GAM 2017 Blog
- Published: Tuesday, April 18 2017 00:00
By Grom D. Matthies
Around volcanic vents deep down on oceans floor, tiniest creatures thrive on what the inners of Earth provide. They feed, not unlike a washing machine, on energy and some chemicals that would cook or corrode any decent surface creature instantly. Those tiny fellows, however, tend not to age a lot as they are prey to some other, slightly bigger critters who love to chew on snacks with a strong taste of sulfur and whatnot. These critters are in turn the staple food for the digestive apparatus of even bigger ones. We humans call this sequence a food chain. This chain works quite well albeit existing in eternal darkness separated from all the rest of what we call life.
Permanent feeding frenzy
In less deeper waters and on dry land things are no different. We know that well. Eat or be eaten, an expression which never seems to loose validity. Weren’t it for our ingenious way of perpetuating and applying knowledge, humans barely would make a rank amongst the top ten predators of this food chain. Bowing to the circumstances of life, we tend to shrug shoulders – “that’s nature” – and keep on avoiding lions, sharks and tax officials etc. whilst holocausting on what the landscape provides in edible flora and fauna.
Upping the scale, even the inanimate, the lifeless, partakes in a weird kind of food chain on its own. Rocks, asteroids and comets, the most numerous objects in any stellar system are constantly gobbled up by bigger ones, like planets and moons.
Stars are no predatory exception. Though they do not need the nutritional input of their surroundings, their gravity has the same fatal outcome to any object suffering orbital motion disorder as do have the sharp claws and teeth of a cat on a distracted mouse venturing too close.
Stars are pretty much self-contained. They are born with all the food they need. However they do not necessarily escape occasional mishaps. More than half of all stars are part of binary or multiple star systems. As our telescopes confirm, quite often a bigger and much more massive star tends to cannibalize on its smaller less massive brethren. Sometimes it’s exactly the other way round –many novae and a certain type of supernovae are the visual outcome, as astronomers figured out.
The eat or be eaten campaign permeates all, from the tiniest existence to the biggest objects there are – galaxies. Proven, verified and filed away as fact, our galaxy already swallowed a bunch of smaller satellite galaxies. Most of those gigantic elliptical galaxies out there, as studies and simulations turn to point out, are the obese results of big spiral galaxies, like ours, eating another big galaxy.
This universe is apparently a feeding feast up to its most distant, though admittedly non-existing corners.
Laws of thermodynamics considered – all the energy that makes up our universe, plus all the energy digested, by division with c-squared, into matter had to come from somewhere. Meaning, most likely, some ‘otherverse’ (one or more of the possible multiverses, just not this one) is probably missing a huge chunk of energy or got swallowed whole to feed and fill the space that makes up our dimension. What we call the beginning of it all, the Big Bang, would have been a soundless Big Snack followed by a silent Big Burp (the expansion)– a snack on something that fed it all at once and for good.
All the above is obviously not a new cosmic theory. It is rather an odd thought experiment, an attempt to grasp a puzzle by taking an unexpected or unlikely approach. Einstein certainly did so. He overturned the one man point of view physics which fully explains (or rather not) the universe. Now we know it effectively takes two to tango – or in this case, two observation points and their motion relative to each other. That point of view issue is only a starter, culinary pun intended. All the mind bending space-time issues he and others figured out are part of the main course.
Since mankind discovered that our existence (all normal matter and energy) is just a 4% marginal minority inside a universe we can’t even see or feel, things got much more difficult. Depressing thought s apart (who likes to be a member of a tiny minority group), it is definitely relevant to solve the mystery of what the universe actually is and what it is made of or for.
Astronomers, astrophysicists, cosmologists and alike professions struggle. Maybe and hopefully the so much needed ideas must come from a totally different branch or knowledge. Probably there won’t ever be astro-gastronomers to study the cosmos as the above thought experiment would suggest. But as where are now the much sought astrogeologists, astrobiologist, astrochemists and so forth, to explain the workings in our and neighboring stellar systems, an equally different mindset is needed to make the next step in understanding the cosmos.
This more recent broadening of the interdisciplinary approach to science is, at least in education, by far more productive than the specialization in a single discipline. It is also more fun – the gastronomic approach in all its extent (not this downsized form here) certainly was.
So, all you amazing minds out there – give it a go and set your brains onto the stars. Leave the heavy math for later or others. What is needed is a new or at least different point of view. Whatever it will be, it sure will be a wondrous journey for the collective minds we are part of.
Until recently Grom D. Matthies developed and test applied inquiry oriented science education resources and software for schools and public outreach. Currently he is looking for new, exciting feeding grounds.