Friday, September 24, 2010

Aboard ARA Uruguay

The corvette ARA Uruguay, now moored in Puerto Madero, is one of the oldest and most historic ships in South America. She was built in 1874 by Cammell Laird in England. During her long career she was used as a gunship, as a training ship and to assert Argentina's claim to Patagonia. In 1884 she transported astronomers to observe a transit of Venus, as James Cook's Endeavour had once done. Most famously, in 1903 she ventured into the Antarctic to rescue the Swedish Antarctic Expedition.

An expedition led by Otto Nordenskjöld and Carl Anton Larsen set out for the Antarctic Peninsula in 1901. At a stop in Buenos Aires, the Argentines convinced them to bring along their Lieutenant Jose Sobral. The Swedish expedition made many discoveries among the Antarctic islands begore meeting with tragedy. Six men were left ashore on Snow Hill Island while their ship, the ANTARCTIC, sailed North to pick up supplies. On the way back South the ANTARCTIC encountered heavy ice and broke up. The ship's survivors managed to reach Paulet Island, where they too were marooned. Split into two groups of survivors and living off penguins, things were looking very bad for the Swedish Antarctic Expedition.

With their own Lieutenant Sobral among the missing, the Argentines resolved to mount a rescue. ARA Uruguay was quickly refitted for Antarctic conditions and set off in October 1903. Following the trail of the lost expedition, ARA Uruguay managed to rescue both parties. Encountering a severe storm on the way back, the damaged ARA Uruguay returned to Puerto Santa Cruz in December 1903. Finally survivors and rescuers returned to Buenos Aires and a hero's welcome.

Future expeditions on Mars may also have to wait 26 months for rescue. Laws of orbital mechanics ensure there will be many months between relief missions. Unlike the Moon, there will be no medevac to Earth is someone is ill or injured. The surface of Mars is cold as Antarctica, but there are in situ resources of water and oxygen. Bacterial life survives even in the dry valleys. Expeditions to the Antarctic may someday be preparation for another planet.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Like America, only South

"It's Like America, Only South" is a line from the movie UP. The little girl spends her whole life dreaming about going there. How fortunate we are to visit multiple times. Last month we were in Buenos Aires attending the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) conference. This is the Plaza de Mayo.

On guard in the pink Presidental Palace.

Architect Santiago Calatrava's famous Bridge of the Maiden. This probably inspired San Francisco's new Bay Bridge, though the original is much prettier.

The colourful buildings of La Boca. This is an excellent place to find artists. Here Francis Coppola spent 18 months making his latest film, TETRO.

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Monday, September 06, 2010

Closing in or Closing Out

NEW SCIENTIST reports the "inflaton," the hypothetical particle that would have caused faster-than-light inflation, has still not been found.

Closing in on the inflaton, mother of the universe

"The inflaton particle is credited with generating the universe and fuelling its inflation. It has yet to be discovered, but it is fast running out of hiding places, thanks to the theoretical framework known as supersymmetry (SUSY).

"Enormous and mainly extinct, supersymmetric particles are the dinosaurs of particle physics. Each of these "sparticles" is the partner of a known particle, and they have already solved several cosmological problems, including smoothing the way for a long-sought grand unified theory of physics."

The article does not mention that the theorized SUSY particles have never been observed, despite many searches by accelerators. The phase space that they could inhabit gets smaller and smaller. If these SUSY particles are found not to exist, it would be bad for the inflationary paradigm. Physicists would then come up with a theory that will require an even bigger accelerator and more research dollars to disprove.

The inflationary paradigm speculates that the early Universe expanded at warp speed, many times faster than light. This would violate both the First Law of Thermodynamics (energy conservation) and Relativity's stipulation that nothing travels faster than light. No human machine can replicate the titanic energies near the Big Bang. The inflationary paradigm can never be proven experimentally.

GM=tc^3. When t was tiny, c was enormous and the Universe expanded like a "Bang." As t increased, c slowed due to gravitation and continues to slow at a tiny rate today. This would avoid the problems of inflation, and predicts a Universe exactly as we observe today. Even the 4.507034% baryonic matter can be predicted from pure mathematics. The prediction of a slowing speed of light can be measured in a laboratory.

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Friday, September 03, 2010


What I did this Summer: On this day we dove on the wreck of USS Vandenberg. This missile tracking ship was employed off Cape Canaveral during the Apollo era. The 520-foot Vandenberg can be found off Key West, Florida in 140 feet of water. Diving on this huge ship is adventure akin to spacewalking.

Hoyt S. Vandenberg was Commander of the Ninth Air Force during WW2 and later Air Force Chief of Staff. His name also survives in Vandenberg Air Force Base, site of many Space launches. This ship began life as USS General Harry Taylor, a transport launched at Richmond, California in 1943. In 1961 the ship was transferred to the Air Force and converted into a missile tracking ship. During the 1960's rocket launches from Cape Canaveral were of utmost importance. The renamed USS Hoyt S. Vandenberg played an integral part of America's Space program.

Over 20 years the Vandenberg tracked launches from both Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base. Her job completed, the ship was retired in 1983. On May 27, 2009 she was sunk as an artificial reef off Key West. Here we found the ship with her masts barely 50 feet below the surface.

We descended into the ocean fog, the ship only becoming visible a few feet away. Our group gathered on the main deck, 95 feet down. We swam in and out of various compartments and through the big radar dishes. Vandenberg has many swim-throughs, including the engine room. Having been underwater barely a year, the ship is barely rusted. I was even able to operate levers on the engine control panel.

File photo of a 50 foot radar dish aboard Vandenberg. Does anyone remember 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, the astronauts going EVA on the Discovery's big parabolic dish? The Space Station, only 220 miles from Earth, needs no such dishes. Until we build such big dishes in Space, this is the closest experience to 2001 we will get.

Already the local sealife has made USS Vandenberg a home. Hopefully in the future many more artificial reefs will add to the ocean ecosystem. This may help make up for the loss of reefs from other causes. Having served the cause of spaceflight, USS Vandenberg has become a happy home beneath the sea. This old sword beat into a plowshare shows how humans can create an environment for life.
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