The gamma bomb

I’ve always been interested in antigravity. It started when I was when I was six, when Fireball XL5 was on TV. Of course, the spaceship itself was a rail-launched rocket with wings. But Steve Zodiac and crew had a “gravity activator” for artificial gravity inside the ship, plus hover bikes. Hover bikes were a recurring feature in Gerry and Silvia Anderson’s futuristic programmes. I think it was because they were cool, and because it wasn’t easy to make those marionettes walk. Gravity generators or compensators were also a recurring feature, though perhaps more of a plot device than an anticipated technology. They featured in the 1968 movie Thunderbird 6, but never caught on. I suppose rocket engines and jets were more spectacular, and sounded better.

Skyship One image from the 1968 movie Thunderbird 6

Thunderbirds et al were not the first use of antigravity, or the last. I remember seeing the First Men in the Moon when I was about eight. It was based on an H G Wells story dating from 1901, and featured a gravity-shielding material called Cavorite. I know gravity-shielding isn’t really antigravity, and isn’t really feasible, but never mind.

Antigravity in the movies

The moot point is that antigravity has featured in fiction for a long long time. It’s part of the dream of interstellar travel, and has appeared in just about all the blockbusters in recent decades. We had Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder in Star Wars. We had the city-destroyer saucers in Independence Day. We had Ronan’s spaceship The Dark Aster in Guardians of the Galaxy. One of my favourite films for antigravity was The Fifth Element. That’s where Bruce Willis flies a yellow New York cab, and ends up on a luxury floating cruise-liner spaceship called the Fhloston Paradise:

Screengrabs from The Fifth Element movie trailer

Heck. it’s one of mah favourite films full stop. With a name like The Fifth Element, what else would you expect from a guy who bangs on about quintessence? There’s lots more movies featuring antigravity in some guise or other. Such as the Prawn mothership sitting in the sky over Johannesburg in District 9. Or the black hovering ovals in Arrival, with the vertical entrance shaft and the gravity shift. And who can forget Marty McFly’s hoverboard in Back to the Future? Or how in the final scene, the DeLorean flew? Rather ironically however, “the future” in Back to the Future was 2015, and we still don’t have hoverboards. Ditto for Blade Runner, which was set in 2019. We still don’t have flying cars, or antigravity.

Ad astra

Or should I say artificial gravity. If you could generate a gravitational field above your head to exactly balance the Earth’s gravitational field, you could float in the air. If you could increase the field strength a little, you could float up gradually. You could build a starship, the size of a cruise liner. The size of the Fhloston Paradise. A real starship. One that doesn’t use the stone age technology called rocket science. One that doesn’t crash and burn:

Screen shots from SpaceX recordings

With a ship like that, you could lift off as gently as a balloon. You could engineer the deck gravity so that people could walk around normally, like in Star Trek. You wouldn’t need to worry about orbits or trajectories. If you could increase the field strength further you could accelerate quickly, with no g-forces on the passengers. You could travel to the stars. Ad astra. In theory you could also contrive a region of the ship where gravitational time dilation was extreme, so a long trip to the stars wouldn’t seem to take so long. There’s no going back of course. But you wouldn’t need the special relativity time dilation of the relativistic rocket. Remember the movie Passengers, where the starship Avalon featured centrifugal gravity and hypersleep pods, and a whole shedload of automation? You wouldn’t need any of that either. The crew would be on a real-time rota, taking turns to be outside the time-dilated section. Then in your own sweet time you could land gently on the “Homestead” planet of your choice. Provided of course that the neighbours had no objections.

A long thin starship for fast travel through space

You wouldn’t need a generation starship, like the Elysium in the movie Pandorum. That’s where Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster fought the mutant cannibals, not knowing that they’d been underwater on the destination planet Tanis for eight hundred years. Or like in the movie Voyagers, where Colin Farrell got electrocuted by the bad boys. That was essentially Lord of the Flies in space, plus girls. Apparently it was a box office bomb. I thought it was OK myself, and liked the way they showed the darkness of interstellar space. Anyhow, you perhaps wouldn’t arrange your starship like the Fhloston Paradise, because you’d probably want the deck gravity to line up with the drive gravity. Whilst acceleration due to artificial gravity is akin to free fall with no g-forces, the alignment would make things tidier. It would also be better to have a long thin starship for fast travel through space. As to how fast, I don’t think you could get anywhere near the speed of light, for a very good reason called a gamma ray burst. But you’d still be going fast, so your starship would probably look more like a skyscraper. Maybe something like the Burj Khalifa but with fewer windows, and maybe a much longer mast. I’m thinking you’d use an intense sideways artificial gravity on the mast to deflect dust away from the ship as you travelled through space. Something like this:

