Saturday, August 9, 2008

Low Earth Orbit

I am posting this again from a previous blog. I have renamed the series but this is otherwise unedited from its original form.

Science drives my understanding of reality, from the nuts and bolts of the way matter interacts to the most intimate human relations. So often, people portray science as cold, hard facts and the scientists receive guilt by association. However, these studies require much more than simple logic and mathematics, without human creativity to lead it, our logical pathways soon peter out. Explaining our basic emotions in scientific terms will prove the fundamental humanity of this quest for knowledge.

Consider this the first in a series called "Science as Art".

We begin as an object hurtling through space. We feel no force and simply continue along our path. Eventually though, another object hovers into view and draws us in. The force of gravity pulls us closer to the object but our original velocity keeps us moving. In concert, these forces cause our path to curve. With a strong enough pull, we begin to circle the object of our attraction.
Each loops spirals us in and speeds us up. Our increased velocity threatens to pull us from the object of attraction but our proximity increases the strength of its pull. As these two forces fight we may settle into a pattern where our speed has balanced with gravity to create a stable loop.

However, another factor exerts a force in lower orbits. The thin air in low orbit slows down and heats up any object travelling through. This decrease in speed causes us to fall farther inward and actually speeds us up. At the same time, the thicker atmosphere slows us down faster, heats us up more, and causes us to fall farther in.

We are now in a dangerous situation. If we fall in too quickly, we will face increasingly thick air at a rate that will engulf us in flame and consume us. However, if we move tangentially too quickly, we will skip off the atmosphere, slightly burned, and race away from the object of our attraction.
We rocket forward in this perilous position paralyzed. Burned if we slow down too much and slip too far into the atmosphere. Skipping off the atmosphere, lightly burned and spurned by the gaseous shield. If only love equated to a variable, then we could solve for our trajectory. We would know just the right amount to push away so that we may easily glide in through the invisible wall surrounding the center of our attraction.

Sadly, though, most blind trajectories fail. Some of us luckily skim off the edge and skip onto a new target. Others, however, become too strongly entangled in the atmosphere and must spend their energy rocketing away to avoid being burned up and consumed.

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