Friday, September 10, 2010

What a Mighty God We Serve

I have always been fascinated by clouds. Lately, it occurred to me that the amount of power needed to put a cloud into the sky is easily calculated with some elementary school math. (I did promise no deep thinking in these precincts.)
Here’s the question: How much power (measured in horsepower, HP) is needed to raise a cloud 1 by 1 by 1 kilometers in dimensions to an elevation of 1500 feet in one hour? (I’ll straighten out the metric to English measures as we go.)
Horsepower is a measure of weight over distance in a unit time. So we need to know how much a cloud 1 billion (yes, 1000 x 1000 x 1000 meters!) cubic meters weighs in pounds. Happily, the US Geological Service provides that answer: the density of a fluffy cumulus cloud is 1.003 kilograms per cubic meter. That means an astounding 1.003 billion kilograms or 2.211 billion pounds! (It floats up there because the air is even denser.)
The formula for horsepower is
1HP = 550 ft-lb per sec

(550 x 1500 ft x 2,211,000,000 lb) / (60sec x 60 min) = 506,687,500,000 HP
The Space Shuttle engines develop 37,000,000 HP. So If I wanted to raise a single cloud according to specifications, I would have to produce enough power to launch 13,333 Space Shuttles. I have read that there is no precise measure of horsepower above 5000, but that’s still a prodigious amount of power. Yet the sun does it multiplied times every day and has done for billions of years.
Just one further calculation: how much power (in any measure you like) is required to do that and to create a being capable of pondering how much power it would take? I don’t know how to calculate it but I don’t think the power is available in the whole world. It has to come from outside this world. Pretty neat, huh?

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