Thursday, May 31, 2007


Happy June! It will soon be the first anniversary of this little blog. There have been fewer pictures lately because someone has been very busy finishing a project. The actual unveiling will await some last-minute touches and one more approval, but you will enjoy it. This technology will make human spaceflight safer and far more comfortable.

38 current and former NASA astronauts assembled Friday to be first on Kennedy Space Center's new Space Shuttle Experience. In front are Robert Crippen and John Young, crew of the first Columbia mission. Also along for the ride are Rick Searfoss, Charles Bolden, Norman Thagard, Buzz Aldrin, Guy Bluford and Al Worden. The motion simulator at the KSC Visitor Complex is designed to simulate the sensations of a real mission.

Even before the ride, KSC has been an inspirational place to visit. As this is written, shuttle Atlantis has completed Flight Readiness Review for a June 8 launch. STS-117 was originally scheduled for March, but was delayed when the external tank was damaged by hailstones. (What I am building will be tougher than that.)

Atlantis' last planned flight will be STS-125 to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. 3 weeks ago at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, the crew of that mission met with some very enthusiastic astronomers. Both scientists and the public lobbied hard to rescue HST. Their mission is currently scheduled for September '008, but you need patience in this business.

As readers of this blog know, the chances of getting into Space via NASA are slim. So who wants to be an astronaut? However, the growing pool of under-employed people with NASA training represents a valuable resource. Former astronauts are already taking posts at private Space companies.

Nearby Universal Theme Parks in Orlando has just announced a Harry Potter attraction for '009. There is no signature on this Owl-eye view, but the art resembles Thomas Kinkade. Theme park fans will note that Hogwart's Castle is the "weenie." Leading there is a Diagon Alley to be lined with restaurants and shops. Hogwart's Express is parked near where Disney placed a real steam train. In '009 Virgin and Benson are promising suborbital passenger flights. If they are not flying by then, you can still have a great holiday in Florida.

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Brown Dwarf Is Cool

By now everyone has heard the controversy whether Pluto is a planet. At the other end of the planetary mass scale another controversy is brewing, the boundary between large planets and brown dwarves. The latter are objects between 10-80 Jupiter masses, not big enough for the nuclear reactions of a star but still giving off heat through some mysterious process. Just last month a brown dwarf pulsar was discovered giving off beams of radiation.

Until recently the very existence of brown dwarfs was just a theory. Thanks to infra-red telescopes, we now have discovered many. Yesterday astronomers from the UK Infrared Telescope and Gemini South observatory announced discovery of ULAS J0034-00, the coolest solitary brown dwarf yet found. Its surface temperature is only about 650 degrees, and its mass is between 15-30 times that of Jupiter. It is located approximately 50 light-years away in the constellation Cetus, alone in Space without a parent star. There may be many other similiar objects out there.

Also at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Honolulu, another group of astronomers announced discovery of exoplanet XO-3b. Until a few years ago the existence of extra-solar planets was doubted, like a changing speed of light. With a faith born in science fiction, astronomers today have found hundreds. Having a mass of 13 Jupiters, X0-3b occupies a boundary between big planets and brown dwarfs. It orbits its star in less than 4 days, the largest object yet found in so close an orbit.

It was thought that an object so close to a star would have a circular orbit, otherwise tidal forces would tear it to bits. Not knowing this, X0-3b has taken a highly elliptical orbit. Something else holds this object and other "hot Jupiters" together. Presence of a central Black Hole would explain why Jupiter gives off twice as much radiation as it receives from the Sun, and why brown dwarfs give off heat.

We must also thank the wondrous Kea for pointing out discovery of TWO planets around metal-poor star HD 155358. Once it was thought that heavy metals are necessary for the cores of planets to accrete. HD 155358 formed so long ago (10 billion years!) that it has almost no metals. As we have now discovered many extrasolar planets, new theories are needed.

Yet another group of astronomers today announced discovery of TrES-3. This transitting planet orbits a star in the constellation Hercules with a period of only 31 hours! It surface temperature is about 1500 degrees Kelvin. Old theories can not explain why this planet doesn't boil away. If planets and dwarfs formed around singularities, that would explain how they stay together.

Just as the line between Pluto and planets has become blurred, the boundary between big planets and small stars is being eaten away. It is better to think of a continuous mass scale from minor planets to gas giants, small stars and beyond. The same processes govern the formation of all these objects. If you want to find a nearby Black Hole, look beneath your feet.

