In 1960, the US Air Force asked the RAND Corporation to evaluate the possibility of using stationary rockets to pause the Earth’s rotation in the event of a nuclear attack. Called “Project Retro,” the idea was that the “a huge rectangular array of one thousand first-stage Atlas engines… (would) be fastened securely to the earth in a horizontal position.” As missiles approached, the rockets would fire, stopping the Earth’s rotation just enough for the nukes to overshoot their targets.
I have a confession to make. For a long time—years, really—I thought Stephen Hawking was overrated. He was just so famous, an icon, and I found it hard to imagine that his contributions to physics were really proportional to his fame.
Every discovery we make about the universe has implications for us. Understanding how our solar system formed, and how we got here, helps us figure out how likely it is that we’ll find life on other planets. Even just our corner of the galaxy is vast; anything we can do to help narrow the possibilities of where we can and should search for life beyond our planet is helpful.
The most basic physical laws you’ve learned—those drafted up by Isaac Newton in the 17th century—don’t work for everything. Once you try to applying them to really fast things moving nearly at the speed of light or things heavier than stars, they start to fall apart.
Enlarge (credit: Central Press/Getty Images) In 1915, Albert Einstein, with a ee pittle help from his friends, developed a theory of gravity that overturned what we’d thought were the very foundations of physical reality. The idea that the space that we inhabit was not perfectly described by Euclidean geometry had been inconceivable—so much so that the philosopher Immanuel Kant, a radical thinker in so many ways, proclaimed that it was not possible for any theory of physics to dispense with it.