Friday, November 30, 2007

Einstein Drive

Princeton, New Jersey November 28, 2007

Q: What did the string theorist say when he was caught by his wife with another woman?

A: I can explain everything!

At 1 Einstein Drive in Princeton, New Jersey is the Institute for Advanced Studies. What a happy surprise to be here! At IAS Einstein finished his career in a fruitless search for a Unified Field Theory. Walking here from the train station, one can easily imagine the old man walking the same streets to work every day. Why don’t they call this Einstein Walk? This week of November 26-30 IAS was location of a Conference on Gauge Theory and Representation Theory. For this small field, it was a major meeting. Thanks to Peter Woit for taking the train here!

Edward Witten gave an eagerly anticipated talk Wednesday at 10 AM, “Gauge Theory and Wild Ramification.” The subtitle was Geometric Langlands and Topological Field Theory. Witten went over a lot of maths very quickly; my notes cover 6 pages. Here and in other talks, there was much mention of Lie groups. The hope is that all this can be reduced to mirror symnetry or Geometric Langlands Duality. Witten made no mention of strings. This is a highly speculative venture, not to mention complicated.

An equally interesting talk was left for Sergei Gukov immediately afterward, “D-Branes and Representations.” Gukov subtitled his talk, “Work in progress by Edward Witten,” so we all know whom he was speaking for. The work is a 4-dimensional topological gauge theory, which can be reduced to a boundary condition of Supersymnetry. Only passing mention was made of relating any of this to reality. Peter Woit gives a much longer history of this work in Not Even Wrong.

The Witten-Gukov work is still highly speculative, for Supersymnetry may not be provable. While SUSY has kept theorists busy, the many particles predicted have never been found. As an example of Representation Theory, Gukov showed a reduction to the Gibbons-Hawking formula. Strings were only mentioned as a way of linking branes. Do you hear that, string religionists? High priest Witten is working in 4 dimensions!

Witten is known for making broad statements that have been picked up by the press. “String theory is a bit of 21st century physics that fell by chance into the 20th century. String theory has the unique property of predicting gravity.” These pronouncements helped pressure researchers into devoting careers to strings. Easily digestible, these statements have become better known than Witten’s other work.

Somewhat like Einstein, Witten was earlier tagged as a genius. His supporters expect him to come up with a Theory of Everything. Unlike Einstein, Witten had not paid the dues of uncovering Relativity. A genius prize can make an academic career easier, avoiding the funding pitfalls that face so many of us. Like a dolphin’s tag left by scientists, a label can also be an albatross. Einstein’s years at IAS without producing a theory must have been disappointing.

After the work devoted to a Theory of Everything, scientists should stop and reconsider. If one theory explained everything, there would be no more need for physicists. The Standard Model of particle physics has at least 20 free parameters. Quantum Theory and Relativity can be linked starting with the parameters h and c, but big jobs are best done in small steps. If too high a bar is set, then useful steps might be rejected for not solving everything at once. We have seen ideas ignored because they do not fit with the string enterprise. Out of the limelight, many advances in Theory are being made. Stringy promises of a Theory of Everything have held back real progress in science.

Here at Fuld Hall, tea will be served in the Common Room at 3:30.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Triumph of Light Pt. 2

New York, Rockefeller Center November 28, 2007

From above Times Square Tuesday, this night we have descended into the milling crowd. Wednesday was the 75th lighting of Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree! While waiting in the cold, we were serenaded by celebrities from Tony Bennett to Carrie Underwood. With a nod to energy conservation, this year the tree is lit with 30,000 light-emitting diodes. Solar panels placed on Rockefeller Center’s rooftops provide some of the electricity. As the holidays are a season of hope, this tree again demonstrates that “dark energy” does not dominate the Universe.

This Norway Spruce grew in Connecticut before being harvested and shipped to Manhattan. An image of hope is also a reminder that our time on Earth is limited. Though the felling of a tree can be sad, there are many more trees growing. If old trees were not removed, the forest would face greater danger from fire. Tree growers in the US are now required to plant more than they fell. Despite all the threats, trees continue to grow, life continues to form and evolve new structures.

While the solar panels are a nice touch, most of New York’s electricity still comes from fossil fuels. Petroleum and coal are formed deep within Earth, when organic molecules encounter interior heat. Source of Earth’s core heat has long been a mystery. Most radioactive elements have half-lives of only a few million years. The old hypothesis of “radioactive decay” cannot explain why the core remains hot after 4.6 billion years.

