Albert Einstein is widely recognized as the premier “genius” of the twentieth century. He died the year I was born, 1955. In 1905 he published his Special Theory of Relativity and in 1915 his Theory of General Relativity describing the geometric theory of gravitation. Essentially, what is gravity and how does it work? The predictions of general relativity have been confirmed by all observations and experiments conducted on the subject since.
Part of Einstein’s theoretical work was a concept of mass-energy equivalence that explains the relationship between mass and energy. E=mc2
I actually like to think of it as m=E/c2 and I think it will soon become apparent why.
Most of us are familiar with this equation as the basis for nuclear weapons. We believe that we can then take a mass of plutonium and convert it into this energy releasing it explosively as the most terrible weapon ever conceived by man. And indeed it is. But it is actually not very efficient.
By splitting the atom with neutrons, which then release neutrons to split other atoms, a nuclear chain reaction is created to release the energy in the mass of the nuclear “bomb”. But that’s not precisely what happens.
The chain reaction isn’t very stable. And as it releases energy, it blows the mass apart and the chain reaction in the parts dies. And so it releases a huge cloud of “dust” that is radioactive. You might think of these as unexploded “cinders” that didn’t entirely convert to energy. And indeed only a tiny fraction of the original mass of the bomb is converted to energy at all.
Somewhat more efficient is the process of nuclear fusion. Let’s again revisit our sun. The sun is by far the most important source of energy for life on Earth. Its diameter is about 109 times that of Earth, and its mass is about 330,000 times that of Earth, accounting for about 99.86% of the total mass of the Solar System. About three quarters of the Sun’s mass consists of hydrogen; the rest is mostly helium, with relatively tiny quantities of heavier elements, including oxygen, carbon, neon, and iron.
The Sun is roughly middle-aged: it has not changed dramatically for more than four billion years, and will remain fairly stable for more than another five billion years. And note that 74.9% of the sun is composed of the lightest element in the universe in terms of mass – hydrogen.
Each second, more than four million tons of hydrogen are converted into energy within the Sun’s core, by FUSING two atoms of hydrogen together to form a new single atom of helium. And in so doing, it again is only converting a small part of the mass into energy. At this rate, the Sun has so far converted around 100 times the mass of Earth from hydrogen to helium. And so it easily has sufficient hydrogen to burn for another 5 to 6 billion years.
I’m sorry, the numbers to convert four MILLION TONS of mass into energy are beyond my abilities. It is an immense amount of energy. I can tell you that while it is radiated in all directions equally, at a distance of one astronomical unit – the distance of the earth to the sun, a single square meter of surface would receive a continuous stream of 1346 watts of energy. That’s a pretty narrow angle at 93 million miles to a meter square surface, and an impressive amount of energy then.
In neither case, nuclear weapons or solar fusion, have we completely converted mass into energy.
E is the symbol for energy. The m indicates mass. And c2 is a constant and a rather hugish one – the speed of light squared.
The equation is not precisely dependent on the units of measure. But using the International System of Units (SI), we would express energy (E) in joules. Mass would be expressed in kilograms. And the speed of light would be given in meters per second.
And so the speed of light is 299,792,458 meters per second. If we square this value, we get 89,875,517,873,681,764. Let’s round that off to 89.9. And so we see that we are talking about 89.9 PETAJOULES (1015) of energy in a single kilogram of mass (at rest) – about 2.2 pounds.
E/m=c2 = (299,792,458 m/s)2 = 89,875,517,873,681,764 Joules per kilogram
Most of us conceptualize energy best as electrical energy measured in watts. A joule is simply one watt in one second
Our monthly bill for electricity is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh) and this is the number of watts used by our house over the period of an hour divided by 1000. So if you use 1000 watts of electricity to light ten 100 watt light bulbs for an hour, you have used 1 kWh of electricity. The average price of electricity at retail in the United States currently is about 11.75 cents per kilowatt hour.
89.9 PETAJOULES is the equivalent of 25 million MEGAWATT-HOURS of electricity. Or about $2,933,437,042 dollars worth of electricity. So imagine running a LARGE home for a year from the energy contained in a piece of lead shot..
The average American home uses 970 kWh (0.970 MWh) of electricity in a month or 11.64 MWh per year at a cost of $1,368
Your mileage may vary. But to put this in perspective, the amount of energy contained in 1 kilogram of dirt, would power 2,144,325. American homes for an entire year.
All of this describes the usual perspective of converting MASS into ENERGY. But let’s reverse all this thinking and view it from a different perspective. If you were CREATING a universe and you started with a massive explosion of ENERGY, how much energy would you need to produce a given amount of matter – solid matter? Because that is how it started. A huge explosion of energy and no matter at all. Matter would appear to have been conjured up from nothing. But it isn’t so. It was a huge amount of energy that was converted to a very small amount of matter to create a universe.
But I can’t comprehend a universe very well. So let’s take you. We don’t want to take me because I’m over 300 lbs. But the average American male, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, is 170 lbs. Due to supersizing at MacDonalds, we all know this isn’t true, but it’s a handy size to use for the mass of a “person.” And it works for the airlines. So close enough for government work.
170 lbs is just slightly over 77 kilograms. And so returning to our equation, recall that 1 kilogram resulted in 25 million megawatt-hours of energy, the typical American male, as defined by the FAA, would then need 1,925,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of energy to be converted into mass such that they could exist.
And if one kilogram produces enough energy to power 2,144,325 homes for a year, then one person contains enough energy to light 165,113,025 homes for a year. That is more homes than we actually HAVE in the United States – currently about 125 million residences.
Or by another measure, you are worth about $226 billion dollars worth of energy at today’s retail prices.
I do not believe that any but a tiny handful of seven billion humanoids on planet earth, are even mildly cognizant as to the true cost to the universe required to put them here.
Somebody must REALLY love you to have invested all that energy for you to be here at all.
And he does.
You are an EXTREMELY valuable investment of time, energy, and work for you to be here on planet earth. You have a valuable mission in being here in this life on earth. Apparently a VERY valuable one.
A couple of questions.
What have you done with it thus far?
And how are you treating others brought here at such huge cost?
Me? I’ve got to be pushing a half billion dollars in energy with my clothes off.
Here are ten other things Einstein actually said:
1. “Religion and science go together. As I’ve said before, science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind. They are interdependent and have a common goal—the search for truth.”
(from a 1948 interview)
2. “I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.”
(from “Self-Portrait,” 1936)
3. “If A is success in life, then A = x + y + z. Work is x, play is y and z is keeping your mouth shut.”
(said to Samuel Woolf, 1929)
4. “Truth is what stands the test of experience.”
(from “The Laws of Science and the Laws of Ethics,” 1950)
5. “The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think.”
(quoted in the New York Times, 1921)
6. “I believe in one thing—that only a life lived for others is a life worth living.”
(from a 1948 interview)
7. “The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.”
(from a tribute to Pablo Casals, 1953)
8. “Why does this magnificent applied science which saves work and makes life easier bring us so little happiness? The simple answer runs: Because we have not yet learned to make sensible use of it.”
(from a speech to students at the California Institute of Technology, 1931)
9. “Study and, in general, the pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.”
(from a letter to Adrianna Enriques, 1921)
10. “Bureaucracy is the death of all sound work.”
(from The World As I See It, 1949)