Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Unlike conventional ships with propellor shafts, Queen Mary 2 carries her motors and propellors in swivelling pods. As I was told on the carrier deck, never walk into a prop arc! These formations in Saturn's Rings are believed caused by objects with the mass of a 100 m satellite. They create wakes in the icy Rings, just as Queen Mary 2 creates wakes in liquid. The differing orbital velocities at different distances from Saturn pull these wakes into the propellor shape. Needless to say, these objects are well within the Roche Limit. It is a wonder if moons exist this close to Saturn, and are not pulverised by smaller particles impacting them.

Cosmic Variance

150,000 gross tons coming at you! The idea of a changing speed of light sometimes meets resistance. Fortunately a greater force stands behind GM=tc^3 than cowers behind its detractors. What happens when an irresistable force meets an immovable object? The object gets squashed!
Over at Cosmic Variance yesterday was a lively discussion on the "Preposterous Universe". I started by asking "It does appear preposterous. Why should anyone like it?" That led to some thankfully intelligent replies. Comment #20 shut everyone up:
If Earth is "defined" as the centre of the Universe, you can always make a choice of reference frames so that this remains so.
Just as anyone can observe retrograde motion of planets, the CMB indicates that the Universe expanded faster than the present value of c. One must infer a repulsive inflaton field (Epicycle #1). Supernova and other data indicate that relationship v/c is accelerating, so one must infer another repulsive dark energy (Epicycle #2). We would be fortunate to live in the centre of those forces.
Varying c indeed changes observations of galaxies at z=0.5, it affects their luminosity and redshift so that they fit the curve precisely. If a prediction fits the graph of many data points, what does it mean?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


The bouyant force upon an object is equal to the weight of the displaced fluid. Archimedes discovered that sitting in his bathtub. He was so pleased that he ran naked through the streets of Athens yelling, "Eureka!" An excellent way to publicise one's discoveries.
Speaking of displacement, the satellite Pan is seen here orbiting in the Encke Gap of Saturn's Rings. Mark Showalter discovered this moon by analysing wakes and ripples seen in Voyager photographs. Pan orbits within the Rings at only 85% of the Roche Limit, where it was thought that moons could not exist. Pan's influence keeps the Encke Gap open, and Saturn's Rings contain dozens of gaps. There could be many more objects plying through them.
Thank you, Paul and Michael, for additional information on Queen Mary 2. It is hard to describe how big the ship feels. There is that line from GLADIATOR: "I can't believe men can build something so big." The Cunard ships are true ocean liners, designed for long trips at sea. Here both Queen Marys are drawn alongside some buildings from your neighbourhoods. With a length of 1132 feet, QM2 is longer than the Chrysler building is tall. If she were set on the ground in London, her mast would be nearly as tall as St Paul's dome.
TOMORROW: More ships and moons

Monday, June 26, 2006


A spectacular view of Enceladus passing by Titan. The Cassini spacecraft is far enough away that we see their relative sizes. Enceladus has a diameter of 520 km, while Titan is the biggest satellite in the solar system with a diameter of 5150 km. What these two moons have in common is vulcanism.
Enceladus has a plume of gas venting from the hot spot on its South Pole, while Titan produces methane gas from an energy source in its interior. There is also evidence that Mars produces methane. This lends credence to Thomas Gold's theory that Earth continually produces hydrocarbons due to an internal heat source. Is our planet still producing oil?
From Titan to "TITANIC: the Artifact Exhibition" opened this month in San Francisco. I took this photo from the deck of the Queen Mary. February 23, 2006 was the first rendezvous with the new QUEEN MARY 2. QM2 is listed at 150,000 gross tons. The new ship has every conceivable luxury, including the first planetarium at sea.
TOMORROW: How big Queen Mary 2 is, plus another Saturn moon.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