Burj Khalifa at night image by Jürgen Mackiol, see, doctored by me

Like I was saying in UFOs and Aliens, with the right engineering you could use your artificial gravity to make right-angle turns. You could also use it to make sudden stops, like in the cult movie Dark Star. That featured Dan O’Bannon, who wrote the screenplay for Alien. It also featured planet-killer bombs with artificial intelligence and an attitude, plus a penchant for philosophy. I first saw it at the Phoenix in East Finchley, it was the late show, and it was excellent. It still stands up, see talking to the bomb on YouTube. Let there be light! Yeah! Fun fact: apparently the alien in Alien was based on the beach ball with claws.

You could use antigravity to lift up some water for free

As per The Fifth Element, you could also use artificial gravity aka antigravity for aerial cars, buses, trucks, and trains. Like on the planet Coruscant in the Star Wars movies. Ugh, a megacity that covers a whole planet, where “the lowest levels are uninhabitable, riddled with strange creatures, devoid of light and abandoned. Above are the nearly lawless habitation blocks, home to billions of middle-class workers, forced to endure toxic fumes and sclerotic sunlight”. As for how you maintain lane discipline I’m not sure. I’m not sure if anybody ever changes lanes either:

Screenshot from Coruscant Star Wars by The Templin Institute

Moving swiftly on, you could use antigravity for other things. For example, you wouldn’t need construction cranes. Or fork lift trucks. Or elevators in the traditional sense. It doesn’t stop there. Would you like to irrigate the Sahara desert? Just use antigravity to lift up some water for free. Up to the top of the Atlas mountains. Then let it flow South. All it would take is a pipeline or two, and maybe a desalination plant. Maybe you could even use antigravity to move the rain and irrigate the deserts of Australia. The possibilities are endless.

There are no perpetual motion machines

I can guess what you’re thinking next. If you could use antigravity to lift up some water for free, you could use that water to drive a hydroelectric turbine. Then you could repeat the cycle with the same water. That would give you clean green energy, wouldn’t it? For your desalination plant, and for everything else? That would save the planet, wouldn’t it? No it wouldn’t, because the underlying problem is really overpopulation, and energy is free anyway. Coal is free, it’s just lying there in the ground. It’s much the same for oil and gas, and let’s face it, sunshine is free, and so is wind. However there are no perpetual motion machines. When you lift a bucket of water manually, you do work on it. You exert a force on it, over a distance. You add energy to it, so by virtue of E=mc² you increase its mass.

Image from College Physics, see 31.6 Binding Energy: “a bound system has less mass than the sum of its parts”

The opposite occurs when you pour the water out of the bucket. Then gravity converts gravitational potential energy, which is mass-energy, into kinetic energy. Note that as per Einstein’s E=mc² paper, the mass of a body is a measure of its energy-content. Hence mass-energy is really just internal kinetic energy, so gravity is merely converting some of the water’s internal kinetic energy into external kinetic energy. That gravitational potential energy was in the water. Not in the field, not in the system, and not anywhere else. When the water turns your turbine, kinetic energy is converted into electromagnetic energy, and you’re left with a mass deficit. See the Wikipedia binding energy article for something about that. If you then use antigravity to raise the water back up, you aren’t adding any energy. Instead you’re taking more energy out. So your clean green energy isn’t green at all. You are converting matter into energy, and this is not renewable. This is bad, particularly since E=mc² means there’s a whole lot of energy in matter. Traditional hydroelectric power is renewable, because the energy input is provided by an outside source. Solar radiation does work on the water molecules and lifts them up, to fall as rain. So hydroelectric power is really solar power, most of which gets radiated away at night.

You could achieve cold fusion

When you play the detective, one thing leads to another, and the above reminds me of fusion guys like Doug Coulter. Fusion is what powers the Sun, via something called proton–proton chain. I’m reminded because this fusion only converts circa 0.7% of the matter into energy. In turn that reminds me how I laughed out loud when Doug told me about the cold fusion sceptics at the US Department of Energy. He said if you told ‘em your pipe was red hot and you just couldn’t cool it down, the men in black would be arriving first thing on the red-eye to “help”. LOL! I don’t have an issue with cold fusion. After all, a hot particle is merely a fast-moving particle. An arc welder uses blue heat and no pressure to fuse two pieces of metal together. A blacksmith uses red heat and the pressure of his hammering to fuse two pieces of metal together. Cold welding uses pressure alone. If you could find a way to press protons together, you could achieve cold fusion. Don’t forget that it’s easy to achieve fusion on a table top using the Farnsworth fusor or the star in the jar. Doing it some other way is just engineering.

