Not just a Penny

One PennySometimes authors suffer from a lack of inspiration known as Writers Block. It’s a position where a mental block on new ideas arises. Fortunately I have never found myself in that position, only the problem of sometimes finding time to write. To me the world is full of inspirational subjects just waiting to be picked up and mulled around in the mind before being translated into words.

One such subject came completely “out of the blue” the other evening when I pulled a hanky from my pocket. Along with the hanky came a penny coin embroiled in its folds and which fell to the ground with the lightest of sounds. As I stooped to retrieve the penny the thought popped into my head, I wonder what the life story of this penny is?

Thought and  reasoning is a strange process that seems to work at the speed of light. No sooner had the thought crossed my mind I realised attached to this penny was a tale so vast, it stretched all the way back to Big Bang and the creation of the Universe. It is amazing how a vast concept can fill our minds in a fraction of a second but it can take a lengthy period of time to even verbally express them to others.

Piggy BankMy first though was to examine the penny a little closer and I saw the year 1980 stamped on it meaning the coin was minted 34 years ago and had been in circulation ever since. How many people have owned and used this coin in all that time? It is an impossible question to answer but potentially it could be millions. It may have been in my possession several times without my even knowing it. It might also have been silently sitting in a child’s piggy bank for a long time or many other peoples pockets or purses. The penny will have visited many homes, all the time unconsciously unobserved by its temporary owners or perhaps joined many of its companions in slot machines or shop tills from time to time.Who knows? it could even have travelled abroad many times as loose change in the pocket of a tourist. Whatever the potentially far and numerous journeys of this coin, it has travelled free and unnoticed and it still is only worth a penny.

Although the face value of my coin may only be worth a penny, it does make one wonder how many times it has been used in purchases. If it had been used say one million times in the last 34 years, this one coin would have purchased £10,000 worth of goods and services. On the face of things that seems impossible until one considers that monetary systems are essentially gyratory with the same money constantly circulating around the system from person to person, shop to shop or bank to bank. That alone throws up even more concepts of how coinage became a convenient common denominator to replace bartering systems. A banking system to control the circulation of money. Legal systems to ensure money maintained its value by making counterfeiting illegal and  that wrong doers were punished. Systems of government and trade including taxation. Even monarchs have fought and died, Empires grown and fallen all because of the value represented by coinage yet this single coin is still only worth a penny.

When my penny was newly minted it had a bright and shiny copper appearance but this quickly tarnished to its current dull brown appearance through the effects of oxidization. So even in its appearance my penny has a story to tell about chemistry..

Moltem metalBeing minted in 1980, my penny is made of bronze created from a mixture of copper, zinc and tin. Since 1992, copper-plated steel has been used instead. This is where the formidable story of my penny coin expands even further. Each of the composite elements of this coin originally had to be mined, each metal coming from different parts of the globe. Not only was each metal mined, but all had to be refined, and transported before being molten and blended together to create the new metal alloy of bronze.The metal ores themselves needed to be discovered first so just the creation of my penny coin required utilisation of exploration, mining, refining, transportation, the science of metallurgy and finally the craft of minting just to come into being. It’s a mind-boggling though that one day the value of my coin may go towards financing all of the above to produce even further coinage. However my single coin is still only worth a penny.

The story of our various metal ores that make up my penny does not start with them being mined from the ground, that is only the beginning of their more recent adventures, nor does it start with these ores being buried in the ground for a millennia. The stories of these metals goes back to the creation of the universe before they even existed as metal.

UniverseHow the universe was created is as yet unknown but the beginning has been dubbed “Big Bang” whatever its cause. At the time of creation atomic particles formed only  the simplest of atoms which where hydrogen and helium with miniscule trace amounts of everything else. All this would have happened in complete darkness as stars which provide light simply did not exist at this time. Although there are various estimates, for about the first 200 million years of the universes existence, everything was in darkness with nothing else other than vast gaseous clouds of hydrogen and helium.

