Some of the best minds in history - both philosophers and scientists - have applied themselves to an understanding of just what the universe is and where it came from, suggesting in the process a bewildering variety of theories and ideas, from the Cosmic Egg to the Big Bang and beyond. Here are some of the main ones, in approximate chronological order:. How fast are we traveling through space?? How fast does light travel? How far is it to space, the Moon, the Sun, the stars, etc?
How many stars are there? How does the Sun shine?
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What different types of stars are there? But a system with minimum energy ordinarily can't move. If it could, then additional energy could still be extracted, until the system achieved a true minimum energy, a motionless state. He and Shapere showed that a material could have zero total energy yet still be in motion.
Cosmological Theories Through History
They did so by mathematically reformulating the ordinary definition of kinetic energy one-half mass times velocity squared to a different but equally valid value that depends on a velocity in an alternative way for instance, adding an additional term such as velocity to the fourth power and changing the sign of the usual kinetic energy.
Carroll agrees: "It's amusing to find a system that features motion in its ground state, but it certainly doesn't violate any truly cherished beliefs of physics.
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I'm ready to believe that such a system could even be constructed in the real world. Once set in motion, a time crystal could remain in motion forever, with no outside force needed to keep it going. This type of perpetual motion machine would not violate any known physical law because no energy could be extracted from the system without first adding energy. Such systems might even be arranged to convey information that would persist after everything else around them has died.
Carroll cautions, however, that a time crystal may not survive indefinitely. Even if the crystal has the minimum possible energy, it might not have the highest possible entropy, or disorder; a crystal blown up into individual particles and spread across space would have higher entropy.
If so, the time crystal would eventually suffer such a fate, because the universe always evolves toward higher entropy. The closest that modern technology has come to a time crystal, Wilczek says, is a current-carrying superconductor , a material that carries a moving, persistent current at low temperatures. In an ordinary superconducting cable, the current is constant, and if nothing actually changes with time, the superconductor does not qualify as a true crystal.
"Time Crystals" Could Be a Legitimate Form of Perpetual Motion
But if engineers could construct a superconductor with a lumpy rather than uniform distribution of charged particles, then as the current flows, the lumps move, and the persistent current would change with time. It could even apply to the origin and evolution of the universe. Among the major achievements in physics I was privileged to report were the discovery of the top quark at Fermilab -- the last of six quarks predicted by theory -- and the discovery in Japan that the elusive neutrino particle probably has some mass, a finding with profound implications for the fate of the universe.
Sometimes science writers watching the accelerating deluge of discoveries in physics, chemistry, molecular biology and astrophysics have actually outpaced the thinking of the scientists themselves, and science writing has bloomed as a major component of general journalism.
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At The New York Times, for example, the science editor, Walter Sullivan, had been steeping himself in astrophysics for decades when in two scientists at Bell Labs, Dr. Arno A.
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Penzias and Dr. Robert W. Wilson, accidentally discovered a faint microwave radio signal coming from all directions in the sky. It was the first hard evidence that the universe had begun with a ''Big Bang.
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Penzias later paid Mr. Sullivan one of the warmest compliments ever given a science writer, after reading an article expanding on the implications of the discovery: ''Only after reading Sullivan's story in The New York Times,'' Dr. Penzias said, ''did we fully understand what we had done.
Wilson, their discovery having radically changed man's view of the cosmos, were awarded a Nobel prize. The raw material used in news coverage of important discoveries is often rather skimpy: a press release from some university, a telephone message from a scientist friend or a brief paper in a professional journal. It is up to the science writer to judge the significance of the findings and place them in context.
This means that a science writer must be a perpetual student.
News stories about astronomy frequently have to do with black holes, for example, and for many astronomy fans it is enough to know that black holes suck in everything near them and won't let anything -- even light -- escape. But to understand black holes at a deeper level requires familiarity with Einstein's general theory of relativity, and some of the greatest minds in physics are still puzzling over some of relativity's implications. The presumably lesser mind of the science writer has an even harder row to hoe than that of the scientist.
But try, he or she must. CURIOUSLY, as science floods the world with discoveries of variable quality -- unhappily, the overwhelming majority of scientific papers fall into the category of junk science -- the task of the writer seems to grow easier in some ways.