Scenic Rim Trail

Hiking on Mt Mitchell

The Scenic Rim Trail we did last month is the opening stage of the longer Scenic Rim Walk project. And now that we know what we’re in for, we’ll prepare for the Scenic Rim Walk, a long, multiday bushwalk along some of the highest mountain ranges in Queensland, along the ancient volcanic spines of the Scenic Rim and Main Range National Park, to bushwalking meccas in Lamington National Park.

The Scenic Rim Trail rambles along rough creeklines in valleys and through pleasant open woodland, scaling summits with stupendous views and creeping through dark, World Heritage-listed hoop-pine forests, among 500-year-old trees where every surface is covered in lichens, moss, elkhorns and birdsnest ferns.

Scenic Rim Trail

Scenic Rim Trail

Scenic Rim Trail

Eighty per cent of the walk is actually on private land owned by Skroo and Jude Turner who have set thirty per cent of their property aside as a nature reserve that forms part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, a series of rugged mountain ranges extending into New South Wales as far south as Barrington Tops National Park.

The nature reserve helps protect 10 endangered ecosystems, and 27 at-risk animal species, including bush-tailed rock-wallabies, koalas and eastern bristlebirds.

The Scenic Rim Trail goes through the nature reserve, but also through parts of Main Range National Park. The trail is a mix of four-wheel-drive track, well-formed hiking trails and rough scrambles, with some challenging steep ascents and descents.

The first day’s hike begins at Spicers Gap, a mountain pass that is located 100 kilometres west of Brisbane, and was the original route over the Great Dividing Range in the area around Brisbane. Spicers Gap is believed to have been a route for indigenous Australian traders travelling between the inland and the coast. Today it is included in Main Range National Park and is a popular destination for campers and bushwalkers. To the south of the gap is Spicers Peak, while to the west is Spicers Gap State Forest. The hike follows a 5.1 kilometres trail to the main summit of Mt Mitchell, which has 360-degree views back to Brisbane. On a clear day, you can see the tallest buildings in Brisbane, as well as D’Aguilar Range, Teviot Range, Fassifern Valley and many other parts of the Scenic Rim. We didn’t have a clear day 😦 but we still had a great day 🙂

Scenic Rim Trail

Spicers Gap and Spicers Peak were named after Peter Spicer, Superintendent of convicts, by Allan Cunningham, an English botanist and explorer, who explored the area in 1827. Allan Cunningham also named Mount Mitchell, a twin-peaked volcanic mountain with an elevation above sea level of 1,168 metres located in the Main Range, immediately south of Cunninghams Gap, after the Surveyor-General, Thomas Mitchell.

From the summit of Mt Mitchell, the hike goes down a steep ridgeline to the luxury safari camp of Spicers Canopy.

Scenic Rim Trail

Spicers Canopy

The second day is an easier ramble around the property, including some boulder-hopping along Millervale Creek where yabbies, tiny fish, azure kingfishers and flycatchers can be seen.

Sunday Morning Around Millervale Creek

In the afternoon, there is an easy walk to Governor’s Chair Lookout from where you have a good view to the north. Lord Kerr, Lord Scott, Sir Charles Fitzroy and Sir George Bowen all sat on the rock in the early 1850s. The bears all sat on the rock in 2015 🙂

Governor's Chair

Day three is the hardest of the walks ­– an 11km hike uphill from Spicers Canopy, at about 600m above sea level, up to Spicers Peak Lodge at 1200m. The walk doesn’t go in a straight line, however, but first climbs Spicers Peak, initially through open ironbark and stringybark woodland. The track passes thick, gorgeous groves of xanthorrhoeas, and then up some tricky basalt escarpment to gain glorious views over the Maryvale Valley and across the range to the coast. Spicers Peak is just south of Spicers Gap, Cunninghams Gap and Mount Mitchell. Its summit height is approximately 1,205 metres.

Scenic Rim Trail

The best bit is to come though – a wander on a barely seen track through towering hoop pine and white beech forest, with rich birdlife. There are whipbirds and lyrebirds, brush turkeys, catbirds, satin bowerbirds and a host of other avian forest dwellers.

Scenic Rim Trail

A tricky descent follows and then a steep climb up to Spicers Peak Lodge, the highest non-alpine lodge in Australia. There was not enough energy to take photos during that climb!

Spicers Peak Lodge Aerial View
Spicers Peak Lodge Aerial View

Spicers Peak Lodge

On the last morning walkers are left to their own devices, and those who can pry themselves away from spa treatments can explore the tracks around the lodge, plunging back into a small section of rainforest, or heading out to a lookout with views over the Maryvale Valley and back over the route that you have just walked. We stuck with the spa treatments 🙂

So, the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia… Amazing place!

The World Heritage Area covers some 366,507 ha across 40 separate reserves in South East Queensland and north-east New South Wales. The northernmost reserve is Main Range National Park and the most southern is Barrington Tops National Park, north of Newcastle in New South Wales. The area includes a remarkable diversity of rainforests that are broadly divided into warm temperate, cool temperate, subtropical and dry rainforests. This area contains the world’s most extensive subtropical rainforest and nearly all of the world’s Antarctic beech cool temperate rainforest. Amazing! Few places on earth contain so many plants and animals which remain relatively unchanged from their ancestors in the fossil record.

The Gondwana Rainforests are so-named because the fossil record indicates that when Gondwana (the more southerly of two supercontinents that were part of the Pangaea supercontinent – approximately 510 to 180 million years ago) existed, it was covered by rainforests containing the same kinds of species that are living today. Not all Gondwanan rainforests in Australia are located in the New South Wales – Queensland region; the largest Gondwanan rainforest in Australia is located in Tasmania’s Tarkine wilderness.

Rainforest once covered most of the ancient southern supercontinent Gondwana and remains the most ancient type of vegetation in Australia. The Gondwana Rainforests provide an interesting living link with the evolution of Australia. Some of the oldest elements of the world’s ferns and conifers are found here and there is a concentration of primitive plant families that are direct links with the birth and spread of flowering plants over 100 million years ago. A range of geological and environmental influences in the Gondwana Rainforests determine where forest communities grow. This process has occurred over millions of years and will continue to change the forest mosaic into the future.

Natural Bridge in Springbrook National Park
Natural Bridge in Springbrook National Park
Twin Falls in Springbrook National Park
Twin Falls in Springbrook National Park

High waterfalls crashing into steep gorges are spectacular examples of an important ongoing natural process – erosion. Erosion by coastal rivers created the Great Escarpment and the steep-sided caldera of the Tweed Valley surrounding Mount Warning.

Mount Warning
Mount Warning

Mount Warning is the first place to see sunlight each day on the Australian mainland. In the Tweed Valley, Mount Warning is inescapable, looming over everything. Twenty million years ago it was the central vent of a vast shield volcano. Today it stands in the middle of an eroded caldera, silent but imperious, surrounded by cane fields and Queenslander bungalows and small communities of creative Australians.

The Tweed Shield erosion caldera is possibly the best preserved erosion caldera in the world, notable for its size and age, for the presence of a prominent central mountain mass (Wollumbin/Mt Warning), and for the erosion of the caldera floor to basement rock. All three stages relating to the erosion of shield volcanoes (the planeze, residual and skeletal stages) are readily distinguishable. Further south, the remnants of the Ebor Volcano also provides an outstanding example of the ongoing erosion of a shield volcano.

One of the many people attracted to the rainforest and the Scenic Rim region is William Robinson. Born in Queensland in 1936, Robinson is considered one of Australia’s foremost living artists. He is recognised for his unique interpretation of the Australian landscape as well as his whimsical portraits and narrative scenes. His broad, detailed images of the Australian bushland emphasising the skewed perspective of the beholder are among the most recognisable images of the Australian landscape. His humourous and imaginative self-portraits were awarded the Archibald Prize in 1987 and 1995.

William Robinson Self Portrait With Stunned Mullet Winner: Archibald Prize 1995
William Robinson
Self Portrait With Stunned Mullet
Winner: Archibald Prize 1995

In 1984 William Robinson moved from the eastern outskirts of Brisbane to an eighty-hectare property near Beechmont in Queensland’s Scenic Rim region. The relocation marked a critical turning point in Robinson’s artistic development. His affinity with the spectacular hinterland landscape of verdant rainforest and dramatic mountains gave rise to a major new body of work that heralded a significant shift towards a more vigorous and individualistic style. It also signalled a breakthrough in the artist’s career, ultimately establishing him as one of Australia’s leading contemporary landscape painters.

Robinson lived at Beechmont until 1994, when he moved to nearby Kingscliff on the northern New South Wales coast. That same year he acquired a rainforest studio at Springbrook in the adjacent hinterland. The studio served as the creative base for the artist’s landscape oeuvre over the next eleven years.

