Friday, August 31, 2007

Crashing the Gates

"Even the smallest person can change the course of the future."

GOAL: This experiment tests whether one person can affect the course of science. PROCEDURE: The academic year 2006-2007 might have been more comfortably spent on the beach in Waikoloa or Queensland. Presentations were made at multiple meetings. Except for one missed appointment in the UK (which doesn't affect US science policy) they went well. Along the way we found other people, even big people, who had been seeking change all along. This entry is limited to physics meetings in which the writer spoke or gave a presentation.

COSMO 06 September 25-28 also heard from physicist Michael Turner. Though often credited with coining the term "dark energy," Turner is open to adopting better ideas. His highlights: 1) The highly-touted "precision cosmology" depends on priors. 2) Measuring the gears is not the same as understanding the machine, 3) We are "over-invested" in string theory (Lisa Randall was there too) and inflation, 4) There is no Plan B for cosmology. The top of his list of ideas that need to be investigated: VARYING CONSTANTS.

Both this meeting and the AAAS meeting in February were very convenient to the SNAP collaboration. At COSMO, SNAP was represented by just a single junior researcher. The poor woman was so short of funds that she went about asking for a ride back to Berkeley. They didn't show their faces at all during AAAS. Is the mighty SNAP running low on petty cash?

AAS High Energy Astrophysics Division October 4-7 heard Chief Scientist Harvey Tananbaum point out that Constellation-X is considered the next priority after the James Webb Space Telescope. He didn't badmouth human spaceflight, but showed ways to carry CON-X in the Atlas V booster. He also reminded us that CON-X and LISA are NASA-approved programs, unlike SNAP/JDEM.

2 years earlier KIPAC's Roger Blandford had been corralled into giving a public talk on "dark energy." In a meeting full of CON-X supporters, Blandford diplomatically avoided mentioning DE. He urged us to attack fundamental problems directly, instead of "assumption-fitting model-building." He called the current physics "epicycles."

American Geophysical Union December 11-15 was full of scientists studying practical matters like Earth's climate. "Hot Young Solution to Faint Sun Paradox" was accepted for its contribution to climate science. Interest in this planet has led to great benefit, which I hope to write about soon.

NRC Town Hall February 1 heard comments from this writer (picture below) that were echoed in the journals as Why Dark Energy Is Bad For Astronomy. Shortly they will announce the important decision as to which "Beyond Einstein" mission will fly. It also gave one a good excuse to see Disneyland!

GLAST Symposium February 5-8 saw Roger Blandford again avoid mentioning "dark energy." One of the first issues he did mention was "Violations of Lorentz Invariance," or a changing speed of light. He said that once Lorentz violations are discovered, other researchers will claim that they knew it all along. Thanks for seeing my presentation, Dr. Blandford!

CONCLUSION: Academic year 2006-2007 saw signs of a "c change" in physics. As with previous paradigm shifts in science, much depends on the individual. Seeking and joining with other individuals can have enormous effect. Many photographs and direct quotes from others have been included to show that "c change" is a real phenomenon. Regardless of the outcome, this has been an adventure which one would not trade for anything.

UPDATE: The National Academies are due to release an important decision September 5, 2007 at 4 PM EST. Have a nice weekend! Check out the new Carnival of Space!

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Black Holes Lead To Storm

Important stuff first: At CERN this week, Lisa Randall gave a seminar on "Black Holes and Quantum Gravity at the LHC." Some have suggested that presence of extra dimensions might allow short-lived Black Holes to be produced in accelerators. Theoretically if an accelerator fired enough mass into a tiny space a singularity would be created. The Black Hole would almost instantly evaporate, but could be detected via Hawking radiation. Unfortunately quantum mechanics says that a particle's location can not be precisely measured. This quantum uncertainty would prevent us from putting enough mass into a singularity.

Speculations about extra dimensions suggest that they may allow Black Hole production at LHC. This would be a great boon to science, but Lisa's conclusion was that it is unlikely. The speculated energy threshold is far higher than LHC can produce. For all the attention given the subject, strings or branes have yet to produce a single falsifiable prediction. If BH's exist in our Solar System, better to go into Space and steal one!

In her book WARPED PASSAGES, Lisa is quite rational about the possiblities of strings. "Even if string theory is correct, we are unlikely to find the many additional particles it predicts. The energy of current experiments is sixteen orders of magnitude too low." In other words, we may never prove/disprove even the simplest predictions. This is very convenient for theorists, who can crank out endless papers and citations without being disproved.

On the other hand, a prediction like "GM=tc^3" makes one a lightning rod for criticism. It will put one outside the Harvard Club until extraordinary proof is demonstrated. These are the first stages of a real advance in science. That proof is coming very soon from multiple independent sources.

That said, a post on this talk at Quantum Diaries Survivor has created a blogstorm of criticism. The blogger noted that Lisa has an attractive appearance and works out, which are well-accepted theories. A tiny stream of angry electrons has since been circling the Earth. The source of criticism is centred on a certain blog and its veteran bloggers. Tommaso's compliments are honest and innocuous. Even if criticism is valid, it is unfair to gang up like this.