If Earth indeed formed around a Black Hole, than this tiny object would give off Hawking radiation indefinitely. It would be far too small (0.5 millimeters) to sick us up, but the small amount that it eats has kept Earth warm for several billion years. The radiation produced would eventually make its way to the surface as heat. Some of that heat converts chemicals to fossil fuels which humans use for energy.

The lighting of this tree shows that “dark energy” does not dominate; the Universe continues to create luminous structures. Primordial Black Holes are relics of a time near the Big Bang. Energy from a Black Hole eventually finds its way into fossil fuels, which power New York lights. Even solar power originated in a Sun born around a primordial Black Hole. If not for their quiet presence, our planet and Solar System would not have formed. This Happy Holiday is courtesy of a Black Hole!

NEXT: Where the day was spent, a place more exciting for science.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Triumph of Light

New York, Marriott Marquis Broadway Room November 27, 2007

This is an amazing way to experience New York. The Broadway Room is shaped like an enormous flying saucer launched out of the Marriott Marquis, hovering over THIS. From a window seat, one could sit for hours just comprehending it all. The hotel lobby is tall enough to build a Moon rocket within; capsule-shaped elevators zip from floor to floor. Since this hotel was designed during the Apollo years, Cape Canaveral’s VAB may have inspired the architect.

For one not accustomed to mega-cities, New York is science fiction like BLADE RUNNER. The movie’s prediction of jumbo video screens has already come true. We don’t see flying cars, this year’s Personal Air Vehicle challenge did not turn out anything revolutionary, but year 2019 is not quite here. The dream of leaping above traffic has always been with us. Out of the spotlight, some inventor is working on a flying car.

The most fascinating thing about New York is that it functions at all. Those bright lights indicate millions of people and machines going about their business. Despite threats from terror and other “dark energies,” the huge machine that is a city continues to function and grow. Improvements to Times Square in the past few years are legendary. Evidence of New York light refutes the idea of “dark energy.”

Proponents of “dark energy” would have us believe that its invisible presence dominates the Universe. They would also believe that the Universe is ripping apart in chaos. If so, formation of structures would have ceased long ago. Many observations like the Pleiades Cluster show stars forming to this day.

From experience we know that the majority of mass lies hidden in the darkness. The simple addition of a changing speed of light means that Black Holes could be ubiquitous in the Universe. They could lurk undetected in great voids, which we would perceive as Holes in the Universe. Smaller Black Holes could be orbiting in our Solar System, even within Earth’s core. Those people down there may be completely unaware of a Black Hole beneath their feet.

TOMORROW: With luck, we hope to see 30,000 new lights


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Antarctica in Hi-Def

The Landsat Image Map of Antarctica released today is the most detailed view yet of the Southern continent. The map is made up of 1100 images from the Landsat 7 satellite. Many mysteries remain about Earth's last frontier. Worlds like Enceladus have "hot spots" in their South poles due to some mysterious process. Discovery of subglacial lakes in Antarctica hints at some inner source of heat. We associate it with cold, but Earth's South Pole could paradoxically hide another hot spot. The lakes could be homes for life where no light has penetrated. Similiar lakes could exist on moons like Europa. Already Martian meteorites found in Antarctica hint at extraterrestrial life.

Antarctica is also a prime site for telescopes. The ICE CUBE experiment is designed to detect neutrinos from Space and could potentially provide data from Earth's mysterious interior. Dome C near the South Pole is potentially an even better site for telescopes than Mauna Kea. In the 21st century this continent could become a centre of astronomy.

Below is the bridge of Australia's research ship, MV AURORA AUSTRALIS.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

View From Angels 33

If any thrill approaches that of scientific discovery, it can be found in the cockpit. Flying over Earth puts many things in perspective. From 33,000 feet the weather over America’s West looks remarkably clear. Disappointing for Garrett Lisi and others, that has meant very little snow. Only two Lake Tahoe ski resorts are open: Northstar and Heavenly Valley. At Mammoth Mountain, only one of the 26 ski lifts is open. As pilots must read the daily weather report, Earth’s climate is always on our minds.

Among the many lakes near Mammoth, Horseshoe Lake conceals a submerged volcanic vent. Geologists have discovered that this lake alone emits 100 TONS of carbon dioxide each day! No one knows how much CO2 issues from Earth’s interior, which complicates our predictions of climate. Most immigrants to California don’t realise that those pretty mountains are volcanoes. For some reason the realtors don’t advertise that.

Seeing a clean sky is always a pleasure. It can’t be argued that humans put too much junk into the atmosphere. We use too much fossil fuel, even in aeroplanes. A future post will talk about methane-fueled aircraft.