Check out the new Carnival of Space!

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Black Holes Beyond Imagination

From the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting in Honolulu: The Chandra X-Ray Observatory has found in cluster 3C438 one of the most energetic events ever. This cluster has mass a quadrillion (10^15) times that of our Sun. The easiest explanation is that this is the collision between two giant objects. However, only one peak in X-Ray emission is visible. If two clusters collided there would be two peaks.

Evidence indicates that this is the ouburst from a single massive Black Hole. If so, it is the largest outburst ever seen. Such a massive flow of energy would require a Black Hole to swallow 30 billion solar masses over a period of only 200 million years, or 150 Suns each year. Old theories of Black Hole and cluster formation can not explain this.

Using the XMM-Newton telescope, graduate student Laura Brenneman has found that the central Black Hole in galaxy MCG-6-30-15 is spinning at least 98.7 percent of the maximum rate allowed by General Relativity. It hjas been thought that supermassive Black Holes form via collisions between smaller objects. If so, their spin rate would be small because different angular momenta would cancel out. This Black Hole must have grown on its own, by accretion.

Everywhere we find galaxies and clusters they are anchored by central singularities. Increasing evidence suggests that supermassive Black Holes are primordial, formed very shortly after the Big Bang. Size of a primordial Black Hole is limited by a horizon distance related to the speed of light. All these discoveries point to a "c change" in physics.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

More From ISDC

A few more tidbits from the International Space Development Conference in Dallas. Rocketplane Kistler plans a vehicle based upon a Learjet 25 with rocket engines. The 25 is the only Learjet certified for single-pilot operation. To save weight, most of the planned suborbital vehicles will have only one pilot.

Virgin Galactic's COO revealed that they are in talks with Bigelow to build Virgin Galactic hotels from Bigelow's inflatable modules. Spaceship Two is reportedly "coming together" at the Scaled Composites factory in California. SS2 will not be able to reach orbit, so a new generation of vehicles would be required to serve orbiting hotels.

Over the weekend it was realised that the new Benson design resembles the ship in George Pal's WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE. It also resembles concepts from Wehrner Von Braun and Willy Ley. This design was the result of a suggestion by Hoot Gibson, who has plenty of experience with a delta-wing shuttle. Benson Aerospace is aiming for one design capable of both suborbital and orbital flight.

The director of NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate repeated that they are in the market for commercial space services. "If somebody says 'I have this really great way to extract water ice from the lunar regolith that I've developed on my own dime' we would be interested. If we could be in a commercial relationship with somebody who has the capability that's fine because in many cases they can do it for less money than we can." Orbital Outfitters announced that their prototype Suborbital Space Suit 1 will be delivered by the end of the year, if they can get the money. Whether NASA will buy from private developer will be tested soon.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

ISDC Announcement

This is the weekend of the International Space Development Conference in Dallas. At this meeting I've met everyone from Dr. Aldrin to Dr. Hale of Hale-Bopp. Jim Benson founded two Space companies and developed the engine technology of Spaceship One. His Benson Space Company is developing the DreamChaser Spacecraft for suborbital flight and beyond. Benson's advisor and chief pilot is Robert "Hoot" Gibson, veteran of 5 shuttle flights.

In 1983 a P-3 aircraft photographed this mysterious spacecraft being recovered by Russians from the Indian Ocean. The BOR-4 experimental lifting body had just returned from an orbital test. Americans liked the design so much that they developed it into the HL-20 rescue vehicle for ISS. In the end the Russian scientists were forced by their leaders to copy the American Space Shuttle as Buran. HL-20 was cancelled and ISS is limited to 3-person crews using Soyuz as an escape pod. Benson Aerospace had been developing this shape for DreamChaser.

The Space Shuttle's delta wings are not necessary. When shuttle was expected to replace every US launch vehicle, the Air Force insisted upon delta wings for cross-range capability. USAF wanted shuttles landing at remote airbases, a capability that was never used. The big wings add weight, drag, and a big target for foam strikes.

This weekend Benson will unveil a new design based upon the X-2, X-15 and other successful straight-wing aircraft. This design promises less drag, a smoother ride, and a better view. The many portholes are reminiscent of Spaceship One. Benson aeropace is on schedule to begin suborbital passenger flights in 2009, possibly ahead of Virgin Galactic.


