It is good old gravitation again

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Photo: MC

Gravitation as a natural phenomenon has been on my mind for as long as I can remember. In particular, I keep revisiting how gravity is at the heart of everything we are and the universe is.

Strangely, it is for the third time in as many years that I am thinking of gravity roughly around this time of year. It was in March, 2011, after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and again in April, 2012 that I wrote about gravity. This time it was triggered yesterday while watching my daughter Hayaa’s weekly soccer game; especially when I saw this assistant referee against the backdrop of the overcast sky above and the fresh green grass below. I was sitting in my partially broken deck chair on the sideline.

The entire activity of children running and kicking the ball, the ball moving, rising and falling, self in somewhat wobbly chair and the assistant referee with his feet firmly planted on the ground, everything was one of the millions of manifestations of gravitation.

Everything on Earth has evolved in response to the particular intensity of her gravity. On Mars, for instance, we would have to evolve in response to a gravitational force 62 percent lower than here. Presuming for the sake of illustrating the point that life could have still evolved and thrived on Mars, it would be so very different. Martians might still have played football (as in European football played with feet) but it would have been 62 percent slower than on Earth. Of course, the Martians would not have felt the slowness of their football because for them that would be the natural speed and their only reference point. Our understanding and experience of things are necessarily situational.

A vast majority of us, who would never get to enjoy interplanetary travel, cannot possibly know how it would feel to be on a planet which has 38 percent of our gravity.Even the expression “The gravity of the situation…” would have meant something different. An earthling visiting Mars would perhaps say, “The 38 percent gravity of the situation…..” As always, I digress but then an earthling would digress on Mars because of its lower gravity.

Am I glad that gravitation exists? Mostly yes, but I am equally curious about what if there were a sudden, albeit a slight variation in our terrestrial gravity.What if gravity could leak like a liquid?

The  National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI), established by NASA, makes some fascinating points about the effects on human body of varying gravity. It talks about the effects of changing gravity on bones, muscles, spine, cardiovascular systems, inner ear and balance and sleep.

One was taught a long time ago that it is our inner ear that is particularly sensitive to gravity and helps us keep our orientation. Here is how the NSBRI explains: “On Earth, a complex, integrated set of neural circuits allows humans to maintain balance, stabilize vision and understand body orientation in terms of location and direction. The brain receives and interprets information from numerous sense organs, particularly in the eyes, inner ear vestibular organs and the deep senses from muscles and joints. In space, this pattern of information is changed. The inner ear, which is sensitive to gravity, no longer functions as designed. Early in the mission, astronauts can experience disorientation, space motion sickness and a loss of sense of direction. Upon return to Earth, they must readjust to Earth’s gravity and can experience problems standing up, stabilizing their gaze, walking and turning. These disturbances are more profound as the length of microgravity exposure increases. The changes can impact operational activities including approach and landing, docking, remote manipulation, extravehicular activity and post-landing normal and emergency egress.”

So as I sat on the sideline yesterday, somewhat disinterestedly watching the game but thinking more about gravity, it was entirely unique to my being on this particular planet. My predilections, predispositions, perspectives and perceptions would have been radically different even on our nearest celestial body, the dusty desolation we call Moon. That’s because my brain would have formed differently in keeping with the gravity there. By the way, the lunar gravity is a mere 16.7 percent of Earth’s. My point again is our certitudes become invalid even on our nearest neighbor. So next time you clear your throat and adjust your collar to hand down what you believe to be a grand universal pronouncement, take a pause and preferably give up the idea.

P.S.: Phew! From a Saturday football game to this, it is quite a leap.

 

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Photo: MC

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About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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