Things to Do With
the Earth & the Moon
All things considered, it’s been hard to get along these days. So in the interest of building bridges and spreading a message of goodwill to our fellow, jaded humans, we’ll highlight two things today that may bring people of the whole wild world together: an Earth Jumpathon, and a Point Your Laser to the Moon activity.
Granted, you may not have heard of any sillier ways of wasting your time before. But it definitely beats bringing guests to a shooting range, or asking for their comments on a McDonald’s whopper. Just in case, thought, we’re keeping everything bouncy and light, so you won’t get so bored as to walk out like a buzzkiller would.
Since the beginning of times, earthlings have found more satisfaction while playing and tending to apparently innocuous, mindless pastimes than when forced to perform tasks. The reason is simple: our brains are better equipped to learn when they don’t have to focus attention on a single set of duties.
It is in fact, exactly those mindless activities that better train and prepare it to times when problem-solving is required, according to recent neurobiology studies. The highly variable factor in this equation about learning brains is, of course, the other members of our species.
They can represent the difference between a playful routine of the likes that help children grow and cope with the natural world, and a wide ranging social experiment, revealing deeper links underlying any group activity. The roots of our sense of community and mutual collaboration can be traced back to how much time our ancestors spent interacting with each other for no apparent gain.
These two activities to be described below also belong to that category, ‘I always wonder about.’ It’s in such file that we keep our sense of curiosity ever simmering with new queries about life, the universe, and everything, to bring up a fine restless mind, that of Douglas Adams, unfortunately no longer with us.
THE DAY-SHORTENING QUAKE
When we were growing up, back in the last century, it was common to hear that China had so many people that if they all would jump, they’d move the Earth off its axis. Well, folks at the Straight Dope seemed to have grown up at the same time, for in 1984 (when we were just five, wink, wink), they decided to find out whether the old axiom held any truth.
This and other fascinating pieces of knowledge are present in a very entertaining video put together by Michael Stevens, who runs YouTube VSauce channel. His effort to put the theory to test, though, invoking everything that’s known about physics, despite very lively, comes to the same anti-climatic conclusion many a physicist has already reached.
If everyone on Earth would jump at the same time, not much would happen. Last year’s major earthquake in Japan, on the other hand, did manage to cause a measurable effect: it made our days 1.8 microseconds shorter, according to Stevens. By the way, much of his presentation is based on a 2010 article by physicist Rhett Allain, who writes for Wired’s Dot Physics blog.
Allain’s calculations seemed to point to the fact that yes, if you get everyone on this planet to jump at the same time, it’d move it, but just a tiny, teeny bit. And he got sidetracked by another, equally difficult element to put together: getting us all at one place at the same time. The BBC managed with 50,000 people doing it, and the result was indeed negligible: a mere 0.6 on the Richter scale.
One last thing about getting us all together in one place: according to Stevens, if all seven billion of us were to stand, shoulder to shoulder, together, we’d need only Los Angeles as the setting. Unimpressed? So are we. Now, to factor in the San Andreas Fault, though, it’d make for a completely different ball game, and we’re not about to get into that today.
LASER DOTS & MOONBEAMS
Back when we were growing up (hey, this is about child’s play, people, remember?), lasers were all the rage. Granted, Buck Rogers was already using them, and so was a number of early sci-fi heroes. The X-Ray vision, an intriguing ability displayed by Superman, was a type of laser too, or at least it looked like one on comic books.
It all culminated, of course, in the 1980s, when an overgrown child became president of the U.S., and wanted a shield made of lasers to be built above the Earth’s orbit. Fortunately, the Star Wars ‘defense’ plan never got off the ground, or we probably wouldn’t even be here, otherwise. But the concept, and movie series, had come to stay in our popular culture.
Now they’re cheap, available to everyone, but still dangerous in the wrong hands. Nowadays, it’s a federal offense to point them out to airplanes, since some (er, imature?) people thought it’d be fun directing them at pilots, almost causing a catastrophe. But, yes, someone thought that the next best thing would be to point a few to the moon.
A few billion, we meant. The principle was the same as the previous brilliant idea: to get the world population to stop making war and gather, lasers in hand, for a fun night around bonfires. The site What If?, run by physicist Randal Munroe, took the idea at heart, and put together a few scenarios, where, in theory, the worst that could happen would be a traffic jam the size of North America.
As before, it’s not so much the results, bound to be disappointing, but how people think these things through what it’s really fascinating. For this experiment, the first of a series of smart assumptions was to find the place where most people, if not quite the whole world population, could be relatively close, with the moon in sight.
They found the spot where some five billion of our finest humans could see the moon, and the date, Dec. 27th, when our natural satellite will be ‘somewhere over the Arabian Sea,’ to run the theoretical experiment. And then came a succession of laser pointers, each more powerful than the previous, to be handled by each one of a crowd spread out through Asia, Africa and Europe.
A SERIES OF INSUFFICIENT POINTERS
First on the list was the red laser, a five milliwatts of concentrated power that, even when multiplied by five billion, failed miserably to produce the desired effect. Next, a one-watt green pointer, that also fell short, despite the estimated price tag of even thinking about buying one for each of those five billion: $2 trillion.
After that, the answer to the original question is all but buried under the weight of increased technology, costs, and even patience. Wasn’t that supposed to be fun? Well, meet the Nightsun, which apart from that time your uncle Bob ran around naked, you probably never saw it in action. Good for you; it’s otherwise known as the searchlight mounted on police and Coast Guard helicopters.
Munroe then tried an ‘IMAX projector array, a 30,000-watt pair of water-cooled lamps with a combined output of over over a million lumens.’ Result: not much. What about the spotlight atop the Las Vegas Luxor Hotel, deemed ‘the most powerful on Earth’? A little bit. Add some lenses? meh.
We know this sounds exquisitely (yawn) thrilling, but we may need to skip some steps and get to the grand finale. And the answer, ladies and gentlemen, is, unless you use up all oil reserves of the planet (not such a bad idea, since then we may take solar power more seriously), or come up with technologies not yet conceivable, we may have to put the Earth on fire before annihilating the moon.
GAMES THAT PEOPLE PLAY
It’d be also fun, but it’d burn us all to a crisp. But like the movie cliche when all the bad the hero went through was just a dream, or rather, nightmare, it’s all done for entertainment purposes only. Thus, no one gets hurt. Besides, haven’t we spent some quality time together, class? Now, do the follow up, check the links, and remember, homework is due on Friday.
Or something like that. You can easily see that even in imagination, it’s hard to come up with wholesome activities for the whole family, meaning, the human family. That is, if you don’t want to involve guns, carnage, or some opening of a global sports competition. But it’s definitely worth to keep on trying.
After all, while either a Jumpathon (we take full responsibility for this ugly term, by the way), or when trying to illuminate the great dark beyond, none of us are likely to be thinking about, well, guns, carnage or some silly games. While we hardly claim that our minds didn’t wander elsewhere, while imagining what it’d like to jump on the moon, we got to learn a thing or two.
You can add here an extra set of activities of your own making, such as training your cat to do tricks on camera, or practicing in front of the mirror your Gangnan dance moves, so to completely forget all that you’ve just read. In the meantime, do tell us whatever happened to your uncle Bob?