Tuesday, December 06, 2011

When kids used to go down to the Kennebec River to get Atlantic salmon for breakfast.

Citation: Boardman, Samuel L.: in Ninth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Maine Board of Agriculture. 1864. Augusta, Maine. Stevens & Sayward, Printers to the State. Subsequently published in the Maine Farmer, March 23, 1865.

At page 109:

"An aged woman, who formerly lived on the banks of the Kennebec in Vassalboro, and who, at that time, had a large family of children to support, once told me that, in spring and early summer, the fish from the river were a very essential aid to them -- that many times she has sent one of her boys down to the river early in the morning to catch a salmon for breakfast, with as much certainty that he would bring one home in season, as if she had sent him with the money to a city fish market, where she knew they were kept for sale."

How Maine's Sea-Run Fish were Dammed into Oblivion, 1864.

Citation: Boardman, Samuel L. 'Aquaeculture': in Ninth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Maine Board of Agriculture. 1864. Augusta, Maine. Stevens & Sayward, Printers to the State. Also pub. in Maine Farmer, March 23, 1865.

At p. 109-110:

"Everyone now knows that salmon, shad and alewives, and indeed all the other kinds of migratory fishes -- those that spend winters in the salt water, and come up out of the sea at certain periods, as if sent by a kind Providence, to spend the spring and summer in fresh water -- are now very scarce indeed, and in some streams totally extinct. Everyone knows, too, that many of the species of fishes which remain permanently in our fresh waters, have very much decreased in numbers, as well as in size and fatness. People say that this is a necessary consequence of the building of dams and mills, and filling the streams with obstructions of various kinds for the industrial pursuits of a civilized community. No doubt it is a consequence of these obstructions, but it not need be a necessary consequence. I hold that dams and mills might be constructed, and continued, and yet by a little concession on the part of dam and mill proprietors, and a more general diffusion of the knowledge of the natural history fishes, more intimate acquaintance with their peculiar habits, instincts, and wants of life, the mills might remain and the fish continue to perform their annual pilgrimage to and from their breeding haunts, if not in so great numbers as in former times, yet in such numbers as to afford a vast amount of provisions and even luxury to the communities which are now wholly deprived of them.

"I am also aware that this subject has been discussed over and over again -- that for years and years past, every session of our Legislature was thronged, and committees were worried and teased by mill owners on the one hand and fishermen on the other -- one demanding the privilege of building dams and mills without let or hindrance as to the fish, and the other pleading for some reserve, some fish-way, or some accommodation to the annual flow of the fish, which had been of such signal service to the support of the people on the banks and vicinity of the waters in question. I am also aware that our Legislators, actuated by a sincere desire to do justice to all parties, and to give equal rights to all, have, in most instance, made provisions in the several charters and private acts pertaining to mill owners, for the passage of fish at certain times and seasons, with a hope that, while it encouraged the establishment of mills and machinery, there would be also at the required times a safe and successful transit for the various species of fishes that required such passes as one of the indispensable requirements for the continuation of their existence. And we are all aware also that, either from ignorance of what habits of the fish demand, these ways have not always been properly constructed, or from selfishness in mill owners in not keeping them open at suitable times, these provisions in most cases failed, and the destruction of the fish is the inevitable result."

How Maine's Sea-Run Fish were Overfished to Oblivion

A few early to mid 1800s historic references I just came across illustrate how early and quickly the sea-run fish of Maine rivers were wiped out by over-fishing:

Citation: William Durkee Williamson. 1832. The History of the State of Maine. Vol. 1. Glazer, Masters & Co. Hallowell, Maine.

At p. 158, describing striped bass:

"The Bass is a large scale fish, variable in its size from 10 to 60 pounds. They are striped with black, have bright scales and horned backs, and are caught about the coasts. They ascend into the fresh water to cast their spawn, in May or June, being lean afterwards and fat in the autumn. In June 1807, there were taken at the mouth of the Kenduskeag, 7,000 of these fishes, which were of a large size -- a shoal, either pursued up the river by sharks, or ascended in prospect of their prey, or to cast their spawn."

Smelt at p. 160:

"They are caught in abundance, after March, in our rivers; 20 barrels of them have been taken at the mouth of the Kenduskeag at a sweep, and sometimes they are worth no more than half a dollar a bushel."

At footnote 3, same page: "On the 2d of May, 1794, at the mouth of the Kenduskeag (on the Penobscot) were taken at one draft 1,000 shad and 30 barrels of alewives."


Citation: Boardman, Samuel L. 'Aquaeculture': in Ninth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Maine Board of Agriculture. 1864. Augusta, Maine. Stevens & Sayward, Printers to the State. Also pub. in Maine Farmer, March 23, 1865.

At p. 117:

"Three years ago, in the month of May, in company with a friend, while passing by the lower lock of the Cumberland and Oxford Canal, in the city of Portland, our attention was drawn to the a crowd of men standing by the side of the lock, several of whom had long-handled nets, with which they were fishing, or rather dipping out fish from the water. On coming up, we saw that they were catching alewives in great numbers. It appeared that these fish, in their peregrinations along the coast, had been attracted by the fresh water of the canal, and instinctively entered it in order, as they supposed, to follow up to its source, (Sebago Lake,) but were brought to a standstill by the upper gate of the lock. The men engaged there then shut the lower gate, and commenced catching them. As soon as those of them that were confined in the lock were all caught, the men opened the lower gate again, and admitted a lot more of them, and thus a wholesale destruction of them went on. I supposed that some of them might possibly work their way up, when the several locks should be opened for the passage of boats, and thus Sebago made a breeding place for them, but on inquiry, am told that there are few or none seen there. Now it would be a very easy matter to stock that lake with young herrings (alewives) by proprietors of the canal forbidding any of them to be caught on certain days, and placing men along the route to let them go through the gates into the lake. Indeed, it seems that by renting the privilege of fishing for them on certain days, some considerable revenue might accrue to the company, while the production of the fish would again become a benefit to the section of country through with the canal passes. The same system might be adopted on many streams by having fish-ways or fish-locks, to aid their ascent, with much benefit to the country and no detriment to the mill interests."


Citation: Twelfth Annual Report of the Maine Board of Agriculture, 1867. Stevens & Sayward, Printers to the State.

At page 90: "In Monmouth they [smelt] run into some very small rills that lead into Cochnewagon Pond, and are dipped out in considerable quantities. In May, 1867, after it was supposed they were all gone, a fresh run occurred, that yielded thirty barrels."

Monday, July 04, 2011

Clay is Rusted Feldspar

My wife Lori asked me to explain to her pottery class in a fairly simple way what clay is, where it comes from, and how it got here. So here's an attempt at a non-technical explanation.

Clay is feldspar rusting. This is an analogy, but not that far from the actual process. We all know what happens if you buy a nice, shiny piece of cast iron from the hardware store and leave it outside in the sun and rain. It quickly rusts. If you leave it out long enough, it turns to almost all rust. So what is rust?

Rust is primarily the minerals limonite and goethite, created when iron combines with oxygen from the atmosphere and oxygen in water. We all know that iron things tend to rust faster when wet than when dry. Moisture hastens rusting.

Feldspar is not iron. Iron is one element, iron. Feldspar is a large family of minerals made from oxygen, silicon, aluminum, sodium, potassium and calcium. Feldspar does not form on the Earth's surface. It only forms miles beneath the Earth's surface, where solid rock is naturally in a semi-liquid, molasses-like state.

Feldspar is only released from its 'natural' home and to the Earth's surface either when it is forcibly ejected from a volcano as lava or when, after hundreds of millions of years, the 2-3 miles of solid rock above the feldspar is eroded away, leaving the feldspar nakedly exposed on the Earth's surface. This is usually in the form of granite, which is a rock made of feldspar and quartz and some mica.

To add another analogy, just like a piece of fine pottery on the edge of a shelf 'wants' to fall on the floor and smash, feldspar 'wants' to turn to clay when it is exposed to the Earth's surface. The agent for the pot on the shelf wanting to fall down and smash is gravity (in outer space, pottery does not break, it orbits). The agent for feldspar wanting to turn to clay is a bit more complex, but similar in design to iron rusting. In both, the agents are primarily air and water.

In the presence of air and water at the Earth's surface, the most natural and restive state for feldspar is to re-align its molecules into clay molecules. Clay is a mineral, just like quartz or feldspar. It has a very regular and ordered crystalline structure, like a diamond or a cube of salt. The three predominant clay minerals are kaolinite, illite and montmorillonite. With a scanning electron microscope you can get pictures of very nice, well formed, plate-like clay crystals growing right next to a crystal of feldspar.

