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Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/24/2008 2:04 AM

Relativity declares that no material object can exceed the speed of light in a vacuum, and the math and experimental evidence bear this out thus far. So then if we want to sail the universe, we have to do something a little different, and I've always wanted starships.

Consider. General Relativity tells us that gravity is not a property of mass as such, but is in fact an effect of the interaction between mass and spacetime. To visualize this, compress spacetime in your mind by one dimension and picture it as a flat, infinitely elastic sheet, with time being the dimension normal to the surface. So, you drop a mass into spacetime, and it sinks in a bit, creating a depression in spacetime, something I like to call a mass-warp. And the more massive the object, the deeper and steeper the mass-warp.

Now, if gravity is an effect of that interaction, it follows logically that inertia is also an effect. That what resists acceleration is the mass-warp itself. Picture our object in the bottom of it's mass-warp, moving along, and the mass-warp moving right along with it. Now, as the thing moves faster, the mass-warp begins to distort a bit. The side to the front gets a bit steeper, to the back a bit shallower. So as we approach "c" and our kinetic energy, and therefore our mass approaches infinity, our mass-warp starts to look very strange indeed, tipped in the direction of motion and very deep. This by the way agrees quite well with what Relativity tells us local space will look like at these speeds.

But just suppose for a moment that we could decouple our mass from spacetime, in effect rising up out of our mass-warp. We would become effectively mass-less, and inertia would be negated, thus allowing us to skate along at just about any speed we desired. Of course one wonders what happens when we drop our mass back into spacetime. Might tend to splash a bit.

Of course the problem is that we don't really have any clue how mass couples into spacetime. We don't really know what gravity is or how it propagates, much less how to control it. We can quantify it, write equations about it and say what it does, but that is all, and it ain't much. We can't even detect gravity except in the crudest sense with the technologies at hand.

Now I admit to having an idea for an instrumentality which might allow us to detect a gravity wave as it passes, but the thing would, by it's nature, be ridiculously expensive to build. NASA is looking into something similar right now, though a lot smaller.

Be that as it may, if we want starships, we have two choices. We can build slower than light ships and take years and centuries between stars, or we can figure out how to sidestep Dr. Einstein. And I'm sure I am not the only person who thinks about this stuff.

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#1

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/25/2008 12:22 AM

This is the trouble with these 2-D models of space-time, they lead one to infer that there are ways of affecting things that are false in real world situations. If you limit yourself to the 3-D model, then it's far easier to see that there IS NO direction (as far as the human brain is concerned) in which the mass can be "lifted" off of its contact with space-time.

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#2

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/25/2008 12:57 AM

Perhaps next spring, when the Large Hadron Colider is turned back on, we will get a glimps of the Higgs boson, and then have a better handle on just what mass and gravity are. Perhaps we will not get a glimpse after all, and the theories will have to be modified once again. There has been some work on alternative gravity formulations that do not rely on the existance of "Dark Matter" that appear to have some promise in possibly explaining some of the wierd observations that bedevil modern astrophysics (I believe the work comes out of Italy and Israel, but I have to dig a bit to find the references...)

I have always been bothered by the "constant" speed of light, since I have seen evidence that the speed of light varies, depending in part on the density of the medium through which it passes. Furthermore, the density of the universe is neither uniform nor is it static, which means there may be something seriously wrong with the particular reference frame we use in which we assume the speed of light appears the same to all observers...

Just some random thoughts late in the evening,,,

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#3

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/25/2008 2:24 AM

near-light speed isn't all that slow. true, if you send out a probe at that speed to the next galaxy and wait for it to return, you'll die waiting.

but, because of time dilation, if you are feeling adventurous and hop on the probe yourself, then the whole round-trip won't take you more than a few years. do the math! of course, by the time you come back to tell, everyone you knew on earth will have long passed away. be prepared for a big cultural shock (or worse)

so even if we ever solve the engineering complexities of near-light speed travel, be warned that it will be a very 'lonely' affair, way out of everyoune else's context...

i think i like it here on earth just fine.

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#4
In reply to #2

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/25/2008 2:37 AM

I have always been bothered by the "constant" speed of light, since I have seen evidence that the speed of light varies, depending in part on the density of the medium through which it passes.

What you have seen evidence is of interaction between light (or any other frequency electromagnetic radiation) and matter. With light this speed differences produces the refraction phenomenon which is well known and predicted by the Snell law. The ratio between the light speed on a material and that in free space (used as reference) is what is called refraction index.

What is constant is the light speed on free space were no matter can interfere.

