Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Squid and a Whale

An Oceaneering Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) caught this footage of the mysterious Magnapinna squid from a depth of 2.5 kilometres! The "elbowed" squid was visiting the Perdido drilling site in the Gulf of Mexico. The species Magnapinna was only first reported in 1998 by University of Hawaii biologist Richard Young. Hanging around our ROV, the elbowed squid resembles a Martian War Machine.

Humans know very little about the deep ocean, and the life of gigantic squids has been a mystery. They were known only from specimens washed ashore, never seen in their natural habitat. Today we know that squid often hang vertically, trolling for fish. Our deployed ROV's have revealed many mysterious forms of life to scientists.

Magnapinna are common around the world in the permanently dark zone below 1200 meters. Once it was thought that life required sunlight to survive. Now we have found entire ecosystems including large, intelligent creatures like this one. When a robot from Earth first encounters life in oceans of Europa or Enceladus, it could look a lot like this.

Lately humans have disagreed over drilling offshore. Having spent time with gulf sea creatures, I can report their opinion as "Drill, Baby, Drill!" Each oil platform is an instant reef to which marine life flocks. Perhaps the abundance of fish drew the squid in. Humans have learned a lot about drilling and rarely have spilled oil, even during Hurricane Ike. The oil that naturally seeps from the ocean floor is far more than humans release. Despite their controversial opinion, sea creatures wisely choose to stay out of politics.

A sperm whale kisses the drill rig and scratches its back on the ROV cable. "So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish!"

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Water Fountain

Happy Thanksgiving in the US! I've been shopping for a water fountain to put in the new home, so today's news is aprropriate.

This blog has made many reports on Enceladus, Saturn's mysterious moon with its South polar hot spot. In today's issue of NATURE, a team led by Candice Hansen of JPL reports that particles ejected from the hot spot reach speeds of 2100 km/hr, twice the speed of sound. Hansen's team concludes that the fountain is liquid. As seeen in the video, Earth geysers are also made of water. This is another indicator that Enceladus is home to liquid and possibly life.

Back in December 007, Jennifer Meyer's AGU talk asserted that Enceladus' 6.0 GW internal heat can not be accounted for by tidal forces. The conventional estimate from tidal heating is only 0.12 GW. The old hypothesis or "radioactive decay" does not work for these icy moons. Why is Enceladus warm enough for life, and why is the heat concentrated at the pole? The little moon's interior is an excellent place to find a Black Hole.

Humans fear Black Holes as they once feared cats and dogs, yet a tiny Hole within Enceladus may have created conditions for life. Our planet and even the Sun may not have formed without the influence of Black Holes. One could still be with us today, warming Earth's core and generating the magnetic field that protects us from Space radiation. On future Thanksgiving days, perhaps we should be thankful for Black Holes.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

ISS Birthday Party

Max Q is defined as the point of maximum dynamic pressure on a spaccraft. It's also the name of the all-astronaut band! Thursday November 20 was the 10th birthday of the International Space Station. On that day in 1998 the first Zarya module was launched. Max Q celebrated by performing at a party in Space Center Houston. That's a mockup Shuttle among the exhibits. The band played many favourites including "Brown-Eyed Girl."

Among the other exhibits, one corner has been given over to Star Wars, including this spaceship.

Model of ISS hanging from the ceiling.

Many astronauts attended the party. This is Expedition 17 Commander Serge Volkov. With all the conflict in the world, it is great to see people from many nations cooperating on a big project. We should all be proud of the International Space Station.

This week the Carnival of Space starts with a bang!


Friday, November 21, 2008

Mission Control

We watched Tuesday's EVA from Mission Control in Building 30, Houston. The first spacewalk of STS-126 will probably be remembered for the lost tool bag, but most of the objectives were accomplished. Bagsat is now harmlessly orbiting below and behind ISS.

Perched on the manipulator arm, Steve Bowen hand-carries the Nitrogen Tank Assembly (NTA) from the station toward the Shuttle. The coastline below appears to be the Falkland Islands.

The Flight Director has a very busy job, so we try not to bother him. On the right-hand screen Bowen can be seen approaching the Payload Bay.

From the Shuttle's point of view, Bowen appears upside down as he fastens the NTA into place. Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper is barely visible below him and to our left. The spacewalkers are hard to tell apart in those outfits, so Heide's suit has red stripes. How many women get to launch their own satellite?

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Welcome Home Expedition 17

Expedition 17 to the International Space Station began April 8 when Cosmonauts Serge Volkov and Oleg Kononenko joined astronaut Garrett Reisman from Expedition 16. Volkov (second-generation cosmonaut) and Kononenko returned to Kazakhstan October 24. During their stay they welcomed Richard Garriott, second-generation American astronaut. A ship's bell is traditionally used by navies to welcome people aboard. Monday, in a private ceremony at Johnson Space Center, veteran astronaut Michael Foale rang the bell.

Johnson Space Center Director Mike Coats welcomes the crew, who are sitting to the right in matching shirts. From the left are Commander Sergei Volkov, Flight Engineers Oleg Kononenko and Garrett Reisman. Greg Chamitoff, who joined this crew on May 31, is still onboard ISS. Garrett presented gifts to his shipmates--a CD of 1980's heavy metal for Sergei. Oleg received a pint of his favourite ice cream, Rocky Road from the Kroger's market near JSC. In his remarks, Garrett was struck by how thin and fragile Earth's atmosphere is.