Feldspar becomes clay by slowly bringing water into its crystal structure, like a sponge left in a puddle of water. This water becomes part of the very fabric of the feldspar; like how iron becomes part of your blood cells. The feldspar wants the water. It likes it. Which brings us back to rust.

What we call rust is the natural state of iron on the Earth's surface. Iron readily combines with oxygen to make rust. It wants to become rust. In fact, we have to do all kinds of crazy things to prevent iron from becoming rust. We coat it with oils, with paint (like Rust-Oleum) or galvanize it with zinc, all to keep the iron from contacting oxygen in the air and oxygen in water, sort of like teacher chaperones at a high school dance. Left to its own device, feldspar becomes clay because it wants to; that is its most stable and natural state on the Earth's surface. Like a thrown ball 'wants' to come back down, feldspar wants to become clay. Clay is rusted feldspar; and the actual chemical reactions are not that different.

In Maine, where I live, from 1880-1930 there was a flourishing industry where large feldspar deposits were quarried and mined for use as ceramic pottery glaze. This was feldspar that had not yet had time to weather into clay. It is still solid enough to make a house foundation. But if you crush into a fine enough powder, it works beautifully as a glaze ingredient. Most of the feldspar mined in Maine was shipped to pottery works in New Jersey as a basic glaze ingredient for everything from fine plateware to toilet bowls. It was an 'industrial mineral,' as the saying goes.

The only reason Maine does not have deposits of natural, 'primary' clay is because for the past million years Maine has been scoured by successive, mile high glaciers every 100,000 years or so, which like a steel plow on a snow-filled driveway, scraped away all the clay and softened rock right down to hard bedrock and dumped the residue in the Atlantic Ocean. In the U.S., you have to go south of the line of glaciers, ie. Kentucky or Tennessee, to find clay deposits still intact and near where they were first formed. What we in Maine call 'marine clay' is actually the finely ground-up residue from the glaciers' scraping and grinding that has partly altered into true clay minerals and is on its way to doing so, give another 10 million years. That said, it is still perfectly usable as a slip or a low-fire earthenware body. Be patient, Maine !!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fathers Day, Part I

Central Nebraska, 35,000 feet, 2 p.m., June 15, 2011.

Fathers Day

We live on stolen land
But what of it.
It was the Indians' land
So we told them to shove it.
Now they exist in our minds
Like little figurines
On the mantel or in
some magazine.

Some folks are surprised
when a fox is in their yard
Forgetting it was first
the foxes' yard.

Things you ignore
Don't go away.
Because you don't care
if they go or stay.

No country cheers
that it's number two.
The sky doesn't cry
because it's blue.
It can't have happened both ways
if we want it to.

A lie becomes true
if enough believe it.
A child stays pure
until you deceive it.

Then the kid starts asking why.
It's okay for you but
not for me to lie.

You'll learn son sometimes
It's what it takes
to get by.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Great Goddards Ledge Rose Quartz Conspiracy Hoax

Philip Morrill et al. (1958) described Goddards Ledge near Rumford Center, Maine as a rose quartz locality, found while the pegmatite was worked for ceramic feldspar in the WWII era.

So in 1993 I tried to find it. It's a nasty traverse, pretty steep, up the side of a mountain, unmarked, no trails and 'intermittently' posted. But what the hell. Plus it's raining (keeps the black flies and mosquitoes down). Up and away we go.

Bonanza !!! I found an old feldspar working littered with giant shards of glass quartz way up the mountain, under lots of mud and leaves. This must be it. Light going fast in the rain. It's all rose quartz. Unbelievable! Nobody has been here for decades. It's all mine !!!

Get home at 10 p.m. totally soaked in mud, get up, go to work, next day take out all the 'finds' and cover the kitchen floor of the apartment with them. Yes !!! Sun comes out next day. All the 'rose quartz' is amazingly clear and devoid of any pink coloration.

My landlord, Yvon Doyon, comes by for the rent. The whole house and deck are covered with pieces of non-rosy quartz. We have to step around them as I write him the rent check. He gives me a quizzical look. It's a tenement. Lots of 'not-normal' people live here, and I get the feeling Yvon has officially put me in that category.

I've been hoodwinked. Shamboozled. Schlamottled. Diabolicized. It's all NON rose quartz !!! How could this be?

I think it was becuz I was a wee bit too 'eager,' or as Jim Mann would say, 'rock warped.'

Actually, a dozen or so of the pieces are true rose quartz. The rest are so faintly tinted it would have taken rose quartz tinted glasses to see it. And apparently I was wearing coke bottles of that stuff when I was at Goddards Ledge. Oops.

But it gets worse. Much worse. The next spring I brought my girlfriend to Goddards Ledge as the 'first stop' on a Memorial Day camping vacation; and we both climbed the 800 foot nasty incline up to the 'quarry.' But we didn't find it. I followed the wrong ravine. Since there are no trails, it's a bit complicated. And every mosquito and black fly in Oxford County had our number. So we ran back down the mountain to the car, totally sweaty, hungry, disgusted and bug-bitten.

Except I could not find the car keys. They were somewhere 'up there' on the mountain. I had put them in my backpack (for 'safe keeping') and forgot to zip the pocket shut. So they could be anywhere between us and the non-Goddards Ledge quarry. Under the leaves. In between two rocks. Anywhere. And it was getting dark. Smooth move, Doug.

So back up the mountain and about halfway up I saw a glint. The keys !!! Really? The keys !!!

They had fallen out of my pack when I was skidding up or down a glacial erratic. God must have had mercy on me that day.

So some of the rose quartz at Goddard's Ledge in Rumford is genuine, if you don't get too over enthusiastic. And when fashioned en cabochon it does display 6, 8 and 12-star asterism, as Phil Morrill said in 1958.

But keep an extra set of keys under the car wheel. Just in case.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Getting Lost at North Twin Mountain, Rumford, Maine

North Twin Mountain is just a few miles to the north of Black Mountain near the Rumford/Andover line in western Maine, south of Maine Route 120.

Swains Notch is a split in the mountain chain, marked by a pond, where Phillip Morrill et al. (1958) described large quartz crystals in the 'dirt.' North and South Twin Mountains are historically documented as having unmined beryl pegmatite deposits on their shoulders.

In 1998 on a very rainy June day I got antsy around the house and drove 50 miles to 'attack' Swains Notch and North Twin Mountains and force them to divulge their secrets. What a mistake.

First, it was pouring out. Intermittently, but still pouring 15 minutes of each hour.

Second, I had not even a good USGS map to direct me; just the old Phillip Morrill quads from the Winthrop Mineral Shop.

Third, I had no idea where I was going, except to the end of 'Swains Notch Road' off the road leading to the Black Mountain quarry.

But what the hey. So I got out, shouldered pack, hammer and went uphill. Uphill seemed a good direction to go.

After about an hour of steep climbing, in intermittent yet pouring rain, I did find some unmined, glacially scoured pegmatite outcrops on the southern shoulder of North Twin Mountain. And rough but large beryl crystals were exposed in the pegmatite, if you ripped giant carpets of moss off them and coated yourself in mud. But hey. Edmund Bailey did it at Black Mountain in 1880. But maybe not in the pouring rain.

So I've climbed 1,000 feet, am totally sweaty and totally soaking wet and it is pouring out, did see some in situ beryl but its getting toward 3 or so, not that I have a watch. It just seems 3 or so. Better get off the mountain. Start following logging roads.

But they seem to be heading in endless zigzags. There is no 'down'; just a down followed by an 'up.' Where am I? I have no clue.

On a clear day I could climb a tree and get my bearings from Black Mountain, or any high spot, I know the terrain and landmarks fairly well. But it's pouring and foggy. Visibility is about 300 feet and no sign of it lifting.

I'm totally soaked now, 4 layers of clothes, it's pouring and I'm watching a ruffed grouse who is not so worried as myself. I know from my mental map (no compass ! idiot) that if I walk off the east side of the mountain I will not hit a road for about 5 miles, the Isthmus Road and it will be long past dusk. But I also know that my car is only about 1.5 miles away at most -- if I walk in the right direction toward it. And I have no idea and the logging roads are all doing curlicues and cul de sacs.

But then, in a birch grove, near a brook, a breeze ... a smell ... coming from downhill ... badly cooked cabbage and clam flat gas! Rumford. The smell is my compass!

There was a while I was a bit scared because I had never been so thoroughly lost before. But like a monkey with a typewriter I randomly moved toward the door and downhill and took a correct turn and saw Swains Pond, which I had never seen before, but I knew it was the right way. And the rain started to let up. It was just kind of misty when I popped out of the road at the end of the pond and after another half hour found the car.