The Tunguska event

All that fusion reminds me of the Tsar Bomb of 1961. At circa 50 megatons, it was the largest nuclear explosion on Earth to date. The mushroom cloud was forty miles high and sixty miles wide. It broke windows 480 miles away. But only about 2.3kg of matter was converted into energy. That’s about the same as the bag of potatoes in your shopping trolley. That in turn reminds me of the Tunguska event. That was a “12 megaton explosion that occurred near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Yeniseysk Governorate (now Krasnoyarsk Krai), Russia, on the morning of June 30, 1908”. I’m reminded of it because some people have speculated that it was caused by a UFO exploding. However I think it was more like the Chelyabinsk meteor but bigger, and more of a snowball. I don’t think it was caused by a UFO, because I think UFOs use antigravity, and at circa 12 megatons, the explosion just wasn’t powerful enough. That’s the problem with antigravity. When you know that gravity works via a “spatially variable” speed of light, and that c = 1/√(ε₀μ₀), you know that gravity has an underlying electromagnetic nature. So if you know about electromagnetism and a few other bits and pieces, you might be able to contrive an artificial gravitational field. Sure, you might have problems engineering a ship that pulls itself up by its bootstraps, but a simple demonstrator device might be within your capability. If so, my advice would be this: don’t try this at home. Why? Because of gamma-ray bursts.

Gamma ray bursters and Lorentzian relativity

Gamma ray bursts are titanic explosions in space. They were first detected in 1967 by the US Vela satellites, which were intended to detect nuclear explosions on Earth. The results were declassified in 1973, and generated a lot of interest. Shortly thereafter in 1974 Stephen Hawking had a paper published in Nature called black hole explosions? He talked about Hawking radiation, and said a black hole would end its life in an explosion equivalent to about 1 million 1 Mton hydrogen bombs”. I don’t know if you’ve read up on Hawking radiation or read Hawking’s papers, but they just don’t hold water. What does, is Friedwardt Winterberg’s 2001 paper gamma ray bursters and Lorentzian relativity. It was the original black hole firewall. Winterberg talked about matter falling into a black hole, saying it “would be converted into zero rest mass particles which could explain the large energy release of gamma ray bursters”.

Artist’s impression of a gamma ray burst by L. Calçada / ESO, see Physicists Create Mini Gamma-Ray Burst in the Lab, Sci-News

I’m confident he’s right, because matter falls down when it’s in a place where there’s a gradient in the speed of light. That’s what Einstein said. When a bucket of water falls towards a black hole, it’s because the speed of light is reducing. The reducing speed of light causes downward motion because of the wave nature of matter, wherein the horizontal component curves downwards. The bucket falls towards the black hole, faster and faster. All the while the speed of light is getting slower and slower. Falling bodies don’t stop accelerating, and they don’t slow down. So there has to be some crossover point where your bucket would be falling faster than the local speed of light. Only it can’t, because of the wave nature of matter. So something else happens, like the wave breaks. Your bucket of water explodes in a super-violent explosion called a gamma ray burst.

Don’t try this at home

Let’s say it’s a 12 litre bucket like they sell at B&Q. A litre of water weighs a kilogram, so your bucket explodes with five times the power of the Tsar bomb. We are talking 250 megatons. We are into Angels and Demons territory here, with the 100% conversion of matter into energy. Only you don’t need antimatter. All you need is some simple little pocket-sized artificial gravity device that can make a penny fall up. What happens if there’s a flutter in your power supply? The penny falls up, then it falls down. Repeat ad infinitum. Click click click click click click. It’s falling up down up down up down. It never falls faster than the local speed of light, but it keeps losing energy. That can’t carry on ad infinitum. Does that penny go super cold? Does it fizzle or hum or shimmer? Does it start to glow? I don’t know. But I think about a single electron in that penny. The electron mass-energy is 511keV. If you keep taking energy out of that electron, it can’t remain an electron any more. So it breaks up into gamma photons and/or neutrinos. Then it’s like a room full of mousetraps, and BOOM! Your dream of antigravity is now a nuclear nightmare. The energy of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb was equivalent to a third of the mass of a US penny. So whilst you might think you’re creating an antigravity device that will take us to the stars, what you might be creating is a gamma bomb. So, like I said, don’t try this at home.


This Post Has 16 Comments

    1. the physics detective

      Aw man Doug! What a bargain! I have got to get myself one of these!

      Uh oh, I might have to lose a pound or two though!

