Weird Physics

John W. Pinkerton

Physics, one more area which I do not understand, has always held a fascination for me since I was in Mr. Bennett’s physics class in high school.  Mr. Bennett was a fantastic teacher: I was a willing but ill-equipped student.  For the most part, high school physics made sense to me, but I couldn’t quite get my mind around the math enough to do well in the class.  Mr. Bennett, being understanding that not all of us were capable of comprehending what he was presenting, allowed fellows like myself to handwrite chapters that we had failed tests on in order to obtain a passing grade.  I had to write several chapters as I recall.  Of course, there were students who were quite capable of grasping the principles of physics.  One, John Moseley, went on to earn a Ph.D in Physics from Georgia Tech and to become professor emeritus at the University of Oregon with a specialty in molecular physics.  I’m just glad we weren’t being graded on a curve.

Like all fields of study, things change, but not all become increasingly weird: physics seems to get more weird each time I awake.

Atoms are 99.99999999999999 percent empty space.  Well, we’re made of atoms: it seems that we would weigh a lot less if over 99% of our bodies are composed of empty space.

Here is a weird one:  it’s called the double slit experiment which points light (protons) toward two vertical slits.  One would expect that it would form two vertical patterns on the wall beyond.  Guess again.  The light acts both as a wave and a particle forming three patterns on the wall beyond the slits.  Wait!  Wait!  It gets weirder:  when we observe the protons, they become either a wave or a particle.  What?  There’s more: observing a particle can change what happened to another the past.  Wrap your head around that one.

We won’t find it in the lost and found, but what we can actually see in the universe only accounts for about 2 percent of its mass.  Huh?  Well, we know this because matter has gravity and there’s a whole lot more gravity than matter we can see.  “Dark matter” seems to account for about six times the amount of matter we can see.  It gets worse: “dark energy” accounts for the rest.  Worst of all, no one knows what “dark matter” and “dark energy” are.  Sleep on that.

We’ve all been taught that the speed of light is 186,282 miles per second.  The distance it would take light to travel in a year is the often mentioned “light year.”  I made the unwarranted assumption that the speed of light is an absolute: not true.  It travels through water at only three-quarters of that speed.  The slowest speed ever measured is 38 miles per hour when it travels through rubidium (don’t ask) when cooled to almost zero degrees.  In nuclear reactors some particles travel faster than light which is slowed down by insulating medium.  Crap, there goes another absolute belief: that is, that nothing ever, ever, ever travels faster than light.  This is also the reason nuclear reactors glow in the dark.  Weird.

We all know for sure there is only one universe.  Hold on there, Tonto.  One theory states that the universes are infinite and exist side by side though far apart.  So, let me get this straight: if there are infinite  universes, emphasis on “infinite,” then someone in another universe has already typed this essay or will at some time in the future.  You don’t say?

The first time I ever heard of a black hole, it put a little fear in me.  Still does.  But recently physicists have made them a “little” less scary.  Something does escape from black holes: they glow, slightly, giving off light across all spectrums which means theoretically, unless feeding on random objects, they will eventually evaporate.  Don’t hold your breath waiting.

According the the theory of relativity (Einstein), there is no such thing as present, future, or past.  Time frames are relative: it depends on the speed to the object.  We don’t notice this in our daily lives because we’re all moving at about the same speed.  If we were going at vastly different speeds, some of us would age a lot faster, some a lot slower.  If you don’t believe this, check out our GPS satellites: because they are moving so quickly through space, a lot of computing power is needed to compensate for the differences between their internal clocks and the receiver clocks on the ground.

Here’s one I’ll never understand: when an electron meets its antimatter twin, a positron, they both are annihilated in a flash of energy.  This releases photons and quarks which “spin.”    Hang on now, they spin in both directions simultaneously.  Now the really weird part: once observed, the twin elements will begin spinning in opposite directions.  It’s as though they only behave when we are watching them.

Here’s one for people who hate exercise.  The faster you move, the heavier you are.  According to relativity, the more energy you put in, the greater the mass becomes.

I’m no physicist, as Mr. Bennett learned, but you can’t help but be fascinated by physics facts that defy common sense.


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