Last week Tommaso blogged about the predicament of Pegah Emambakhsh, a Persian woman trying to find asylum in London. The UK Home Office seems determined to send her back to Iran and an unspeakable death. Perhaps I've mentioned somewhere that the Home Office immigration policies are suicidally insane. They have let in countless potential terrorists while harassing scientists and other innocents. Bravo to Tommaso for informing us of this woman's plight. CV, where's your outrage now?

This week Out of the Cradle hosts the Carnival of Space!


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Beyond Einstein Decision

One week from today is September 5th. At 4 PM EST, the National Research Council will release their report "NASA's Beyond Einstein Program: An Architecture for Implementation." The report is intended to decide which of the five proposed missions (Constellation-X, Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, Joint Dark Energy Mission, Inflation Probe, and Black Hole Finder probe)will fly first. Regardless of the future, this writer is very grateful for the purple BEYOND EINSTEIN pen, which is all a theorist really needs.

Constellation-X is subject of a profile in August's issue of Physics Today. The article points out that the National Academies 2001 Decadal Survey named CON-X as a priority second only to the James Webb Space Telescope. "Constellation-X will also be able to use galaxy clusters to investigate the nature of dark energy with an accuracy comparable to supernova-based studies;" the article contnues, "thus it will also complement ground-based dark energy surveys."

At AAS HEAD and other meetings were hundreds of high-energy astronomers eager to see CON-X launch. Support for JDEM/SNAP is limited to a few physicists based mostly in Berkeley. It is no exaggeration to say that the leadership of SNAP team are not astronomers, but have all their training in physics. Getting a job in particle physics is hard, and "dark energy" allows a way to take astronomy funding. It has also allowed a way to adopt particle physics work habits--big experiments, big collaborations, big budgets, and conclusions based on groupthink. This is how the whole idea of "dark energy" got started.

If JDEM someday flies it will not return a single particle of "dark energy," just an equation of state. This can be found using JWST or other experiments. Even if repulsive "dark energy" exists, it would be so diffuse in Space that it could not power a cell phone. It has not led to a coherent theory, only an endless divergence of speculations. Physicists have been busy crowding the journals with specualtion about "dark energy."

Depending on decisions, pursuit of "dark energy" could delay other missions by years. Even if DE exists, it has no practical use. It will not even lead to a coherent theory, only endless speculation. All of those who read this, is "dark energy" good for science?

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Because They Are Hard

"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too." --John F. Kennedy September 12, 1962

(With the head of the local Atlas Society in front of Rocketplane Kistler's booth at NewSpace)

Boeing has been selected to build the upper stage of Aries I. Outgoing Exploration Systems chief Scott Horowitz once worked for competitor ATK Thiokol, so there was no playing favourites. (He loves the spacesuit, wore similiar suits as an F-15 pilot.) With their expertise in solid rockets, ATK is still responsible for the first stage while Lockheed-Martin builds the Orion spacecraft.

At the NewSpace conference in Washington last month, Rocketplane Kistler's representative seemed quite pre-occupied. With Elon Musk's SpaceX, RPK is the chief competitor chosen for NASA's COTS programme. To get this contract the companies must meet technical and financial benchmarks. Now we know that RPK has failed to raise the 500 million US needed to continue. Unfortunately no one in DC had half a billion lying around.

In the meantime, SpaceX has made steady progress. The first flight of their Falcon 1 in March 006 ended in failure after 30 seconds. The second flight March 21 did not achieve orbit but met 90% of its design objectives, enough to be called a success. If Musk is successful, he could have a monopoly on ISS resupply. The bigger Falcon 9 will be rolled out soon, and Musk hopes to have the Dragon crew capsule ready by 2009. This would help fill the gap between Shuttle and Orion.

Jim Benson is responsible for Spaceship One's engines, so it must have been very disappointing not being a finalist for COTS. His SpaceDev company is quietly working on their DreamChaser suborbital spacecraft. Unlike Spaceship Two, it will not need a carrier aircraft, which shortens the development time. Benson's company may be the first to need spacesuits. SpaceDev has just been awarded a contract to develop a lander for the International Lunar Observatory.

Virgin Galactic is still recovering from the tragic explosion at Scaled Composites July 26. Presently they are not sure what fuel the engines will use, which affects the entire design. Perhaps they can get help from Benson. Virgin claims they will begin testing by the end of '008. An 18-month test period means no paid passengers until at least 2010. That's a long time to wait for those who have bought tickets.

There is new competition from EADS Astrium project. Given EADS willingness to sink money into huge projects like the A-380, this spacecraft has a good chance of being funded. John Carmack's Armadillo suffered their own accident August 18, seriously damaging their Texel lander. Previously Armadillo was thought to be a shoo-in for the Lunar Lander Challenge, which they nearly won last year. So far their vehicles have not travelled more than a few hundred feet.

We are witnessing the excitement of a new industry being born. Private companies are learning that spaceflight is challenging, expensive and often risky. Many more companies have proposals that will never be more than vapourware. This is a very exciting time to be in the industry.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Quantum Geckos

This cute photo makes one hungry for papaya! More fond memories are of the beach house on Hanalei Bay, the picture window facing the ocean and geckos that climbed the glass every night. As children we learned that geckos are friends who eat mosquitoes and other pests. From the time of Aristotle, scientists have wondered how geckos can stick to perfectly smooth surfaces. Only in 2002 did this PNAS paper tell of a solution. The gecko's secret lies in the realm of quantum mechanics, virtual particles and the van der Waals effect.

