How Much Oxygen Can You Pull Out of Martian Perchlorates?

June 2, 2019

(or, how my grandaddy fast-terraformed Mars in 2055)

So, maybe you’ve heard. Martian soil is about 0.5-1.0% perchlorates, that is, ClO4ions, which are supposed to be really bad for human thyroids. Being that it’s an ion, you usually find it paired up with something like sodium or potassium, so really, it’s a salt, but it’ll still kill you.

There are articles online about soil remediation using a variety of methods, because perchlorates are a problem here on Earth, too, residue from such things as fireworks and rocket propellant, and sometimes when the EPA isn’t run by idiots, we try to fix that problem. So there are ways to deal with it, including bioremediation using bacteria.

The question I pose here is; if you have the tools for bioremediation on Mars, how much oxygen could you produce in that process, and would it be a greater volume than the CO2 that’s already there? Could you fast-terraform Mars with the available oxygen?

Let’s figure it out. If you want to skip the “figuring out” part, just skip to THE BOTTOM.

I make a few assumptions that may or may not be reasonable, but let’s start with the idea that we can convert all the ClO4ions into a Cl– atom and two O2 molecules. If you wonder how we’re going to discard the Chlorine atoms, don’t forget that we started with a salt, like NaClO4, or KClO4, and can recombine with the positive ion to make NaCl or KCl, both of which are relatively harmless to humans.

Second assumption is that the 0.5% (by weight) soil contamination only goes down one meter on Mars. Martian soil, as everyone knows, weighs about 1520 kg/m(okay, I looked it up. I’m sure this varies a lot, but it’s the number I used). If 0.5% of that is perchlorate salt, that’s 7.6 kg per cubic meter of Martian surface (or square meter by area, since I speculated on a 1 meter depth).

Mars is 144.8 x 1012 square meters in area, so we get a total of 1.1 x 1015 kg of perchlorate salt. Of that mass, roughly half is oxygen. You can look up molecular weights if you like. I’ll wait.

So, roughly 5.5 x 1014 kg of oxygen! Woo-hoo! That’s a lot of oxygen. Let’s compare that to the CO2that’s on the surface (Googling it now…) Ah, dang, the COis 2.5 x1016 kg. Even at .01 atm, it outweighs the available oxygen from perchlorate remediation by 50 times.

THE BOTTOM; The existing COon Mars is about 50 times heavier than the Oyou could get out of the perchlorates in the soil, assuming my assumptions, which are many. Don’t get me wrong, 5.5 x 1014 kg of oxygen is still a hell of a lot of oxygen and you get to clean up the soil so it doesn’t kill you as you track it into your hab.

But if it isn’t enough to bulk up the atmosphere, is it worth the bother? Well, sure. I’ve been working on an SF story where humans start covering Mars (and the Moon) with tents, tall poles with clear plastic sheets on top, basically, so they’re creating an atmosphere that’s only 3 meters high. It’s well designed science-fiction plastic, so it keeps out gamma rays, the solar wind, and holds 0.5 atm pressure with ease. It’s the future!

If I’ve done my math right, we have 1.7E16 moles of oxygen, so if we’re shooting for room temperature at 0.5 atm, and using PV=nRT, we should have about 7.6E14 cubic meters of gas.  Based on the known square meters of Mars, this should give us a potential tent height of 5 meters over the whole damn surface, full of oxygen at ½ Earth pressure, assuming we can heat it to room temperature (thank goodness for all those orbiting reflectors).

Wow! Plenty of space for those 2-meter tall Earthlings to evolve into 4-meter tall Martians in the low gravity. Maybe even enough for a few giant dome-cities if you add in some nitrogen and water vapor and some carbon dioxide for the plants.

Feel free to check my math, I only ran through it once. Sometimes I make mistakes. But to all the nay-sayers telling us we can’t Terraform Mars, I say; it’s just engineering. You just need to make the top of the atmosphere much lower.

