The flags of Saudi Arabia and Saudi Aramco fly side-by-side (Photo by Anthony C. LoBaido)
(Editor’s note: In 2014, journalist Anthony C. LoBaido traveled to Saudi Arabia and other nations in the region. During this time, he spent 200 hours interviewing some of the world’s top scientists at Saudi Aramco. These interviews touched upon a variety of topics, including classical Newtonian mechanics, quantum physics, quantum chemistry, cold fusion, interstellar space exploration, theories suggesting multiple universes and time travel.)
DAMMAM, Saudi Arabia – The days always started out in complete darkness. The clock says 6 a.m. It’s early August, and the unbearable heat hasn’t totally set in yet.
While a legion of some of the world’s best scientists makes their way onto a crowded bus, one is reminded of the infamous bus scene in the John Hughes’ Hollywood blockbuster “Sixteen Candles.” Few buses in human history have ever been filled with this much brainpower. But this is Saudi Aramco, the richest transnational corporation in the history of mankind, and “the Stanford University of companies.” Saudi Aramco can buy anyone and anything it wishes, so the best of the best are not uncommon. As for the things money cannot buy – honesty, honor and integrity – those timeless qualities have also been inculcated into the souls of those on board.
The men and women sitting on the bus hail from Morocco, France, Italy, the U.K., Colombia and elsewhere. Ex-Texas A&M Aggies abound. On most days, I get to speak in Afrikaans, Spanish and Korean. I also have an “unofficial” Arabic tutor. The scientists are experts in the fields of nuclear power, engineering, coal, physics, geology and similar disciplines. One scientist might be the first-ever theoretical chemist to be hired by Saudi Aramco. This is historic. However, we almost never talk about their respective fields of expertise, since the commuting hours are set aside for our camaraderie. The time in transit offers the opportunity to let one’s hair down – scientifically speaking. Sometimes I wonder if there are similar theoretical and quantum chemists (and other scientists) working at British Petroleum, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron-Texaco, Gazprom, PetroChina, Shell, Total, Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and other energy giants.
Welcome to the boom town
Day after day, week after week and month after month, we spend three hours per day together while commuting. This time does not pass idly by. Serious yet totally unofficial discussions take place. They touch upon the life of Sir Isaac Newton, the math suggesting time travel is possible, an alleged time traveler named John Titor, interstellar space travel, theoretical and quantum physics, black holes, an “event horizon,” the bending of time and space, cold fusion, the idea of multiple universes, a hyperverse, an omniverse and “warp drive.”
Deliberations evolve, ranging from Occam’s razor (articulated by medieval philosopher William of Occam, who stated the most probable answer to a question is usually the simplest one) to the Periodic Table of Elements (“What’s the atomic weight of hydrogen?”) to evolution versus creationism and intelligent design. The colonization of outer space in order to facilitate mankind’s survival is also a dominant theme. Epic scientific papers, such as Isaac Newton’s “Opticks,” are circulated and discussed.
A Saudi Aramco company bus makes its morning run (Photo by Anthony C. LoBaido)
Some of these scientists are committed Christians. Some are Islamic educated. And some have no religion at all. But they all share one thing in common: They are the elite. They have all paid a great price to work for the world’s most successful company. Indeed, these scientists are the complete package: smart, highly educated and brilliant researchers. The men are supported in the background by smart, moral, stylish, graceful and pretty wives. They command respect as devoted husbands and fathers. Many came to Saudi Arabia to offer their children a life free of militant atheism, drugs, alcohol, abortion, pornography and perversion.
As the bus heads for the main compound of Saudi Aramco, we talk about all manner of things, ranging from patents to cutting-edge physics like the “unified field theory.” (The latter might someday reconcile Newton, Einstein and postmodern quantum theory.) Sometimes we discuss what it would take for a non-state actor to actually build an atomic bomb. Could it be done? If so, then how? We also discuss our personal safety, the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, as well as events in Yemen.
The Anderson Institute created this mockup of how warp drive might work. A parallel example would be how a surfer rides waves through the water
The subject of time travel often comes up. Is it really possible? Because of their random quantum interests, I christen our group the “Space Cowboys.” Together we ponder and seek out that which remains “beyond the invisible.” And together we formulate an idea for an intra-company, quarterly science forum for non-scientists. This idea is fleshed out, written down and submitted up the chain of command in several divisions and departments. We go through various scientific and technical journals, which I sometimes hand out in bulk to these fascinating men and women. Some of the women sport full-blown ninja burqa garb. This may hide their faces, but it cannot obscure their brilliance. These women are also the best of the best, and they have brought a great deal of pride to their families, parents, husbands, children and others. Their many talents remind us of a woman named Emmy Noether, who was the midwife of theoretical physics.