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#5
In reply to #3

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/25/2008 2:59 AM

Yes, I agree. I recall "Apes planet" the first one of course with Charlton Heston.

But something which scifi writers use to forget (and I'm a scifi fan) is the fact that even if we could reach a speed next to the light speed, our mass will approach to infinite what will have no effect while we are absolutely still, but have you think about what will happen if suddenly occurs a slight difference in speed? That's.. a slight positive or negative acceleration? With a really big mass? Just think if you want to scratch your nose!!!!

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#6
In reply to #4

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/25/2008 9:56 AM

Ah, but where do you find "free space"? Although there is evidence of some pockets of really, really empty space, most of interstellar space if full of stuff (, well, full being a "relative" term), and when you start exploring galaxies, "empty space" gets downright crowded...

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#7
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/25/2008 10:31 AM

Sir, to "lift out" from spacetime is simply a nice analogy, though like all analogies it must be regarded with suspicion at all times. What I meant (what I thought I said) was to "decouple" mass from spacetime, thus effectively rising up out of the mass-warp and escaping it's consequences.

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#8
In reply to #6

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/25/2008 10:35 AM

I've never found free space nor -273,15ÂșC nor reached the speed of light. They are theoretical limits. Even the absolute limit for speed according to relativity theory is that of speed in free space, the speed light through interstellar space shouldn't be quite different, taking into account that the refraction index of air (at atmospheric pressure) is about 1,00029.

One thing I'm sure.. I will not get into any thing that moves even at speed of light in air. I have enough problems driving a car at 200 km/hr...

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#9

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/25/2008 10:43 AM

I gave a great deal of thought to the idea of STL starships, back when the Bussard ramjet still looked viable. The idea was that, if one could accelerate a ship at a constant one gee, you could make almost any jump, star to star, in about two years subjective time. Granted time will be passing a bit faster back home, but such are the perils of "riding the winds of Relativity". I even called this type of ship a "Wind Rider". Of course now that Bussard's ramjet doesn't look so feasible, some other system would be required to allow constant acceleration, since it's just about impossible for any kind of starship to carry more than one light of delta "V" (which means you can only boost to 50%"c" and then slow down again), using any conceivable reaction engine, even an antimatter rocket with near 100% efficiency. Pity, it was a neat concept. *Sigh*

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#10

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/25/2008 11:55 AM

If the universe really works the way we currently think it does, there are some apparently insurmounable obstacles to faster-than-light (or even a large fraction of c) travel. But if the way the universe worked back in the early 1800's was how some thought it worked, faster-than-horseback travel (much less faster than Mach 1) was just as impossible. There's always hope, no matter how vanishingly small it may get.

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#11
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/25/2008 3:53 PM

And I get nervous walking at 4 mph...But mostly because everything else is moving so FAST.

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#12
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/25/2008 7:21 PM

I was trying to make the point that matter cannot be separated from space-time. They are inextricably connected. Furthermore, if you use a 3-D mental model you find out readily that to "decouple" mass from space-time, you need to move the mass into a different space than that of space-time. 3-D modeling shows that as impossible because there is no other space, Vulcan-boty!

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#13
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/25/2008 8:11 PM

To say that matter and spacetime cannot be decoupled, that matter cannot exist separate from spacetime... All I can say is, why not? I know that some theory guys have postulated as many as ten dimensions, though I personally think that most theoreticians need to be led around by the hand lest they run into things.

Remember that many a distinguished scientist went to his (her) grave calling Einstein, Dirac, Heisenberg, Bohr, a liar or worse. Clarke's fist Law states, and I quote: "When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he says that it is impossible, he very probably wrong."

The point here is that, as I said before, we know almost nothing about gravity, how it works, how it propagates, how mass interacts with spacetime to produce it. We really know almost nothing about the thing, and if there ever will be an FTL stardrive, it will almost certainly come out of new understanding of gravity. And you can believe that whoever discovers these new understandings will be rewarded with vilification by his peers.

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#14
In reply to #13

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/26/2008 12:44 AM

Dr. Moose-

You have obviously given some thought to this gravity thing. Let me throw this out:

There may never be a Grand Unified Theory, because gravity is fundamentally different that the other principle forces. Part of our problem with understanding gravity is that we insist on using "c" as our basic reference frame in defining space-time (both time and distance are now defined based on wavelength of particular frequencies).

