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Anti-Gravity: The Ups and Downs and its problems

01/08/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

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where he stands by: GF Willmetts. To understand anti-gravity, one has to understand what gravity is in the first place and that is tricky. In its most broadest sense, gravity is the attraction of two bodies to each other. If you leap in the air, you will fall back to Earth.

However, what is really happening is the Earth is also rising up to meet you. Because you have the smaller mass, you move the most distance and the Earth itself has barely moved but both are drawn towards each other. It isn’t a one way street or rather fall and rise. Before anyone suggests everyone on a particular continent all jumps up in the air together to test this, their combined mass would not be as great as the Earth. Even if everyone on the Earth did it, the same problem still applies, not to mention they’d be scattered all over the planet and would even things out even if it was possible. Yet, this is the principle of gravity as first recognised by Isaac Newton and it’s measured at 6.67 × 10?11 newton-metre2-kilogram?2 if you like playing with small numbers. That tiny number is enough to ensure we’re all victims of gravity and everything comes down to earth or whatever planet you’re on. It is only the difference in planetary mass that determines whether the pull of gravity is greater or less than Earth norm.

So how do spacecraft beat gravity? They accelerate faster than the attraction of Earth‘s gravity until its high enough not to come down…well, not right away and even then it’s mostly because it loses the empty rocket stages that carry the most weight so the payload can keep going. All, even satellites, will gradually be drawn back to Earth if they stay within range but by orbiting at their own velocity, this force can be negated for a time. There is a place far up enough where gravity has little effect called the LaGrange Point between the Earth and the Moon and for all intents and purposes would be zero gravity, although really it’s only because the attraction is equal in all directions.



There are only a few stable LaGrange Points in the Solar System, including the above example and two others between Jupiter and the Sun that you are free of any planetary gravity. Hardly the choicest places to go and mostly in outer space, the effects of gravity are so small that you would be floating anyway. That isn’t anti-gravity, just the effect of having no mass strong enough to pull you in any particular direction. When you compare, say, the mass of the International Space Station is 450 tons and even a space shuttle, which ways considerably more than a human body which have minimal effect, you should then realise just what kind of mass is needed to achieve any form of gravity to draw you towards it. Einstein’s description of space being a rubber mat and only the densest objects have the most powerful gravitational attraction should make some sense now.

I should point out that this is only localised gravity. This includes the likes of comets and meteors stay within their stellar orbits within a star system until they lose velocity and are attracted to the nearest planet. Meteors can have some pretty exotic orbits and even they can also be attracted to the nearest planets as witnessed by collisions with our Earth and Moon when they are drawn too close. Notice the parallel to a satellite’s decaying orbit.

When you go up to galactic levels where our Milky Way is a rotating spiral and in turn is one of other galaxies also rotating and the star systems within are staying in place do you realise that what we see at local level applies to the cosmos as well. If it wasn’t for the Big Bang, all these galaxies would be a lot closer together but without the universe’s creation, their distance wouldn’t be expanding neither. The detection of giant planets around other stars is largely because of the effect they have on the stars’ they orbit. All of it is a demonstration of gravity in action.

In fact, if anti-gravity existed at all then we would see it in nature first before we could attempt to manufacture it. The converse is true. Gravity attracts everything. In the case of stars, they implode when old and become black holes or gravity well singularities, drawing in anything that gets too close to them. Even when there was the discussion of white holes and perhaps wormholes connecting them to black holes, no one even raised the subject of anti-gravity being associated with them. Therein lies a contradiction. If you use a wormhole created by a black hole singularity, just how do you get ejected out the other side if the gravity well there is equally strong? Wouldn’t you just be trapped going backwards and forwards in the wormhole, assuming your atoms weren’t stretched out within it. Mind you, singularities are known to eject mass as well but hardly in a state we would recognise.

Gravity is one of the four key forces in the universe, to do anything to negate its effect is really playing with the power of the universe and as pointed out already, we barely understand them at all, let alone make use of them all effectively.

Of the these four forces, electro-magnetic, strong nuclear, weak nuclear and gravity, the latter is actually very weak, 1074 weaker than electro-magnetic in fact. If there is a way to connect all four forces together and the manipulation of one or more can affect the others, then it would be possible to open all sorts of energy potentials but the unified theory is still, alas, still a theory for the present. To keep matter together, we need these forces to work rather than break down.