Between 1984 and 2005, whilst living at Beechmont and, subsequently, whilst maintaining a studio at Springbrook, Robinson painted some of his most original and compelling compositions, including the celebrated Creation and Mountain series.

William Robinson - Creation Landscape: Man and the spheres, I, II and III, 1991
William Robinson – Creation Landscape: Man and the spheres, I, II and III, 1991
William Robinson - Landscape with Showers, Beechmont (Mountain Series) 1993
William Robinson – Landscape with Showers, Beechmont (Mountain Series) 1993
William Robinson - Tweed Valley Rainforest Ridge and Beechmont, 1999
William Robinson – Tweed Valley Rainforest Ridge and Beechmont, 1999

In his rainforest works Robinson tempts the viewer to experience rather than observe the landscape. As he remarked:

I tried to describe the feeling of being in the landscape and walking around in it… To look up and down almost at the same time; to have a feeling of time; the beginning and movement of the day and night, and be aware of the revolving planet… revealed in the same work. I did not paint these works as a visitor to the landscape, but as one who lived in it and experienced it every day.

William Robinson - Rainforest, 1990
William Robinson – Rainforest, 1990
William Robinson - Fading Light, Springbrook to Beechmont 2002
William Robinson – Fading Light, Springbrook to Beechmont 2002

Robinson’s rainforest works reveal the Australian landscape in a new light. He is perhaps the first Australian painter to focus fully on this subject and certainly the only one to adopt the multi-view experience, making the viewer an important part of the work. It is the mature vision of an artist devoted to mapping his feelings and recollections of the rainforest as a living entity of infinite diversity.

William Robinson - Twin falls and gorge, Springbrook 2000
William Robinson – Twin falls and gorge, Springbrook 2000

Yayoi Kusama’s Dazzling Infinity Rooms

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has captivated the minds of art lovers with her famous “infinity rooms”. Kusama has described her infinity rooms as tools for tearing down the self. “By obliterating one’s individual self, one returns to the infinite universe.”

GOMA - Yayoi Kusama, Soul under the moon, 2002. Mirrors, ultra violet lights, water, plastic, nylon thread, timber, synthetic polymer paint.
GOMA – Yayoi Kusama, Soul under the moon, 2002. Mirrors, ultra violet lights, water, plastic, nylon thread, timber, synthetic polymer paint.

Yayoi Kusama‘s work often obsessively repeats motifs such as patterns of polka-dots or the reflected lights in her entitled “Infinity Mirror Room”.

Infinity Mirror Room envelops viewers in a seemingly endless world of multicolored lights handing from LEDs. The lights flicker on and off, creating a sense of time both suspended and endless.

Infinity Mirror Room
Infinity Mirror Room

Kusama has made different versions of the infinity room and it’s been an instant crowd pleaser whenever it’s been shown. The bears love it 🙂 If you have a spare room in the house, and a spare million dollars, you can have your own infinity room at home. Don’t tell the bears!

Soul under the moon
Infinity Mirror Room
Soul under the moon
Infinity Mirror Room

Lighted orbs, hanging at various heights, turn on and off in repetitive patterns.

Soul under the moon
Infinity Mirror Room

Love is Calling features glowing tentacle-like structures that burst from the mirrored room’s floor and ceiling and change colors as a recording of Kusama recites Japanese poems.

Love is Calling
Love is Calling
Love is Calling
Love is Calling
Love is Calling
Love is Calling
Love is Calling
Love is Calling
Artist Yayoi Kusama in 2013
Artist Yayoi Kusama in 2013

If an infinity room comes to a museum near you, go and see it!

Born in Matsumoto, Japan in 1929, Yayoi Kusama began her artistic education at the Kyoto School of Arts and Crafts. There, she studied Nihonga, a style of formal, traditional Japanese painting that emerged in the Meiji period (1868–1912). Following six solo exhibitions in Japan during her early artistic career, Kusama moved to New York in 1958, inspired by the rise of Abstract Expressionism in the United States. She was one of the first Japanese artists of her generation to make this move, and her early mobility, combined with her openly acknowledged history of mental illness, contributed to a highly visible, eccentric public persona.

Since her first solo show in her native Japan in 1952, the artist’s work has been featured widely in both solo and group presentations. In the mid-1960s, she established herself in New York as an important avant-garde artist by staging groundbreaking and influential happenings, events, and exhibitions. Kusama began a series that she referred to as Infinity Nets, an important body of work that encompasses paintings, soft sculptures, collages, films, and installations. Her acclaimed all-white, patterned, and monochromatic Infinity Nets paintings allude to the artist’s hallucinations of being overcome by endless netting. The paintings’ minutely rendered and repetitive forms are invisible when viewed at a distance, inviting the viewer to approach and experience an individual, private interaction. The series, which shares some stylistic features with the work of the then, emerging American Pop and Minimal art movements and European groups such as Zero, quickly brought Kusama to the attention of the New York avant-garde, and won her the recognition of artists such as Donald Judd, with whom she developed a close friendship.

Yayoi Kusama White Infinity Nets
Yayoi Kusama White Infinity Nets

In the early 1960s she began to create large-scale, immersive installations called Accumulations that feature objects covered with white, phallic protrusions; these projects presaged Claes Oldenburg’s soft sculptures and aspects of American Pop art. She also staged provocative Happenings that involved the artist painting polka dots on participants’ bodies. Kusama appropriated the polka dot as her signature symbol, and has used it throughout her prolific career, which spans collage, drawing, fashion, film, installation, painting, performance, poetry, and sculpture.

Dots Obsession
Dots Obsession

Yayoi Kusama's Dazzling Infinity Rooms

The Dots Obsession reached Louis Vuitton as well. In 2012, Louis Vuitton unveiled seven Louis Vuitton-Yayoi Kusama concept stores around the world. The Louis Vuitton-Yayoi Kusama collection features the most extensive collaboration to date; with a full collection consisting of ready-to-wear, leather goods, accessories – such as textiles and sunglasses, shoes, a watch, a charm as well as book editions.

Louis Vuitton - Yayoi Kusama Concept Store, Singapore
Louis Vuitton – Yayoi Kusama Concept Store, Singapore

The concept store in Singapore is inspired by “nerves”: the biomorphic shaped sculptures which are one of Yayoi Kusama’s most iconic artworks. The store design includes large scales and vivid colours, all in Kusama’s iconic red and white, and covered with red polka dots, which reflect Kusama’s obsession with the idea of accumulation.

Louis Vuitton - Yayoi Kusama Concept Store, Singapore
Louis Vuitton – Yayoi Kusama Concept Store, Singapore
Louis Vuitton - Yayoi Kusama Concept Store, Singapore
Louis Vuitton – Yayoi Kusama Concept Store, Singapore
Louis Vuitton - Yayoi Kusama Concept Store, SoHo
Louis Vuitton – Yayoi Kusama Concept Store, SoHo
Louis Vuitton - Yayoi Kusama Concept Store, Selfridges
Louis Vuitton – Yayoi Kusama Concept Store, Selfridges
Yayoi Kusama in the Louis Vuitton - Yayoi Kusama Concept Store, Selfridges
Yayoi Kusama in the Louis Vuitton – Yayoi Kusama Concept Store, Selfridges

Kusama was recently named the world’s most popular artist by various news outlets, based on annual figures reported by The Art Newspaper for global museum attendance in 2014. Her exhibitions were the most visited worldwide last year, with three major museum presentations simultaneously traveling through Japan, Asia, and Central and South America — all of which have drawn record-breaking attendances at every venue. You have to be prepared to queue for the timed visit to an Infinity Room. The bears, of course, didn’t have to, being celebrity bears and all 🙂

Work by the artist is held in museum collections worldwide, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Tate Gallery, London; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; amongst numerous others. Kusama lives and works in Tokyo.

It’s a Science Bang!

Little bears are celebrating the end of Science Week with a marathon of their favourite science show, The Big Bang Theory 🙂

It's a Bang!

And we have the Lego Big Bang Theory Set!

It's a Bang!

Lego - The Big Bang Theory
Lego – The Big Bang Theory

The show premiered on CBS on September 24, 2007. The ninth season premiers next month in the US while season 8 comes out on DVD in Australia next month. We, of course, have the all the DVDs. The show has been extended to 2017.

Jim Parsons (Sheldon Cooper) has won the Emmy for Best Actor in a Comedy Series four times out of a total seven nominations (2014, 2013, 2011 and 2010). On January 16, 2011, Parsons was awarded a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Comedy or Musical, an award that was presented by co-star Kaley Cuoco.

It's a Bang!