Geckos in the Escher drawing occupy both positive and negative space. Quantum mechanics theorises that apparently empty Space is a sea of virtual particles constantly winking in and out of existence. If two surfaces are extremely close together, quantum particles have no room to pop in. This creates a quantum vacuum, allowing the surfaces to stick. Gecko toes are covered with millions of bristles, each of which is covered with thousands of microscopic hairs. This allows a gecko to get extremely close to any surface, and break free by retracting the hairs.

Researchers have attempted to mimic the gecko's ability to create super-strong adhesives. So far they have difficulty producing gecko-derived adhesive in a usable quantity. Makers of carbon nanotubes face a similiar challenge if they are to build Space elevators. The gecko made use of quantum mechanics long before humans figured it out!

The protons and electrons that we are made of began as virtual particles. Today they pop in and just as quickly pop out, because the Universe has reached a stable density. Near the Big Bang the Universe had not reached this density. Virtual particles could pop in and stay.

Suppose that the Universe is spherical with a radius given by:

R = ct

The volume of this 4-dimensional Riemann sphere is given by :
V = 2 ($\pi$^2) (R^3)

We know that GM = tc^3. For an initial mass M, density $\rho_i$ is just M/V:

$\rho_i$ = M/V = (2 $\pi$^2 G t^2 )^{-1}

But the stable density $\rho_f$ after matter has formed is:

$\rho_f$ = ($6 \pi G$t^2)^{-1}

Difference between $\rho_i$ before matter and $\rho_f$ after matter formation is precisely 4.507034%. This unique prediction of Theory has been verified by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe. Density allows us to check the geometry of the Universe. If it had a different shape, the percentage of baryonic matter would be different.

Why have more people not heard about this? While it is easy to write about strings or "dark energy," theories predicting a changing speed of light are difficult to even publish. Nevertheless, another paper is shortly appearing in a journal and the word is spreading exponentially. The happiest one of all will still be that gecko getting his papaya!

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Hole In the Universe

"This is far outside the current expectations of the concordance cosmology,..."

That Concorde model is a chop suey of epicycles: A repulsive "inflaton" for initial expansion, another repulsive "dark energy" causing current acceleration, and our Ptolemaic world in the middle. Followers of this Concorde cite simulations that claim to reproduce large-scale structure of the Universe. Computer simulations are not nature, for my computer says Lara Croft can run with those boobs. The "Lambda-CDM" model can not explain THIS.

An immense hole or void has been found, far larger than anything thought possible. It is about 140 million parsecs across! This hole has appeared as an obvious cold spot in Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe data. Astronomers Lawrence Rudnick, Shea Brown, and Liliya Williams found the void using the Very Large Array in New Mexico. "What we've found is not normal, based on either observational studies or on computer simulations of the large-scale evolution of the universe," said Williams.

The Cosmic Microwave Background radiation comes from all parts of Space. In the illustration, the CMB encounters the immense void, causing WMAP to record a cold spot. Something in the void that absorbs all light would make this region appear even colder. The Very Large Array perceives a lack of galaxies in the same direction, as if long ago something sucked them up. The Rudnick, Brown and Willians paper is here.

The most optimistic estimates of the Concorde model give such a void only 5 x 10^{-10} probability of existing. Discovery of this single void within our sight puts its probability at least 3 x 10^{-5}, sixty thousand times greater. The Concorde model can not explain how this big hole can exist. "Voids this large currently seem improbable in the concordance cosmology, adding to the anomalies associated with the CMB." Perhaps you can add more epicycles, guys.

Most physicists believe that the Big Bang created billions of Black Holes. These would have formed from quantum fluctuations grown large by expansion of the Universe. Size of a Black Hole is limited by a horizon distance that light can travel. Because the speed of light was much faster, primordial Black Holes could have formed in any size. The largest were true monsters devouring everything in sight. They are theorised to have cleared immense voids in Space, exactly as observed. The 71.62% of the Universe ascribed to "dark energy" could easily be hidden in those voids.

We read fashion magazines too, and it has been fashionable to imagine a Universe of repulsive energies. This Concorde cosmology is slowly being taken apart. Real scientists have an obligation to tell the truth, not peddle "dark energy." As Marcus Aurelius said, "The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding one's self in the ranks of the insane."

See previous posts about voids in: Big News on Black Holes, Dark Thoughts, and Dark Matter News.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Strange Phenomenon Orbiting Saturn

A mysterious clump of charged particles has been found orbiting Saturn. At the European Planetary Science Congress in Potsdam, astrophysicists from John Hopkins University presented this Cassini data. The donut of charged particles surrounding Saturn is bent out of shape. Some mysterious influence is affecting the ring current.

Planets with magnetic fields can trap charged particles to form electrified clouds. Earth's ring current appears during solar flares. As we saw months ago, the moon Enceladus keeps Saturn's vicinity supplied with charged particles. The ring current can bend Saturn's magnetic field.

The biggest mystery is a "clump" of charged particles. This phenomenon is between 485,000 and 1,000,000 kilometers from the surface. It orbits synchronously with the planet every 10 hours and 47 minutes. Astronomers are at a loss to explain its origin.

We can do some math here. A synchronous orbit with Saturn would be 529,000 km above the surface, right in the middle of the phenomenon. Extra particle velocity would push the clump into an oblong shape. Whatever the source of charged particles, it forms a natural synchronous satellite. This would be a good place to look for a Black Hole.