As lightweight as we consider these gases, never-the-less all atoms have weight and slowly these clouds of gas were drawn together by their natural gravitational forces until they began to condense into huge balls of gas. As these balls of gas grew ever larger ever growing gravitational forces caused them to compress. Matter that is being compressed starts to give off heat in exactly the same way air in a bicycle pump gets hot when compressed. This mixture of heat and intense pressure eventually caused the process of atomic fusion to begin and the first stars began to appear in the universe shedding light to the previously dark cosmos.

Even these early stars bursting into existence did not create the molecules for the metals of my penny, it is only millions of years later when a star eventually runs out of fuel does this process rapidly happen. As a star burns it transforms its hydrogen into helium. Once a stars burns through all its hydrogen, it fuses the helium into carbon and then into nitrogen, oxygen, neon, and sodium, and then into silicon and sulphur, and then into iron, nickel, cobalt and copper. Depending on the size of the star, it rapidly contracts in its last moments throwing all this matter like an expanding shell to drift throughout the universe.This newly created matter will continue to drift through the cosmos until again under the effects of gravity it is condensed again either into new stars or into planets which will circulate those stars.

So when that penny fell from my pocket, the real story behind my initial though of “its only a penny” has touched on many aspects of our lives stretching all the way back to the creation of the universe.I cannot help but feel I have touched on but a few of those subjects and omitted many more.

Just to briefly recap the “life story” of my penny. It has been involved Big Bang, Star formation, celestial transformation, exploration, mining, refining, transportation, metallurgy, minting, chemistry, commerce, trade and banking, governance, law making and empire building to name but a few.So much from one small coin and its value still only remains a penny.

Whoever said “A penny for your thoughts”?

The Dark Side of Science

Although I have touched on this subject before, I recently watched a documentary attempting to explain what Dark Matter, Dark Energy and now Dark Flow are.

Since mankind began to think and reason, the question of what lies beyond our own world has arisen. In history it appeared to be part of the human psyche that the knowledge vacuum created by what could not be explained or understood at a particular moment of time, was rapidly filled with superstition or religious dogma. This approach often temporarily satisfied the human psyche by filing such thoughts under the “Things mankind is not meant to know” section of the human excuse filing cabinet.

During the passage of history, individuals would appear, capable of thinking outside the constraints of mankind’s self-imposed dogmatic boxes. Such people with independent thoughts often caused fear and alarm in those who preferred to remain in a comfort zone of blithe unawareness. The independent thinking of such people was often perceived to be a challenge to authority figures and many lost their lives for committing heresy by daring to dispute approved thinking and belief. Bit by bit, individual human determination has slowly thrown off the shackles of constraining superstitious or religious dogma.

In the ever unslaked thirst for knowledge on the creation of the universe, the theory of ‘Big Bang’ emerged. It is a theory with which I have no problem and one I believe is correct even though the causes of Big Bang are as yet unknown. According to this theory, our entire universe was created at the same time and point in space which has been expanding and evolving ever since. However scientists noticed that the temperature throughout the universe is almost constant as is the distribution of matter in galaxies. Scientists say such even distributions of heat and matter would not occur naturally in a real explosion and consequently created the concept of missing Dark Matter to help smooth out this anomaly in the Big Bang theory. Dark Matter is believed to have helped dampen out expected temperature differences throughout the universe.

I firmly believe Dark Matter is proving to be an inhibitive new shackle to original thought. The problem arises according to calculations that this mysterious invisible ‘something’ dubbed Dark Matter would comprise 23% of the theoretical matter of the universe. Huge sums of money have been spent seeking or attempting to detect this missing quarter of the universe and despite what appears to be a few false alarms, so far without success. I suspect Dark Matter will never be found because it simply does not exist.

I cannot help but think that Dark Matter is nothing more than a theory created as a stop-gap measure to smooth out an apparent anomaly in the theory of Big Bang.