Navy in Gulf

Steinn's posts have followed US Navy deployments with concern. Normally the ships of a battle group do not operate this close. They are in photo formation to show the world that they are inside the Gulf. Front Row: 2 Arleigh Burke-class AEGIS destroyers and a Ticonderoga-class AEGIS cruiser. Second Row Left-Right: USS John Stennis, Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, USS Nimitz. Last Row: Whidbey Island-class landing ship.

With a nod to Brian Dunbar and Blackfive: Aboard John C. Stennis, Commander Muhammad Muzzafar F. Khan has just taken command of Sea Control Squadron VS-31. The "Topcats" of VS-31 fly the Lockheed S-3B Viking. Khan, a native of Pakistan, happens to be the first Muslim-American to command an operational aviation squadron in the US Navy. His brother is also a Naval Aviator, flying the P-3 Orion.

It is good that the Cold War was won without firing a shot. Some regimes continues to oppress women and minorities. Their reward is an economy in freefall. As proud or fearful as we are of military might, victory will go to the system that provides opportunities for its people.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

You're Going Out in That?

Check out the new Carnival of Space. You will see a fascinating article by Pamela Gay on interstellar jets, Brian Dunbar on Space Solar Power, even a few words on "dark energy."

Last week we saw a poor astronaut candidate Eaten Alive by the Mark III spacesuit. This suit is currently the favourite of NASA's Advanced Department. Like many artist's concepts it looks great in animations but is very cumbersome in reality. Seeing a need, NASA has solicited proposals from private industry.

Because very few companies are equipped to mass-produce spacesuits, participation is so far limited to the companies already making NASA suits. NASA has issued very specific requirements. They have specifically requested a single suit system adaptable for Low Earth Access, zero-G EVA, lunar and Mars excursions. They want to include water egress scenarios. They want a suit that one person could put on unassisted. So far the contractor community has not fulfilled NASA's wishes.

ILC Dover builds the Extravehicular Mobility Unit used in shuttle EVA's. The EMU weighs 310 pounds on Earth and is quite difficult to move in. Their I-1 suit has the most in common with the Mark III, with rotating bearings for mobility and a waist closure. Some weight has been saved by replacing heavy bearings with soft joints. This suit weighs more than 65 pounds not counting a PLSS backpack. It is difficult to imagine crews willingly wearing this during launch or descent.

The David Clark Company makes the orange "pumpkin suit" used for shuttle launch and Earth return. In an emergency involving decompression, air pressure in an inflated suit makes movement difficult. This is one more distraction for pilots struggling to control the vehicle during an abort scenario. This D-1 suit adds external cables to hopefully counteract the stiffness of pressurised joints. Unless this problem is solved, this suit would not be practical for EVA especially on the Moon or Mars.

Other players will shortly enter the stage. A startup called Orbital Outfitters, with experience building prop suits for many motion pictures, has recently signed a contract with private XCOR. The appearance of their suit is a closely guarded secret, but they promise it will be Hollywood-slick. Award of a contract for next-generation spacesuits depends the Constellation Program, which is slipping further into the future.

Despite the organisation's shortcomings, NASA personnel have always been dedicated to Space. They see a need to think outside the box, which has led to the Centennial Challenges Program. One of those challenges was the Astronaut Glove Competition, which this month awarded 200,000 dollars to inventor Peter Homer. A separate Challenge for a "Mechanical Counter-Pressure" glove had no entrants at all. NASA sees the need for new technology; it is up to citizens to answer it.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Clumps Discovered

Cassini has discovered that Saturn's B Ring is made of tightly bound clumps of particles that are constantly colliding. Originally it was thought that the Rings were uniform clouds of small particles. This caused the mass of the system to be underestimated. The Rings may be 2-3 times as massive as previously thought. Particles in the B Ring must spend most of their time in clumps or moving from one clump to another.

Kea has posted yet another excellent picture of the Rings. Below we see Atlas orbiting outside A Ring, with tiny moon Daphnis inside the Keeler Gap. Daphnis is a bigger clump which keeps the Gap open. Since the Rings have many tiny gaps, this blog long ago predicted that the rings were full of massive objects. There is much more here than meets the eye.