Washington’s Mount Rainier is easily visible from Seattle. This volcano is about 1 million years old, barely older than our Big Island of Hawaii. On Mount Rainier’s summit is a lake full of sulfur dioxide. On Kilauea Volcano our sulfur vents are known for their yucky smell. Among other effects, an eruption of Mount Rainier would send clouds of poisonous sulfur into nearby towns.

Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park is famous for geysers like Old Faithful. The park sits atop a magma chamber that begins about 3 miles beneath the surface. In the past 2 million years Yellowstone has seen 3 giant eruptions. The scale of these events is hard to imagine. A single super-eruption would blanket the entire region in clouds and drastically lower the temperature.

As this is written Kilauea’s continuing eruption has created a “River of Fire.” The rushing lava is easily visible from the surface. Much of Earth is vulnerable to volcanic eruptions. Earthrise photos taken from the Moon are a reminder of how tiny is our oasis in Space. The wantonness of Madame Pele reminds us just how precious life on Earth is.

The week's best Space news is at the new Carnival of Space!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Scientists Gone Wild

The next few days will be "on the road," so posting may be sparse. This has been a very exciting week including more work with hybrid cars and a visit to Industrial Light and Magic. A scientist should be thankful when a Theory really works.

Lawrence Krauss has somehow connected quantum observables with "dark energy." In this interpretation, simply observing DE causes it to exist, which will one day end the Universe. If true, this is very good reason not to believe. Elsewhere, Laura Mersini of UNC Chapel Hill thinks that the mysterious Hole reported in August is the imprint of another Universe, which would prove the crumbling string enterprise despite the utter lack of evidence.

Best wishes to everyone for a happy holiday!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Seven Sisters

The Pleiades star cluster, 460 light-years away, is one of the prettiest sights in the sky. The Seven Sisters Celaeno, Electra, Taygeta, Maia, Asterope, Merope and Alcyone are visible to the naked eye. Very sharp eyes can tell that Asterope 1 and Asterope 2 are 2 distinct stars. The two bright stars on the left are Atlas and Pleione, mythological parents to the Pleiades. The entire cluster contains over 1400 stars. These young blue stars are only a few hundred million years old, still in the process of forming solar systems.

Using the Gemini North telescope atop Mauna Kea and data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers may have found signs of planets forming in the Pleiades. Like many of today's discoveries, this was found by searching old data. In the Spitzer database astronomers found HD23514, a star very similiar to our Sun. Obscured by dust in the nebula, sunlike stars are not easy to see among the hot blue Seven sisters. Further infrared observations from Gemini North revealed a signature of hot dust particles. HD23514 seems to be surrounded by hundred of thousands of times more dust than our Sun. This signature is interpreted as a planetary system in process of formation.

Though astronomers have now found many planets in other solar systems, they are still not sure how planets start forming. Though there is much evidence that planets condense from nebulae, rocks colliding at orbital velocity will not accrete into planets. How infant planets shed their angular momentum is another mystery. Many extrasolar planets are "hot Jupiters," gas giants too close to their parent stars to have condensed. Though they should not exist, planets including Earth form all over the galaxy.

If the dark mass surrounding our galaxy is composed of Black Holes, many times they must collide with nebulae. These collisions would seed formation of stars, planets and even smaller objects. Their continued presence would explain the riddles of internal heat and magnetic fields. If Black Holes surround our galaxy, the evidence for their presence is us.

Proponents of "dark energy" would have us believe that its repulsive presence dominates the Universe. If true, formation of structures would have ceased long ago. In clusters like the Pleiades we see new structures forming to this day. Every time we prepare a Thanksgiving meal demonstrates that complex structures can still form. The beauty of the Pleiades refutes "dark energy."


Monday, November 19, 2007


Continuing the location search for a Science Hostel: With its telescopes and dominating location, Mauna Kea immediately draws attention. Astronomers have housing at Hale Pohaku near the 2800 meter elevation. Because of the altitude, no one is allowed to sleep on Mauna Kea's summit. Nearby a visitor information centre hosts astronomy lectures and outdoor star parties. Stargazing tours take astronomy buffs for brief visits to the summit--it would be wonderful if they had a place to spend the night.

HIKING AND SNOW: The mountain has many varied hiking trails, but watch out for the altitude. Every Winter enough snow falls on the summit for snowboarding and some skiing.

DISADVANTAGES: Difficult to reach unless you have 4WD. All water must be shipped in. The biggest obstacle to a Hostel is that most of the land is public. Keck Telescope headquarters is some distance away in Kamuela. Perhaps on the mountain's slopes an astronomy inn will someday see first light.