It was also further noticed that the universe was continuing to expand at an ever accelerating rate. In the vacuum of space, even in the unknown space which lies beyond the boundaries of the universe, the rate of expansion should remain constant. Some theorise that internal gravitational forces from the remainder of the universe, would eventually cause the expansion of the universe to slow before coming to a halt and eventually collapsing on itself. A form of Big Bang in reverse. Because it appeared some unknown and invisible force within the universe was pushing the universe apart with ever-increasing speed, another theory was created to explain this further anomaly to Big Bang theory. Thus was Dark Energy created as a reasonable explanation to this irregularity in Big Bang theory. As far as I am aware, no one has yet found or detected Dark Energy either.

Like Dark Matter, I believe that Dark Energy is yet another inhibitive shackle the scientific community has created for itself and one that is constraining thought to other possibilities.

While Dark Matter and Dark Energy may have temporarily papered over what appeared cracks in Big Bang theory along comes a further observation in the universe creating yet another anomaly. It has been observed that clusters of galaxies between the Vela and Centaurus constellations are racing towards and apparently converging on a point in space which is beyond our sight due to speed of light limitations. This effect has been named Dark Flow, as the cause as yet is unknown. It appears like water draining towards an unseen plug-hole. Unlike Dark Matter and Dark Energy, Dark Flow is not a theory, it is something that can be detected.

The word Universe implies that only one such singularity exists. Others including myself have long believed other universes exist beyond our own. Such universes, if they exist, have been named multiverses as the prefix UNI would no longer be appropriate. It would not be possible to see such multiverses once again due to speed of light limitations but Dark Flow may well prove to be a physical indication that they do exist and are exerting gravitational forces on a section of our own universe.

Although mankind has long moved beyond believing the world is the centre of the universe, difficulties are experienced by some in accepting that anything could exist beyond our universal boundaries. I find no such difficulty with such a concept. The forces that created our own universe are unknown, but would it not be of the unreasonable for mankind to assume that this event has only occurred once in the endless infinity of time and space? I do not know if the possibility of the existence of endless multiverses beyond our own has ever been named but if not, I would describe it as The Cosmoverse. A Cosmoverse would help explain why our own universe has been pulled into a regular shape, from external gravitational forces surrounding our own universe rather than the so far, undetected Dark Matter. A Cosmoverse would also help explain that external gravitational forces are causing our own universe to continue expanding at an ever accelerating speed. It could well be that Dark Flow is external gravitational forces drawing a section of our universe towards another multiverse. Such a Cosmoverse would eliminate the need for the theoretical and elusive Dark Energy.

In other words it would mean, our universe is gradually being pulled apart by natural external universal forces rather than pushed apart internally by force from a so far undetected Dark Energy. Although these gravitational forces would be on an awesome scale, they would still be a natural and easily understood phenomena of cause and effect.

It’s all a question of continuing to think outside those constraining boxes no matter what their origin.

It is unlikely within either my lifetime or those of anyone reading this article that my theory of a Cosmoverse will ever be proved. By the same token it is equally unlikely that such a theory will be disproved either. In the meantime those that believe in Dark Matter and Dark Energy will continue with what I believe to be a futile search. Who knows, but one day may arrive when if mankind has still not found what it seeks, maybe it will be tempted to think, What if?

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Albert Einstein

False Prophecy

The 21st May has now passed and the prophesied Rapture, (the second coming of Christ), did not occur. The cataclysmic global earthquakes that were supposed to accompany this momentous biblical occurrence did not occur either. Apart from devout believers in this prophesy, few people throughout the nations of the world were surprised. Feeble and limp excuses for the non-occurrence of this event have already started amongst bewildered believers.

