Sunday, September 30, 2007

Burma Protest

Bloggers in Burma are under intense assault for the crime of reporting the truth. Reports have thousands of protesters dead. Out of sympathy and solidarity, this message is posted. How to participate:

1. Copy the following post to your blog, including this special number: 1081081081234ia

2. After a few days, you can search Google for the number 1081081081234ia to find all blogs that are participating in this protest and petition.

Text below the fold:

The situation in Burma is increasingly dangerous. Hundreds of thousands of unarmed peaceful protesters, including monks and nuns, are risking their lives to march for democracy against an unpopular but well-armed military dictatorship that will stop at nothing to continue its repressive rule. While the generals in power and their families are literally dripping in gold and diamonds, the people of Burma are impoverished, deprived of basic human rights, cut off from the rest of the world, and increasingly under threat of violence.

This week the people of Burma have risen up collectively in the largest public demonstrations against the ruling Junta in decades. It’s an amazing show of bravery, decency, and democracy in action. But although these protests are peaceful, the military rulers are starting to crack down with violence. Already there have been at least several reported deaths, and hundreds of critical injuries from soldiers beating unarmed civilians to the point of death.

The actual fatalities and injuries are probably far worse, but the only news we have is coming from individuals who are sneaking reports past the authorities. Unfortunately it looks like a large-scale blood-bath may ensue — and the victims will be mostly women, children, the elderly and unarmed monks and nuns.

Contrary to what the Burmese, Chinese and Russian governments have stated, this is not merely a local internal political issue, it is an issue of global importance and it affects the global community. As concerned citizens, we cannot allow any government anywhere in the world to use its military to attack and kill peacefully demonstrating, unarmed citizens.

In this modern day and age violence against unarmed civilians is unacceptable and if it is allowed to happen, without serious consequences for the perpetrators, it creates a precedent for it to happen again somewhere else. If we want a more peaceful world, it is up to each of us to make a personal stand on these fundamental issues whenever they arise.

Please join me in calling on the Burmese government to negotiate peacefully with its citizens, and on China to intervene to prevent further violence. And please help to raise awareness of the developing situation in Burma so that hopefully we can avert a large-scale human disaster there.

UPDATE: Now we know that footage of journalist Kenji Nagai's shooting death was first sent to Robert McMillen of Santa Monica College, California. Professor McMillen then uploaded the video to, which allowed the world to see it. Bloggers can and have made a difference in the world. A friend's message has been added to this post.


Radio Burst

Today's information age allows some astronomy to be done from a desktop. Projects like the Sloan Digital Sky Survey produce enormous databases. Sometimes, as was the case with WMAP, the data is jealously guarded so that the gatherers can impose their own interpretation. Ideally, all researchers are free to dig at their convenience. Sometimes mining old data can lead to a new discovery.

By searching archived data from 2001, radio astronomers have uncovered a powerful new type of radio burst. The original survey examined the Small Magellanic Cloud for repeating bursts of pulsars. The 2001 survey missed this burst, which lasted only 5 milliseconds. Because of its offset location, the burst is interpreted to come form far away, 3 billion light years. the discovery was reported in the September 27 issue of Science Express.

Source of this burst is still a mystery. Many scientists have theorised that intergalactic Space is full of unseen objects like Black Holes. Normally invisible, Black Holes would occasionally evaporate in brief bursts of radiation. The death of a Black Hole would look very much like this.

This week Carnival of Space looks at the art of Space.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Images of a New Space Age

This updated video is still subject to change. The Lunar Surface Access Module, in particular, is still in concept stage. That is a long ladder climb to the surface, so watch out for that first step! If the payload diameter of Atlas V is increased, the lander could be built lower to the ground. One reason the LSAM is so big is that it must perform the Lunar Orbit Insertion burn. If the lander dropped a stage during descent, it could be built even smaller.

At the Chicago ICES meeting, this scientist had the pleasure of talking with astronaut Michael Gernhardt. At the Space 2007 meeting in Long Beach, Gernhardt talked right after Laurie Leshin. He showed designs of pressurised rovers that would be about the size of the open rover but much more comfortable. Those spacesuits still look very bulky! Gernhardt showed graphic photos of broken nails and other injuries from spacesuits. NASA wishes to minimise the time spent in uncomfortable suits.

On the far side of the world, Michael Griffin spoke at the International Astronomical Congress in Hyderabad. In October 1957, Sputnik changed the world forever. Griffin said that by 2057 we should be celebrating 20 years on Mars, indicating that the landing may wait until 2037. Even today's undergrads will be middle-aged. Watch those primary school children, they may be first to Mars.

