Thursday, February 28, 2008

My Dinner With Saul

The weather in Marina Del Rey last week was a battle between darkness and light. The UCLA Dark Matter/Energy conference is held here biennially. Thursday morning the Sun peeked out to give us this view from the Marriott's top floor. Between talks I chatted with Wendy Freedman, Max Tegmark, Joel Primack, and many others. Wednesday I was fortunate to be invited for dinner by SAUL PERLMUTTER, and we talked about many things. His group's data may be the first good evidence that the speed of light is slowing down.

While members of the Supernova Cosmology Project have been promoting "dark energy," that inferrence has not led to any solutions. Study of DE has moved to include theories like modified gravity (or a changing speed of light.) Saul keeps to observations and does not get behind any one theory. We have Saul's group to thank for supernova data.

Wendy Freedman privately noted how many scientists have skewed the data to fit their pet theories. Eddington in his 1919 eclipse expedition is said to have included only the observations that fit Realtivity's prediction. A JDEM mission will not be launched until 2016 or later. By the time it returns data everyone will know what GM=tc^3 predicts.

2008 is the 10th anniversary of an "accelerating" Universe (or a slowing speed of light.) In 1998 two groups were in competition to study study the same phenomenon of Type Ia supernova redshifts. The conference noted that authors of two "independent" papers had offices 500 meters apart on the Berkeley campus. History may show that "dark energy" was pressured upon physics by this intense competition.

(A certain "Cosmic" blogger allegedly lives nearby. He was co-author on some other early papers promoting "dark energy," but was nowhere to be seen.)

History may also show that if one stays firm to convictions, success can be achieved despite imposing odds. It is good to be accepted in physics without compromising one's beliefs. Someday we may not need those cracked labels. Old ideas fade, and a "c change" is coming to the physics community.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Another Journey to the Centre of the Earth

From Kea in New Zealand to Nige in the UK, Lubos in the Czech Republic and Tommaso in Italy, this blog has gained friends worldwide. The latest is Vladimir Barquisimeto from Venezuela in his blog La Cueva del Lobo. (The Wolf's Lair) He has said some very nice things, which hopefully my poor Spanish can do justice to.

"All cosmologists are overweight, old and boring men, or at least that is what we have come to believe...get to know Dr. Louise Riofrio, this Hawaiian, who is revolutionizing the way to comprehend our Universe.

"Black Holes are immense objects that exist far away in the centre of the galaxy, devouring stars and consuming all existence. But another type of Black Holes also exists; after the Big Bang the initial singularity divided into many fragments, some were supermassive, but many others were very small, including microscopic.

"Dr. Riofrio considers whether these mini-holes were an essential part of the development of the Universe, including whether our existence may have been impossible without them. She has suggested that one of these micro-singularities exists just beneath our feet, in the centre of the Earth."

Thank you, Vladimir! Carl has asked how we know there is a discontinuity 300 km from Earth's centre. This inner, inner core was discovered in 2002 by Adam Dzienwonski of Harvard and graduate student Miaki Ishii. Earth's inner core, 1150 km in radius, was discovered in 1936 by Danish seismologist Inge Lehmann. In the early 1970's Dzienwonski and Freeman Gilbert showed that the inner core is solid within a liquid outer core.

The inner, inner core was found by examining 30 years of data covering many thousands of seismic waves. (One suspects that the woman graduate student did most of this work.) Despite Professor Dzeinwonski's credentials, two journals rejected their paper before Proceedings of the National Academy accepted it. "A lot of people resist new ideas," Dzeinwonski concluded.

Inge Lehmann analyzed the paths of waves with names like PKP to find the core boundary. The strongest wave of all should be PKJKP, a wave travelling straight through Earth's centre and out the other side. The PKJKP wave has never been reliably detected; something sucks it up! Scientists have never figured out what could swallow the energy of an earthquake. Lack of the PKJKP wave is evidence for a Black Hole in the Earth.

At a film industry event I met the bodacious BRENDAN FRASER, star of THE MUMMY and GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE. His newest adventure is JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH. Brendan plays a scientist whose theories get him banished from the scientific community. Is resistance to new ideas a constant of the Universe? The movie populates Earth's core with dinosaurs and other fantastic creatures. We know more about Space than we know about Earth's interior. Like Space, Earth's core could hold wonders like a primordial Black Hole.

Labels: ,

Monday, February 25, 2008

The High Ground

Army Air Corps veteran Gene Roddenberry made his Starship Enterprise a naval vessel. Owning the high ground allows victory over superior numbers. Control of the seas allowed the small nation of England to rule much of the world. After completion of a successful ISS construction mission, the week's biggest Space news is the shootdown of a spy satellite by the cruiser Lake Erie.

As the video begins we see the SM-3 missile launch and jettison its first stage. In the second half we see the satellite intercepted, leaving behind a debris cloud. Apparently the missile bulls-eyed the satellite right in the fuel tank. The interception sends an unmistakable message about the power of technology.