Update from Potsdam: Using our Keck II telescope atop Mauna Kea, astronomers have captured the first glare-free images of Uranus' rings. Their findings will appear in the August 24 issue of Nature. Data shows that the rings change. The innermost zeta ring has moved several thousand miles closer to Uranus than when it was first discovered. Though the narrow rings should require "shepherd moons" to keep them in place, few such moons have been seen. This might be another place to look for unseen objects. ESO Press Release

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Diamonds Are Almost Forever

In the Jack Hills of Western Australia, geologists have identified the oldest diamonds ever found, more than 4 billion years old. Diamonds offer clues to Earth's early history. We saw August 6 in Meteor Science that zircon crystals help determine how long a body was molten. Zircons in meteorites showed that asteroid Vesta cooled within the first 10 million years of its existence.

Zircon crytals are resistant to melting, and provide clues to ancient events. Analysis of zircons containing the Australian diamonds indicate that Earth cooled within 300 million years of formation. Diamonds require enormous pressures to form, needing a thick continental crust. These diamonds indicate that Earth's crust and oceans could be 4.4 billion years old.

There are many mysteries about the planet beneath our feet. How Earth condensed from a gas has long been a mystery. Particles colliding at orbital velocity will not attract each other gravitationally unless those particles have the mass of mountains. One way to start a planet forming would via with a tiny Black Hole with the mass of a mountain.

This week Planetary Society Blog hosts the Carnival Of Space!

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Wild Life in Australia

(This photo was taken by my camera.) A North Queensland rancher named David George was rescued after being trapped 6 days in a tree by crocodiles. He had just two sandwiches, but fortunately found water in the tree. Of course the crocs were constantly inviting him for lunch. We are reminded why Koalas live in trees. After being rescued by helicopter, David George happily devoured a Cherry Ripe bar.

Mr. George's 5 days up a tree is oddly similiar to a problem that could be faced in Space. 55 hours and 53 minutes hours into flight Apollo 13 suffered an explosion in an oxygen tank. All power and oxygen was lost in the Command Module. By improvising and using the LEM as a lifeboat, the crew survived until splashdown at 142:54 hours. If their spacesuits had enough endurance, Lovell and crew need only have lowered their visors.

An emergency on the Moon might require astronauts to return in an unpressurised ship. NASA would like a suit that can support life for 120 hours. Humans can't last that long without water. You can survive 5 days without food, but we wouldn't want you at the controls of a spaceship. Current spacesuits have a plastic drink bag stuffed into the helmet. During Apollo 16's walks on the Moon, bags of orange juice burst inside the astronauts' helmets. Yuck!

Another hazard we are warned about in Queensland are the jellyfish. Giant Australian Spotted Jellyfish have been invading the Gulf of Mexico. Phyllorhiza punctata are not dangerous to humans, but if let out of their natural habitat they can grow super-sized. In the Gulf some have been caught weighing 25 pounds. The abundant fish in the Gulf allow the jellies to fatten up all they want.

Despite the danger, jellies are strangely beautiful. We often observe them swimming upside down or even inside out. They are truly adapted to life in zero gravity. It is easy to imagine similiar life forms evolving in oceans of Europa or the minor planets. Extraterrestrial life could look very much like this.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Pulsar in Galactic Halo

In 1967 the first pulsar was discovered by graduate student Jocelyn Bell with her thesis advisor Anthony Hewish. The pulsar's regular radio pulse was at first thought to be a signal from extraterrestrials. Today they are theorised to be rapidly rotating neutron stars sending beams into Space like lighthouses. 40 years after discovery, the source of pulsar's enormous energy has remained a mystery. For their work on pulsars Hewish was awarded a Nobel Prize, Bell was not. (Memo: Leave thesis advisor out of research.) This year Jocelyn Bell was named a Dame of the British Empire.

Caltech astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky was known for speaking his mind. He described certain colleagues as "spherical bastards" meaning they appeared as such from any angle! Zwicky's expertise on spherical matters was unquestionable. In the 1930's he used the Virial Theorem on the Coma Cluster of galaxies to deduce a halo of invisible mass. In the 1970's astronomer Vera Rubin used galactic rotation curves to similiarly conclude that most of a galaxy's mass was dark. Nature of the "dark" mass surrounding our galaxy has long been a mystery.

This year one discovery may shed light on both mysteries. Astronomer Robert Rutledge of McGill University and colleagues have reported Discovery of an Isolated Compact Object at High Galactic Latitude. Object J141256.0+792204 is apparently a pulsar located in our Milky Way's dark halo, approximately 5100 parsecs above the galactic disk. This object was discovered by the ROSAT spacecraft with further observations by SWIFT, the Chandra X-ray Observatory and our Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea.

A pulsar's twin beams propagate along magnetic field lines. Their axis is independent of the neutron star's spin axis, causing them to be dragged around like lighthouse beams. Some pulsars are magnetars, with magnetic fields too powerful for our physics to describe. Twin beams of radiation and a magnetic field are both signs of a Black Hole.

The Black Hole could not have been created by the neutron star, or even by the supernova explosion that created the pulsar. The singularity must have been there billions of years before, when the progenitor star was first created. How stars collapsed from diffuse gas has also been a mystery. Black Holes provide the missing link to understand star formation.

