Birds of a feather

Q: This brown pelican is employing a strategy similar to one used by the Doolittle Raiders of World War II fame. What is the strategy and the science behind it?

Send a response of up to 250 words that someone in any field could understand to by noon Eastern June 14 for a chance to have it published in the next issue.

FROM THE MAY ISSUE: Intergalactic travel

We asked you to respond to a scientist’s assertion that your clan seeking another galaxy should travel to one whose light took 13.6 billion years to reach your space telescope.

WINNER: There are two points. The first is that since the light from the distant galaxy took 13.6 billion years to reach us, we are seeing the galaxy as it was 13.6 billion years ago, not as it is now. How do we know that the galaxy is still suitable? And since the galaxy will evolve for another 13.6 billion years while we are en route, will it still be suitable for us when we arrive? The second point, which works in our favor, is that because our spaceship is traveling at nearly the speed of light, we will not experience 13.6 billion years elapse if we do take the trip. Einstein’s theory of special relativity says that time on a moving object passes more slowly than it does on an object at rest relative to us. The flip side of it is that a person on the moving object sees the rest of the universe “shrink” in the direction of its motion. Relative to our spacecraft when it is moving at nearly the speed of light, the distance to the galaxy will shrink to much less than 13.6 billion light years.

John Fay

AIAA Associate Fellow

Freeport, Florida

John is a subject matter expert in modeling and simulation of vehicle dynamics at Torch Technologies in Alabama, which provides engineering services to the U.S. Department of Defense, among other customers.

Reviewer Martin Elvis adds: The universe is continuously expanding, so the galaxy is farther than 13.6 billion years away by the time its light reaches the clan’s telescope. That distance will be shorter in the  frame of reference of the passengers traveling at nearly the speed of light.

Birds of a feather