H.G Wells' Invisible Man was finally discovered by tracks he left in snow. Saturn's Rings are literally a field of ice in which the tracks of invisible objects can be seen. If our Solar System contains tiny Black Holes, this is a good place to look. Presence of singularities would explain how these clumps form in the first place. The Rings show conditions similiar to our Solar System's formation. Singularities may be the key to how Earth and the planets were created.

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Monday, May 21, 2007


After nearly being cancelled last year, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy was dedicated today by Erik Lindbergh. With its 2.5 meter reflecting telescope (bigger than Hubble) SOFIA's flights will explore new regions of the infrared spectrum. Looking into the infrared allows us to peer closer to the beginning of the Universe. Earlier this month a full-scale mockup of the James Webb Space Telescope was displayed on the National Mall. As Steinn has noted, an infrared "dark energy" mission is struggling because earlier projects like SOFIA and JWST may "cherry pick" key results first.

The 747SP was developed in the late 1970's as a longer-range version of the 747. It allowed true transpacific flights, such as New York - Tokyo. The stubby fuselage requires a taller vertical stabiliser because of the shorter lever arm. The long-range 747-400 later made the SP redundant.

The 747 has dominated the big jet market since its introduction in 1970. Improved models like the 747-8 have kept it ahead of rivals like the A-380. As you heard here first, Boeing's next project after the 787 will be a fuel-efficient replacement for the thousand 737's. A 737 replacement will face competition not particularly from struggling Airbus but from rising jet manufacturers like Embraer and Bombardier.

By 2015 the design will be 45 years old. At this time Boeing will face the expensive challenge of a new aircraft. Possibly the 747 successor will be a blended wing-body design. A flying wing like the B-2 is a much more efficient design for carrying payloads. After 2015 they will need to develop something even more advanced, which this blog will describe soon.

This same aircraft was originally christened Clipper Lindbergh by Anne Morrow Lindbergh on May 21, 1977. John F. Kennedy alluded to Charles Lindbergh's flight in his 1962 moon speech: "But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?...We choose to go to the moon!"

This is the 80th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh's flight. Today, as 45 years ago, there is a Vision to go beyond Low Earth Orbit where no one has gone before. President Kennedy's vision survived his assasination and two presidents to reach Tranquility Base in 1969. Will humans reach the asteroids and Mars this time? Will the US stay ahead in Space? That will require dedication.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

From Genesis I

Southern California's other wildfire on Catalina Island, seen from the Genesis I module. Private Bigelow Aerospace also released photos this week. Their inflatable module has been a complete success. It is based upon the Spacehab concept that was studied and dropped by NASA. Launch of the Genesis II module has been delayed until June because the Russian Dnepr booster needs additional testing. When multiple modules are combined, Bigelow plans to have a Space station orbiting by 2010.

P.S. Thanks to Fraser Cain, the new Carnival of Space is now up!

Eaten Alive

Today NASA released photos showing slow progress on hardware for the Moon. You can see the whole gallery here. The Orion CEV is a mockup made of wood and would not last one second in Space. The CEV and spacesuit are pictured in publicity paintings of people reaching the Moon.

Astronaut Andrew Feustel is eaten alive by the Mark III advanced space suit technology demonstrator. He is supported by cables and other devices because the suit is too heavy for a man to walk in. He seems to have no way of removing his helmet or even raising the visor. How many times have you seen astronauts raise their visors for comfort?

This month I hope you see a spacecraft technology that wil make human spaceflight safer, easier, and far more comfortable.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Echoes From the Darkness

Two discoveries announced in the past day, seemingly from different scales and regions of the Universe, may be related. The Hubble Space Telescope has found that Galaxy Cluster Cl 0024+17 is surrounded by a halo of dark mass. (This is distinct from "dark energy," which doesn't exist.) This cluster, 5 billion light-years away, apparently formed from a collision of two clusters about 1 billion years before this picture was taken or 6 billion years ago. The impact formed an expanding ring of dark mass which can be detected through gravitational lensing. Though mounting evidence exists, the nature of "dark matter" is still just a subject of speculation.

Just last week we learned of a hot gas giant orbiting inexplicably close to its star. Again using stellar occultation, astronomers have discovered that planet TrES-3 orbits its sun in only 31 hours! It's orbit takes the planet barely 3 million km from a sun. Current theories can not explain these hot Jupiters. In the immense heat near a star almost anything would boil away before forming a planet.

