Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Another Big Hole

Just 2 weeks ago a Black Hole was discovered in galaxy M33 with 16 times the mass of the Sun. Like the video, object M33 X-7 orbits a companion star in a violent dance. The star passes between the BH and Earth every 3 days, eclipsing the former's X-ray emissions. This was the first known binary system where that occured, allowing astronomers a rare chance to measure mass. This discovery is in the October 17 issue of NATURE.

Previously it was thought that stellar mass Black Holes could weigh no more than 10 solar masses. In the November 1 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters, scientists announce discovery of a Black Hole of at least 24 solar masses! Object IC10 X-1 was first noticed by the Chandra X-ray observatory in November '006. Follow-up observations were made by the Swift spacecraft and our Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea. Further measurements are likely to increase the mass estimate. Since we can only measure masses of Black Holes that are eclipsed by stars, there could be many more massive ones out there. article

To answer a question from yesterday, Chandra has also found X-rays nearby in Saturn's Rings. A picture was shown this blog way back on June 2006. No, not Chiang Kai Shek's memorial, the photo at the bottom. The Rings are full of X-ray sources! Perhaps someone should look for BH's in this neighbourhood.

Human theory says that Black Holes can only grow to a certain size because the speed of light has always been the same, but the Black Holes don't know that. Bad, bad Black Holes! What business do they have conflicting with theories? Someone should have made sure they never have anything to do with physics!

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Hole in the Rings

In the past year this blog has reported many discoveries about Saturn. A mysterious "hot spot" on Enceladus' South Pole resupplies the E Ring. Prometheus' interactions with F Ring include a mysterious stream of materiel connecting them. The B Ring is filled with tightly bound clumps of particles. Saturn's poles contain aurorae, a polar storm and enigmatic hexagon. There is far more here than meets the eye.

In the October 25 issue of NATURE, scientists report discovery of more "propellor" features. These are huge wakes, 10-20 km long, formed by unseen objects orbiting within the Rings. The objects are invisibly orbiting at a distance of about 130,000 km, occupying a band 3200 km wide. They have been interpreted as stadium-sized rocks, but the mass is also just right for tiny Black Holes. reports this as "More Strange Holes Found in Saturn's Rings."

Moons like Enceladus and Prometheus exist inside the "Roche Limit." It was once thought that this marked a demarcation line within which moons would be torn apart. Prometheus has one of the lowest densities of a solar system object, just 0.47 g/cm^3. That is less than 1/2 the density of liquid water. It is very odd that objects with less density than liquid should exist inside the Roche Limit, within which liquid objects are not supposed to exist.

H.G Wells' Invisible Man was finally discovered by tracks he left in snow. Saturn's Rings are literally a field of ice in which the tracks of invisible objects can be seen. If our Solar System contains tiny Black Holes, this is a good place to look. If these small moons contained singularities, it would explain how they formed and stay together. The Rings show conditions similiar to our Solar System's formation. Singularities may be the key to how Earth and the planets were created.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Side Exhibits: The Galaxies

As we saw with the "Hot Young Sun," the very existence of life on Earth's surface is evidence of "c change" in physics. If the speed of light had not changed in the amounts predicted, the Sun's luminosity would not be stable enough for life to evolve. Another line of evidence is the very existence of our galaxy. If not for the Milky Way's formation, our Sun and planet would not have formed either.

Despite decades of research, scientists have no complete theory of how our galaxy or billions of others formed. Every galaxy contains at its centre a supermassive Black Hole. Recently we saw The Most Distant Galaxies Yet Found formed barely 500 million years after the Big Bang. Present theories can not explain how galaxies or their supermassive Black Holes formed so early.

Once it was thought that giant Black Holes formed from collisions between smaller objects. This week reports Hundreds of Missing Black Holes found. In the above photo from the Spitzer Space Telescope, the newly discovered Black Holes are circled in blue. The newly discoered galaxies show no sign of being disturbed, indicating that collisions may not play role in galaxy evolution. "Theorists thought that mergers between galaxies were required to initiate this quasar activity, but we now see that quasars can be active in unharassed galaxies," said co-author David Alexander of Durham University in Britain.

