Thursday, January 28, 2010

Time After Time

One's students never cease to interest, elevate and amuse. One young man came to me today and asked me in all seriousness whether or not I thought it might be possible for man to travel at the speed of light. I intend to find out why and by whom he was sent to me. For those who don't know, light travels awfully quickly, one hundred and eighty-six thousand miles a second, or a whisker under 300 million metres per second, to be precise, which would mean that we could travel from our current location to New York City in 0.03406 seconds, neglecting time dilation because of relativistic effects, and sunlight takes a little under nine minutes to reach us. Should things go very dark very fast, we might surmise that something went really badly pear-shaped with the sun a bit less than ten minutes ago. I used to set my A level students the problem - how long would it take at maximum available velocity to reach our nearest star system in Alpha Centauri, a distance of 4.2 light years, which normally draws them to the conclusion that space travel, apart from grandiose notions of visits to Mars at caterpillar speed, is likely to be some considerable time in development. If any reader is sufficiently anally retentive to try to work it out, I'd be happy to provide a solution for them. Daisy - Mae, don't even go there....

Returning to the curiosities of time dilation - space travellers would come back younger at speeds close to the speed of light than if they'd stayed at home with a good book - and yet our terrestrial perception of time is so fragile and subjective. The miraculous deliverance of a fifteen year old girl from the rubble of a building in Port-au-Prince today, fifteen days after the earthquake, gives a new perspective on time for the rest of us. Each hour must have seemed like a century and as the days wore on, her candle of hope must have flickered perilously. Good news.
My thanks to Sarah Hoyt for the image of the cover of her short stories about time travel and, of course, the divine Cyndi Lauper for the song...


  1. What would ever induce you to think I might even try to figure out the whole Alpha Centauri thing (math and I are not friends which is why you're my hero) and pass over the paen to the Queen of Weird? If you had said, oh, 'kd lang'...we'd have something to talk about. Cyndi Lauper...sheesh.

  2. Mind you, I admit "Time after Time" certainly fit nicely into the ethos of the blog jot. :-)


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