It's quite a beautiful place.

Friday, March 11, 2011

How not to solder a padlock in the woods at midnight

Since my one attempt at teenage vandalism did not come close to succeeding, I can tell the story.

When I was in eighth grade, the big chunk of woods behind our house was purchased and subdivided for development into what are now called McMansions. Because the land is quite ledgy and rocky with Dedham granodiorite, the first two operations consisted of cutting down most of the trees and then dynamiting the ledges and hauling the boulders off the shattered land.

This did not sit well with me, but as a 15-year-old with $10 in my savings account I was quite helpless to stop it. The developers had all their legal permits.

The dirt road to the development was quite a ways in the woods and blocked by large metal posts driven into the ground and secured with ametal chain and a padlock the size of a softball.

One day after school I decided to solder the keyhole of the padlock that held the chain in place across the dirt road. That way the trucks couldn't get in and cut and dynamite any more trees and ledges down.

This plan would take cunning and stealth and certain pieces of equipment: a Bernzomatic blow torch and a roll of solder from the cellar. It would also require sneaking out of the house at night after my mother went to bed. It would also require a Hogan's Heroes type of disguise, which in this case was all the dark stuff I had in my bureau and a navy blue ski mask, even though it was summer.

Fully equipped at about 11 p.m. I snuck out of the house with ski mask, matches, torch and solder and hiked through the woods to the construction site and tried to find my way down the little, circuitous deer paths I chose so as not to be seen beneath a street light. Once I got to the chain and lock I discovered I knew nothing about how to solder, particularly the part about heating the lock as well as the solder, and I didn't bring any flux. So the solder kept beading up and rolling off the padlock didn't plug up the keyhole, which my plan required.

After a couple minutes I heard voices and leaves rustling in the woods and froze in a cold sweat with visions of the fluorescent lights of the Easton Police Station and the inevitable call home to mom that I had been arrested, was in the pokey and needed bail money to get out. As the voices got closer, I panicked and bolted as fast as I could in the opposite direction: deeper into the woods toward Stoughton. I fell a few times, banged my knees and head on rocks and trees, scraped my face on saplings but just got up and tried to run even faster. I was scared but also astonished. How could I so easily get discovered and caught?

There were yells and screams of "Someone's up there in the woods," and it sounded like half a dozen people were following me. By their footfalls and voices I could tell were spreading out to cut off my routes of escape and trying to flank me from the sides to cut off any alternate routes. So I ran faster, zigzagged like a tailback and tried to throw them off my intended path, which I didn't know.

They were gaining on me. Who were they? Did the developer hire Green Beret squads to camp out and watch over their stuff at night just to catch people like me who didn't know how to solder?

Finally, like a deer in a deer drive, or a rabbit chased by a wolf pack, I zagged when I should have zigged and got cornered and tackled in the leaves and rocks. The man who knocked me down pinned me on the shoulders. He was much bigger than me. I couldn't wriggle away or see him. "I've got him," he yelled and the rest of the group converged. "What's this," one said grabbing my hand, "It's a blowtorch."

I still had the ski mask on. The group converged over me with clenched fists and wild screams about 'let's kill him.' At this point I thought my face would probably not have recognizable features within a few minutes and waited to hear what your own bones sound like when they crack on a warm mosquitoey night. I thought I was going to die.

"Pull his mask off," they yelled. The lead guy ripped the ski mask off my head. Then they all said in a puzzled voice: "Drugless?" It was my schoolmates. "What the hell are you doing out here?"

I told them my story and they told me theirs. I was trying to solder a padlock in the middle of the night. They had all taken LSD and had been running around in the woods high as kites since it got dark.

"We came this close to killing you, you idiot." They said.

So the soldering the padlock idea didn't work out.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Frates Dairy Milk Bottle, Raynham, Mass.

This is a fairly recent picture of the Frates Dairy Milk Bottle on Route 138 in Raynham, Mass. The milk bottle was going to be torn down a few years ago but thankfully some folks decided not to.

As a kid, it made perfect sense to stop and get an ice cream cone at a 60 foot high milk bottle.

Thanks, Frates Dairy.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Some Background on our Maine Atlantic Salmon Lawsuit

Kennebec River Atlantic salmon, October 1996.
The following (written in op/ed-ese) for the Waterville, Maine Morning Sentinel quickly scopes the salient issues:

Breaking the Law is Different from Obeying the Law

By Douglas Watts
Augusta, Maine

Public documents going back 20 years show that hydroelectric dam owners on the Kennebec River have been aware that fish are sucked into their turbines and are killed and maimed. This happens because the intakes of the turbines are open and unscreened, like a window fan with no protective mesh.
Atlantic salmon are killed at hydroelectric dams by the same mechanism as shown above for American eels.

In June 2009 the few dozen remaining Atlantic salmon in the Kennebec were declared an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. It is a federal crime to kill a Kennebec River Atlantic salmon. If you or I did it, we would go to jail.

Kennebec dam owners continue to leave their turbines open and unscreened and allow Atlantic salmon to swim through them, leading to their death.

Because these dam owners have failed to take prompt action to protect the few Atlantic salmon left in the Kennebec, myself and Friends of Merrymeeting Bay and Environment Maine are suing these dam owners in federal court to stop this killing.

Putting in the turbine screens will cost the dam owners a minuscule fraction of their annual profits. Turbine screening has been done now for half a decade at the Benton Falls Dam in Benton and the American Tissue Dam in Gardiner with no effect on their ability to generate electricity.

The Kennebec River is owned by us; not out-of-state dam owners. Using a public river for private gain is a privilege, not a right, and with it comes a responsibility to not interfere with our rights to the river and our right to expect that all laws will be obeyed and endangered species will not be harmed or killed or go extinct. This is why we pass laws.

News item, Kennebec Journal, July 1880.

Hey !!! A big business law paper covered our Maine Atlantic Salmon lawsuit.

This piece is by subscription only, but cuz I was sent a copy by a subscriber and it's about me, I am going to let you read it:


Green Groups Sue Maine Dam Operators Over Salmon

By Bibeka Shrestha

Law360, New York (February 1, 2011) -- Two conservation groups have sued NextEra Energy Resources Inc. and other hydroelectric dam operators on the Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers in Maine, accusing them of harming the endangered Atlantic salmon population by allowing the fish to pass through turbines.

Friends of Merrymeeting Bay and Environment Maine filed four complaints on Monday against NextEra, Brookfield Renewable Power Inc., Topsham Hydro Partners Limited Partnership, Miller Hydro Group, Merimil Limited Partnership and several affiliates in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.

The lawsuits target the owners and operators of four dams on the Kennebec River and three dams on the Androscoggin River, alleging these dams are killing or injuring migrating salmon that try to pass through spinning turbine blades, and are otherwise impeding the salmon's ability to travel upstream and downstream on the rivers.

The dam operators have violated the Endangered Species Act by preventing Atlantic salmon from reaching a significant amount of spawning and rearing habitats and significantly impairing the salmon population's essential behavior patterns, according to the complaint.

Merimil, NextEra, Brookfield and their affiliates are also violating the Clean Water Act by not conducting a required study to prove that allowing downstream-migrating adult salmon to pass through their dams' turbines is safe, the complaint said.

These companies are allegedly violating water quality certifications, which require them to conduct site-specific quantitative studies in consultation with the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service to show that passage through the turbines does not result in significant injury or death.

Atlantic salmon were officially designated as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in June 2009, the same month the NMFS designated the Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers as critical habitats, according to the complaint.

The rivers, which share a common estuary at Merrymeeting Bay, historically enjoyed the largest Atlantic salmon runs in the country, estimated at more than 100,000 adults annually, according to the groups.

In 2010, however, 10 adult salmon returned to the Androscoggin and five adult salmon returned to the Kennebec, the groups said.

“These dams are pushing an iconic Maine fish to the brink of extinction," said Emily Figdor, director of Environment Maine, in a statement Tuesday. "With the number of Atlantic salmon perilously low, the need for action to protect the fish and their habitat is urgent."

The groups are asking the court to order the dam owners and operators to conduct a biological assessment to determine whether their actions are adversely affecting the salmon population.

They also hope to block the dam owners and operators from allowing salmon to swim through operating turbines unless they receive authorization through an incidental take permit or incidental take statement, which would require them to minimize and mitigate the impacts of harming the endangered fish to the "maximum extent possible," the complaint said.