The scientists are always curious to hear about my journalism adventures involving rescuing elephants, helping lepers, digging up land mines, saving HIV/AIDS throw-away babies, how “Miss World Karen Russell” of Belize fame dealt with the nuances of Shariah law (a true-to-life Cinderella story that created a great deal of controversy in both the West and the Islamic world) and the horribly stained blood diamonds of Sierra Leone. They’re also interested in my time investigating the Aum Shin Rikyo cult in Japan and attending the British army’s jungle warfare training in Central America.
The quantum chemist (I simply refer to him as “The Scientist”) is especially interested in my journalistic work. He asks if I might take him along on one of my many adventures. That would only be fair, because every single day these scientists take me along on their own theoretical adventures. Cal Tech, Stanford, Harvard, MIT and NASA are not strangers to these men and women. Some of them are also brilliant teachers. As such, they have the knowledge and patience to explain highly technical information, even to the layman.
Although I’m not a scientist, I did take and pass Newtonian mechanics while at university. This offers a baseline and a springboard into the field of quantum mechanics that lay beyond. Yale University’s Ivy League Newtonian mechanics course lectures can be viewed here. The complete course materials are available at the Yale Online website.
On some mornings, the scientists challenge me with complicated questions such as, “Anthony, how fast are we moving?”
I’d reply, “I don’t know, maybe 60 miles per hour?”
But things could never be that simple – not on the Saudi Aramco bus. You see, understanding the universe means understanding math to a certain degree. Math is a special language that helps humans interpret things. Fire, math and the written word are some of mankind’s greatest inventions. The geniuses on the bus explain that mathematical computations about the speed of the Earth’s rotation (1,000 miles per hour or 1,600 km per hour) are possible. So are calculations of how fast the Earth is moving around the sun – 66,000 miles per hour, or 107,000 km per hour. That’s fast enough to travel from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., in three minutes. Factor in how fast the sun and our solar system are moving within the Milky Way galaxy – 483,000 miles per hour, or 792,000 km per hour. Then there’s the issue of how fast the Milky Way galaxy is moving around the universe. To figure that out, you’d have to measure against the Cosmic Background Radiation, or CBR. I’m told that the rotation of the Milky Way is 600,000 kilometers per second relative to the CBR.
With this new information in hand, I say, “OK, fine, so we’re not going 60 miles per hour. We’re really going 483,000 miles per hour, or 600,000 kilometers per hour, or whatever.”
This immediately leads us to notions of interstellar space travel, astrobiology and the search for alien worlds. The scientists explain that the closest star next to our own sun is Alpha Centauri, which is actually a system of three different stars. Alpha Centauri is 25 trillion miles away. That’s pretty far.
“Do you know how long it would take for even the fastest rocket ship to get there from Earth?”
“About 80,000 years – each way,” they quickly tell me, as if I would even be able to hazard a guess.
It is 4.3 light years one way. I’m told the space shuttle would have taken 165,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri while traveling 17,600 miles per hour. However, a “time machine-capable” spaceship approaching 99 percent of the speed of light would be able to make the same journey within three to four weeks. This would constitute the next great breakthrough in space travel.
This chart offers a glimpse at just how far away Alpha Centauri is from planet Earth
Saudi Aramco Research and Development Center
The Research and Development Center itself is a gorgeous building, elegant and futuristic. (I called it “Kirkland,” after the famous character of James T. Kirk – adroitly played by actor William Shatner – on the old “Star Trek” franchise.) Once inside the R&D Center, there’s the appearance and feeling of a spaceship from some distant age as yet unknown. Large monitors depict various Saudi Aramco scientists and their patents. This recognition is well-deserved for a pantheon of international scientists. There are vibrant green plants and immaculately cleaned floors. There’s a small eatery where the interloper might purchase bananas, Diet Cokes and even chocolate donuts. Murals dot the windows like some exquisitely divine medieval holy place. A few of these murals offer a look at the past, while just outside, some of the scientists hold court with Anthony LoBaido as they offer a glimpse into the future.
Inside the beautiful Saudi Aramco Research and Development Center (Photo by Anthony C. LoBaido)
On yet another never-ending, sunny, scorching day, “The Scientist,” as I often call him, is speaking on all manner of things – ranging from science to God and quantum physics. “The Scientist” says we must understand the safest nation in the world is not the one with the bravest Special Forces soldiers, but rather the nation with the best scientists. He’s actually one of those scientists. They were the kids you once knew in high school, the ones who sat at a special table in the cafeteria where pocket protectors were a badge of honor. The Periodic Table of Elements is their World Cup and their NFL. The laboratory is their Super Bowl. Now they’ve finally “made it” in science, and in life, at the world’s richest transnational corporation.
