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Show stopper

By Jim Bencivenga / January 25, 2001



Researchers here in the Boston area last week created a chamber into which light entered, then stopped, and then moved out again.

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A snowstorm, with all its matter-of-fact whiteness, arrived shortly after the announcement that light had been stopped. The snow caused the usual urban hiatus, albeit one I've grown to appreciate in the ever quick tempo of a large city.

Scientists stopped light. Snow stopped me. Is there a connection here?

The familiar world, now covered white, seems magical. And even though we easily negotiate it until the white stuff melts, we succumb to its allure. Scientific discovery on the order of arresting the movement of light, something going 186,000 miles per second, marches to a different allure.

The great naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison, in his writings on Christopher Columbus ("Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus") cites a journal entry of Columbus's son: On Feb. 29, 1504, Columbus foretold a lunar eclipse. The sailor from Genoa used his knowledge of the night sky to manipulate the indigenous peoples of Hispaniola to provide him and his crew with provisions - and to instill in them an awe of the Christian God he came to proclaim.

Blocking light I can understand. Stopping it I can't. For me, it's as if I'm one of the natives on that island in the Caribbean when the "man who came out of the sea" foretold the moon would disappear and then return.

The scientific community is busily digesting this breakthrough. Senior science writer Peter N. Spotts (article right) helps us lay folks understand how we've come to "grasp" light.

Questions, comments? Send e-mail to: Ideas@csps.com.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society