View from Pri-Fly

This is Pri Fly, Primary Flight Control where the Air Boss has absolute authority over flight operations. As you can see by clicking the map on the right, this blog is seen all over the planet. It is especially enjoyable hearing from places dear to the heart. Welcome to all in AFRICA, TAIWAN, SOUTH AMERICA and the "Red Centre" of AUSTRALIA. Keep those comments coming, for they tell me what you want to see.
The photo below was taken exactly one week ago on June 18, a hot day in the Philippine Sea. An Air Force B-2 bomber is accompanied by Navy and Marine F/A-18 Hornets. The Kitty Hawk (homeport: Yokosuka) Abraham Lincoln (Everett) and Ronald Reagan (San Diego) are accompanied by Ticonderoga-class cruisers, destroyers and supply ships. A successful mission requires thousands of humans and machines functioning together as one unit. In this technological age, teamwork and courage are as valuable as they were 200 years ago. Hopefully within 200 years we'll see fleets of spacecraft sailing to the stars.

Friday, June 23, 2006

View From the Bridge

This is one of the most exciting places anyone could sit, the Captain's chair of an aircraft carrier!
USS Midway (CV-41) was homeported in Yokosuka, Japan and is docked in San Diego harbour. She is 972 feet long and displaces 60,000 tons.
Below is the view from the Captain's chair looking forward. In the distance is the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. The deck is a dangerous place during Flight Ops. Even us aircrew have to be led around by the Plane Handlers.
In understanding of the Universe, humans are like ants crawling around the deck of an aircraft carrier. To avoid being squashed, intelligent ants might figure out the rhythms of the flight deck and catapults. If they are very intelligent, they might eventually explore down to the engineering spaces and see the boilers. Even if they understood this source of steam, it would not help them understand USS Ronald Reagan because that ship is nuclear-powered. It is silly to think that we are close to understanding the Universe.
Until the 1920's most astronomers would have told you that our Sun is made of IRON, and burns in the sky like a big hot poker. Then a woman named Cecilia Payne suggested that it might be made of hydrogen. That idea was so roundly dismissed that she had to change her PhD dissertation. Years later the astronomers finally agreed with her.
"The reward of the young scientist is to be the first person to see something or to understand something. Nothing can compare with that experience; it engenders what Thomas Huxley called the Divine Dipsomania"--Cecilia Payne
NEXT TIME: we'll get a closer look at USS Ronald Reagan.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Top of the World Pt II

It is a natural instinct to seek the high ground. While we're looking at tall buildings, here's someone ready to give a girl a lift.
A well-known science blogger, normally considered a skeptic, just wrote one of the nicest things I've ever heard. "Start to advocate the nice Riofrio, a full-time researcher in cosmology who is suppressed by the sexist pigs in cosmology, despite having her "GM=tc^3" theory of the Cosmos that is far simpler, more important, and more testable than anything that (name removed) or any of his colleagues have ever invented during decades if not centuries of their fruitless and expensive efforts." I heard that he likes pictures of monkeys too.
Taiwan is vulnerable to both earthquakes and cyclones. On floors 87-89 of TAIPEI 101 is the world's largest wind damper, a metal ball weighing 660 tons! For all those in physics class studying damped oscillations, this is the perfect example.
We know that Earth is divided into core, mantle, and crust because a woman named Inge Lehmann studied the seismic waves recorded during earthquakes. These waves follow paths with names like PKP and SKS. By carefully recording the arrival times and locations, she calculated that they were refracted by discontinuities in Earth's depths. The easiest wave to detect should be PKJKP, a wave passing directly through Earth's centre and out the other side. Despite many searches, that wave has never been reliably detected. Something sucks it up!
Since we are not seismic waves and can't reach Earth's centre, we are in no danger of being eaten. The amount of materiel that is sucked up is barely what a human eats. (Earth gains much more materiel each year from meteorites.) That small diet, partially converted into Hawking radiation, has kept Earth's core hot for billions of years.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Top of the World

