Rabbi Shlomo Cohen
The hydrogen atom is the smallest, lightest atom. It is composed of one electron circling one proton.
Scientists have recently managed to clock the speed of the electron as it spins in its orbit around the proton. In doing so they needed to use a prefix to name the units of time involved that had never before been applied to time. The prefix is atto. An electron spins around the nucleus in an astonishing 154 atta-seconds.
Until now the smallest unit in general use was nano. The nano-second is 10 -9 of a second. That’s 1 with 8 zeroes before it; .000,000,001. That’s what part of a second is a nano-second.
For the curious, the units are:
deci= 1/10; 10-1 0.1
centi= 1/100; 10-2 0.01
milli= 1/1000; 10-3 0.001
micro= 1 millionth; 10-6 0.000,001
Nano= 10-9 0.000,000,001
pico= 10-12 0.000,000,000,001
femto= 10-15 0.000,000,000,000,001
atto= 10-18 0.000,000,000,000,000,001
zepto= 10-21 0.000,000,000,000,000,000,001
yacto= 10-24 0.000,000,000,000,00,000,000,001
[zepto and yacto are not yet fully recognized terms.]
An attosecond is 100 million billionths of a second; 1/100,000,000,000,000,000,000. Therefore, an electron moves once around the nucleus in 154/100,000,000,000,000,000,000 of a second. Were we to stretch 100 attoseconds to the length of a second, the second itself would equal 300 million years.
The electron is moving at 2,185,315 meters per second. That’s .73 the speed of light; 4,820,000 miles per hour; 275 times the speed of the space shuttle.
This is an inconceivable speed. To attempt even a modicum of understanding, think about the following:
Fan blades whirl at perhaps a thousand rotations per minute. If the blades are plastic you can stick your finger in and the blades will stop [it might hurt]. At this speed you can see things through the spinning blades.
Increase the speed by 100 times and the blades will probably slice your finger right off.
Increase it by 100 times yet again and the blades will slice off thin little pieces as you push your finger in. Assuming that you did not do this in a vacuum, the blades will have burnt up from air friction.
Increase the speed by 100 times again and the blades will be moving so fast as to present a solid surface. At this speed the spinning blades will present an opaque surface. You would be able to pick up the fan by grasping the blades. They will be moving so fast that, in effect, they are back to where they started as soon as they’ve left.
This is still slower than the speed of that electron.
In fact, both the solidity and visibility of matter is based on two factors. The first is the speed of the electrons. The second is the density of atoms. Gases are generally transparent. When compressed they become liquid, then solid, and opaque in most cases.
It is interesting to note that the Rambam, (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, Perek 1, Halacha 5), presents a rare teleological argument for the existence of Hashem. He is apparently referencing the Sun and planetary motion but does not say that specifically. What he does say is that Hashem is the causative factor in all spin which continues, uninterrupted with no apparent other explanation. This spin, he says, is impossible without a “Spinner”. This argument can be equally applied to electron spin. In fact, by doing so the Rambam’s point is strengthened immeasurably. Science simply does not know what imparted initial motion to electrons. Given entropy, science also cannot explain why that initial spin is still occurring at the same speed. This is a subtle, but extremely powerful point.
It is difficult, at best, to try and understand the size of an atom. A single atom will pass through the finest filters devised as if they weren’t there. Picture a small airplane flying through the Himalayan mountain peaks. I wouldn’t want to be on the plane, but the pilot could close his eyes and the chances of hitting one of the peaks is fairly low. The space between the filter fibers is much greater than the relative space between the peaks. Drive your golf ball down the freeway. Unless you are a really bad golfer, it’s pretty hard to hit a tree. The trees around the fairway are far more crowded to the golf ball than the filter fibers are to the atom.
Take a grain of sand. Split it in half, half again and half again. You will need to keep splitting the grain in half some 100,000,000 times before you are down to a single atom. If this was a paid position, an average worker, splitting the grain once every minute would require 1,000 years on the job [time off for coffee breaks and lunch is figured in, sick days are not.]
The atom itself, however, is, for the most part, hollow space. What few people realize is how hollow it is. The actual physical make-up of the atom is only about 1/10,000,000,000 of its volume. In other words, “things” are only 1/10,000,000,000th “there”; the other 99.9999999999% is empty. Think of a ping pong ball in the middle of Yankee stadium. If it is the nucleus, the electrons would be circling around at the outer walls of the stadium. All the rest is empty space. More graphically, the chair you are now sitting in is almost, but not quite, all empty space, hard vacuum, nothingness. It supports your weight due to the motion of the electrons as well as the attraction certain atoms have for each other.
All of this raises some interesting questions:
1- A photograph freezes both time and motion. There is a clear correlation between time and motion in that all motion takes time. In no time there can be no motion. Obviously, then, were we able to stop time, by definition, all motion would cease. In such a state all matter would have to fall apart. Actually, the act of falling apart is, itself, motion, thus, apparently, things would need to fall apart at some point just prior to the cessation of time. We wonder, then, if the reverse may also be true. If you stop all motion, will time then stop as well?
2- The temperatures inside black holes are thought to be rather high. Time is thought to not exist inside a black hole. There is no way for us to determine whether there is any motion inside. Does this anomaly change any part of the first question?
3- In no place in the known universe does the temperature dip to absolute zero. It gets close, but never actually gets there. At absolute zero, there can be no motion. Is motion a function of temperature? Certainly it is at the macrocosmic level. The colder something gets the slower it moves. This is true at the microcosmic level as well. Beyond the farthest reaches of the big bang the temperature is most likely absolute zero but, then again, there is simply no matter out there anyway, hence, no motion and, we suspect, no time.
4- We know that very high speed has effects of its own. At speeds nearing the speed of light time slows down. At the speed of light itself time no longer functions. We also are aware that motion has an effect on matter. Acceleration or centripetal force will increase weight. Mass is known to be a factor in the gravitational attraction between two bodies. Mass itself cannot account for force. Is it possible that the vast combined speeds of all the electrons create the force we know as gravity? Any such equation would only need take into account three factors. It may look something like this:
Gravity= [Combined velocity of electrons x mass]
Having solved Unified Field theory and having opened the way to anti-gravity devices, and time-machines I am currently brushing up on my Swedish so that I may thank the Nobel Committee in their own language. I will require kosher meals.