January 2014 issue

Date:13 January 2014 Tags:, , , , , ,

The lights are on, but nobody’s home

I had an interesting argument the other day. I was chatting to an apparently sane man who suddenly went off at a tangent and began holding forth on “scientifically proven” evidence of post-mortem communication, something called “quantum healing”, and telepathic ties between plants and humans.

At some point (it may have been after my second glass of wine), I used my right index finger to describe small circles beside my head – a universally recognised sign that your protagonist has lost the plot – and made a mental resolution to henceforth avoid people who shake your hand with unnecessary vigour and maintain eye contact long after it becomes uncomfortable.

Fact is, our Universe is so mysterious and exciting that you don’t need to make up stuff. For example, particles that can be in two places at once, invisible forces that shape entire galaxies, quantum teleportation, natural phenomena of incredible beauty and complexity, the strange things that happen at nanoscales. And then there’s the time thing.

In “The now delusion” (starting on page 38), we explore the weird and scientifically challenging theory that time does not flow; instead, it’s frozen, immutable. As writer Michael Slezak tells it, most physicists believe that our “now” is nothing special, and that our perception of passing time is nothing more than an illusion we create in our heads. The result is a picture known as the block Universe – that is, the Universe seen from that impossible vantage point outside space and time. Read our thought-provoking article and tell us what you think.

Next up: a significant foray into the renewable energy arena. Associate editor Sean Woods takes a look at the 75 MW Kalkbult solar photovoltaic (PV) plant north of De Aar, which has become the first private utility-scale renewable energy project to feed electricity to the national grid (see “A place in the sun”, starting on page 60).

Can we look forward to a new “Golden Age” of American space flight? Thanks to some very bright (and brave) people in private industry, the chances are looking pretty good. Although the doomsayers had lots to say after the last space shuttle flight in 2011, lamenting the fact that America no longer had the hardware to launch a human into orbit, they’re now having second thoughts. Explore your spacefaring dreams in “The new space age” (page 25).

Also featured this month: an extended DIY Home feature (including some of our best back-page hints, a fun Saturday morning project and a primer on 10 tools every kid should learn to use); a look at the hidden technology that’s transforming the automotive world (“Clever cars, page 44); astronaut Chris Hadfield on the loss of his friends in the Columbia disaster; and deputy editor Anthony Doman’s stirring action cam shootout.

Many of you will be reading this at the start of your annual holiday. We hope you enjoy the magazine, and we wish you a thoroughly happy and successful 2014.

– Alan Duggan (aland@ramsaymedia.co.za)