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.
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 mackiol.net, 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.