What if we start with an idea that the primary phenomenon in the universe is one of accretion? That is, "stuff" wants to come together. We begin with a totally uniform distribution of "stuff", which has a natural tendancy to clump, ultimately forming into primary particles, dust, stars, galaxies, galaxy clusters, etc. "Space" need not be expanding in this scenario- just more space becomes available a primordial "stuff" vacates a region in search of more "stuff" with which to clump. All electromagnetic radiation can be viewed as a signal that some clumping has occurred (i.e., an electron has moved closer to its nucleus).

I have not even tried to submit these ideas to rigorous scientific analysis, mostly because I do not have the mathematics background to deal with such things as string theory, although I have recently picked up a couple of beginner texts on tensor calculus with the hopes of gaining some insight into modern theory...

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#15

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/26/2008 1:22 AM

You are giving me chills (good ones) with your discussion of mass - time disconnect, and time - distance barriers being re-evaluated. I read in a very good resource that this type of travel was already occurring and had my mind in the same region of thought back when I first read about angels, which simply means 'messengers'. I'm "ready to believe" in what are in effect aliens that have this technology in hand.

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#16
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/26/2008 1:45 AM

Speed of light is increasing in the Western world. I see examples of this every day, often with a bow-wave that looks like a shopping trolley full of stodge.

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#17

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/26/2008 5:02 AM

Hi DrMoose. Interesting approach. I had, also, the sense that, as we increase the kinetic energy of an object which is moving at a speed very near c by giving external energy (where we increase essentially the mass instead of velocity), the increment of the inertia observed by an external observer (which is interpreted as an increment of the mass) maybe has to do with the space-time continuoum itself. It is like the space-time to resist (by its nature) to any further increment of the velocity of the object. (And I'm glad that you also have the same perception.)

To decouple (or essentially escape) from the space-time is sth fascinating but, also, impossible. We are so tightly bonded to the space-time grid. We are unable even to imagine how "outside our 3d world" looks like.

To travel at speed ≥c is the secret dream of human beings. Unfortunately, it seems that the laws of nature have a different opinion.

But if you ever have a clever idea about how to escape from our 3d prison let me know... ...

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#18
In reply to #16

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/26/2008 7:46 AM

I know what you mean...

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#19
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/26/2008 12:01 PM

They're just babies......

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#20

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/26/2008 12:37 PM

Hi DrMoose,

I appreciate this thread. I've thought about such things a lot. We need to explain UFOs (my sister and my wife have both seen one). Since the energy to achieve near light speed is so great, they can only get here by getting around inertia, or by using another dimension. Reports I have heard talk about them changing direction suddenly, and moving at incredible speed. This points to the former.

As for opening up another dimension, what if you put 3 electromagnets all at 90 degrees to each other on a centrifuge and spun them. Would the centrifugal force for one of them be at 90 degrees to all three? Food for thought.

S

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#21
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/26/2008 1:32 PM

To quote Hilda Corners Burroughs (The Number of the Beast, R.A.H.) when asked a very similar question regarding a gyro so treated; "I should think it would either faint or drop dead!" One of the protagonists in the quoted work suggested a six D topology which included three time axes. Which makes a certain amount of sense considering the symmetries we see everywhere in the universe. This is of course not to say that such must exist, but symmetry is always compelling.

An endless number of FTL stardrives have been proposed over the years, and it is surprising how many of them seem quite plausible, Star Trek's warp drive perhaps most notably. I have looked at the ideas behind a great many of them, as well as other, more academic concepts, and I have come to believe that the way to the stars lies in being able to control the interface between matter and spacetime.

Even STL ships need this, because rockets are just not very efficient, and things like spinning tethers are cumbersome. What's really needed is some sort of compact, efficient self-contained system which allows a ship to maneuver in space, independent of external power supplies or the need for huge amounts of reaction mass, something that acts directly upon the medium itself. Some sort of gravitational or magnetic drive. And there are brilliant minds considering these.

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#22
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/26/2008 4:00 PM

But increasing, just like you said. Besides, I didn't include a scale - those "babies" might just scare you...

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#23
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/27/2008 12:39 AM

One delightful aspect of a relativistic STL starship, particularly from the perspective of an old war dog like myself, is that at 99.9+% c, such a ship has the inertial mass of a planet, which in this case means that if one were to encounter rude strangers out in the black, there really wouldn't be much they could do about you, until you slowed down. Funny isn't it, how almost everything has a military aspect to it?

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#24

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/28/2008 1:10 AM

Since light bends around a gravity well either light has mass and if so, infinite mass which can be moved by gravity or space is bent by gravity. Does this show that gravity can warp space?