The show has won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Comedy four times (2010, 2013, 2014, 2015) . There’s also been Critics choice awards, AFI awards, and other awards.

The show is simply funny! It follows the lives of four nerdy, socially awkward scientists, and it is the most-watched comedy on television and loved for its geeky references. In the last few years, the idea of being a geek or a nerd has suddenly become a ‘cool’ concept. Fashion has changed to incorporate glasses that would previously have been considered nerdy, and comic books rule the cinemas. It is debatable that one of the reasons behind this change of TV heroes moving from The Fonz to Sheldon Cooper is all down to The Big Bang Theory.

Cashing in on the geekiness of the show, there are constant references to various TV shows, comics, films and personalities that these characters worship, much to the annoyance and confusion of the girls on the show. There are plenty of mentions of the Marvel universe, Batman, Superman, Game of Thrones, Star Trek, Star Wars etc.

The only reason we have joined the Marvel fandom is because of Big Bang Theory. It does help that the costumes for little bears are soooo cute…. 🙂

It's a Bang!

It's a Bang!

The Big Bang Theory knows their audience and it celebrates its core audience fandom with cameos from pop culture icons: several Star Trek characters, Wil Wheaton, LeVar Burton, Brent Spiner and George Takei, as well as Katee Sackhoff, Eliza Dushku, Stan Lee, Summer Glau and Nathan Fillion, James Earl Jones and Carrie Fisher.

It's a Bang!

Sheldon, Darth Vader and a  teddy bear!
Sheldon, Darth Vader and a teddy bear!

It's a Bang!

It's a Bang!

It's a Bang!

It's a Bang!

Viewers are also inundated with a ton of physics jargon. And the science on the show is real! David Saltzberg has been the show’s one and only science consultant since it premiered. He has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago and did a post-doctorate at CERN. Before that he gained a Bachelor’s in physics at Princeton University and now teaches at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). When he’s not sifting through scripts or on the set, you can find him in the classroom or searching for neutrinos in Antarctica or working in Switzerland on the Large Hadron Collider.

David Saltzberg
David Saltzberg

For the science behind the scenes, check out The Big Blog Theory

The whiteboards the characters use for equations have actually changed into something where real scientists pitch David Saltzberg their latest results and ask if they can appear on them. Dozens of scientists are watching those boards. Sometimes you can even see the “progress,” and now fans have dedicated websites to discuss what equations and formulas are on the boards. The big discovery of gravitational waves, which indicated cosmological inflation, got a special place. It appeared on Stephen Hawking’s board, which of course is a much higher level than the main characters’ boards. That was actually vetted by Hawking himself.

It's a Bang!

The Big Bang Theory also celebrates its core audience fandom with cameos from some of the greatest minds in the universe. Dr. Stephen William Hawking needs no introduction and Dr. Brian Greene was lampooned by the character Sheldon Cooper for his popularising of physics with his books The Fabric of the Cosmos and The Elegant Universe.

It's a Bang!

Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist Dr. George Fitzgerald Smoot III, as well as Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, who was at the centre of the controversy over Pluto’s status as a planet, have also made appearances.

It's a Bang!

It's a Bang!

NASA astronaut Dr. Michael J. Massimino, veteran of two Space Shuttle missions which serviced the Hubble Space Telescope, featured heavily in one episode.

It's a Bang!

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, also made a cameo…

It's a Bang!

As did Steve Wozniak, one of the founders of Apple Computers alongside with Steve Jobs.

It's a Bang!

On the night that Curiosity arrived on Mars, The Big Bang Theory co-producers Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady were guests at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to watch the entry, descent and landing.

So it seemed only fair that NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) EDL team would then visit the set of The Big Bang Theory.

It's a Bang!

The Big Bang Theory has helped make scientists look cool on TV. Now the series and its executive producer Chuck Lorre are looking to help foster new generations of scientists with financial aid for low-income college students. Big Bang and the Chuck Lorre Family Foundation have established The Big Bang Theory Scholarship Endowment at UCLA for undergraduate students in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

The scholarship endowment has raised $4 million to date, including an initial donation from the Chuck Lorre Family Foundation combined with gifts from people associated with the show, including series stars, executive producers and crew, and partners such as WBTV and CBS.

The Big Bang Theory scholarship will launch with 20 students — mostly freshmen — for the 2015–16 academic year, with an additional five students to be added in each future academic year — in perpetuity. The inaugural group of recipients will be announced in fall 2015 on the set of The Big Bang Theory, and they will likely have a continuous presence on the show, visiting from time to time.

There’s additional existing connection between UCLA and The Big Bang Theory. The original idea to do something in the field of financial aid for deserving science students came from Lorre’s conversations with UCLA professor of physics and astronomy David Saltzberg. Additionally, series star Mayim Bialik earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA.

The Big Bang Theory Scholarship Endowment is slated to go on way beyond the lifespan of the show that started it. Lorre is confident that there is enough funds to keep supporting STEM students for years to come.

The Father of Modern Science

Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei

Galileo Galilei pioneered the experimental scientific method and in a little more than a week, using a refracting telescope he built himself, he found the first new astronomical bodies to be discovered since ancient times. He is often referred to as the “father of modern astronomy” and the “father of modern physics”. Albert Einstein called Galileo the “father of modern science”.

Galileo Galilei was born in 1564 in Pisa, Italy, into a world where each morning reaffirmed the common view that the Sun moved around the Earth. This belief was confirmed as the sun appeared to pass overhead each day. It was a view of the universe originally set out by the ancient philosopher Aristotle. The Greek philosopher Aristotle, in the 4th century BCE, established a geocentric universe in which the Earth was at the centre, surrounded by concentric celestial spheres of planets and stars. The Sun was just one of many heavenly bodies which circled endlessly around it. Although Aristotle believed the universe to be finite in size, he stressed that it existed unchanged and static throughout eternity.

The 16th century was a time of discord in the Christian world. Threatened by the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church demanded strict adherence to its dogma, enforced by the violent threat of Inquisition. Fear of heresy was in the air. Dissenting from the accepted worldview that Earth was at the centre of the Universe could prove hazardous. A statue of Father Giordano Bruno marks the site in Rome where he was burned alive for a host of unorthodox beliefs.

The Vatican considered astronomy to be an investigation of God’s work. The Church’s universities had seven basic subjects that you had to pass before you could go onto philosophy and theology. One of those subjects was astronomy. Studying the stars was a way of getting themselves out of the mundane world, into a world that was more transcendent, a world that was beautiful, a world that was eternal. For the Church, there was also a practical reason to study the heavens. The sky was both a clock and a calendar. Behind the walls of convents, sunrise and sunset defined the cycle of morning and evening prayer. Each spring, the planting of the gardens would commence with the coming of the Equinox. The Winter Solstice foreshadowed Christmas, and the phases of the moon fixed the exact dates of Lent and Easter. The Church used the calendar to give spiritual significance to Aristotle’s earth-centered astronomy.

University of Pisa
University of Pisa

As a young man, Galileo toyed briefly with the idea of becoming a priest. This did not please his father who had already decided that his eldest son should become a medical doctor. So Galileo entered the University of Pisa as a medical student in 1581. The curriculum at Pisa was prescribed by the Jesuit authorities in Rome. Even the anatomy diagrams in Galileo’s textbooks had to be approved by the Jesuits. Galileo never seems to have taken medical studies seriously, attending instead courses on his real interests which were in mathematics and natural philosophy. His mathematics teacher at Pisa was Filippo Fantoni, who held the chair of mathematics. During the next few years, while still officially enrolled as a medical student at Pisa, Galileo spent increasingly more time studying mathematics and eventually, by 1585, he gave up the medical course and left without completing his degree.

Fantoni left the chair of mathematics at the University of Pisa in 1589 and Galileo was appointed to fill the post (although this was only a nominal position to provide financial support for Galileo). In 1591 Vincenzo Galilei, Galileo’s father, died and since Galileo was the eldest son he had to provide financial support for the rest of the family and in particular have the necessary financial means to provide dowries for his two younger sisters. Being professor of mathematics at Pisa was not well paid, so Galileo looked for a more lucrative post. With strong recommendations, Galileo was appointed professor of mathematics at the University of Padua (the university of the Republic of Venice) in 1592 at a salary of three times what he had received at Pisa. The University in Padua had been founded in 1222 by breakaway students. It wasn’t chartered by a king or by a pope. It was absolutely free and had the free Republic of Venice as its supervisor. So getting a job in Padua was as close to getting academic freedom as you could want, certainly in Italy and probably, rather uniquely, in Europe.