While many have treated the entire scenario with some hilarity, it is worth reflecting that believers of this false date driven prophesy only have one difference from other religious believers in that they had an actual set date for deliverance. Most other believers have no set date other than some unspecified hazy notion of some time in the future. I have no doubt that if we could travel forward in time say 5,000, 10,000 or even 100,000 years, believers would still be found waiting for this almost mythological concept to occur. I cannot but help wonder this is all because of the writings of other human beings some 2000 years ago.

This is not the first time such an event has been forecast. In the past, people motivated by end of the world prophesies have scaled Mont Blanc to escape the second Great Flood, committed suicide in the belief their souls would be transported away by a passing space ship and so on.

When it comes to belief, I am always mindful that countless thousands of people have been put to death over the centuries in Holy Wars, (and frequently not so holy wars), by others who believed at the time, it was a good and righteous thing to do. One has to ask the simple question Why? Who said such things were good and righteous and what was their authority for doing so?

I do not mock believers as that is something that is their right but I do feel a get a strong chilling feeling of indignation going up my spine whenever a believer tries to convince me they are right based on what they have been taught by others.

I suppose if anything, the non-event of 21st May has convinced me even more to trust my own judgement rather that the belief of others.

Appalling as it may sound, my guess is that if Jesus Christ ever did return to this world, there we be groups amongst mankind. (not myself), that would soon find reason for crucifying him again.

Does Nuclear Power have a future?

It might be reasonable to assume that a big question mark hangs over the future of nuclear power following the damage to four separate reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. This complex has a total of six reactors all fitted with failsafe safety devices and controls. Unfortunately words like failsafe and foolproof are not part of Mother Nature’s vocabulary. Mother Nature is also well-known for throwing unexpected and unpredictable thunderbolts out of a clear blue sky. In north-east Japan this came in the form of a magnitude 9-0 earthquake and the consequent reactor damaging tsunami which destroyed the electrical power supply that many of the safety features relied on.

Clearly this incident has demonstrated that no matter how much safety planning and features are built into the design of a nuclear reactor, there can no longer be a guarantee of 100% safety. Although Fukushima  will now join the well-known names of nuclear accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl the list of incidents is much larger. Others include the Mayak or Kyshtym nuclear complex in 1957, Windscale also in 1957, Idaho National Engineering Laboratory in 1961, Severesk, formerly Tomsk-7 in 1967, Tokaimura nuclear fuel processing facility in 1999 and Mihama power plant in 2004 although apparently no radiation leak occurred at this incident.

It is the insidious fear of the potential lethal or genetic mutational effects on the unborn, of radiation that causes such alarm in the world populace. Radiation can be like an invisible and unheard wraith casting its deadly cloak like an unseen shadow over land, people, animals and vegetation with effects of contamination that can last for years.

The only realistic solution to avoiding future nuclear incidents is not to have nuclear power stations at all. However a no nuclear option also requires realistic alternatives. It would be possible to return to fossil fuel based power stations like coal or oil but these raise environmental and cost issues and well as objections on global warming issues. It would also only be a matter of time before fossil fuels become exhausted.  Wind, solar and tidal power are possible alternatives but wind turbines are unsightly and blot landscapes. Although wind and tide have a contributory input to national power requirements, at the moment they only provide a fraction of the ever-growing demand for more and more power. It is questionable if alternative sources will ever fulfil the power need currently supplied by nuclear power.

I expect once the dust, (hopefully not radioactive), has settled over Fukushima, politicians will come to the only foreseeable conclusion that if the world wants power then it will have to accept nuclear power despite its inherent dangers.

Global Warming – Fact or Fiction?

For the last several years on an almost daily basis, the international public ear has endured a constant tirade of warnings about global warming. Most of these warnings come from scientists and the governments that are advised by them. There are few people who would disagree global warming is actually occurring. The debate however falls into two groups, those that argue global warming is caused by CO2 emissions created by mankind and those that argue global warming is part of a natural cyclic process that we are going through.

