Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Weird Musings About Time

In a much earlier post, I talked about my relationship with science. If you happened to have read that, you will know that I am not a scientist. I am interested in science, but don't really speak the language or have any formal training, and as such, my musings are pretty much for my own entertainment. This usually comes at times when I am overtired and cannot sleep, so my thoughts are not usually very coherent!

I once read a piece--I think it may have been written by Robert Fulghum--in which the author explains that whenever he meets a new person, he asks them if they know the answer to the meaning of life (assuming 42 isn't it). He explains that while it may seem odd, he'd feel pretty silly if he met someone who knew the answer but he had missed the chance to find out because he neglected to ask. After all, the stupidest question is the one left unasked.

In this spirit, I am going to ask/speculate here about a few things I've wondered about regarding the physics of time.

Perhaps you will be able to clear these up for me and allow me to gain a good night's rest.

1. What happens to time as temperature falls towards zero degrees Kelvin? At zero, does time actually stop? This goes along with another question, which is, how can we accurately measure time? An atomic clock is the current best accuracy we have, but it would seem that the fall of temperature would distort the measurement when taken to this extreme. Any thoughts on this?

2. This one is from my 12 year old son from a conversation we had tonight at dinner (yeah, we talk about this sort of stuff over dinner!): what if the explosion of the big bang was not spherical, but rather cone-shaped or bi-conical (like lighthouse lights)? What might that mean in regards to time in our universe? Could it predict a parallel universe? Could our lack of symmetry (particle and anti-particle imbalance that allowed our universe to form without particles immediately canceling out) be counterbalanced by a universe on the "other side"? How about 3 cones, or 4?

3. If we could step outside our universe to view it, what would it look like? Would time not exist there, and if so, how would that affect our view? Would the universe become invisible as light takes time to travel? Can there be light outside of time? If we could see it, would we see all of past and present for the universe happening at once? Or would it "appear" as a giant black hole? Could we detect anything at all from it?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on any or all of these, or any other similar "imponderable wonderings" you yourself may be having.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Power Pages

Coming soon to a website near you: the power pages full of energy-related activities and experiments.

A sample of some of the activities I'm working on:
- make your own solar still, solar cooker and solar dehydrator
- explore the effects of high and low air pressure
- make a glow in the dark geyser
- explore the role of colour and light in heat absorption
- use edible insulation to bake ice cream (this is already on the site)
- make hot ice and use household items to create heat as well as cold
- explore potential and kinetic energy with marbles and your own Rube Goldberg machine
- make your own rubber-band powered vehicle
- make your own balloon-powered vehicle

There will be lots more there too. This should be up and running by mid July.
Can't wait? Here's a chemistry quickie:

Easy Endothermic Reaction
citric acid (sold to keep cut fruit from browning and also in craft stores for making bath bombs--The Bulk Barn sells it in containers that look like spice bottles)
water (warm but not hot)
baking soda
a spoon or stirring rod
a heavy glass container or mug
a thermometer (one with a probe-like end works best)

Dissolve a teaspoon of citric acid powder in 3-4 teaspoons of water and insert a thermometer. After a few seconds, record the temperature. Slowly add a teaspoon of baking soda a little at a time. Record the temperature, then wait 3 seconds and record it again. Repeat every 30 seconds or so for about 5 minutes. What do you notice?

Now, for the interesting twist my son discovered yesterday:
Wash off the thermometer, then leave the mixture out for an hour or so. Record the air temperature, then stir the mixture and measure it's temperature. Wait 30 seconds and measure again, then another 30 seconds and measure (and record) yet again. Now remove the thermometer and wait 30 seconds are record the air temperature again. What do you notice?

Chemical reactions that cause a drop in temperature are called endothermic. Exothermic reactions create heat.