|The Cosmic Energy Continuum
Cold Sparks and Black Holes
What's the hottest place in the universe? What's it like inside a Black
Hole? This video climbs the power scales of the universe, from the
coldest and bleakest reaches of our galaxy on out to the hottest and
most violent places known.
How and where do Earth and humanity fit
within the immensely powerful scales that define our universe?
across the immense reaches of time and space, energy is being
exchanged, transferred, released, in a great cosmic pinball game we call
To see how energy stitches the cosmos together,
and how we fit within it, we now journey through the cosmic power scales
of the universe, from atoms nearly frozen to stillness.
largest explosions. From stars colliding, exploding, to distant centers
of power so strange, and violent, they challenge our imaginations.
energy is very much on our minds, as we search for ways to power our
civilization and serve the needs of our citizens. But what is energy?
Where does it come from? And where do we stand within the great power
streams that shape time and space?
Energy comes from a Greek
word for activity or working. In physics, it's simply the property or
the state of anything in our universe that allows it to do work. Whether
it's thermal, kinetic, electro-magnetic, chemical, or gravitational.
19th century German scientist Hermann von Helmholtz found that all
forms of energy are equivalent, that one form can be transformed into
any other. The laws of physics say that in a closed system - such as our
universe - energy is conserved. It may be converted, concentrated, or
dissipated, but it's never lost.
Humans today generate about two
and a half trillion watts of electrical power. How does that stack up
to the power generated by planet Earth?
Deep inside our planet, the
radioactive decay of elements such as uranium and thorium generates 44
trillion watts of power. As this heat rises to the surface, it drives
the movement of Earth's crustal plates, and powers volcanoes.
that's just a fraction of the energy released by a large hurricane in
the form of rain. At the storm's peak, it can rise to 600 trillion
watts. A hurricane draws upon solar heat collected in tropical oceans in
You have to jump another power of ten to reach the
estimated total heat flowing through Earth's atmosphere and oceans from
the equator to the poles, and another two to get the power received by
the Earth from the sun, at 174 quadrillion watts.
Believe it or
not, there's one human technology that has exceeded this level.
AN602 hydrogen bomb was detonated by the Soviet Union on October 30,
1961. It unleashed some 1400 times the combined power of the Nagasaki
and Hiroshima bombs. With a blast yield of up to 57,000 tons of TNT, it
generated 5.3 trillion trillion watts, if only for a tiny fraction of a
That's 5.3 Yottawatts, a term that will come in handy as we now
begin to ascend the power scales of the universe.
Kardashev, a Level 2 civilization would achieve a constant energy output
80 times higher than the Russian superbomb. That's equivalent to the
total luminosity of our sun, a medium-sized star that emits 375
However, in the grand scheme of things, our sun is but a
cold spark in a hot universe. Look up into Southern skies and you'll see
the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way.
within is the brightest star yet discovered. R136a1 is 10 million times
brighter than the sun.
Now if that star happened to go supernova, at
its peak, it would blast out photons with a luminosity of around 500
To advance to a level three civilization, you have
to marshal the power of an entire galaxy.
The Milky Way, with about two
hundred billion stars, has an estimated total luminosity of 3 trillion
yottawatts, a three followed by 36 zeros.
To boldly go beyond
Level 3, a civilization would need to marshal the power of a quasar. A
quasar is about a thousand times brighter than our galaxy. Here is where
cosmic power production enters a whole new realm, based on the physics
of extreme gravity.
It was Isaac Newton who first defined gravity as
the force that pulls the apple down, and holds the earth in orbit around
the sun. Albert Einstein redefined it in his famous General Theory of
Gravity isn't simply the attraction of objects like
stars and planets, he said, but a distortion of space and time, what he
called space-time. If space-time is like a fabric, he said, gravity is
the warping of this fabric by a massive object like a star. A planet
orbits a star when it's caught in this warped space, like a ball
spinning around a roulette wheel.