If you enjoy hard SF, consider subscribing to Analog SF, where many of my stories appear, and check out http://www.silcom.com/~tomjolly/tomjolly2.htm to find more of my stories in other places.

Running a Stirling Engine Using the Night Sky

November 28, 2018

I’m a failed inventor. I get strange ideas, try them out, and usually discover that I either got my physics wrong or built my prototype poorly, or that someone beat me to the punch thirty or three hundred years ago. I created what I thought was a great factoring algorithm for huge numbers and found out that Fermat developed it first. That’s the way it goes.

So here’s the latest invention. It’s not really an invention so much as an interesting application of an existing device.

Is it possible to make a heat engine that runs off the thermal differential between the night sky and the heat radiating from the ground? Stirling engines can run using fairly small temperature differences, such as the ambient air and the heat in the palm of your hand. You can get one of these hand-driven Stirling heat engines from ebay for under $50.  The real question isn’t so much whether you can make a device that runs off the heat sink of the night sky, but how much of a thermal delta you could provide to that engine.

How cold is the night sky? I’ve read that on a clear night, it can provide a radiative heat sink of -70˚C. Yeah, that’s negative 70 degrees centigrade. Pretty cold. Those with a background in heat transfer physics know that the other two forms of thermal transfer are conductive and convective, and with the right glass or plastic covered chamber, you can minimize those thermal paths so that your heat source/sink sees only the -70˚C of the night sky. This is why some telescopes have a problem with their optics freezing up. Really. It also explains why some windshields frost up even though it doesn’t reach freezing temperatures outside, and other related phenomena.

The other side of your Stirling heat engine could be getting its energy from the radiation from the ground, say, about 15˚C. Or if you heated up a tank of water during the day, maybe 40 or 50˚C. You could run your engine easily with a delta of 100 degrees, though as you thermal guys know, the engine would be a lot more efficient at higher temperatures during the day shift.

But, the hypothetical question is if you could run an engine off the night sky. My speculative answer is “yes”. What’s nifty about the ability to do this? Well, instead of dumping HEAT into the atmosphere to generate energy, which every power source on Earth currently does, you are actually dumping COLD (a.k.a, removing heat) into the atmosphere to run your engine. The net heat loss of your engine is NEGATIVE.

So yeah, we could cool down the Earth and generate energy at the same time. Crazy, huh? The biggest problem with the idea is that you could generate a lot more energy a lot more efficiently using a hot solar Stirling engine during the day at the same cost, while dumping more heat into the atmosphere.

And cost seems to drive everything except our self-preservation instinct.

Does the Sun have a Positive Charge?

September 23, 2018

While I was reading about Venus’ atmosphere, and how the tremendous heat had split apart the hydrogen from water molecules and sent them off into space at escape velocity, I started thinking about the Sun’s plasma.

Hot gases are interesting, in relationship to how fast each molecule is moving. Small, light molecules move very quickly, while heavier molecules slog along at a slower pace in the same gas. So, in the formula  KEAVG=½ mv2=3/2*k*T, where k is Boltzmann’s constant and KEAVG is the average molecular kinetic energy, you can see right away that for a given temperature, the smaller the mass of the particle, the higher the velocity. So, if a particle in a gas is 100 times larger than another particle, you’d expect the smaller particle to be moving √100 = 10 times as fast.

So, back to the Sun. The Sun has a plasma atmosphere, that is, it’s mostly dissociated electrons and protons and other stripped atomic nuclei. Electrons are about 1/2000 the mass of a proton, so we expect that their average velocity in the atmosphere of the Sun is going to be √2000 faster that the average proton, or roughly 45 times as fast.

What this suggests to me is that, in the solar wind, most of the particles that actually reach escape velocity from the Sun (all suns) are going to be the electrons by a large margin. This also tells me that most of the particles that reach escape velocity from our galaxy are also going to be electrons.