Primordial Black Holes are thought to exist by Stephen Hawking and many other physicists. They are predicted to have formed from quantum fluctuations shortly after the Big Bang. Size of a PBH would be limited by a "horizon distance," that light could travel in a given time. Previously it was thought that the speed of light would cause any PBH's to be tiny. Because c was much larger, Black Holes could have formed of enormous mass, big enough to seed formation of galaxies. Discovery of galaxies formed soon after the Big Bang is still more evidence of a changing speed of light.

A hundred billion galaxies containing massive Black Holes say that the speed of light has changed. In the past week we have seen at least five lines of evidence pointing to a similiar conclusion. Exhibits of the Sun, Moon and supernovae indicate that c has slowed at exactly the rate GM = tc^3 predicts. It is not possible to prove experimentally that c is constant. A Universe of data points to a "c change" in physics.

This week Dr. Pamela Gay hosts the Carnival of Space! Among the posts are a photo of Southern California's wildfires taken from the Genesis I module, an appreciation of THE LAST STARFIGHTER, and a story about the Mars Rovers. Somebody on LiveJournal has a new name for our spacesuits too.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Side Exhibits: The Uniform Sky

Above: Inflation's red prediction is ruled out by both COBE and WMAP.

Imitating the popular SETI@Home, a new computing project called Cosmology@Home can use your computer to check if cosmological models actually fit observations. Most of today's myriad "models" are not models but sets of arbitrary parameters. This could be a fun way to use time, but is akin to assigning monkeys the task of recreating Shakespeare. We may find signals from ET's before this project pays off.

Once upon a time humans thought their Earth was centre of the Universe and the planets revolved around us. Anyone observing the planets for any length of time will see that they often appear to move backwards in their orbits. To explain this retrograde motion, astronomers postulated epicycles, wheels within wheels. By the time of Galileo cosmologies had been developed with 60-100 epicycles. The complicated mathematics of epicycles ensured that cosmology was shared by only an elite few. While epicycles could never be proven, they provided physicists with nice careers.

As with the retrograde motion of planets, to see evidence of c slowing one need only look at the sky. Aside from our Sun and Milky Way, the pattern of stars and galaxies is nearly uniform. In the Cosmic Microwave Background, large portions of the sky have nearly the same temperature. Even the ripples seen by WMAP represent temperature variations of less than 1 in 10,000. Large portions of the cosmic horizon appear to have been in contact, indicating a higher primordial speed of light.

When Alan Guth was a struggling postdoc in the 1970's, inflating prices were on everyone's mind. Even for white male physicist, job prospects were not very good. In the theoretical milieu Guth came up with an idea: What if the very early Universe inflated at warp speed, faster than c? Postulating "inflation" at a time of 10^{-35} seconds appeared to solve problems like the cosmic horizon.

Despite decades of work no theorist has a clue how inflation could have started. A universe expanding at many times lightspeed violates both Special Relativity and the First Law of Thermodynamics. Drawing upon the highly theoretical world of particle physics, inflation theorists must infer some sort of "inflaton" or scalar field to get things rolling. In the past 30 years there has been an inflating number of theories: Chaotic inflation, slow-roll inflation, even eternal inflation!

Inflation, like strings, is an untestable hypothesis. We can not time-travel into the first 10^{-35} seconds to observe inflation in action. The energies of the Big Bang are too great for any human experiment to reproduce. Inflation's "predictions" like flatness and homogeneity can be derived from a Theory without ethereal energies. Physicists like Roger Penrose and Nuel Turok wonder if the motivations for inflation are valid. While inflation can never be proved, it has provided physicists with nice careers.

