As many of you know, Pat and I are taking courses at the local college.  These are Elder College courses intended for seniors that want to keep their minds from going to waste.

I have taken courses on the environmental impact on our local estuary, and a review (book club) of fictional novels about the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic wars.  A course on the development of craft beer making (that had the benefit of tasting a wide variety of craft beers) and a course on how to identify rocks.   Pat has studied interesting concepts of Math, and the joy of Spread Sheets and her current course on cryptic crosswords (she is a bit weird but gotta luv her).

Obviously these are not courses that young people take to try and find a job, but it fascinates the seniors of our valley.

Last term I took a course on the study of our Solar System.  A wonderful dynamic teacher named Joel, and I became enthralled with the details of our system.  Neptune and its many moons, who could not love that?  Pluto… had to be removed.

So I followed up this term with Joel’s course on the bigger Cosmos.  Class was over booked with 25 seniors.

This is an entirely different class than the Solar System.  As Joel said at the first class… you will need aspirins as your heads will hurt.

Okay the Big Bang.  Took place 13.9 billion years ago.  The Hubble telescope can look out there in space and see the event because when you look into space you see history.  You can see galaxies that existed billions of years before our Milky Way and see history with hundreds of examples of cosmic developments.

Then you come to the mind expanding concepts.

After the Big Bang the Universe was expanding.  But into what?  There was nothing, don’t even think of vacuum, there was nothing out there.  The big bang created existence. No matter how far they search into the cosmos there is nothing older than 13.9 billion years.

Okay so Joel leads us through this difficult concept but then it gets more weird.  We look into space and all we can see with the naked eye are about 4000 star systems which is a small fraction of  the 250 billion stars in our relatively small galaxy.  And there are at least 100 billion galaxies all flying away from us.

Okay Okay I have to skip the details to get to the really mind blowing ideas.  You take all of the stars and all of the planets and all of the gasses that float around and that only makes up 4% of the mass of the Universe.  The rest is made up of dark matter and dark energy.  You cannot see it and they emit no light radiation but it is there because it has gravity, the gravity that forms galaxies and holds them together.  The small mass of the stars and planets would not keep a galaxy together.  Our sun should have flown off into space because of its speed but it keeps turning around the milky way because of a mass 25 times bigger than all the stars etc that holds us in.

What is Dark Matter and even weirder, what is Dark Energy.  Between them they make up 95% of the mass of the Universe.

Today’s class was about how Gravity is an energy and can be exchanged into mass as the Universe is expanding.  With lots of math to demonstrate.

There you have 24 seniors sitting in a class with their jaws open and realizing everything we learned 50 – 60 years ago in Physics classes in High School was wrong.  We think Newton invented gravity because it makes an apple fall on your head.  We think of gravity as a force like electrical or magnetic attraction but apparently it is an energy. And like E = MC2 tells us, energy can convert to mass.   As the Universe expands at exponential rate the mass of the vacuum in cosmos will become total.  Fortunately I am not worried about my life or even the life of my great great grandchildren.

Joel did tell us at the first class that he offers Aspirins because most of us are going to experience a mind explosion.

This is not the simple beer class, but it is exciting.  Only a few of our senior group are baling out but we stand in the hall afterwards and admit that this is difficult to take without marijuana.

Well not me.    Three more classes in the course and we are going into realms of even more visions.