Like this writer, “The Scientist” says he has a photographic memory.
“One of my former professors, a very gifted man, once told me: ‘It’s not important to memorize things, but rather one’s mind should be free. It should be empty and ready to take in new information.’ We take notes only to help keep our minds free.”
“The Scientist” explains, “Saudi Aramco is all about oil and gas, and 95 to 99 percent of the employees I know are engineers. But lately science is coming more to the forefront.”
This is a major part of what has brought him to Saudi Arabia. We speak about modeling, theoretical chemistry and computational chemistry. Time and time again, we come back to quantum chemistry.
“First, let me tell you about modeling. It’s important in the design of new materials. Through statistical mechanics and quantum mechanics, we as scientists can try to calculate and predict the performance of various properties.
“Why is this vital? We can save money. A pharmaceutical company might spend US$ 5 million to develop a new drug. We can give them a list of five properties that are most promising to use in their research, and this cuts costs for them as we can do what’s called ‘pre-screening.’ And, of course, we can do the same for experiments involving energy.”
Beyond the invisible
“The Scientist” takes time to explain the Schrödinger model of time-independent experiments. Ultimately, he is interested in the behavior of atoms, molecules, neutrinos and subatomic particles. These are the gateway to the micro-universe. Quantum chemistry is a logical and scientific extension of quantum mechanics, as it seeks to deconstruct electronic issues in chemistry. Statistical mechanics, dynamics and the structures residing behind and beyond the properties of the things actually being studied are the realm and the domain of such scientists.
The kind of modeling “The Scientist” engages in while inside the laboratory also involves understanding the basic laws of physics. Once again, there’s that giant shadow of Sir Isaac Newton. (More on this below.) These include, but are not limited to, understanding potential energy, kinetic energy, Planck’s Law, the Pauli exclusion principle, the Virial theorem and other basics of the discipline. Ultimately, “The Scientist” is seeking to quantify energy. It’s really just that simple.
He explains, “We use very large computers for our calculations. We make them [the calculations] in advance, and this is crucial for our work.”
“The Scientist” then explains the major theories in his field that have transpired over the 19th and 20th centuries.
“There’s thermodynamics, quantum mechanics (he mentions the name ‘Heisenberg’ made so famous through the popular American television series, ‘Breaking Bad’), statistical mechanics and relativity. These days, minds like Stephen Hawking have us asking if black holes actually exist. We can study electrons in regard to dealing with black holes or even producing televisions. We can look at quarks and neutrinos and other subatomic particles. We can see practical applications to these things.”
He says he believes scientists should be working more closely with the general public.
“The great scope of art and science and music comes from working with other people, and not just while isolated and alone. The scope of science is to benefit all of humanity. Cold fusion, the Hadron Super Collider, time travel: These are all important in their own way, even just as theories. What was once science fiction has often become reality in future years. When we interact with the general public, and share information, a ‘super brain’ develops that’s better than any one individual brain.
“The fields of journalism, psychiatry, medicine, social science and others should all be at our best when sharing information. The general public has a right to know about scientific research, to participate in a way, and to offer a critique. I’ll also tell you that some scientists in the past were pioneers of ethics. Einstein was a very ethical person, just look at his famous letter about the atomic bomb. Look at Robert Oppenheimer (father of the American nuclear arsenal). Indeed, scientists have also been political and ethical figures. One might point to how Copernicus was burned at the stake. Science and other disciplines that are not shared have no value. That’s what Beethoven said. The great creators need direct contact with ordinary, common people.”
Multiple universes, superverse, hyperverse
As scientific knowledge continues to explode, who knows what developments might be around the corner? “The Scientist” spoke about notions of multiple universes, a “superverse” and a “hyperverse” as examples of how postmodern science is challenging our notions of reality.
“What about the hyper-sphere theory? A pin point is one dimension. Then you can make a circle around that point. If you follow it around in a circle, you come back to where you started. Think of the universe as a sphere and you are flying in the space shuttle to Alpha Centauri – the next closest star. [As previously noted, that distance is 4.3 light years.] Let’s say you flew there and kept going. The idea is that you would eventually wind up right back where you started.
“Let’s talk about space-time. What is the fourth dimension beyond the ‘X Y and Z’ of the physical person? There is that fourth dimension of time. This is a key question – that being who or what created time? What would our view of reality be without time? What came before the so-called Big Bang? And let us ask, what is the universe expanding into? There are a hundred-billion stars in a hundred-billion galaxies. Who can count them? There’s just so much we still don’t know.”
One can’t help but wonder if the universe will expand infinitely, or will we all one day, like “Alvy Singer,” the little boy in Woody Allen’s film, “Annie Hall,” “become depressed” because we learn the universe is expanding, and thus may contract upon itself in a spectacular collapse.