It is known that at low temperatures and in an electro-magnetic field, you achieve superconductivity and can get a small object to levitate but this is still akin to how gravity works in keeping satellites in orbit, by applying enough or rather lack of energy to stop the object from falling. It works great with small objects containing particular metallic elements but would need considerable energy to take, say, a space capsule into orbit and is a bit impractical at large scale. Then again, if you could control or reduce inertia, the object involved would appear to fly away. However, it isn’t really. In an expanding universe, just having something stop moving and the rest of the universe still expanding would quickly have gone by. It would only be an optical illusion that the object would have moved and not us. You don’t feel the Earth moving in orbit any more than you feel the universe expanding but we’re on a miniscule level to what is happening. All of this is the results of the Big Bang and galaxies are moving away from each other faster than the attraction of gravity and not fast enough to catch up with each other. Quite where dark matter comes into this, I doubt if anyone knows right now. One has to assume that it is also moving outwards as well and any influence on gravity is negligible or not being close enough to regular matter to make any difference.

Looking at superconductivity and the four key forces of the universe, I can see some connection between electro-magnetism coming into effect at near absolute temperature and the apparent absence of gravity. However, at absolute zero, -273.15C, there is also zero motion for electro-magnetism and gravity so it is less an absence and more a lack of activity that reduces their function. I did realise that energy was still loose in these superconductivity fields or we wouldn’t be able to see the floating object so, clearly, it isn’t the total loss of temperature. Something to consider is that the vacuum of space itself is at near absolute zero, -270C, but there is no electro-magnetism effect to make anything float. Mind you, I’m surprised NASA hasn’t taken advantage of already having the low temperature in space to conduct this experiment in orbit and capitalise on it for deep space missions for frictionless movement.

When it comes to creating anti-gravity, as far as we understand it, you would need to be able to change the weight of the object you want affected to neutralise the Earth drawing it back down. To get some mid-way point to do this so it stays somewhere off the ground, you would have to have the equivalent mass of our planet plus a small factor more to achieve levitation or create a LaGrange Point, where the attraction is equal in all directions. Unfortunately, as can be witnessed by the Earth’s proximity to the Moon which gives us the tides, if you have a similar mass to the Earth that close then you’ll create earthquakes in sufficient quantity to destroy the Earth. Clearly, this is not a possible option and does draw odd question marks over psionic use of levitation and telekinesis but more of that later.

This doesn’t mean you can’t create anti-gravity or just that you wouldn’t want to create it near a planetary surface. But where else can you do so? The real question is do you want anti-gravity or a means to reduce or alter gravity’s attraction? After all, it is the lack of or reduced gravity that deteriorates the bone density of astronauts in space. If you can generate gravity in proportion to that of Earth, you should be able to avoid this. Short of propelling a large moon, such actions would have to be confined to spaceships.

Interestingly, it can be done. To get gravity in outer space, you could have a rotating centrifuge inside the spaceship, as with the Discovery in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ or parts of your spacecraft rotating like the Leonov in the film sequel, ‘2010’, to get the same objective. All of this requires is a substantial energy to keep going but it does offer some protective gravity to the crew. Any spacecraft created in our reality is likely to follow similar guidelines, mostly because once maximum acceleration is achieved, assuming its velocity isn’t too extreme. In case anyone is puzzled why there should be a maximum acceleration, you would need a suitable distance to slow down sufficiently to achieve an orbit around the destination moon or planet. The manner of the Leonov’s aero-breaking in ‘2010’ can be effective but a gradual process is more energy efficient but the Russian spacecraft was moving at breakneck speed in comparison.

If acceleration and deceleration were no problem then the thrust of your rockets would make your floor the opposite wall to your motors as that would be where the most force would be coming from. All well and good until you slow down and then you’d be floating although it does explain why the pilot controls con of the Discovery were horizontal rather than in the centrifuge when there would be greater thrust. Hardly ideal but considering the early space films like ‘Destination: Moon’ (1950), et al had, this is still a somewhat realistic situation, although course correction in mid-flight might be problematic.

While we’re in a matter of fiction, we might give some thought as to what uses anti-gravity can be used for in our own genre. HG Wells came up with cavorite, discovered by Cavor in ‘First Men On The Moon’ (1901), as a means of propulsion to our satellite. A bit cavalier in technique because to mostly stop its effects, you just had to cover it up which sounds too easy. Quite how a screen would do that isn’t disclosed but I could well believe that that the screen was also coated in cavorite and placing them over each other would presumably neutralise the effect. The equivalent of a LaGrange Point if you like. The objective was to change the attraction from Earth to the Moon, although whether it was true anti-gravity is hard to say. If anything, I suspect Wells saw it as an alternative to the means his contemporary, Jules Verne, did with using a space gun in ‘From The Earth To The Moon’ (1865) and ‘Around The Moon’ (1870) to do this and without revolutionary things like rocket fuel just provided a plausible cheat.