DrMoose has brought up a very interesting question. What is gravity? How is it made? Also what is inertia without gravity? If we could build a craft which could cancel gravitational pull from behind, wouldn't it be pulled forward rapidly? What if we could create a standard 1G inside that would not be affected by the movement of the ship?

Things are "impossible" until someone discovers how they work. What we accept as normal life today would have been called "impossible" by people just 1,000 yrs ago. Just because we do not yet understand gravity or multidimensional space-time does not mean that it does not exist. In 1900 no one could imagine a wrist radio, but 100 yrs later we have wrist television. So far as technology is concerned it seems that if someone can imagine it [the automatic doors of "Star Trek"] then someone will figure out how to make it real.

Those who cry "impossible" are too often proven wrong by further research, so it is better to simply say "not likely" and be able to save face later if proven wrong.

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#25
In reply to #24

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/29/2008 7:39 AM

I understand that current thinking regards gravity not as a "force", but rather as a "shape" - the change in the shape of spacetime in the vicinity of a sufficient mass (large enough to measure the shape change). Which does (sort of) explain the bending (observed) of light around a large mass (gravity lensing). Light would not need to have mass, it merely travels along a curved path in spacetime.

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#26
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/29/2008 7:52 AM

Perhaps the nature of our (presumed) 3D existance means we can never understand/comprehend the nature of higher dimensions and stuff. We could be like goldfish in a bowl of disconnected ignorance.....what time is that bloody big flake-monster going to arrive.........hope it doesn't move the bit of coral and pirate treasue chest again.....effing water snails cluttering up my TV screen......the flake-monster has no idea how hard it is to watch Big Brother on an upside down screen......

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#27
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/29/2008 10:08 AM

Rather like the descriptions I've read of 2-D residents of "Flatland" interacting with a 3-D presence - it would appear as cross sections moving through their field of perception. Feature a cross section of something 6-D moving across your world view. Might seem to be a UFO, "Nessie" in the loch, or even something really odd.

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#28
In reply to #25

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/29/2008 2:41 PM

It is all so confused. If light has no mass, as was previously said to have by science, then why is there a limiting speed and exactly what is light? Definitions are still changing from when I last looked at the subject. Why does mass cause a curvature in space -time and is the mass affecting space or time or both? I leave this to the astrophysicists and leave this discussion.

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#29
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/29/2008 6:26 PM

Nothing I've yet seen on CR4 has convinced me that 3D-land exists. Not even my twirling lady knows which way she's 'turning';

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#30
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/29/2008 11:03 PM

Mass warps space. Warped space IS gravity. Light does not have infinite mass, because it has zero rest mass to begin with. And when passing by a massive body, light simply takes the path of space around the body... which is curved.

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#31
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/30/2008 1:15 AM

Is it chickens and eggs again ?

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#32

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/30/2008 2:03 AM

I've seen nothing in the thread stating that matter (which we use to say has "mass") and light (or microwaves or gamma rays or any electromagnetic spectrum radiation) are different status of the same thing.

We all know that mass can disappear and transform into "energy" as electromagnetic radiation. Just look at any nuke

The contrary is also true. When a photon with an energy greater than 1,02 MeV interacts with some atom nucleus it disappear and gives a pair of "mass" particles (e- and e+).

Even not being an specialist on high energies physics nor relativity, It seems quite logical that having the same nature, light could be affected by gravity as matter.

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#33
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/30/2008 6:02 AM

Sort of - look again at your twirling lady. The curvature of space around the curvature of her mass causes light to deflect oh-so-slightly. But if that mass equaled that of the sun, it would bend a lot more. If the larger mass happened to be in the shape of an egg, it would curve more or less depending on the radius around which it twirled. If the mass was in the shape of a chicken, I don't know eggzactly what it would do. But it would surely do it.

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#34
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/30/2008 9:59 AM

So it's egg/chicken, rather then chicken/egg.....

I don't know if it's just me, but I see the twirling lady go one way (screwing clockwise down into the floor) much easier than the other. It also seems easier to make her screw one way than the other.

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#35
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/30/2008 11:17 AM

"...egg/chicken, rather then chicken/egg..."

Well, as I'm sure you must know, you can make an omelet without breaking a chicken, but not without breaking eggs. Presumably, you can also make an omelet without breaking wind...

"It also seems easier to make her screw one way than the other."

Isn't that the typical case, though?

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#36
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

09/30/2008 11:49 PM

It's because she's a 2-D representation of a 3-D object... M. C. Escher was able to get away with ripping your mind in half for the same reason - 3-D rep on 2-D surface... or staircases do go up and down at the same time!

