Paint like an Egyptian
QUESTION Why were Ancient Egyptians depicted in profile?
An unusuAl feature of Ancient Egyptian art is just how strictly it adhered to the same style and form over millennia. There was a precise set of rules called frontalism when painting human figures.
This meant that the head of the character is always drawn in profile, while the torso is turned square to the spectator. Although the face is side-on, the eye is drawn in full.
The legs are turned to the same side as the head, with the left foot placed in front of the right.
Faces are calm, serene and nearly always tilted slightly towards the sky.
The static, formal and abstract nature of Egyptian imagery has led to it being compared unfavourably with more naturalistic Greek or Renaissance art.
But the art of the Egyptians served a different purpose than that of these later cultures. To the Ancient Egyptians, an intimate relationship existed between art and the fundamental beliefs surrounding life and death.
The fear of death was reconciled with an absolute faith in immortality.
The artist was concerned not with representing a transient impression but with capturing an individual for eternity. People were depicted in their prime, conforming to preconceived standards of health and vigour. Individual features showed little variation and personal traits were avoided.
They were not intended as portraits of the deceased, but as symbolic representations of a perfect man and his family, a representation of what was expected to exist in perpetuity.
The art also had a mathematical element. Ancient Egyptian artists used vertical and horizontal reference lines to maintain correct proportions.
In many tombs, the walls still have the marks of these grids, which were used to ensure the conventions were kept to by apprentices.
There was a rigorous adherence to political and religious hierarchy. The sizes of figures were determined by their importance. The Pharaoh would be drawn as the largest figure in a painting without regard to perspective, and a greater god would be larger than a lesser god. The smallest figures were servants, children and animals.
A. P. Timmins, Oxford.
QUESTION What is the farthest you can sail in a straight line without hitting land?
In An online debate, an amateur cartographer proposed that you could travel 20,000 miles in a straight line from southern Pakistan to north-eastern Russia.
Kushal Mukherjee, an engineer from IBM Research India in new Delhi, and physicist Rohan Chabukswar, from united Technologies Research Centre Ireland, developed a computer program to test the most promising routes.
They found a 19,939.62-mile straight line beginning in sonmiani in Balochistan, a province of Pakistan, that then threads the needle between Africa and Madagascar and between Antarctica and Tierra del Fuego in south America, and ends in Karaginsky, an island in a gulf of Russia’s Bering sea.
They also determined the longest straight-line path across land, from Jinjiang in China to sagres in Portugal, measuring 6,984.9 miles.
Richard Carey, Kenley, Gtr London.
QUESTION In Star Trek, interstellar travel is achieved by warp drive, which bends space. Is this theoretically possible?
WARP drive is a fictitious faster-thanlight spacecraft propulsion system invented by John W. Campbell in his sci-fi story Islands Of space, first published in 1931 and popularised by Isaac Asimov and the star Trek series.
In contrast to other fictitious space technologies, such as jump drive and hyperdrive, warp drive does not permit instantaneous travel between two points. It involves the compressing of space in front of a spacecraft while expanding it behind.
This has been shown to be mathematically possible. Practically, there is a major problem: it would take such massive amounts of energy to achieve — in some calculations, more than exists in the universe — that it’s very unlikely to become a reality.
Our understanding of spacetime is based on Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.
Here, space and time are fused and nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. General Relativity also describes how mass and energy warp spacetime — massive objects such as stars and black holes curve spacetime around them, creating gravity.
In 1994, Miguel Alcubierre, a Mexican theoretical physicist inspired by star Trek, demonstrated that warp drive was mathematically possible.
In a letter to the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity, he wrote: ‘By a purely local expansion of spacetime behind the spaceship and an opposite contraction in front of it, motion faster than the speed of light as seen by observers outside the disturbed region is possible.’
However, to contract spacetime the ship would need to create a negative energy, which we don’t know exists.
Alcubierre’s work inspired Gottingen university’s Erik lentz to create an alternative theoretical design of warp drive, grounded in conventional physics.
His idea is that a spaceship could ride on a warp bubble or soliton — a compact wave that maintains its shape and moves at constant velocity through space. Think of a single ripple steadily moving across a calm lake.
In essence, it uses the very structure of space and time arranged in a soliton to provide a solution to faster-than-light travel, which would only need sources with positive energy densities. This would still require tremendous amounts of energy.
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