Monday, May 31, 2010

Breakthrough of the Year, or Not

Ardipithecus Ramidus, the skeleton known as Ardi, was hailed by SCIENCE magazine in 2009 as "breakthrough of the year." Dated at 4.4 million years, the specimen was a million years older than the famous Lucy. Ardi was claimed to be an ancestor of humans, dating after humanity's divergence from African apes. The species was also claimed to have lived in dense woodlands rather than open plains, possibly linking Ardi with the transition to walking upright. These two discoveries appeared to make Ardi an important find. Today scientists are questioning major parts of this "breakthrough."

Ardi was discovered in 1992 by a team led by Tim White of UC Berkeley. Reconstructing and studying the skeleton took 17 years before the results were published in SCIENCE. In the June 1 issue, another group takes the same evidence and disputes the conclusion that Ardi lived in the woods. Another critique, by Esteban Sarmiento, disagrees with the classification of Ardi as a hominid, a relative of humans. According to both dissenting views, the original team's major conclusions are premature.

10 years ago an "accelerating" universe was hailed by SCIENCE magazine as "breakthrough of the year." Acceleration was interpreted as coming from a repulsive cosmological constant. When this term did not catch on, it was ascribed to "dark energy." A panoply of theories about the accelerating universe has blossomed with no solution. Today speculation about DE encompasses everything from extra dimensions to major modifications of Relativity. Expensive Space probes have been designed to investigate DE, but have little chance of launching. Today many scientists doubt that the "breakthrough of the year" has been good for science.

The solution may be so simple that physicists have not thought of it. Redshift Z of a distant object is related to its velocity v by Z ~ v/c, where c is the speed of light. If the speed of light slows according to GM=tc^3, the "accelerating" data is explained precisely. Scientists have difficulty with something so simple, expecially if it threatens their "breakthrough of the year." It would also affect funding for expensive "dark energy" experiments and turn physicists into laughingstocks.

Without science considering that the speed of light has changed, the reputation of physics is slowly becoming fossilized. Few outside a small cabal of physics really believe that the hypothetical 'dark energy" exists. They are aided by a compliant press, especially SCIENCE. As shown by Ardi, even breakthroughs of the year may be premature. Old physics looks more like Ardi every day.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Copernicus Buried Again

On May 22 in Poland, astronomer Nicholas Copernicus was reburied as a hero. Copernicus will forever be known for introducing a cosmology that was not centred on the Earth. He was originally condemned as a heretic. (Did you hear the one about the Polish astronomer? He thought that Earth circled the Sun! LOL!) Astronomers of his time preferred the complexity of epicycles, spheres within spheres. Observations made after his death, like those of Galileo, would prove Copernicus right. Isaac Newton would show how a simple law of gravity could explain the motions of planets, moons and apples. 500 yerars after his death the world has acknowledged that Copernicus was right.

To those who knew him, the man who would revolutionise astronomy seemed most unrevolutionary. Nicholas Copernicus quietly moved through society in the honoured position of a churchman. This quiet man led a secret life of science--his nights were spent on the church walls observing the sky. Quietly he collected and checked his observations for a book, but delayed publishing until the end. "De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium" argued that Earth is not the centre of everything, but circles the Sun. It was published in 1543 the day before Copernicus died quietly in bed.

A quiet end was not in store for another man of the church. Giordano Bruno was born 5 years after Copernicus died, educated as a Dominican, and eagerly embraced the Copernican theory. Bruno’s own ideas went even further—he speculated that the Universe was boundless, our solar System was one of countless others, and these other systems could be home to life! These seemingly heretical ideas caused Bruno big trouble with authorities. Unable to lead a steady life, Bruno taught and traveled from Italy to Switzerland to England to stay ahead of his persecutors. Finally a local official of the Inquisition ordered him burned at the stake. Revolutionary ideas nearly always meet with opposition.

Born in 1564, Galileo Galilei was fascinated by experimentation since childhood. Though he was an excellent student, financial reasons forced Galileo to leave university before graduating. Among his many experiments, Galileo attempted to measure the speed of light. Most likely he learned of the new invention called a telescope from sailors, and was the first to turn it toward the sky. Galileo’s telescope saw craters on the Moon and the phases of Venus. He was the first human to glimpse the main satellites circling Jupiter, and the strange protuberances of Saturn’s Rings. Though Galileo was initially skeptical of Copernican theory, observations led him to eagerly accept it.

After his death, Copernicus was buried in an unmarked grave. In 2004, urged by a local bishop, scientists began searching for the remains. Thanks to modern day CSI, the skeleton of a 70-year old man was positively identified as Copernicus. Saturday Copernicus was reburied with the help of an honour guard and the blessing of Poland's highest ranking priest.

Copernicus' theory conflicted with the Earth-centred cosmology of the time. At the time of his death it was incomplete, lacking a mechanism such as gravity. It was easier for scholars of the day to reject Copernicus and preach about epicycles. Today scientists try to sell "dark energy" to the public, while insisting that the speed of light is constant. Nicholas Copernicus showed that truth can't be buried forever.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Jupiter Loses a Stripe

In the past month Jupiter's South Equatorial Belt, a ribbon of red nearly 18,000 miles wide, disappeared from telescopes. The disappearance was monitored by Australia's Anthony Wesley, who also discovered a comet striking Jupiter in 2009. No one knows what happened to the stripe, whether it has truly vanished or just been covered by a cloud layer. Scientists do not understand what happens in Jupiter's upper atmosphere, much less the planet's interior.