But in the vein of these posts, "Can God make a rock so heavy that even he can't lift it?" By the way, there is a correct answer to this question.

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#37
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

10/01/2008 2:07 AM

OMG, it's phillosophical ! http://www.abarnett.demon.co.uk/atheism/rock.html

http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/rock.html

I tried telling everyone to stay with chickens and eggs, but you've charged in and made omelettes.

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#38
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

10/01/2008 6:21 AM

It looks as if vermin needed the rock to break the eggs over to make the omelet. Personally, I'd have used the edge of the skillet. (my tongue feels different these days...)

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#39

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

10/01/2008 9:45 AM

Actually relativity says precisely nothing about anything moving faster than light.

It says it would require infinite energy to accelerate anything with mass to the speed of light.

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#40

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

10/01/2008 9:51 AM

NASA is several years ahead of you. I know because I worked on this several years ago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravity_Probe_B

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#41

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

10/01/2008 11:29 AM

NASA has it's Gravity Probe B mission, which is in data analysis now and may yield up some interesting results. It also is preparing something called LISA which is a much smaller and less ambitious version of something which I proposed as an undergrad at Penn State a number of years ago. NASA proposes to put up three single-purpose platforms in a five million kilometer triangle laser interferometer to try to detect passing gravity waves. This triangle will be a few million kilometers from Earth.

My proposal would have been vastly more expensive, because I wanted to put up at least a dozen platforms, with instruments covering the electromagnetic spectrum from radio to gamma, and sending each platform out well past Saturn (I'd like to see them out past Pluto), each in a stable solar orbit, and then laser-linked to each other and to Earth. This would give us a laser interferometer with a truly huge baseline and dozens of interconnections and really serious sensitivity, it would also give us a broad spectrum observatory with an effective aperture the size of the entire solar system.

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#42
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

10/01/2008 12:14 PM

"...vastly more expensive..."

No foolin'! The price tag would be only slightly smaller than the effective aperture. But man, would that ever be cool! I'd sure like to see it work.

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#43
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

10/01/2008 12:15 PM

Now it's rock/egg/chicken ! Agghhhhhhhh !!! The new tongue is clearly the work of a graphics genius

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#44
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

10/01/2008 12:39 PM

The old rock/paper/scissors had got kinda boring, tho', so subbing in the egg and hen is a good marketing move. Maybe the old "which came first" dilemma is all wet anyway. Suppose the DUCK came before the chicken?

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#45
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

10/01/2008 1:13 PM

An impressive egg from an impressive bird (of Madagascar).

The similar Moa hailed from an opposing ocean's island, New Zealand. Both were sent to no-sequel city by our seafaring ancestors.

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#46

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

10/01/2008 1:43 PM

I suppose I really am a techno-geek at heart.

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#47
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

10/01/2008 5:41 PM

There is no question that the egg came first. Dinosaurs laid eggs. Dinosaurs evolved into birds, including chickens. Therefore, the egg came before the chicken. I am not sure rather the duck came before the chicken or not, but I am sure that will be answered in due time, what with modern DNA analysis. Furthermore, the rock came before the egg. Unless it was all created as is in just 7 days, in which case we have to reevaluate our understanding of basic science...But I do not think this will change the speed of light much...

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#48
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

10/01/2008 7:00 PM

"Can God make a rock so heavy that even he can't lift it?" By the way, there is a correct answer to this question."

And the correct answer is: The question is illogical?

I have another: Can Vermin correctly understand a theory that is wrong?

Answer: he thinks he can.

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#49

Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

10/01/2008 8:11 PM

When I thought up the array I mentioned I called it the "Weird Array 2", as I conceived the original weird array as thousands of recycled two meter satellite TV dishes.

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#50
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

10/02/2008 12:54 AM

Jeez! You woos!!! You give up too easily!

Answer: No, but he can make a rock so heavy that his doctor advises Him against lifting it.

Use your head for something more than a hat rack.

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#51
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

10/02/2008 7:10 AM

Nor the speed of rocks...

One of my first (maybe THE first) GA votes on this forum was for an explanation of that very egg-ness.

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#52
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

10/02/2008 7:13 AM

I happen to have inherited one in my present back yard, if that concept is ever given a green light and you need one...

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#53
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Re: Is the Speed of Light REALLY the Limit?

10/02/2008 7:42 PM

"Use your head for something more than a hat rack"

But I like hats! They can be useful at times.

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