On 7 December 1592 he gave his inaugural lecture and began a period of eighteen years at the university, years which he later described as the happiest of his life. At Padua his duties were mainly to teach Euclid’s geometry and standard (geocentric) astronomy to medical students, who would need to know some astronomy in order to make use of astrology in their medical practice.

University of Padua
University of Padua

The city of Venice was just a ferry ride from Padua, and it was here that the young professor spent many holidays. Galileo began a liaison with a Venetian woman named Marina Gamba. Little is known about her, but she was far from Galileo’s social equal. They did not marry perhaps because Galileo felt his financial situation was not good enough. The affair made his life complicated, but was not unusual even among faithful Catholics. In 1600 their first child Virginia was born, followed by a second daughter Livia in the following year. In 1606 their son Vincenzo was born.

Galileo thrived in the free air of Padua, becoming an ambitious scholar.

In May 1609, Galileo received a letter from Paolo Sarpi telling him about a spyglass that a Dutchman had shown in Venice. Galileo wrote in the Starry Messenger (Sidereus Nuncius) in April 1610:

About ten months ago a report reached my ears that a certain Fleming had constructed a spyglass by means of which visible objects, though very distant from the eye of the observer, were distinctly seen as if nearby. Of this truly remarkable effect several experiences were related, to which some persons believed while other denied them. A few days later the report was confirmed by a letter I received from a Frenchman in Paris, Jacques Badovere, which caused me to apply myself wholeheartedly to investigate means by which I might arrive at the invention of a similar instrument. This I did soon afterwards, my basis being the doctrine of refraction.

From these reports, and using his own technical skills as a mathematician and as a craftsman, Galileo began to make a series of telescopes whose optical performance was much better than that of the Dutch instrument. His first telescope was made from available lenses and gave a magnification of about four times. To improve on this Galileo learned how to grind and polish his own lenses and by August 1609 he had an instrument with a magnification of around eight or nine. Galileo immediately saw the commercial and military applications of his telescope (which he called a perspicillum) for ships at sea.

The Venetian Senate was about to purchase one of the popular gadgets from the Dutch spectacle makers when Galileo stepped in with his own version. Made of wood and leather, Galileo’s telescope had a convex main lens with a concave eyepiece like the original, Dutch-made telescopes, but his version boosted the viewing power to eight-times magnification. Venice’s interest in the telescope was commercial rather than scientific. The maritime city’s wealth and power was based on overseas trade, and at the time its vessels were being attacked by the Turks. To demonstrate the enemy-spotting potential of his telescope, Galileo arranged persuasive, real-life demonstrations for the Venetian Senate with Sarpi’s assistance.

Galileo demonstrating his telescope in 1609
Galileo demonstrating his telescope in 1609

The Senate were very impressed and, in return for a large increase in his salary, Galileo gave the sole rights for the manufacture of telescopes to the Venetian Senate. It seems a particularly good move on his part since he must have known that such rights were meaningless, particularly since he always acknowledged that the telescope was not his invention!

From within the Venetian senate came a handsome order for Galileo to supply the arsenal with spyglasses. Galileo was given a generous lifetime salary for his service to the republic. Part scientist and part self-promoter, for now, his future seemed bright.

One November night in 1609, Galileo pointed his new spyglass at the moon setting behind the hills of Padua and began to sketch what he observed. It was the start of eight weeks of sleepless nights spent in his tiny courtyard, suddenly transformed into the world’s premiere, astronomical observatory.

Galileo's Sketches of the Moon
Galileo’s Sketches of the Moon

From my observations, I’ve been led to the opinion that the surface of the moon is not smooth, uniform, as a great number of philosophers believe it and the other heavenly bodies to be, but is uneven, rough and full of cavities and prominences, being, not unlike the face of the earth, relieved by chains of mountains and deep valleys.

The telescope worked fine for lunar observations, but was not good enough for Jupiter, the other bright body in the evening sky. It was not until after Christmas – January 7, 1610 – that Galileo managed to improve it sufficiently to allow him to see Jupiter as a round disc, like a little full moon. But at that point, he made an amazing discovery: three bright little stars in a straight line with Jupiter, two on the eastern and one on its western side.

Galileo's sketch of his observations of the  moons of Jupiter, on the back of an envelope.
Galileo’s sketch of his observations of the
moons of Jupiter, on the back of an envelope.

The formation interested Galileo enough to return to the observation the next evening. The stars were still there, on a straight line with Jupiter, but now they were all on the western side of the planet. Galileo thought that, because these were fixed stars, Jupiter had passed them. But that would mean that Jupiter was moving in the wrong direction. Over the next few nights, he found that there were four, not three, of these “stars”, and he determined that they were moving with Jupiter, while at the same time changing their positions. By January 12, Galileo had concluded that these four bodies were moons. In a little more than a week, Galileo had found the first new astronomical bodies to be discovered since ancient times. This discovery clashed with the common belief that the heavens revolved around the earth alone. Eventually it would bring him head to head with church dogma, but for now Galileo was exuberant.

This was important not only for its bearing on the structure of the universe, but for Galileo’s own career. For some years, he had wanted to return to his native Tuscany, where, during the summer vacations, he had instructed Cosimo, the son of Grand Duke Ferdinand de’ Medici. His previous attempts to obtain patronage had been unsuccessful. But things had changed. For one thing, his pupil was the new Grand Duke, and for another, Galileo now had a very precious gift to offer: because he had discovered these moons, he claimed the right to name them.

While continuing his observations of Jupiter’s moons, mapping configurations of stars, and writing up his results, he approached the Tuscan court again, asking whether the Grand Duke would prefer the name “Cosmic Stars” (for Cosimo), or “Medicean Stars” (for his family). Anticipating, wrongly, that the Grand Duke would choose the first alternative, he had to glue a strip of paper with the correct phrase over the appropriate page in each of the 550 copies of the Sidereus Nuncius.

The Father of Modern Science

In the book – which was dedicated to the Grand Duke, and sold out almost at once – Galileo began with a brief description of his telescope and an explanation of how one determined magnification. He then launched into his observations of the lunar surface, illustrated with four engravings of different phases. His argument was that the Moon was rough and mountainous like the Earth’s. For instance, the bright points in the dark region just beyond the terminator must be mountain peaks: wasn’t that how the Sun illuminated the mountain tops at dawn, filling the valleys as it rose in the sky?

The next section dealt with the stars, arguing that nebulae, and the entire Milky Way, were agglomerations of stars too small to be discerned separately with the naked eye. He also pointed out that the telescope revealed a distinction between planets and fixed stars: “The planets present entirely smooth and exactly circular globes, that appear as little moons, entirely covered with light, while the fixed stars are not seen bounded by circular outlines, but rather as pulsating all around with certain bright rays.” In the old cosmology, all heavenly bodies, including the Moon, were made up of the same stellar material, and the fixed stars were just beyond Saturn. Now, the difference in appearance indicated that the planets were much closer than the stars.

The last section of Sidereus Nuncius was devoted to Jupiter. Knowing full well that the existence of its four moons would be the most spectacular and controversial of his claims, Galileo tried to convince the reader by the sheer weight of evidence, presenting 65 annotated observations made from January 7 to March 2. At the end of this brief section, Galileo ended the book with the sentence, “The fair reader may expect more about these matters soon.” It was one of the greatest understatements in history. Sidereus Nuncius was highly readable and it started an intellectual fever that spread across Europe.

Although the Venetian senate had granted Galileo a lifetime appointment as professor at Padua because of his findings with the telescope, he left in the summer of 1610 to become “first philosopher and mathematician” to the grand duke of Tuscany, an appointment that enabled him to devote more time to research. Florentines were known for arguing about everything, having lively discussions, and that’s what Galileo was about. And there was tremendous appeal for him and even more status in being attached to the Court of the Grand Duke.

The Medicis were rich and cultured, but they were also beholden to Rome. With strong ties to the Vatican, the family had produced many popes and cardinals. They could not have known the difficulties their new philosopher would bring upon himself.

With his telescope Galileo became the first European to document sunspots, which refuted Aristotle’s belief that the sun was a perfect sphere without mark or blemish. Galileo had already shown this was not true for the Moon in 1609 when he used his telescope to discover lunar mountains and craters. Galileo concluded that the Moon was “rough and uneven, and just like the surface of the Earth itself” and not the smooth sphere Aristotle envisioned.

The Father of Modern Science

Galileo also turned his telescopes towards the planet Venus, and saw it had a set of phases similar to that of the Moon. This was in line with the heliocentric model of the solar system since all phases of Venus should be visible if it orbited the Sun from a closer distance than the Earth. Galileo was also the first to show the Milky Way was not a nebulous mass but rather millions of stars packed so densely that they appeared to be clouds. He also carried out revolutionary experiments in motion and mechanics.