So, some general figures to keep in mind; the escape velocity from our general region of the galaxy is about 537 km/s. Our Sun happens to be moving about 220 km/s around the perimeter, so particles would only have to be leaving our Sun’s heliosphere at about 317 km/s to escape the galaxy. The escape velocity from the Sun’s surface is around 618 km/s, and the solar wind (protons and electrons) supposedly passes by the Earth at about 400 km/s, though as we may discover, this isn’t exactly true. The escape velocity from the Solar System, if you start from Earth orbit, is only 42 km/s, much lower than the 400 km/s stream of particles flying by our planet.

I’m speculating that the solar wind consists of very fast electrons and much slower protons; if they were moving at the same speed, they would recombine into hydrogen. And since the electrons are moving much, much faster than the protons, I’m also speculating that a lot more electrons escape from the Sun than protons.

Over a long period of time, the Sun should become positively charged as more electrons than protons escape into interstellar space and intergalactic space.

One might look at the velocities, and think, well, hey, if the protons are moving at 400 km/s, they’re all going to escape the Sun’s gravity, too, and the balance of charge will be maintained! But they aren’t all traveling at this high speed; there’s something called the Boltzmann velocity distribution curve for particles in a gas, and some fraction of those protons aren’t going to make the necessary 42 km/s as they pass by Earth; they’re going to fall back into the sun. The electrons, as we noted, are probably moving 42 times as fast, on average, as the protons, so a much smaller number of them are going to be trapped by the Sun’s gravity. Likewise, a lot more electrons will escape our galaxy than protons.

Wow, the number 42 sure does pop up a lot. I wonder if that means anything?

Anyway, we speculate that a lot more electrons will escape from the Sun than protons. This would have some interesting side-effects.

The Sun, being positively charged, is going to be pushing and accelerating protons in the solar wind. The surplus interstellar electrons will be pulling on these same protons. Likewise, the motion of the electrons in the solar wind will be retarded due to the positive charge of the Sun. Eventually, I would expect some sort of balance, while still maintaining a net positive charge on the Sun. Somewhere out there in the heliosphere, the proton and electron velocities would finally match up, allowing them to merge into hydrogen.

I read recently that there is a yet-unexplained acceleration of the solar wind away from the Sun. Perhaps this charge imbalance is related to that.

So, we have a cloud of surplus electrons in between the galaxies. We have another cloud, probably denser, of interstellar electrons within our galaxy, between the suns. And we have positively charges suns stuck in this rotating cloud like a plum pudding. Over billions of years, I’d expect the intergalactic cloud to get denser, pushing the galaxies apart as one high-velocity electron wind smashed into others, and the field pushed the galaxies apart. Could this be interpreted as the acceleration of the separation of galaxies in the universe that we see and attribute to dark energy? I have no idea. Could the plum-pudding of positive charges (stars) imbedded in a rotating negatively-charged galactic cloud appear to be more massive than it really is, as it rotates within the universe’s own electron field? I also have no idea. I’m not an astrophysicist, or a plasma physicist, or any of the other useful fields that could actually answer these questions.

ADDENDA: I tried to look up velocity distributions for electrons and protons in a solar wind. The new Parker Probe, just launched, will probably be measuring this, and the GOES satellite and ACE measured this. Looking at the ACE SWEPAM experiment live data, it looks like electrons and protons have, on average, roughly the same electron-volt values, which, as I suggested earlier, would mean that electrons are moving a lot faster than the protons, which would give us results as described. But I don’t know how good the data is, or if I interpreted it correctly.

If you like this speculation, be sure to check out my SF short stories listed at my website.

Newton’s Shell Theorem in an Infinite Solid Universe.

August 15, 2018

Despite the ominous title, you will find no math in this entry. You’re welcome.

Some of you will be familiar with Newton’s shell theorem. Basically, it says this; if you are inside a sphere, or a thin shell, of homogeneous mass, then the gravitational forces of the mass around you will cancel out, and you will float freely no matter where you are inside that sphere; you will not be attracted to the center of the cavity, and you will not be attracted to the inside edge of the sphere.  See Figure 1 below.