  1. Doug

    Excellent article! I
    I wonder if a neutron star has enough density to break the waves and create a gamma ray burster or if only a black hole can do it.

    1. the physics detective

      I don’t think it can Doug, because it’s a neutron star, and we can diffract neutrons. The wave nature of matter applies to neutrons too. However for all I know there’s some kind of hierarchy to it, wherein it’s easier to break an electron than a proton or neutron. However I view a neutron as a close-coupled proton-electron combination, with a neutrino twist. So I’m thinking a neutron star doesn’t generate a gamma ray burst when it forms. But I don’t know this, and I note that that the Wikipedia gamma ray burst article says this: “New developments since the 2000s include the recognition of short gamma-ray bursts as a separate class (likely from merging neutron stars and not associated with supernovae)”. Maybe a single neutron star can generate a gamma-ray bursts somehow.

  2. Doug

    Ah of course, if it’s made of neutrons it didn’t break them yet!!

    Going down the rabbit hole, I will make a bold guess that electrons break easier than protons, just because it took less energy to create them. On the other hand, protons and electrons have the same spin, which makes me think it’s the same amount of angular momentum that needs to be ‘unwrapped’ when breaking the particles into gamma rays. And finally, the electron wavelength is bigger than the protons so then perhaps they experience more tidal force of the gravitation field and break easier. I think figuring that out would be a Nobel prize instead of the current prizes going to ‘finding’ the Higgs.

    1. the physics detective

      I think it’s a fair guess Doug. Yes, maybe electrons do break easier than protons. There are some similarities with the spin, but the magnetic moments are very different, and so are the g factors. The electron magnetic moment is circa 700 times that of the proton, which tells you the closed Poynting vector or photon path is much bigger. Meanwhile the electron g factor is about 2 whilst the proton g factor is 5.585. That says to me the electron’s internal path is a double loop “trivial knot”, whilst the proton’s is nearly a sixfold loop, like twice round a trefoil knot. So I wouldn’t expect them to break at the same time. As for neutron stars, don’t forget that the theory isn’t built on an electron model, or any model that details protons and neutrons. So IMHO it’s possible neutron stars aren’t quite like what you think. I haven’t looked at neutron stars at all, but off the top off my head, maybe they’re like one big nucleus, and are actually made up of protons and neutrons. Maybe they should call them nucleon stars. And see the Wikipedia neutron article where you can read this: “An article published in 2007 featuring a model-independent analysis concluded that the neutron has a negatively charged exterior, a positively charged middle, and a negative core”. For all I know a neutron star has an electron skin.

  3. G.R. Leslie

    Just another immensely educational and entertaining essay John! Definitely worth the wait.
    I was under the mistaken impression that cold fusion was dead and buried. Farnsworth fusors and the star in the jar are incredibly tangible devices, something concrete is obviously happening inside them. Too bad Doug Coulter doesn’t have access to a proper budget, state of the art labs, top of the line equipment, exotic new materials, qualified help, and all around peer support. An old fashioned uber rich patron would solve a lot of his problems. I guess Bezos and Musk think it is more pertinent to blow rocket exhaust up each other’s arses than to be truly useful benefactors.
    It was really cool that you mentioned Philo T. Farnsworth. I was already aware of his patent wars and mostly getting screwed by Korporate Amerika. Very simular to when Edison and Marconi took turns screwing over Tesla. All great scientific history that shouldn’t be forgotten.
    Another really neat thing mentioned was Fireball XL5 ! ( also noted in you very first Physics Detective blog). It was one of my favorite childhood shows and toys. Unfortunately my jealous brother/neighbor kid pinched the front disconnecting cockpit section, the one that shot spring loaded plastic missles from both sides. It just wasn’t the same having only the dull last two thirds of the ship to play with.
    Concerning the hierarchy of breaking particles into gamma bursts, do you think that since protons and neutrons are fundamental and also have a more complex internal knot design contributes to said hierarchy? And since that electrons are not fundamental, are easier to break?

