(with short Journal of the Plague end note)
First published with this title / My View, Sunday, Sept 29th, 2019 / Santa Fe New Mexican
A thunder storm manifests bolts of electricity (commonly called lightning) out of thin air (kind of like a rainbow)—though it is not precise to talk of thin or empty air, because air, indeed space itself, is teaming with electromagnetic frequencies— strange invisible particles and waves like radio and TV. (If we refer to “frequency,” what is it exactly that is frequenting? I guess, I am no trained physicist, it is electro-magnetism.)
Does this mean that electricity is waiting to happen all around us, as it were, behind the scenes? Again, my language maybe be somewhat clumsy, for I am no trained physicist.
They call lightning a “bolt” as in quick, sharp movement. Bolts can’t be stopped or prevented in weather because they are capricious and stochastic (there’s a word for you—it means randomly probable).
Zeus was fond of tossing purposeful bolts (though Zeus had a capricious side to him too) down upon mortals who angered him. And by the way the ancient Greeks didn’t say “Its raining.” They said “Zeus is raining.”
Non-mythological, scientific, secular bolts in the world of mortals are one to two inches thick. Bolts flash out, on average, for a five mile stretch. Once in Dallas, a bolt was measured at 118 miles, so the story goes. Look it up in goggle.
The temperature of lightning can reach 50,000° F / 27760 C. The electricity in a single bolt can reach 200 million volts. Is it any wonder that being hit by lighting will toast you, or if you survive, turn you into a mystic or a clairvoyant?
I came up with a thought experiment. Suppose a bolt were way thicker than an inch— oh, I don’t know, just humongous? Would it activate all the latent electricity that is hiding in the air around it and ignite the atmosphere?
Unrelated to lightning, burning the atmosphere happened when an asteroid roughly 6 miles across hit our planet 65 million years ago at an angle of 90 degrees and at a speed of 12.4 miles per second. A crater formed about 110 miles across. Our atmosphere was altered beyond belief. The Earth burned in spots as molten rock and super-hot ash fell out of the sky and onto flammable plant matter.The dinosaurs and roughly 3/4 of all species became extinct.
In 1945 some Los Alamos scientists feared that a similar catastrophic event might be triggered by the first atomic bomb blast that might ignite the atmosphere—but they tested the bomb anyway? The mood in Alamogordo was kind of “We have to do this— devil take the hind most.” Well, we’re still here.
Isn’t it strange that the human nature of the scientists, full of rationality and reason, was capable of toying with a possible unholy mess? Many scientists, led by Leo Szilard, were deeply shocked and regretful to see the tremendous destruction they had unleashed by their playing with the weak force of the atomic structure of uranium. It had all started when the Curies, working like dogs in their backyard shed, pulverized and researched the alchemical properties of Pitchblende.
Back to my thought experiment. Let us say that tomorrow my “makey uppy” huge lightning bolt were to strike somewhere and cause an atmospheric explosive chain reaction ripping around the world. Would my imaginary bolt blow us all to smithereens, end the globe of earth, beat us to the punch and surpass our pathetic stumbles with uranium?
Who knows these things? I don’t.
Zeus himself might be surprised by what he’d done. Finis
Apollo as the god of plagues shot plague arrows at the enemy during the Trojan war. Maybe Apollo will elbow Zeus out of the way.