Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Hole In Stars?

From 2006 via the NSF Mayall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak, Herbig-Haro object HH 555 in the Pelican Nebula. A tiny singularity colliding with a gas cloud would trail a pillar of gas like a bullet fired through cotton candy. At the pillar's tip, gas is drawn into a disk which will form a protostar. At the top and bottom two bright jets spiral along magnetic field lines. These are the telltale signs of a Black Hole.

In the November 26 issue of SCIENCE, astronomers reported the first direct evidence of magnetic field in the jet from an infant star. Such jets are known to occur in three places: from the supermassive Black Holes at the cores of galaxies, from smaller Black Holes consuming material, and finally from infant stars. Using the NSF very Large Array, the astronomers studied IRAS 18162-2048, a young star 5500 light years from Earth. "Our discovery gives a strong hint that all three types of jets originate through a common process," said astronomer Carlos Carrasco-Gonzalez.

The "Angular Momentum Problem" has been another puzzle of astrophysics. Since the time of Pierre Laplace, scientists have believed that stars collapse from rotating disks of gas. If the disk angular momentum were conserved, a star would spin itself apart before igniting. Where does the angular momentum go? One big clue is the powerful jets seen erupting from infant stars. The jets follow magnetic field lines, as if angular momentum were powering huge electric dynamoes.

Findings like this will someday indicate that all stars, including our Sun, begin with small Black Holes. Presence of a Black Hole would explain the magnetic field and twin jets. It would also solve the Angular Momentum Problem and explain how our Sun could collapse from duffuse gas in the first place. As this blog has suggested since 2006, a Black Hole could exist in the second last place humans would think to look, inside our Sun.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Old, Old Galaxy

On January 26 NASA announced that Hubble Space Telescope has discovered the oldest galaxy yet found. UDFj-39546284 was found by the Wide Field Camera 3, which was installed during the 2009 servicing mission. The galaxy has a redshift of 10.3, making it 13.2 billion years old. It must have been formed just 500 million years after the Big Bang, making it the oldest galaxy yet discovered. This is subject of a paper in the January 26 issue of NATURE.

Old theories of galaxy formation can not explain this discovery. Every galaxy ever discovered contains at its centre a supermassive Black Hole. These Black Holes could be primordial, formed shortly after the Big Bang. Size of a primordial Black Hole is limited by a "horizon distance" related to the speed of light. Discovery of galaxies formed soon after the Big Bang is one more sign that the speed of light was once much faster.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lunar Core

Analysis of old data from Apollo seismometers may have revealed that the Moon has an iron core like Earth. The Apollo Passive Seismic Experiment consisted of four seismometers left on the Moon by astronauts. They were used to record both moonquakes and the impacts of spent rocket stages. New analysis suggests that the Moon has a solid inner core 150 km in diameter and a liquid iron outer core 205 km in diameter. NASA Press Release

As followers of this blog know, data from the Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment, also left on the Moon by astronauts, may reveal a changing speed of light. As Galileo suggested, light can be timed using lanterns on distant hilltops. Galileo lacked an accurate clock, but today we have access to laser lanterns and the distant hilltop of the Moon. 40 years of laser ranging report the Moon receding anomalously high. If the speed of light were slowing, time for light to return from the Moon would increase each year, making the Moon appear to recede faster. Missions to the Moon are a priceless asset for cosmology.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

STS-133 Update

Everyone, be careful while on bicycles! Last Saturday, astronaut Tim Kopra was riding right in front of his home. While turning into his driveway he hit a spot with low coefficient of friction, fell and broke his hip. That was rainy day here in Houston. Kopra been replaced on the STS-133 crew by Steve Bowen.

Many of us were awaiting the STS-133 launch November 1 from Florida. Since then the flight has been grounded by cracks in stringers supporting the External Tank. The legendary Flight Controller and JSC Director Chris Kraft suggested that "material properties" were to blame. The current JSC Director reports that the problem has been traced to a single batch of stringers produced in 2002. The stringers were not made too weak, but unusually rigid. As such, they had a tendency to crack under stress rather than bend. NASA engineers are currently working the problem, still hoping for a launch February 24.

Though Congress has not yet appropriated the funds, JSC is still working on STS-135 with a tentative launch date of June 28. This or STS-134 could be the last flight of the Space Shuttle.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Faster, Cheaper, Better?

Dr. Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute has been distributing this graph of heavy lift options available to NASA. By far the least expensive and quickest to develop is Sidemount, what used to be called a Shuttle-C. It makes use of the existing Shuttle infrastructure--External Tank, Solid Rocket Boosters, avionics, VAB, Crawler Transporters, Launch Complex 39 and the people who know how to run those things. Presently those production lines are being shut down and the people laid off. Sidemount also would have some of the costs of Shuttle, so it will never be inexpensive as private rockets. It would guarantee that we can send people beyond LEO until private rockets are ready. The Sidemount booster could even send crews toward the Moon.

