Article by Sourab Paul (Karimganj College, Dept of Botany)
We have seen artificial gravity or read and dreamed about it in novels. But the real question is, is it possible?
In order to explore or inhabit the stars, the annoying need for gravity to be overcome?
If we could develop artificial gravity system we could extend human occupation of low gravity environment. In space prolonged exposure to low gravity causes heath problems like muscle atrophy, impaired immune responses, impaired mental health, insomnia etc.
For astronauts artificial gravity would mitigate the adverse health effects of low to zero gravity on astronauts.
Films and T.V serials like 2001: A space odyssey Elysium or superset’s space station generally accepted solutions. This usually involves rotation to invoke centrifugal forces/effects to stimulate gravity. Other solution involves magnetism.
These tend to be the best solution of the best method. This method involves utilizing a spinning cylinder, torus or sphere. The principle is to generate or effects to pin the astronauts to the outside edge of the spinning section of the station and varying the radius and the rotating speed, the stimulated gravity force can bring in effect.
NASA conducted several experiments during the 1960s and it showed that the method is practically viable.
It is similar to the rotation method but the difference is linear acceleration can also stimulate gravity for the crew. If enough constant acceleration is provided in the linear direction then the crew can be pinned in the opposite directions of travel.
This pull would cause any loose object fall towards the hole. Thus it would produce a manifestation of gravity in compliance with Newton’s law.
If the ship could produce 1g linear gravity during acceleration and deceleration then the ship could reach mars in a few days.
Diamagnetism can be another potential solution for providing artificial gravity. Researchers have been able to levitate mice by using high powered magnetic fields. These experiments were able to stimulate 1g of earth’s gravity.
Those kinds of magnets need expensive cryogenesis to keep them superconductive. This approach also need avoiding ferromagnetic and paramagnetic material near the field.
Hypothetical gravity generators:
Eugene Podkletnov, a Russian engineer has claimed since 90’s that he has successfully created a device which could create a gravitomagnetic field.
Another research group, funded by ESA, created a similar device in 2006 which managed to create around 1x10^-4g.
String theory does predict that gravity and electromagnetism can be unified in the hidden dimension. These could be a way to generate gravity in hidden future.
Andre Fuzfa, a mathematician at university of Namur in Belgium, has published a paper proposing a device that produces small gravitational field.
He said- “Somehow studying gravity is a contemporary activity; physicist restrict themselves to the study of natural pre-existing sources of gravity. Generating an artificial gravity which can be put on and off when needed is a question captured or left to science fiction.”
The theoretical device he proposed is on largely superconductive electromagnets. But the method has never been practically tested so we can’t be excited about it. Although his claims sound pretty good and is not too far from the border of possibility. It is based on something called the equivalence principal which states that gravitational and inertial forces are of similar nature. The big problem is that device of this kind would be very expensive and challenging to make.
So far, our understanding of how gravity affects the universe is limited to observations to natural gravitational fields. In fact gravity is the last of the four fundamental forces that humans haven’t been able to create or control.
Although there are proposition of small gravitational field but not the type shown in the science fiction Star Trek, Galactia Walking, Not floating around space craft.
But being able to produce incredibly weak gravitational field would allow physicist to actively study gravity for the first time and really test out Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
It could even lead to forms of communication that are based on gravity instead of the electromagnetic waves.