Of course, when gravity can be controlled, mass and weight become irrelevant and with his ‘Cities In Flight’ (1955-1962) book series, James Blish had the Dillon-Wagoner Graviton Polarity Generator aka spindizzies that brought a whole new meaning to using your home city as a space vehicle. These spindizzies, as the name suggested, defied gravity by the assumption that if rotation and mass creates magnetism via gravity then rotation and magnetism produces anti-gravity. Doing that and the spindizzy can lift any atom within its influence, although I’d hate to be wearing anything metallic. Roughly translated, Blish was playing with the four key forces, even if it was in a simplistic but plausible way.

Although other Science Fiction stories had gravity control devices on-board starships, they were only mentioned in passing rather than be pertinent to any plot element and I doubt if anyone gave much thought to the problems above. If gravity manipulation was that easy then it would be used for far interesting purposes than merely space flight. As this appears unlikely, one could assume that it’s a pseudo effect by having a heavy mass below the floor to ensure there is a ‘down’. Of course, this becomes problematic when you have Starfleet starships who propel from horizontal engines which you would have thought would have neglected this effect unless, of course, the mass is sufficiently great but even its metric mass alone would not be enough. Considering later Enterprises relied on force fields, a suitable field density could conceivably cancel out or deflect gravity but keeping an Earth level constant would be a lot trickier. I’m not entirely convinced that a force field could achieve adjustable gravity without a loss of inertia.

For those budding designers out there, you would need to create a radically different starship if you wanted to create some form of centrifugal gravity, I would have the entire habitat rotating inside the starship to do this with the outer shell deflecting any objects in its path.

One could speculate that mass isn’t used at all but is an electromagnetic effect. However, to depend on that would mean you wouldn’t be able to wear any metallic material or technology because it would be affected by the field and we haven’t even discussed how it would affect anything else metallic within range. It would be more economic to have heavy shoes or grip-shoes using Velcro a’la ‘2001’ if you couldn’t do this.

Comicbooks took things in a different direction, especially with National Periodicals/DC Comics top super-hero Superman, although it was explained that the Man of Steel came from a heavier gravity planet and slowly evolved from running faster than a speeding bullet to flying even faster than one. Having a greater mass might explain Superman’s strength and invulnerability but not his means of flight propulsion which might be seen as more like swimming than flying. It was only in the 60s, where it was shown he could also fly in space which meant that something different was going on, although I doubt if it was telekinesis as proposed. Indeed, the same would apply to the likes of all of DC’s Silver Age characters who can fly. There was no consistency with how this was achieved. Other examples demonstrate all kinds of means. Green Lantern relied on his power ring. The Thanagarian Hawk-police, Katar Hol aka Hawkman and Shayera Hol aka Hawkgirl, might wear wings but their flight was actually achieved with the mentally controlled metal Nth metal contained in their belts.

Things were slightly different in the 30th century. Although the likes of Ultra Boy could fly unaided, it was only with the release of the Daxamite Lar Gand aka Mon-el from the Phantom Zone and his physical creation of Element 152, which by mental control could defy gravity and was the key component in the Legion Of Super-Heroes flight rings and replaced their large water floats anti-grav belts. Makes you wonder why Element Lad couldn’t produce bigger qualities of Element 152. Dwelling on this for a moment, the transuranic elements tend to be highly unstable but with a greater mass. For the sake of argument, it could be conceivable that by having a relatively stable isotope and greater mass, it could counter the attraction of the planet beneath although quite how the mind could tune into it is anyone’s guess. Of particular interest is the later Legionnaire Blok, who needed a larger flight ring containing more Element 152 to counter his heavier mass which does suggest it is a tiny amount of material could suspend anyone.

Does anyone notice anything similar between Element 152 to the Thanagarian Nth metal? Considering that it also provides other abilities to the user does strongly suggest that whatever it is, it is not entirely pure. Then again, it might be the difference between the Thanagarians having a natural resource and the Daxamite produced pure material if you want to be reality consistent. Then again, just how do you keep a mentally uncontrolled element from flying away when it isn’t under control?

In comparison, it was revealed in the first edition of the Marvel Universe Handbook that nearly all of the naturally flying Marvel super-humans and aliens in their reality could unconsciously manipulate graviton particles to provide anti-gravity sufficient power to fly. The exceptions to this rule were the people possessing armoured suits, such as Iron Man, who flew by energy propulsion or rather repulsion. There was also the winged mutant Angel and Bird-People member Condor, both light-weight and had strong wings. Whether there was any additional gravitons involved is hard to say but considering other factors, they might have some involved to aid flight.

