For the past few days I’ve been improving my orbital simulation model. A few years ago I turned it into a 3D model in which you could look at anywhere from anywhere else – like the view of the Earth from Saturn. But it was a transparent 3D model. The Earth was transparent, and so was Saturn. You could look through the Earth and see the outlines of the continents on the other side. And now I’ve started making the planets non-transparent, and painting the stars first, and then the planets on top of them, and then the Earth and its continents and islands, like an oil painting, from background to foreground. There are quite a few tricky geometrical problems to solve – like how to paint horizons – which I haven’t completely solved. Here’s my first ever opaque Earth, with a few opaque asteroids bearing down on it:
In the background there are stars and constellations. The red line is the ecliptic plane. The blue line the galactic plane. And we’re riding aboard a small asteroid that skimmed past the Earth a week or two back. It was only spotted the day before it flew past. And that’s normal with asteroids. Sometimes they don’t get spotted at all – like the fireball that exploded above Chelyabinsk 4 years ago. Nobody saw it coming.
I use the simulation model to look at asteroid orbits. But I’ve also been using it recently to construct an atmospheric simulation model, and was delighted when it produced Global Warming, and the atmosphere boiled off. I’ve also looked at tides, and I have plans to look at crustal forces (earthquakes). I constructed a Foucault pendulum in Paris, and it behaved just like the real one, slowly shifting its swing axis. I also tried building a spinning top in East Anglia, but it just fell over.
Looking at the world with this model, I suppose I really ought to be a globalist, and think globally. After all, we live in the early years of the Space Age, and perhaps the most iconic images of our time are of the Earth seen from space, a little blue teardrop, flecked with clouds. It looks so immensely vulnerable. What if the ocean and atmosphere was to suddenly boil off it? Such are the terrors of the new age.
But if anything, I think that my simulation model has made me all too aware that I’m one of the many millions of people for whom this planet is home. And every time I see Great Britain come into view on the surface of the spinning Earth, I think “I live there!”
And as I look down on the Earth, I keep discovering new things. New islands I’d never heard of. New lakes. Just a week or so back I added a new lake to my map of Canada. It was called Great Slave Lake. Did they have slaves in Canada? Constructing this map has been a lesson in geography.
The biggest surprise of my model of the Earth was to see just how big the Pacific ocean is. It covers half the entire planet. It’s huge. Pretty much all the continents are on one side of the world. Here’s a view of the Pacific, seen from Saturn:
It’s as much a lesson in history as geography. The Portuguese navigator Magellan sailed across it in 1521, roughly from 5 o’clock to 9 o’clock. It was he who named it the Pacific ocean. He ended up in the Philippine Islands (named after Philip II of Spain), where he was killed in a local war. If he’d sailed a bit further south, he would have discovered Australia. It was another 250 years before south eastern Australia was discovered by the British Navigator James Cook. And he was killed in Hawaii, much like Magellan before him.
And that’s pretty much been the history of the world since about 1500: European navigators sailing round the world, followed by governors and soldiers and colonists, each of them claiming the new lands they’d discovered for their home European king. Pretty much the whole world was carved up between a few European states: Portugal, Spain, Holland, Britain, France. It was a global conquest: the indigenous natives didn’t have a hope in the face of European muskets and cannons and horses, the super-weapons of their time.
Europe was a global superpower for over 400 years, and got very rich off its global empire. Or at least some European nations – the ones with navies – got rich off their empires. Those without navies, like Austria and Hungary and Germany, barely got a look in. And when WW1 broke out, it was a war between the European haves and have-nots. And, not too surprisingly, the haves – who could call upon colonial troops and supplies – won the war. And they also won the WW2 second leg a few years later. But the wars left Europe bankrupt and broken. It never regained its global supremacy. And all the colonies were granted independence, if they hadn’t forcibly grabbed it already.
The EU has been touted as a project for European unity, to prevent such devastating wars ever happening again. But it’s really an exercise in closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. And it’s also an attempt to regain some of its lost former clout. Having lost their global empires, the Europeans (who remain as imperialistic as any of their forebears) have been trying to create a new Habsburg-style empire in the continent of Europe. And it’s showing every sign of being about to disintegrate back into its original component nation states.
Which some people think will be the prelude to new European wars. But why should that happen, now that so little is at stake? A century ago, when WW1 broke out, Europe pretty much owned the whole world, and there was a great deal at stake. Now it owns next to none of it. The only people who stayed out of WW1 and WW2 were the Portuguese and Spanish, who had already largely lost their empires, and so had little reason to fight. Now the whole of Europe is like Portugal and Spain, with no cause for any of them to fight the others.
If anything, the real danger is coming from an entirely different direction, which reflects the loss of European power and influence. For if a self-confident Europe expanded out across the entire world after 1500, the entire world seems to now be coming to Europe. Millions of Islamic migrants and refugees and terrorists are now entering Europe in waves. And the indecisive and sclerotic EU is doing next to nothing to stop it. In fact, many European leaders (e.g. Angela Merkel) have even been welcoming the invaders – as a form of cheap labour. It’s utter madness, and more and more Europeans are realising that it’s madness – Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders among them. With Britain about to (hopefully) leave the EU, it should soon be well placed to stem the influx of this new Islamic tide, which is as dangerous as any of its predecessors. We will soon be needing to reconstruct the coastline defences that were needed against the Spanish Armada and Napoleon and Hitler. Britain – and the whole of Europe – is facing a terrible new threat.
And with that thought, I will return to the geometrical problems of drawing horizons, and to adding surprising new lakes and islands to my map of the world.