Questions such as these have haunted and inspired mankind since the dawn of time. One might recall Stephen Hawking’s words, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.” How sure can atheists, agnostics and even religious people be of their true origins in light of current revelations suggested by postmodern quantum physics?
If you could exist at the speed of light, you could in effect live forever in no time. If you flew in a space ship at the speed of light for one year, back on Earth, how much time would have passed? The speed of light is 670 million miles per hour, or 1.09 billion kilometers per hour. At the speed of light, you could go from Earth to the moon in 1.3 seconds, and go from Earth to the sun in 8.3 minutes. You could travel from the sun to Pluto in five hours and 40 minutes. You could go completely across the Milky Way galaxy in 100,000 years. If you were to head for the Andromeda Galaxy at the speed of light, you’d get there eventually – while, back on Earth, a few million years would have passed. Read NASA’s galaxy page. Are you interested in the farthest galaxy ever to be observed? It’s here.
In 1985, the Hollywood blockbuster “Back to the Future” popularized the idea of time travel, as a young Michael J. Fox goes back in time to help his future parents in the year 1955
Supreme Being, supreme science
“The Scientist” offered some thoughts on humanity’s approach to a “Supreme Being” through science.
He said, “We see God’s mind through math and science. … We look on in great humbleness. … We should be admirers of God as ‘The Great Architect.’ There must always be that sense of humility. This is because arrogance is always destructive – in the political sense and in regard to military capabilities. …
“There is always fear when we approach God’s mind. This is because we feel small, but we should never forget that we are, indeed, small. We should never forget this as a way of life. Arrogance breeds destruction. Again, look at the creation of the atomic bomb. Look at the Aum Shin Rikyo cult in Japan and their biological weapons. As scientists, we are the spearhead of technology. We are the root of the tree, and the tree has many branches. We are not political. We are interested only in innovation. A scientist will probably not know if his or her research will be used in a missile to take life, or in a hospital to save lives. On the more practical level, I believe that professional politicians should be surrounded by teams of scientists who can consult with them. Perhaps people will see someday that science and religion can be discussed within the same context. These are all notions worthy of further introspection and debate.”
There are mathematical models in existence today stating time travel, at least in theory, is possible in terms of the accepted and evolving principles of postmodern quantum physics
Newtonian mechanics made easy
Time and time again, my interviews with the elite scientists at Saudi Aramco led me back to my old college textbook on Newtonian mechanics. (Inspired by the “Space Cowboys,” I ordered a new textbook from Yale.) Newtonian mechanics provides the foundation needed to formulate an approach aimed at understanding quantum mechanics and quantum physics. By definition, Newtonian mechanics is a branch of physics based on Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion and gravity. Newton, who was born on Christmas Day in 1642, became a professor at Trinity College at Cambridge. He reached back 2,000 years to Aristotle in order to renew mankind’s understanding of the universe. Aristotle’s ideas about the cosmos, and even what rested beyond the orbit of the moon, seem downright silly today. He believed in elements like heaven, earth, fire and water, not unlike the vital symbols depicted on the national flag of the Republic of South Korea.
Aristotle also believed what we now view as “outer space” was governed by a different set of laws than those found on Earth. During the Middle Ages – perhaps propelled by that very human yearning to know, understand and deconstruct the world around them – men like Galileo built upon Aristotle, and thus also enhanced human understanding of the cosmos. That said, it would be up to Newton to usher mankind into a new paradigm shift via a myriad of emerging scientific disciplines.
For much of the Middle Ages, Europe remained steeped in darkness, while Islamic peoples advanced science. Back then, China and India were the major economic powers – which seems now, based on population and brain power, to be the natural order of things. While others were burned at the stake, Newton picked up the reins left by Copernicus and Descartes, and in the process became the greatest scientist who ever lived. Consider that Stephen Hawking holds the very same professorial title from the very same place as Isaac Newton.
Around the year 1666 A.D., Great Britain experienced the “Great London Plague,” as well as the “Great London Fire,” in addition to a revolution in science guided by the genius of Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton, a Christian physicist, scientist, mathematician and professor, is one of the most influential men in the history of Western civilization. An alchemist and student of the Bible, he strangely predicted the world would come to an end in the year 2060 A.D.
Sir Isaac was a Christian and a friend of Edmond Halley. (More on that below.) Newton was at college when the Great Plague of London hit. He returned home to his farm, where the infamous, alleged apple is said to have fallen on his head. The year 1666 was truly epic, as it ushered in the Great Fire of London, which helped to cleanse away the plague. Yet before the Great Plague of London, and the Great Fire, came “the Great Comet.” The “Little Ice Age” was also in full swing during that year. Strangely, around that time, the “Fata Morgana” was unleashed in Sweden, during which many reputable witnesses claimed they saw a UFO-style “War of the Worlds” battle in the skies.