The groups claim the dam owners can implement simple measures, such as installing effective devices to divert salmon from turbines and stopping the turbines during salmon migration season.

"The salmon population is nearly extinct, and the dam owners and operators need to take immediate steps to implement measures to protect the salmon," said David Nicholas, an attorney representing the conservation groups, on Tuesday. "If they don't, we're facing an extinction possibility."

NextEra declined to comment on the lawsuit on Tuesday.

Attorneys or representatives for Miller, Topsham and Brookfield did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

The environmental groups are represented by Joshua R. Kratka and Charles C. Caldart of the National Environmental Law Center and David A. Nicholas and Bruce M. Merrill of Law Offices of Bruce Merrill PA.

Nancy Skancke of Law Offices of GKRSE is representing Miller and Topsham.

Counsel information for the other defendants was not immediately available Tuesday.

The cases are Friends of Merrymeeting Bay and Environment Maine v. Miller Hydro Group, case number 2:11-cv-00036; Friends of Merrymeeting Bay and Environment Maine v. NextEra Energy Resources Inc. et al., case number 2:11-cv-00038; Friends of Merrymeeting Bay and Environment Maine v. Topsham Hydro Partners Limited Partnership, case number 2:11-cv-00037; and Friends of Merrymeeting Bay and Environment Maine v. Brookfield Renewable Power Inc. et al., case number 1:11-cv-00035, all in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine.

Bibeka Shrestha

Portfolio Media, Inc.
Publisher of the Law360 Newswire
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New York, New York 10003

Direct: (646)783-7147

Maine Public Radio on our Kennebec and Androscoggin River Atlantic Salmon Lawsuit

From Feb. 1, 2011.

This piece written by Scott Monroe of the Waterville, Maine Morning Sentinel; and this piece by David Sharp of the Associated Press as reprinted by Bloomberg News cover the basics.

Redfin Pickerel in the Brooks of Easton, Mass.

The redfin pickerel (Esox americanus) is the smallest and least known member of the pickerel and pike family, which contains the more well known and much bigger chain pickerel, northern pike and muskellunge. Chain pickerel (Esox niger) and redfin pickerel are the two species of the family native to Massachusetts.

Redfin pickerel are very small, usually less than 5-6 inches, and only rarely up to 10 inches. Since they are quite similar in appearance to chain pickerel, most people who have seen a redfin pickerel assume it is a very small chain pickerel.

Redfin pickerel occupy a fairly unique niche along the Atlantic seaboard: very small first and second order brooks. In some areas, such as northern New England, this niche would be occupied by the brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis). Unlike redfin pickerel, native brook trout are extremely intolerant to water temperatures much above 65 F.

Easton is unusually situated at the very top of the divide between the Neponset and Taunton River watersheds. For this reason, especially in North Easton, most of the brooks are truly first order streams, meaning they rise directly from isolated marshes, bogs, seeps and springs. In contrast, a second order brook is one formed by the joining of two first order brooks. Nearly all of the brooks in Easton are first or second order, meaning they are very small and have a very limited watershed. Brooks of this type have some very unusual attributes, including, unfortunately, that they can periodically dry up during prolonged droughts.

Prior to 1978-1979, an enormous tract of woods existed from Holmes Street and Linden Street in North Easton all the way to Stoughton and the Stoughton Fish and Game club. It was bordered by North Main Street on the west and Washington Street on the east. Around 1979 a large chunk of this land was turned into subdivisions.

Before 1979, however, I used to walk these woods quite a bit. They had all been cleared for pasture in the 1800s as evidenced by stone walls running through the woods this way and that. Just to the west of where Whitman Brook crosses the railroad tracks near the Stoughton line I discovered a tiny brook, barely a foot or two across, that stayed wet all year round, and flowed into Whitman Brook. So one day after school I followed its trace.

At some point a century earlier a farmer had a little cart path that crossed the brook and made a tiny bridge over the brook using some flat pieces of glacial rock nearby. It was quite odd seeing such an old, but obviously handmade little piece of construction way out in the middle of the woods. Leaning on my belly on the piece of granite I looked into the water and was surprised to see a tiny pickerel, no more than 3-4 inches long, hovering in the current like a brook trout, head pointed upstream, waiting for a little insect or other bit of food to float by. I watched him for about a half hour.

Now, in hindsight, I'm quite certain I was watching a redfin pickerel, whose ancestors had probably been living in that little tiny brook for the past 8,000 or so years.

Unfortunately, the little brook was destroyed the next year to build Phase IV of a bunch of McMansions.

Too bad.

Logperch in the Brooks of Easton, Mass.

The Logperch is a member of the darter family of fish (Percina). This family also includes the yellow perch, so common to Easton's ponds and deeper, slower streams.

The darters are an incredibly varied and diverse group of freshwater fish, even though most are just a few inches long. The logperch is the largest of the darters, reaching a length of up to about six inches. Darters are unusual in that most lack swim bladders, have wildly outsized pectoral fins and the males display extraordinarily bright colors during mating season.

On the Atlantic coast, Massachusetts is just about the northern limit of darters, although there exist historic reports of the swamp darter in several brooks in York County in southernmost Maine. Interestingly, darters are quite common in the mountain brooks of central Vermont. Those I used to observe as a kid in East Corinth, VT were probably the Johnny Darter, one of the most common and best known of the family.

My experience with the logperch in Easton is limited to a single observation back in the late 1970s when I was in junior high school. We lived just up the street from Whitman Brook where it crosses Elm Street and goes into Langwater Pond and we used to muck about in the brook all the way to the Stoughton/Easton line.

One summer, most likely in 1977 or 1978, we had a particularly nasty and prolonged drought in and around Easton. Every thunderstorm missed us and you could almost hear the ground groan and sigh for lack of moisture. As my uncle Gilbert Heino would say, it was tough.

One day I walked down Elm Street to Whitman Brook and was shocked to find it was completely dried up just before it enters Langwater. Walking in the brook bed I found dozens and dozens of dead fish, lightly covered with mud. Most were about 4-5 inches long, very slender and kind of odd-looking. Coming back home I figured out, to the best of the descriptions in our various fish books, that they were logperch. Apparently what happened is that the drought was so severe that the logperch got stranded in isolated pools in the brook and when those pools finally dried up, the fish died in them.

What struck me then, and still today, is that we never knew these logperch lived in Whitman Brook. Even with all the fishing and wading and exploring we did in the brook during our growing up years, we never saw them. Apparently, they are quite reclusive little fish. Part of this might be due to our familiarity with the centrarchid family, ie. bluegills, pumpkinseeds and largemouth bass in the local ponds, as well as the chain pickerel. The bass and sunfish family are curiously non-shy, to the point that it almost seems they are as curious about you as you are to them, especially if you are swimming, where the sunfish will come up and nibble at your leg hairs. And underwater, with a diving mask, largemouth and smallmouth bass will swim right up to your face to check you out.

So absent further sightings since 1978, I can only surmise that for all those years of wandering about in Whitman Brook, there were logperch aplenty but they kept themselves extremely well concealed. This is the only logical way to explain how during that one very bad summer drought when Whitman Brook dried up there were dozens of logperch lying dead in the brookbed.

As a side note about our native Percina in Easton, many people are not aware that yellow perch engage in a very interesting spawning migration during April. I first encountered this at the back end of Picker Pond off Canton Street in North Easton. Picker Pond is fed by two brooks, one coming from Flyaway Pond and the other from Long Pond which both meet in a marsh before the pond actually starts.

Walking the little brook from Long Pond one April I was surprised to see fish in it everywhere -- far more than you would ever expect to see in such a small brook. Upon closer inspection I discovered they were all the yellow perch in Picker Pond. They had swam from the pond into the fast water of the brook to mate and lay their eggs. It was quite a sight.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Brooks of Easton, Mass.

This is a short medley of some underwater video I took in 2009 and 2010 in a few of the little headwater brooks in Easton, Massachusetts. Rather than wait for the 'full blown' coverage I'd like to do, this will suffice for now.

The first brook has no formal name. We've always called it, unimaginatively, 'the brook.' It's behind the house where I grew up on Linden Street in North Easton. It actually starts not far from Long Pond and flows east behind Canton Street, then between Linden and Holmes Streets, under the railroad tracks then into the Ames estate where it joins Whitman Brook on Elm Street. All of the video looking up at the trees is actually through the water -- that's how clear the water is.

This brook often dries up in the summer during dry spells, except for isolated pools, so its aquatic population is mostly insects, particularly water striders (Jesus bugs) and the occasional crayfish. This is from July 31, 2010, one of the hottest days of the summer. We had just gotten a big thunderstorm so the brook came up a bit from being almost dry. Since it was so hot I went out back of my mother's house and found this one tiny pool that was about a foot deep and took a dip. The water felt unbelievably good -- it was about 65 degrees probly. And clean !!!