The Lunar Orbit Rendezvous also allows the lander to put cargo on the Moon unmanned. Indendently, the crew vehicle could be sent on missions to lunar orbit, Lagrangian points or the asteroids. The US Congress has directed NASA to build a heavy lift launch vehicle. Sidemount may be the only option that can fulfill Congressional requirements within NASA budget. NASA leaders should consider this if they want a future in Space.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Virus Spreads to France

The view from the window on a previous trip to Paris. Things have been so busy that this paper from over a year ago was missed. It was written by Russell Badgoo in France:

L'augmentation de l'unité astronomique, est-elle causée par l'effet d'éclipsé Allais?

The critical paragraph, translated into English:

"Many cosmologists believe that the gravitational constant decreases secularly over time. Or that light slows down the expansion of the Universe. Based on the equation GM = tc^3, they consider that a rate change time is mathematically equivalent to a change in speed of light. If c slows the return time of a radio wave continues to grow, making the Moon's recession and the AU appear longer and giving the impression that the universe is accelerating."

The most famous equation of the last century is, of course, E=mc^2. Almost no one cites an Einstein paper when they use this equation, because the whole world knows who authored it. This adds to mentions, nearly all unsolicited, from Venezuela, Canada, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, the US and more. Though publishing papers about the speed of light is still quite challenging, people worldwide are finding out. Truth can never be suppressed, and the virus is spreading.

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

63 and Counting Down

Best wishes to the family of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and condolences to the families of those lost Saturday. Giffords' husband is astronaut Mark Kelly, training for STS-134. That mission will launch the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station. Mark's twin brother Scott Kelly is currently aboard ISS. Back in the Navy Mark and Scott were known as the twin F-14 pilots.

Last week a committee from the National Academies on Human Spaceflight Crew Operations visited Johnson Space Center. Their recommendations will help decide the future size of the Astronaut Office and the aircraft that support them. From Peggy Whitson we heard that, as of this week, there are exactly 63 deployable astronauts. About 30 astronauts were "attrited" in the past year alone. Size of the Astronaut Office is determined by projected missions, how many crew will be needed to fill the various jobs, attrition and losses due to factors like health.

From Brent Jett we heard that NASA is figuring out how commercial spacecraft will fit in, as "Taxi" or "Rental car." Under the Taxi scenario, crews trained by private operators would fly spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts as passengers. This raises the problem of what those private crews would do while waiting around on ISS consuming air. The Taxi could remain moored to the Station up to 6 months. NASA would prefer a Rental Car option, where the privately built spacecraft would be flown by NASA crews. This is quite similar to the way things have always been done, private bidders building the spacecraft that NASA astronauts fly.

Richard Clark is in charge of aircraft operations at Ellington Field near JSC. He operates 4 Shuttle Training aircraft which will shortly be going away. The two Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft will go to Dryden, where their parts will likely contribute to the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). The C-9 "Vomit Comet" is kept in reserve while priovate aircraft are used for reduced gravity training. 2 WB-57's are used for high-altitude research. A Gulfstream brings returning ISS crews from the landing site in Kazakhstan to JSC. The B-377 Super Guppy carries outsized cargoes. The astronauts are trained on a fleet of 21 T-38 Talons, a number which will be reduced to about 16.

Many decisions need to be made, from the future size of the astronaut office to the number of aircraft that will support them. NASA is in a state of transition without clear guidance from Washington, a very difficult situation. Children are still inspired by the achievements of a Space program. Their finest hour could be yet to come.


Friday, January 07, 2011

The Only Constant Is Change

February's ASTRONOMY magazine features this column by Bob Berman:

The Dimensionless Constant

"Scientists are discovering our universe may not be as invariable as previously thought"

Berman's article describes the work of John Webb and Michael Murphy, who have been searching for changes in the fine-structure value $\alpha$. They are based in Australia, not New Zealand.

"In 1998, New Zealand astrophysicists studied the light from distant quasars as it passed through ancient nebulae. The way the light was absorbed revealed the value of $\alpha$ long ago. They found that in the distant past, the constant was slightly smaller than it is today. The result seemed impossible, and most astronomers simply rejected it.

"This variation in $\alpha$ violates one of the tenets of Einstein's special theory of relativity, which states that a constant must be identical no matter where and when it is measured. One physicist called this discovery "the news of the year in physics." If constants like $\alpha$ really vary, the cosmos loses its homogeneity, and dark matter and dark energy could be different in various places."

The fine-structure value $\alpha$ determines the strength of electromagnetic interactions. For some odd reason this dimensionless value is nearly equal to 1/137. It is given by ke^2/$\hbar$ c, where c is the speed of light. Changing $\alpha$ is a big indicator that the speed of light is also changing.


Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Dark Energy (funding) Doesn't 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 speculation about repulsive energies. Supernova redshifts are the only direct evidence of acceleration. The cosmic microwave background, dating from a time just 380,000 years after the Big Bang, tells us nothing about acceleration. Prediction of GM=tc^3 and a slowing speed of light still fits the data precisely.)