Their children present them with flowers. Coats remarked with conviction that their generation will walk on the Moon and Mars.

Check out the new Carnival of Space!


Saturday, November 15, 2008

First Photos of Exoplanets

Astronomers may have taken the first direct images of planets orbiting other stars. The infrared photo above was taken by our Gemini North telescope atop Mauna Kea. A trio of planets are shown orbiting star HR 8799. The 2006 Hubble Space Telescope image below shows a ring of debris orbiting Fomalhaut. The planet (inset) has a mass about 3 times that of Jupiter and would orbit the star every 872 years. As we have seen with Saturn's moons, this planet would sculpt the ring edges.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sights of Saturn

Cassini returned this fantastic photo of Saturn's aurora superimposed on the North polar hexagon. The aurora was photographed at 4 microns on November 10, 2006 and the clouds at 5 microns on June 15, 2008. The aurora has inner and outer components caused by streams of inward and outward magnetic field lines. Concentric lines crowd in on one another near the pole, creating the hexagon. Saturn's poles are hot spots with the highest temperatures of the surface. Heat and polar magnetic fields are clues that Saturn may have formed around a Black Hole.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sounds of Saturn

Radio emissions from Saturn recorded by our Cassini spacecraft and played as audio. The radio signals are concentrated at the poles, site of the mysterious hexagons. The eerie sounds make one wonder. Saturn's magnetic poles are closely aligned with the geographic poles. The radio emissions are byproducts of a dipolar magnetic field. Twin polar jets and a magnetic field are classic signs of a Black Hole.

Space physicist Donald Gurnett occupies James Van Allen's old chair at University of Iowa, studying electromagnetic phenomena. In 2004 Cassini flew very low over the Rings. The plasma wave signal from the Rings was recorded by Gurnett as "Music of the Rings." The music snaps and crackles as Cassini passes in and out of discrete radiation sources. Analyzing the signal, Gurnett concluded that the radiation sources create fountains spreading 45 degrees from the vertical. During his presentation for the American Geophysical Meeting, Gurnett quietly mentioned Black Holes. Though Gurnett is a highly respected physicist, his music has not reached a published paper.

Saturn's music gives clues beyond a printed paper. Her Rings show conditions simliar to our Solar System's formation. Mysteries of planetary formation could be answered if the planets were seeded by tiny Black Holes. These objects could still be around, acting as sources of mass and energy. The Saturn system would be a good place to hunt for singularities.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Change Is In the Air

Posts have been weekly due to work and travel, but each week has brought more bad news for the old cosmology. Once upon a time the planets were thought to circle Earth in epicycles. Just as planets sometimes appear to move backwards in their orbits, large areas of the cosmic microwave background are in thermal equilibrium. The CMB indicates that c was once much higher.

As scientists once invoked epicycles to explain planetary motions, a repulsive "inflaton" was hypothesised to explain CMB uniformity. Supernova redshifts are more evidence of c change, so another repulsive "dark energy" was imagined to make the Universe accelerate. The "LCDM" cosmology insists that the speed of light is constant and the Universe is flat, like the Earth.

With another big nod of thanks to Kea, October 30 Glen Starkman gave a talk at the Perimeter Institute:

If the CMB Is Right, It Is Inconsistent With Standard LCDM.

Starkman focuses on a favourite subject, the angular correlation function. Inflation predicts that the Universe is flat, therefore temperature fluctuations should be the same at all scales. COBE and WMAP spacecraft show that fluctuations are nearly zero beyond about 60 degrees. Versions of this graph have been published on this blog before. As surely as a ship's sails disappearing over the horizon, data shows that the Universe is curved as Theory predicts.

Evidence from the CMB has been around for years, yet some scientists cling to an epicyclic cosmology. Starkman presents his work as a talk--has it been accepted as a paper? How wonderful it would be for science if alternatives to the standard cosmology could be published and discussed. Even with generously wide error bars, inflation's prediction is ruled out by both COBE and WMAP. Perhaps mainstream cosmologists should learn to read graphs.


Monday, November 03, 2008

In Search of Inflation

Faster-than-light inflation would violate both the First Law of Thermodynamics (conservation of energy) and Relativity’s stipulation that nothing travels faster than light. The inflationary paradigm has the convenient quality of being unprovable. Scientists can not time-travel to the Big Bang; no human experiment can approach the unimaginable energies. Like strings, inflation can never be reproduced in an experiment. This has not stopped a divergence of theories from popping up. A cottage industry of inflation has kept theorists in business with their lack of success.

In search of inflation, this week we hoped to see the Ballunar Festival in Houston, Texas. The festival brings colourful hot air balloons to the grounds of the Johnson Space Center. Unfortunately this fun event has been cancelled due to Hurricane Ike. Even at the Space Center, nature has not allowed inflation to occur.

If the speed of light slows according to GM=tc^3, it will still be slowing at a very tiny rate. An accurate enough laboratory experiment could measure change in c. It is impossible to prove experimentally that c is constant, because a more accurate experiment could prove that wrong. As scientific predictions go, “c change” is quite a good bet.

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