Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Low Flight

Some blog features are being tested today, with video of the VC-25 flyby of New York City. You can hear terrified New Yorkers yelling as the plane recklessly buzzes lower Manhattan. The specially outfitted Boeing 747-200's are not officially called "Air Force One" unless the President is aboard. How much carbon-filled exhaust was put into the atmosphere by this photo stunt?

Previously this blog has reported on progress with aviation and the 747. As these aircraft are getting older and difficult to maintain, the US is now seeking a new presidential aircraft. The leading contender is the fuel efficient 747-8, with the 787 also a possibility. While Boeing has orders for nearly 1000 of the 787, they have sold only 106 of the improved 747. Only 20 firm orders, from Lufthansa, are for the passenger version. 8 orders are for executive aircraft, probably to the Middle East, which may point the way to the next president's plane.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Farthest Explosion

From the European Southern Observatory: Astronomers have detected the farthest object ever seen, a gamma ray explosion at a redshift of 8.2. The object exploded when the Universe was barely 600 million years old. GRB 090423 was first detected by the SWIFT spacecraft, which was designed to catch these gamma ray bursts "on the fly." Follow-on observations were made by the ESO Very Large Telescope in Paranal, Chile. ESO Press ReleaseThis GRB may be the sign of a massive Black Hole.

Separately, the Subaru telescope atop Mauna Kea has found a "blob" formed only 800 million years after the Big Bang. The object iss comparab;le in size to our Milky Way galaxy. Press Release Astronomers are baffled as to how such a large object could have formed so early. Possibly the best way to form a galaxy-size object is around a supermassive Black Hole. Giant Black Holes formed soon after the Big Bang are indicators that the speed of light has changed.

Thanks to the One-Minute Astronomer for the 100th Carnival of Space!

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Happy Birthday Hubble

Atlantis (right) on Pad 39-A and Endeavour (left) on 39-B. The latter pad has lightning towers installed in anticipation of the Ares 1-X test.

On April 24, 1990 the Hubble Space Telescope was launched aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. The dream of an observatory in Space was achieved after many delays, including Challenger's accident in 1986. Hubble was the first free-flying Space observatory designed to be serviced by astronauts. Having humans in space was very fortunate when Hubble was found to have a spherical aberration. STS-125, the fourth Hubble servicing mission, is scheduled to launch May 11 onboard Atlantis. (This week the date was moved forward from May 12.) Endeavour will be sitting on Pad 39-B in case of rescue.

Albert Einstein thought that the Universe was spherical, but of a fixed radius. Einstein's equations showed that the static Universe would be unstable, UNLESS it were expanding. If Einstein had foreseen an expanding Universe, it would have been one of history's great scientific predictions. Instead he added a repulsive energy, a "cosmological constant."

By comparing the luminosity of Cepheid Variables with the host galaxies' redshifts, Edwin Hubble discovered that the Universe was expanding. After visiting Hubble atop Mount Wilson, Einstein withdrew his cosmological constant. Later Einstein would call the CC his greatest blunder.

Edwin Hubble's rough graphs showed the galaxies recede in proportion to their distance, indicating expansion. This ratio is called the "Hubble Constant" though everyone knows that it would change with time. Finding the precise value of the Hubble "constant" was a key science mission of HST. When physicists used HST to look at distant supernovae, they found that expansion appeared to accelerate with respect to the speed of light. If they had announced that the speed of light was slowing it would have been one of history's great discoveries. Instead physicists concluded that a cosmological constant or "dark energy" was causing acceleration.

Once even Einstein thought that the Universe was static. Observations by Edwin Hubble, Milton Humason, and others showed that its size changed. Once upon a time physicists thought that the speed of light was also static. As with Hubble's constant, observations show that even constants can change.

1-minute video: 10,000 galaxies seen by the Hubble Ultra Deep Field

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Failure Is Not an Option

April 21, 2009

This is the Flight Director's chair in Apollo Mission Control. The room is a national historical monument, important for all history. The flag flying in the background actually went to the Moon. Over the drinking fountain is a mirror that travelled with Apollo 13. In the future this little blog hopes to give a first-hand account of a drive to reach the Moon. Once upon a time advocates of space flight were thought foolish, like people who say the speed of light can change. Today we are making plans and cutting metal for a return to the Moon.

Monday we had the good fortune to meet former Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale. His blog also gives an insider account of NASA. Back in February he complained that alternative choices about programs had not been presented to him, Wayne Hale Speaks Up. He seemed pleased that someone rides to work on a motorcycle!

Recently in Building 30 we heard a talk by the real thing, Flight Director Gene Krantz. While hundreds of people have become astronauts, there have only been about 80 flight directors. Krantz talked about his experiences from before Mercury to Apollo 13. He was very pleased to see so many young men and women working at NASA. His experiences are an inspiration to everyone exploring the unknown.

More photos from Johnson Space Center soon!

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Severed Dreams?