Ticonderoga-class cruisers like USS Lake Erie were originally designed to protect battle groups from hostile aircraft. In the photo below an Aegis cruiser is in the plane-guard position behind each carrier. With improvements to the Aegis system, they have found a new role defending from ballistic missiles. Unlike other missile defense systems, ships are mobile. In any future conflict, an Aegis cruiser in the harbour can provide a friendly nation with instant missile defense.

Rumour has it that India will get the carrier Kitty Hawk for free if India also buys American F/A-18's. For decades India has bought its fighter planes from the USSR. India has sunk a lot of rupees into acquiring a Russian carrier. The Admiral Gorshkov is a Kiev-class vessel of 44,000 tons designed for helicopters and VTOL aircraft. Converting it into a carrier means installation of catapults, arresting gear, a larger flight deck, new powerplants, and an unholy amount of money. The Kitty Hawk displaces 80,000 tons and comes fully loaded with catapults and arresting gear. India switching to US aircraft would mean many billions for Boeing and US industry.

(From my own experience, the F/A-18 is far superior to any Russian fighter. When I had the privilege of flying US Navy aircraft, pillots often flew 1V1 with MIG-29's courtesy of Germany. Using the right tactics, even the older F-14 could defeat a MIG-29 in combat. The F/A-18 is more maneuverable, easier to service, and has better thrust-weight ratio.)

One US presidential candidate is known for talking a good speech while avoiding specifics. He favours "postponing" the human spaceflight program for 5 or more years, in other words killing it. This would leave the initiative to other nations such as China. His opponent in the primaries desperately needs a win in Texas. The Space program is very popular with voters in Houston.

Many people have predicted that the US will lose its primacy among great powers to nations with larger populations. Control of technology and the high ground of Space would allow the US and allied nations to continue their leadership position. Continued support of science will mean breakthroughs in energy production. If they cede the high ground, someone else will take it.


Friday, February 22, 2008

A Smoggy Day on Venus

Before telling where I've gone this week, there is news from Venus. ESA's Venus Monitoring Camera has found mysterious hazes that appear and disappear in a few days. The hazes are composed of sulfur dioxide and water vapour, source unknown. Like the polar hot spots seen on other worlds, the haze begins at the South Pole and moves outward.

In the islands we learn to recognise volcanic activity when we see it. Kilauea Volcano issues water vapour from the Steaming Cliffs, and sulfur from vents. These hazy clouds probably issue from Venus' interior. We have previously seen geysers on Enceladus' South Pole and hydrocarbons gushing from Titan. These diverse worlds could all have internal heat powered by central Black Holes.

I'm staying at a place known for smog and haze, but more about that soon. More Space news at the new Carnival of Space!

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Scientists have concluded that Saturn's moon Titan contains more hydrocarbons than all the oil and gas of Earth. Their findings are in the January 29 issue of Geophysical research Letters. Like water on our Earth, methane forms lakes, ice and rain in an endless cycle. Titan is still producing hydrocarbons from some hidden energy source. This calls to mind Thomas Gold's theory that Earth is still producing gas. (Humans should still use petroleum wisely.)

An enormous amount of energy has gone into producing all this gas in the cold outer Solar System. For some reason the methane lakes are concentrated North of 65 degrees. Could Titan conceal yet another polar hot spot? Previously we have found that Saturn's Rings could contain hidden sources of mass/energy. Titan's interior is yet another place to seek a Black Hole.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Happy Birthday Galileo

Lest everyone forget, February 15 is his 404th birthday and Galileo lives! His accomplishments will be remembered 1000 years from today. He lived in at time like today, when mainstream science tried to explain the Universe in epicycles (Inflation and "dark energy"). Galileo was also born into a Renaissance in learning sparked by the new technology of the printing press (The internet). Scientists ignored what today seems basic, that Earth circles the Sun (The speed of light can change.) Though persecuted in his lifetime, Galileo found many supporters like Johannes Kepler. Galileo's books and ideas became popular among many, which made him a threat. Achievements like Galileo's make the trials worthwhile.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Farthest Galaxy

The Rho Oph nebula, a star-forming region in our Milky Way photographed by the Spitzer Space Telescope. The oldest stars here are over 12 billion years old. Our galaxy must be extremely old. Using the Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes, astronomers have photographed one of the most distant galaxies ever. A1689-zD1 is about 13 billion light-years away, and must have formed when the Universe was about 700 million years old. Those numbers are approximations, for the speed of light has not always been the same.

Every galaxy ever observed contains at its centre a massive Black Hole. Galaxies have been found dating from barely half a billion years after the Big Bang. Their supermassive Black Holes are far too young to have formed from star collpase or mergers of smaller objects. They are very likely primordial, formed from quantum fluctuations shortly after the Big Bang. These tiny fluctuations grew large because of the Universe's rapid expansion. Size of a primordial Black Hole is limited by a horizon distance related to the speed of light. Supermassive primordial Black Holes are one more indication of a "c change" in physics.