In my formative years, I wrote an article called ‘Gravitons Make Flight Work’, where I drew another interesting point. Many of the Marvel super-humans could lift extraordinary weights which would surely have broken their wrists and ankles as the weakest points on their bodies, no matter how strong their muscles were. Although this wasn’t exclusive to non-flying super-humans, I deemed it was highly likely that their super-strength was boosted by graviton manipulation, whether they were consciously aware of it or not. When you consider the likes of the gamma ray boosted individuals like the Hulk, the Abomination, She-Hulk and Doc Sampson were already loaded with loose radiation and their strength was proportional to their agitation would indicate how much of a boost they received. This doesn’t preclude their proportionately greater strength just how powerful their bodies are when they can draw upon gravitons. It would also explain how the likes of giants like Galactus, the Stranger and the Celestials could support their body mass by having gravitons incorporated into their mass and why they don’t crush the Earth when walking on our planet. It kind of throws the the Inverse-Square Law Of Force out the window but in a sensible way.

The verdict is out as to whether the graviton exists. You thought detecting the Higgs boson was difficult? Gravitons are even more elusive, especially as they have to be around to keep matter drawing itself to each other and we still haven’t detected them. Don’t confuse the graviton with how magnets draw each other to themselves. If anything, at least at atomic level, gravitons are like a weak glue keeping things sticky. Whether gravitons are particle or wave motion, like other atomic particles, depends on how you look (sic) at them if they exist or not. If the graviton existed, I would consider it would be easier to detect because it would have to be here all the time. It is far more likely that gravity has more to do with electro-magnetic attraction than a specific atomic particle.

Then there is the common belief in levitation and how can it beat the known laws of physics and if it can, then surely a mechanical means of duplicating such a psionic feat is possible. Most stories dealing with psionics – to differentiate it from extra-sensory perception which is perceiving at a distance outside of normal senses – and telekinesis doesn’t address how its users defy gravity. As I have a vested interest in this area, I should point out my mass-telekinetic mover, Chris Lancier, in my ‘Psi-Kicks’ stories doesn’t exactly defy gravity but re-directs moving objects by using their own momentum and vectoring it in a different direction. A lot easier than trying to lift a stationary object. He relies on relative velocity, that is compared to himself, far more than absolute, the movement of the universe which moves far faster which I discussed above. I wasn’t really thinking about anti-gravity when I first defined this limitation, just something that hadn’t been done before to easily explain how he did it. Other authors who have characters who can levitate or use telekinesis just use it as an acceptable trope with no explanation. It’s when you take such things for granted that its use becomes complacent.

If telekinesis or levitation exists in the real world then it is likely to be subtle at atomic level than moving more visible physical objects. This is mostly because the laws that govern our physical world are not the same at quantum level which means it’s a whole different ball game. Considering that we are learning how to teleport information by nuclear entanglement, I can’t see it being that far off when the human mind can’t be used to signal the final on/off switch. After all, it is only a movement of voltage and the brain does that all the time. Whether a subtle movement at atomic level can be significant on larger objects can only be explored if the effect can step up through the molecules in a chain reaction. The same problems with anti-gravity still exists in the movement of any mass. Whether there is an atomic entanglement between gravitised atoms and non-gravitised atoms would be purely speculation. However, if the latter did exist how would any solid object stay together?

This does not actually take us far with anti-gravity, just points out the limitations of telekinetic levitation. Saying that, if it is the likes of gravitons having an effect on attracting two objects together then maybe manipulation at this level could divide two objects by adjusting this. That being the case, we have a long way to go, organically or mechanically, to make that possible without other factors like temperature reduction and electro-magnetic effect to help it along.

Thinking of alternatives already existing and some of you might have tried, I considered the fairground Rotor. A high speed centrifuge which certainly gets your feet off the ground, but the rest of your body stuck to the wall although I did watch one person fully rotate to show he could do it when young. However, such a technique is hardly going to make this an option of choice to defy gravity.

In case anyone is considering the possibility of anti-matter just because it’s got ‘anti’ in the name should remember that if matter meets anti-matter then there’s one almighty explosion. Hardly the choice for anything other than that.

I don’t think it’s possible to have pure anti-gravity. If anything, adjustable gravity might be possible. If anti-gravity existed, it would revolutionise the world because ceilings could become floors and houses could be built on the sides of mountains but still be level. As it is, the effort would be far greater than the rewards it could achieve.

If you are considering using anti-gravity in your Science Fiction stories, then pay attention to the consequences, not least that of the removal of inertia and you’ll be accelerating away from the expanding universe at speeds you wouldn’t want to imagine. You just wouldn’t want to do it. Use your imagination and find a different way to move objects.

The worse case scenario is if creating anti-gravity splits atoms then you have a disintegration weapon or atomic entanglement is possible, maybe teleportation. Both of which are a long way from anti-gravity and at least for one of these options, the main reason why such a device should never even be contemplated in being built as you risk destroying the cosmos.

© GF Willmetts 2012
all rights reserved

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