On a Saturday night in New Zealand’s largest city, three thousand people went along to see one of the most notable science communicators of our time. Professor Brian Cox’s Universal world tour was putting on a show and I went along.
I first saw Brian Cox in Wonders of the Solar system the documentary series that is rather popular where the viewer is taken on a journey through the natural wonders of the Solar System. This was my introduction to Brian Cox and I have admired him ever since.
Before I went to Brian Cox’s show I read his book Forces of Nature, the book to go with his recent documentary series. I enjoyed the way he answered seemingly simple questions and gave the full answer with anecdotes and stories to go along with them.
I love the way Brian Cox manages to convey his amazement and curiosity about the world. How he can both explain a tricky concept and be amazed that we do not know the full answer and more research is needed. I take inspiration from his style when I am guiding and showing off all the astronomy we have in Tekapo.
So I decided to give myself a little holiday and go to see Brian Cox live in Auckland.
During the show, Brian Cox talked a lot about world lines. The idea that the path you personally take through the universe can be mapped out in terms of space and time. There is a region of the past that can influence any given event and a region of the past that can not affect this event. The border between these two regions of the past is drawn out by a ray of light traveling at the speed of light. As light travels at the speed limit of the universe anything that would have to travel faster than light to get to an event can not get there in time and therefore can not affect the event. A similar argument can be made for influencing the future as a result of any event as well.
World lines can tip over near strong gravity so that they can not ever get out to the outside world. This picture shows a black hole. Brian Cox had some amazing imagery of a black hole created by the same company that created the black hole that can be seen in the interstellar movie. Using Einstein’s laws of gravity to show how black holes warp and bend the space around them was a very cool simulation that was accompanied by music for dramatic effect.
This simulation that we were shown also lines up with that which we see in the image of the black hole inside the heart of the galaxy M87 a fact that Brian Cox seemed to think was incredible.
Brian also talked about the universe in a cup of coffee.
The universe is tending towards disorder. This is known as entropy in science. The reason why we can make anything happen, our cells working to electric motors is due to the differences in temperature that exist now with this work being done comes with the downside of increasing the amount of disorder in the universe.
Using this idea of entropy, of increasing disorder in the universe it seems odd that us complicated humans are around.
How can this exist? Complicated Humans in an increasing disorder universe?
Brian talked about how this is similar to the way that in a cup of coffee and cream to start with the cream is on top and the coffee is at the bottom in an ordered state. When you stir the cup of coffee complicated swirls and patterns start to emerge before they settle down to form a chaotic mixture of well-mixed coffee and cream. The swirls form as complex things as the cup is moving to a disordered well-mixed drink. Us humans are just like the complicated swirls in a cup of coffee. Temporary complicated systems in more and more disorder.
I love how Brian cox made us all feel connected to these complicated ideas of physics and that not only is our universe an amazing place but that we are amazing for being in the universe and part of the universe. I guess that’s why the show was called Universal.