It is our natural instinct to seek the highest ground. This is the view from the top of TAIPEI 101. The orange roof to the left is Sun Yat Sen's memorial, where yesterday's photo was taken. The crowding and cares of the city all look very small from up here.
I've spent literally thousands of hours in aircraft. Many times we have flown at night over cities ablaze with lights. We know that the lights themselves are just a tiny portion of those cities. The vast majority is metal, concrete and humans going about their business. Approaching the runway, we sometines glimpse this "dark matter" in the pools of streetlights. There is more to the Universe than the few lights we see at night.
Again I am thankful for all the good people out there. Everyone should see this view. With everything going on, this is the top of the world.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Kingdom of the Dragon Pt II

The attention drawn to this site and to GM=tc^3 has been enormous. Another paper is due to be published soon, two years in the making. It will have corroborating evidence from a surprising source that c has been changing, even at low redshifts.
We're at the entrance to Dr. Sun Yat Sen's Memorial. In the distance is TAIPEI 101, the world's tallest building! The top of the spire is 508 m high. There is a huge mall at the base, a great place to spend a hot Summer day. Speaking of hot spots, Taipei has citywide free Wi Fi. A lot of Americans and Europeans don't even know that this exists.
No person (or nation) should rest on her laurels, or someone else will reach higher. Much of my time is spent studying worlds closer to home.
Today's Cassini photo is of the shepherd moon Prometheus. This Saturn moon is potato-shaped with dimensions 145 x 85 x 62 km. Prometheus has the lowest estimated density of any object in the solar system, just 0.27 grams per cc. That's barely 1/4 the density of liquid water. Even if this moon is made of shaved ice, it must be very loosely packed.
The most surprising thing about Prometheus is that it exists at all inside the Roche Limit. This boundary was thought to mark a radius within which liquid objects would be torn apart by tidal forces. Prometheus orbits at 90% of the Roche Limit, inside the Rings! It is surprising that an object with less density than liquid should exist inside the Roche Limit, within which liquid objects should not exist at all. The moon's surface gravity is only 1/77 that of Earth. What is holding Prometheus together?
Look closely at the photo. You will see a narrow stream of materiel passing between F Ring and Prometheus. Instead of falling in a random blizzard, we have ice particles narrowly aligned with Prometheus' major axis. This small moon must have a magnetic field, causing ionised particles to follow field lines. How can shaved ice have a magnetic field?
TOMORROW we'll reach the top of that tower.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Kingdom of the Dragon

Where did the legends of Chinese dragons come from? Some have suggested that Chinese mariners brought stories from Komodo. We now know that China has a seafaring history stretching back thousands of years. China's rulers turned their back on the sea and burned the ships in the 15th century AD, just as Columbus was born. If not for that decision, we might all be speaking Chinese.
This is the Chiang-Kai Shek memorial in Taipei. It makes the Lincoln Memorial look small! The Generalissimo is guarded by some very well-drilled troops. If anyone out there is thinking of invading Formosa, forget it. The island is rugged, with tunnels and bridges that could be dynamited to slow down invaders, and secluded valleys that a resistance could hide in. This memorial is built like a fortress with clear fields of fire all around. A small force dug in here could slow down an army. The city of Taipei is full of such strong points.
The US 3rd Marine Division is in Okinawa, barely 300 nautical miles away. The United States might not even get overtly involved, for a US Carrier Battle Group could lurk to seaward of Formosa and still monitor everything within 300 nautical miles, above or below the surface. The Taiwan Straits are not the English Channel: they are at least 90 nm across, beyond the range of most landing craft. Resupplying an invasion force would require convoys across open ocean. Next week we'll see an aircraft carrier up close.
There's the warrior in me talking. Much better to defend scientific truth. I have one more unusual picture of Saturn. This is the best resolution view of Saturn from the Chandra X-Ray observatory. The Rings are full of X-Ray sources!
To explain all these unusual phenomena (Polar hot spot on Enceladus, another hot spot on Saturn, X-Rays from Rings,...) you could come up with a chop suey of explanations. The latest one involves Enceladus being tipped on its side by tidal forces. Since Saturn is not subject to tidal stresses, you need an entirely new set of explanations for that hot spot. After a while it sounds just like 15th-century epicycles. Is it not simpler to come up with one explanation for them all?
TOMORROW we'll see the world's tallest building!