The second brook is actually in East Mansfield. It is a little tributary of the Canoe River that comes into Canoe River campground at the 'tenting site' there. It's really pretty. This is about 200 yards up a red maple kind of swampy thing from the border of the campground. We had gotten a big thunderstorm the night before so the water is a bit turbid. This little brook has native bog iron in its bed.

The third brook is Black Brook at the old railroad grade in the Hockomock Swamp in South Easton. Black Brook is aptly named since unless the water is less than six inches deep it is so colored by tannic acid you can't see the bottom. It's not that the water is muddy or murky -- it's crystal clear -- but it is clear like reddish root beer is clear. The last clip is not underwater, but just looking down at the little pool just above the railroad grade with the reflection of the trees overhead.

The still photo at the end is my brother Tim standing above Queset Brook along Sullivan Ave. where it goes underneath the railroad tracks. This is what William Chaffin called "Trout Hole Brook" in his History of Easton from 1888. It is the one brook in Easton which has good, documented evidence of formerly supporting native brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis). It lost its native brook trout population in the late 1700s when it was dammed up for the Ames Shovel Works, which caused the water to become too warm and polluted to support native brook trout. This section of Queset Brook could support native brook trout again if several of the old dams on it were removed, which they should since they serve no useful purpose except to louse up the brook.

What's interesting is how each brook has a completely different water color. The Linden Street brook is crystal clear; the little Canoe River tributary is cream soda colored and Black Brook is almost ruby red. This is from the varying amounts of tannic acid leaching into the water from decaying leaves.

The music is an excerpt of a little improv song I made up around 1994 on a cheap Casio keyboard. A few months ago I put an electric bass guitar on it which thickens it up a bit. The melody line is a transparent rip-off of the melody line of "Third Stone from the Sun" by Jimi Hendrix with various fake embellishments.

[Note: The compression used by youtube doesn't like underwater video that much; on my computer it looks best at the '360p' setting.]

"No Laughing, No Having Fun" by EZ7.

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes.

Our song, "No Laughing, No Having Fun," by EZ7. Written by Rick Burns and Greg Hinckley. Recorded live to digital two-track in the Burnsboro Disc Golf pro shop in Vassalboro, Maine, Saturday night, Jan. 15, 2011.

Rick Burns vocals, Mike Fife drums, Pete Burns bongos, Greg Hinckley rhythm guitar, Geoff Hursch wah wah guitar, Mike Southerberg acoustic guitar, Sax Mike on the tenor saxophone, Doug Watts bass and back-up vocals.

Video produced by Doug using footage from the (now demolished) Statler Tissue factory in Augusta, Maine ; the old Cony High School in Augusta; and the Watershed Center for Ceramics in Edgecomb, Maine.

The band's name is a frisbee golf joke for when you throw it into the woods ('that's an easy seven').

The words are about some bitter frisbee golf match between Rick and a guy named Charlie Wilson.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Star Trek: The Big Daddy of Bad Astronomy

By Doug Watts
with apologies to Dr. Phil Plait,
the original Bad Astronomer.

If the Earth was a foot from the Sun the next nearest stars would be 50 miles away.

Space is aptly named.

Watching old Star Trek re-runs my wife reminds me that in the later versions of the series the producers tried to keep the scripts somewhat close to science.

But if this were truly true, you really couldn't have a show. You'd mostly have this:

This is not to knock Star Trek, which has always been one of my favorite TV shows, but is more about having some fun with science.

Star Trek requires that in 200-400 years people in space ships can travel megazillions of times faster than the speed of light. This is illustrated by stars zipping past the ship's view screen as if they were farm houses zipping past as you drive down a highway. This is done, of course, to show us viewers that the ship is moving really fast.

Except in the dense center of our galaxy, the average distance between stars in the Milky Way is around five light years: 30 trillion miles. So we can estimate the average travelling speed of a ship in a typical Star Trek set-up shot as about 5 light years per second, or 30 trillion miles per second. In contrast, light pokes along at a measly 186,000 miles per second.

5 light years per second is 300 light years per minute; 18,000 light years per hour and 432,000 light years per day. This is problematic for a 'sciencey' show set in the Milky Way Galaxy.

The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy about 80-100,000 light years in diameter. Its width (from top to bottom) is about 16,000 light years at the central bulge and gets much thinner as you move out from the center bulge.

This means that at the ship speed shown in a typical Star Trek episode, the Enterprise would travel all the way through the Milky Way in about six hours. If the ship was aimed in any direction except parallel to the disk of the galaxy, the ship would be completely out of the Milky Way Galaxy and into the emptiness of intergalactic space in just a couple of hours. The ship would arrive at the Large Magellanic Cloud, our nearest galactic neighbor (160,000 ly), between breakfast and supper and would reach the Andromeda Galaxy (2.5 million ly), our nearest large galactic neighbor, in a week.

Andromeda on 5 Quatloos A Day

In a favorite early episode of mine, the USS Enterprise is hijacked by the deliciously suave and evil Rojan (Warren Stevens) and his friends from the planet Kelvan in the Andromeda Galaxy so they can use the Enterprise to get back home. Because the journey to Andromeda will be so long, they turn the whole Enterprise crew into little styrofoam icosahedrons and soup up the Enterprise so it can go a zillion times faster than normal, which is already a megazillion times faster than the speed of light.

However, even at normal Enterprise speed, Rojan and the Kelvans could get home to the Andromeda Galaxy in a bit more time than it took for Kirk to beat up Rojan and make out with his hot wife Kelinda (Barbara Bouchet), who like, all Kelvans, is actually a 100 tentacled creature.

The Great Energy Barrier at the Edge of the Milky Way

A Star Trek staple is that a giant 'negative' energy barrier surrounds the Milky Way Galaxy that no normal matter, like a space ship, can pass through. This is a critical plot point in the episode with Rojan, Kelinda, Tomar, Hanar and Drea of the Kelvans, since Kirk has the chance to flood the engines of the Enterprise with this negative energy and blow up the ship as they pass through the Great Energy Barrier. But instead, Kirk decides the best way to save the Enterprise is for Scotty and Tomar to get totally shitfaced:

For Spock to whip Rojan's ass at three dimensional chess and for Kirk to get all Barry White with Kelinda and then beat the crap out of Rojan when he gets jealous.

The Great Energy Barrier? It doesn't exist. Even when Gene Roddenberry was first outlining the series, no scientist ever speculated such a Great Energy Barrier existed. He made it all up. But it's still kool.

Star Trek Voyager: Too Fast and Too Slow?

Star Trek: Voyager is a weird cross between Star Trek and Gilligan's Island and Lost in Space but is more ridiculous and contrived than all combined, if that is possible.

When Voyager begins, we are told the ship has been throttled by a weird alien dude into the "Delta Quadrant" of the Milky Way Galaxy, far from the "Alpha Quadrant" where Earth is located and all the other Star Treks are set. Then we are woefully told that even at 'maximum warp speed' it will take 70 years for Voyager to return home to the "Alpha Quadrant."

A quadrant is one fourth of the galaxy, so this means there is a maximum of about 50,000 light years between the outermost edge of the "Delta Quadrant" to the center of the Milky Way Galaxy and into the inner part of the "Alpha Quadrant." This equates to travelling 50,000 light years during 70 years; or a speed of a bit less than 1,000 light years per year of travel which equates to 1,000 times the speed of light.

But even at 'moderate warp speed,' Voyager is shown in typical 'Star Trek' mode whizzing by stars at the rate of a half dozen stars per second. This speed equates to 432,000 light years per day. At this speed, Voyager would get back to the Alpha Quadrant of the Milky Way not in 70 years, not in 7 years, not in 7 months, not in 7 weeks, not in 7 days, but in about 7 hours.

This ship speed, which is zillions of times faster than the speed of light, raises some troubling functional issues. How do you steer that fast? How do you stop? How do you swerve around all those stars? How do you even see the stars?

Deep Space Nine and the Worm Hole

Aside from that it might be the best series of the series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, uses the premise that a 'worm hole' exists in the 'Alpha Quadrant' that leads directly to the distant 'Gamma Quadrant' of the Milky Way. All types of fun and death then ensues. The problem, again, is that at the speed the Star Trek ships are shown routinely travelling, they could reach the 'Gamma Quadrant' in a few hours without even using the 'worm hole.' Oh well.

Captain, we've a wee bit of a problem.