The Big Bang created billions of Black Holes in a variety of sizes. The biggest ones formed the seeds of galaxies and clusters. Smaller singularities formed great haloes around the galaxies, as seen near Cl 0024+17. Many times these objects have collided with a galaxy's disk. They could have formed the seeds of stars and even smaller objects like planets. Presence of a singularity inside "hot Jupiters" would explain their formation and number.

There is new evidence of disk of dark mass deep within our solar system, something I will write about sometime. There is far more out there than meets the eye.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Old Star Doesn't Fade Away

Using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, astronomer Anna Frebel and others have discovered that star HE 1523-1901 in the Milky Way is 13.2 billion years old! The entire Universe is estimated to be only 13.7 billion years old. Measuring the age of a star is very difficult. A big telescope like VLT can measure the ratios of uranium and thorium, determining age by decay rates. Fortunately HE 1523-0901 contains large amounts of these elements. This star formed when the Universe was only 500 million years old.

Last October in Nebulae we reported on galaxies formed shortly after the Big Bang. Since it is difficult to form a star without a galaxy, this implies that our Milky Way formed in less than 500 million years. The old hypothesis of a collapsing gas cloud can not explain how a galaxy formed so quickly. Current theories can not explain how heavy elements like uranium could have formed so soon.

When our telescopes look into the distant past of galaxies and quasars, we invariably find supermassive Black Holes. These huge singularities must be primordial, dating from shortly after the Big Bang. Size of a primordial Black Hole is limited by a horizon distance related to the speed of light. Early formation of galaxies is one more indicator of a changing speed of light.

Our galaxy contains at its centre a supermassive Black Hole. Thgis object has 2.6 million times the mass of our Sun. Growing evidence indicates that it was there before the galaxy. Our Milky Way formed around the singularity like a pearl from a grain of sand.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Galileo Stands Vigil

This photo was taken April 24--everything in the background is now blackened by fire. Fortunately Griffith Observatory is protected by this totem of great astronomers. Galileo stands in the place of honour facing the planetarium dome. On the lawn and courtyard the planetary orbits are depicted to scale, orbiting the Sun as Galileo believed following the ellipses of his friend Kepler.

From childhood Galileo was curious about many things. His professors at Pisa could not deal with his inquisitive mind. Even today a student who wishes to learn something new is considered a threat. Galileo was forced to leave university before graduating for financial reasons. It is fortunate that he found a career teaching, for today someone without a degree would not even be allowed to teach school. (MIT's Dean of Admissions doesn't count.)

Galileo did not start his career believing that Earth circles the Sun. When a foreign scientist visited Italy to lecture on Copernican Theory, Galileo avoided the lectures. Only by talking with colleagues did Galileo realise that Copernicus might be on to something. He then realised that believers in Ptolemy had converted to Copernicus, not a single believer in the Copernican system had converted back to Ptolemy. Logically Galileo chose to join the converted.

Even as a student, Galileo gained detractors. Later some would write whole books attacking his theories. Others would claim credit for Galileo's discoveries. Today they would have the internet to spread nasty rumours. Though Galileo considered Pope Urban a friend, people whispered rumours in the Pope's ear that Galileo's book was satirised him. For these and other reasons, Galileo would be tried and sentenced to house arrest.

The 10 years of house arrest could have been worse. His friend the archibishop of Siena offered to keep Galileo as a guest. After a stay in the palace at Siena, Galileo was allowed to return to his own villa. His home had a tower suitable for observing the stars. Griffith Observatory contains a copy of Galileo's telescope. True discoveries outlast troubled times.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Hot Gas

Though the Griffith Park fire is still burning nearby, we will try to focus on hot gas elsewhere. Astronomers have discovered the hottest gas giant yet found. Object HD 149026b orbits a star 279 light-years away in the constellation Hercules. It orbits in just 2.877 Earth-days, with an estimated temperature of 2040 degrees Celsius! The planet is so hot that it would have to absorb all the radiation from its star. HD 149026b was detected transiting its star in 2005 by "amateur" astronomer Ron Bissinger with his 14-inch Celestron.

Many "hot Jupiters" have been found orbiting close to stars. Present theories of planet formation can not explain them, for at these temperatures they would quickly boil away. If these planets formed around singularities, a Black Hole's gravity would keep them in one piece. Radiation from an internal singularity would also explain why HD 149026b is so hot.