It was Newton who came to understand the same physical laws on Earth applied to the stars and the planets. This was revolutionary. Isaac Newton sat under an apple tree, and through that experience made an inference about gravity. Newton then concluded the Earth’s relationship with the moon was based on the same gravitational forces that made the apple in the tree fall downward to the ground, rather than upward.
Sir Isaac Newton was an English physicist and mathematician. He was as a key figure in the scientific revolution. His research created the foundations for classical mechanics. Newton also made seminal contributions to optics, astronomy and calculus:
Newton’s echo can still be felt today via our de facto understanding of Earth’s gravity and similar phenomena. According to Time magazine, Earth’s gravity might be weakening. Earth’s magnetic field, which shields the planet and protects the atmosphere, is also weakening according to National Geographic.
Additionally, the speed of the Earth’s rotation was actually altered by the 2004 Asian tsunami, astounding scientists. Does this indicate that time, as we’ve perceived it, may not be uniform?
Newton’s book, “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica,” was first published in 1687. It is also known as the “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.” It remains one of the most important books ever published. Edmond Halley paid for its publication with his own money
3 laws of motion
By referring to Newtonian mechanics, we are speaking of the linkages between force, mass and motion. Newton was able to set forth elegant and universal principles that detailed and even predicted the motion of objects. In addition, Newton explained how these same objects would undergo a change in their relative motion as they interacted with external forces.
One of Newton’s most important contributions came in the form of his “three laws of motion.” These explain the interrelated physicality between force, mass and acceleration. Also, these laws enable both scientists and even casual observers to accurately measure and predict various phenomena in the natural realm.
The first of these laws deals with “inertia.” It states that bodies in motion are prone to remain in motion, while bodies at rest are prone to stay at rest. Force is needed to move a stationary object. Newton asked his contemporaries to imagine a cannon ball being fired from a mountain top. Propelled with enough force when fired out of a powerful-enough cannon, this cannon ball would continue to circle Earth. However, gravity and resistance from the air will act upon the cannon ball and eventually bring it back down to Earth.
The second law of motion describes the nature of force being exerted as directly proportionate to the mass of a body, times acceleration. This concept is defined as f=ma. We can see this concept put into practice on any given NFL Sunday – when a 250-pound linebacker, who runs 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash, tackles an opposing running back with a greater force than would a 210-pound free safety that runs a 4.75 in the 40-yard dash.
Sir Isaac Newton, who studied Latin instead of mathematics in high school, developed modern calculus, refined the concept of optics still in use in the most modern telescopes, and defined the law of gravity. He achieved all of this while studying at home at Woolsthorpe. This was during the Great Plague in London while his university was shut down as a precaution
Newtonian mechanics uses the very same laws to predict the speed and direction of planetary bodies as well as that of a tennis ball
Newton’s third law of motion states, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This means the forces of two individual bodies that are acting upon each other are always both equal and opposite. This concept is fleshed out via the new big data metrics of measuring the “exit velocity” of Major League Baseball hitters. Both the bat and the pitched ball exert an equal force upon each other. The New York Times published an article about this.
In terms of physics and baseball, you’ll find scientists who’ll tell you a Major League curveball doesn’t really curve, as it always follows a parabolic path. The Associated Press and NBC News teamed up for an article about the “optical illusion” of a curveball.
Newtonian mechanics provides an analytical “tool box” in which scientists can accurately measure and predict changes in a body’s motion resulting from external forces acting upon that same body. This is true for Io, one of Jupiter’s moons, or for a tennis ball hit by golden girl Anna Kournikova. “Vectors” (defined by velocity and direction) are key predictors.
At this point, it is important to once again differentiate classical mechanics (the behavior of bodies in motion, and the forces which act upon those bodies) from quantum mechanics. Simply put, quantum mechanics offers a mathematical interpretation of subatomic wave and particle behavior – in so far as how they interact with matter and energy. Quantum mechanics provide a framework for the Periodic Table of Elements. Behind the creation and function of a variety of modern and postmodern technologies, one will find quantum mechanics at the core.
From Newton to Hubble
Edwin Hubble (right) at the Mount Wilson Observatory. Hubble discovered other galaxies beyond the Milky Way and shocked the world with the news that our universe is expanding
Newton established universal gravitation, helped invent modern calculus and set the roots of a function, as well as addressed cubic plane curves. He also enhanced Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, studied the speed of sound, deconstructed the properties of light using a prism, investigated the trajectories of comets, and linked the Earth’s moon to the control of the tides and the precession of the equinoxes. Again, while (as noted) others had been burned at the stake for suggesting the sun was at the center of our solar system, Newton finally put this notion to rest. He also stated that Earth must be shaped like an oblate spheroid. It should be remembered that he served as the president of the Royal Society, which established an international fellowship in Newton’s name.
