Hello, boys and girls. It’s Mr. Sciencemoron, back again to explain some of the latest news from the world of science which you cannot possibly understand without my help.
This episode is all about Stephen Hawking, or, as we science afficionados like to call him–The Hawkman. The famous British cosmologist, in addition to excelling at his day job as make-over artist at Belle’s Beauty Salon in Worcestlanceister, has been all over the news lately for his various theories and sports escapades.
Wait–I’ve just been informed by Wikipedia that being a cosmologist has nothing to do with make-up, so I guess The Hawkman has more time on his hands than I thought.
That’s why he had time to be part of “Breakthrough Starshot,” a $100 million program with the goal of sending stuff to Alpha Centauri, which is the closest star system to ours. It’s about 4.37 light years away according to Google Maps, slightly more if there’s traffic.
And traffic is exactly what Breakthrough Starshot wants to create. Hawking and his partners, Internet entrepreneurs Yuri Milner and Mark Zuckerberg, intend to launch thousands of credit card sized spacecraft toward Alpha Centauri in the hopes of finding an inhabitable planet that is not already inhabited by beings that have posted an angry emoji on the Earthlings page of Zuckerberg’s Facebook.
The idea of Breakthrough Starshot is to use Earth-based lasers to propel the spacecraft, each of which will weigh about as much as a toothbrush, at about 1/5 the speed of light. That’s very fast, boys and girls. To give you an idea how fast, you could fly from New York to Los Angeles and back in about a tenth of a second if you didn’t mind skipping the snack service.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “But Mr. Sciencemoron, aren’t lasers made of light? And shouldn’t light be traveling at the speed of light just like turtles travel at the speed of turtles? So why are The Hawkman’s credit card toothbrushes moving at only 1/5 the speed of light?”
Well, boys and girls, that’s why I’m here to explain this stuff to you. Think about when you fly a kite. Here in Stamford, Connecticut, lots of children fly kites at Cove Island Park, which is right on Long Island Sound, so there can be lots of wind. So you wait for a really windy day, and you and your folks go to the park, perhaps with a nice picnic lunch, and you unreel your kite string, and off it goes. If the wind is blowing at, say, 35 mph, your kite won’t move at 35 mph, will it? Of course not. And if there’s a strong wind gust of, say, 671 million mph, your kite (and you, I’ll bet) will only travel at about 1/5 that speed, at least until your kite gets all tangled up in the Hollywood sign about a 20th of a second later.
As I said, Breakthrough Starshot will cost $100 million. But, don’t worry. For these guys, that’s like about $1.98 to you and me. Most of the expense will be in building the lasers, since the cost of each of the actual spacecraft is estimated to be only about what it costs to make an iPhone. This also means people in China are going to be busy for awhile.
These speeding credit card toothbrush phones will take about 20 years to reach Alpha Centauri, at which point they will take selfies at all the various planets and post them to Zuckerberg’s Instagram.
Unless, of course, they fly into a black hole.
In that case, Hawking thinks, they could end up anywhere.
That’s what The Hawkman implied during a talk he gave at Harvard University, when he shocked the audience by announcing that black holes aren’t the inescapable vortexes all those Harvard geniuses thought they were.
“You are such idiots,” Hawking’s speaker box told the crowd, although maybe not in those exact words. “Things can get out of a black hole, both from the outside and possibly through another universe.”
Unfortunately for the thing getting out of the black hole, it may come out looking like that stuff in the bottom of the paper cup your older sibling forgot to discard after that party that sort of “just happened” the weekend your parents were away and that you kept as a kind of insurance policy against future older-sibling-inflicted torture.
Hawking said, “It’s like burning an encyclopedia. The information is not lost, if you keep all the ashes. But it’s difficult to read.”
Ha ha, Stephen!
By now you’re probably thinking that The Hawkman is a really smart guy. Well, you’re wrong, boys and girls. Because, just so his trip to Boston wasn’t a total waste of time, Hawking visited with the owner of the New England Patriots football team who presented him with his own jersey.
As you can see from the photograph, Hawking’s number is pi, which is represented by the symbol you see, because the actual number pi would be too long to fit on the jersey, which is why the Patriots last year had to trade their tight end, Michael Hoomanawanui, to New Orleans.
In case you don’t follow football, if Hawking is a member of the Patriots, it means that when he devises his theories, he probably cheats.
See you soon.