Enshrouded in fog and overgrown with ferns, this forest looks like the Pacific Northwest. This photo was taken atop a live volcano in the middle of the Pacific. Volcano Village is perched just a short hike from the edge of Kilauea Crater. Within walking distance are the Volcano Art Center, post office, grocery store, laundromat, hardware store and 3 restaurants. Penniless scientists can reach here via the Mele bus from Hilo.

Don't worry about lava--this mature forest that has not seen Madame Pele for centuries. The present centre of eruptions is at Pu'u O'o, Southeast of the town and slowly moving further away. Even if Kilauaea were to erupt, the village is uphill from the crater and lava flows down. Unknown to most of the world, the Volcano Village is a natural location for a hostel or shared home.

HIKING AND SNOW: Of all places mentioned, Volcano has the greatest variety for hiking. In a day's walk one could see anything from the floor of Kilauea Crater to endless rain forest. The nearest snow is on Mauna Kea.

DISADVANTAGES: The nearest snow is on Mauna Kea, as are most of the telescopes.

Though fog makes this a poor site for observing the sky, it may have a lot to do with the Big Bang. Kilauea volcano is powered by Earth's internal heat, which also creates continents and islands. Internal heat, magnetic field and even the riddle of Earth's formation could all be explained by a tiny Black Hole. Tiny singularities would have been created in the immense pressures near the Big Bang. In the primordial Solar System, Earth would have formed around this little hole like a pearl around a grain of sand. Our Solar System, planet and Volcano Village may owe their existence to a relic of the Big Bang.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Rooms of Requirement

As the movie advert says, "The Rebellion Begins." In HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, only the young students recognise the threat of the Dark Lord and his promotion of "dark energy." Their secret Order of the Phoenix meets secretly in the Room of Requirement. The Room is a magical place that appears only when it is needed.

Kea has proposed a conference for New Physics in 2008. In his interview on Backreaction, Garrett Lisi wishes for a Science Hostel:

"I envision a large house where theorists could live and work on their stuff alone or in groups while having their meals and living space provided. The idea is to give researchers time, with an easily accessible but undemanding social atmosphere, and as little responsibility as possible. And, of course, it would have to be somewhere beautiful -- with good hiking and other things to do outside. For the past year I've been living near Lake Tahoe -- a great environment for thinking and playing. Anywhere in the mountains would probably be good for a Science Hostel -- even better if it's next to a good ski hill. :)"

Here we'll explore some possible locations. Not every magical place is examined--Magnetic Island didn't quite make the list. In deference to Kea and Garrett, the focus is on places near mountains and snow. We will start with Kea's suggestion of Christchurch. The South Island's largest city contains many gardens, is fronted by a lovely harbour in sight of mountains. As in California, we can surf Sumner Beach in the morning and ski in the afternoon.

HIKING AND SNOW: Plenty of both less than 2 hours away. Kea has enjoyed many adventures in the mountains.

DISADVANTAGES: The city itself is not isolated, but Kea knows many spots nearby that offer solitude and hiking.

Garrett is partial to Lake Tahoe on the Califonia-Nevada border. I have enjoyed this place many times since childhood and even flown low over the lake in a turboprop. The area offers every activity from boating to gambling. Summer brings a Shakespeare festival and many other events. UC Davis often uses the Granlibakken conference center for meetings.

HIKING AND SNOW: More than one could want, but one must share with many. Huge ski areas are nearby like Mammoth Mountain and Squaw Valley.

DISADVANTAGES: The price of real estate is absurd. The lake was discovered by weekenders long ago, and can get quite crowded. Perhaps Garrett can suggest a nearby location.

Someone has suggested the Colorado Rockies. Telluride is a former mining town in a box canyon more than 2000 metres above sea level. The setting near North America's Continental Divide is spectacular. Main Street has quaint wooden sidewalks and boxes with plastic bags for dogwalking. It is home to a Film Festival, Jazz Festival and many restaurants.

HIKING AND SNOW: Also more than one could want. A favourite hike is the switchback trail to the mill atop the canyon. Here one can look down on the town or continue into the Rockies. Many ski lifts and cableways from the nearby Mountain Village.

DISADVANTAGES: This place has been discovered by many wealthy tourists. The cost of living is near the level of Lake Tahoe. During ski season and festivals the town gets packed.

TOMORROW: We'll see a place in the middle of the Pacific but almost unknown.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Garrett Lisi's Theory of Everything

From at least the time of Pythagoras, great thinkers have been fascinated by circles. This diagram resembles the Daoist Bagua or a spherical Universe, but is part of the interesting work of Garrett Lisi. Garrett is already known for an unconventional career. After receiving his PhD, he found that all the postdoc jobs involved worshipping strings. Rather than follow this paper chase, he spends Winter snowboarding near Lake Tahoe and Summer windsurfing in Maui, much better uses of time. After some years work, he has introduced An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything.

