Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The universe and nuclear submarines (yep, a BIG subject!)

This is a shortened version of my Bath Chronicle column of February 21.

Allow me to say something that may shock you . And that is that the universe we live in is BIG. No, not just big but pretty damn massive. Think of the biggest thing you can think of and then multiply it by the biggest number you can think of and you might go some way to understanding just how big the word big can actually represent.

The reason I feel the need to express this so very loudly is because last week our galaxy suddenly seemed very small indeed - more of a Galaxy bar than an infinite Milky Way (if you get my drift). This occurred to me when I heard that two communications satellites had managed to crash into each other in space.

What I can’t get my head round is why, if our galaxy is approximately 100,000 light years in diameter, contains 200 billion stars and could be anything up to 1,000 light years ‘thick’, then how come two tiny satellites still managed to crash? With all that space to play with, it is surely impossible for two independent satellites to crash and need the space equivalent of the AA to help them?

I was just about getting to grips with this mindboggling accident when I picked up a paper and read about a recent crash in the mid-Atlantic between British and French nuclear submarines. Now, I know the seas and oceans of the Earth are not exactly of space-like proportions, but let’s not forget they too could reasonably be called ‘big’. There is billions of gallons of water swishing around by our land forms, so how did two nuclear submarines somehow manage to collide in the midst of all that? As Jon Snow pointed out on the news, I know these things haven’t got any windows but this is ridiculous . . .

And there’s another small, tiny, minuscule thing about this issue which also worried me. And that is the word ‘nuclear’. It has been revealed that these British and French submarines (whose sat-navs sound as bad as the cheap one I bought before Christmas), were carrying enough material to carry out (wait for it) 1,248 Hiroshima-size bombings. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem that funny any more does it? Put simply, this could have been the transport accident that may have ended the world. Barmy.

So, what does the fact that it is dangerous to go under the sea and into space (let alone on the local roads!!) tell us? What it tells us is simply that what will be, will be. All the planning in the world simply can’t account for the fact that there is simply no such thing as the impossible.

The chairwoman of CND said this week that what occurred under the Atlantic was a “nuclear nightmare of the highest order”. Just read those words again and ask yourself ‘if that was the case, how come fewer column inches have been devoted to our near-oblivion than the recent dusting of snow’?

Crazy world, isn’t it?

Oh, and perhaps not that big after all . . .

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