By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
A metal monolith appeared in a Utah desert and vanished just as strangely, Science Alert reported. The 10-foot-tall, shiny pillar appeared in the Red Rocks area last week, like the structure in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film excelled in its depiction of space travel.
According to Science Alert, an odd structure found in a remote desert in Utah has raised many unanswered questions. “Only days after the world first became aware of it, a mysterious metal monolith in the remote desert of Utah’s Red Rock Country has now seemingly vanished from sight,” the article said.
“The object made headlines last week, after authorities with the Utah Department of Public Safety announced the discovery of the strange, shiny pillar, standing around 3 metres (10 feet) tall. Its origins were completely unknown.”
The parallels between the Utah monolith and a similar object of alien origin from the 1968 sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey are obvious. Their physical appearance, their remote locations, and their appearances and disappearances are congruent. The movie, 2001, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is also well-known for its depiction of space travel.
Newton and Kubrick
Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion is central to that of space travel in film and in real life.
“This law states that unless a force acts on an object, the object will travel in a straight line at a constant speed forever, if nothing bumps into it,” said Dr. Charles L. Adler, Professor of Physics at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “What this means is that it’s not like an airplane. An airplane, when it moves forward, must be constantly supplied energy to keep it moving.
“This is because air molecules are constantly bombarding it as it moves forward, exerting a constant force pushing it back.”
This force is called drag. In outer space, where there is no air, there is no drag. So once a spaceship has gotten up to speed, it can travel unobstructed.
“The scene in 2001 where the shuttle is moving toward the space station illustrates this pretty well,” Dr. Adler said. “The shuttle moves on a straight line toward the station, with the Earth in the background.”
Dr. Adler said that this scene early in 2001 also shows how the space station, shaped roughly like a wheel, rotates in order to generate artificial gravity, which it does through centrifugal force. Otherwise, things would seem weightless, as they do when scientist Heywood Floyd naps on the small shuttle and his pen floats in midair. Many other scenes of weightlessness are depicted throughout the film.
“The correct term for weightlessness in space is free fall,” Dr. Adler said. “This is subtle. When you are tired of standing around and say something like ‘My weight is killing me,’ what you are really talking about is the force of the floor pushing up on your feet, not your weight itself.”
He said that in space, an object is always kind of falling sideways, and at such a high speed that the curvature of its path matches that of the Earth’s surface. In other words, it’s “falling in such a way that you miss hitting the ground, always.”
The film’s portrayal of space travel helped it win an Oscar for Best Visual Effects in 1969.
Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily
Dr. Charles L. Adler contributed to this article. Dr. Adler is a Professor of Physics at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. He received his PhD, MS, and BS in Physics from Brown University, where he focused on experimental laser physics.