I’ve done the math for the basic shell theorem (Fig. 1). It works. This is a fairly common undergrad physics problem. 

newton1

Since you can add additional shells of mass ad infinitum, then you can fill an infinite volume, a universe, with these shells, and the object in the spherical cavity will still be floating freely, since all the forces will balance out. See Figure 2 below.

newton2

This works great if you have a spherical universe.

A while back, while working on an SF story, I speculated on how a universe that was completely solid might work, especially if you had an Earth-sized cavity in it. My conclusion was that you would be attracted to the side of the cavity, which at first seems to contradict Newton’s shell theorem. But let’s take a look a that.

newton3

So the big rectangular gray area in Figure 3 represents the infinite, solid universe of whatever density you like. Marshmallows, quartz, whatever. We’ve carved out two Earth-sized spheres of whatever this stuff is, and discovered that if you stand where the little guy is standing, then the mass is completely symmetric around him, pulling with equal force in all directions. There is no gravitational gradient there.

Now, we fill in one of those spheres.

newton4

In Figure 4, on your LEFT, there’s a volume the size of the Earth, but it’s full of the aforementioned universal solid. On your RIGHT, there is an empty hole the size of the Earth. Since, as we’ve seen in Figure 3, all the rest of the mass in the universe balances out, not pulling you any direction at all, then the only mass pulling on you is that sphere to the left. If the average density of the universal ‘stuff’ is the same as the Earth, then you would feel a force of 1 gravity no matter where you stood on the inside of that hollow sphere. Feel free to imagine Figure 4 without the extra circle on the left. It’s not really necessary except to help with the explanation.

This is an issue when trying to solve problems involving an infinite universe. In this example, the universe would have to either be infinite and eternal, or closed in such a way that the distribution of mass was the same everywhere, such that if you went in a straight line forever, you would end up back where you started (though digging that hole would be very time consuming).

This is an interesting SF universe to play in, however. Pockets of air scattered around would create their own gravity, as described above, little bubbles in an unknowable solid universe. What if gravity in a large pocket became so great that it overcame the structural integrity of the matter that made up the universe? Would it propagate outward, consuming the universe with a growing ball of vacuum?

If you like this speculation, be sure to check out my short stories listed at my website.

 

 

Zero Gradient Gravity Fields, Dark Matter, and the Formation of Stars

May 17, 2018

We’ve mentioned in the past (to ourselves) that the formula for the Schwarzschild radius for a black hole, c2=2GM/rs tells us that no matter how thinly distributed a mass is, (such as 1 atom per cubic centimeter), if you have a large enough sphere of it, it will have a Schwarzschild radius when viewed from outside that volume. You can see this just by shuffling the equation around a little, so that c2/2G, which is a constant, equals M/r, the mass over the radius. For any given density, the mass, M increases with the cube of the radius, so for any given density, you can always find a radius that contains enough mass to equal the value c2/2G. Cute, huh?

I struggled for awhile wondering if an infinite 3D field of particles (which would appear to be flat gravitationally, that is, not have a gradient), would allow for overlapping apparent black hole horizons; everywhere you looked, there would be large, overlapping, spherical volumes that had enough mass to become black holes. Could this be our apparent cosmological horizon? But today (5/12/18) it occurred to me that the key feature of a black hole is that it has a gravitational gradient. You have to work to get out of the gravity well, or the idea of an event horizon is meaningless. But an infinite field of equally distributed mass has no gradient. It appears flat. Ergo, no event horizon, no matter the density.

Cruising along in deep space, there is, in essence, the same amount of mass pulling on you from all sides, that tenuous 1 atom per cm3. It could just as well be 10 atoms, or 100, or a million, with no noticeable effect. Once we attained a velocity, we would maintain that velocity – an object in motion remaining in motion. The interstellar gas would eventually slow you down, but it would take a very ong time.