In Heinlein's THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS the protagonists join a rebellion of lunar settlers against an oppressive Earth government. Today part of that Sci Fi dream has come true--in Houston we are building hardware and working toward settlement of the Moon. Previously this blog has written about a real dark energy, The End of Free Speech? This has been manifested in large ways and small, from outright censorship to stopping scientists at borders. Today's news suggests that events are already in motion.

April 15, 2009 may be remembered as one of those days. The US Department of Homeland Security spread a report identifying veterans and others who disagreed with the government as potential terrorists. Among the many sins listed in the report was "rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority." On the same day an unknown number of people held "Tea Party" protests in commemoration of Boston 1773. Joining the protesters was none other than Texas Governor Rick Perry:

"Texas is a unique place. When we came into the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that. My hope is that America and Washington in particular pays attention. We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what may come out of that."

The writer grew up with BABYLON 5 and had the good fortune to meet some of the actors. We can recall the "Severed Dreams" episode and Captain Sheridan's speech:

"President Clarke has violated the Earth Alliance constitution, by dissolving the senate, declaring martial law and personally ordering the bombing of civilian targets on the Mars Colony. He is personally responsible, for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. Following these attacks, Orion 7 and Proxima 3 have broken away from the Earth Alliance and declared independence. Babylon 5 now joins with them. As of this moment, Babylon 5 is seceding from the Earth Alliance. We will remain an independent state, until President Clarke is removed from office."

Long before the Moon declares independence, the State of Texas could do so first. It worked for Australia and New Zealand.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

The String Enterprise Unravels

With a big hat-tip to the wondrous Kea in Oxford, read this post from the Misunderstood Universe blog.


"At the recent 23rd Solvay Conference in Physics held in Brussels, Belgium, Nobel prize winner David Gross stated: "We don't know what we are talking about!" He then went on to say, "Many of us believed that string theory was a very dramatic break with our previous notions of quantum theory. But now we learn that string theory, well, is not that much of a break." And that physics is in 'a period of utter confusion.'

"This gloom-and-doom quote comes from one of the truly great minds and long-time proponents of string theory! His statement is especially disconcerting in view of the fact that string theory is thought to be at the very heart of the Theory of Everything. The failure of string theory to produce any verifiable results has shattered the hopes and dreams of thousands of scientists. For decades these string theorists have myopically acted in lock-step with each other as though they were entrusted with the Holy Grail containing a newly born universe -- God's chosen research program.

"The basic problem with string theory is that it is thought-based -- not reality-based. For the past 35 years string theory has brought about an infinite variety of universes, multiverses, parallel universes, membrane universes, wormholes, singularities, and a whole plethora of fantasy-math concepts that no one understands including their creator and the Creator. No successful theory of anything has ever been this complex. The great geniuses of our time have misspent their lives on this mathematical version of alchemy.

"The myriad of string theory equations tell us nothing about the properties and origin of space and time. They tell us what might happen -- not what does happen. With their labyrinthine thought constructions, they demonstrate nothing that can either be proven or recognized. String theory is merely an elaborate mathematical Rubik's Cube with an infinite number of sub-cubes and an infinite number of solutions. The basic theory cannot be tested in any meaningful way and therefore cannot qualify as a science. These theorists describe a limitless number of strange nether-world hypothetical universes -- but they cannot describe anything about the universe in which we all reside. Since these multiverses exist well beyond our reach and realm, we will never be able to see them in order to verify their existence."

The article goes on to list the many failures of the string enterprise, which has never been a theory of testable predictions. Perhaps they should have predicted a changing speed of light, but the string enterprise can not find anything so simple.


Friday, April 10, 2009

New STAR TREK Sneaks Into Texas

The crew of the new STAR TREK have been making surprise appearances, which allowed us to see J. J Abrams and the cast in February, Chris Pine, Zack Pinto, and J. J. Monday night at Austin's theatre was advertised as a free screening of STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN, "One of the best pictures ever made." The line producer and writers of the new film would then answer questions and show 10 minutes of new footage. About 200 movie fans showed up Monday, the few who cared to talk to the writers.

KHAN had barely started when the film "broke." Producer Damon Lindelof and writers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman pretended to fend for themselves. "Stall for time!, someone yelled. Suddenly they were joined onstage by none other than LEONARD NIMOY! Classic Spock brought along a copy of the new movie, which he showed in its entirety. None in the crowd complained about missing KHAN, for the new movie compares very well.

Nimoy, Lindelof, Orci and Kurtzman stayed past the closing credits. Fans in Texas saw the new TREK 6 hours before its official world premiere in Sydney. We enjoyed the movie, hope it does very well and leads to more. Maybe next time they will seek NASA's technical help, so the Enterprise will not be built on the ground.


Monday, April 06, 2009

Yuri's Night

Saturday was Yuri's night, a worldwide phenomenon celebrating the anniversary of the first flight into Space. In Houston Yuri's night was celebrated at the Meridian club downtown, which the previous Saturday hosted a "Fetish Ball!" The outside of the hall was decorated by these photos of astronauts. Yes, the people in the photo work out.