The key prediction of a scale-invariant spectrum is in big trouble. Inflation predicts that temperature fluctuations will be the same at all scales. As observed in the Cosmic Microwave Background, fluctuations are virtually zero above 60 degrees. Like a car running off a curve, this suggests that the Universe is curved not flat. More than a matter of low quadropoles; inflation's red prediction curve is ruled out by both COBE and WMAP. "The supporters of inflation have become too evangelical," Turok declares, "they have no idea why inflation happened but they still believe in it."

When high redshifts of Type Ia supernovae appeared to increase non-linearly, it was the best evidence yet of a changing speed of light. Deftly avoiding a Nobel Prize, physicists inferred another repulsive "dark energy" causing the Universe to accelerate. Earth's formation is theorised to have occured between periods of repulsive nergy, just as Earth is centre of the Universe. There has been another inflation of DE theories, none of which can be proven anytime soon. Even if JDEM is funded it will not return a single track of "dark energy" to prove that it exists.

Despite the seeming long odds, the "GM = tc^3" cosmology has the winning quality of being testable within our lifetimes. Inflation, strings, branes, extra dimensions and "dark energy" all share the convenience of being unprovable. A true Theory makes a prediction that can be tested: The speed of light is slowing down. It is not possible to "prove" experimentally that c is constant, because a more accurate measurement could prove that foolish. It is very possible to prove that c changes. All one needs to do is look at the sky.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Exhibit 3: Supernovae

The "accelerating universe" is considered the most profound question in science. The only direct evidence is from Type Ia supernovae. Low redshifts increase linearly, according to Hubble expansion. High redshifts mysteriously curve upward, showing that ratio of an object's recession velocity over the speed of light v/c has been increasing. A child could see what was overlooked: What if redshifts appear to accelerate not because velocity v increases, but because c slows down?

We have M = R = t in Planck units. In MKS units that is R = ct:

GM = tc^3

c(t) ~ t^{-1/3}

R(t) ~ t^{2/3}

In the distant past of high-redshift supernovae, speed of light ci was greater than co today.

We then have a ratio of scale factor Ro today compared to the past:

Ro/Ri = (to/ti)^{2/3} = 1 + Z

ci/co = (to/ti)^{1/3} = sqrt(1 + Z)

When light of redshift Z was emitted, c was faster by sqrt(1 + Z). Apparent redshift is therefore decreased. This factor is negligible for low redshifts, where Z increases linearly. An object of redshift 1.0 recedes at 60% of our present speed of light. That is only 42% of c at the time its light was emitted. Apparent redshift of this object is just 0.57. Supernovae produce that light according to E=mc^2. Energy output is here doubled, for a magnitude shift of -0.75. Connect the dots, and the curve of Type Ia redshifts is precisely predicted without ethereal energies.

As many know, it is possible to believe that c is constant and the Universe is accelerating due to some repulsive "dark energy." One can believe that this energy inexplicably evolves to fit the redshift curve. It is also possible to believe you are the centre of everything and planets revolve around Earth in epicycles. No such repulsive energy has ever been observed in nature. DE does allow physicists to keep themselves employed filling journals with speculative ideas while calliing the problem unsolved.

One plane striking a building can be blamed on a fantastic accident. If two aircraft strike the same target, even the dullest know that there is a connection. Three completely independent lines of evidence indicate not just that c is changing, but that it slows at the rate GM = tc^3 predicts. Perhaps there is something to the Theory. A THIRD PLANE HAS STRUCK.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Exhibit 2: Lunar Anomaly

China's Chang'e Moon probe finally launched Wednesday at 1000 GMT. Japan's Kaguya mission has already entered lunar orbit and released two smaller spacecraft. One of history's great achievements climaxed on July 20, 1969. Here it is recreated at the National Air and Space Museum in DC.

Apollo’s immense bounty of science returned the oldest rocks ever found and indicated that the Moon is a daughter of Earth torn free in a collision. The Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment (LLRE) told us that the Moon still has a liquid core, verified that Newton’s G is indeed constant, and provided one more test of General Relativity. LLRE has also found a huge but little-known anomaly in the Moon's drift from Earth.

