At The Guardian.
I got a typically hilarious email from my wonderful mother this morning. Tempted as I am to copy and pasted the email into this blog, it would ruin my retirement plan to publish a compendium of every email and text message she has ever sent me. So, the upshot of it is that she enjoyed Brian Cox’s show last night, but he lost her on gravity, and she is certain that it is because she is thick, as he is so good at explaining things. Only my mother could consider herself thick for not getting to grips with general relativity in ten minutes.
I was impressed he didn’t skip over it. Really you could have a whole show on that bit alone… but probably people would turn off. Also then he wouldn’t have had time for the bit about the moon waves or the bit about how we’re going to collide with Andromeda. Considering that I have probably watched every space program ever made at least five times, I was really impressed with how much knew stuff I learned. I watched it with my daughter and we tend to chat incessantly through all TV programs that don’t have a teenager breaking into song every five minutes. I was gutted there weren’t some nice graphics to help illustrate how space bends around planets, so we ended up pausing it and re-enacting it with a blanket and an espresso cup. I said something garbled about the principle of least action and then tried to invoke a third spatial dimension, which is quite hard to do when you are already using all four limbs and your mouth on keeping the blanket taught. Eventually Jessie said that she already knew everything I was failing to explain and dropped her end of the blanket, leaving me standing there with a doubly collapsed universe.
So, for my Mum, who is unfortunately 4000 miles away: if space is like a three dimensional spider’s web, then the stars and planets are like dead flies in the web. They cause scrunching, and the bigger they are, the more the strands around them are bent and scrunched towards them. That is space bending around massive objects. Sort of.