Saturday, July 29, 2006

Sunset Over Hobart

Hobart, Tasmania is Australia's Antarctic gateway and a frequent rest stop for MV AURORA AUSTRALIS. Saturday Hobart is home to the famous Salamanca Market, right by the pier where we are docked. If one gets hungry, barges selling fish and chips are docked by the waterfront. Tasmania has enough wildlife and scenery to keep one occupied for weeks.
Clifford of Cosmic Variance has started his own blog, Asymptotia. The latest post has pictures of a science fair in California. One young woman's project uses a telescope to test Copernicus' cosmology. She concludes, like Galileo before her, that the Copernican system fits observations better than Ptolemy's Earth-centred system.

Anyone observing the planets will see them periodically appear to travel backwards in the sky. To explain this retrograde motion, the Ptolemaic cosmology relied upon epicycles, spheres within spheres. By Galileo's time, scientists touted cosmologies with 60-100 epicycles to explain all the planetary motions. The complexity of math required for epicycles ensured these scientists their elite place in society.

Just as anyone can observe retrograde motion of planets, the CMB shows that c was much faster even at time of recombination. To explain this, a repulsive 'inflaton" field is inferred (Epicycle #1). Evidence from Type Ia supernovae and large-scale structure shows that the ratio v/c is accelerating. To explain cosmic acceleration, one must infer another repulsive "dark energy" (Epicycle #2). These energies can not be isolated any more than you can capture the emperor's new clothes. A GM=tc^3 cosmology fits the data far better than any Concorde model, without imaginary energies.

We should wish the young woman in the science fair well. Even if her theory fits the data better, it will be difficult even publishing papers. People will say that Concorde cosmology with its epicycles fits the data too. In Galileo's time, scientists refused to peer into the telescope for fear of upsetting their world view.
Below are the ruins of Port Arthur, Tasmania's penal settlement. There is endless beauty in the Universe if we just open our eyes.

Friday, July 28, 2006

How's the Temperature?

This bar is called MINUS 5 because the temperature never gets any higher! Today the thermometer says -12.7 degrees Celsius. The furniture, sculptures, and even the glasses are made of ice. The fountain is made of antifreeze. Fortunately, alcohol has a low freezing point. Vodka, anyone?
In the aftermath of the successful Discovery mission, I would first like to quote Ad Astra Online:
"The difficult decision made recently by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin to launch the Space Shuttle Discovery, despite objections from NASA's safety chief and top engineer, demonstrated solid leadership and the very qualities America has always embodied - boldness and daring in the face of calculated risk.
Leaders make decisions. Great leaders surround themselves with discipline specialists and rely upon their expertise to guide those decisions. Those leaders have to factor in competing recommendations of many experts, weigh the various risks and opportunities against the goals and objectives and make a choice."
Some of you may have been in the room last December when I personally asked that of Michael Griffin. I thanked NASA for inspiring children like me to explore Space. Then I said what we need is Leadership. That goes straight down the line from a president saying "We choose to go to the Moon". I mean Eugene Krantz in Mission Control saying "Failure is not an option," or Alan Shepard in the spacecraft saying "Let's quit screwing around and light this candle!"
Dr. Griffin, are you out there? Perhaps some other NASA employees will read this. You made the decision to light the candle and were right on. I would fly with you any day.
Thank you ST LOUIS and WASHINGTON DC! You have joined SAN FRANCISCO, NEW YORK, LONDON, and SYDNEY in reaching hundreds of viewings! This blog will continue to talk about boldness and leadership in the face of adversity. How is the temperature where you are?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Dome C and the Universe

