Thursday, December 28, 2006

Holiday Gifts

Just when it looked like the last gifts have already arrived, comes the new ASTRONOMY magazine! The cover says it all:

"WHAT IF STRING THEORY IS WRONG? If it is, then dark matter, dark energy and cosmic inflation are in big trouble"

"The standard model has absolutely no place in it for dark matter and dark energy, ingredients that constitute 96% of the universe's gravitating stuff. And it gets worse."

"Inflation, a super-fast expansion of the universe when it was less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old, explains observations of the CMB made by satellites such as NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). But it can't account for the small-scale structure that led to galaxy formation."

"In the 1980's, when Alan Guth at Massachusets Institute of Technology and Andre Linde at Moscow University first developed the inflation idea, it had nothing to do with string theory, extra dimensions, or supersymnetry. Since then, refinements to inflation scenarios have come only by borrowing ideas from superstring theory."

Dan Hooper, now at Fermilab, has just published his first book in hardcover: DARK COSMOS: In Search of Our Universe's Missing Mass and Energy." He devotes a whole chapter to skeptics of "dark energy." How many of you identify with his words?

"Before arriving at Oxford in 2003, I had never given the evidence for dark energy much thought. The scientific community had largely endorsed the conclusion that we live in a Universe dominated by dark energy, and I, a new researcher who had earned his PhD a mere few months earlier, didn't see much reason to doubt that they were right. While at Oxford, however, I met and became a friend and collaborator of a physicist named Subir Sarkar. Along with being a thoroughly detailed and rigorous particle physicist and cosmologist, Subir is also a dark energy skeptic.

"As the evidence for dark energy accumulated, it did not take long for something of a consensus to be reached by the cosmological community. Subir was one of the cosmologists who paused long enough to ask what assumptions this conclusion was based on. Further, he wondered whether other reasonable assumptions could be adopted that would not lead to a conclusion that dark energy exists. Subir assesssed the evidence for dark energy in much greater detail than most other cosmologists had. In the end, Subir wasn't entirely convinced that dark energy exists."

Bee of Backreaction expresses doubt about standard interpretations of the Cosmic Microwave Background. After the taxpayers entrusted them with an expensive spacecraft, the WMAP team sat on the data for YEARS while they massaged their own interpretation. Their data release was, as Roger Penrose has said, "analysed from the perspective of some fashionable theory." Now that the data is finally available, other researchers have found many anisotropies that the WMAP team missed. Glenn Starkman has found many odd alignments. Kate Land and Joao Maguiejo have also found an "Axis of Evil," suggesting that CMB features are local. Bee has links to their papers.

In the past 6 months this blog has garnered enormous attention. The GM = tc^3 Theory has gained even more supporters worldwide. Well-meaning people have also said "you don't have a theory," it's like watching a car crash, and "it's sad seeing someone who is clearly intelligent, creative, and passionate about science wasting their talents in such a misdirected way." Everyone's concern is appreciated. The status of repulsive energy shows which boats are rising and which are sinking.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Poincare, Perelman and the Universe

SCIENCE magazine's 2006 Breakthrough of the Year has been justifiably awarded to Grigori Perelman's proof of the Poincare conjecture. Kea is very good at writing about maths. Perelman's achievement culminated years of work in isolation, the barriers of skepticism, and others claiming credit when they realised he was right. His work has great implications for theories of the Universe.

Topology is the study of surfaces that can undergo stretching. It applies to our physical world via surface integrals and boundaries. We learned at a very young age that a donut is Genus One, topologically the same as a teacup. Henri Poincare, the father of modern topology, conjectured in 1904 that a 3-dimensional space with a "trivial" fundamental group must be a hypersphere, the boundary of a sphere in 4-dimensional Space. Poincare's conjecture defied proof for nearly a century.

Richard Hamilton proposed a solution based upon a "Ricci Flow." In this theory, regions of high Ricci curvature tensor R_{ab} would diffuse out, in a manner analogous to heat flow, until a surface of equal curvature (a sphere) was achieved. Extending the Ricci flow to 3 dimensions seemed insurmountable. Perelman met Hamilton while in the US, returned to his native Russia in 1995, then spent 7 years trying to solve the problem.