Below is animation of the Orion logo by a STAR TREK consultant. The original Space Age inspired all kinds of creativity. In film it inspired favourites from DESTINATION MOON to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. The James Bond series and even I DREAM OF JEANNIE started with the Space Race. Who knows what will be inspired by a new Space Age? We can hardly wait to see!

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Science on the Moon

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space 2007 meeting was held last week in Long Beach, Califonria. Thursday a tag team of NASA personnel made a long presentation on lunar science. Laurie Leshin of GSFC spoke about "Science Capability on the Moon." Her opening points:

The Moon Presents Compelling Science Opportunities!

* Bombardment of the Earth-Moon system: Consequences for the emergence of life

* Lunar surface and interior processes and history

* Scientific treasure in the permanently shadowed lunar polar environment

* Regolith as recorder of the Sun's history

Expanding on the last point, scientists have been clueless whether the Sun's luminosity has been constant. Theories of astrophysics say that life should not exist on Earth at all! According to models when the Solar System was forming the Sun was only 75% as luminous. Earth's average temperature was 15 degrees below zero centigrade, frozen solid. This can't be correct, because geology shows signs of sedimentation and liquid water 4 billion years ago. Paleontology dates the earliest organisms at least 3.4 and possibly 4 billion years. Clearly liquid water and life existed when the model says Earth was an ice cube.

While Earth's surface has been churned by erosion, the lunar surface has rocks nearly as old as the Solar System. By examining a large enough sample of regolith, we can determine the lunar temperature history. Since the Moon has no atmosphere, its temperature is unaffected by greenhouse gases. The Moon can therefore help determine how brightly the Sun has shone over billions of years.

As readers of this blog know, speed of light c is related to age t of the Universe by GM = tc^3. The Sun turns its fuel to energy according to E = mc^2. Because c in the past was higher, instead of 75% the Sun was nearly as bright as today. Calculated over Solar System history, the upward curve of solar luminosity becomes a nearly level line. If c had not changed in precisely the amounts predicted, life would not have evolved on Earth.

The Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment left by Apollo revealed an anomaly in the Moon's orbit. According to LLRE the Moon is receding at 3.82 cm/yr. Geology and the fossil record tell more precisely how the Moon's orbit has changed. These markers say that recession is only 2.9 cm/yr. Small discrepancies in planetary orbits can be very significant. Mercury's orbit precesses at 5600 arcsec per century, yet a difference of only 43 arcsec per century was enough to verify General Relativity. If the Moon appears to recede 1/3 faster than geology says, it is a serious anomaly.

If the speed of light is slowly changing, that will increase the time for light to return, making the Moon appear to recede faster. The amount of yearly change is 0.935 cm/yr, precisely accounting for the anomaly. Solar luminosity and the lunar orbit are truly independent verifications of a changing speed of light.

The Moon offers many, many opportunities for science. These relate to the conditions for life and other important questions. By exploring the Moon, we can truly determine whether the solar constant is really constant. Discovery of a Lunar Orbit Anomaly indicates a changing speed of light. Many more surprises await those going where none has dared go before.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Weinberg Right and Wrong

With Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow, Stephen Weinberg won the 1979 Nobel Prize for work on electroweak interactions. This theory unifies the electromagnetic and weak forces. Though the key element of the Higgs boson has not yet been found, enough of the theory was verified to award Weinberg a trip to Sweden. Like this scientist, Weinberg was invited to speak at Imperial College this year. He cancelled because of "a widespread anti-Israel and anti-Semitic current in British public opinion."

He wrote: "I know that some will say that these boycotts are directed only against Israel, rather than generally against Jews. But given the history of the attacks on Israel and the oppressiveness and aggressiveness of other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, boycotting Israel indicated a moral blindness for which it is hard to find any explanation other than anti-Semitism."

Weinberg knew what some of us find out the hard way, the UK is being overrun by misogyny and anti-Semitism. In today's world, Ahmadinejad can fly anywhere he wants to speak, while the rest of us are harassed by "security." The sort of hatred that led to WW2 is alive and thriving. The centre has moved to the Middle East, hidden behind a different religion, infiltrated into Britain to undermine it from within.

This scientist fondly remembers reading Weinberg's "The First Three Minutes" as a child. While Weinberg's contributions to physics have been valuable, his textbook "Gravitation and Cosmology" has led to many misconceptions. This old (1972) book repeats the absurdity that h = c = 1. By trying to cancel out the value of c, it lets people ignore that the speed of light may change. Nearly every physics grad student has been forced to use this book, spreading its errors around the world. The examples of Nige on SU(2) x SU(3) and Carl Brannen on particle masses show that newer and more predictive theories need their turn.