Sometime in the mid-1590s, Galileo had concluded that Copernicus got it right. He admitted as much in a 1597 letter to Johannes Kepler, a German mathematician who had written about planetary systems: “Like you, I accepted the Copernican position several years ago and discovered from thence the cause of many natural effects which are doubtless inexplicable by the current theories.” Galileo, however, continued to keep his thoughts to a few trusted friends, as he explained to Kepler: “I have not dared until now to bring my reasons and refutations into the open, being warned by the fortunes of Copernicus himself, our master, who procured for himself immortal fame among a few but stepped down among the great crowd.”

Galileo expected the telescope to quickly make believers in the Copernican system out of all educated persons, but he was disappointed. He expressed his discouragement in a 1610 letter to Kepler: “My dear Kepler, what would you say of the learned here, who, replete with the pertinacity of the asp, have steadfastly refused to cast a glance through the telescope? What shall we make of this? Shall we laugh, or shall we cry?” It became clear that the Copernican theory had its enemies.

In 1613, just as Galileo published his Letters on the Solar Spots, an openly Copernican writing, the first attack came from a Dominican friar and professor of ecclesiastical history in Florence, Father Lorini. Preaching on All Soul’s Day, Lorini said that Copernican doctrine violated Scripture, which clearly places Earth, and not the Sun at the center of the universe. What, if Copernicus were right, would be the sense of Joshua 10:13 which says “So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven” or Isaiah 40:22 that speaks of “the heavens stretched out as a curtain” above “the circle of the earth”? Pressured later to apologize for his attack, Lorini later said that he “said a couple of words to the effect that the doctrine of Ipernicus, or whatever his name is, was against Holy Scripture.”

At a meeting in the Medici Palace in Florence in December 1613 with the Grand Duke Cosimo II and his mother the Grand Duchess Christina of Lorraine, Castelli, the successor to Galileo in the Chair of Mathematics at Pisa, was asked to explain the apparent contradictions between the Copernican theory and Holy Scripture. Castelli defended the Copernican position vigorously and wrote to Galileo afterwards telling him how successful he had been in putting the arguments. Galileo, less convinced that Castelli had won the argument, wrote Letter to Castelli to him arguing that the Bible had to be interpreted in the light of what science had shown to be true. In the letter, Galileo argued that the Scripture – although truth itself – must be understood sometimes in a figurative sense. A reference, for example, to “the hand of God” is not meant to be interpreted as referring to a five-fingered appendage, but rather to His presence in human lives. Given that the Bible should not be interpreted literally in every case, Galileo contended, it is senseless to see it as supporting one view of the physical universe over another. “Who,” Galileo asked, “would dare assert that we know all there is to be known?”

Galileo hoped that his Letter to Castelli might foster a reconciliation of faith and science, but it only served to increase the heat. His enemies accused him of attacking Scripture and meddling in theological affairs. Father Lorini raised the stakes for the battle when, on February 7, 1615, he sent to the Roman Inquisition a modified copy of Galileo’s Letter to Castelli. However, after examining its contents they found little to which they could object. The point at issue for the Inquisition was whether Copernicus had simply put forward a mathematical theory which enabled the calculation of the positions of the heavenly bodies to be made more simply or whether he was proposing a physical reality.

In 1616 Galileo wrote a letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Lorraine which vigorously attacked the followers of Aristotle. With “nineteen centuries of organized thought piling up to smother him,” Galileo pleaded – in a powerful summary of thoughts on Scriptural interpretation and the evidence concerning the nature of the universe – his case in his Letter to the Grand Duchess. He asked that his idea not be condemned “without understanding it, without hearing it, without even having seen it”. Galileo’s eloquent Letter to the Grand Duchess was forwarded to Rome where, in the words of one historian, “it sank out of sight as softly as a penny in a snowbank”.

Pope Paul V ordered that Sacred Congregation of the Index decide on the Copernican theory. The cardinals of the Inquisition met on 24 February 1616 and took evidence from theological experts. They condemned the teachings of Copernicus and the decision was conveyed to Galileo, who had not been personally involved in the trial. Galileo was forbidden to hold Copernican views. The Inquisition had burned astronomer Giordano Bruno at the stake in 1600 for similar heresies.

For the next seven years Galileo led a life of studious retirement in his house in Bellosguardo near Florence. Maffeo Barberini, who was an admirer of Galileo, was elected as Pope Urban VIII in 1623 and invited Galileo to papal audiences. In 1624 Galileo went to Rome, hoping to obtain a revocation of the decree of 1616. This he did not get, but he obtained permission from the Pope to write about “the systems of the world”, both Ptolemaic and Copernican, as long as he discussed them noncommittally and came to the conclusion dictated to him in advance by the pontiff – that is, that man cannot presume to know how the world is really made because God could have brought about the same effects in ways unimagined by him, and he must not restrict God’s omnipotence.

The Father of Modern Science

Galileo returned to Florence and spent the next several years working on his great book Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo, tolemaico e copernicano (Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems – Ptolemaic and Copernican). As soon as it came out, in the year 1632, it was greeted with a tumult of applause and cries of praise from every part of the European continent as a literary and philosophical masterpiece. The Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was ostensibly a neutral comparison of the geocentric and Copernican cosmologies, but Galileo could not help giving pride of place to the heliocentric arrangement. He had been warned not to hold or teach the Copernican system, so inevitably he got himself into deep trouble with the Inquisition.

On the crisis that followed there remain now only inferences. It was pointed out to the Pope that despite its noncommittal title, the work was a compelling and unabashed plea for the Copernican system. The strength of the argument made the prescribed conclusion at the end look anticlimactic and pointless. The Jesuits insisted that it could have worse consequences on the established system of teaching “than Luther and Calvin put together”. The Pope, in anger, ordered a prosecution. The author being covered by license, the only legal measures would be to disavow the licensers and prohibit the book. But at that point a document was “discovered” in the file, to the effect that during his audience with Bellarmine on February 26, 1616, Galileo had been specifically enjoined from “teaching or discussing Copernicanism in any way”, under the penalties of the Holy Office. His license, it was concluded, had therefore been “extorted” under false pretenses. The church authorities, on the strength of the “new” document, were able to prosecute him for “vehement suspicion of heresy.” Notwithstanding his pleas of illness and old age, Galileo was compelled to journey to Rome in February 1633 and stand trial. He was treated with special indulgence and not jailed. In a rigorous interrogation on April 12, he steadfastly denied any memory of the 1616 injunction. The commissary general of the Inquisition, obviously sympathizing with him, discreetly outlined for the authorities a way in which he might be let off with a reprimand, but on June 16 the congregation decreed that he must be sentenced. The sentence was read to him on June 21: he was guilty of having “held and taught” the Copernican doctrine and was ordered to recant. Galileo recited a formula in which he “abjured, cursed and detested” his past errors. The sentence carried imprisonment, but this portion of the penalty was immediately commuted by the Pope into house arrest and seclusion on his little estate at Arcetri near Florence, where he returned in December 1633. The sentence of house arrest remained in effect throughout the last eight years of his life. When found guilty and after making his abjuration of heliocentricity, he famously uttered the apocryphal words to himself “Epur si muove“ (And yet it does move).

The Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was in fact not a great classic of scientific discovery. It was, however, the book that won the war, the persuasive account that made the Copernican cosmology intellectually respectable. It is Galileo’s ­lesser-known Dialogue on Two New Sciences that stands as his greatest scientific contribution and a forerunner to Newton’s powerful physics. In the Discorsi e dimostrazioni mathematiche intorno a due nuove scienze attenenti alla meccanica (Dialogue Concerning Two New Sciences), completed in 1634, he recapitulated the results of his early experiments and his mature meditations on the principles of mechanics. This, in many respects his most valuable work, was printed by Louis Elzevirs at Leiden in 1638.

The Father of Modern Science

His last telescopic discovery – that of the Moon’s diurnal and monthly librations (wobbling from side to side) – was made in 1637, only a few months before he became blind. But the fire of his genius was not even yet extinct. He continued his scientific correspondence with unbroken interest and undiminished acumen; he thought out the application of the pendulum to the regulation of clockwork, which the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens put into practice in 1656; he was engaged in dictating to his disciples, Vincenzo Viviani and Evangelista Torricelli, his latest ideas on the theory of impact when he was seized with the slow fever that resulted in his death at Arcetri on January 8, 1642.

The dispute between the Church and Galileo has long stood as one of history’s great emblems of conflict between reason and dogma, science and faith. The Vatican’s formal acknowledgement of an error, moreover, is a rarity in an institution built over centuries on the belief that the Church is the final arbiter in matters of faith.