Working with the 1 atom/cm3 extending to infinity, let’s say we superimpose another huge sphere of 1 atom/cm3 gas on top of that, so huge that it provides you with an event horizon (if I’ve done my math right, it would amount to roughly 1.5×105 light years in radius, or a ball 0.3 million light years in diameter). Now there is a mass and a very small gravity gradient. Is the event horizon based on the 2 atoms/cm3, or the 1 atom/cm3 density? We’ve already seen that the original 1 atom/cm3 field provides no gradient, so it would make sense that the only effect to the observer is to see the event horizon created by the new 1 atom/cm3 superimposed on the existing field; the other previously existing field is completely flat and cancels out.

However, the new field created by the new mass is going to affect both the old mass (1 atom of hydrogen per cm3 everywhere) and the new mass (1 atom per cm3 in the giant sphere). The object will form with twice the mass (in this case) predicted by the theory. When it’s first put in front of us, we will measure a mass represented by the 1 atom/cm3 in that volume. As it collapses and takes the background mass with it, it will finally produce a mass that accounts for the 2 atoms/cm3 that we actually started with. While it’s doing this, it will also be backfilling the area that it vacated with more interstellar gas, as that gas is also being pulled in by the gravity of the developing black hole, so the overall density of the universe will appear mostly unchanged, even around the black hole.

Practically speaking, this would be more likely to happen in a nebula, where the density is much higher.

One of the most interesting things about this process is that if there is an undetectable mass-type in the universe (like dark matter) that only interacts with regular matter through gravitation, and it’s distributed equally everywhere, then objects that form (planets, Suns, black holes) will also pull in this other mystery mass. As described above, the tenuous gas (1 particle per cc) that we currently measure may actually mass 2 or 10 or 100 particles per cc. We wouldn’t know since the field is flat. Since this new mass doesn’t react with normal matter, it will clump in the center of the object (although it may have its own chemistry and volume that prevent excessive density). Small objects existing on a larger mass (like humans), would have the dark matter pulled out of them, and when we performed tests like The Cavendish experiment to measure the gravitational constant, it would give us a good value for G for normal matter, and would give us erroneous results for the masses of the planets and the Sun. We would think the core is made of denser matter than it really is, both in the Sun and Earth. We know the mass of the Earth, but a substantial chunk could be dark matter and we’d never know it. Perhaps the iron core is made of silicon at half the molecular weight (which is interesting, because magma is 50% silicon dioxide, and only 9% ferrous oxide).

However, most objects that have formed in the last few million years are going to have some dark matter as part of their core. They have gravity, and any dark matter out there will be attracted to it just like regular matter, until an object forms which is part dark and light matter. This includes asteroids. Eventually, we’re going to move an asteroid, and when we do, the acceleration is going to leave the dark core behind. We may not notice it unless we’re looking for it, or if it’s a substantial enough part of the mass that we detect a mass-change in the object as it’s propelled. We would end up with two objects; the obvious light-matter asteroid, and the invisible dark-matter asteroid that could only be detected with a gravitational gradiometer. It would change the way we thought about the universe.

Black Hole Evaporation versus CMBR

May 5, 2018

Black holes evaporate. At least, that’s what most physicists tell us.

What I stumbled into recently was a conjecture that they can’t evaporate beyond a certain point if the input is greater or equal to their output. This was mentioned on Quora by some physicist as a response to a related question. I thought it was interesting enough to mention it here.

Really large black holes are colder than the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR), which is about 2.73 degrees. The radiation going into a black hole is actually greater than the radiation leaving the black hole. The only way a black hole could radiate is if it’s very small and already radiating hotter than the CMBR (plus whatever particles fall into it, adding to its mass).

The limit where the size/mass of the black hole is equal to CMBR input is about 1% Earth mass, about 4×10^22 kilograms, based on Susskind’s formula and Hawking’s formula. This would create a black hole smaller than a millimeter. But black holes can’t even form without at least three or more Solar masses to begin with.

