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A recent story in the Washington Post related that the Department of Defense has declassified videos documenting encounters between Navy fighter jets and unidentified aircraft capable of flying at speeds much greater than and with maneuverability far exceeding known (or, at least, declassified) aircraft . While the idea that these vehicles are the calling cards of a highly technically-advanced alien civilization strikes me as utter nonsense, it is amusing to speculate as to what might be their source of energy. Call this letter a hypothetical pedagogical exercise.
Presumably any form of conventional rocketry could not provide for such speed or maneuverability. Our other known large-scale sources of energy, nuclear fission or fusion, would likely require structures so massive as to be impractical for such purposes. Is there any source of energy that we know of — at least in theory — which might provide the wherewithal for little green men or their drones to flit about the galaxy? I propose here gravitational potential energy as a candidate.
Just as an electrical field possesses an energy density, so does the gravitational field of any mass. A quick calculation shows the gravitational energy density near the surface of a mass M of radius R is given by
In the vicinity of the Earth, this evaluates to an impressive 57.5 billion Joules per cubic meter. A cubic meter’s worth of such energy would correspond to the kinetic energy of an F-15 jet (m ~ 20,000 kg) moving at about Mach 7. Perhaps the aliens have found a way to tap into this latent energy, which must pervade the galaxy. They would of course also have to deal with other issues, such as having their craft and themselves withstand the corresponding accelerations, but this might prove a minor issue for the possessors of such technology.
Just a thought.
B. Cameron Reed
Department of Physics, Alma College (Emeritus)
Alma, MI 48801
March 31, 2018
Pi Day is celebrated annually on March 14 in honor of the frequently used mathematical constant 3.14, which looks similar to 3/14. I propose that Standard Gravity Day be celebrated annually on September 8 in honor of the frequently used standard acceleration due to gravity (abbreviated as standard gravity), 9.8 meters per second squared (m/s2), which looks similar to 9/8.
Ashu M. G. Solo
Maverick Technologies America Inc.
Forty-five years ago, the American Physical Society sent its first Congressional Fellow to Washington, D.C., and by all accounts the experiment to increase the scientific and technical capacity of the Federal government has been a success. Since then, dozens of physicists have held Federal government policy positions, three physicists have been elected to Congress and two physicists have been appointed Secretary of Energy, a post typically held by career public servants. But in the US, not all policy is made in Washington. Decisions that affect our lives and our work are made in state houses, county seats, and city halls across the country. That’s why I founded Engineers & Scientists Acting Locally (ESAL), an organization dedicated to increasing engagement by engineers and scientists with their local governments and communities.
Today, local governments are dealing with an unprecedented increase in policy issues that require scientific and technical input. To name only a few examples, local governments are considering technology policy ranging from the use of artificial intelligence in criminal justice to the regulation of driverless vehicles. School boards and state education departments across the country must develop curricula and standards to prepare the next generation of Americans for scientific breakthroughs and technology developments we cannot yet imagine. And governments at all levels must develop policies that protect the health of their local ecosystems while maintaining their plans for long-term, sustainable growth.
As physicists, we may wonder whether we have the scientific knowledge to inform related policy decisions. But experience demonstrates that when we choose to engage locally, we have meaningful impact. Today, physicists are serving in state houses from California to New Jersey. We are successfully advocating for statewide voting reforms and changes to municipal residential codes. And we are serving in appointed advisory positions at every level of government.
Despite these successes, however, too few of us get involved. Through a 2017 survey of engineers and scientists across the country, ESAL found that people with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, and math reported higher levels of knowledge about federal issues and were more likely to engage with the federal government than with their local government. For many people, this participation gap is driven by a lack of information about how to have an impact on local policy. ESAL seeks to fill this gap by giving engineers and scientists the information and tools they need to begin their local engagement journeys.
Through its blog, ESAL shares the experiences of engineers and scientists who are engaging locally. ESAL has also developed a Local Engagement Checklist that provides several entry-points for local policy engagement. And in the coming months the group will announce several new initiatives to help scientists effectively engage with local government, including issue-specific content and curated lists of local resources. ESAL offers a monthly newsletter (sign up) with updates on these efforts.
So, how can you get started making a difference in your local community? For one plasma physicist, it began with an email to his city council members. For myself, through an appointment to a municipal task force. In both these cases, and in many others, such simple first steps opened new possibilities for broader impact. As physicists, we share a long history of policy engagement and advocacy. While we have traditionally participated in the national and global arenas, we may have even greater impact in our local communities. I invite you all to take your first policy step...by staying close to home.
Arti Garg Engineers and Scientists Acting Locally
These contributions have not been peer-refereed. They represent solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not necessarily the view of APS.