The Trouble with Space

No, space didn’t do anything wrong and there isn’t (as far as I know) anything catastrophic coming our way.

After centuries of study, space, like gravity, still defies genuine understanding. Oh, wait, gravity is a puzzle piece, a critical part of the mystery, not alone. Gravity, space, and time are interconnected and intimately associated with mass.

In the early 1900’s Albert Einstein famously identified time as the fourth dimension, then amazingly, his equations merged space with time. This started the ongoing quest to pin down what exactly space-time is, and how mass-gravity affects the shape and occurrence of space-time.

We know this:

Mass and gravity are related. Greater mass = greater gravity. Space and time are related. As an object travels faster and faster in space, time for that object occurs more slowly. Its clock slows down. Mass-gravity affects the shape and occurrence of space-time. The closer a clock gets to a mass (stronger gravity) the slower its atoms vibrate, and the clock slows down. This is called time dilation. Moving away from the mass, into lower gravity, the clock speeds up. This sets up a conflict of sorts. If the clock is in outer space, not close to any mass other than its own, its clock runs faster. But, if the same clock is traveling at a great rate of speed, that tends to slow it down. Then there is the fact that the clock has mass. Even beginning with a miniscule mass, maybe like an atom, as it speeds up its mass increases. If this atom mass clock approaches the speed of light, at a point its mass limits further acceleration.

We can measure all of that, but we don’t know what exactly causes these phenomena. Einstein’s calculations predicted it all way before we had the technology to measure them.

But wait! Each piece of the puzzle, space-time, and mass-gravity is also connected to the factor c, the speed of light. And that brings up photons – massless particles-waves that travel at the speed of light, because they can. You see, it’s a can of worms.

But we are making progress. A term used more and more is the “fabric of space-time”, especially after the detection of gravitational waves in 2015. Space-time wasn’t merely warped or curved by mass-gravity; it became waves. Does this mean space-time is substance? Is gravity’s affect on space-time a consequence of fields and particles not yet detected? We say electromagnetic waves or particles can travel in the vacuum of space, that they do not need a substrate. Maybe this is not correct. Maybe they travel within the fabric of space-time.

Making progress. The ancients would be happy to know their perceived “Aether”, a substance permeating the cosmos, through which everything travels, dismissed by later astronomers, might be real.

We’re still working to understand the 5% of the cosmos we think we understand.

What’s in the Sky?

If you’re an early riser, an hour before sunrise, check out the low east-south-eastern sky, graced by four planets: Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn.