Have you ever heard of a maglev ("maglev" is short for "magnetic levitation") train? Some years back, Floridians voted to have such a high-speed train (well, possibly a maglev) for Florida. A maglev zips its passengers along by creating a powerful magnet that sucks passengers forward or backward along the rails at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour.

Of course, lots of details have to be worked out before Florida actually gets a maglev train.

Imagine a train like this--but even faster--in space, that lets you travel to other worlds, other galaxies, possibly other universes or points in time.

If you've seen the movie, CONTACT, perhaps you'll remember how people in that movie travelled. Do you think such travel is really possible?

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Go to NASA's "Ask the Space Scientist," click on "Black Holes," and then look at the answers to the various questions about black holes being used as inter-universe tunnels, or as ways to travel through time! What do you think? Could we travel through these or not?

Try looking at some of the movies showing relativity's predictions for black holes, at "Spacetime Wrinkles" (NCSA, University of Illinois) -- try one or more of the following:

(If your computer will not download a whole movie, try looking at the "thumbnail images," and reading the accompanying "text!")

You might also like to read about the neutron star streaking across space and related "exotic matter" ("exotic matter" just means stuff we're not used to around Earth) at NASA's Hubble Space Telescope site. Or perhaps you'd like to see the bent light waves left by a black hole--called the black hole's signature.

For more information about black holes--which were used to form inter-universe tunnels in the movie, "Contact"--and how powerful these are, go to the "Amazing Space" site, and click on "Black Holes." Find out how fast matter travels near a black hole!


A number of stories have been written about travel through time and space. R. L. Stine usually writes mysteries, but he has written a story called "The Beast" (1994) in which children travel through time. (See Stine [1994], The Beast [New York: Pocket Books--Simon and Schuster/Parachute Press].)

In Arthur C. Clarke's (1968) "2001, A Space Odyssey," the hero meets a new kind of being in the Universe, and learns about new ways to travel in space--by taking on new forms. And just think--2001 is only a few months away! (See the videorecording, or look at Clarke [1983], The Sentinel [New York: Berkley].)

Perhaps space and time have warps with secret passages through!

In Jules Verne's (1959) "A Journey to the Centre of the Earth," a scientist and his nephew travel through the hollow passages of a volcano (a volcano that is not supposed to erupt), and, after taking this shortcut through the earth's interior, come out through a volcano somewhere else on Earth. (See Verne [1959], A Journey to the Centre of the Earth, illustrated by the author; introduction by Arthur C. Clarke [New York: Dodd, Mead & Company].)

Do you think that a traveller--a light beam, a space ship (perhaps a special kind of ship), a strange type of extraterrestrial, or a ghost, perhaps--could take a similar shortcut through a hole in space and time? Do you think it would be possible to create a gravitational warp to carry people through space with moderate, controlled gravitational fields (none that accelerate us to the speed of light, or switch direction suddenly!)? (Creating manmade warps in gravity for travel through space is discussed in Marcus Chown [23 March, 1996], "Planes, trains and wormholes," New Scientist: 29-33.)


George Gamow (1961), in "One two three . . . infinity" describes ways space can be twisted--for example, in "Mobius strips" and "Klein bottles." It's fun to make a Mobius strip. Cut a strip of paper. It has two sides or faces, right? Now, twist the paper once and paste the two ends together. Trace your finger around it. How many sides do you think there are now?

Do you think space and time could twist together to other parts far away in the universe?

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Use the links above--and perhaps also read some of the fiction about travel in space and time--to imagine what travel would be like in an inter-universe tunnel through space and/or time. Would it even be possible? Then, write a story about such a trip. If you want the story to focus on the traveller, you might write a collection of several adventures that your character might have on such trips. (This is called a "character cycle.")

You might try publishing your story, too--at the Kids' Space Storybook (, at the Kalalmaka Institute for Working Writers KIdsWWwrite ( at Beck Underwood's Zuzu (, or at The Write Source (fiction writing cannot be published by students above grade eight; see

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Read the verses and think about the accompanying questions!

  1. Do you think that some matter might travel faster than light in a super-high gravitational field? (See NASA's "Ask the Space Scientist" question about what happens to a photon in a black hole.)


    There was a young lady from Wight
    whose speed was far faster than light.
    She set off one day
    in the usual way,
    and returned on the previous night!
  2. A poet, Morris Bishop wrote the following poem, "E = MC Squared," in response to Einstein's work with relativity. The poem was first published in the New Yorker in 1946.

    While working on relativity, Einstein discovered that gravity could even affect something without any mass like light. He also worked out a new formula in which mass could be converted into energy--where the energy produced in a reaction equalled the mass lost times the speed of light squared. Einstein's theories predicted the existence of gravitational fields in space like those of black holes!

    (Since "E = MC Squared" was written in 1946,the poet was probably thinking about the debate going on in the U.S. as to whether 'we must' or 'must not' use the atomic bomb on Japan during World War II, too, as well as about his work with relativity.)

    Why do you think that the poet says that "[l]ife is a tangled bowknot" in this poem?

    E = MC2

    by Morris Bishop

    What was our trust, we trust not;
    What was our faith, we doubt;
    Whether we must or must not,
    We may debate about.

    The soul, perhaps is a gust of gas,
    And wrong is a form of right;
    But we know that Energy equals Mass
    by the Square of the Speed of Light!

    What we have known, we know not;
    What we have proved, abjure;
    Life is a tangled bowknot,
    But one thing is still sure.

    Come little lad; come little lass;
    Your docile creed recite:
    "We know that Energy equals Mass
    by the Square of the Speed of Light!"
    (Cited in Louise Rosenblatt [1978], "The Reader, the Text, the Poem: the Transactional Theory of the Literary Work" [Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press]: 73-74.)
  3. Another poem on this subject is

    George Gamow's LIMERICK

    There was a young fellow from Trinity
    Who took the square root of infinity.
    But the number of digits
    Gave him the fidgets;
    He dropped Math and took up Divinity.
    (From George Gamow [1961], "One two three . . . infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science," illustrated by George Gamow [New York: the Viking Press].)

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Relativity: the speed of anything is relative to the current speed you're going; likewise, a charge is really a charge difference, relative to another charge.

Wave and Particle Theory: sometimes matter can take the shape of particles, other times it takes the shape of waves.

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Incorporating Science into Your Writing:
Energy and Gravity: Some Equations: You Make Sense of Them

Energy = Mass times Velocity Squared
(Note: for the release of energy and particles--electrons in electricity, electrical waves; neutrons and protons in fission, the velocity is the escape velocity of the speed of light, the escape velocity of the photon, of the energy in the electrical wave; thus Einstein's equation is: E (Energy) = M (Mass) C-squared (Where C is the speed of light)
(Note: the above equation is also the equation for gravity; some people think that while it is the photon's energy that holds the particles together in the atom, it may be gravity that holds an individual particle to itself)
Gravity on the earth = 1 G
(Note: that's at the Earth's surface only. If you were inside of the earth, only the mass located between you and the center could still pull on you.)
Gravity decreases by the square of the distance as you get farther away.
(Note: Gravity is believed to be a spiralling wave. Centrifugal force is believed to be a related force. Also, electrical fields are associated with a gravitational field, that is where you see a gravitational field, you also tend to see electrical fields, and an electrical current can cause a gravitational field. Gravity is believed to move or change at about the speed of light while electric current's speed depends on what it travels through though it travels at nearly the speed of light in a vacuum.)

(Question: If the earth were compressed to the density of a neutron, and you were located at a distance from its center equal to that of Earth's current radius, what would the gravitational pull on you be? How many G's?

Another question: why in your opinion might gravity decrease by the square of the distance and not simply the distance?)

Now back to the forces that hold things together. What about molecules? What holds them together? Is any electrical charge involved? That is, how do the atoms in molecules join together?

Now, what do you think holds together the nucleus of the atom?
Note: a neutron-one of the particles in the nucleus--is equal it seems to a proton plus an electron!!!! Minus of course a photon (but a photon of energy is always released whenever two particles combine; and it is absorbed whenever particles split; I think it's just one photon; I'll have to check). Apparently also plus a neutrino is also needed to make things add up in terms of spin (neutrinos I believe can travel through Earth fairly easily, unlike photons and light; more info. on these to come -- or look them up yourself.).

Hydrogen has several isotopes: the common hydrogen, which is just a proton and an electron; and a rarer isotope called "deuteron," which is a proton, a neutron, and an electron. No other isotope goes without a neutron in its nucleus; in fact, normally, the number of neutrons must equal the number of protons--which of course must equal the number of electrons in the shell, or else you have a very conductive ion. So why does hydrogen often go without a neutron, in your opinion?

What keeps the electrons from falling down into the atom, into its nucleus? What kind of force?

Forces: Angular Momentum, Centrifugal Force, Torque, Rotational Equilibrium

An interesting force to learn about is torque; see the article in Wikipedia, Also see the tutorial put out by the University of Guelph's Physics Department,

Torque is the force you need, for example, to open a door. According to the University of Guelph, "[t]he closer you are to the hinges (i.e. the smaller [your distance] is [from the pivot or center of momentum]), the harder a door [or anything] is to push. This is what happens when you try to push open a door on the wrong side. The torque you created on the door is smaller than it would have been had you pushed the correct side (away from its hinges)."

Check out also angular momentum at Georgia State University's Department of Physics and Astronomy:, and at the University of Guelph again -- "Introduction: Torque and Angular Acceleration," (angular momentum gets faster as the distance to the center, to the fulcrum, decreases -- like the pendulum that speeds up when you bring the string in closer to you; so angular momentum seems to be different than torque, but as you can see, angular acceleration and torque are related!)

The force acting on an object to cause its rotation about a fulcrom increases according to the object's decreasing distance from the fulcrom.

Is torque different from gravity? And what about centrifugal force? How can this force be compared to the forces involved in torque and gravity.

Read also about rotational equilibrium in the Wikipedia article on torque.

Is there a way that gravity and torque might be related? (Remember, gravity decreases by the square of the distance as you get farther away; the amount of torque (or leverage for opening something) available increases according to the distance as the rotating body gets farther from the center. Torque "is the cross product between the distance vector (the distance from the pivot point to the point where force is applied) and the force vector, 'a' being the angle between r and F," according to the University of Guelph. How might the equations for gravity and torque be related? This is complicated to think about, but if you are really interested in physics, might be interesting.)

Finally, do you know what a web is??? In the natural world, life, microbes, animals, plants, are said to be linked into a single eco-web; thus they interconnect?

Could you think of the physical world as a web--the world of atoms, molecules, chemical bonding?

Many physicists talk about the warp of space, or space-time. High gravitational fields warp space-time, they say. How would this make the more massive particles in the atom, those in the nucleus (the proton, for example) end up in the center of the atom and the lighter particles end up at the periphery, in orbit around the center?

Black holes are supposed to be locuses of very dense matter. It is their density that makes the gravitational field near them so high, supposedly. There may be other explanations as well. Why would high density lead to high gravity?

Do you think there is a limit to how dense matter can be?

One more thing. Why do tiny particles, without mass or charge, called "neutrinos," seem to pass right through the earth? Why aren't they absorbed? Do they really pass through? Or do they generate mirror images on the other side of any g-field? Would a theory of gravity need to account for the failure of Earth's (and others') G-fields to absorb the neutrinos?


RESOURCE for helping you visualize the sky around you:

Astronomical Society of the Pacific's "Earth and Beyond" (the solar system, plus a mini-planetarium showing how the sky looks from earth's perspective, that is relative to earth--remember, how the sky looks, the speed things seem to be travelling at, everything, is relative to the observer!): store/scstore/p-KT136.html?L+scstore+qmqd4173ff572857+1206034840#large

(This page last updated May, 2010. Background on this page from Fun's lightning wallpaper.)