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Really Tall Things

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esmith

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Mankind likes big things. We like gigantic iPhones, Venti Lattes, and skyscrapers. The pyramids of Egypt represent perhaps man's earliest obsessions with making big things. As children, we stack wooden blocks until they topple and injure the cat. We are a species obsessed with bigness. But how big could we build? The current tallest building in the world is pretty big, but it's miniscule compared to the towering peak of Mt. Everest. The world's tallest buildings keep getting bigger, but eventually there comes a point when it is impossible to keep building upward. Or is there? In 1895, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky proposed a structure known as a space elevator. Such a structure would begin on Earth and stretch all the way out into outer space. But wouldn't it crumble under its own weight? Normally yes, but this isn't your average game of Jenga. A structure in orbit experiences an apparent centrifugal force that increases the farther out in space an object gets. How and why demands a separate blog post, but given that parameter, a structure as tall as a space elevator would be able to support its own weight because the top section would experience a net force outward that cancels out the gravity that would cause the structure to topple. Therefore, it would theoretically be possible to create a space elevator. Unfortunately, there would still be a ton of forces involved, making most materials useless. However, scientists have postulated that carbon nanotubes might be strong enough to be used in such a project. Even so, the space elevator is a long ways away, but should it come to fruition, it would make transporting packages into space immensely less expensive. Plus, it would probably look awesome.        

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