The Big Bang created billions of singularities. These were formed from tiny quantum fluctuations grown large by expansion of the Universe. Size of a primordial Black Hole is limited by a horizon related to the speed of light. Because c was much higher, PBH's formed in a variety of sizes. The largest formed voids, clusters and galaxies. Smaller Black Holes were drawn to the big ones, creating dark haloes around galaxies. Many times these smaller holes have collided with the galaxy's dusty disk, and we are the result.

A Black Hole colliding with a dust cloud will draw matter to it but not suck everything up. The small amount that is eaten will turn into energy and cause the rest to grown extremely hot. Heat of millions of degrees is the ONLY process that can ignite nuclear fusion and the birth of a star. Infant stars, which astronomers call Herbig-Haro objects, exhibit the twin beams of a Black Hole. While most of the Sun's energy comes from nuclear fusion, the Black Hole is quietly contributing to the star's power output. Presence of the Black Hole caused the Sun to collapse in the first place, and allows it to burn steadily for billions of years.

Our theories of the Sun have advanced over time. As late as the 1920’s most astronomers would lecture that our Sun was made of iron, and glowed in the sky like a hot poker. Only a young astronomer named Cecilia Payne suggested that the Sun’s spectral lines could be interpreted as hydrogen. Because Payne was a woman, her idea was roundly dismissed. The equations of nuclear fusion were still being worked out, and most scientists doubted that Black Holes exist.

Black Hole energy and nuclear fusion are two of many processes occuring inside stars. As our knowledge of physics advances, so must theories of the Sun. Physicists have long sought to produce energy via nuclear fusion. Despite decades of work and billions of dollars, they have been unable to produce a sustained reaction. Hint: You need a Black Hole.

Only occasionally will a Black Hole reveal its presence. If a dying star is over Chandrasekhar's limit of 1.4 solar masses, it will eventually collapse catastrophically. Sudden influx of a star's mass into the Black Hole is the ONLY mechanism powerful enough to ignite a supernova. This titanic explosion rips the outer layers away, leaving behind a small dense remnant, a neutron star. If the Black Hole has enough angular momentum, it will produce a magnetic field and twin jets. Because the jet axis is often different from the neutron star's rotation axis, the jets will rotate through Space exactly as observed. A Black Hole is the ONLY mechanism that could produce twin jets and a magnetic field.

A Black Hole is the ONLY object that can make billions of clouds collapse into stars, the ONLY mechanism that can power a supernova, and the ONLY mechanism that can create the jets and magnetic field of a pulsar. Black Holes could be ubiquitous, from the galactic halo to the interior of our Sun. The 95.49% of our Universe that is not baryons could be dominated by Black Holes.

Discovery of a pulsar in the Milky Way's dark halo may also be seen as discovery of a Black Hole. Ruttledge's team notes that this pulsar in the galactic halo could be the tip of an iceberg. For every Black Hole that can be found by its pulsar jets, there could be many more without jets. The galaxy's invisible halo of dark mass could be filled with Black Holes. There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

This week Advanced Nanotechnology hosts the Carnival Of Space!

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Bigelow Aerospace has been quietly and methodically building a presence in Space. With the success of its Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 modules currently in orbit, Bigelow has decided to go straight to a full Space Station. Inflation of launch prices convinced them to take this next giant step soon. Capable of supporting a crew of 3, Sundancer will be available for science, private industry and even hotels. It will be in orbit by 2010, about the time ISS is finally finished. You read it here first last September Inflatable Space.

Another kind of inflation has not made progress. 30 years ago when rising prices were on everyone's mind, Alan Guth suggested that the early Universe expanded at warp speed, faster than light. Speculation about inflation has kept physicists in grants for years. The idea can not be tested, and relies on an ethereal repulsive energy. As with the string enterprise, scientists are getting uneasy. continues the story:

"Inflation is an extremely powerful theory, and yet we still have no idea what caused inflation-or whether it is even the correct theory, although it works extremely well," said Eric Agol, an astrophysicist at the University of Washington.

For some scientists, inflation is a clunky addition to the Big Bang model, a necessary complexity appended to make it fit with observations. Nor was it the last such addition.

"We've also learned there has to be dark matter in the universe, and now dark energy," said Paul Steinhardt, a theoretical physicist at Princeton University. "So the way the model works today is you say, 'OK, you take some Big Bang, you take some inflation, you tune that to have the following properties, then you add a certain amount of dark matter and dark energy.' These things aren't connected in a coherent theory."

Inflation and a repulsive "dark energy" are part of cosmology's standard model. Like the epicycles of old, the model is filled of such epicycles to explain the Universe. Not all physicists are happy with this unwieldy concorde. They are just waiting to see a better theory.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Good Guys Are Winning

D R Lunsford once wanted to be astronaut, but society hasn't sent him to Mars just yet. Instead Lunsford comes up with fascinating ideas in physics. Finding an idea that works is also going where no one has gone before. He has managed to publish a paper, Gravitation and Electrodynamics over SO(3,3) concluding mathematically that a "cosmological constant" doesn't exist. His theory provides a way to unite gravity and electromagnetism, a long-sought goal of physics. Despite this major advance, people like Lunsford have difficulty publishing papers.