    1. the physics detective

      Thanks Greg. I meant to write something sooner, but work has been tough, and I’ve been waylaid by one thing after another.
      I don’t know bout cold fusion being dead and buried. It’s certainly unpopular, but I really don’t know why. I think it’s rather odd, actually, because cold welding sets the bar. CERN was set up as the Centre European for Nuclear Research, but they haven’t done any nuclear research. They aren’t developing clean green thorium reactors which burn through all the waste either. Why not? And why aren’t they doing fusion, hot or cold? Search CERN on fusion and the results are pathetic. It’s similar with the US department of energy. What are all these people doing with all the money they get? Not supporting the Doug Coulters of this world, that’s for sure. Au contraire, I kind of get the feeling that to the people who are part of ITER, Doug Coulter is viewed as the enemy. Rather like I am when it comes to fundamental physics.
      LOL: “I guess Bezos and Musk think it is more pertinent to blow rocket exhaust up each other’s arses than to be truly useful benefactors”.. But I couldn’t possibly comment! Elon Musk might soon be my new bezzy mate for all I know! I’m glad you like Fireball XL5 too. It really impressed me when I was a little kid. Thank you Gerry Anderson, Lord rest your soul!
      See what I said to Doug about the hierarchy of breaking particles with respect to electrons and protons. I don’t think neutrons are fundamental, I think electron capture does what it says on the tin, that free neutron decay is an important clue, and that the neutron is a close-coupled electron-proton combination. Rutherford thought that.

  4. Richard Geldreich

    > Repeat ad infinitum. Click click click click click click. It’s falling up down up down up down. It never falls faster than the local speed of light, but it keeps losing energy. That can’t carry on ad infinitum. Does that penny go super cold? Does it fizzle or hum or shimmer? Does it start to glow? I don’t know.

    Great article – lots of useful links. However, I don’t fully understand the end. Why does the penny eventually blow up?

    1. Richard: because the penny is made of electrons and other particles. When you drop an electron, gravity converts some of its gravitational potential energy, which is mass-energy, into kinetic energy. When it hits the floor, this gets dissipated, and you’re left with a mass deficit. The electron mass-energy is now is reduced. The same thing happens when you the turn on the artificial gravity and make the electron fall up. Then the cycle repeats, and the electron continually loses energy. There are no 411keV electrons for a reason. Somewhere on the way to 411keV, that electron can no longer remain as an electron. So it turns into photons and/or neutrinos. Have a look at these articles for more:
      The photon
      How pair production works
      The electron
      I’m confident that the electron is in essence a 511keV photon wrapped and trapped in a double-loop “spinor” configuration. Each loop keeps the other loop confined, because light is displacement current, and displacement current does what it says on the tin. When you reduce the energy there isn’t enough displacement in one loop to to keep the other loop in a closed curved path, so the electron stops being an electron. The same thing happens to all the other electrons in that penny. And to the protons and neutrons, though not necessarily at the same time.

  5. Doug

    I think this is one of the only times I disagree with the detective, or perhaps just the way the story was told. Let me see if you like this way of thinking about it.

    If you could turn gravity on and off then nothing would happen, as far as the way I’m thinking of things. The penny would get pulled upward when you turn it on and lose mass. Then when you turn off the artificial gravity, it’s the same as pulling the penny out of the gravity well, it will gain all it’s lost mass back and the speed of light will be back to what it is normally on earth. This probably tells you how hard it is to turn gravity off, it’s not a free thing to do.

    If instead you had two artificial gravity things one on top and one on the bottom. And you didn’t turn them on and off, but instead turned the top one on, let the penny go up. Then turn the bottom one on but stronger so the penny falls down, then increase the top one again to make it go back up, etc, etc. Then eventually the gravity will get turned up so highthat you hit the event horizon of c=0 and the electron breaks.

    1. Doug: the situation I was talking about goes like this:
      You drop the penny. The penny falls down. Gravity converts internal kinetic energy into external kinetic energy, which gets dissipated, so the penny loses mass. CLICK.
      Then you turn on an artificial gravitational field above it, which is stronger than the Earth’s gravitational field. So now the penny falls again, only this time it falls up. Gravity converts internal kinetic energy into external kinetic energy, which gets dissipated, so the penny loses mass. CLICK.
      Now turn off the artificial gravitational field. The penny falls down. Gravity converts internal kinetic energy into external kinetic energy, which gets dissipated, so the penny loses mass. CLICK.
      Then you turn on an artificial gravitational field above it, which is stronger than the Earth’s gravitational field. So now the penny falls again, only this time it falls up. Gravity converts internal kinetic energy into external kinetic energy, which gets dissipated, so the penny loses mass. CLICK.
      And so on.

  6. Doug

    I understand how you are describing it. But as soon as you turn off the artificial gravity the first time, either it’s just like pulling (giving energy back) the electron out of that gravity well and it’s back to it’s energy in earth’s gravitational field. I think it’ll be this way.

    Or, like you describe, you snap it out of the artificial gravity well without having to give it energy back by pulling it out by simply turning your machine off. Then it would break right then, since it’s not it’s normal mass anymore. I don’t think you’d have to do it more than once.

    My two cents

  7. Doug

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!

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