Even with the evidence, it may take a while for physicists to accept the simple idea of a changing c. A physics education forces students to treat c as fixed, just like the Earth. This is a reasonable assumption to make if one's mind is small. When careers and dollars have been wagered on "dark energy," escaping the epicycles is dificult. To comprehend the wonder that is our Universe, we must accept change.

More exciting discoveries at the new Carnival of Space!

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 11, 2008

Water on Enceladus

Cassini's Enceladus flyby on Bastille Day, 2005.

In the February 7 issue of NATURE, researchers conclude that Enceladus' South Pole contains a vast lake with temperature of about 0 degrees Celsius. This temperature forms a triple point where water vapour, liquid and ice mix. On Enceladus, gaseous water reaches the surface at greater than escape velocity. They form the enormous pumes observed erupting from the south Pole.

The molecules of hydrogen and oxygen escape the moon to resupply Saturn's E Ring. Without resupply, Saturn's Rings would decay to nothing within 100 million years. We would then face the self-centred question of why the Rings would exist in just the right time for humans to enjoy them. From observing Enceladus, we can conclude that the Rings are long-lived features.

The source of heat keeping this lake warm is considered unknown. Why the heat is concentrated at the South Pole is yet another mystery. Enceladus' interior a great place to find a Black Hole. Ionised gas swirling around the singularity generates a magnetic field with the "positive" pole in the South. Like the classic picture of a Black Hole, twin jets are formed from particles spiralling around magnetic field lines. The Northern jet is composed of electrons which are absorbed by the moon's interior. The Southern jet is composed of heavier ions which penetrate to the surface. This warm jet keeps the South Polar region hot.

Enceladus research applies directly to Earth, as our Antarctic research has found huge subsurface lakes. Paradoxically, Earth's South Pole could also hide a "hot spot!" During this cold Winter, the climate is always on our minds. Cassini will have its closest encounter with Enceladus this March 13.

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Columbia + 5

5 years ago was the Columbia accident. Some scientists have always decried the cost of human spaceflight, so Columbia's last flight was a research mission. Because of different orbits, Columbia could not have docked with ISS. However, at the time Atlantis was being prepared for flight. If some safety protocols had been ignored, she could have been launched on a rescue mission. What an adventure that would have been, one spacecraft on a risky flight to rescue another while the whole world watched.

In its aftermath we have a new Vision for the Moon, Mars and Beyond. In this election year, the Vision faces an uncertain future. The 5+ years between Shuttle retirement and a new spacecraft is a matter of deep concern. The gap may be filled by privately built spacecraft.

Bigelow Aerospace and the United Launch Alliance have been in talks to send payloads into orbit. Starting in 2011, Atlas V boosters would service Bigelow's inflatable habitats. Atlas V would be human-rated to carry a crewed spacecraft. Along with SpaceX's plans for a crewed vehicle, we may fill the gap yet.

UPDATE: Whoops, this entry didn't get posted last week as planned. In the meantime Atlantis has finally launched and docked successfully with ISS. This flight was originally scheduled for October. With all the delays in spaceflight, do they really think they will launch Orion in March 2015? NASA's new budget plans for 2015, with an expanded astrophysics plan too.


Friday, February 01, 2008


50 years ago Explorer I became the first US satellite. As the General says, Wehrner Von Braun's Army team had promised they could launch a satellite within 90 days of a go-ahead. If the order had been given in time, the US would have been first in Space. After Sputnik the US first wasted time on the Vanguard satellite, which embarassingly blew up on the launch pad. Von Braun launched Explorer within 84 days of the order. Von Braun, Thomas Pickering, and James Van Allen truimphantly held up a model of Explorer.

Unlike Sputnik, which carried only a radio transmitter, Explorer I carried a scientific payload, a radiation detector. The Van Allen radiation belts were the first scientific discovery by a spacecraft. The belts are caused by cosmic rays encountering Earth's atmosphere. Protons in the 10-100 MeV range and higher become trapped by Earth's magnetic field. The belts reach their intensity by accumulating particles over years.

Like other planets such as Jupiter, Earth has a dipolar magnetic field. The "North" pole is where the positive or North end of a compass needle points. In fact Earth's North magnetic pole is the negative pole, and Earth's positive pole is in the South. (Confused yet?) Postive particles like protons are repelled by Earth's South Pole and are attracted by the North Pole. Lighter electrons travel from North Pole to South, creating an outer streams of particles.

The giant planet Saturn's magnetic poles nearly coincide with the geographic poles. The jets of charged particles exit and enter there, creating "hot spots" in the atmosphere. At Saturn's North Pole, the outgoing and ingoing streams crowd together. This crowding forces the field lines into a six-sided shape, the "Great Hexagon of Saturn."

Magnetic fields and polar jets of charged particles are telltale signs of a Black Hole. These would be tiny objects, relics of the Big Bang. Their continued presence would explain both Earth's core heat and magnetic field. The centres of Earth and Saturn would be excellent places to find them.
Locations of visitors to this page