In 1757, Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was removed from the Index, a former list of publications banned by the Church. When an investigation, conducted by a panel of scientists, theologians and historians, made a preliminary report in 1984, it said that Galileo had been wrongfully condemned.

In 1992, Pope John Paul II acknowledged that the church had erred in condemning Galileo for asserting that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Saying that faith should never conflict with reason, Pope John Paul II used the very words Galileo had once written in his own defense. The Pope, like Galileo, believed that the scriptures can never err, but theologians can err in their interpretation. The Pope expressed the church’s regret that the Galileo affair had contributed to a “tragic mutual misunderstanding” between religion and science.

Warp Speed Ahead

In a hundred years or so!

The lucky and forever young bears can afford to wait, and while they’re waiting, they can play games 🙂

Star Trek at the Smithsonian

The 100-year Starship Project is a joint endeavour run by DARPA, NASA, Icarus Interstellar and the Foundation for Enterprise Development.

Announced in January 2012, the project has an overall goal of achieving manned interstellar travel by 2112.

To do so it is evaluating a number of different technologies, including ‘warping’ spacetime to travel great distances in short time frames at faster-than-light speeds.

The project is also considering building ‘generation ships’ that move slowly but have a self-sustainable long-term population.

Pictured is an illustration of Dr White's IXS Enterprise, an interstellar ship drawn by artist Mark Rademaker that could be an accurate representation of what the first mission beyond the solar system will look like. The IXS Enterprise is a theory-fitting concept for a faster than light (FTL) ship.
Pictured is an illustration of Dr White’s IXS Enterprise, an interstellar ship drawn by artist Mark Rademaker that could be an accurate representation of what the first mission beyond the solar system will look like. The IXS Enterprise is a theory-fitting concept for a faster than light (FTL) ship.

This is what the ship that allows us to explore the galaxy at warp speed will look like, according to NASA scientists. And yes, it’s even called Enterprise!

Look familiar? Dr White's design for the IXS Enterprise bears a striking similarity to the USS Enterprise as seen in various Star Trek TV shows such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, seen here. In the show this science vessel was used to 'explore strange new worlds' and 'seek out new life and new civilisation'.
Look familiar? Dr White’s design for the IXS Enterprise bears a striking similarity to the USS Enterprise as seen in various Star Trek TV shows such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, seen here. In the show this science vessel was used to ‘explore strange new worlds’ and ‘seek out new life and new civilisation’.

Dr Harold “Sonny” White is working on the warp drive program at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre, and came up with the ship concept with 3D artist Mark Rademaker. The design involves a sleek ship nestled at the center of two enormous rings, which create the warp bubble.

This illustration shows Dr White's design in its entirety. Struts around the spacecraft show how it would be directly attached to the rings. At the front is the 'bridge' where the crew would conduct operations on the spacecraft. Towards the back is the cargo area where so-called exotic matter for fuel would be stored.
This illustration shows Dr White’s design in its entirety. Struts around the spacecraft show how it would be directly attached to the rings. At the front is the ‘bridge’ where the crew would conduct operations on the spacecraft. Towards the back is the cargo area where so-called exotic matter for fuel would be stored.
The ship at the centre of Dr White's IXS Enterprise would need to be small enough to fit inside the rings and it would need to not stick out too much. This is because when the rings are activated they will create a 'warp bubble', and anything outside of this will be cut off when the jump is made, according to Dr White.
The ship at the centre of Dr White’s IXS Enterprise would need to be small enough to fit inside the rings and it would need to not stick out too much. This is because when the rings are activated they will create a ‘warp bubble’, and anything outside of this will be cut off when the jump is made, according to Dr White.
The rings around the spacecraft (shown) would actually shift the surrounding space. The drive would require something known as exotic matter to work, hypothetical particles that violate the known laws of physics (possibly such as dark matter), but as of yet none have been found or created.
The rings around the spacecraft (shown) would actually shift the surrounding space. The drive would require something known as exotic matter to work, hypothetical particles that violate the known laws of physics (possibly such as dark matter), but as of yet none have been found or created.

Dr White has spent his career working on ways to propel spacecrafts to faster than the speed of light, and this model would do so by bending the space around it, making the distance shorter. This means that the IXS Enterprise wouldn’t break Einstein’s theory of relativity, as within its little bubble it wouldn’t be moving faster than light.

The ship has a number of features that make interstellar travel possible. This includes the two rings surrounding the central spacecraft - these are known as an Alcubierre drive and are used to 'warp' space-time and travel many light years in a matter of days.
The ship has a number of features that make interstellar travel possible. This includes the two rings surrounding the central spacecraft – these are known as an Alcubierre drive and are used to ‘warp’ space-time and travel many light years in a matter of days.
The engine for Dr White's ISX Enterprise is based on something known as the Alcubierre drive. As shown in the illustration above this stretches space-time in a wave that causes the fabric of space-time ahead to contract while expanding the space behind, theoretically allowing 'faster than light' travel.
The engine for Dr White’s ISX Enterprise is based on something known as the Alcubierre drive. As shown in the illustration above this stretches space-time in a wave that causes the fabric of space-time ahead to contract while expanding the space behind, theoretically allowing ‘faster than light’ travel.
The main limitation of the concept, (pictured) is energy - previously it was thought mass equivalent to a planet would be necessary to provide the energy required for a warp jump. But revised suggestions claim mass similar in size to a car might be more realistic.
The main limitation of the concept, (pictured) is energy – previously it was thought mass equivalent to a planet would be necessary to provide the energy required for a warp jump. But revised suggestions claim mass similar in size to a car might be more realistic.

And it turns out, Dr White and his team are closer to this goal than you might think. They’ve already starting experimenting with tiny warp bubbles. Working at NASA Eagleworks, Dr White’s team has initiated an interferometer test bed that will try to generate and detect a microscopic instance of a little warp bubble using an instrument called the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer.

Dr White believes that if his work is successful, it will create an engine that could get us to Alpha Centauri in two weeks. He’s created the road map of steps that need to be taken. Watch a fascinating talk by White given at the SpaceVision 2013 conference.

In theory at least, super-fast warp speed travel is possible according to Einstein’s theory of relativity. We just need to find the right materials to achieve it.

Even travelling at the speed of light, it would take four years to go to the nearest star and 2 million years to go to the nearest large galaxy. These distances would stop humanity colonising the Universe (that could be a good thing!), so we need some sort of way to beat that speed limit, and Einstein’s theory of relativity makes it possible. According to Einstein’s equation, it shows you can bend and warp space so you can travel at any speed you like in the Universe. Of course, the problem is that even if bending space is theoretically possible, we have no idea how to do it.

Then to achieve warp speed, it won’t be our rockets that we need to upgrade. Instead we’ll need to find a material that has a negative density energy. There are signs that there are aspects of the Universe that actually have this kind of property.

All this involves a whole lot of ‘ifs’, and a whole lot more research and development, and the bears are ready now!

NASA and Star Trek

Einstein Centenary

Einstein Centenary

Albert Einstein is probably the most well-known scientific genius. His creative ability allowed him to dream of new physics and create scientific revolutions, including his masterpiece, the theory of general relativity. While people around the globe instantly recognize Einstein’s image, many still have not had an occasion to learn some of the astonishing details and amazing implications of his most monumental discovery.

Einstein Centenary

2015 marks an important milestone in the history of physics: one hundred years ago, in November 1915, Albert Einstein wrote down the famous field equations of General Relativity. The International Society for General Relativity and Gravitation has declared 25 November 2015 as Einstein Centenary Day.

The idea of relativity had been studied almost three centuries earlier by Galileo, when he stated the principle of relativity in 1632 (that the fundamental laws of physics are the same for all bodies in uniform motion). Later in the 17th Century, Sir Isaac Newton also took the principle of relativity for granted, asserting that if his famous laws of motion held in one inertial frame, then they also held in a reference frame moving at a constant velocity relative to the first frame.

Einstein’s theories of relativity are somewhat more involved, even if his starting point was in many respects the same. His ground-breaking theories take into account the speed of light, the structure of space-time and the equivalence of acceleration and gravity. They have led to some remarkable consequences, including the dilation of time, the contraction of length, mass-energy equivalence and the bending of light, as well as the prediction of the existence of black holes, wormholes and the “birth” of the universe in a Big Bang.

Einstein’s theories still hold up today, after exhaustive experimentation and testing, and have been described as the single most important contribution by one man to science.

Einstein's revolutionary equation says that the curvature of space-time equals the distribution of matter plus energy.
Einstein’s revolutionary equation says that the curvature of space-time equals the distribution of matter plus energy.

Einstein did a kind of science that very few people understand. His earth-shaking physics formula, Rµv–½gµvR=(8πG/c4)Tµv, is daunting to many of us.

