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Core Samples

Reading scripture gets me off! Especially on rainy or snowy days with the fireplace crackling and Miles Davis and John Coltrane interpreting ballads at a volume level just below what would be required to interrupt any abstract musings floating about the room.

By "scripture," I don’t mean sacred texts in the biblical sense. Although I have a comfortable relationship with the word, any writing regarded as authoritative works for me. Around here, it’s all sacred. Everything is holy, as Allen Ginsberg would say. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John share shelf space with those of Walt (Whitman), Henry (Miller), Mark (Twain), and Edward (Abbey).

And ever since Carl Sagan and, then, Stephen Hawking began breaking down cosmology and quantum mechanics for the uninitiated, writings within the genre of theoretical physics have also found favor. Which brings us, with this day being socked in by drizzle and Miles’ muted horn, to an epistle for the faithful.

Today’s reading is from the Book of NASA (actually, the most recent issue of NASA Science News) and concerns a recent validation of Einstein’s theory of gravity, which, as you may recall, differed markedly from that of one Isaac Newton.

The long-awaited results from "Gravity Probe B" are now in. A space-time vortex indeed envelops Earth and it looks to be, in shape, exactly as Einstein predicted. Holy is the vortex.

Stanford University physicist Francis Everitt, the head guru, as it were, of the Gravity Probe B mission, delivered the scoop during a recent sermon in the following fashion: "The space-time around Earth appears to be distorted just as general relativity predicts." Holy are successfully predicted distortions in space-time.

"One day," chimes in Einstein authority Clifford Will, "this will be written up in textbooks as one of the classic experiments in the history of physics. This is an epic result!" OK, so what most of us have long accepted to be "gospel" has now been scientifically proven to be true. Holy is the concept of empirical methodology.

Einstein’s four-dimensional fabric of "space-time" is "dimpled" by the mass of Earth, according to his theories of relativity. Imagine, if you will, a portly gray dude sitting in the middle of a trampoline. Gravity is little more than the motion of objects following this curvature in the fabric. Holy are obscure metaphors used in the pursuit of arcane knowledge.

With Earth not being of a stationary persuasion, however, the sermon continues. As the Earth spins, it applies a slight "twist" to the dimple, a four-dimensional "swirl," as it were, and this is the phenomenon that, seven years ago, GP-B was sent into orbit to put the squint on. Holy are extracts from Chubby Checker’s 1950s lexicon.

Unable to send monkeys along on unmanned spacecraft any more, NASA resorted to putting super-spherical gyroscopes into orbit around the Earth with their axes pointed at the fixed point of a distant star. Over time, by noting any drift in the direction of the axes relative to the star, these twists in space-time could be quantified. Holy is calculus.

Off they sped into space, four ping-pong-ball-sized gyroscopes purported to be the most perfect spheres yet constructed by humans and never varying by more than 40-atomic layers. Barely brushing the outer layers of the Earth’s atmosphere within a "drag-free" satellite, they were able to measure fractions of "arcseconds" of drift. Holy are the eensy-beensy-teensy-weensy.

Inventing new technologies to cancel out "wobbles" caused by both the "dimple" and the "twist," the GP-B engineers were able to come up with readings that were "in precise accord with Einstein’s predictions," according to NASA. Holy are our long-undervalued math and science teachers.

Proving aspects of Einstein’s theories hereabouts also give confidence to the GP-B folks that similar space-time-vortex models are present, even expanded, elsewhere in the cosmos, including around "massive neutron stars, black holes, and active galactic nuclei." Holy is the nuanced art of extrapolation.

And the beat goes on and the drizzle comes down and Miles and ‘Trane blow their melancholy blues and, in curved space-time, with the word becoming manifest, new technologies beget new physics and new prisms through which to view our space and ourselves. And as Ginsberg did say: Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!

Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for the past 40 years.


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