E8 is an intriguing and well-studied mathematical pattern with 248 points. In Garrett's theory, each vertex corresponds to an elementary particle field. Some of these points correspond to the known particles, and others would indicate particles yet to be found. The undiscovered particles are testable predictions which may someday be found in accelerators. His theory requires only the four dimensions of Space/Time, and doesn't use strings.

Kea, Tony Smith and Carl Brannen have kept us updated on Garrett's progress. In October he was able to present his ideas at the Perimeter Institute, to very good reaction. Lee Smolin was particularly excited by the possibilities. In reaction Garrett's paper was unceremoniously removed from hep-th and moved to gen-ph, considered a graveyard for papers. (Though it was originally intended as a free forum, the arxiv has become quite corrupted.) Fortunately Garrett's paper has been restored and is receiving significant attention from the press. Hopefully he will get a journal publication too.

Garrett says his theory is far from complete. Despite the paper's title, the E8 pattern can be quite complex. Reducing it to the standard model of particle physics with gravity requires making assumptions that not all will agree with. Predictions of undiscovered particles need to be verified. Nevertheless, original work like Garrett's should be encouraged. His colourful visualisations of E8 are quite pretty, hinting at some fundamental symnetry.

Garrett also dreams about a Science Hostel, where theorists could work in peace. He would prefer somewhere in the mountains. I would humbly suggest Volcano Village on Kilauea, which has great hiking and is a natural spot for a forest retreat. The lower slopes of Mauna Kea would be another possible site, where one could snowboard and view the stars. Could anyone else nominate a location?


Thursday, November 15, 2007

AGN's and Cosmic Rays

Last week the phenomenon of ultra-high energy cosmic rays was linked to giant Black Holes. The most energetic particles in the Universe, more powerful than those produced by human accelerators, are in cosmic rays. Scientists don't even know how energetic these particles can get. Ultra-high energy cosmic rays have been nicknamed "Oh My God" particles.

Using the Auger Observatory in Argentina, astronomers have linked the origin of some high-energy cosmic rays to active galactic nuclei. AGN's are energetic cores of galaxies powered by supermassive Black Holes. Scientists still don't know how the galactic cores are formed. Size of a primordial singularity is limited by a horizon distance related to the speed of light. Supermassive Primordial Black Holes ar more indications of a changing speed of light.

The most energetic cosmic rays don't reach Auger at all, but are stopped by Earth's upper atmosphere. Here they scatter into a shower of secondary particles. Source of the electrical discharges in lightning storms has been another mystery. Since cosmic rays fall on Earth constantly, some have suggested that they are the source of lightning. If true, it is one more example of how are lives are intertwined with Space.

To observe the most energetic cosmic rays, we must go beyond the atmosphere. Spacecraft like SWIFT and GLAST can detect these rays and possibly locate their source. Sources of many cosmic rays are still unidentified. They could be the explosions of tiny primordial Black Holes, or possibly something else. We are only begiining to learn about cosmic gamma rays.

CERN claims to have detected a fountain of antimatter erupting from the core of our Milky Way galaxy. Their "antimatter flash" video is above. More news in the new Carnival of Space!

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Isn't this amazing? Japan's Kaguya probe is rapidly becoming a star. Today Kaguya has reproduced the famous Earthrise photo in HD! Photo below is an Earthset over the South Pole, so South is up. Australia is on Earth's left side and Asia below. We can easily imagine the lights of a base at the lunar South Pole. More about the Moon to be added soon!

Astronomers have long dreamed about a giant radio telescope on the lunar farside. Here they could observe the distant Universe while shielded from Earth's electronic racket. Thanks to the Vision for the Moon, today a seemingly impossible dream is becoming a plan. Thursday at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, astronomer Kurt Weiler will talk about a Dark Ages Lunar Interferometer. DALI would have a collecting area of at least 10 square kilometres built on the far side of the Moon. Tended by humans on the Moon, it would explore a mysterious time in evolution of the Universe.

The cosmic microwave background dates from a time of recombination about 380,000 years after the Big Bang. The next 500 million years saw formation of the first stars and galaxies. Because there was no starlight, that time is known as the Dark Ages. Almost nothing is known about what happened in this critical period. How diffuse interstellar gas could have collapsed into stars and galaxies has been a complete mystery.

Previously scientists have believed that Black Holes formed after stars. Physicists like Hawking believe that Primordial Black Holes formed shortly after the Big Bang. Mass of PBH's is thought to be limited by a horizon distance related to the speed of light. Because c was much higher, Black Holes could have formed in almost any size. Their presence could have seeded formation of galaxies, stars and even smaller objects.