In Not Even Wrong, Lunsford had some nice words for science bloggers. They are reproduced here in case they get erased elsewhere:

"Yes the science bloggers for the most part go a great job (with notable “variances”). Without them there would be little hope.

"The site mentioned has a detailed description of the cerebral narcissist. Read it through and go down the list of theoretical excrescences and their authors. You will be convinced. Of course, this is a broad cultural phenomenon in the West that touches all areas of life - so why should the academy be spared?

"One thing to remember is that the narcissist, while rather pathetic when exposed, is anything but harmless.-drl

In the battle against "dark energy," this writer wishes to re-emphasise that THE GOOD GUYS ARE WINNING. One prominent advocate of DE was denied tenure at U of Chicago. A key contributor to the Supernova Cosmology Project couldn't get funding, was denied tenure at Vanderbilt and is leaving academia. The SCP and their flagship SNAP project will shortly get some very bad news. They may seek funding from France, since the French have such a record helping Americans. "Dark energy" has eroded the reputation of all physics.

Dictatorship is always good for mediocrity. Remember all those bad paintings of Saddam that used to hang in Baghdad? Or the cheesy posters produced by communism? It is easy to publish papers on string theory or "dark energy." By rewarding those who toe the party line, dictatorship allows an easy way for the mediocre to be successful.

It would be easy to get mad at these folks, but they are getting a worse fate than anger would devise. Since they know how to act out of self-interest, they are welcome to join the winning side. Despite efforts at censorship, more and more people are hearing that "dark energy" doesn't exist. By circumventing mainstream thought, blogging is contributing to advances in science.


Monday, August 13, 2007

A Hole in Endeavour

Events in Space take one back to a schoolgirl visit aboard HMS Endeavour. As you have heard, shuttle Endeavour is in orbit with a hole in her belly. The damage was caused when ice chunks again fell off external tank supports and impacted the TPS tiles. Endeavour was built to replace Challenger when the latter was lost in 1986. What a fragile Space Transportation System this is! Presently NASA engineers are working long hours trying to figure out if the hole presents a danger.

It would be prudent to go EVA and inspect the damage, but the spacesuits get in the way. Since the EMU suits weigh over 300 pounds, an astronaut colliding with the shuttle might cause even more damage. Zero gravity does not mean zero inertia! If the crew had lightweight spacesuits, this would not be a problem. Performing EVA's would be far simpler in an advanced suit.

Since Columbia's accident, NASA has arranged flight schedules so that in an emergency a second shuttle could be sent. If the damage to Columbia had been known, theoretically Atlantis could have been launched in time. The entire world would be glued to their screens when for the first time one spaceship tried to rescue another! It is a tragedy that Columbia's crew was denied this chance.

While exploring Australia's East Coast, Cook's Endeavour became trapped in the Barrier Reef. Cook discovered that the Reef extends thousands of miles, a navigator's nightmare. The crew took soundings constantly as they vainly tried to thread the labyrinth. One night when the water seemed safe and Cook had retired to his cabin, Endeavour struck a reef. Water immediately rushed into a hole in the hull. With the crew frantically throwing things overboard to save weight, the ship limped toward the shore.

Morning saw Endeavour aground on the beach. By some great fortune a piece of coral had lodged itself in the hole, otherwise the ship might have sunk. There was little chance of rescue on the far side of the world. By beaching Endeavour, Cook and the crew were able to make repairs and return to sea. Cook had chosen a flat-bottomed ship just for this contingency.

200 years later some of the wreckage thrown overboard by Endeavour's crew was found. One wooden block sits in its original position (pictured) on the replica Endeavour in Sydney. A wooden nail from this Endeavour was flown into Space on the namesake shuttle. It is very ironic that today's Endeavour should also get a hole in her belly. Cook's heritage is to go where no one has gone before.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Galaxies Dark and Distant

On June 19 this blog reported on discovery of a Dark Galaxy. In addition to hosting the Carnival of Space, Dr. Pamela Gay has just written about Finding Dark Galaxies. In the 1930's Fritz Zwicky suspected that unseen "dark matter" dominated galaxy clusters. Vera Rubin in the 1970's deduced its existence in galaxies from their rotation curves. Now we know that an unknown number of galaxies are completely made of the stuff.

Since DM emits no light and can be located only through gravity, we should consider Black Holes. Since every galaxy ever examined contains a Black Hole, it would be safe to surmise that dark galaxies contain them too. The dark halo surrounding a galaxy could contain billions of Black Holes. The "voids" in Space could hold billions of dark galaxies. The 71.62% of the Universe ascribed to "dark energy" could be hidden in these voids.

Atop Mauna Kea, the ultraviolet telescopes are grouped together in "Millimeter Valley." Using the UV spectrum, astronomers have discovered extremely bright young galaxies in the process of forming stars. 12 billion light-years away, we see them as they were when the Universe was less than 2 billion years old. They are the most luminous and massive galaxies ever seen at that distance.

The AzTEC submillimeter camera first detected a very bright ultraviolet source (left). Next the Smithsonian Submillimeter Array localised the source (centre). The Hubble Space Telescope database found this tiny point of light at the edge of detectability (right). This shows that the source is very bright but extremely distant, nearly hidden by dust. A bright ultraviolet signature indicates that the galaxies are in the midst of star formation, producing new suns at a rate 1000 times faster than our galaxy.