Sir Isaac’s ancillary engineering feat of creating the first reflecting telescope (using metallic mirrors to collect light, rather than lenses prone to distortion) is still, more or less, in use today in the most modern telescopes. What were once known as “spiral nebulae” ranked as the “great unknown of astronomy” at the turn of the 20th century. The construction of the Mount Wilson Observatory in California (beginning in 1914) ushered in a new era of astronomy. Edwin Hubble would use the technology left to him by Newton to search the stars and ascertain the unknowable.
At Mount Wilson in the early 1920s, mankind went from believing the Milky Way Galaxy was the entire universe to embarking upon the eventual understanding that there are (as noted) hundreds of billions of galaxies, each holding at least 100 billion stars. The ill-defined “spiral nebulae” were, in fact, other galaxies. Hubble found another galaxy that was 900 million light years from Earth. Hubble also learned that the universe is expanding, and this was shocking to everyone – including Einstein. Hubble made this inference through understanding what is now known as the “red shift,” or how light changes as objects in space (such as stars or galaxies) move closer or farther away from us.
Edwin Hubble ranks as one of the key players in moving the world into the new paradigm of quantum mechanics and quantum physics – as demands for explaining an expanding universe to the likes of Woody Allen’s alter ego, “Alvie Singer,”opened the doors to the ultimate frontier.
This fantastic documentary talks about the establishment of the Mount Wilson Observatory, amongst other topics:
One account states:
“Hubble was lucky enough to arrive at Mt. Wilson soon after the 100-inch reflecting telescope was completed. A careful and hard-working observer, Hubble took many photographs of the same set of spiral nebulae (now called galaxies). Multiple images were needed in order to identify changes over time. He observed several novas, or instances in which a dim star became much brighter as it attracted material from a nearby companion star. Then, on October 4, 1923, while comparing a photograph that he had just taken of the Andromeda galaxy with photos taken on previous nights, Hubble identified a Cepheid variable star – the one kind of star that could provide a means of determining the distance to the galaxy. Over the next several months Hubble determined that the star varied in brightness with a period of 31.45 days, which meant it was 7,000 times brighter than the sun. Comparing its apparent brightness with its actual brightness, Hubble determined that it was 900,000 light years away.
“Since Harlow Shapley had previously measured the distance across the Milky Way to be about 100,000 light years, the new findings clearly indicated that the Andromeda galaxy was far beyond the Milky Way. But Hubble’s work was not done. He was aware that a decade earlier astronomer Vesto Slipher had measured the Doppler shift of several galaxies, finding a few that were approaching our Milky Way and several were moving away at very high speeds. Working with his assistant, Milton Humason, Hubble carefully measured the distance and Doppler shift of as many galaxies as possible. In 1929 Hubble published a paper that would lead to the realization that the universe was expanding.”
Einstein’s genius revolutionized how humanity thinks about time and space – yet similar paradigm shifts in the field of quantum physics continue to challenge his theories
Albert Einstein’s “Theory of Relativity” continues to be challenged, along with Newton’s own long-accepted theories. Sir Isaac believed in a universal clock that ran the cosmos in a very orderly fashion. The seconds, minutes and hours pass by in a uniform way, no matter where you are. Einstein, on the other hand, turned Newton upside-down. His “relativity” stated that different people would argue about how long an event took to transpire, and even about the order of the events. Time, said Einstein, was the “fourth dimension,” which already exists and is extending toward infinity. This is called the “block universe view” in that the past, present and future all co-exist at the same time. And time, in fact, has no meaning at all. No one, in this model of the universe, can agree on what “now” literally constitutes. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Consider once again, traveling to Alpha Centauri at the speed of light in a special rocket ship. The journey is 4.3 light years one way and 8.6 light years round trip. You’d make the journey in around 45 days. This mission can be done, says modern science. “The Universe” series on the History Channel explains it all. Meanwhile, in case this all sounds a bit fanciful, the concept of “warp drive” is now an actual project at NASA.
Once again, let us ask: Is time travel possible? Perhaps if space can bend, then time can also bend and turn backward upon itself. If you could travel fast enough, you could arrive before you left. Consider an epic “Star Trek” episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever,” in which Captain Kirk travels back to the 1930s to terminate a very young, very pretty Joan Collins, whose peace activism will allow Nazi Germany to develop the atomic bomb before the United States. Unless Kirk kills the Joan Collins character of “Edith Keeler,” the entire planet we know as Earth will be destroyed. This calls to mind the “Grandfather Paradox,” meaning if you could travel back in time, and you killed your grandfather, how could you have existed to go back in time and kill him in the first place?