In 'Star Trek' terms, the speed of light is really slow, like riding a bike with square tires up a steep hill.

Real science is way weirder than even the weirdest science fiction. And it's also real! One of the weirdest parts of science is Special Relativity, which deals when stuff, like us, goes almost as fast as the speed of light.

Swiss Patent Clerk Albert Einstein published his scientific paper on Special Relativity in 1905. The most important 'take home' message of his paper is that nothing can go faster than the speed of light. The only thing that can go as fast as light is light.

Special Relativity is Actually Pretty Simple

Special Relativity does two things to stuff like you and I if we are moving very close to light speed.

1. It makes us more massive.
2. It makes time slow down.

It does other stuff too, like make us shorter in the direction of motion, but we need not deal with that now. These two are plenty weird enough, and have actually been proven in experiments with little tiny itty bitty things like protons and muons, which are the only things we've ever been able to speed up to something approaching the speed of light.

A lot of Special Relativity deals with the weird things that happen to matter as it gets close to the speed of light. And since SR is a set of mathematical equations, we can look at what would happen if a piece of matter actually reached the speed of light.

Well first, it would become infinitely massive, as in it would weigh more than the entire Universe put together. There goes the diet plan !!! [1]

Also, time would stand still, so starting that diet could always wait until tomorrow, since it would never come.

It's a procrastinator's dream come true. With infinite food !

The SR equations dictate that a piece of matter would become infinitely massive if it could reach light speed, and as such, it would take an infinite amount of energy to make it actually reach light speed, so the whole Enterprise would kind of grind to a speedy halt.

But on Star Trek, the entire ship travels not just at the speed of light, but way way way faster than the speed of light. So this is a problem.

The Whole Time Stops Part

Assuming you could get a ship to go at light speed, time would stop. Time wouldn't stop outside the ship, but it would stop inside. At light speed, you would be everywhere at once. You'd be where you were and where you are, all at the same time. Because time stops. The concept is so bizarre that Albert Einstein decided one afternoon that only light can do this or else we would all go insane. [2]

But there's an even bigger problem. To reach the speed of light you first have to reach almost the speed of light, like say .9999999999999 ... the speed of light. At this speed, time seems completely normal inside your ship. However, time everywhere else, including on Earth is moving 99.999999999 ... percent faster than your time. So within a few seconds of travel by your clock, not only is everyone you know on Earth long dead, but the Sun has died out and so have all of the stars you are trying to visit. Long before you get 'there' there is no longer any 'there' to get to.

And this is just at near light speed, never mind zillions of times faster than light speed, like the USS Enterprise.

If a ship could travel faster than light speed, time in your ship would have to move backwards as compared with the rest of the Universe. You would arrive at your destination billions of years before you had left. Captain Kirk would have to give the order to go to warp speed billions of yearsbefore he was born; and before life had evolved on Earth!

Slower is Faster and Faster is Slower ?

One of the weirdest parts of Special Relativity is that a space ship going very close to the speed of light, from Earth's perspective, takes longer to get to its destination than if it goes slower. Say what?

With your ship travelling at 99.999 the speed of light, your ship clock seems perfectly normal. However, based on clocks back on Earth, your clock is running 223 times slower than theirs. So in one year of space travel according to your clock, 223 years have gone by according to clocks on Earth. So by travelling at 99.999 percent of light speed, in one year by your clock you have travelled almost a light year. But according to the clocks on Earth it took you 223 years to go that far.

So while according to your instruments, your speed is almost about 6 trillion miles per year; according to Earth your speed is a measly .026 trillion miles per year. Why, because according to Earth's clocks, your year is 223 times longer than theirs.

Now, on the other hand, if you travelled at only one tenth of light speed, it would take 10 years to travel a light year by your clock. Because of the scaling in the SR equations, according to Earth's clocks, your year is only 1.005 times longer than theirs, which is not bad. So from Earth's perspective, who are waiting for your scientific observations, they will get your information a lot faster if you go a lot slower !!!

How is this so? Basically because nature so abhors massive things going close to the speed light that it penalizes you for doing so. This penalty comes in the form of forcing your friends clocks on Earth to go much faster than yours (or to put it another way, to make your clock go far slower than theirs). At 99.999 percent of light speed, 223 years will pass on Earth in one of your years. If you ever want to see your friends again, you'll need to slow way down.

Light Speed Ate My Homework !!!

Because time dilation increases asymptotically under SR, the penalty for extreme speed so extreme that it is completely destructive to information. Let's say you orbit the perimeter of the Milky Way at really close to light speed. As you look out your window you will see stars burning out every few seconds and within a few weeks or months watch the whole galaxy turn off. Sure, you can write The Definitive History of the Milky Way Galaxy, but who besides you will be around to read it?

You'll Smash Into Exploding Stars All the Time

Once you're going really really really close to light speed, your clock is moving tens of thousands or millions of times faster than the clocks on the stars you approach. At a certain point stars are going to be randomly exploding around you like popcorn. Even worse, nearly all stars have relative velocity: they are moving on their own trajectory and speed within the galaxy. But because your clock is so slow compared to theirs, all your star charts will become obsolete almost as soon as you make them. The stars will be buzzing around you like deer flies and exploding every few minutes or seconds. It'll be like trying to run between the rain drops in a downpour !!!

You'll Get Fried by Gamma Radiation !!!

Because light cannot travel faster than the speed of light, when you approach a luminous body (or it approaches you) the light appears blue shifted, ie. its frequency increases and hence, its energy. If your ship is travelling super close to light speed, the light from any approaching star would be so blue-shifted it would reach the frequency of gamma rays and totally fry you and your ship.

Be Your Own Black Hole !!!

Another problem is that once you accelerate your ship really, really, really close to light speed, the ship's mass becomes so large that your ship becomes a Black Hole. This raises another "time stops" issue since under General Relativity, time runs slower in strong gravitational fields, and goes really slow inside a Black Hole. And of this would happen before you reached light speed.[4]

Captain, we just Phased Ourselves !!!

If your ship is travelling faster than light speed and you shoot a 'phaser' or 'photon torpedo' at something in front of the ship, you're going to hit yourself.

Why is the Enterprise Viewscreen Not Totally Black?

While the Enterprise might be travelling faster than light speed, the light from stars and ships up ahead of it is not. That light is still poking along like a lame donkey up a hill. Even under Star Trek Rules, the Enterprise would have to rely on paper charts to tell them where they are since any real-time information about where they really are cannot reach them until they've gone by it. Talk about an unfair drivers' test! This invokes the Sulu Paradox, ie. light speed is not additive to ship speed. At warp speed, you're flying blind.

Captain, the Sensor Readings Show Nothing.

Like the warp drive, sensors work perfectly except when you need them to work. Then they fall apart. The sensors give Spock something 'sciencey' to do while Kirk signs a space clipboard and checks out Yeoman Rand's gams. At 'warp speed' sensors could not work. This is why Spock always looks into the viewfinder and says, "Fascinating."

But Haven't Prominent Physicists like George Lucas Said Warp Drive is Possible?

Yes, but so are light sabers. The idea of real 'warp drive' uses the concept of 'dark energy,'theorized as being responsible for the continuing expansion of the Universe, ie. of spacetime itself. Dark energy apparently does exist; and as theorized dark energy does violate the speed of light, but only makes itself felt at scales of hundreds of millions and billions of light years. That last part is critical.[5]

We know from examining the light from the most extremely distant galaxies that they and us are moving apart from each other faster than the speed of light. But while this 'dark energy' expansion of the entire Universe is dominant at scales of 5-10 billion light years or more, it is far weaker than other forces, like gravity, at interstellar scales. This is why 'dark energy' does not cause the Milky Way Galaxy to fly apart, for binary stars to fly apart , for the Earth to fly away from the Sun and the Moon to fly away from the Earth.

At planetary, interstellar, galactic and even intergalactic scales, gravity holds the upper hand, in the same sense that at very close distances, a couple of toy magnets on a toothpick can hover over one another and 'defy' gravity.

The idea behind a Star Trek-like warp drive is to create a bubble of "dark energy" directly behind your ship that would radically expand the size of space right behind you, and create a 'wave' in spacetime that you could ride like a surfer, or something, toward your destination.

This concept at least has the attraction of building from actual cosmological constructs. But its application raises more issues than it solves. As in all travel, you want to get from 'here' to 'there' as quickly as you can. Warp drive is sort of like thinking of the U.S. as a big flat carpet and pulling it into enough big wrinkles, or waves, so that Los Angeles is suddenly (and temporarily) just a few miles outside Boston. But what happens to Kansas? Doesn't it all get scrunched up? And what happens when you 'unwrinkle' it? Does everything jerk right back to where it was? Do any dishes get broken?