Astronomers have no idea how large galaxies could form so soon after the Big Bang. One way to form them would be around massive Primordial Black Holes. PBH's were formed from quantum fluctuations shortly after the Big Bang. Previously it was thought they would be tiny because of a finite speed of light. Discovery of massive dark galaxies is one more sign of a "c change" in physics.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

"Why Dark Energy Is Bad For Astronomy"

That line wasn't written here. Fundamentalist Physics: Why Dark Energy Is Bad For Astronomy is by Simon White of the Max Planck Institute. This essay is recommended, and it contains NO MATH. White is severely critical of "dark energy" and what it has done to science. Already it has drawn comparisons to ether, harmed careers and made physicists look foolish.

"This exposes the community to the danger of designing and carrying out a very expensive experiment to measure many thousand supernovae, or to image a very large area of sky, only to find that the resulting measurement of w is only a modest improvement over previous work because of astrophysical systematics. If the experiment is of limited use for other astrophysical purposes, then the funds will, in effect, have been wasted. A problem for which the astrophysicists will surely be blamed!"

This refers to a Joint Dark Energy Mission, which would search supernovae for the sole purpose of constraining DE. Even if DE existed, JDEM would not return with a single particle of it, or even determine if it was wave or particle. For illustration White uses the Hubble pictures (above) of the Eagle Nebula and Hubble Deep Field. Hubble and JWST are examples of instruments that can address a variety of science, including supernovae. White continues:

"Other Dark Energy projects, for example those searching for supernovae or looking to measure baryonic features in the large-scale galaxy and mass distributions, will not extend previous sensitivity, resolution or wavelength limits. Rather they achieve the required precision by observing much larger areas of sky than has previously been possible. Such surveys may not enable significant progress in other areas of astrophysics."

"This leads to the third, and in my view most serious danger. By accepting the fundamentalist view that Dark Energy is so important that clarifying its nature is the overiding problem for current astrophysics, astrophysicists betray the underlying culture of their field and undermine its attractiveness both to future generations of creative scientists and to the public at large. This is exacerbated by other sociological trends within astrophysics which I now digress briefly to discuss."

JDEM would be attached to NASA's Beyond Einstein Program. This program has been reduced in scope so that only 1-2 missions will go forward, if that. A commitee of the National Research Council has been deciding which missions will go up first. White's argument precisely echoes what yours truly mentioned to the committee in February. A decision is to be announced September 9 by Michael Griffin. From what has been heard at NASA, JDEM advocates should brace for some disappointing news.

"Dark Energy" has also drawn dissent at that other science blog. The mastermind of that blog is a religious DE supporter, when he is not contributing to Yearly Kos. That may have been fun, but in Chicago one can see some real science. One of his woman contributors writes Dude, Where's My Baryons?

"Now, I like dark matter and dark energy as much as the next person. Still, I simply don’t have the temperament to spend the majority of my mental energy on ideas that are so speculative that, while interesting, they’re probably wrong."

The idea of a repulsive "dark energy" has so dominated physics that it threatens to crowd out other promising science. Even if DE existed, it has no conceivable practical use. It would be so diffuse in Space that it could not levitate a fly. It has prevented physicists from seeing what a child could figure out: the Universe isn't accelerating, but light is slowing down.

GM = tc^3. "Dark Energy" has been solved, let us move on. Some may say that it was foolish going to the NRC to say that DE may not exist, but others have been quietly agreeing. As Captain Kirk said, "Every revolution begins with one."

This week Dr. Pamela Gay hosts the new Carnival of Space!

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Milkshake Planets

This Cassini photo of Saturn was taken July 8, 2007 from a distance of 2.9 million kilometers. Both circular and linear cloud features are visible. Each pixel represents an area 17 kilometers across. Saturn is the planet with the lowest density in our Solar System, barely 0.7 g/cc or the density of a milkshake. In a giant tub of water the planet would easily float.

Lowell and Palomar Observatories have jointly discovered the largest known planet yet found, orbiting a star 1400 light-years away. The new world, called TrES-4, has a diameter 1.7 times that of Jupiter. Its density is half that of Saturn, or 1/3 the density of liquid water! The temperature of TrES-4 is estimated at 2300 degrees Celsius, so hot that the surface should boil off. Scientists are at a loss to explain how such a world can exist.

It is not widely mentioned in astronomy textbooks that scientists can't explain how ANY planets formed. The standard explanation is that planets condensed from gas clouds, but tiny particles colliding at orbital velocities simply will not stick together. Particles would need the mass of mountains to attract matter. Recently many "hot Jupiters" have been discovered orbiting so close to their stars that they should boil away.

The Big Bang created billions of tiny singularities, many with the mass of mountains. The solar system was probably started when some of these tiny Black Holes collided with gas clouds. If planets formed in this manner, presence of the Black Hole would hold the gas together and prevent it from boiling off. The Black Hole's gravity would allow the planet to have an extremely low density.

Writing this makes one very hungry. It will take a long time for all this to be accepted, but that is time to enjoy plenty of milkshakes!

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Meteor Science

Asteroid Vesta will be visited by the DAWN spacecraft starring in 2011. We are fortunate to have samples of Vesta on Earth. January 24 this blog told the tale of a meteorite that came from Vesta all the way to Australia. This week researchers at University of Toronto reported on another Vesta meteorite found in Antarctica. They studied zircon crystals formed in eucrites, meteors formed by volcanic activity. Billions of years ago these rocks erupted free of Vesta's gravity and eventually made their way to Earth.