Those that argue the cause is CO2 emissions say the burning of fossil fuels, coal petrol etc., in turn releases additional carbon into the atmosphere which acts like a thermal blanket. This they say traps heat within the earth’s atmosphere instead of allowing it to dissipate naturally into outer space. Those that argue it is a cyclic process are in essence saying that if mankind did not exist on this planet, global warming would still occur naturally followed by a spell of global cooling.

With such opposing viewpoints it is not difficult to understand that many people may be confused with who is right or even if there are other factors not being taken into account by either side.

While governments who favour the CO2 emission argument may appear to have the authoritative voice on the issue, many people are both sceptical and distrustful of the argument. I think most people understand that governments do not earn money, they only spend or borrow money raised by the earners in society. Governments are always looking for new ways to raise money to either reduce they amount they borrow, or to spend even more money on pet projects and grandiose ideas.  It can come as no surprise that once the global warming argument was raised, governments suddenly introduced a raft of new taxation measures under the pretext of reducing the amount of fossil fuels burned. Some of these taxes being directly imposed on the travel industry. The public can be excused for being sceptical about these new taxes. Not one mile less will be travelled as a result of them, as people still have to go where they have to go, and do what they have to do.

The real truth is that no one really understands what the cause of global warming is. Although scientists will produce data that accurately shows the warming increase, this data is just a symptom and not the cause.

Although it sounds a reasonably plausible argument that mankind’s burning of fossil fuels is causing an increase in  levels of CO2, and as these levels increase, more heat is being trapped within the atmosphere. There is one powerful argument with supporting evidence against this which is frequently ignored, some might say because it’s an inconvenience.

In 2007, an article in the magazine New Scientist reported on the analysis of ice core samples taken from Antarctica. The core samples are like a physical history book due to things like gases trapped within these cores at known time periods. It was possible to determine the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere as the earth began to warm after successive Ice ages. It was found that CO2 gases only increased 800 years after the earth began to warm. The consequence of this discovery is that CO2 did not cause initial global warming at the end of the last ice age. This tend to belittle the theory that CO2 gases are the cause of global warming as the earth began to warm for entirely different reasons. It would be fair to say that once present in the atmosphere CO2 contributes to global warming but it certainly was not the cause.

One only has to look at the continuous voluminous discharge of gases from just one active volcano to realise that gases created from burning of fossil fuels is laughably small by comparison. No one is certain of the exact number of active volcanoes in the world but at least 500 have been recorded on land and there are a further 1,500 estimated volcanoes below the surface of the oceans.

In the pandemonium that is being created about the global warming issue, the element carbon has gained something of a bad name. However burning fossil fuels does not create carbon, it simply releases existing carbon that was already locked into the fuel. Carbon is also essential for life to exist. Everything living from vegetation to mammals including human beings are composed of carbon. Of the two main elements that the human body is composed of 65% is oxygen followed by 18% carbon.

Carbon also has a geological cycle. Carbon in both the soil and air is absorbed by vegetation and mammals during growth. Each blade of grass, tree and human being is like a little deposit bank of carbon. In time as everything dies this deposit of carbon is returned to the ground and in processes over geological time will form new rocks and strata. As the tectonic plates of the earth continue to expand due undersea volcanic action the edges meet and clash against each other. One of the tectonic plates will slide over the other with the lower plates being forced deep into the earth by a process known as subduction.  The subducted plate gets hotter the lower it sinks due to heat from the earth’s molten core until it eventually melts into a magma. As molten magma, underground pressures will eventually force it back into the atmosphere  through erupting volcanoes releasing CO2 gas to once again begin its geologic cycle.

Other theories forwarded as to the cause of global warming include solar winds created from sun spot activity, and the variance of daily sunlight received on the polar regions of the globe caused by the slight wobble in the earth’s axis. Whatever the cause of global warming only one thing is certain, politicians will continue to find excuses to impose ever-increasing taxation on whatever global warming theory becomes the flavour of the month.

I wonder just how are they going to tax the wobble of the earth?


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