This morning's NEW YORK TIMES science section is almost a death knell for "dark energy" science:

Quest for Dark Energy May Fade to Black

"An ambitious 1.6 billion spacecraft that would investigate the mysterious force that is apparently accelerating the expansion of the universe — and search out planets around other stars, to boot — might have to be postponed for a decade, NASA says, because of cost overruns and mismanagement on a separate project, the James Webb Space Telescope. The news has dismayed many American astronomers, who worry they will wind up playing second fiddle to their European counterparts in what they say is the deepest mystery in the universe."

How did scientists get into this mess? Since 2006 this little blog has chronicled the disorganised and ill-starred story of "dark energy" and how it has been bad, very bad for science. The obsession with hypothetical DE has divided science into competing camps and pushed other promising projects out of the way. Despite the warnings, DE has not ripped apart the galaxies but has ruined science.

In 1998 two groups, the Supernova Cosmology Project and High-Z Supernova Search, were looking at the same phenomenon, redshifts of Type Ia supernovae. Though scientists haven't figured out what powers supernovae, the luminosities of Type Ia were considered constant. By seeking out supernovae in distant galaxies, physicists thought to determine how fast the universe is expanding. To their surprise high redshifts appeared to curve upward, as if the universe were accelerating.

Since both groups were looking at the same phenomenon, there was pressure to publish first. A junior member of the latter group published a paper claiming that the universe wa pushed by a repulsive "cosmological constant." His office was in Campbell Hall at UC Berkeley, about 500 meters from Lawrence Berkeley Lab and headquarters of the first group. Some months after he published, the first group published a paper with the same conclusions. Though both groups were closely located, looking at the same phenomenon and knew of each other's work, they were called "independent."

To spread, even a bad idea needs good press. SCIENCE magazine put acceleration on its cover as "Breakthrough of the Year" with a cartoon of Albert Einstein. In their lectures, the supernova hunters often showed this cover as if it were some sort of proof. Approbation of others can be a substitute for certainty. The supernova hunters shared the 1 million dollar Shaw prize and the 500,000 dollar Gruber Cosmology Prize. The cosmological constant, renamed "dark energy" when it was found not to be constant, seemed to be the hottest ticket in science.

Flush from their "breakthrough," scientists became even more ambitious. In 1999 one group proposed a Supernova Acceleration Probe (SNAP), a 2-meter infrared telescope at the Sun-Earth L2 point. From this vantage point a million miles from Earth SNAP would theoretically find thousands of supernovae, seeking the unseen "dark energy." Even if SNAP were successful, it would not return a single wave or particle of DE to prove it exists. It would simply find an "equation of state" that could be explained by a changing speed of light.

Hypothetical "dark energy" has not led to solutions, but a divergence of speculative ideas. Every theorist came up with their own pet theory. Whenever a new theory came along, all the others could agree it was wrong. Researchers could not even agree on a mission concept. Within several years the SNAP proposal was joined by DESTINY, a similar proposal with a 1.5 meter aperture, and yet another proposal called ADEPT. Each proposal had its own Principal Investigator (PI) and its own set of supporters, all competing for the same funding.

Searching for "dark energy" began to crowd out other priorities. At first it was just one Space mission in a NASA program called Beyond Einstein. The astrophysics program also included X-Ray observatories, gravitational wave experiments, and an undefined inflation probe. When funding became tight, the National Academies held a series of meetings to set priorities. Finding "dark energy" was considered so important that other projects were pushed to the back of the line, not to fly in this decade.

In September 2008 NASA and DOE tried to combine the 3 proposals into a Joint Dark energy Mission (JDEM). The PI hopefuls were reduced to advisors in the new plan. The merged mission looked so expensive that NASA asked the European Space Agency to contribute. DOE, feeling jilted for the Europeans, dropped out and pursued their own experiment. When all this mate-swapping was finished, the agencies were back to three competing proposals. A NATURE article said of JDEM, "This is an example of a satellite blowing up before it gets built" while calling DE a fudge factor.

In August 2010 the National Academies officially endorsed a new combined mission, Widefield Infrared Survey Telescope. WFIRST would search for extrasolar planets, and look for "dark energy" on the way. Just 3 months later NASA announced that their flagship mission, the James Webb Space Telescope, was years behind schedule and needed billions more to fly. With JWST eating up the astrophysics budget, WFIRST would not fly until the 2020's if ever.

Most scientists quietly doubt that "dark energy" exists. Despite all the favorable press, the idea has never caught on with the public. Even journalists often confuse "dark energy" with "dark matter." DE is largely a hypothesis of physicists driven into cosmology by the lack of Physics funding. Eventually DE is likely to fade into memory like ether, phlogiston and epicycles. It will not cause the universe to rip apart, but it continues to rip apart science.

The explanation of cosmic "acceleration" is so simple that a child could understand it. Redshifts are proportional to the speed of light c. Rather than the universe accelerating, we have observed c slowing down. A changing c can be corroborated by direct measurements over a long baseline, like the distance to the Moon. Long before SNAP, JDEM, or WFIRST will ever get a chance to fly, there will be "c change" in physics.


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