“Star Trek’s” “The City on the Edge of Forever” ranks as perhaps the most deeply emotional episode in the history of the “Star Trek” franchise. Actor William Shatner discusses why this is one of his all-time favorite episodes
Captain Kirk and his crew must travel back in time to save Earth from Nazi Germany’s atomic weapons program
This was another popular topic on the Saudi Aramco bus – teleportation – as depicted on “Star Trek.” Utilizing the concept of “spooky action at a distance,” and the “quantum entanglement” investigated by Irishman John Bell (who, not surprisingly, spent time at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California), would it be possible for particles to suddenly move from one place in the universe to another? This would be akin to the orbit of Mars suddenly moving beyond the orbit of Jupiter. Einstein said this would not be possible. In fact, he said, “God does not play dice.” Einstein could not accept that God would allow the fundamental nature of reality to be left to chance. Physicist Niels Bohr told Einstein, “Stop telling God what to do!” Ultimately, it was a dedicated graduate student at Columbia University named John Clauser (who could not master a course in quantum mechanics) who brought this debate to a successful conclusion.
This epic battle, one of the most important in the history of science, has been painstakingly documented. One of the main findings that had to be settled was the idea that the location of a subatomic particle could only be accurately pinpointed once you measured it. And beyond that, the location of another related particle would change simply because that first particle had been measured. (This is what made Einstein so upset. Hence his, “God does not throw the dice” comment.)
But in reality, it appears Einstein was wrong. Everything around us, namely all matter that is composed of subatomic particles, is more or less basically the product of a giant, cosmic, Las Vegas-style casino. The brilliant science writer Brian Greene explains it all right here. In effect, “The act of observation caused their (the particles’) existence,” said Niels Bohr, which started the academic equivalent of a barroom brawl with Albert Einstein. In theory, Scotty can, in fact, “beam you up.”
Quantum connections between two particles can persist even if the two particles are on opposite sides of the universe
Quantum physics comes into play at this point. The concept of “superposition” and “quantum collapse” means that a particle offers many different possibilities in terms of energies, speeds and locations. Relativity and quantum mechanics do no mesh, hence the search for a “unified field theory” that can (as noted) reconcile Isaac Newton with Einstein and evolving, postmodern quantum physics. The scientist who can construct a working unified field theory will become an instant global, if not cosmic, celebrity.
The search for a “unified field theory” reconciling Newton, Einstein and quantum physics has challenged mathematicians, scientists, astrophysicists and others
According to a brilliant cover article published in the June 2015 issue of Discover magazine titled, “Is the Future Already Written?” author Zeeya Merali’s “Tomorrow Never Was,” informs the reader: “… at the front edge of [the] evolving block universe, the uncertain future crystallizes into the past through a sequence of microscopic quantum events. At each event, particles are forced to transform from their original uncertain quantum state – where they juggle multiple conflicting identities – and settle into one rigid identity. As adjacent particles go through this process, a wave of certainly converts the open future to the closed past.”
Questions about the final frontier
What does this all mean? Whatever the ultimate decisions of the scientific juries busily engaged in this debate, can we ask if what we call the “Big Bang” might have been the end of another universe? Meaning a parallel universe had ended, and thus ushered in a new beginning. And if parallel universes do exist, does that mean you have a twin living right now in that universe?
According to Space.com, “Some researchers think concentric ring patterns in measurements of the cosmic microwave background are evidence of a universe that existed before our own was born in the Big Bang.”
The article continues: “So if you look far enough, you would encounter another version of you – in fact, infinite versions of you. Some of these twins will be doing exactly what you’re doing right now, while others will have worn a different sweater this morning, and still others will have made vastly different career and life choices.
“Because the observable universe extends only as far as light has had a chance to get in the 13.7 billion years since the Big Bang (that would be 13.7 billion light-years), the space-time beyond that distance can be considered to be its own separate universe. In this way, a multitude of universes exists next to each other in a giant patchwork quilt of universes.”
Once again, what to make of the idea of time travel, when a publication like Scientific American publishes a story about an actual time-travel simulation?
Other questions abound. Can anti-matter and dark matter bring havoc to our world? Can the Earth’s gravity “be turned off?” Can “strange particles” or “strange matter” escape from a neutron star, come to Earth and then cause everything to basically disintegrate as all it touches changes its physical nature?