Concordia Station is a joint French-Italian base located atop Dome C. The top of this ice dome is 3200 m above the continental crust. The station resembles a Mars Base, or the twin Keck telescopes atop Mauna Kea. This is an ideal place to study solid Earth geophysics, magnetism, the ozone hole and many other phenomena. We can also study the human factors of setting up a base in a remote location. This photo is courtesy of Concordia, because it gets dark down here!
This is also the ideal place to build a telescope. Dare I admit this is a better site than Mauna Kea. The altitude and extremely dry air create the best atmospheric conditions on Earth. Dome C has as many clear days each year as the Big Island of Hawaii. Thanks to the long nights down here, astronomers could enjoy weeks of continuous viewing. Getting to Antarctica is expensive, but far cheaper than putting telescopes in Space.
Two groups of researchers studied Type Ia supernovae and found that their redshifts appear to be accelerating. Redshift is approximately equal to v/c, the ratio between velocity and the speed of light. Since c was assumed constant (and talk of a changing c was shut out), they concluded that the Universe was accelerating due to an unseen "dark energy". This led to a great deal of attention in the theoretical community, though DE has not gained traction among the wider public.
Flush with their success, the researchers planned a space mission, a Supernova Acceleration Probe. This would be a 2-meter infrared telescope located at L2, on the opposite side of the Moon. Start saving your pennies, for it would take 1000 Shaw prizes to pay for one SNAP mission. In the current climate, funding would be unlikely. Since you all know about c change, how many taxpayers wish to fund a dark energy mission?
Antarctica offers a place where we can study the cosmos without the expense and difficulty of putting telescopes in Space. Thanks to adaptive optics, an instrument here could have better resolution than the Hubble. A large telescope could gather far more light than any conceivable space mission. Even in the infared, this is the best observing spot on Earth.
Those who promote "dark energy" are friends and I wish them all success. Ultimately we have a responsibility to make discoveries that please the public at a reasonable cost. A changing c is a possibility that needs to be addressed. Discoveries of this magnitude reflect well on all of science.
Below is an artist's concept of HALLEY VI, the new British base. The buildings will be on skis so the whole base is mobile. The interior will have skylights, comfortable lounges, and many comforts of home. Though the dark of Antarctica is not in the glare of publicity, science moves forward.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lakes of Titan

This Cassini photo, courtesy of JPL, shows lakes at Titan's north pole. Titan's south pole contains a lake the size of Lake Ontario. Methane and hydrocarbons filling these lakes would indicate an energy source within Titan. Whether these are related to subsurface lakes in Antarctica is an exciting subject for research. The Cassini spacecraft flew by Titan on July 22 and will visit again on September 7, 2006.
This month news of a changing speed of light was picked up by MSN, FOXNews, and even Slashdot. Nice to have both ends of the political spectrum interested. Not long ago even talking about a changing c would get you thrown out of the room. Another girl was right about being up against so much opposition .
The lower photo shows material jetting from Enceladus' south pole and resupplying Saturn's E Ring. Without replenishment, the Rings would disappear within 100 million years. Saturn's Rings are long-lived features, possibly old as the planets themselves. This brings to mind Thomas Gold's theory that Earth continually produces hydrocarbons in her interior. The energy source that fires this jet is within tiny Enceladus, concentrated on the South Pole.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Let's See What's Out There

This is the helm of MV AURORA AUSTRALIS, where I've been staying for a few days. Unlike most Navy surface ships, you can drive while sitting. Below is the port bridge wing. There is a complete control station here and another on the starboard wing, for maneuvering in tight spots on the ice.
Over at the Interaction Point yesterday, Quasar9 left a interesting comment:
"If Space is not infinite but the inside of a balloon, it is logical there is an outside to that balloon. This may seem trivial to those working on spacetime, but you have effectively created Space outside spacetime, i.e. that Space where Time does not exist."
This echoes a question posed by a close colleague, "If Space is a sphere, then what is outside?"
That question has been on my mind a long time, especially on this journey down under. Here is my answer:
Picture a spherical Universe where our 3 dimensions are the surface. There is no centre in Space, for every bit resembles every other bit. There IS a centre in time, what we call a "Big Bang". This origin is the middle of the sphere with Space/Time expanding away.
Expansion of Space is indistinguishable from the forward flow of Time.
In math terms, R = ct. Radius R of the Universe is its age t multiplied by c. From this simple principle comes expansion, GM=tc^3 and many other predictions. As t increases the Universe expands. It can't expand at the same rate forever, because gravitation causes c to slow.
What is outside the sphere? The future! Personally I'd rather live in the future than dwell on the past. It's a very exciting future that we live in. It is our natural tendency to explore as the Universe expands. As the Captain of ENTERPRISE said: Let's see what's out there!