Weiler's talk is part of a conference this week on Large Space Missions Beyond the Next Decade. Wednesday afternoon Harvey Tananbaum talked optimistically about the Constellation-X mission. (There were no talks about JDEM or "dark energy.") Wes Traub of JPL talked about exoplanet missions that will be enabled by Ares V. Its huge payload, bigger than the old Saturn V, will create possibilities for all kinds of science. In addition to taking humans beyond Earth orbit, a heavy booster is needed for the future of astronomy.

The missions people have dreamed about, from exploring asteroids to radio telescopes on the Moon, require getting beyond LEO. The next American administration must keep the Vision going. Humanity can not afford to turn inward again. If we turn back, humans will never again see this view.

UPDATE: Tonight at 8 PM EST Discovery Channel Canada will be airing a 30-minute special RETURN TO THE MOON, featuring HD footage from Kaguya.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Mars and Science Move Backward

Ptolemy's cosmology compared to Copernicus. Complicated, isn't it?

This week Mars is only 102 million kilometres away, the closest it will be for a some time. The bright red planet can currently be found in the constellation Gemini. On the night of November 15 Mars will appear to halt and then reverse course in the sky. From this week until January 30 the planet will show retrograde motion. Anyone observing the sky for a length of time will witness this backward flight.

For a long time humans thought that Earth was centre of the Universe and the planets circled around us. To explain retrograde motion, astronomers conjured up epicycles, spheres within spheres. By the time of Copernicus, some cosmologies had 60-100 epicycles. The mathematics were quite complicated, which kept science restricted to an elite few. Only in the 16th century did Copernicus' cosmology challenge the epicycles.

Big Bang theory states that the Universe expanded from a tiny volume. Anyone observing the sky will see that it is roughly uniform in any direction. The cosmic microwave background is uniform to one part in 10,000. Large portions of the sky appear to have reached thermal equilibrium, indicating that the Universe expanded faster than today's speed of light.

To explain the uniform sky, scientists starting in the 1970's conjured up inflation. According to this idea, when the Universe was just 10^{-33} seconds old it expanded at warp speed, many times faster than light. Inflation would violate Relativity's principle that nothing can travel faster than light. It would also violate the First Law of Thermodynamics about conservation of energy. Since nothing like inflation has ever been observed in nature, scientists imagine "inflations" and scalar fields.

Inflation shares the convenient quality of being unprovable. We cannot time travel to the first 10^{-33} seconds and observe inflation in action. The temperatures and energies of the Big Bang are also too great for any human experiment to reproduce. The mathematics are quite complicated, which keeps science restricted to an elite few.

Observations of distant Type Ia supernovae indicate that the Hubble ratio v/c appears to accelerate, evidence that the speed of light c is slowing. To explain this, scientists conjured up "dark energy." According to this idea, another repulsive force is causing velocity v to accelerate. This would also violate Relativity and the First Law of Thermodynamics. Since nothing like "dark energy" has ever been observed in nature, scientists have imagined all sorts of diverging ideas. The mathematics are quite complicated, which keeps science restricted to an elite few.

Ptolemy's cosmology of epicycles survived for 1500 years. It prevented humans from figuring out the obvious, that Earth circles the Sun. Today's mainstream cosmology is composed of inflation and "dark energy," which share many qualities with epicycles. Like invisible spheres, repulsive energies can never be observed in nature. Mars appears to travel backward in the sky, but will soon reverse again and travel forward. Will human science show this much intelligence?

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mysteries: Stars at Galactic Core

Once the centre of our Milky Way was a mystery. In the constellation Sagittarius, the core is permanently hidden by clouds of gas. Only very recently have radio astronomers penetrated to the core. After decades of observations they are certain that the centre is a massive Black Hole.

Equally surprising, astronomers have found thousands of stars orbiting in the core. More than 100 OB and Wolf-Rayet stars have been found that appear to have formed just a few milion years ago. Old theories of star formation can not explain how these stars exist. The immense tidal forces and radiation of the core should have torn them apart.

The Arches Cluster is in the left photo and the Quintuplet cluster to the right. The Hubble Space Telescope has found star clusters weighing 10,000 solar masses less than 100 light years from the galactic centre. These are 10 times bigger than typical star clusters in the Milky Way, exactly the reverse of what astronomers suspected. By old theories of cosmology the huge clusters should have been ripped apart.

If primordial Black Holes are involved, stars could form around them even near the galactic core. Presence of singularities would prevent the stars from breaking up. Hidden central Black Holes could also explain the massive star clusters near the core. If one Black Hole can exist in the core, why not many?