Meanwhile, our Cassini spacecraft has discovered that Saturn's jet streams are driven by rotating eddies. Previously the reverse was assumed, that jet streams affected the eddies. These rotating stormlike features originate deep within Saturn's atmosphere, powered by unknown forces. Saturn and other gas giants give off far more energy than they receive from the Sun. This energy rises to the surface in storms and vortices, like those that would be produced by a Black Hole. There is more inside the planets than meets the eye.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Griffith Park Above the Fire

Griffith Observatory was first opened in 1935 and reopened after a long renovation in November 2006. It has been backdrop for movies from REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE to THE ROCKETEER. The site has a wonderful view of Los Angeles lights, which makes it terrible for observing but a great asset to the community.

Visitors: You can no longer drive here. You must purchase your tickets online and take one of the shuttle buses up the hill. Thus place is popular as a Hollywood premiere, and is expected to be very busy this Summer. It is nice to see so many people interested in astronomy!

Nearby atop Mount Wilson stands the 100-inch Hooker telescope, once the largest in the world. When this telescope saw first light in 1917, astronomers disagreed whether our Milky Way represented the entire Universe. Andromeda was called a nebula, and no one agreed whether it was part of our galaxy or outside. Using the Hooker telescope, Edwin Hubble determined that "spiral nebulae" were in fact distant galaxies.

Albert Einstein theorised that the Universe was spherical in four dimensions rather than three. Every bit would resemble every other bit. He realised that gravity would cause the Universe to collapse, UNLESS it were already expanding. Einstein could have predicted an expanding Universe, but instead introduced a repulsive "cosmological constant" opposing gravity.

Hubble and his colleague Milton Humason relied upon a class of stars called Cepheid Variables. These stars vary periodically in brightness, with a period related to their luminosity. Observing a Cepheid’s period would tell them how much light the star gave off. By measuring how much of that light reached Earth, they cold determine distance to the star and galaxy. Cepheid Variables were standard candles measuring the distance to their galaxies.

Redshift is approximately v/c, an object’s velocity divided by the speed of light. When the redshifts of many galaxies were plotted against their distances, those redshifts increased linearly with distance. This did not indicate that our galaxy was unpopular. If the Universe was spherical like a balloon, the galaxies were like spots on its surface. As a balloon expanded, the spots would increase their distance uniformly. A galaxy twice as distant would recede twice as fast. The distance-redshift relation was convincing evidence that our Universe was expanding.

In a well-publicised 1931 visit to Mount Wilson, Einstein conferred with Hubble and peered through Hubble’s telescope. The world’s most famous scientist happily accepted the expanding Universe. Hubble’s data convinced Einstein to drop the cosmological constant, later calling the CC his “greatest blunder.” If Einstein called something a blunder he was probably right.

UPDATE: As this was posted, a huge fire has erupted in Griffith Park, visible for miles. Fortunately it is a big park and the fire is on the opposite side. The observatory has been closed as a precaution. Southern California has been very hot and dry.

UPDATE: As of midnight PST, the fire has not been contained and is inching closer to the observatory. Residents of Los Feliz have been ordered out. The view is eerily similiar to the Oakland Hills fire of 1991. This could get bad.

UPDATE: This morning the observatory appears out of danger. The fire had been moving North toward the zoo, and was expected to die down by sunset. Instead the wind shifted South toward the observatory and the Los Feliz neighbourhood. The fire is still burning and large parts of Griffith Park are black.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Good News: Perturbing the Peace

Prometheus perturbing Saturn's braided F Ring. This moon and others exist inside the "Roche Limit." It was once thought that this marked a demarcation line within which moons would be torn apart. Prometheus has one of the lowest densities of a solar system object, just 0.47 g/cm^3. That is less than 1/2 the density of liquid water. It is very odd that objects with less density than liquid should exist inside the Roche Limit, within which liquid objects are not supposed to exist.

Shepherd moons Prometheus and Pandora orbit on opposite sides of the Ring. These little moons could harbour something very dense within their cores. If Prometheus' 10^17 kg mass contained a 10^11 kg singularity, the moon would not be sucked up. Presence of a singularity would hold Prometheus together and also account for a magnetic field. The magnetic field of Prometheus has not been detected, but it will be.