Weinberg knows that the Beyond Einstein programme and "dark energy" are still in trouble. Originally a decision was to be announced Sept 8 with an announcement by Michael Griffin Sept 9. Silence by NASA's top brass is making scientists nervous. Having lived through the debacle of the Superconducting Super Collider, Weinberg has decided to diss the entire human spaceflight program. Someone please tell him that the SSC had nothing to do with NASA's budget.

At a "dark energy" workshop in Baltimore, Weinberg went beyond: "The international space station is an orbital turkey. No important science has come out of it. I could almost say no science has come out of it. And I would go beyond that and say that the whole manned spaceflight program, which is so enormously expensive, has produced nothing of scientific value."

Weinberg ignores the fact that ISS is uncompleted and its laboratory life has yet to begin. He neglects the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, an experiment that will explore higher energies than any Earthly accelerator. The AMS is still sitting in a clean room and desperately needs to fly on ISS. Support by another Nobel winner for AMS would be a big help.

"The whole manned spaceflight program...has produced nothing of scientific value" is completely unsupported. Human spaceflight has inspired development of products too numerous to describe. The Earthrise photo from Apollo 8 (above) inspired the modern environmental movement. Discovery of a Lunar Orbit Anomaly by Apollo is more evidence for a changing speed of light. If not for Apollo, scientists would still not have a clue how our Moon formed. The Hubble Space Telescope could not have accomplished its mission without being serviced by humans. A statement like that in front of the Space Telescope Science Institute discredits the speaker.

One can not argue that Shuttle/ISS costs too much and does not return enough science. Despite many missteps, human spaceflight has support from young and old, left and right. Humans have an instinctive desire to fly and to explore. You can not imagine the reaction people have toward someone in a spacesuit! Most of the public hasn't heard of "dark energy," much less cared about it. Weinberg's stand on anti-Semitism is laudable, but even a Nobel Prize holder can be out of line.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Neptune Hot Spot!

Way back at the 2005 AGU Meeting, someone suggested that Enceladus' polar "hot spot" could be repeated in other worlds, even Saturn herself. Just this June 15, this blog reported that Tethys and Dione are hot too, as predicted. Using the European Southern Observatory Very Large Telescope in Chile, astronomers have discovered yet another "hot spot." Neptune's South Pole is markedly warmer than the rest of the planet.

The upper left image was taken at a wavelength of about 17.6 microns, and shows temperatures in the troposphere. The South Pole is warmer than the rest of the surface by 10 degrees Celsius. Saturn's hot spot is also most visible at 17.6 microns. Lower two images, taken 6.3 hours apart, show temperatures in the stratosphere. Here the hottest area rotates around the pole. The ESO Press Release attributes this heating to the Sun.

When a significant discovery is made, observers will often come up with a half-baked explanation. If premature conclusions are not examined critically, they might find their way into textbooks. As on Saturn, the Uranus hot spot is concentrated within a few degrees of the pole. If the Sun caused polar hot spots, Earth's warmest region would be the poles not the tropics. Polar hot spots on Enceladus have no relation to the Sun. Analogs from other worlds hint that the heat source probably comes from within.

Neptune's upper atmosphere contains methane, which causes the planet to appear blue. However, most of the atmosphere is hydrogen and helium. Methane's freezing point is -182.5 degrees C, but Neptune's atmosphere has a temperature of -200 degrees. How CH4 can exist in the atmosphere, where it should be frozen into liquid, has been a mystery. The hot spot provides a mechanism to transport methane from a warmer interior. Methane issues from deep within Earth--recently astronomers have found that Titan also creates methane. Production of hydrocarbons also requires an internal source of heat.

Astronomers have never adequately explained how planets began forming at all. Since Pierre Laplace, we have used the theory that the Solar System collapsed from a gaseous nebula. However, gas particles colliding at orbital speed will not stick together unless those particles have the mass of mountains. Something else is needed to start planet formation, internal heat and magnetic fields.

Most physicists believe that the Big Bang created billions of tiny Black Holes. These typically had the mass of mountains in a volume smaller than a proton. If a few of these tiny holes collided with a gas cloud, their gravity would gather material around them. The Black Holes were too tiny to suck everything up, but the small amount they did eat gave off radiation which opposed gravity's inward pull. Eventually the Sun was orbited by many balls of rock and gas with warm cores, the beginnings of planets.