By studying the abundance of isotopes such as Tungsten 182, researchers can determine how long these rocks were molten. Experiments indicate that Vesta grew molten and solidified within the first 10 million years of the solar system's existence. Zircons on Earth and Vesta have the same characteristics. Asteroids and planets may have formed in the remarkably short time of 10 million years.

In January 2005 the Opportunity Rover found the first meteorite identified on another planet (above). It was nicknamed "Heat Shield Rock" because Opportunity's heat shield fell just 6 meters away. As in dry Antarctica, meteorites on Mars can be preserved a long time. If they had contacted water in their history, the meteorites should have become red and oxidised. The fact that they are not rusty may indicate that Mars' surface has been dry.

Presently Spirit and Opportunity are both threatened by an enormous dust storm. Already they have exceed their design lifetime and gathered far more data than expected. Who knows what further surprises await on Mars? DAWN will likely make similiar discoveries among the asteroids.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Asteroid Adventure

THREEPIO: Sir, the possibility of successfully negotiating an asteroid field is approximately 3720 to 1!

HAN : Never tell me the odds!

Threepio's comment may be an example of how mathematics can be misleading. The odds he quoted may be those of a spaceship travelling straight through the asteroid field. (Robots tend to think linearly.) Fortunately Han and the Millenium Falcon can STEER, avoiding the biggest asteroids. Let us hope that people in science learn to think outside the box.

Earlier this year asteroids were the subject of a series of posts. In many ways an asteroid mission is easier than reaching the Moon, January 22. The DAWN mission will explore two of the largest asteroids, January 23. The lines between asteroids, comets and minor planets are becoming more blurred, January 24. In 2029 Apophis will pass closer to Earth than a communications satellite, January 29. A "gravity tug" could be used to deflect dangerous asteroids, January 30.

Last week the private company Digital Space released video of a notional asteroid mission. Darnell of Colony Worlds has posted the whole video here. Once a spacecraft achieves Earth escape velocity, reaching an asteroid is relatively easy. Unlike the Moon, there is no deep gravity well to descend into. A Orion spacecraft could virtually hover over an asteroid using thrusters. Digital Space envisions a landing craft based upon Lunar Surface Access Module designs. The spacecraft could "hop" from one landing site to another. The lower stage is designed to be left behind as a science station.

Check out those big old spacesuits! Using skintight suits could save 600-1200 pounds from the mission weight. When astronauts are ready to return home, the bulky outer layers could be left behind with the lower stage. Asteroids are probably dusty, and all that dust would be left behind too.

Concerning thrusters,Orion is still going through redesigns. As with many projects, weight is a growing problem. Like Apollo, Orion will now use hypergolic propellants for the thrusters. To save the mass of airbags, Orion is now planned to splashdown in the ocean. I hope they realise that the US has fewer aircraft carriers than in the 1960's. The Orion 3 unmanned mission is scheduled to land off the coast of Australia in September 2012. Watch out for the box jellies, and we'll put another shrimp on the barbie for you.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Milky Way From Paranal

This photo was taken July 21 from Paranal mountain in Chile, home of the Very Large Telescope. The two bright objects at the centre are Antares and Jupiter (right). Alpha Centauri is visible at middle left. The laser from Unit Telescope 4 is aimed at the galactic centre. Astronomers were using the SINFONI instrument to study the massive Black Hole at our galaxy's core. The laser is an aid to adaptive optics. Just last week X-ray astronomers announced a new class of hidden Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN). Every galaxy yet found contains at its centre a massive Black Hole.

Gregory Benford is a physicist and a fine science fiction author. Benford and Raymond Protheroe of University of Adelaide have proposed that Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays are the result of ancient AGN's. They suggest that even after an AGN fades from view, the invisible magnetic field could remain. Powerful cosmic rays, whose source has been a mystery, could be the result of these fields. Apparently empty Space could be filled with powerful magnetic fields.

The Big Bang created countless billions of singularities from quantum fluctuations. Once it was thought that all primordial Black Holes were tiny. Size of a PBH is limited by a "horizon distance" that light could have travelled. Since the speed of light near the Big Bang was much higher, singularities could have formed in almost any size. Black Holes formed the seeds of clusters, galaxies and even smaller structures. Stars like Antares and giant planets like Jupiter could be markers for Black Holes. Their products are truly beautiful to behold.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Spacesuit for Sale

You have one more day to bid on eBay item #230155439555, Svetlana Saviskaya's original spacesuit. In August 1982 Saviskaya became the second woman in Space after Valentina Tereshkova. Later she would become the first woman to go EVA. This suit is made of white canvas and weighs 10 kilograms. This is a launch-entry suit, not suitable for EVA. "The suit features all of the original Soviet insignia, and includes the fitted gloves with machined couplings, integral boots, the domed helmet and all of the threaded hoses and other couplings that enable humans to traverse the heavens."

Starting price is only 17,000 US. If you don't want to spend that much on a spacesuit, I can sell you a cheaper one. You will be a huge hit on Halloween or in your country's Air and Space Museum.

This week Universe Today hosts the new Carnival of Space!


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