How Lasers and Wi-Fi Were Born, Thanks to Cosmology

Medium | 31 March 2020

The sky above Paranal, Chile, in July 2007 showing the Milky Way, the galaxy to which we belong (Yuri Beletsky/ESO)

by Wilson da Silva

Truly revolutionary technologies come from the most unlikely places, like cosmology, which gave us lasers, GPS and even Wi-Fi.

IT’S THE ULTIMATE question: where did we come from? How did we get here? They are questions which have been asked as long as there have been people. And answering them has given us not only valuable insights, but created great technologies along the way.

In fact, it wasn’t until the 20th century that cosmology — the study of the origin and development of the universe — improved much on what the Ancient Greeks knew 2,300 years before: Earth was a sphere; most stars were unchanging in position; some stars, dubbed ‘planets’ (from the Greek word for ‘wanderer’), followed strange but predictable paths in the night sky; and these planets were much closer to us. Even the idea that Earth circled the sun was first proposed in 300 BC by the Hellenistic author Aristarchus of Samos, well before Nicolaus Copernicus returned to it in 1514.

But the real revolution in modern cosmology began in 1687, when English mathematician Isaac Newton published his hugely influential book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. His laws of motion and universal gravitation applied not only to falling apples, but to how planets move in the sky. It was then that astrophysics was truly born, and our modern technological world began to take shape.

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