It’s been a strange four months. Natural disasters have unfurled across the globe with a frightening regularity. The earthquake in Japan is, rightly, uppermost in everyone’s minds but there have been other disasters too. Between November and February, Australia suffered its costliest natural disaster ever as Queensland and Victoria were flooded. In January, Brazil experienced its worst natural disaster in several decades as torrential rainstorms triggered mudslides in the mountainous Serrana region. Christchurch in New Zealand was hit by a 6.3 earthquake, while some flooded areas of Sri Lanka received a year’s supply of rain in one month. The list goes on. The earthquake in Burma. More flooding in the Philippines…
Perhaps these disasters are proof that global warming is upon us. Perhaps they aren’t. For me, these recent events are simply confirmation that while America and China may vie for the top spot on this earth of ours, there is only one true Superpower: Mother Nature. And over the last 12 months she has been flexing her muscles with monotonous reliability.
The truth is that for all our technological advances, modern man is as vulnerable to Mother Nature’s whims as prehistoric man was thirty thousand years ago. She really doesn’t have to try that hard to knock us off our stride. In Japan a six minute quake caused the seabed to shift by more than 24 metres in some places, while an entire 200-mile section of its northeast coastline dropped by two feet. To put Mother Nature’s power into perspective: the energy released during those 360 seconds was approximately 600 million times the energy of the Hiroshima bomb . Perhaps the most incredible display of her raw power was that she actually caused the earth’s axis to shift by 10cm.
But for me that is only half of the story…
It is a show of power on a planetary scale, and Mother Nature should make us all feel truly humble in her presence. This is simply evidence of Mother Nature’s powers on earth. Cosmically, her flex is even greater. Not for the first time, I’m looking to Professor Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe, in which he illustrates this point perfectly. He talks about the properties of gravity: a force of nature that on Earth is almost benign in its influence, but which makes our very existence possible.
Gravity affects everything in the Universe because gravity is a function of mass. It gives weight to everything with mass, so the bigger the mass, the greater the gravitational pull. ProfessorBrian Cox describes an extreme example of this in a Neutron Star lying at the centre of the Crab Nebula. The central core of this once great star is only 20 kilometres across, but it has the same mass as the Sun. It is the size of a city, spinning 30 times per second and emitting jets of neutron particles that stream out from its poles.
Neutron Stars have such extreme gravity because they are made of incredibly dense matter. My recent previous blog post on the astonishing property of matter may help to clarify why this has such a devastating effect. Matter is made of atoms and, as we established, atoms are 99.99999% empty space. In a Neutron Star the force of gravity is so extreme, the empty space inside the atoms is literally squashed out of existence and the star becomes incredibly dense.
To illustrate the relative strength of gravity in a Neutron Star, Professor Cox describes what would happen if you jumped from a ledge five feet off the surface of the star. Since the gravitational pull is 100 thousand million times greater than that we feel on earth, by the time you hit the ground you would be moving at four million miles per hour!
How’s that for a Superpower? No wonder Mother Nature commands our respect.