In November 2002 Perelman began posting outlines of a proposed proof on the internet. Though some mathematicians realised he was on to something, there was some skepticism. For one thing, bits of the proof were incomplete. Did people ignore Perelman, say he didn't have a theory, and write unfair things about him? Some may have; but Bruce Kleiner, John Lott, John Morgan and Gang Tian aided in completing and publishing Perelman's work. By Spring 2006 the proof was complete, and the world realised what had been accomplished.

The Poincare Conjecture applies directly to cosmology. It says that the only possible shape for our 3-dimensional Universe is the surface of a 4-dimensional sphere. Einstein calculated that if the Universe contained enough density, gravity would curve it into such a sphere. This was the Einstein Static Universe, but he quickly realised that the same gravity would cause a sphere to collapse. He did not consider that expansion would prevent a collapse, for there was little evidence for an expanding Universe. To support this spherical space, Einstein added a "cosmological constant," a purely hypothetical repulsive force.

Alexander Friedmann and Georges Lemaitre independently found solutions to the Einstein equations for an expanding Universe. Working atop Mount Wilson in California, Edwin Hubble and Milton Humason found that redshift of galaxies was related to distance, indicating that our Universe was expanding. In a 1931 visit to Mount Wilson, Einstein conferred with Hubble and peered through the telescope. The world's most famous scientist happily conceded that Lemaitre and Hubble were right. He dropped the cosmological constant, calling it his "greatest blunder." In a 1932 paper with Wilhelm de Sitter, Einstein expressed preference for an asymptotically expanding Universe of "critical" density (Omega) = 1.

Poincare and Perelman indicate that a sphere is the only possible shape. This shape can only be maintained without collapsing if there is a certain density. That density is not "critical" but the stable density. If the Universe were not of the stable density , then matter would be created via pair production until that density was reached. That is why baryons are exactly 4.507034% of the Universe.

As you have doubtless heard, Perelman has prematurely retired from mathematics and public life. He has left his job at the Steklov, a mathematical institute in St. Petersburg. Though he is qualified for the Fields Medal and the Clay Prize, he has refused them. He is said to be tired and disappointed by the lack of ethical standards in mathematics. (This year some unnamed mathematicians published a paper implying that they completed the proof first.) Perelman sounds quite modest and reasonable when quoted in the New Yorker:

"I can't say I'm outraged. Other people do worse. Of course, there are many mathemticians who are more or less honest. But almost all of them are conformists. They are more or less honest, but they tolerate those who are not honest."

"It is not people who break ethical standards who are regarded as aliens. It is people like me who are isolated."

Grigori Perelman's achievement is immensely important. His behaviour shows that he was motivated by the challenge of solving a problem; not by fame or prizes. It is shameful that petty behaviour of others has driven a real talent like Perelman out of the field. With the harsh treatment given to new ideas and lone researchers, his actions are completely understandable.

Cosmic Rays, the Space Station, and You

Welcome new blogger Spaceports! He has a schedule of projected 2007 launches and other interesting information on spaceflight.

Our parents would insist upon us finishing one big task before starting another. Some have argued for abandoning ISS and moving on to the Moon or Mars. For the US to pull out would gravely disappoint international partners like the ESA and Russia. These scientific collaborations have gone on for decades, transcending differences over trade and war.

One of those international projects is the EUSO, the Extreme Universe Space Observatory. Previously we have heard about the ANITA balloon experiment using the Antarctic ice as a cosmic ray detector. It would be even better to go into Space where you have the entire Earth below you. As planned, EUSO would be attached to the side of ISS, allowing the station to accomplish some real science.

Looking quantitatively, there seems to be no upper limit to the energy of cosmic rays. The so-called GZK cutoff may be non-existent, as there are well-documented particles with greater energies. Diagram below is from Halloran, Sokolsky and Yoshida, "The Highest Energy Cosmic Rays" in PHYSICS TODAY January 1995. There is no cutoff at all for low-redshift particles, indicating that energetic events could come from relatively nearby. There is also the possibility of high-energy neutrinos being detected. Detection of ultra-high energy cosmic rays opens the door for exotic theories of physics.