The hall was decorated by spaceship models and displays from NASA contractors. The event was enjoyed by all generations. Entertainment was provided by bands, fire dancers and these characters from STAR WARS. Desire to reach Space is part of our heritage.


Sunday, April 05, 2009

North Korean Missile Launch

North Korea has launched what it claimed was a satellite test. This is the launch complex with the rocket on the pad. Somehow the rocket has not reached orbit, but it dropped stages that fell both East and West of Japan, bracketing the target. The technology to launch satellites is indistiguishable with that of ballistic missiles. The early satellite launchers, like Redstone and Atlas, were developed from ICBM's. The US Navy and Japan have both missed a good opportunity for target practice.

The Korean Peninsula from Space. Unlike the prosperous South, the North has energy shortages and no electricity after 9 PM. Their one bright spot is Pyongyang where Kim Jong Il (if he's alive) and cronies keep their own lights on. Even China has more electricity. This is proof that "dark energy" exists.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Galaxies Not Half-Baked

Infrared image of cluster XMMU J2235.3-2257 taken by Subaru telescope, seen at a distance 65% of the way back to the Big Bang. Green contours represent X-ray intensity measured by the XMM-Newton spacecraft, targeting the brightest galaxy in the cluster.

Just as scientists can't explain "acceleration" of the Universe, the very existence of large galaxies can not be explained. Until recently it was thought that large galaxies started small and got bigger by swallowing smaller ones. Researchers at Liverpool John Moores University cast doubt on the half-baked galaxy idea. Using our Subaru telescope atop Mauna Kea, they have peered back 2/3 of the way to the Big Bang. They found that even at this early time the heaviest galaxies weighed almost as much as today. Their results appear in this week's issue of NATURE. LJMU Press Release.

Each galaxy contains at its centre a massive Black Hole. The Black Holes appear to have formed in the first billion years of the Universe. Evidence may indicate that they are primordial, formed from quantum fluctuations shortly after the Big Bang. Size of a primordial Black Hole is limited by a "horizon distance" within light's reach. Primordial Black Holes were thought to be tiny because of the fixed speed of light. Discovery of massive galaxies containing giant Black Holes is more evidence that c was once much higher.

This weekend see dark skepticism in the Carnival of Space!


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Now They Ask: Does It Really Exist?

(Once again, the evidence for either an “accelerating Universe” or a changing speed of light. Low redshifts increase linearly with distance, showing that the Space/Time expands. High redshifts increase non-linearly, leading to much speculation about repulsive energies. Supernova redshifts are the only direct evidence of acceleration. Prediction of GM=tc^3 and a slowing speed of light still fits the data precisely.)

Just as they once thought Earth’s position was centred in the Universe, scientists have thought that the speed of light was also fixed. When redshifts of distant supernovae appeared to have increased with respect to the speed of light, scientists assumed that c was constant and the Universe was accelerating! To explain this acceleration, they inferred a repulsive force, a “dark energy.”

At one time DE was science's hot topic. Grants and research jobs appeared destined for those who claimed its existence. After 11 years of speculation, repulsive energy has only caused science to decelerate. It has muscled promising projects, like the Constellation-X spacecraft, out of the funding queue. Though DE theories have spawned like epicycles, not one of them has demonstrated any staying power. The idea of acceleration has prevented scientists from seeing what a child could figure out, that the Universe is not accelerating but the speed of light is slowing down.

This month's SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN COVER asks: Does Dark Energy Really Exist?

“In short, we are very much in the dark about dark energy. Researchers are working on a number of ambitious ground and space-based missions to find and characterize dark energy, whatever it may be. To many, it is the greatest challenge facing modern cosmology.”

The article, by Oxford’s Timothy Clifton and Pedro Ferreira, highlights the notion that we could be living in a giant cosmic bubble. Our void would have a lower density than the rest of the Universe. Distant but visible parts of the universe would expand at a different rate, making the whole thing appear to accelerate from our point of view. The authors also compare this varying expansion rate with a variation in time. Such a variation in time would be mathematically equivalent to a changing speed of light.

Another sign that times are changing comes from the website of this Summer’s Paris conference, The Invisible Universe.

“Concerning dark energy and its repulsive effect on the dynamics of the universe, the question is even more complicated. This time, it seems that even the most adventurous extensions of the standard model and of the infinitely small are not capable to give a satisfactory candidate in terms of elementary constituents that can support its most peculiar property, negative pressure. This is why, dark energy but also dark matter are interpreted is some scientific literature not as fundamental constituents, but as fundamental modifications of our laws of physics.”

Having led science down a dead-end street, “dark energy” is starting to lose its luster. DE skeptics. Like those at Oxford, are finally getting their voices heard. Alternative ideas, like cosmic voids, are getting published. Next in line could be a changing speed of light.

Check out the latest Carnival of Space!

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