So, any black hole larger than a millimeter is going to keep growing. Presumably, primordial black holes smaller than 10^11 kg, created during the Big Bang, would have evaporated by now. This leaves a range of possible primordial black holes from 10^11 to 10^22 kg as possible existing evaporators, since they would be hotter than the background radiation.

However….

Primordial black holes would form because of high density and radiation. It would be crazy to think that their mass wouldn’t quickly grow far beyond Earth mass when surrounded by a buffet of dense gas and radiation. Just the nature of the formative process suggests that they will never radiate faster than mass/energy is added to them from their environment, and will always grow larger in size.

I really WANT them to exist, however. My next SF story kind of depends on it.

The Spacetime Diet: Redistributing the Fat of the Universe

October 29, 2017

If you’ve had your nose in spacetime physics at all, you’re familiar with the idea that when you move really fast, other objects look thinner. Or, relatively, you look thinner from the viewpoint of someone else’s reference frame.

This is called the Lorentz-FitzGerald contraction. When you observe a moving object, it appears shorter, or thinner, along the axis of its motion relative to you. Likewise, you appear thinner relative to the moving object (who does not feel thin at all). There’s a formula for this, but it’s irrelevant for the discussion below.

You also appear to gain mass (using a similar formula). This is also irrelevant for the following discussion, but I thought I’d toss it out there.

So here’s the rub. You will often hear someone say or write, “When an object nears the speed of light, the universe flattens to a thin sheet from the viewpoint of an observer on that object.”

Just to clarify, this is bullshit. If you are cruising along at near-light speed, then all matter, relative to your frame of reference, is moving in the opposite direction at near-lightspeed. That’s okay so far. Except, the universe is expanding. And the farther out you go, the faster it’s expanding, such that there are regions of space expanding away faster than the speed of light (the expansion of “space” is apparently able to ignore the whole “speed of light” limit thing; go figure).

So when you attain a certain velocity, you become stationary relative to another part of the universe that is moving away from Earth at the same speed. There is no shortening of length or thickness for that object, that part of the universe.

Take the Andromeda Galaxy for example, moving toward us at 110 kilometers per second. When we measure the galaxy in the direction of its travel, along its axis of motion, it’s foreshortened in that direction. Now, fire up your rockets so you’re traveling at 100 kilometers per second in the same direction, and Shazam! The entire galaxy poofs back out to its real shape in its own frame of reference that happens to coincide with your own. Relative to you, the Andromeda Galaxy is no longer moving.

So, back to the expanding universe; as your spaceship speeds up more and more, there’s always a part of the universe that’s moving at the same speed at which you are traveling (a comoving reference frame). It won’t look compressed or thinner or foreshortened at all. In fact, if we take the viewpoint that all parts of the universe are essentially equal, (that is, there is no “center” of the universe) then the universe doesn’t compress into a pancake at all as you near the speed of light; it’s just that the non-foreshortened part of it, the part that matches your current velocity, is farther and farther away from you. But the overall volume will appear unchanged.

 

Black Holes and Those Pesky Event Horizons

October 8, 2017

In Leonard Susskind’s book, The Black Hole War, page 240, he states, “To a freely falling observer, the horizon appears to be absolutely empty space. Those falling observers detect nothing special at the horizon…” In Amanda Gefter’s book, she points out that the distant observer sees the event horizon, while the falling observer detects no event horizon at all. Of course, she took a lot of her ideas from Susskind. In the meantime, Hawking treats the event horizon as a fixed boundary where virtual particles can split apart (Hawking radiation).

black_hole_2013_0

I think none of these is right. The idea between the “escape velocity being faster than the speed of light” is relative to the delta between the gravitation potential of the observer and the potential at the event horizon. From an infinite distance, we observe an event horizon at a certain radius. Should the event horizon suddenly disappear if we are in an inertial frame starting our fall into the black hole? Starting at what distance? A thousand miles? A light year?