The Black Holes are still there, hidden within planetary cores. The tiny amount of matter that they consume is far less than the planets gain through meteor collisions. This small diet, converted into heat, would produce internal heat. Some of the Black Holes rotate, dragging some of the core with them. This rotation could power the dynamo of a magnetic field.

Like most of the planets, Uranus rotates anti-clockwise as seen from the North. Radiation from the core would turn gas into electrons and positively charged ions. A magnetic field is formed with the "positive" pole in the South. A Black Hole's magnetic field drives charged particles into polar jets. The Northern jet is composed of electrons which are absorbed by the atmosphere. The Southern jet is composed of heavier ions which penetrate the atmosphere to warm the South Pole.

Neptune's hot spot adds to similiar discoveries on Saturn and moons like Enceladus. Discovery of internal heat on many worlds hints at something hidden within. Heat from a Black Hole may be the origin of earthquakes, volcanoes, our islands and continents. A magnetic field guides compass needles and protects life from the radiation of Space. The possible role of Black Holes connects cosmology with the planet we live on. There is far more within planets than meets the eye.

More Space news at the new Carnival of Space.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Arthur Clarke on Iapetus

On September 10 our Cassini spacecraft made the closest flyby yet of the mysterious moon Iapetus, passing within 1640 kilometres. Cassini previously flew by Iapetus in December 2004. This close flyby brought a video greeting from none other than Sir Arthur Clarke. In 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (the novel, not the movie) Iapetus was location of the alien stargate.

(Just before receiving his knighthood, Sir Arthur was subject to ridiculous rumours about his personal life. Jealousy toward great astronomers may be a constant of the Universe. Since Clarke no longer leaves Sri Lanka, the Prince of Wales travelled there to present the honour personally.)

From Iapetus' discovery by Giovanni Cassini in 1671, astronomers have known that one side reflects many times more light than the other. In this closeup of the equatorial mountains, we see white snow alternating with some unknown darker materiel. Some process, possibly internal, may be restocking the dark stuff. Giovanni Cassini also deduced that one side of Iapetus always faces Saturn.

The moon has a slightly squashed shape, about 1496 km wide at the equator but only 1425 km measured pole-pole. Most mysterious, an immense ridge 13 km high extends around the equator. (Mauna Kea summit on Earth is only 10 km above the ocean floor.) This may be the result of a surrounding disk of matter that gradually fell to the surface. Because of its inclined orbit and distance from other bodies, Iapetus has a large Roche sphere to form a ring.

Recently a mysterious source of charged particles was discovered orbiting Saturn in a Clarke geosynchronous orbit. Iapetus' density is almost exactly that of frozen water, 1.083 gm/cc. This suggest that Iapetus is mostly ice with a few minerals mixed in. If the dark material coating Iapetus is renewed internally, that would indicate vulcanism and an internal source of heat. Iapetus' 1.8 x 10^{21} kg mass could easily contain a small singularity. Heat coming from within a small moon is one sign of a Black Hole.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007


The Pioneer spacecraft gave us a first glimpse from the outer Solar System. Pioneer 10 was launched March 3, 1972 and encountered Jupiter in December 1973. Its last weak signal was received in 2003, as it headed for interstellar Space. Pioneer 11, launched April 6, 1973; flew by Jupiter in December 1974. This spacecraft then used the Jupiter's gravitational field to slingshot toward a Saturn encounter on September 1, 1979. Last communication with Pioneer 11 was in November, 1995. The two spacecraft are headed in different directions--Pioneer 10 toward Aldebaran and Pioneer 11 toward the constellation Aquila. They carry the famous plaque designed by Carl Sagan. Signals from the Solar System's outer reaches led to the mysterious Pioneer anomaly.

According to radio Doppler data, both Pioneers show a constant sunward acceleration of 8.74 x 10^{-10} meters per second-squared. Interest is slowly growing in this anomaly. Possible sources of systematic error have been accounted for and the acceleration is still there. Presently the archived data is being examined even closer to see if this effect is really sunward or Earth-centred. An error is still possible, so resolution of this issue may have to await better data. Though Voyager 1 has ventured further, that spacecraft is not spin-stabilised and can not corroborate the anomaly. Data from another Space mission may be needed.

For this article we will assume that the effect is real. The problem can be simply explained by inferring that "dark" mass in the Solar System is affecting Pioneer. Data from these spacecraft could indicate density of this mass and how it is distributed. The most important clue is that the acceleration appears to be constant. Gravitational acceleration a is:

a = GM r^{-2}

If mass were distributed spherically, as in the galaxy, mass distribution would be given by: M = $4 \pi \rho$/3 r^{3}. Acceleration a would then be a multiple of r and not constant. If mass were distributed in a disk, we would have:

M = $4 \pi \rho$r^{2}

Now the "r's" cancel out and we have constant acceleration:

a = $4 \pi G \rho $

We can quickly find the density of this mass distribution:

$\rho $= a/$4 \pi G$ = (8.74 x 10^{-10})/[$4 \pi $ (6.67 x 10^{-11})]

$\rho $= 1.04 kg per square meter

Such a disk-shaped mass distribution is not out of the question, since humans know very little about the outer Solar System. Observations of the visible planets and a few probes like Pioneer provide the only data. Recently we have discovered that Pluto is just one of many planet-like objects outside Neptune's orbit. There is far more out there than meets the eye.

We can consider the possibility of primordial Black Holes. The typical mass of such objects is about 10^{12} kg. That is approximately the mass of Uluru (Ayers Rock) in a volume smaller than a proton! We would have approximately one such object per area of 1 million square kilometres. This is about one Uluru mass per area the size of Australia.

Would a Pioneer in the outer Solar System be likely to encounter a Black Hole? Though it is visible for many kilometres, one can spend an entire lifetime in Australia and never see Uluru. A Black Hole's gravitational influence is actually quite small--if you were just 2.6 metres from a 10^{12} kg Black Hole, you would feel no more gravitational pull than you feel at Earth's surface. You could wander an Australia-sized area for a lifetime, and the probability of falling into a Black Hole's influence would be less than the chance of stumbling into Hugh Jackman's bedroom!

If an unseen disk of Black Holes exists, they would not add significantly to the Solar System mass. If this distribution were extended into our neighbourhood, dark mass within Earth's orbit would be only 3.2 x 10^{23} kg. That is negligible compared to the known mass. Earth alone has a mass of 5.98 x 10^{24} kg, and the Sun has a mass over 10^{30} kg. Since Black Holes would be so difficult to find, only the effect of the entire distribution can be detected by Pioneer.

A distribution of "dark mass" is just one idea. Interest in the Pioneer Anomaly has led to many other theories including modified gravity and even changes in the speed of light. (Where have we heard about varying c before?) At present a systematic error is still a possibility. The anomaly is still a fascinating mystery that may point to new physics.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Princess of the Moon

The largest Moon spacecraft since Apollo has successfully launched atop an H-2A booster. The mission consists of a large orbiter and two micro-satellites. Kaguya, Princess of the Moon, is the oldest Japanese folk narrative. From ancient times to Sailor Moon, our satellite has been part of the Japanese consciousness. Like Apollo, Kaguya will return photos of Earth rising in Space.

In 1970 Japan was the third country to independently launch a satellite. Since then the Japanese Space programme languished. Two failures of the H-2 booster in the 1990's set them back further. (When China suffered a launch failure in 1996, they somehow received American help to build better missiles.) In 2003 the Space agency was re-organised as JAXA, with ambitious plans for the Moon. We should remember that Japan is still the world's second-largest economy and will be until about 2020.

China has also announced a lunar orbiter for this year, though it has not successfully launched. At an IAU meeting in Bali Chinese scientists told me they were planning a lunar landing this year. The lander has been delayed until at least 2010, and Japan may beat them to it. China plans a human EVA in '008, but they lack a Neutral Buoyancy Facility for training. Asia is witnessing a new Space Race.

Google has announced a 30 million US prize to land a lunar rover by 2012. They stipulate beaming back 1 GB of data. I will humbly suggest that the International Lunar Observatory design atop a Dniepr booster could easily be modified for a rover. The Sojourner Mars rover is an excellent starting point. As with SpaceShip One, the biggest advantage is having deep pockets. Best wishes to Japan, China and Google because a little competition is good.

The Shanghai World Financial Centre, which was financed by a Japanese tycoon, has just topped out at 1,614 feet. Mainland China's tallest building has not quite matched the 1,667-foot Taipei 101 across the strait. Both of them have been surpassed by the Burj Dubai (below) which is still rising. New York's Freedom Tower will be 1,776 feet if they ever get around to building it.

At one time any American would proudly point to the Empire State building as the world's tallest. Even King Kong could find it! Today most Americans could not tell you where the tallest building stands. Even fewer could tell that Chongqing (Chungking) with 32 million inhabitants is the world's largest city. In a race for Space or a race for ideas, one wonders if the West even cares anymore. The many private Space companies give hope that the pioneer spirit survives.

More Space news at the Carnival of Space!


