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Two Interesting Questions

Here are two interesting questions you can ponder to exercise your brainpower. The first: If you push on the end of a broomstick or iron bar and move it, does the other end move at the same time? Now that may not seem too interesting at first glance, but it directly leads to the second: Can anything move faster than the speed of light? The answers to these could have profound consequences.

Don't worry if you didn't do well in your physics classes. Simple logic and a few facts will suffice for playing around with these concepts for now. We'll start with the fact that most physicists believe that nothing can move faster than the speed of light. That speed, by the way, is about 299,792,458 meters or 186,000 miles per second.

It certainly seems that if you were to push or pull one end of a long bar that the other end would move at the same time. But imagine an iron bar that is ten light years long, spanning the distance between here and another planet that has intelligent life. If you push or pull this end does the other end move at the same time? If so you could transmit information through a series of movements, using Morse code, for example. You could transmit several sentences in a matter of seconds or minutes, instead of the ten years it would take to do so using radio waves or light signals.

But this is contrary to the widely accepted view that nothing can move faster than the speed of light. Although the bar itself would move slowly, the information would be transmitted those billions of miles in just seconds - much faster than light or radio waves can travel (in fact, even the light of our own sun takes over eight minutes to get here). So can the other end of the bar move at the same time?

Obviously either our "common sense" idea that the whole bar would move at the same time is wrong (perhaps the motion is transmitted as a wave through the bar), or the theory that nothing can move faster than light is wrong. If the other end of that bar did move simultaneously, it presents us with some interesting scenarios. Had we been watching television transmissions from the other planet, for example, they would take ten years to arrive, but a person with an "iron bar information transmitter" (and a friend on the other end) could predict years in advance what was coming.

Of course the iron bar itself is not realistic, but something using the same principle was once proposed. It was suggested by one scientist that the effect of gravity was instantaneous across great distances, just like that iron bar. If we developed a device for measuring the gravitational effect of a large item (perhaps a chunk of iron) at great distances, then we could also manipulate the movement of that item to transmit information (by way of the measuring of those movements) more quickly than the speed of light.

Almost certainly there are flaws in these ideas that will be pointed out by those with a better understanding of physics. But these are still interesting questions. In fact, I have to throw out my own questions about the speed of light, which some have tried to answer, but not very successfully (maybe due to my own lack of understanding?)

Moving Faster Than The Speed Of Light

The speed of all things is relative. We say that a car is moving at 100 kilometers per hour, for example, but that is only in relation to the surface it travels on. Since the Earth that it is on moves at 1670 kilometers per hour, the car could also be said to moving at 1770 or 1570 kilometers per hour, depending on whether it is going east or west, and assuming it is driving near the equator. But the planet is also moving - with the car on it - at 107,000 kilometers per hour around the sun. The sun is part of a solar system moving in relation to other systems, of course.

So what is the "real" velocity? There is no such thing. We use the relationship that is most relevant for our purposes (100 kilometers per hour in relation to the road if we are looking at the speed limit signs).

Now, when someone with more knowledge of physics tells me that nothing can move faster than the speed of light, I ask if something could (at least in theory) move at 60% of the speed of light. They universally answer yes. I then suggest that if a space ship were to pass over the Earth at 60% of the speed of light and another were to do the same in the opposite direction, that in relation to each other they would be going at 120% the speed of light - which is supposed to be impossible.

The weaker physicists refer back to the 60%, forgetting that this is only in relation to the Earth. But there is no universal reference point in the universe from which we can measure the velocity of all things. It is all relative. You could measure in relation to the sun, another star, or from some point between stars at the edge of the galaxy. These are arbitrary, and any can be used.

So if we choose to measure the velocity of the one spaceship in relation to the other, it seems logical that it is moving faster than the speed of light. This is similar to how two cars moving past each other in opposite directions, each traveling at 100 kilometers per hour, would be going at 200 kilometers per hour in relation to each other.

By the definitions used and simple logic, it seems that it is possible to go faster than the speed of light. These are interesting ideas, but I am sure that I will get several emails telling me how completely wrong I am. I don't doubt that I am wrong, but I do hope that someone will actually be able to explain why in a language that I can understand.

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