The more likely result is that the event horizon moves inward as you approach it. You are in a deeper gravity well as you approach the black hole, thus the difference between your local gravity potential and that of the event horizon, to maintain a high enough value for the escape velocity to equal the speed of light, requires that the event horizon continuously move away from you (toward the singularity) as you move toward the singularity. You never quite catch up with it. There’s a Wikipedia article that says this explicitly, but then, it’s a Wikipedia reference (Event Horizon). Sometimes they’re wrong, but usually they’re dead-on.

An interesting consequence of this is that if you maintain a certain orbit near the event horizon, and your version of the event horizon is closer to the singularity than that of a more distant observer, then a photon just outside your observed event horizon could reach you just fine, even though it cannot reach the more distant observer. Having received that photon, you could transmit the data from it outward, (boosting the frequency) as the distance from your gravity well to the distant observer requires an escape velocity somewhat less than the speed of light. Is this a loophole?

Why, then, do we think that a photon below the event horizon (for the observer at infinity) can’t escape the confines of the black hole? Is it only because it would be red-shifted to a zero frequency? Or is that false?

Escape velocity is merely a calculation of the velocity required to go from one gravity potential to another. If you are already in a gravitational well (like the outer edge of the Milky-Way galaxy) with an escape velocity of 300km/s, this has no effect on the escape velocity from Earth (11km/s), or the velocity needed to orbit Earth (7.5km/s). Likewise, consider a photon trapped just beyond the event horizon as viewed from an observer at infinity. To the guy in orbit around the black hole, the difference in potential is much smaller, and his relative event horizon is closer to the singularity. Won’t he see that photon? Can’t he receive it from the domain outside his apparent event horizon, but inside the event horizon of the observer-at-infinity? And then capture the photon and retransmit it?

So, even though a photon by itself can’t escape the event horizon of the observer-at-infinity, an intermediate process (natural or human) could conceivably pass a photon up through overlapping light cones, even though the light-cones at either end don’t overlap. This might eliminate the question of whether information can escape a black hole or not. The infalling observer can see what’s happening beyond the outer event horizon, and pass the information on, since his own event horizon is even closer to the event horizon.

A Fool’s Physics

September 18, 2017

I’ve read a lot of physics in my life and have a lot more to read, a lot more to learn. It’s hard to read any general physics text without stumbling across some interesting tidbit that makes me sit back and ponder how that tidbit fits in with my mental model of the universe. Some things make sense, some don’t. When I heard of the Unruh effect, I was dumbfounded (to my understanding, this is the emergence of energy out of a vacuum relative to an accelerating object). When I learned that photons are their own antiparticles, I was confused. When I realized that the time component in the spacetime interval produces a hyperbolic curve in the formula, it was an enlightenment years in the coming. When I read that antiparticles are just regular particles going backward in time (Feynman, I think), that, too, messed with my mental models of the universe. To say nothing of dark matter, the accelerating expanding universe, and so on. So, I try to organize all this hodge-podge of apparently related information into a single model that makes sense. As most physicists will tell you, it is an insurmountable task. But, I am not a physicist, really. I have a Masters in Astronautical Engineering, and as Sheldon Cooper would tell you, I’m really just an engineer. I create mental models that make sense to me, but may not have any practical use or truth in the larger sense of things. But we all have to start somewhere. I’ll keep reading, and revise the incorrect bits as I go along.

In this log of ramblings, I’ll offer up a bunch of foolish ideas on physical reality. I’m a big fan of determinism, so be forewarned. I also think of time as an actual, physical dimension. If you happen to join me on this warped (!) journey of speculation, I’d love for you to tear my arguments apart, tell me what’s wrong, and perhaps help shape the speculations into something that makes a coherent sense of reality, or assure their demise.

Causality Paradox? What causality paradox?