Thank you...

Thank you for all the positive comments received this week! I will strive to make this an entertaining blog.
Links have been added to the GM=tc^3 website, also a paper about the observed "c change". Be sure to look at the graph; if a prediction fits the data this closely it might mean something!
Since this is a science blog, there will be many astronomical pictures. This is the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting in San Francisco, a display with Cassini scientists. Someone is in front of the poster, so I'll put some photos here.

"Sources of Mass/Energy in Saturn Rings". Above is a temperature map of Enceladus. It was predicted that the warmest part of the surface would be facing the Sun, yet the "hot spot" is the South Pole. That is also the origin of the gaseous plume venting into Space and resupplying E Ring.
This is Saturn herself seen in infrared by our Subaru telescope atop Mauna Kea. There is a "hot spot" centred within 2-3 degrees of the South Pole most visible at 17.65 microns. No hot spots have been observed at the North Pole. Something unusual is happening within these worlds.
Since Saturn and the Rings are subjects of study for me, there will be more photos soon.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Here Be Dragons Part V

In 2005 our Cassini spacecraft made some amazing discoveries about Saturn and her moons. The moon Enceladus has a volcanic "hot spot" centred on its South Pole. The pole, which should be the coldest region on the moon, is the hottest! This spot emits an enormous plume of vapour which maintains Saturn's E Ring. Old theories of radioactive decay or tidal stress can not explain this hot spot.
Enceladus' core and behaviour can be modelled with a central singularity of 10^12 kg. This mass is typical for a primordial singularity. This object consumes only 2.8 kg per year and generates 10^9 watts of radiation. Water and other molecules near this centre are heated to a plasma. Electrons are stripped from atoms, and the resulting ions are drawn into circular orbits. The resulting current generates a magnetic field with the "positive" pole in the South.
Electrons and positively charged ions spiral along magnetic field lines to form bipolar jets, the classic sign of a singularity. The Northern jet is composed of electrons which are absorbed by the moon's interior. More energetic ions of the Southern jet penetrate these layers to warm the South Pole. Escaping ions spiral into space, exactly as observed by Cassini.
Unless Saturn's Rings are replenished, they would decay within 100 million years. Then we would face the anthropic question of why they exist in the right time for humans to view them. Thanks to the Cassini spacecraft, we have witnessed the E Ring being resuppllied from a moon. This observation suggests that similiar processes maintain the rings indefinitely.
Saturn and her Rings have long been objects of wonder and mystery. The processes that build moons and planets have been going on for billions of years. Humans have yet to understand what is before their eyes and beneath their feet. There is more to this solar system than meets the eye.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Here Be Dragons Part IV

Gunung Batur as we descended in the light of day.
There have been several mysteries about the planet we live on. What causes Earth's internal heat, which has persisted for billions of years? What powers the "dynamo" of planetary magnetic fields? How could the planets coalesce from an orbiting disk of gas? If particles collide at orbital velocities they will not stick together unless they have the mass of mountains. The answer lies not in geology, but in cosmology.
The Big Bang created billions upon billions of Black Holes. They formed from quantum fluctuations grown large by expansion of the Universe. They are the largest component of mass in the Universe, surrounding the galaxies with invisible haloes. Our own solar system contains hundreds of these tiny holes, and we have been ignorant of their existence.
When the solar system was but a disk of gas, a number of singularities started orbiting in the disk. One of these objects was smaller than a proton, yet weighed as much as a mountain. Larger particles were attracted and stuck to it. The singularity was far too tiny to eat everything up, but the small amount that was swallowed made the rest grow red hot. Eventually a ball of rock formed with a hot centre. This was the birth of a planet.
The singularity in Earth's core has the diameter of a grain of sand, and the mass of a moon. It has been giving off radiation for billions of years. The heat generated causes volcanoes to erupt, creates the continents, and forms hydrocarbons in Earth's interior. Our life and this planet would not exist without it. Even the petrol that fills your tank may be the byproduct of a small Black Hole!
This singularity spins independently within Earth's core. By dragging part of the iron core along, it spins the "dynamo" generating a magnetic field. That is why Earth's magnetic poles are not aligned with the geographic poles, and why this field sometimes changes direction. Venus has no magnetic field because its core does not spin. Mercury has a magnetic field and is here predicted to have vulcanism, which our MESSENGER spacecraft will discover in 2011.
These are truly exciting times! By climbing into the dragon's fiery mouth, we can understand the very origin of the world! A Black Hole can exist in the last place anyone would look for one, right beneath our noses! TOMORROW we will see another example supporting this theory.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Here Be Dragons Part III