For example, if we want to wrinkle, fold and crinkle all of the space between us and our destination, say the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, there are millions of stars and planets in between. What happens to them? What happens to them during the scrunching and unscrunching process? What happens if somebody else is scrunching and unscrunching space at the same time we are? Whose scrunching takes precedent? Can you unscrunch somebody else's scrunch? Why aren't we observing all this scrunching going on right now; with stars zipping back and forth across the sky, scrunching and unscrunching everytime a ship goes into warp drive? What happens if you don't scrunch and unscrunch the Galaxy just right? What if Lt. Sulu screws up at the helm because he's checking out Lt. Uruhu's legs?

But what if what if?

Okay Mr. Pessimist McPessimisticky, people thought for millennia that the Sun went around the Earth. Perhaps in 400 years we might discover that our 'laws' of physics are just as wrong as the 'laws' that people believed in the Dark Ages. Fair enough.

The problem is that our contemporary laws of physics are scientifically verified; the 'ideas' of the Dark Ages were not. Our contemporary physics explains natural phenomena very well. To develop a totally new physics we're also going to need a new reality, which is tough.

We now have particle accelerators that can bring tiny bits of matter up to about 99.99999999 percent or so of light speed. In these experiments, the equations Special Relativity are quantitatively and qualitatively confirmed.

When protons are accelerated to very close to light speed, they become more massive, at exactly the amount predicted by the equations of Special Relativity. At near-light speed, highly unstable particles like muons live much longer before decaying, showing that at near light speed, time slows down, by the exact amount predicted by Special Relativity.[3]

So to have Star Trek, we need to get rid around Special Relativity.

Unfair !!!

Lighten Up Yourself

Relativity could also be called "No Free Lunch" or "Something Has to Give." The phrase, "relativity" is wrong; the antonym "invariance" is what Einstein preferred, which is fancy for saying some things can't be changed. That something, is c, the speed of light in a vacuum. By establishing this as a postulate, Einstein had to rejigger a whole bunch of accepted physical laws. Then he challenged the World to prove him wrong, thereby creating the Internet.

What's cool about relativity ... err ... invariance is that time is the variable, which we always assumed was a constant. Light speed always stays the same so something must change. Time is what changes. This is the stuff you think about when you're bored at your job at the Swiss Patent office. Job boredom is good!

If somehow we could be turned into pure light, we could travel at the speed of light. We'd just have to get turned back into non-light. And since, at light speed, time stops, we can be where we were and where we are at exactly the same time. Kool! The problem is that time doesn't work like that for all the people (and stars) who are not going at light speed. So there's kind of a trade-off.

Remember that the real problem with accelerating a piece of stuff to light speed is (a) you can't and (b) getting from the next to last decimal to the last decimal will take a megazillion years. And you'll weigh more than the entire Universe.

Good News and Bad News

The Good News is that we have already reached the next nearest stars, and quite a few beyond that. The Bad News is that most of what has reached these stars from us is bad 1960s music and Threes Company episodes. Why? Because radio and teevee travel at the speed of light!

Right now, we are sending our crappy music to Sirius and they are hearing it. The problem is sending the musicians there so they can do a live gig.

The 'speed of light travel problem' is really about listening to Led Zeppelin on the radio from your planet orbiting around Sirius as opposed to having them come over to your house and playing "Achilles Last Stand" after supper. The more important problem is transporting relativistic amounts of Peruvian blow for 30 trillion miles and having some left for after the gig.

So the problem with interstellar space travel is that we desperately need to send Pat Boone to play live on Alpha Centauri rather than playing "In a Metal Mood" on the radio. Which, come to think of it, is a good way to encourage an interstellar invasion force from Alpha Centauri coming to kill us all off. But then we wouldn't get a Ricky Nelson song about getting dissed at a garden party 4 light years from Earth. So it's a trade-off.

Are we just being selfish? Are we like kids in the back seat screaming that if we don't go to McDonald's on Proxima Centauri we'll hold our breath until we turn into a blue giant? Is that what it will take to get a Star Trek future? Christ, we're already sending our crap there by radio. Do these innocent aliens really want -- or deserve -- the punishment of the real thing? We can't even get a concert on Earth that isn't lip-synched. Why should they get better? These are questions NASA needs to answer.

We Die Too Fast

The real problem with interstellar travel is that human lifespans are too short. If humans could be genetically engineered to be close to immortal, then long space journeys would not be a problem. Many Earth microbes are close to immortal in that they can go into virtual suspended animation and when living conditions are favorable, come back to active life. Unfortunately, it appears that a key to this ability is that these microbes have extremely simple physiologies. However, if the suspended animation skill of these microbes could be 'grafted' by genetic engineering into the various cell types of humans, it would perhaps be possible for a human to sent into space, turn off their cells and turn them on again in response to a specified environmental cue.

Perhaps the most promising path is quantum computing. If every single cell in your brain could be digitized into binary code and stored in a quantum computer, the computer itself could be put in a ship and sent off into space. This means you would be a computer and no longer a human, but if your 'consciousness' was somehow preserved it wouldn't be a bad trade-off if space travel is that important to you.

Note, however, that none of these ideas, even if they could ever be achieved, give you 'warp drive' or 'sub-space' communications or the other faster than speed of light staples that space fiction depends on. A message from "Star Base 12" located 10 light years away will still take 10 years to reach you. Accelerating a space ship to the speed of light, even a ship the size of a single proton, will still take more energy than exists in the entire Universe.

By Special Relativity, we know that light can travel at the speed of light because a photon of light has no mass. So if we could conjure up something that had a property called 'negative mass' then an object made of negative mass might be immune to the light barrier. But what exactly is 'negative mass'? Could the cosmological constant, inferred to be a 'negative energy' (or 'dark energy') that is causing the Universe to expand, have a complementary partner, 'negative matter,' just as energy has the complement of matter? (Note that 'negative matter' is totally different concept from anti-matter, which is bound by the same physical laws as matter).

Aside from the lack of any theoretical or observational evidence that 'negative matter' actually exists, there is the more practical matter of how we would interact with it. But assuming it does exist and we could interact with it and use it to convey meaningful information and this information could be conveyed without regard for the light barrier, there is still the time travel problem.

Remember that in Special Relativity, a photon has no sense of the passage of time. A photon that takes one billion years to travel from a distant galaxy and strike the sensor of the Hubble Telescope is, from its perspective, 'everywhere' along the path at once. It has 'always' been just created in a star, just leaving the star, just leaving the galaxy and just striking the sensor in the Hubble Telescope.

(Technically the only thing that has physically changed about such a photon is that its wavelength has increased due to the expansion of spacetime itself. So you could sort of say that a photon could 'sense' the passage of time if it could 'notice' that it was 'born' as a gamma ray and then 'became' a radio wave when it 'died' by striking the sensor of Hubble. This is analogous to what would happen if we travelled at near light speed to Alpha Centauri. By Special Relativity, a space traveller would feel no change in time on her ship but would notice that time on Earth was moving incredibly fast. Depending on her speed, she would notice that 'daily' updates from Earth were arriving at her ship every few seconds; and that after a few hours on her ship, her grandkids on Earth had died of old age.)

Let's assume for a moment that we invented a way to turn people and their spaceship into 'negative matter' that was immune to the light barrier and set them into space to travel to a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. What would be its maximum speed? Let's assume NASA is very impatient and wants the crew to arrive at the target planet as soon as possible to start gathering close-up data. To achieve this, the crew sets its speed to reach Alpha Centauri in one second of their time as judged by their onboard-chronometers. However, the crew still faces the same problem faced by their positive energy counterparts travelling at near light speed, but much worse. In the one second it took the ship to reach Alpha Centauri there would be no Alpha Centauri. It would have burned out within the first micro-second the ship left Earth.

Under Special Relativity, your sense of time is unique to your reference point, or more precisely your acceleration in relation to light speed. So even though our space ship is throttling toward Alpha Centauri at a speed of 5 light years per second, Alpha Centauri is still operating according to its own clock, not the space ship's clock. And according to Alpha Centauri's clock, in the one second that the space ship takes to reach Alpha Centauri, according to Alpha Centauri's clock the star will have exhausted all of its nuclear fuel, turned into a red giant, then a white dwarf and then into a tiny, cool, dark husk of itself. So when the crew reaches Alpha Centauri in one second by its shipboard clock, there is no Alpha Centauri to see.