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Moon in HD

Interior of Apollo Lunar Module.

Japan's Kaguya probe is the largest lunar mission since the days of Apollo. Today we have HDTV footage of the surface from only 100 km! The Moon's lack of atmosphere makes judging distance difficult--this footage makes one feel very close. Look at the video here!

Wednesday Germany announced plans to join the club with their own lunar orbiter. Deputy Economic Minister Pete Hintze (Aerospace Coordinator) said a probe called LEO could be launched in 2012. With Japan, China, Russia and possibly the US the Moon could be a crowded place. All these plans depend on funding. Even US Moon plans could be sidelined if America's government loses interest.

Some old scientists like Steven Weinberg begrudge human spaceflight for somehow taking funds from particle physics. They forget that funding is not a zero-sum game. While budget cuts go across the board, a rising tide in science lifts all boats. Advances in particle physics coincide with rocketry.

The modern Space Age began with Konstantin Tsiolkovsky's papers of 1904. At the same time physics advanced with Planck's paper on quantum mechanics (1900) and Einstein's papers of 1905. The next advance came with Robert Goddard launching a liquid fuel rocket in 1926. Almost simultaneously De Broglie introduced matter waves (1924); Heisenberg formulated matrix mechanics (1925) followed by the Uncertainty Principle (1927). Practical advances in physics and rocketry continued apace from the 1930's to 1940's with nuclear fission and ballistic missiles.

The launch of Sputnik 50 years ago last month triggered immense interest in physical science. Human spaceflight ascended along with formulation of the Standard Model. Physics has been in a deep slump since approximately 1974, coincident with the end of the Apollo program. Since the mid-1970's no human has been beyond Earth orbit and there has been Trouble with Physics. Can all this be just a coincidence?

Apollo returned an immense bounty of science. It returned the oldest rocks ever found, which told us that the Moon is a daughter of Earth born from collision. The Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment revealed that the Moon has a liquid core, indicated that Newton’s G is probably constant, and provided one more test of Einstein’s General Relativity. Photos of the Earth rising in Space triggered the modern environmental movement. As was recounted just 2 weeks ago, a Lunar Anomaly is evidence that the speed of light is slowing to this day. Science and human exploration must continue apace or both will suffer.


Monday, November 05, 2007

Mysteries: Molecular Clouds

A scientist can learn a lot by looking at clouds. Stars like our Sun are born in giant molecular clouds of gas. Some of these clouds, like the Horsehead Nebula, are so thick that they block all light. Their vast stores of mostly hydrogen provide raw materiels for stars and planets. One mystery: Astronomers have no clue how the clouds formed!

The giant molecular clouds are mostly made of hydrogen. One triumph of Big Bang Theory is that it predicts the amount of light elements like hydrogen. Somehow the interstellar hydrogen condensed into protostellar clouds and eventually stars. The clouds are far too diffuse to collapse on their own without dissipating.

The Milky Way is surrounded by a spherical halo of "dark" mass. If this halo is composed of Black Holes, then many times these objects must collide with the galaxy's disk. They would crash into molecular clouds like bullets into cotton candy. Presence of Black Holes would cause portions of the clouds to collapse and form stars.

The Coalsack Nebula in the Southern Cross covers 7 x 5 degrees of sky. In aboriginal astronomy, it forms the head of an Emu in the sky.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Guilty of Endangering the Public

Projected onto Houses of Parliament, a very good use of light!

Again we face controversy about threats to freedom. This is written out of sympathy for Nige, Quasar9, Joao Maguiejo, friends and fellow bloggers in the United Kingdom. Though we don't agree on everything, even the nature of threats, we are united in hope for a better Britain. Once we had a situation where someone who questioned the speed of light was welcome from Indonesia to Mexico, but harassed in one country. Despite her treatment, a scientist is still deeply concerned about the United Kingdom.

On the tragic day July 7, 2005 terrorist bombs killed 52 Londoners. A similiar bomb attack fizzled and failed to kill anyone on July 21. The next day Metropolitan Police corrected that by shooting innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes. Police somehow thought that de Menzes resembled a terror suspect. In their disregard for life they aided the terrorist goal of murder and fear. On November 1, 2007 a court found the Metropolitan Police Force guilty of endangering the public. They have not heard the end of this.

The day of his killing, officers tailed Jean Charles de Menezes from his home to an underground carriage in full view of London's "Big Brother" surveillance system. This shows that no matter how good the instruments are, everything depends on the judgement of the observer. The Chief of Police tried first to stop an inquiry, then told television that de Menezes was part of terrorism operations. To the Metropolitan police: Someone visiting Imperial College to deliver a talk is not endangering the public--you are.

