Things People Do on
Earth & at the Moon
All things considered, it’s been hard to get along these days. So in the interest of building bridges and spreading goodwill to our fellow, jaded humans, we’re revisiting a time when some were happy to just play along together. Thus behold the Earth Jumpathon, and a Point Your Laser to the Moon activity – don’t laugh, it was big in the 2010s.
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 posting a picture of Big Whopper on social media. Just in case, though, we’re keeping everything bouncy and light, so you won’t get so bored as to walk out like a buzzkiller.
Since the beginning of times, earthlings have found more fulfillment in playing with pretty much anything than getting crushed by yet another mindless task. Like showing pics of you chomping down on some junk. That’s because our brains are better equipped to learn stuff when idle than when hung up on some stupid routine.
It is in fact exactly those mindless activities that better train us to react in a flash when facing the unexpected, according to recent neurobiology studies. The variable in this equation about learning brains is, of course, the other members of our species. No one needs to be reminded about how unreliable that bunch can be.
A playful routine of the likes that help children cope with the natural world can turn into to a wide-ranging social experiment, revealing deeper links underlying any group activity. The roots of our sense of community and mutual collaboration may be traced back to the time our ancestors spent interacting with each other for no apparent gain.
The 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, who unfortunately left us 20 years ago this May.
THE DAY-SHORTENING QUAKE
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 (more)
* Heavenly Bodies
* Paper Planes
* Tomorrow Never Knows
just two, wink, wink), they decided to find out whether the old axiom held any truth.
This and other fascinating pieces of knowledge are presented in an entertaining video put together by Michael Stevens, who runs YouTube VSauce channel. His efforts to put the theory to test, though, invoking everything that’s known about physics, despite lively, gets 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. No collective jumping would beat the measurable effect of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan: it made our days 1.8 microseconds shorter, according to Stevens. On that, his presentation is largely based on a 2010 article by Wired’s physicist Rhett Allain.
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 has 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 and a half 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, the Big One, and all that jazz, well that’d make it 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 we had our first toddler U.S. president (you know who was the second), who 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. It’s also a federal offense to point them out to airplanes, since some (er, immature?) 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 would 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 technology, costs, and even patience. Wasn’t that supposed to be fun? Well, consider the Nightsun, a powerful bean fitted atop police and Coast Guard choppers that’s probably one of the reasons people think police departments have too much money. Ever more adopted for night surveillance, which it is as sinister as it sounds, its flash barely touched the troposphere.
Munroe then tried an “IMAX projector array, a 30,000-watt pair of water-cooled lamps with an output of over over a million lumens.” Result: not much. What about the Las Vegas Luxor Hotel‘s spotlight, deemed “the most powerful on Earth?” Nah. Add some lenses? meh.
We know this sounds exquisitely (yawn) thrilling, so 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
Which would be also fun, your uncle Ted may’ve quipped, but it’d burn us all to a crisp. In any event, it’s all for entertainment purposes only. No one gets hurt. Besides, haven’t we spent some quality time together? 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, either at a Jumpathon (we admit it, it’s classless, we take full responsibility), or cutting a path of light through the great dark beyond, there’s no time to think about, say, guns, carnage, or the league’s finals. Most participants were truly set on jumping on cue, and others even hoped they could see else something out there. The truth? nope.
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 your rap rhymes on the 1985 Philadelphia bombing in front of the mirror, so to completely forget all that you’ve just read. In the meantime, do tell us whatever happened to your uncle Ted?
(*) Originally published on Oct. 3, 2012.