September 11, 2017

I can’t call this real physics, this is just pure and wild speculation. I had a funny idea today about whether or not you can go back in time and shoot your grandfather, thus keeping yourself from ever being born. Ethical questions aside, I thought of a possible solution to the whole “paradox” issue.

First, if you aren’t familiar with the Grandfather Paradox, you can read up on the subject at Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grandfather_paradox.

Start with the idea that we are always travelling at the speed of light. You, the Sun, the Earth, your brother Bob, everything is travelling at the speed of light through the time dimension, all going the same direction so your relative speed is zero. This is a pretty common concept in modern physics, so I’m not going to expand on that here. Just more physics weirdness.

So, let’s say I get the dubious urge to go murder my grandfather at some time in the past, before I was born. Using some fantastic time machine, I go back in time to when Grandpa was just a young fella and shoot him. What happens then?

Well, imagine that space and time are a 4-dimensional matrix, but that changes made in the matrix can only propagate forward at the speed of light. Remember, that’s how fast we move through time. Eventually, the change (where I no longer exist) reaches the point where I would have gone back in time, but the particles that would have made up my body go shooting forward past that point and never go back. Well, they aren’t “shooting forward” so much as redirecting the world line of their old path at the speed of light. Now, instead of making a U-turn and heading toward their fate with my grandfather, the bullet-magnet, they continue forward in time. The old worldline going backwards collapses/disappears at the speed of light and eventually catches up to where Granddad is, and lets him live. I’m born again! And I foolishly decide, again, to go back in time and kill my granddad.

What does this result in? An oscillation. The world line shifts back and forth between the two realities, carrying the data from both possible realities, like a sine wave on a current. Just as a single electrical sine-wave can contain positive and negative values as it propagates through a wire, so can events toggle on a worldline as that worldline propagates through time. Even past the point where I made my fateful decision, the world line is toggling back and forth; both realities are true, taking their turn as the decision I made causes both of them to be real. The duration of this toggling or oscillation would be twice the duration of the time from when I went back in time to when I snuffed Gramps; the duration of the whole loop.

It’s my belief (not necessarily shared by many others) that we live in a four-dimensional space time that exists perpetually as a 4D matrix, and that what we perceive as our consciousness exists at each point along that worldline. There is the version of you that you perceive now, and the version that existed when you kissed your wife for the first time, savoring the moment you’ve forgotten. Kind of a repetitive immortality.

But what I’m suggesting above is that multiple realities can exist on a single worldline; you don’t need multiple universes dividing every time a critical decision is made or a quantum observation collapses a wave function, or a bit of antimatter goes back in time and changes an existing chemical configuration. Both events occur and exist on a changing, fluctuating, dynamic 4D worldline. There’s the version of you that remembers killing your Grandfather, and the version that never existed, propagating through time, one behind the other forever on the oscillating world line.

The normal view of a 4D worldline is of a static deterministic universe, bound by the future and past configuration of an unchanging worldline. Another view is that every decision, human or quantum, splits the universe into a multiverse, a crowded infinity of infinities. This version allows us to stick with one universe, but to modulate our worldline to allow multiple realities to exist along a single timeline.

Possibly, an outside observer could interface with either version of your reality, based on where he encounters your worldline from his own worldline. Could that be the “collapse of the wavefunction” we talk about? Good grief, that would make the Schroedinger’s Cat conundrum actually possible. Dead and alive! I always thought of it as complete nonsense.

One issue with this model is that each worldline, as it moves from one reality to another, may have to move instantaneously from the collapsed worldline to the new worldline. I think. No real way to test it, that I can imagine. Mmm…maybe pick a subatomic decay process that can have multiple durations, then have someone record the decay time data, then take off (with that data) somewhere at high-speed so your worldline is no longer in sync with the experiment’s original timeline, fast enough that the time separation is greater than the decay time variance. Then, come back and see if the recorded time is the same as it was before; you’ll have two sets of readings of the duration of a single decay, and they might not agree. Wouldn’t that be something?