Indonesia's Mount Merapi erupted today, forcing thousands to flee their homes. On May 27 an earthquake in Java killed 5,800 people. The December 26, 2004 earthquake and tsunami killed over 200,000. Who says that fire-breathing monsters don't exist? Earth's violent interior is a subject of urgent study.
We woke before 0200 to climb Gunung Batur at night. This active volcano is 1717 m above sea level, and had its last major eruption in 1963. A 1917 eruption killed thousands and destroyed 60,000 homes. The outer crater is nearly 14 km across, big enough to contain a lake and several villages. Guided by our torches, we felt our way through darkness. At the summit, live steam issued from cracks in the Earth. Right on time, the monkeys joined us to watch the sunrise.
The Sun and volcano may be linked by origin. It has long been a puzzle how the stars collapsed and ignited from the tenuous interstellar gas. The heat of Earth's core, which causes volcanoes and earthquakes yet is critical to life, has also been a mystery. The answers may be related to Hawking radiation.
TOMORROW we look back on the volcano in the light of day, and relate cosmology to the fire beneath us.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Here Be Dragons Part II

"The survival of the human race depends on its ability to find new homes elsewhere in the universe because there's an increasing risk that a disaster will destroy the Earth, world-renowned scientist Stephen Hawking said Tuesday."
Hawking's discovery that Black Holes give off radiation has the greatest potential affect on Earth. They convert mass into energy far more efficiently than nuclear fusion. He deduced that mathematically as a young postdoc. At the time, his colleagues thought it was rubbish. You go, Dr. Hawking!
This is the temple of Uluwatu in Bali, situated on a blade of rock jutting hundreds of metres over the ocean. The temple's true inhabitants are the monkeys, to whom we are but guests. I saw one little guy snatch the glasses off a tourist's face, then happily hang on to them while humans tried comically to make him give up. Finally the monkey threw the glasses off the railing, a 250-m drop!
Yesterday we saw a baby dragon. Tomorrow the monkeys will accompany us to the mouth of a real fire-breathing monster. There we may see evidence of Hawking radiation in action.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Here Be Dragons

Thank you, RR, for being first to post a comment! Yesterday's photo was taken atop the pyramid at Chichen Itza, Yucatan. 1000 years ago, the Maya believed that Space and Time were the same phenomenon. How right they were!
"Here Be Dragons" was written on old maps indicating the unknown and dangerous. This photo was taken in Bali and this is a DRAGON. The world we read about in fairy tales really does exist! There are dragons and princesses, heroes and villains, good and evil. All we need do is be brave and look for them.
I was invited to Bali for the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Meeting. Scientists from all over the world met and shared some fascinating research. Dr. John Huchra (Vice-Provost of Research at Harvard) gave a very good review: "A delightful talk by Louise Riofrio on how a non-standard cosmology with a varying speed-of-light might reproduce the high-redshift supernova Hubble diagram." Thank you, Dr. Huchra!
I've been honoured to contribute a solution to the so-called "accelerating universe" problem. The answer is so simple that a child could understand it, yet matches the data more precisely than any other idea. The Maya were on to something! Tomorrow's post will have more from Bali.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

More Adventures in Space/Time

Science is an adventure I am happy to be part of. In the next few days I will write about travels to Bali, Taiwan, California, Waterloo, Hawaii, Tasmania and Australia.
Locations of visitors to this page