Having followed this blog for nearly a year, you will be pleased to hear that a paper about GM=tc^3 has been accepted for publication by a major journal. This means a lot of work preparing illustrations and copyrights. It will lead to more publications, for other editors have been waiting for a major journal to take the lead. Publishing allows 49,000 subscribers to read a paper, far more than the audiences at conferences. Spreading a simple idea will not require so much travel.

On another subject, at the end of this month I hope to reveal a technology that will make human spaceflight safer, easier and far more comfortable.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

You Heard it Here--Mercury is Hot!

Way back on June 15, 2006, a Balinese volcano predicted that planet Mercury's interior is "hot." Using the radio telescopes at Arecibo, Jodrell Bank and Goldstone radio astronomers have just confirmed that the interior is indeed molten. You heard it here first! Their research will be published in the May 4 issue of SCIENCE.

As has been described here, planets like Mercury formed when a tiny singularity was caught in the gaseous disk of the infant solar system. The singularity was far too tiny to suck everything up, but the small amount it did eat generated radiation which made it grow red hot. Larger particles were attracted until we had a sphere of rock with a hot centre. This was the birth of a planet.

The singularity is still there, having kept Mercury's core hot for billions of years. It spins inside Mercury, dragging part of the core with it. This process powers the dynamo of a magnetic field. Mercury's powerful magnetic field is the chief sign of a tiny Black Hole.

Astronaut Wally Schirra has passed away at age 84. One of the original seven astronauts, Schirra flew on Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions. Gus Grissom nearly matched that record, flying Mercury and Gemini before being assigned to Apollo. Unfortunately, Grissom died in the Apollo 1 fire 40 years ago. The program recovered and was flying again by 1968..

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Galileo's Moons

Io and Europa in the same frame March 2, 2007, two days after New Horizon's flyby of Jupiter. As the spacecraft sped away it took this long-lens photo. The moons are in fact separated by 790,000 kilometres. Eruption of the volcano Tvashtar is still very visible. Io's night side is lit by Jupiter, a planet which gives off twice as much radiation as it receives from the Sun. Europa's night side is dark because it is on the other side of Jupiter.

The night of January 7, 1610 Galileo first noticed strange objects around Jupiter. By January 13 he had seen 4 moons. Discovery of new worlds was truly exciting and kept Galileo up every night. By March 22 he had finished his observations, and immediately started writing his observations in book form.

STARRY MESSENGER was published that same year and was immediately popular. The book was also controversial, because not everyone believed in the new moons. Someone named Horky, who had been a student of Johannes Kepler, wrote a book claiming that the moons were a fraud designed to gain fame and wealth. Kepler was very unhappy, but he counseled Galileo not to respond to such attacks.

Pictured to scale by New Horizons are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. The moons will be there long after the doubters are underground. Kepler's advice to Galileo was right on.

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New Horizons at Jupiter

On its way to reach Pluto in 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft swung by Jupiter for some gravitational assist. As practice, it took the best picture yet of the Great Red Spot and the new Spot. Little Spot was formed from the merger of 3 smaller spots, and continues to grow. As in a tub of water, smaller vortices eventually merge into one big one.

The Great Red Spot was first observed by Domenico Cassini around 1665. It is shaped like an Earthly cyclone, but has lasted far longer. These storms form coloured spots because they extend deep into the atmosphere. They are signs of some unknown phenomena inside Jupiter. We recently saw that brown dwarfs, which occupy a size range between Jupiter and stars, are home to massive sources of energy. There is more inside Jupiter than meets the eye.

Below in 3-D is the eruption of volcano Tvashtar on Io. This moon itself emits a lot of heat. New Horizons also discovered a new volcano just reaching the surface of Io. Near Hawaii we have a submerged volcano named Lo' ihi that will someday form a new island. Objects from gas giants to little moons like Enceladus contain sources of energy. Something is going on literally beneath our feet.

Io is one of the four satellites discovered by Galileo. Objects circling a body other than Earth were a direct threat to the old Ptolemaic system. Scholars of the day refused to peer into Galileo's telescope for fear of upsetting their world view. Galileo spent the last 10 years of his life under house arrest for promoting heresy. (A bit like saying the speed of light isn't constant.) Despite his persecution, a Jupiter probe and a STAR TREK shuttle would be named for Galileo.

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