Although the math behind the General Relativity is awesomely daunting, the underlying concept is simple and elegant: the spacetime of the universe with no matter around (as in an empty universe) is just flat, and the light rays propagate in straight lines. Instead, in presence of a massive body (for example, a star), the spacetime right around it will be distorted. In a two-dimensional analogy, the spacetime can be represented by a billiard table: in the empty universe case, a ball that was thrown will roll smoothly over it, following a straight line. In the same analogy, the massive object, the star, might be depicted as a dip in the middle of the table. The closer you get to it, the more curved the surface will be: the ball will now deviate from a straight line trajectory, and the closer it rolls to the dip, the more it will deviate.

Leaving metaphors aside, if a light ray happens to pass close to a massive object such as a star, it will be forced to bend in order to follow the curved spacetime around it, as it cannot travel anywhere else: it has to comply with the warps of the spacetime and cannot just “detach” from it, as there’s nothing else, “outside” it.

The curvature of the spacetime given by the presence of the Sun bends the light of a background star so that it appears to come from a slightly different position in the sky, away from it.
The curvature of the spacetime given by the presence of the Sun bends the light of a background star so that it appears to come from a slightly different position in the sky, away from it.

Einstein’s theory revealed that time runs more slowly near a strong source of gravity — an idea that revolutionized physics when first presented to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in November 1915, but would have no practical applications for decades, because the technologies that could make use of the theory did not yet exist. Today, for example, Einstein’s discovery makes it possible to ensure GPS devices sync up properly with satellites far from the Earth’s center of gravity.

His theory broke away from the Newtonian concept of absolute space and time in which natural phenomena just “happen” in favour of a more comprehensive scenario in which the space and time are tied to each other and the resulting space-time is shaped by the matter (and therefore the energy) it contains.

It took Einstein eight years after publishing his theory of special relativity to expand that into his theory of general relativity, in which he showed that gravity can affect space and time, a key to understanding basic forces of physics and natural phenomena, including the origin of the universe.

In 1905, his so-called “miraculous year”, Einstein published three papers. The first (dealing with the so-called “photoelectric effect”) gave a very strong impulse to quantum theory, and got him the Nobel prize in 1921. The second dealt with the movement of small particles in a fluid (Brownian motion). The third paper of 1905 was called “On the electrodynamics of moving bodies”, and it changed the face of physics and the way we understand nature.

The Special Theory of Relativity has two main postulates: firstly, that physical laws have the same mathematical form when expressed in any inertial system (so that all motion, and the forces that result from it, is relative); and secondly that the speed of light is independent of the motion of its source and of the observer, and so it is NOT relative to anything else and will always have the same value when measured by observers moving with constant velocity with respect to each other. Not such a scary proposition at first glance, perhaps, but it does lead to some rather interesting implications.

In the twins effect (or paradox), a space traveller returns to Earth younger than his twin.
In the twins effect (or paradox), a space traveller returns to Earth younger than his twin.

The drawback to Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity is that it is “special” in the respect that it only considers the effects of relativity to an observer moving at constant speed. Motion at constant speed is clearly a special case, and in practice bodies change their speed with time. Einstein wanted to generalize his theory to consider how a person sees another person who is accelerating relative to them. To do this, he had to take on Sir Isaac Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation, which had stood undisputed since 1687.

Einstein’s ground-breaking realization (which he called “the happiest thought of my life”) was that gravity is in reality not a force at all, but is indistinguishable from, and in fact the same thing as, acceleration, an idea he called the “principle of equivalence”. He realized that if he were to fall freely in a gravitational field (such as a skydiver before opening his parachute, or a person in an elevator when its cable breaks), he would be unable to feel his own weight, a rather remarkable insight in 1907, many years before the idea of freefall of astronauts in space became commonplace.

Einstein devise­­­­d a completely new description of gravity. First, he realized that objects in the universe exist in three dimensions of space and one of time. He then combined these into a four-dimensional spacetime. The motion of an object throughout its entire history in the universe could then be fully described by its trajectory in spacetime. The English astronomer Arthur Eddington confirmed Einstein’s predictions of the deflection of light from other stars by the Sun’s gravity using measurements taken in West Africa during an eclipse of the Sun in 1919, after which the General Theory of Relativity was generally accepted in the scientific community. Eddington was able to observe, during the eclipse, the effect of the Sun on the light coming from a far away star. The observed deflection was in perfect agreement with Einstein’s theory while the prediction of the old theory of Newton was off by a factor of 2: a triumph for Einstein! Nowadays, light deflection by astrophysical objects (that is optics with very massive lenses) is a tool successfully used to explore the Universe: it is called gravitational lensing.

Just as a bowling ball dents a canvas, a massive object such as the sun significantly bends spacetime in the solar system. As Einstein showed, relatively small objects, such as planets and comets, moving in the curved spacetime of a massive object, like the sun, will be deflected into curved paths, instead of traveling on straight lines. This is not because of an invisible force that pulls the small objects toward the massive one, but because the latter is curving the fabric of spacetime on which the small objects must move. In this sense, mass tells spacetime how to bend and spacetime tells mass how to move.

Gravity Discovery Centre
Gravity Discovery Centre

General relativity is the prevailing modern theory of gravity. It describes the motion of all large-scale objects, including stars, planets, and galaxies. Sir Isaac Newton described gravity as an instantaneous and invisible force between two objects. He imaged that matter simply pulls on other matter across empty space. His laws of motion and universal gravitation are still relevant today because objects still obey these laws approximately in everyday human experience. But Newton’s laws are inaccurate when describing the gravity produced by very massive objects, such as black holes or neutron stars.

Einstein’s theory has been proven remarkably accurate and robust in many different tests over the last century. The slightly elliptical orbit of planets is also explained by the theory but, even more remarkably, it also explains with great accuracy the fact that the elliptical orbits of planets are not exact repetitions but actually shift slightly with each revolution, tracing out a kind of rosette-like pattern. For instance, it correctly predicts the so-called precession of the perihelion of Mercury (that the planet Mercury traces out a complete rosette only once every 3 million years!!), something which Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation is not sophisticated enough to cope with.

Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose’s singularity theorem of 1970 used the General Theory of Relativity to show that, just as any collapsing star must end in a singularity, the universe itself must have begun in a singularity like the Big Bang (providing that the universe does in fact contain at least as much matter as it appears to). The theorem also showed, though, that general relativity is an incomplete theory in that it cannot tell us exactly how the universe started off because it predicts that all physical theories (including itself) necessarily break down at a singularity like the Big Bang.

The theory has also provided endless fodder for the science fiction industry, predicting the existence of sci-fi staples like black holes, wormholes, time travel, parallel universes, etc. Just as an example, the notionally faster-than-light “warp” speeds of Star Trek are based firmly on relativity: if the space-time behind a starship were in some way greatly expanded, and the space-time in front of it simultaneously contracted, the starship would find itself suddenly much closer to its destination, without the local space-time around the starship being affected in any relativistic way. Unfortunately, however, such a trick would require the harvesting of vast amounts of energy, way in excess of anything imaginable today. One day!

The development of the theory was driven by experiments that took place mostly in Einstein’s brain (that is, so-called “thought experiments”). These experiments centred on the concept of light: “What happens if light is observed by an observer in motion?” “What happens if light travels in the presence of a gravitational field?” Several tests of General Relativity have to do with light as well – the first success of the theory and the one that made the theory known to the whole world, was the observation of the light deflection by the Sun by Eddington in 1919.

Light remained central in subsequent tests of the theory such as the so-called gravitational redshift: light changes frequency when it moves in a gravitational field, another prediction of General Relativity, experimentally tested since 1959.

But the most amazing prediction of General Relativity has not to do with light, but rather with the absence of light. Black holes are objects so dense that even light cannot escape their strong gravitational field. It is no longer science fiction: black holes are now standard objects that astrophysicists (indirectly!) observe and study.

On much larger, cosmological scales, the gravitational redshift of light from galaxies and exploding stars (supernovae) constitutes the basic tool that allows astrophysicists to “map” the Universe and study its “geometry”. It is through these tools that astrophysicists realized that the Universe is expanding, and that all Galaxies are accelerating away from each other. As a consequence they realized that there is a new form of (dark) energy present in our Universe. All these amazing and surprising discoveries were made possible by studying the light coming from distant astrophysical events in the framework of General relativity.

From cosmology comes another connection between light and General Relativity, related to the early moments in our Universe. General Relativity predicts that our Universe comes from a very energetic state, the Big Bang, and a sign of this is imprinted in the so-called Cosmic Microwave Background: CMB. The CMB is the light produced in the hot Early Universe in the moment when its decreasing temperature finally allowed photons to travel freely. This very same light we can see today and provides us with precious information of how the Universe looked like when its age was only 1/30000th of its age today!

