some time zipping around at close to the speed of light.

Anyway, after Minkowski held forth about spacetime, Einstein went on to postulate that cataclysmic gravitational events like the collision of two black holes, the explosion of stars or the vigorous grappling of sumo wrestlers, can generate waves that propagate at the speed of light through spacetime, warping it as they go.

sumo

The predicted magnitude of the warping is pretty tiny though, on the order of 1 attometer or 10—18m, which is, by the way, roughly about the distance a 14-year old boy moves when he is asked to clean up the kitchen.

Einstein thought that gravity waves would be too weak to detect, but for decades since the early 1900’s, scientists at many facilities including The Department of Measuring Really Tiny Things and Drinking A Lot of Coffee, have been relentlessly trying to prove their existence.  And finally, the good people at the United States-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO for short) have succeeded!

By the way, an interferometer is a sophisticated instrument that is capable of measuring the attometer-sized changes in the distances that two laser beams travel as they bounce back and forth inside it, interfering with each other.

Laser Beam #1: Stop that!

Laser Beam #2: Owww.  That really hurt.

Laser Beam #1: Owww  back. Keep your E-field to yourself.

Laser Beam #2: Keep your M-field out of my grill.

Laser Beam #1: You’re bossy.

This next picture shows two LIGO physicists thinking about going for their 30thcoffee of the day while they wait for the next gravity wave to come smoking in.

physicists

The detection of gravity waves is big news, because not only does it confirm that Einstein was top-notch in the thinking-about-arcane-stuff-department, it also allows us to see farther back in time than we ever could before, it deepens our understanding of gravity and it may even help us to formulate the long sought-after physics Theory of Everything.  (Unfortunately, it probably won’t help me figure out the rules I’m supposed to be following when sorting laundry.)

But all this talk about gravity finally gets me to the thing that has been bothering me for a long time.  Actually, it’s two related things.

The first thing is how John Carter (the adventurous brainchild of Edgar Rice Burroughs) was able to leap multiple city blocks 40-feet in the air within an hour or so of arriving on Mars.

leaping

The second thing is how the apparent size of The Hulk changes dramatically depending on what Hulk movie you happen to be watching, and even within any given movie.

hulk

I reckoned that the John Carter issue probably had something to do with the decreased gravity on Mars.  And I really didn’t know what to make of the Hulk issue.  Local variations in the strength of the Earth’s gravitational field maybe?  (OK, I’m reaching here.) But you know what? A bunch of other people have been scratching their heads about these exact same issues!  Weird, huh?

At this site ( Kevin Carr weighs in )an astute chap by the name of Kevin Carr weighed in on John Carter:

“Some have said that John Carter was the first action hero and possibly the first superhero. After all, he certainly acted like one, leaping across the Martian desert. These feats of leg strength began when he first arrives on Mars, learning to walk on a new planet. Once he gets his Mars legs, John Carter is able to jump like the athletic love child of Superman and Michael Jordan. It starts with long bounds, but soon he is able to vertically leap over people, Martians, and even several city blocks about half-way through the film.”

Rice Burroughs himself chalked this up to reduced gravity and thinner air on Mars. For sure the air (mostly CO2) is quite a bit thinner over there, but gravity is still only about 1/3 as strong as what it is on Earth, and I don’t see anyone leaping even one city block here in Calgary, much less anywhere else on Earth, so I remain puzzled.  Maybe John Carter was eating a lot of potatoes.  (see “The Martian”).

Or maybe he just became very buffed by walking his Martian dog.  It’s big dog.

johns-dog

This brings me to The Hulk aka Bruce Banner.  Like I said, I’m not the only one noodling over this whole business of exactly how big Bruce gets when he needs to save Earth from Aliens or can’t find a pair of matching socks or whatever.

On the site What is the canonical size of The Hulk someone asked this rather long question:

“I’ve noticed that in the recent Hulk movies his size varies from movie to movie. I’ve heard, but don’t know for a fact that the size of the Hulk seemed to change during the 2003 Eric Bana Hulk movie.  In the Ed Norton version he seems to be 2-3 stories tall. But in the more recent Avengers movie I’d say he was more like 2-3 meters. I can see why he is made smaller in this movie, since he was going to go toe-to-toe with Thor.  So, is there a size that is ever mentioned in the comics? Or do the comics leave room for his size to change to fit the situation?

(Just in case you’re wondering, canonical means: “a natural unique representation of an object, or a preferred notation for some object” as well as “authorized, recognized, accepted.”)

Marvel.com says Hulk can be anywhere from 6’6″ to 8’, depending on what color he is and how mad he happens to be.  I thought Hulk only came in one color (green) but apparently not.  And I swear that in one movie I saw, Hulk was 2- or 3-stories tall. Turns out that I just need to go back to film school. Someone with the Twitter handle Krillgar clarified things for all of us, me included:

“He wasn’t 2-3 stories tall. In the scene where he jumps out of the covered bridge at the school, they’re using a low angle looking up from the ground right at his feet. If he was 2 or 3 stories tall, his head would have been scraping the ceiling of the soda plant in Brazil. He was probably around 7’6″ – 8′ tall in The Incredible Hulk.”

So it’s all just camera angles.  I should have thought of that.  But I guess that settles the Hulk issue! And it’s important because there are a lot of Hulk movies.

You know, I was originally going to come at this John Carter/Hulk stuff from the angle of genetics, and whether great athletes are born or are simply the product of intense training/teleportation/10,000 hours, etc. But I’ll leave that for another time when I talk about some of these new sports like Footrug, Aqua Cricket and Gravity Wave Surfing.

Maybe the quickest way to get to the bottom of the John Carter issue once and for all is to just go to Mars myself.  It looks like that will actually be possible in the relatively near future, because in case you didn’t know, Elon Musk and his brilliant, hard-working crew at SpaceX (headquarters conveniently located at 1 Rocket Road, Hawthorne, California) are drinking inhuman amounts of coffee, racing their Teslas, and feverishly laboring to do just that: get Mankind to other planets, Mars being first on their list.

If anyone has gravity figured out, I’ll bet SpaceX does.

I hear they’re hiring, so I’m just going to shoot (!) my resume on down to Hawthorne, CA.

As soon as I finish waxing my gravity wave surfboard.

sky-surfing

Author:

Dave Barry fan and Medical Director at Rocky Mountain Analytical

One thought on “Gravity Waves

  1. Excellent blog. I forgot about the gravity wave break through. what does it all mean…? Einstein was a clever chap but did he fail on the unified theory or is the jury out?…Very funny quips ..well written. Thanks for sharing your thoughts good luck with the application.

    Like

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