Jupiter's gigantic storms, cloud bands and Red Spots are powered by mysterious forces in the planet interior. The largest planet gives off twice as much radiation as it receives from the Sun. It is hard to imagine what could be generating this much energy, but Jupiter's core would be a good place to find a Black Hole. A small singularity would produce heat, a magnetic field, and the vortices of stormy Jupiter.


Sunday, May 09, 2010

Rush Fans Are Loyal

This has been a busy week, but the GM=tc^3 thread at Counterparts continues! This forum is run by fans of the band Rush, who have more varied interests than most scientists. Rush has a new album and tour this year! My post from Sunday:

Hello All: Your interest is most appreciated. In this exciting year of a new Rush album and tour (in Houston September 25), it is very nice to see you take time for this thread. I've been quite busy with experiments involving the Moon, but I will answer your curiosity as much as possible. Special thanks to Nunavuter, who obviously knows a lot about science:

"The biggest revolution in cosmology since Einstein may be quietly brewing.

"The speed of light may not be as rock-steady as it has been deemed to be. Rather, the value of this fundamental constant may be changing -- slowing down -- as time passes.

"A number of observations made in recent years have pointed in this direction. If verified, we can bid goodbye to both the Inflationary Model of the early universe, and dispense with the idea of Dark Energy."

Thank you, Nuna, for your thoughtful words. To explain this Universe in a nutshell: Relativity states that Space and Time are one phenomenon, related by c. Applied to the Universe as a whole. its characteristic radius R would be our timelike distance from the Big Bang. R = ct, where t is about 13.7 billion years. As time t increases, the Universe expands.

We can imagine the Universe as a sphere of 4 dimensions, where the 3 dimensions we inhabit are confined to the surface. There is no centre in Space, but there is a centre in Time which we call a Big Bang. The fourth dimension, Time, measures our increasing distance from that centre. A spherical Universe was promoted by Einstein, Pascal, and even Edgar Allen Poe.

The Universe can't expand at the same rate forever, for mass and gravity slow it down. Speed of light c is further related to t by GM=tc^3. There are a number of ways to derive this, which Space does not allow me to describe. We can equate a particle's rest energy to its potential. We can also calculate the orbital velocity of photons orbiting a mass M. GM=tc^3 may also be derived from General Relativity. In Planck units, the two expressions combine in the even simpler form M = R = t.

To Quote Valium: "Another revolution that won't be televised." To quote Bastille: "You just KNOW that something is right, but it's going to take 100 years of 'proper data collection' to prove you right. And then you still have to fight the media and the politics."

Perhaps it would be nice to have more press, but the current media narrative focuses on "dark energy" and the failure of scientists to explain it. Most people, even its proponents, doubt that DE really exists. The hypoithetical reoulsive energy is considered a placeholder until something better comes along. Publishing papers about changing c is still quite difficult, so I appreciate your finding this. However there are ample reasons for optimism:

The inflationary paradigm is 30 years old with no compelling idea for its cause. Faster-than-light inflation violates both the First Law of Thermodynamics (energy conservation) and Relativity's stipulation that nothing travels faster than light. Inflation can never be proven--we can not time travel to the first 10^(-33) seconds to observe inflation, or even approach the titanic energies near the Big Bang.

It is impossible to prove the speed of light constant, because a better measurement can always prove that foolish. Scientists must construct elaborate hypotheses, complete with dark fudge factors, based on fixed c. There are many ways to measure c changing, some of which are being investigated.

As you may have seen in, NASA has allowed a scientist access to priceless Apollo samples from the Moon. The lunar surface is over 4 billion years old, and may offer a record of the Sun's variability. Additional data from the Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment, some of which is still unpublished, offers compelling evidence that c has changed.

Finally, Roger Rigid should be encouraged for trying to calculate M. However in the MKS (meter-kilogram-seconds) system, age of the Universe t is 4.34 x 10^17 seconds. Corrections are added below:

Roger: "Of the 4 variables in Louise's formula, only one is currently a guesstimate - M (the mass of the universe). The others are pretty firmly fixed.

c = 299,792,458 m/s
t = 13,750,000,000 (13,750,000,000 yrs = 4.34 x 10^17 sec)
G = 6.67428 x 10^-11

"Rearranging Louise's formula:
M = (tc^3)/G

With corrections, we get M = 1.75 x 10^53 kg. This is very close to Roger's observational estimate:

"From observation (according to wiki), we can predict that the number of stars in the universe is about 9 x 10^21.
The mass of our Sun is 2 x 10^30 kg. If our Sun is of average size for a star, the total star mass in the universe is about 1.8 x 10^52 kg."

So, Roger's estimate of star masses is very roughly 10% of M. As readers of the 2004 paper know, the baryons that stars are made of are predicted to total 4.507034%, as also observed by WMAP. From quantities measured in a lab (speed of light, graviational constant) and visible through a telescope (age of Universe, calculated from Hubble recession) one can calculate the mass of the Universe!

In conclusion, though science may appear to be gripped by dark energies, there is a light of hope. It may be possible to find the size, shape and mass of the Universe. These can be calculated from quantities found in the lab. As Aritotle suggested long ago, we may predict our Universe from pure math. It could be simple as M = R = t.

Again I appreciate the intelligence of Rush fans and your interest in diverse subjects like science.


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