What about the future discoveries? We are eagerly waiting for the first detection of gravitational waves, i.e. “ripples” in the space-time fabric, another fascinating prediction of General Relativity, so crazy that not even Einstein believed in it.

Artist's conception of gravitational waves
Artist’s conception of gravitational waves

Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space and time produced by violent events in the distant universe, such as the collision of two black holes or shock waves from the cores of supernova explosions. Gravitational waves are emitted by accelerating masses much as electromagnetic waves are produced by accelerating charges. These ripples in the space-time fabric travel toward Earth, bringing with them information about their cataclysmic origins, as well as invaluable clues as to the nature of gravity.

Albert Einstein predicted the existence of these gravitational waves in his 1916 general theory of relativity, but only now in the 21st Century has technology advanced to enable their detection and study by science. Although not yet detected directly, the influence of gravitational waves on a binary pulsar (two neutron stars orbiting each other) has been measured accurately, and was found to be in good agreement with original predictions. Scientists therefore have great confidence that gravitational waves do exist. Joseph Taylor and Russel Hulse were awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics for their studies in this field.

But the direct detection of gravitational waves is another story. Such an experiment is incredibly hard because these elusive gravitational waves are predicted to be very faint – too tiny for all but the most recently developed instruments to detect – even for the strongest waves generated in the collisions of the most massive objects in the universe. The precision required by these detectors is equivalent to measuring distances as small as one thousandth the size of a proton.

Earlier this year scientists — who in March last year announced evidence of cosmic inflation (the ballooning of the universe in the first 10-35 seconds after the Big Bang, which smoothed everything out), a potentially Nobel-worthy find — threw handfuls of dust on the grave of their own results. The official paper they published this year tells the story of how they mistook cosmic dust for “primordial gravitational waves”. Now that the dust has settled, the search for gravitational waves can continue.

The way forward for physics now rests with attempts to combine the theory of relativity (the theory of the very large, which describes one of the fundamental forces of nature, gravity) with quantum theory (the theory of the very small, which describes the other three fundamental forces, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force and the strong nuclear force) in a unified theory of quantum gravity (or quantum theory of gravity), the so-called “theory of everything”. Some physicists prefer their space stringy (superstring theory) and others prefer their space loopy (loop quantum gravity) 🙂 however both still need to overcome major formal and conceptual problems.

The Light of Einstein

National Science Week starts today and there are inaugural science festivals all around the country. The theme for this year’s science week Making waves – the science of light, since this year is also the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies.

A special art and science exhibition – The Light of Einstein to celebrate the centenary of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and International Year of Light is being hosted by The Gravity Discovery Centre in the Cosmology Gallery as part of the Gingin Science Festival. The exhibition was officially opened yesterday.

Cosmology Gallery, Gravity Discovery Centre
Cosmology Gallery, Gravity Discovery Centre

The exhibition has several components such as laser art works, images of the Cosmic Microwave Background, images of cosmic rays and dark matter by various artists.

David Blair, gravitational wave researcher, Professor of Physics at UWA and co-founder of the Gravity Discovery Centre, has created a special laser art exhibition for the Gingin Science Festival, which celebrates the international year of light and the Centenary of Einstein’s theory of gravity that revolutionised modern science.

Einstein predicted the physics behind lasers and it took more than 40 years to create lasers from Einstein’s prediction.

The special quality of laser light called coherence, lets you create images without focussing, surprising and beautiful images. It allows you to see structures otherwise invisible, from the swirling structure of steam to the tiniest organisms.

Hubble Bubble - Coherence to Chaos, Laser Art, Gravity Discovery Centre
Hubble Bubble – Coherence to Chaos, Laser Art, Gravity Discovery Centre

Soap bubbles emerge from a structure reminiscent of a water pipe. Lasers shining through the bubbles reflect off the inner and outer surfaces of every bubble. Reflections combine with quantum interference of the coherent light. The dynamic structures of the soap structures create strong reflections combined with fine transient details that reveal nanoscale flow patterns within individual soap films.

Nano World - Coherence to Chaos, Laser Art, Gravity Discovery Centre
Nano World – Coherence to Chaos, Laser Art, Gravity Discovery Centre

A mechanism lifts a jar of pond water to create a single drop of pond water positioned to intercept a green laser beam. The droplet acts as a powerful lens. Micro-organisms within the water drop are imagined by a combination of magnification and interference. Diffraction rings frame the organisms.

Nano World - Coherence to Chaos, Laser Art, Gravity Discovery Centre
Nano World – Coherence to Chaos, Laser Art, Gravity Discovery Centre
Dust Storm - Coherence to Chaos, Laser Art, Gravity Discovery Centre
Dust Storm – Coherence to Chaos, Laser Art, Gravity Discovery Centre

Laser beams reflect back and forth inside a glass fronted box with mirrors. Near parallel mirrors cause the beams to trace out a parabolic pattern on the glass. A mechanism raises dust brilliantly revealing the laser trajectories.

Vortex Beams - Coherence to Chaos, Laser Art, Gravity Discovery Centre
Vortex Beams – Coherence to Chaos, Laser Art, Gravity Discovery Centre

While water jets confine light, a vortex expels the light. A magnetic stirrer slowly builds a vortex in a Chinese pickle jar. As the vortex grows, the laser beams start to meander and then suddenly start to sweep out patterns on the white base as they refract out of the chaotic vortex structure.

Light Cone - Coherence to Chaos, Laser Art, Gravity Discovery Centre
Light Cone – Coherence to Chaos, Laser Art, Gravity Discovery Centre

A tiny fan spins a mirror and blows fine water droplets. The cone illuminates the structure of the steam. Gentle blowing changes the pattern.

Green Tea - Coherence to Chaos, Laser Art, Gravity Discovery Centre
Green Tea – Coherence to Chaos, Laser Art, Gravity Discovery Centre

Coherent green laser light in injected into a water stream. While the water follows its perfect parabolic path, the light is trapped by total internal reflection. In the chaos of turbulence when the water stream hits the cup, the light is released.

Other components of the exhibition:

The Oldest Light in the Universe: Images of the Cosmic Microwave Background

Cosmic Microwave Background
Cosmic Microwave Background, NASA/WMAP

This spectacular photograph is an image of the universe 13.8 billion years ago when it was a mere 380,000 years old. It is an all-sky image. A special satellite called WMAP created this image after 5 years continuous exposure. The image was made with radio waves similar to those used for TV signals. The universe is seen far in the past before there were any stars or galaxies. The entire universe consisted of a hot gas, some places a bit hotter, others a bit cooler. The colours in this image once corresponded to gases as hot as the sun but the expansion of the universe stretched the light wavelenghts until they became radio waves. This is the most distant image ever created. The sky is always shining in this radiation. The radio waves tell a vivid story about the big bang and reveal further mysteries about the creation and unknown forms of matter and energy.

Cosmic Microwave Background, NASA/WMAP
Cosmic Microwave Background, NASA/WMAP

Australia Tests Einstein: The heroic Wallal Eclipse Expedition that proved Einstein’s theory. On display in the historic Gingin Railway Station during the Gingin Science Festival

One of the world’s most astonishing scientific breakthroughs – an experiment to prove Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity – happened at a remote Kimberley cattle station more than 90 years ago. An international expedition of astronomers and physicists lugged 35 tonnes of telescopes and other gear ashore at 80 Mile Beach, halfway between Port Hedland and Broome, to construct a temporary observatory. They were there to photograph light from stars bending around the sun during a solar eclipse on September 21, 1922.

The story of how remote Wallal Station helped Einstein demonstrate the general theory of relativity is told in Curved Space and Warped Time, at the historic Gingin Railway Station.

Gingin Railway Station
Gingin Railway Station

Gold – Einstein’s Metal: The Golden Fountain. How Einstein’s physics explains gold – its colour, its properties and its history.

Gold Fountain, Gravity Discovery Centre
Gold Fountain, Gravity Discovery Centre
Gold Fountain, Gravity Discovery Centre
Gold Fountain, Gravity Discovery Centre

There is also an amazing Timeline of the Universe in the Cosmology Gallery that tells the story of the creation of our Universe – from the Big Bang right through to the present. It shows all the different stages of development and evolution of our planet Earth. There are some amazing stories on the Timeline, as well as real fossils to look at. The Timeline asks us to consider some very big questions regarding us and the Universe we live in, such as “Are we really made of Stardust?”.

Cosmology Gallery, Gravity Discovery Centre
Cosmology Gallery, Gravity Discovery Centre