Metropolitan police did not stop to question de Menezes or read him any rights. They waited until he had already boarded a train before taking him down. If anyone thought de Menezes was a terrorist, then they should have not let him on the Tube. If someone were carrying explosives, their rounds might have set them off. They shot de Menezes in the head seven times with hollow-point bullets as if he was the Terminator.

The real July terrorists were born in the UK. Their parents benefitted from a Home Office policy allowing unlimited chain migration. Today vast swaths of London are not safe for a woman to walk. The 7/7 leaders made trips to Pakistan for training, right under the noses of authorities. If police had questioned them instead of a scientist there would be 53 more Londoners alive today. Read more at the Menezes family website.

Lest we forget, New York City suffered 3000 deaths in a day. In the aftermath of their terrible day New Yorkers were surprisingly polite and helpful to one another. They all knew that enough violence had already taken place. Though the US government has since done many questionable things, New York police did not kill anyone like Jean Charles de Menezes. A walk through Manhattan today shows a city where people enjoy their lives in defiance of fear. Since 2001 the US has suffered no terrorist attacks of the scale of 7/7.

It would be honourable for London's police chief and Home Secretary to accept responsibility. Since they have not done the honourable thing, this will fester and undermine confidence in the government. Like the Ministry of Magic, the Home Office has been derelict in this and other duties. The Blair who appointed this Home Secretary has already retired. His successor felt the heat and cancelled the election expected for this month. Who watches the watchers?

In the meantime, a real revolution continues. Despite thousands of arrests, 100 Buddhist monks protested Wednesday in Burma. The Burmese army has suffered so many desertions that they are drafting 10-year old boys. Thursday tens of thousands protested against the festering dictatorship in Venezuela. (Another protest is planned in Caracas for 10 AM Saturday.) At Allameh University West of Tehran, students are rising up despite arrests and armoured vehicles. Those who protest against real dictators show true courage.

When Archimedes hit upon his law of bouyancy, he ran through the streets naked in happiness. A good idea, like Archimedes Law, can survive the rise and fall of whole civilisations. We are hot on the trail of a solution to the "dark energy" mystery. At the current rate, the solution will be part of the books within a human lifetime. The question is, will a free United Kingdom last long enough to see it?

UPDATE: Next week's report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission will be damining of Iain Blair. His attempts to block investigation of the killing are a lot like Richard Nixon saying "stonewall it." Other detectives tried purposefully to cover up their mistakes in de Menezes killing. Hard to see Blair or the others wearing their police costumes much longer. Serves them right.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

New Spin on Stars

The "Angular Momentum Problem" is yet another puzzle of astrophysics. Since the time of Pierre Laplace, scientists have believed that stars collapse from rotating disks of gas. If the disk angular momentum were conserved, a star would spin itself apart before igniting. Where does the angular momentum go? One big clue is the powerful jets seen erupting from infant stars. The jets follow magnetic field lines, as if angular momentum were powering huge electric dynamoes.

In the November 1 issue of NATURE, astronomers from the Anglo-Australian Observatory put forth a model where the jets carry away angular momentum. Infrared observations of protostar HH135-36 in the Carina Nebula show jets extending billions of kilometres. The photo of HH 135-36 is a bit fuzzy because infrared wavelengths are long. This model is also recounted in The exact mechanism turning angular momentum to magnetism is still considered a mystery.

Twin jets following magnetic field lines are signs of a Black Hole. Today's Washington Post recounts how astronomers realised that Black Holes are at the centre of galaxies. This conclusion took decades of work. "Something very profound is going on here, and the formation of Black Holes and galaxies is related in some way," states astrophysicist Juna Kollmeier. It may take more decades to figure out that a Black Hole is in the second last place humans would expect. It may be rising in front of our faces every morning.

Like an electron, a Black Hole can be described by just three numbers: Mass, spin and electric charge. In an electron, these numbers are quantized into discrete values. As if they were produced on an assembly line, every electron has the same charge and mass! Researchers like Carl Brannen are hot on the trail of particle masses. Black Holes, on the other hand, can have almost any mass.

Lower than a certain mass Black Holes are prone to evaporate in Hawking radiation. There is almost no upper limit to Black Hole size; they could be huge enough to clear A Hole in the Universe. For that reason Black Holes are likely to form a majority of the "dark" mass. They could be ubiquitous, seeding formation of galaxies, stars and even smaller objects. The protons, neutrons and electrons that form life compose only 4.507034% of the Universe. It is amazing that we add up to that much.

More Space news is in the new Carnival of Space!

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