And what of the Hadron Super Collider? It features a 16-mile track that smashes protons into one another in an attempt to study subatomic particles and look for “the God Particle.” Some fear it might create a black hole and destroy Earth. The truth is, even if black holes were created, they would quickly dissipate. That said, a black hole the size of the dice in a Monopoly game would be so dense, it could weigh as much as the entire Earth. And if such a black hole made its way into the center of Earth, it would destroy the planet. The last remaining part of the Earth to be sucked into the black hole would probably be Mount Everest. (The area around a black hole where you can no longer escape its gravity is referred to as an “event horizon.”) A lawsuit was actually filed to prevent CERN from opening because of this fear. The New York Times documented the lawsuit.
These questions approach the mind of God, and a search for the origins of the universe. We’re on the threshold of amazing new discoveries and possibilities, for sure. Yet we’re also learning how Earth, and even the entire universe, might be destroyed. If we accept the idea of God living outside of time and space, and, in fact, consider that God invented time and space, things might become a bit easier to handle. Maybe one day there really will be “a new heaven and a new Earth.”
Think the Grand Canyon in Arizona is big? Take a look at Mars’ Valles Marineris superimposed on a map of the United States
For now, we can consider more concrete examples of a divine hand in the cosmos. Just ponder the Grand Canyon-like structure on Mars, Valles Marineris, which is much bigger than the famed Arizona monument. It would stretch from New York almost to Los Angeles. It’s as deep as Mount Everest is high.
Some dust storms on Mars are more than 200 kilometers wide. (The “Space Cowboys,” with an assist from the “Space Cowgirls,” taught me that a kilometer is .6 of a mile.) The largest volcano in our solar system, Olympus Mons, has 10,000-foot high cliffs, and some say its base is as big as the state of Montana. And some also say the mouth is as large as Rhode Island. Check out Google Mars.
Is it possible to ponder upon the size of the larger planets in our solar system, especially Jupiter? Think of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. It is an anti-cyclone larger than three Earths. (More than 1,400 Earths could fit inside Jupiter.) It has been raging for more than 400 years, back to when Galileo first glanced heavenward with his looking glass in 1610 – hence, the term “Galilean moon.” The winds in the Great Red Spot are more than 400 miles per hour, which rival the strongest tornadoes in Kansas. But a tornado might last a few hours at most – not 400 years and running.
And if that’s not enough, just compare the size of our sun with the biggest known stars in the universe. Be forewarned: You’ll never look at the cosmos in the same way again.
What about the alleged “strange Earth sounds” that have baffled Earthlings in recent times, or “star quakes,” which could wipe out Earth through a massive release of energy. Space.com reported, “On December 27, 2004, [just after the Asian Tsunami] several satellites and telescopes from around the world detected an explosion on the surface of SGR 1806-20, a neutron star 50,000 light years away. The resulting flash of energy – which lasted only a tenth of a second – released more energy than the sun emits in 150,000 years.”
Have you heard about Planet X or “Nemesis?” Time magazine ran a story, “Mystery Planet: Is a Rogue Giant Orbiting Our Sun?” The article describes this celestial body as “a giant planet, at least the size of Jupiter and maybe up to four times as big. Its size would not be its only remarkable feature; it’s remote orbit would be another – a tidy trillion miles from the sun, or more than a thousand times more distant than Pluto.” Will such a planet impact our solar system? If so, when and how?
The Quantum Photon Key is but one example of how cutting edge quantum physics is impacting our everyday lives – in this case regarding cyber security
And what about the Quantum Photon Key, which some say offers a revolution in cyber security? This writer published an article about the Quantum Photon Key when it first emerged on the scene in its infancy. This gave me a very small head start, finally, with the Saudi Aramco scientists during our countless discussions about cutting-edge physics.
The plethora of mysterious phenomena contained within this article thrilled some of the world’s top scientists – during their off-the-clock hours – while living within the self-contained world of Saudi Aramco. This was a chance, for me, to interact with elite minds that aren’t subject to technology-device addictions – meaning they can look you in the eye, listen actively and offer salient feedback. At times, it felt like I was back in high school, hanging out with the really smart kids on the bus, building strong, enduring friendships, and trying in an idealized manner to make the world a better place.
In its own way, this was not unlike the story arcs of “Sixteen Candles” and “Back to the Future.” A man who has trustworthy, kind, smart, insightful and supportive friends will always be blessed. One particular scientist I met in Saudi Arabia was an American man who also attended Texas A&M, just like me. He and his pretty wife were so lovely, so kind and so decent, you couldn’t help but stand up and cheer for them. They reminded me a great deal of my late parents (Anthony Sr. and Viola) in that while you were with them, you felt like you were surrounded by angels. I’ve never said that about anyone else – ever.
I mentioned how “The Scientist” (interviewed above) asked me to take him on one of my future journalism adventures overseas. After consulting with Karen Russell, I put forth the idea of returning to Nigeria to track down a now-grown up baby Wasila, and find out what happened to her in the ensuing years. It’s really beautiful how even in the world of