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Small Galaxies

Small dark galaxies have been found surrounding our Milky Way. Since Fritz Zwicky in the 1930's, astronomers have suspected that galaxies are surrounded by hidden mass. Astronomer Vera Rubin reached a similiar conclusion based upon galaxy rotation rates. Theorists have believed that the galaxy is surrounded by hundreds of smaller galaxies. Since these are not visible, it was suggested that the dwarf galaxies are made entirely of dark mass.

Earlier this year astronomers reported on VIRGO H121, a Dark Galaxy. This galaxy could be found found only from its radio emissions. When VIRGO H121 was first noticed back in 2000, the astronomy community was very skeptical. Sometimes a new observation takes years to be accepted.

The dark halo surrounding our galaxy holds many dicoveries. Just one month ago astronomers found a Pulsar in Galactic Halo. Like pulsars within the galaxy, this object gives off rotating beams of radiation like a lighthouse. A pulsar's energy source has been a mystery, but the twin jets are like those given off by a Black Hole.

The dwarf galaxies were originally located using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Further observations with our Keck II telescope on Mauna Kea. These galaxies are 10,000 times smaller than the Milky Way. Since mass of the galaxies is 100 times greater than that of the stars alone, there must be further dark mass in their vicinity. Astronomers now believe that hundreds of these dark galaxies surround our Milky Way.

These results will be reported in the November 10 issue of Astrophysical Journal. Because these are distinct from dwarf galaxies, they have been nicknamed "hobbit galaxies." Will there be elf galaxies and orc galaxies?

Since every galaxy contains at its centre a massive Black Hole, it is logical to infer that dark galaxies contain them too. Hundreds of dark galaxies could signal thousands of Black Holes in the galactic halo. There could be still more surrounding the dwarf galaxies. Presence of Black Holes would also explain formation of globular clusters. Our Milky Way could be surrounded by a halo of Black Holes.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007


New York's Ground Zero in my camera July 14, 2007

Sometimes a scientist just has to speak up. In the hubbub over terrorism, some bloggers have noted (but media and sciencebloggers have ignored) that the terrorist video is a fabrication. The performer is wearing the same Persian-style clothes worn in a 2004 video. This should make one doubt whether the bearded man is alive. Some good commentary and the offending video have been posted on the (left leaning) Booman Tribune.

"Osama Bin Laden's widely publicized video address to the American people has a peculiarity that casts serious doubt on its authenticity: the video freezes at about 1 minute and 58 seconds, and motion only resumes again at 12:30. The video then freezes again at 14:02 remains frozen until the end. All references to current events, such as the 62nd anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Japan, and Sarkozy and Brown being the leaders of France and the UK, respectively, occur when the video is frozen! The words spoken when the video is in motion contain no references to contemporary events and could have been (and likely were) made before the U.S. invasion of Iraq."

The blogger concludes that another voice is dubbed over an old image. A similiar trick is used at Disney's Twilight Zone Tower of Terror to make Rod Serling appear to introduce the ride. Kermit the Frog is today voiced by Jim Henson's talented son, who is close enough to fool voiceprints. The bearded man has a son who is also hidden in Iran. Intel agencies ought to pick up on this, if they are serious about catching terrorists.

Depending upon political affiliation one can imagine that the video is a terrorist effort to keep the brand alive, an attempt by government to keep the war going, or someone's way of embarassing political opponents. It is hard to believe such a crude video was made in the US, where software is available to make the lips move. Individuals should do their own analysis, deciding what is real and what is not. People of any political persuasion can agree that the video is fake.

Another video was released today, September 11. It consists of a still in the same clothes with someone's voice dubbed over. We have become used to determining what is real. One must conclude that the bearded man is one bit of "dark energy" that no longer exists.

UPDATE: Since the original video makes no mention of Operation Iraqi Freedom, it must date no later than March 2003. No video exists that can be dated past Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001. The bearded man died either during that attack or within a few months. His image is kept alive to keep the brand name going and embarass the US.


Monday, September 10, 2007


Every galaxy like our Milky Way contains at its centre a massive Black Hole. Astronomers have found these supermassive Black Holes at redshifts of Z = 6, formed less than 500 million years after the Big Bang. Theories of Black Hole formation from stars can not account for these massive objects. This development was predicted by a brief paper back in 2004. Stuffing a lot of information into a short paper is not easy, but we have:

"Another exciting prospect is the formation of large-scale singularities. Primordial Black Holes are an acknowldedged consequence of density fluctuations, their size limited only by the horizon distance. There is growing consensus that large Black Holes accompanied early evolution of quasars and galaxies. Theory provides an origin to these structures. The horizon allowed density fluctuations to form singularities with a large range of masses. These massive Black Holes would have seeded the formation of clusters, galaxies, and possibly objects within galaxies."