How does this affect us? The answer may be involve one of nature's most awe-inspiring displays, the lightning bolt. We are taught in school that lightning results from the buildup of charged particles in storm clouds. Once the battery is charged, what sets it off? Cosmic rays fall on Earth fairly constantly, rain or shine. A few researchers have quietly suggested that they may trigger lightning.

Assuming that EUSO is orbited, this supposition may be tested with a fairly simple experiment. Many time-lapse cameras have recorded lightning flashes. All we need do is set up a camera (or two, for stereo ranging) in a lightning-prone area beneath the ISS track. With patience, eventually we would record a thunderstorm during a time when EUSO is overhead.

If cosmic rays are found to correlate with lightning, it would show once again that our lives are intimately connected with the heavens.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

One of the most famous and influential photos of all time, Earthrise seen by Apollo 8 on December 22, 1968. Some people doubt the usefulness of people in Space, but would a robot have taken this picture?

I'll start with friends like Kea in Australia where it is already December 25, to Nigel and others in the UK who quietly promote what I've been doing, and follow the sun to friends in American and Hawaii. This even goes to those who can't stand a changing c, attack the idea with spurious mathematical arguments and try to ignore the blog. (I know you mean well) Merry Christmas to all!

I wish everyone a happy future. All I can humbly say is that the Sun will not grow in luminosity until the oceans boil, nor will the Universe tear itself apart with "dark energy." I can also say that Sun, planets, Black Holes, even earthquakes and volcanoes are all intimately connected. I hope that everyone pays more attention to life and all the gifts God and Nature have given us.

Friday, December 22, 2006

AGU Fall 2006

(Abstract of presentation for AGU December 14, 2006)

The “Faint Young Sun” has been a paradox of astrophysics. Standard models of the Sun’s evolution predict that 4 billion years ago Earth was too cold to support life. Geology and the fossil record contradict this prediction. The paradox and theoretical solution are a fascinating combination of astrophysics, relativity and Earth sciences.

Models predict that 4.5 billion years ago the Sun shone with approximately 70% of its present luminosity. Since power P is related to temperature T by the Stefan-Boltzmann law P ~ T^4, Earth’s temperature would have been only 91% of its present value. Today's temperature is approximately 283K, so temperature in the past would have been only 258K. Earth’s surface would have frozen solid, making evolution of life very unlikely.

Geology shows evidence of sedimentation 4 billion years ago, indicating the presence of rivers and seas. Other geological markers corroborate the presence of liquid water on Earth during this period. Paleontology dates the earliest organisms at least 3.4 billion years old. Clearly liquid water and life both existed when the model predicts Earth was frozen solid. This conflict with observations is the Faint Young Sun paradox.

Fortunately, Relativity and Space/Time can help save the standard solar model. The Sun converts fuel to energy according to E = mc^2. Unified Space/Time predicts that c is given by:

GM = tc^3

Where t is age of the Universe, GM combines its mass and gravitational constant. Solving, we have c(t) = (GM)^{1/3} t^{-1/3}. Billions of years ago, solar output and temperature were therefore higher than originally estimated.

Earth is estimated to be 4.6 billion years and the Universe 13.7 billion years old, 1.5 times its age at the time of Earth’s formation. Energy E = mc^2 is adjusted by: (1.5)^{2/3} = 1.31 times the initial estimate. Multiplying by that estimate of 70%, the Sun’s actual output was 91.7% of the present value. Temperature was then (0.917)^{1/4} = 98% of today's value. If we start with an estimate of 76%, solar luminosity was exactly the present value. The “paradox” leads to an extraordinary confirmation of Theory. The solar constant may indeed be constant, allowing life to have evolved on Earth for billions of years.

Prediction of a changing c can be more precisely corroborated using observations of Type Ia supernovae. Earth’s temperature provides additional data points to supplement supernova data from a more distant past. This corroborating data distinguishes Theory from “accelerating universe” ideas. Theory may also help determine whether CO2 warmed Earth's temperature in the past.

CONCLUSION: The “Faint Young Sun” is not a problem but a window from the Earth sciences to astrophysics and cosmology. Geology and the fossil record can help verify “fossil” values of fundamental measurements, determining whether they are indeed constant.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bursting Out All Over

The source of high-energy cosmic rays has been a mystery. The SWIFT spacecraft detects Gamma Ray Bursts with a Burst Transient Detector, then quickly focuses more powerful instruments to observe them in detail. GRB060614 shows qualities of both short and long bursts. It is a new class discovered by SWIFT, a hybrid Gamma Ray Burst.

Short Gamma Ray Bursts typically last for milliseconds, and result from the merger of two smaller objects. Long bursts are theorised to result from the core of a star collapsing into a Black Hole. Long bursts last for two seconds or more, and GRB060614 lasted 102 seconds. The light curve resembled a short burst, as if the merger were stretched out in time.

Some astronomers believe that GRB's can be used as standard candles for cosmology. Using Type Ia supernovae led to claims of "dark energy." Before GRB's are used this way, we need to understand their causes much more. Look at the fix supernovae have got us into!

AGU Overload

Again there is way too much to write about. Today and tomorrow I will write more about the American Geophysical Union Meeting. In between I will try to squeeze in news about Gamma Ray Bursters. The AGU Meeting has more packed into a week than ten people could see. Tuesday night was a dinner for Planetary Sciences at the (temporary) California Academy of Sciences, where we ate amid dinosaur skeletons and fish tanks. Wednesday morning is a breakfast sponsored by the petroleum industry.

Kea has often expressed her concern about climate change. I met with Scienceblogger Kevin Vranes whose comments on the subject were picked up by blogs as diverse as Island of Doubt and Transterrestrial Musings.

Thursday I saw a lunchtime talk by Al "I used to be the next President" Gore. "There is a greater temptation to ignore inconvenient truths," he said, "to set aside knowledge that might challenge a prevailing policy." He implored scientists to summon the courage to fight back when "important truths are being ignored, resisted or censored." As you may know, yours truly has a habit of challenging prevailing thought and even fighting back.

Here there is a great interest in climate change and zero, zippo, nada interest in "dark energy." One may appear crazy to contradict the prevailing wisdom, but DE has little following outside a tiny scientific community. The majority of people haven't heard of "dark energy" and don't care anyway. Tomorrow we'll see how a better theory applies directly to Earth's climate.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The First Stars Continued

Here is the image from the Spitzer Space Telescope. An infrared telescope allows us to see objects at high redshifts. The right image shows stars and galaxies in Ursa Major, the Great Bear. The left image shows the same patch of sky after foreground objects have been removed by computer.

Like the Cosmic Microwave Background image this resembles, there is room for interpretation. Some have argued that the WMAP team did not properly remove foreground objects from the CMB, leading to misinterpretations of the data. Simulations by Tom Abell and others have attempted to reconstruct the first stars. These in the Spitzer photograph are 10 times as massive as the simulations suggested. Presence of primordial singularities might explain this discrepancy.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The First Stars

From "Astronomers might have seen the very first stars in the universe. If so, these are incredible stars, some 1,000 times as massive as the Sun. The alternative is just as interesting: The objects might be early black holes consuming gas voraciously and spitting out radiation like crazy as nascent galaxies form."

Might I respectfully suggest that both might be true? Massive stars ARE early Black Holes? They are creating the pressure and temperature to trigger nuclear fusion. Remember, tiny singularities could not suck up the whole star, but would remain in their centres. A Black Hole would feel right at home in a stellar core. If it had memory, it would be reminded of the conditions that accompanied its birth near the Big Bang.

Thanks to the NSF's Mayall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak, here is Herbig-Haro object HH 555 in the Pelican Nebula. A tiny singularity has collided with a galactic gas cloud, trailing 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 baby star. At the top and bottom are two bright jets spiralling along magnetic field lines. These are the telltale signs of a Black Hole.

Theories of the Sun have advanced over time. As late as the 1920’s most astronomers would lecture that our Sun was made of iron, and glowed in the sky like a hot poker. Only a young astronomer named Cecilia Payne suggested that the Sun’s spectral lines could be interpreted as hydrogen. Because Payne was a woman, her idea was roundly dismissed. The equations of nuclear fusion were still being worked out, and most scientists doubted that Black Holes exist. Eventually the young woman was vindicated. As our knowledge of physics advances, so must theories of the Sun.

The "Oh My God" Particle

UPDATE: Thank you John Larue of Radio Open Source for quoting yours truly and Robert Kirshner on "dark energy." The heretical idea the DE doesn't exist is getting more and more supporters. Gebar's Visual Physics is an eagerly awaited addition to the blogroll. David Chandler's Space Places and Cosmic Views offers many intriguing links to Space news.

During the early 1990's American particle physicists were lobbying for a Superconducting Supercollider. The SSC would accelerate protons to energies of 20 TeV in search of the legendary Higgs Boson, which Leon Lederer dubbed "The God Particle." Why go to the trouble of making something when you can steal it? At the same time the University of Utah was operating a cosmic ray detector called Fly's Eye. On the night of October 15, 1991 it detected a proton with energy of 320 MILLION TeV. This was dubbed the "Oh My God" particle.

This energy was far higher than any particle thought to exist, exceeding the Greisen-Kuzmin-Zatsepin (GZK) limit. It appeared to conflict with Special Relativity. (Where have we heard that before?) Since then over 100 such particles have been discovered, coming from no particular region of Space. Fly's Eye is operated by a collaboration including University of Adelaide.

Prediction: There is no such thing as a GZK limit. Because the speed of light was once much higher, distant cosmic rays can almost any energy.

ANITA Launch

In response to a friend's request, here finally is that post about neutrinos. Cosmic Rays are a big source of concern. Last week the crews of ISS and Discovery had to take shelter because of solar flares. Isn't that how the Fantastic Four got started? Sometimes the best science happens outside the glare of publicity. I was privileged to talk with NASA Administrator Michael Griffin at last year's AGU Meeting, and have met with other NASA officials since then.

Friday December 15 a very exciting experiment was launched from McMurdo Sound. That is Mount Erebus in the background. The Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA) is a low-cost balloon experiment searching for the highest energy neutrinos from Space. The detector was tested this June at SLAC in sunny California using a ten-ton block of ice. See the live mission clock and other links here!

Because University of Hawaii is the lead institution, a hula girl paint scheme was chosen. Panel to the right says in Hawaiian: "The Stars Are the Spies of Heaven."

From the ANITA Project Website: "Why study neutrinos? Neutrinos are of great interest to astrophysicists as they are the only particle that can reach Earth unattenuated at all energies. This is particularly of interest at high energies where other particles and photons will interact with the photons of the microwave background making them unable to propagate and survive over long astrophysical distances.

"The ANITA instrument detects these ultra-high energy neutrinos by use of the Askaryan effect. This effect predicts the production of a coherent radio emission from the cascade of particles produced in a high-energy particle interaction. In other words, we're detecting a 'snap' in the radio frequencies caused by the interaction of our ultra-high energy neutrino.

"In order to detect this radio emission (Askaryan pulses) we need a radio transparent medium for the interaction to occur in - and lots of interactions are rare. Some materiels that are radio transparent are salt, sand and ice. We also need a fairly quiet radio area as the Askaryan pulses are very faint signals.

"The ANITA instrument is designed to fly over the continent of Antarctica - the location of the most pure ice in the world and one of the most radio quiet spots on Earth. Flying at 120,000 ft the instrument can observe ~ 1.5 million square kilkometers of ice. Even with a detector area that large we don't expect to see more than a hundred or so events (and possibly much fewer).

Relating to a previous question, detecting very high-energy neutrinos would be yet another indicator of a higher primordial speed of light. Here is the launch December 15, 1340 New Zealand Daylight Time. Go, baby, go!!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Invading the Earth Sciences

Regrets to friends in Australia and the other science conference this week. One can't be on both sides of the world at once, though I've been trying. The American Geophysical Union (AGU) Meeting brought together over 13 THOUSAND scientists! This is just part of the second floor Moscone Centre West. The building has three floors, with other events at Moscone South and the Marriott hotel. The week has been a very big party!

This event combines everything from soil mechanics to planetary and heliospheric sciences. It is an opportunity for many to talk about their research. You may find bloggers Kevin Vranes, Chris Mooney, and Integrity of Science. As one of the few cosmologists to make the journey, I am treated very well!

Why is the AGU so big and theoretical physics losing funding? Physicists promoting "dark energy" is one reason. The Earth sciences are useful to all of us, from forecasting the weather to monitoring pollution. In this big marketplace of ideas, my presentations show how new physics help solve problems of Earth's climate and formation.

Even if "dark energy" exists, it has no conceivable use. It would be so diffuse throughout Space that it couldn't power a cellphone. Despite this, calling it "energy" has led to a lot of funding from the US Department of Energy. That may get a "dark energy" spacecraft designed, but will not get it off the ground without NASA.

Among most NASA personnel, a Joint Dark Energy Mission has little support. NASA feels that JDEM has been foisted upon them by DOE. They would prefer to use their limited budget on more mature projects, like Constellation-X. At least we know that X-rays exist. CON-X has settled upon a design, while JDEM has at least 3 concept designs.

Theoretical physicists need to attend meetings like this. AGU is an opportunity to show a large audience the value of physics. I will encourage physicists from Stanford and Berkeley to attend the next AGU, even if that means setting up a special session just for them.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


A Discovery astronaut working on the International Space Station this week. In Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY astronauts are depicted repairing the fictional Discovery, a ship assembled in orbit. We also see a space shuttle dock with a half-completed space station. Building and maintaining a home in Space is one Sci Fi dream that is coming true.

Say what you want about ISS, it has given us the experience to build big things in Space. It has also shown how a project can survive through decades of changing administrations and threats to funding. Reaching the Moon and beyond will need a long-term commitment. We will be required to maintain permanent homes at ever-greater distances from Earth.

There is an argument for skipping the Moon and heading straight for Mars. However we reach Mars, it should be to establish a permanent presence. Building a Moon outpost first will give us experience settling another world while staying within a few days of Earth. Travelling to Mars presents many unknowns that will need to be solved. Progress can be slow, but we are taking the steps needed to move into Space.


The constellation Sagittarius, 8000 light-years away, imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. Until recently it was thought that just one star lies in the centre of this maelstrom. Now it is theorised there are three, each with 100 times the mass of our Sun. The matter that we see is just 4.507034% of mass. The hidden mass is responsible for sculpting those immense pillars. There is far more to our Universe than meets the eye.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Nene Encounter!

Hawaii's State bird is also endangered and extremely rare. Most Nenes live in captivity, like these we keep in Waikoloa Village. They are bred here in hopes of returning them to the wild. Occasionally Nenes are seen in their natural habitat. I was very fortunate to meet this one on a trail outside Volcanoes National Park. If you see one, don't try to feed it. That might get them in the habit of running at cars, very bad for the species.

To discover new and unusual life forms is part of our nature, encouraged by childhood trips to the zoo. The vast majority of science fiction deals in one way or another with aliens. Nearly every human being is interested in the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. The instinct to discover new life drives us to explore other worlds.

UPDATE: August Pfluger's expedition to the Yangtze has concluded after finding no trace of the Baiji. The white dolphin will be declared officially extinct.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Big Island Wake

The Big Island photographed from the space shuttle. To the left is Maui and at top is the Northwest coast including Hilo. The Pacific Trade Winds travel from East to West. The shadow to the left, poking above the clouds with a clear view of Space, is Mauna Kea. Another reason this is such a good observing site is because the air arrives "clean" without turbulence from another land mass.

Clouds pile up along the coast like waves against a ship's prow, then part to leave an island wake. Hilo is the wettest city in the US, with over 100 inches per year. It is a gardenlike setting surrounded by streams and waterfalls. As seen earlier, Kilauea Volcano is surrounded by rain forests. They compete with lava fields as Pele battles her sister Namaka. The lee side of the island, where most of the resorts are located, is nearly dry. The Big Island has over 20 different biomes, everything you could want from jungle to desert.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

In the Lagoon

In Kealakekua Bay Captain Cook's blood was spilled. The bay has blossomed with sea life, including a pod of Spinner Dolphins. There is also a place in Queensland where dolphins swim so close to shore that you can reach out and feed them. The focus of my research has been an animal I've not been able to take a good picture of, the Sperm Whale.

Unlike most great whales, which feed on shrimp and krill, the Sperm Whale enjoys calamari. His favourite dish is that most tenacious of sea beasts, the giant squid. With their nest of tentacles and parrotlike beak, they are not easy prey. The giant squid lurk in the perpetual night of the ocean bottom.

The Sperm Whale can dive to 3000 meters, deeper than a nuclear submarine. To locate a discrete target in total darkness, the whale has an enormous forehead containing an oil reservoir. This allows the whale to send out low frequency sound signals to better penetrate the ocean. Oil in the reservoir has a lower speed of sound than the surrounding water. Sound signals are thereby focused to produce a tight beam.

Sperm Whale choose to hunt the most difficult prey of all. They have been found with scars and sucker marks from titanic battles with squid. They have also fought the most dangerous predator of all. Whalers hunted the Sperm Whale for that enormous reservoir of oil. Then there was Captain Ahab. Despite the enmity of humans and squid, Sperm Whales persist in their hunt.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Dolphin Tales

All wet again: The Island allows one to be close to mountains and sea. A dolphin I've been watching has been expecting for some time. (Their gestation period is 12 months.) I was hoping to give some happy news, but the calf was stillborn this week. Unfortunately that happens to dolphins too. It is very sad, but the dolphins are taking it better than the humans.

My friend is 9 feet long and weighs about 500 pounds. The round forehead, which we call the melon, is shaped that way to transmit sound signals. Those signals are received via the beak, which allows dolphins to determine echo direction. The forehead is filled with a waxy substance. From observations of dolphins this physicist has theorised that the sperm whale's huge oil reservoir, which also occupies the forehead, aids in low-frequency sonar.

An expedition led by millionaire August Pfluger is searching China's Yangtze River for the Baiji, a white dolphin that may already be extinct. The Baiji first moved into the Yangtze about 20 million years ago, one of the oldest dolphin species. In the muddy river waters they developed an elongated snout to better locate sonar echoes. The Yangtze was once home to elephants, alligators, sturgeon and abundant wildlife. Today uncontrolled development has made the river a dead zone, unable even to support fish. In 1997 there were estimnated to be just 17 Baiji left. Pfluger and comapany may find none today.

Dolphins have been sited in the Thames since the 1980's. The Western world has moved beyond industrialisation and become more mindful of the Earth. The Chinese Alligator and Yangtze River Sturgeon are endangered. China's price for rapid industrialisation may be the loss of species.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Slow Road to Mars

The shuttle Discovery couldn't quite launch yesterday because of weather, but they will try again Saturday. NASA has just announced evidence for recent water on Mars (much better than the evidence for "dark energy"). Photo on the left was taken in 1999, and the right photo shows a flow that wasn't there before. The cliffside at top shows evidence of erosion. Water means life.

The 1960's show THUNDERBIRDS had the first Mars landing in the year 2065. Back then that must have seemed silly; at the rate they were progressing people would be walking Mars by the 1980's. Present plans have the Mars mission no earlier than 2029, though that might be delayed or even cancelled. It is a great disappointment that my generation has been stuck in low Earth orbit. Many times I have seen Mars in the sky, and thought like John Carter that one could reach out and touch it. Evidence for water and life on another world might be just a short trip away.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Hole in the Earth

Now there's a book title! Here are some more photos to illustrate the last week's posts. Above is Pu'u Huluhulu, or "shaggy mound." Below is Mauna Ulu, which is still steaming. Note how rough the terrain is here.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Thinking of a Prince

What the mind thinks of atop a volcano. We've all read Antoine de Saint-Exupery's THE LITTLE PRINCE. Saint-Exupery was an aviator before becoming a writer too. The Little Prince lived on a planet so tiny you could walk around it. His planet had many volcanoes which he frequently had to clean out. Could such a place exist?

A typical primordial singularity has the mass of about 10^11 kg. If you trapped it in a box one meter wide and stood on the box, would you get sucked in? Think about it: gravitational acceleration is GM/r^2. Newton's G is 6.67 x 10^{-11} and r^2 is just 1 in MKS units. The acceleration you feel from the Black Hole one meter away is just 6.67 m/sec^2, or only 2/3 of what you feel from Earth!

Suppose you are suicidal, open the box and reach in. As soon as your fingertip touches the singularity, the first gram of you is converted into the energy of a small atomic explosion. The rest of you is blown sky high, easily reaching escape velocity and never seeing the Black Hole again. You couldn't get sucked up if you wanted to.

The Little Prince's planet has a radius on the order of 10 metres, made of about 10^7 kg of rock gathered around a tiny singularity at the centre. It has enough surface gravity that the Little Prince can walk around it without falling off. Radiation from the singularity would create many volcanoes for him to tend to. The infant Earth was once a tiny planetesimal about this size. Perhaps our world was like that of the Little Prince.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Treacherous Ground

I spent Sunday solo hiking 8 km to Mauna Ulu and back. The ground here is extremely treacherous. The flows of this surrrealistic landscape hide thousands of hollow lava tubes. One wrong step and you could fall right through. Experiences like this are a reminder that life is as fragile. How was your day?

Kilauea in the Rain

Above is Kilauea Iki crater. The summit of Kilauea is flanked by rain forests, emphasis on rain. This place is very wet in December. Groundwater is boiled and billows as steam from thousands of vents, like the Steaming Bluffs below. This is a battle between water and heat.

As the Pacific Plate slides over a volcanic hotspot, the Hawaiian Islands formed starting with Kauai in the Northwest. In turn each island rose from the sea spouting flame, with the Big Island as the latest. Somehow the native Hawaiians knew this and incorporated this journey into mythology.

The fire goddess Pele fought many battles with her sister Namaka-o-Kaha'i. Pele first sought refuge in Kauai, but Namaka quenched Pele's fire with waves and water. Their battles raged from island to island. Atop Mauna Kea the sisters fought their greatrest battle before Namka froze Pele out with a blanket of snow. Kilauea is Pele's last home.

The first thought of many is that a tiny singularity could somehow suck up the Earth. It consumes no more mass than most people eat. That tiny diet, converted into Hawking radiation, generates Earth's core heat. Outward radiation pressure balances gravity's inward pull. With the surface area of a pinhole, the singularity could not swallow a planet. Fire and pressure have battled until an equilibrium is achieved.

Watch This Space

I have reached an Inn with internet access, so some photos of Kilauea will be posted here.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Volcano

Aloha! In the past week I've travelled back to Kilauea Volcano on our Big Island, and have been staying on top. Conditions are a bit rough, and the weather is rainy. Sorry that communications are so bad, but even cel phones don't work up here.

Words can not describe this place, but I will try. The Big Island is built atop 3 main volcanic summits. Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain on Earth when measured from its base. Mauna Loa and Kilauea have both been recently active. All three are shield volcanoes similiar to those on Venus and Mars.

The huge main caldera of Kilauea is stable enough to hike inside. The smaller Halemaumau Crater within is considered the home of Madame Pele, and is still hot. The most recent eruption come from the Pu'u O'o vent. Lava from this vent travels in subsurface tubes to reach the sea. Our Big Island is getting bigger each day!

The volcanoes which created Hawaii are intimately connected with physics and cosmology. The source of Eath's core heat is a tiny singularity, no bigger than a grain of sand but weighing as much as a moon. It is far too tiny to suck us up, and in fact eats no more mass than a typical human. That small amount, converted into radiation, has kept Earth's core hot for billions of years.

Old books told us that the heat comes from "radioactive decay." The evidence against that is all around me. Hawaiian soil is red, indicating a high iron content. The islands slowly travel across a "hot spot" originating near the core-mantle boundary 3600 km below. The iron-rich Hawaiian lava originates near the core, for the mantle contains almost no iron.

Earth's core has a temperature in thousands of degrees, hot enough to melt rock. If you go into the field and find the most radioactive samples you can find, they are not about to melt. Those samples come from the crust, which is richer in radioactive elements than either mantle or core. The concentration or radioactive elements is too sparse to melt rock.

The only way to melt those rocks is in a chain reaction. That occurs very rarely, as in the Oklo uranium mine or when humans build a reactor. The most common radioactive elements, like Potassium 40, would have decayed by now. The old hypothesis of radioactive decay simply does not hold water. A small singularity would keep the core hot indefinitely.

Presence of a singularity also explains Earth's magnetic field, and why that field is independent of the geographic poles. The singularity also explains how Earth and other bodies coalesced from a promordial cloud of gas. Particles of the infant solar system were far too tiny to assemble themselves into protoplanets. Earth formed around a tiny singularity as a pearl forms around a grain of sand.

Pearls, volcanoes, telescopes, coral reefs and cosmology are all connected. The Big Island is a fascinating place.
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