A Hot Spot

Again I haved reached a place with regular internet access, so the dispatches will come more quickly. I have seen and learned so much that one doesn't know where to start! This Snowcat is one of those vehicles we mostly see in the movies. What a thrill to see this equipment in person! The weather has been foggy and very cold, but I photographed some local flora.
Macquarie Island (54 30' South, 158 57' East) is a Sub-Antarctic patch of land 34 km long and 5 km wide. The average temperature is 4 degrees Celsius. Like my Big Island of Hawaii, this place is geologically young. Barely 600,000 years ago the island was thrust from the sea by the collision of two plates. Macquarie Island is considered geologically active, with many earthquakes. This is the only place on Earth where rocks from the mantle (6 km below the ocean floor) are exposed. It's like a journey to the centre of the Earth.
Below is a patch of Macquarie Island cabbage. It's not fit for eating; there is very little here that humans could survive on.
In Antarctica we have found subglacial lakes thousands of feet below the ice. The water is kept in a liquid state by hot geothermal vents. We are only beginning to explore these worlds without light, but they are already considered likely homes for life.
Today it is announced that our Cassini spacecraft has found hydrocarbon lakes near the North Pole of Titan. Last year Cassini found a lake the size of Lake Ontario at Titan's South Pole. The hot spots of Titan are clustered near the poles. Like the South Poles of Titan and Enceladus, cold Antarctica sits atop a geologic hot spot!
In 1935 KING KONG producer Merian C. Cooper made a nearly-forgotten film of H. Ryder Haggard's SHE. In this version there is a tropical kingdom at the North Pole, warmed by a source of energy far greater than anything man has imagined. Many other fantasy stories have placed similiar oases here at the South Pole. We have a subconscious desire to seek hot spots in the cold places. Why fight the desire to explore? It is the natural tendency of life to explore further outward while evolving into more complex forms.
Expansion of Space is indistinguishable from the forward flow of time.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Auroras Dancing in Unison

On the subject of Auroras, this photo from the POLAR satellite (superimposed on the Earth) shows that the Northern and Southern Lights, Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis occur simultaneously! They are part of a huge electric circuit powered by Earth's internal dynamo. Positive and negative, dancing in unison like Ying and Yang. How beautiful, wonderful and little-understood this planet is.
Saturn's little moon Enceladus contains an internal heat source. Radiation turns water molecules into ionised gas spiralling around the moon's centre. A magnetic field is generated with the "positive" pole in the South and the "negative" pole in the North. Charged particles spiral around magnetic field lines to form twin jets, the classic sign of a singularity. The Northern jet is composed of electrons which are absorbed by Enceladus' interior. The Southern jet is composed of heavier ions which penetrate these layers to create a "hot spot" at the South Pole.
The way to succeed in science is to ask questions that haven't been asked. We know that the Antarctic contains huge submerged lakes warmed by Earth's internal heat. Is cold Antarctica really a "hot spot"? Further research will tell!

Tread Lightly, But Carry a Big Stick

The HAGGLUND BV206 is built in Sweden and used by UK, Canadian and Swedish militaries. It is also the principal tracked transport used in Antarctica. You may have seen it used in the movie EIGHT BELOW. (In fact, the last Australian husky dogs were retired in 1993.) The vehicle is made up of two articulated sections and can go anywhere, even float in water. It can also do 55 mph on the motorway. It does not cut the ground where it travels and is quite environmentally friendly.
In exploring Antarctica, it is a goal to disturb the environment as little as possible. Gone are the days when rubbish was simply buried. Now everything taken in must be taken out. Vehicles and habitats are designed to leave the smallest footprints.
Walk softly, but carry a big stick!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Another Fish Story

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this lazy bloke looked like an Antarctic Cod (Dissostichus mawsoni). It's not related to the common Cod, so it won't end up as fish and chips! The Antarctic Cod has a built-in antifreeze to survive in subzero water temperatures. If your blood contained antifreeze, you would look drunk too!
Life finds a way to hang on almost anywhere. Today we've been studying subglacial lakes in Antarctica. Just like on Enceladus, there is liquid water hundreds of metres below the Antarctic ice! They are warmed by geothermal heat and even contain life!

Who is right and who is wrong?

Check out today! More and more scientists agree with what yours truly predicted years ago, that the fundamental "constants" are changing. "Public confidence in the 'constants' of nature may be at an all-time low." It wasn't long ago that talking about this would get you shouted down in a room. Now who is smiling?
Shortly you may see a paper with collaborating evidence from an entirely different source, showing that c has been decreasing at exactly the rate the GM=tc^3 predicts.
In the meantime, I've been having a lot of fun with an underwater camera. Above is a typical day in the Great Barrier Reef.
Below is a Tasmanian Giant Crab. His shell can be 45 cm across!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Onboard MV Aurora Australis

MV AURORA AUSTRALIS is Australia's principal Antarctic support and research vessel. I'll be staying onboard for the next week as guest of the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR). The equipment used to explore the Bottom of the World is fascinating. The wildlife and sealife down here is incredible. Research in Antarctica is as fascinating as exploring another planet.
This icebreaking ship is 95 m long and displaces approximately 3600 tons. She is a highly sophisticated multi-purpose vessel designed to fulfill the tasks of research and resuppy in a variety of environments. Using a bow thruster and two retractable stern thrusters, she can maneouvre in some tight spots. For a research vessel she is quite comfortable, with roomy cabins, a dining room and a library.
Predicting a changing speed of light can upset some scientific apple carts, but it gets one invited to lots of places. If anyone needs me, I'll be in cabin D18.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Back for More

Thank you for your patience. I have been quite far away from the internet the last few days, but the next few days will be worth the wait.
I've been intermittently following the flight of Discovery. The shuttle is old and questionable technology, but spaceflight is always fascinating. In 1968 (about the time the shuttle was designed)Kubrick made 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, showing astronauts doing repairs on the spaceship Discovery. Seeing video of people working outside NASA's Discovery is one dream come true.
Pictures coming in a few hours!

Saturday, July 01, 2006


Whoops, the mission just was scrubbed due to weather. Try again tomorrow. Being an astronaut takes a lot of patience.

The Far Side of the World

This is the deck of HMS Surprise, the actual full-rigged sailing ship used in the movie MASTER AND COMMANDER. The movie also used miniatures and a full-scale ship-in-a-tank near Rosarito, Mexico. She was originally named HMS Rose when launched in 1970, and is 179 feet long.
"What an incredible technological age we live in"--a favourite line.
Like many of you, I will be awaiting the shuttle launch with baited breath, and wishing them all Godspeed. Many of us were inspired towards science by dreams of someday travelling the Universe. I hope that today's scientists do not get catty and turn on each other. We need space exploration, manned and unmanned.
In the meantime, there are wonders beyond our dreams. Imagine describing the entire Universe with one equation! Even Captain Picard hadn't discovered that yet. Despite the naysayers, most of the world stands with me in exploring Space.
The photo below was taken by Al Sorkin, who was Master at Arms for the Peter Weir movie. He instructed Russell Crowe and the cast on the finer points of swordplay. I met Al back in May 2005.
The posts will come less often in the next few weeks because I will be VERY far away. More pictures soon!
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