A lot of popular science fiction relies on some version of faster-than-light travel. It isn't impossible to tell a good story that doesn't include it, but it is definitely harder. Unfortunately, at this point it looks like all such stories are in much the same place as Heinlein's 1949 juvenile novel Red Planet was after the Viking probe sent back photos from the surface of Mars.
Interstellar travel is still imaginable at slower than light speeds, but I will never again be able to think of it without a shudder as my mind turns to the Moriai and other lighthuggers from Galaxy's Edge. The great slower-than-light colony vessels turned into apocalyptic communes once isolated from the rest of humanity. I find that just a little too plausible for comfort.
Propulsion; Cars; U2; PATH Flood
Probably you can't travel faster than light, which maybe means you shouldn't try. Nonetheless, we learn from Instapundit that there is at least one foundation concerned, in part, with figuring out how to do just that:
The Tau Zero Foundation, which takes its name from Poul Anderson's science-fiction novel about a near-speed-of-light odyssey, focuses on the subject of "practical starflight." ...[O]ne of its founding fathers [is] Marc Millis, who keeps tabs on breakthrough propulsion physics at NASA's Glenn Research Center...
The Foundation is looking into new science less problematical than superluminal travel. Some new resarch suggests principles that conceivably could put spaceflight on a new basis. For instance, there is the Woodward Effect:
The test consists of detecting a small stationary force with a sensitive force sensor. The force is presumably induced when a periodic transient Mach effect mass fluctuation is driven in high voltage, high energy density capacitors that are subjected to 50 kHz, 1.3 kV amplitude voltage signal, and threaded by an alternating magnetic flux of the same frequency.
And then there is the Gravitomagnetic London Moment:
It is well known that a rotating superconductor produces a magnetic field proportional to its angular velocity. The authors conjectured earlier, that in addition to this so-called London moment, also a large gravitomagnetic field should appear to explain an apparent mass increase of Niobium Cooper-pairs. This phenomenon was indeed observed and induced acceleration fields outside the superconductor in the order of about 10^-4 g were found. The field appears to be directly proportional to the applied angular acceleration of the superconductor following our theoretical motivations. If confirmed, a gravitomagnetic field of measurable magnitude was produced for the first time in a laboratory environment. These results may open up a new experimental window on testing general relativity and its consequences using coherent matter.
Yes, it is rocket science, even when you are no longer talking about rockets.
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Self-piloting cars have actually existed in experimental form for many years, so we should not be altogether surprised to read that:
German car giant Volkswagen has turned fiction into reality by unveiling a fully automatic car which really can drive itself - and at speeds of up to 150mph.
Volkswagen apparently intends to use the car as a labor-saving device: they can do road tests of components in the car without the need of a test driver. The story does not say whether the car could function in traffic; I remember seeing a story about one such prototype about ten years ago.
Some people seem to think that self-piloting vehicles are part of a plot to disempower drivers. Not so, I think. The market would be the elderly who live in places where there is inadequate public transportation and who really shouldn't be driving anymore. Well, drunk drivers, too.
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"[Bono of U2, because he grew up in a mixed Catholic and Anglican household in Dublin] was very sensitive to the ways in which people of faith hurt each other, just across denominational divides," Father Rutten said. In fact, in a song on the 1987 album "The Joshua Tree," Bono sings of a place "Where the Streets Have No Name." It's an image of heaven, free of tension and division, "not divided by what side of the street you live on," the priest said.
I think perhaps that an eschaton that was too tactful to allow place names would not be worth arriving at.
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Meanwhile, a plot has been foiled against the commuter trains that run between New York and New Jersey:
The main target of the plot was the heavily traveled underground PATH train system that connects lower Manhattan and New Jersey's suburban communities, officials confirmed. The system carries more than 215,000 commuters daily. ...The men believed that by bombing the train tunnels, they could unleash a severe flood in lower Manhattan, including Wall Street, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. The official also said investigators believe that an attack on a train tunnel, unlike the Holland Tunnel, could have achieved that goal.
Officials downplayed the danger, saying the Financial District is well above sea level.
Regarding that flooding, I think I see what the terrorists were thinking of. The PATH tunnel dives deep into the bedrock between Jersey City and lower Manhattan to emerge in the the basin of the former World Trade Center Towers. The new, temporary station, is on the floor of the basin, and I believe the passenger platform is still substantially below the level of the river. A breach in the tunnel would flood the basin. It might also flood sewers and utility tunnels that connect to the basin. Something like this happened in Chicago in 1992, though of course Chicago had a system of freight tunnels that New York lacks.
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Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly