The Personal Blog of Stephen Sekula

Moon over New York City

I am currently in Killingworth, CT, spending a very wonderful day with my mother and father. I arrived last night, after landing in Newark and driving to Connecticut. But,I digress. How did this trip begin?

I was originally scheduled to give a seminar at Princeton, but it turns out that the research I was to present needs a little more time to stew. I swapped seminars with a colleague of mine, but kept the trip. This trip is a chance to see my folks, and spend a week at MIT working with my colleagues. However, this trip was somewhat badly timed. In order to spend time with my folks, I needed to fly on Saturday morning. Jodi arrived from her latest block of shifts on Friday night, at 11:07 pm. This little problem – two physicists on schedules that are largely out-of-phase – is the two-body problem.

In physics, the one-body problem can be solved exactly. Therefore, say authorities like Goldstein, the two-body problem can largely be solved exactly. In fact, mathematically it has an exact solution. The three-body problem cannot be solved exactly, although approximations or numerical simulations yield interresting islands of results. The N-body problem, where a number N bodies are involved, is impossible to solve exactly by can be crunched numerically by big computers.

Jodi and I don’t need a computer to solve our problem exactly, but despite Goldstein’s optimism it is a tricky problem. If I picked Jodi up at 11:07, we’d get home around midnight. By the time we got to sleep, it would only be about four hours before I had to get up and get to the airport for my 7:45 am flight. If Jodi were late – which she usually is – then we’d get even less time together and a lot less sleep. Instead, I booked us a room at the Clarion at the end of the runway, on Millbrae Ave. It was a few minutes from the airport to the hotel, so we were guaranteed more sleep. In addition, there was a shuttle to the airport in the morning, so I could leave without waking Jodi. Another two-body problem solved!

By the time I hit the road from Newark, the moon was rising behind New York. I had a beautiful view of the moon, low in the sky and distorted by the atmosphere, rising behind the New York skyline. It dwarfed the skyscrapers, and seemed a gem set in a jagged steel band. That view made the slow traffic over the George Washington Bridge seem a little more tolerable.