The key problem here, and the revolutionary concept embodied in Special Relativity, is that time is not constant for all observers. While it might seem to a ship crew at near light speed that only a day has passed, time is moving at a much different rate for those not travelling at near light speed, including the stars they are travelling towards, just as it is at NASA.

The problem of faster than light travel is one of simultaniety. In our Universe, simultaniety cannot exist because if it could, everything would have long ago happened at once. To have 'anything' happen that is less than 'everything' there needs to some manner in which somethings happen before other things and some things happen after other things. Without this basic precept, cause and effect could not exist. Cause and effect would be the same thing because everything and anything happened at once. Physical laws, which depend on cause and effect, could not exist. Everything would be indistinguishable from nothing.

So to have a 'space' between any two events, or to even have the concept of one event and any other, there has to be a temporal separation, ie. time. To have something rather than nothing, to have anything other than total simultaniety, there has to be a barrier to simulataniety. If we can be anywhere instantaneously, then we are always everywhere at once which means there is no 'here' or 'there.' At a practical level this would make fusion impossible, since there has to be two hydrogens which at some moment stop being two hydrogens and become a helium atom, releasing energy as photons. While a photon created in a star 10 billion years ago 'thinks' that no time has passed since its moment of creation and its striking the Hubble Telescope sensor, we know from our frame of reference that time has indeed passed and we can measure it. Without the unique time frames required by Special Relativity for each observer, the Universe itself could not exist. It would be a uniform, theoretical mathematical point. It would be simultaneously everything and nothing.

What I like about Special Relativity is that it states the passage of time observed by each unique observer is 'true' to them. With this axiom, our perception that a photon took 1 billion years to travel from a distant galaxy to us on Earth is as equally true as a photon (or a human space traveller who is travelling a near light speed) saying the trip took "no time at all."

The difference between us and a photon is that our as-fast-as-light-speed trip is basically meaningless unless we can communicate information about our trip to our friends who are poking along on Earth at a tiny fraction of light speed. Photons don't have to be concerned with this minor detail. We do.

One of the most important discoveries of recent astronomy is that we can optically view and study stars and galaxies as they existed hundreds of millions and billions of years ago, up to a few hundred million years from the birth of the Universe. And what we have found is that the same physical laws that govern our life on Earth today hold true in these extremely distant and past worlds, and therefore, in the earliest observable history of the Universe, long before the Earth and Sun were even formed.

So for faster than light travel to exist today, we would have to discard the most basic elements of Special and General Relativity, and by extension, most of all basic physical laws as we know them. We would have to tear everything down we know and start from scratch. This is not like saying that Einstein's laws of relativity replaced Newton's laws of gravity and motion. In contrast, Einstein affirmed and built upon the fundamental premises of these laws but refined them to accommodate special cases never observed on Earth except at extreme microscopic and megascopic levels.

Faster than light travel would require changes in the basic laws of physics on the scale of saying that rocks in your garden can suddenly leap off Earth and start orbiting the Moon, that you can be born after you die and that water can suddenly turn to ice at 100 F and turn to chlorine gas at 110 F and that perpetual motion is a standard part of reality instead of an impossibility.

The ultimate test of 'faster than light travel' is not that 'something' can move faster than light, but that humans can do it, or at minimum, that we can harness it to do useful work. Theoretically, humanity could meet all of its energy needs forever by harnessing the intense heat in the Earth's mantle and core. This could be done by drilling a lot of very deep holes, pouring water down them, turning it into steam and using the steam to turn electric turbines. Nothing stops us from doing this now except we lack the technological ability to do it. No basic physical laws need be broken to do this; in fact such a program is completely consistent with all know physics.

Faster than light travel requires all of our basic physics laws to be completely wrong. Faster than light travel would require the existence of something called 'negative matter' which no physical law even allows to exist; let alone intelligently harnessed so it could interact with us, who are not made of negative matter. Just to accelerate a single proton up to the speed of light requires more energy than exists in the entire Universe, unless all of our physical laws are completely wrong.

Faster than light travel would require us to finish something before we started it. It would require us to discard an invention before we invented it; to perfect it before we designed it; and to design it before we thought of it.

Even if we could cheat the laws of physics to travel 1,000 light years in a day, the result would be that the place we visited would be 1 million or 100 million years older than when we left. While our trip only seemed to us to take a day, for the place we visited, 100 million years would have passed since we set our course and started up our faster than light engines. Answering faraway distress signals, as typical on Star Trek, would be problematic, since their time would not be the same as ours.

The only way we could do a Star Trek styled "warp" without these Special Relativity effects would be to literally shrink the distance between our ship and our destination so that it was just a few hundred miles away. Only by doing this could we eliminate the huge differences in time reference between us and them. To travel to Alpha Centauri in a day, we would literally have to 'pull' Alpha Centauri to within a few million miles of Earth, or Earth to within a few million miles of Alpha Centauri. We would have to make disappear all of that space and matter in the 30 trillion miles of space between us and Alpha Centauri. We would have to shrink the fabric of the Universe itself, just as if we landed on the Moon in 1969 just by pulling the Moon and Earth so close we could travel to the Moon by helicopter.

Even if we could do this, we would destroy the Earth by doing it. By removing all of the distance between us and the Moon to make it easy to get there, the Moon would have to crash into the Earth and destroy it. You can't make an object close to you so it's easy to get there without having to deal with gravity. So now we'd also have to invent a way to make the Moon and Earth's gravity temporarily disappear until we 'pushed them back' to their original orbits. This is all the stuff you would have to do by radically shortening distances while keeping time constant.

It's one thing to shorten the trip from Boston to London from sail boat (a couple months) to 6 hours (a jet airplane) to fractions of a second (radio) because all of these improvements are below light speed. But to travel faster than light we have to do much more. We have to break every law of physics and have to account for every consequence of all the physical laws we need to break. We don't have to break any physical laws by building a faster boat or a faster plane. All of these improvements are allowed and encouraged by the same laws that govern the Earth, Moon, Sun and the planets and the entire Universe.

To make outer space fiction possible, writers had to treat the laws of physics as if inventing a ship to go faster than the speed of light is the same as inventing a jet airplane to replace a sailboat. But it's not. The laws of physics do not prohibit a jet airplane, in fact they encourage it. But they do prohibit any ship, even one as small as a single electron, from travelling at the speed of light or faster. This is a problem.

In a way, wanting to travel to Alpha Centauri in less than many many decades is like saying I want to grow gills and swim the oceans next week. At least the latter doesn't require all physical laws to be invalidated. It just requires a ridiculous, but still theoretically achievable, rate of evolutionary change in our bodies.

Wanting to travel to Alpha Centauri at faster than light speed is far more crazy and violent to physics than saying I want to be able to someday evolve to live in a total vacuum and 'swim' to the Moon naked. There are examples of a very few simple microbes that have survived in the total vacuum of outer space (they basically go into suspended animation) as long as they were shielded from the hard blast of UV radiation from the Sun. This extreme survival is allowed by all known basic physical laws. Travelling at the speed of light, or greater, requires all these laws to all be completely wrong.

This is a difference of type, not degree, like saying that in the future, with additional research, we will find that a triangle is a square.

1. In special relativity, your mass as you approach light speed is m = gamma(m) where gamma is a coefficient that equals 1/(√(1-v²/c²); where v is your speed and c is the speed of light. At half of light speed your mass would increase 1.15 times; at .999 light speed, your mass would increase 223 times. At v=c, your mass becomes infinite: ie., 1/√(1-1/1) = 1/√0.
2. At near light speed, time slows down for the traveller from the viewpoint of an observer at rest by T = gamma(t); with gamma again being 1/(√(1-v²/c²). At v=c, T becomes infinite. Another way to say this is that from the perspective of a traveller at near light speed, the clocks of everyone else move incredibly fast.
3. As David Griffiths notes in Introduction to Elementary Particles, (Wiley & Sons 1987), without the time dilation required by special relativity, cosmic ray muons produced every day in Earth's upper atmosphere would never reach ground level.
4. This is kind of an equational artifact due to special relativity being a subset of general relativity and energy being equivalent to mass, but is still fun to mess around with.
5. A saving grace for physics is that at least we can still wrap our heads around the intuitive idea that different forces operate at different distances. We don't have to worry about a refrigerator magnet sucking all of the iron atoms from the hemoglobin molecules in our red blood cells when we pour a glass of milk. For the same reason, we don't have to worry about 'dark energy' suddenly expanding the space of the Universe between our hand and the refrigerator handle and making the refrigerator 10 billion light years from us. Although this does seem to happen when we're out of milk.