Last week Dr. Mitchell Begelman from University of Colorado published Did Supermassive Black Holes Form By Direct Collapse?

"Despite years of study, we still do not know how the seeds of supermassive black holes formed. Few if any of the pathways in Martin Rees’s famous flowchart (Begelman & Rees 1978) can be ruled out, but none of the routes is particularly well understood, either. What we do know is that some very massive (>10^9 M⊙) black holes had to exist by z∼6 in order to explain early quasars (Fan 2006).

Begelman offers suggestions to how Black Holes could form directly from gravitational collapse without stopping to be matter first. Physicists like Hawking believe that primordial Black Holes formed directly from quantum fluctuations. Size of a primordial singularity is limited by a horizon distance that light can travel. Previously it was thought that PBH's would be tiny because of a small value of c. One way to form Black Holes quickly is with a higher speed of light.

On another topic, a scientist has recent bad experience with what is happening to women in the UK. Carol Gould has written some interesting stories are here and here.


Friday, September 07, 2007

The Day in Saturn

Estimated length of Saturn's day has been revised down to 10 hours 32 minutes. Finding the rotation period of a gas planet is quite difficult. The most recent Cassini estimate last year was 15 minutes longer. This measurement directly affects estimated wind speeds. With the longer estimate, winds appeared to travel hundreds of miles per hour in the same direction around the planet. The shorter day means that winds are much slower and travel both East and West. This corresponds with observations of East-West winds on Jupiter.

Previously in Hot Gas we saw that Saturn's jet streams are driven by rotating eddies originating deep within the atmosphere. Photo below was taken August 31. Transit of Mimas, 397 kilometres in diameter, shows how huge Saturn's spiral storms are. The new estimate of Saturn's day will be published in the September 7 issue of NATURE.

UPDATE: As we have seen before, scientists are not sure how planets began forming. Since the time of Pierre Laplace, most theories involve the Solar System condensing from a disk-shaped cloud of gas. Small planetesimals would have formed from gas particles. However, particles colliding at orbital velocity will not stick together gravitationally unless they have the mass of mountains. Something else is needed to start planet formation.

Scientists believe that the Big Bang created billions of tiny Black Holes. A typical Primordial singularity would have the mass of a mountain yet be smaller than a proton. If a few of these tiny holes collided with a gas cloud, they would immediately attract matter. These singulartiies were far too tiny to suck everything up or even burn hot as a star, but the tiny amount they did eat would generate a large amount of radiation. Eventually there would be a ball of matter with a hot centre, an infant planet. The Black Hole would still be there at the planet's centre.

Saturn and gas giant planets give off far more radiation than they receive from the Sun. This heat powers the many storms seen in the atmosphere. Saturn also has a strong magnetic field creating polar auroras and a mysterious hexagon. Both internal heat and the magnetic field could be produced by a hidden Black Hole. There is far more in the Universe than meets the eye.

This week Universe Today hosts the Carnival of Space!

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Supernova SN 2006dr in galaxy NGC 1288 photographed by the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT). On the night of July 17, 'amateur' astronomer Berto Monard discovered this Type Ia supernova from South Africa. NGC 1288 is 200 million light-years away. The supernova is the bright spot to the left of the galactic centre. Observations of distant Type Ia supernovae have led to the inferrence that the Universe is accelerating relative to the speed of light. ESO Press Release

The committee of the National Research Council has selected two Beyond Einstein missions to take advantage of a funding wedge beginning FY 009. Of the Einstein Great Observatories, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna was selected over Constellation-X. Of the smaller Einstein Probes, a Joint Dark Energy Mission is seen to have the highest priority.

The committee concluded that NASA alone can not provide funding for these missions. Key to the decision was the expected involvement of other agencies, DOE for JDEM and ESA for LISA. NASA's next priority is to select one of the candidate JDEM missions for further funding. There will be continuing funding challenges in the era of the Moon, Mars and Beyond. Solving the 'dark energy' problem is seen to be the most profound mystery in science.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Oceans of Mars?

This could be a great day for the beach, for Southern California is still under a heat wave. The writer has not complained, being air-conditioned all day. Other people, like the crews at FMARS sites, should enjoy such comfort. Hopefully the Mars organizations will take this opportunity.

Saturday we heard from scientist Michael Manga. For decades, researchers have wondered whether Mars once had oceans. The Northern hemisphere displays features that look like ancient coastlines. Manga's team has theorised that Mars was once tilted by 80 degrees compared to today. Some cataclysm of unknown origin toppled the planet on its side.

