Thursday, January 04, 2007

Attractive Stuff

There is a limited number of ideas that hold up under examination, however insistent, repeated, or challenging. One of these, so far, is "Everything in the universe attracts everything else with a constant and unfailing force". We know it here as gravity. In our solar system, the planets zoom about in elliptical orbits that slowly decay over time. Eventually, the sun will win and swallow the planets. Further out, all the stars attract all the others, affecting the motions of stars within groups of stars (galaxies), within groups of groups of stars (galaxy clusters). The attractive nature of stuff, or matter, cannot be denied.

Since stuff accounts for the motion of stuff in a well-behaved way, astronomers can use mathematical formulas (ranging from simple to elaborate) to map these motions, and to determine where all these objects are located. Of course, as a first approximation we can begin with the naked eye, as humans have done for millennia. We can see an impressive amount on a clear, moonless night. And we are quite sure that most, maybe all, of the stars we see have more stuff orbiting around them, ranging from dust to planets. But what about the rest of space, where there are no visible objects of which we are aware? Apparently something in "empty" space also affects the motions of celestial bodies -- something called dark matter. It may be spread so evenly, or have such elusive properties, that it can never be found by our very sophisticated instruments. However, indirect evidence says it exists nonetheless, this elusive matter, this condensed energy.

So there you have it -- stuff, whether visible or invisible, attracts. This principle is as commonplace as a falling apple, and as enigmatic as dark matter. Yet lest you attribute too much power to this wonderful force called gravity, keep in mind Einstein's wry disclaimer: "Gravity cannot be held responsible for people falling in love".

22 Comments:

At 10:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don,

I get excited about your new postings. When I came here at 10:26 Toronto time and saw your posting, got excited like a little child. I was reading it fast fast just because your writings are so attractive. I think I get absorbed by your gravity ;O).

Sally

 
At 11:26 PM, Blogger kenju said...

No, people fall in love due to another type of force entirely!

 
At 4:00 AM, Anonymous gshegosh said...

Don,

Gravity is even more surprising force than one might think. It can be negative too and push things away from each other; it is even believed that negative gravity caused Big Bang. When one thinks about it, love can sometimes also be negative... For Makbet's sake ;-)

 
At 6:22 AM, Blogger KEN said...

This in itself explains my falling in love with someone who is a packrat like myself! Clutter attracts clutter and people who attract clutter attract people who attract clutter!

 
At 3:19 PM, Blogger BuyBluePants said...

Like my dad says....."gravity sucks."

 
At 11:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please be fair and change your profile to reflect your true age -you're 94 now! :D
Only 60 more revolutions around the Sun to get to your age, Don. Can't wait!
-M

 
At 5:14 AM, Blogger bonho said...

I prefer to think of gravity as an absence of humor, in which case attraction based on that is completely inexplicable.

 
At 10:48 PM, Blogger THE Michael said...

I'm firmly convinced that dark matter is what's responsible for me never seeming to be able to find where I put my stuff.........

 
At 8:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://physicsweb.org/articles/news/10/7/10/1

Here's an article which ya'll might be interested in. It's purported to be a method of "directly" detecting dark matter. Interesting hypothesis.

 
At 12:53 AM, Anonymous Ook said...

Yeah, they now think it can be detected directly in far reaching parts of the Universe during extraordinary events.

Well, I'm sure that I had some with my oatmeal this morning. But I appreciate that they have given it a name or I wouldn't have been able to say that.

 
At 8:38 PM, Blogger Jocelyn said...

Hello Don!

My name is Jocelyn and I am a 17-year-old Californian. I've read a few of your posts, and I just want to let you know that I find you inspirational. I aspire to write such things as you ahve written and maintain such spirit as you have throughout my life. This piece about gravity is beautiful.

Sincerely yours,

Jocelyn Price

 
At 9:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don, there is another form of powerful attraction that is very intricate, subtle and it's called thought. And the space between thoughts is where the intelligence of the universe pours in. All we have to do is think about it.

 
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