Manga and his team aren't sure what caused the planet to topple, but they think forces beneath the surface are to blame. In his words, "Source of driving load is unclear." A hidden Black Hole? Mars' lack of heat and magnetic field are not indicative of a Black Hole today, but there may have been one in the past which has since evaporated.

We also heard from Investigator Peter Smith of the Phoenix Mars Lander. That spacecraft successfully launched August 3 and is scheduled to land on Mars May 25, 2008.


Monday, September 03, 2007

Not Dark Energy

The speculation called "dark energy" is subject of more questions in NEW SCIENTIST, Swiss cheese universe challenges dark energy.

"Dark energy may not be needed to explain why the expansion of space appears to be speeding up. If our universe is like Swiss cheese on large scales – with dense regions of matter and holes with little or no matter – it could at least partly mimic the effects of dark energy, suggests a controversial new model of the universe."

As nige has noted, if the Universe is not homogeneous different regions will appear to expand at different rates. If your telescope looked in a direction of lower expansion, the Universe would appear to be accelerating. This adds to many anisotropies seen in the Cosmic Microwave Background. Though this model is very preliminary, physicists Sabino Matarrese and Rocky Kolb have published online On cosmological observables in a swiss cheese universe.

Back in March, NEW SCIENTIST published Is dark energy an illusion?

"The quickening pace of our universe's expansion may not be driven by a mysterious force called dark energy after all, but paradoxically, by the collapse of matter in small regions of space."

Just last week A Hole In the Universe indicated that the Universe is not quite homogeneous, and a cosmology including "dark energy" may be all wrong. The proposed Supernova Acceleration Probe would survey only 15 square degrees of sky before ending its service life. The whole sky has an area of 41,253 square degrees! If SNAP looked at the wrong part of an inhomogeneous sky, it could give researchers the wrong value of cosmic acceleration. Then again, disciples of "dark energy" may already have the wrong idea.

Lawrence Krauss said that supernova data "naively implied that the Universe is accelerating." The inferrence of cosmic acceleration relies on a daisy chain of assumptions, including homogeneity. It especially relies on assumption of a constant speed of light. SNAP/JDEM is subject to a review whose results will be announced Wednesday. With all the outstanding questions about its basic science, it is hard to see how SNAP can supersede projects like Constellation-X.

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Angela Again

For the second year in a row, Forbes Magazine tops its list of most influential women with physicist ANGELA MERKEL, who also happens to be Chancellor of Germany. (Getting a research job is hard, so a woman does what she can.) Merkel was born in the former East Germany, entered politics only after the fall of the Berlin Wall, yet became Germany's youngest postwar chancellor. The magazine particularly cited Merkel's work chairing the Group of Eight summit this year and persuading them to agree on goals for greenhouse emissions. Her work in physical chemistry has prepared her well for a position of leadership. Perhaps she can help steer Europe toward a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Buzz At Mars Society

Big scoop! BUZZ ALDRIN will shortly be joining Jim Benson's SpaceDev!

I've been at the 10th International Mars Society Convention on the UCLA campus. With 100 degree F temperatures in Southern California, it is great to have an air-conditioned suit! Thursday the attendees heard an opening plenary by Robert Zubrin, with additional talks by Elon Musk and Peter Diamandis. Friday's program included Chris McKay, Scott Horowitz and Ares Launch Program Manager Steve Cook. Saturday afternoon I gave a talk on spacesuits, and in the morning was in the front row for Aldrin. (His hat reads ON TO MARS.) He has officially joined the ranks of greybeards, but promises to get a shave by November.

As an American, Dr. Aldrin is very concerned about the "gap" between Shuttle retirement (2010) and Orion (2015, maybe). He let us know that he is joining the #3 COTS team, which we recognise as SpaceDev. The COTS program had been narrowed to SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler. Now that RPK has failed to meet funding targets because they are hard, SpaceDev hopes to fill the gap. They want to build a winged spacecraft based on the HL-20 design atop an Atlas V booster.

Aldrin does not favour a large lunar settlement because "the Moon is not a nice place to stay. Trust me." He thinks we should explore Phobos and Deimos before Mars. After expeditions to asteroids, the Martian moons would be a logical next step. Aldrin pointed out that Phobos' L1 point is only 3.2 km from the surface, an excellent place for a Space station.

Below is one of the analog spacesuits used by the Society at their Mars Desert Research Station. The suit is made of heavy canvas, has no cooling and gets extremely hot in the desert. Many activities are restricted to night and Winter because the suits are so uncomfortable. I hope to assist the Mars Society with a more comfortable climate-controlled suit.

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