Most of this apparent drift is due to tidal forces. As the Moon creates ocean tides, the tidal bulge outraces the Moon due to Earth’s 24-hour rotation. The bulge pulls the Moon along by a tiny amount, increasing the Moon’s orbital velocity. Through tides angular momentum is transferred from Earth to Moon across 384,402 kilometres of Space. This causes Earth’s rotation to slow, and the Moon to slowly drift away. LLRE has measured this drift at 3.82 ± .07 cm/yr, anomalously high.

Geology and paleontology can tell more precisely how the Moon’s orbit has changed. Coral gains layers on both daily and yearly cycles, dependent upon tides caused by the Moon. By studying fossilised coral we can tell the length of Earth’s day in the past, and therefore how much angular momentum Earth has lost. Growth rings in coral tell the height of lunar tides, indicating how close the Moon was in the past.

Starting with today’s LLRE measurement, Bills and Ray have compiled the most accurate estimates of lunar orbital distance. At an age of 310±5 million years, the Mansfield datum shows that the Moon's distance was 375.3±1.9 thousand km. These measurements show that the Moon has been receding at 2.9 ± 0.6 cm/yr. How can two precise experiments disagree on the same quantity? When the Moon appears to recede 1/3 faster than geology says, it is a serious anomaly.

If the speed of light slows, that would increase the time for light to return each year, making the Moon appear to recede faster as measured by LLRE.

From GM = tc^3, c(t) ~ t^{-1/3}

cdot/c = -1/3t

Where t is age of the Universe, on the order of 13.7 Gyr.

cdot/c = -1/(41.1 Gyr)

Factor cdot/c applies to any value measured in relation to c. Multiplied by the lunar distance of 384,402 km, that distance will appear to increase an additional 0.935 cm per year.

Today several nations are competing to reach the Moon. Already lunar exploration has led to some big surprises. Like Mercury's precession, the Moon has a big clue about cosmology. An anomaly in the Moon’s outward drift is precisely accounted for, indicating that c is slowing to this day.


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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Exhibit 1: Hot Young Sun

(Solar luminosity vs. solar system age. L/Lo is luminosity as a fraction of present value. Lower line is standard solar model. Upper line indicates luminosity when c change is a factor. If speed of light c is precisely related to Universe age t by GM = tc^3, luminosity remains within a comfortable range for life to evolve.)

Over at Quantum Diaries, Tommaso has introduced discussion of whether fundamental values like the speed of light are really constant. This has led to a question by Carl Brannen about the Sun. It is impossible to "prove" experimentally that c is constant, because a more accurate measurement could always prove that foolish. It is possible to measure c change over billions of years, if a scientist knows what to look for. One of these measurements involves the Sun and life on Earth.

The “Faint Young Sun” has been a paradox of astrophysics. Over decades physicists have developed a standard model for the Sun’s evolution. This model predicts that at about 4 Ga ago Earth was too cold to support life. The sedimentologic and fossil records contradict this prediction. The very appearance of life on Earth conflicts with the model. An answer may be deduced from Relativity and Space/Time.

The standard solar model predicts that about 4 Ga ago the Sun shone with scarcely 70 percent of its present power. Because power P is related to temperature T by the Stefan-Boltzmann law, P = $\delta$ T^4, Earth’s temperature would have been only 91 percent of present value. Today’s average temperature is about 283K, so in the past it would have been only 258K, 15K below freezing. An Earth frozen solid would reflect most sunlight into Space, maintaining even colder temperatures. The appearance of life and its evolution would have been very unlikely.

Geology shows evidence of extensive sedimentation 4 Ga ago, indicating the presence of rivers and seas. Other geologic markers corroborate presence of liquid water on Earth during this period. The earliest organisms are at least 3.4 Ga and possibly over 4 Ga old. Clearly liquid water and life both existed when the model predicts Earth was frozen solid. The fact that life exists today is in conflict with the standard solar model. This conflict with observations is the Faint Young Sun paradox.

A much higher concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has been suggested to maintain a proper temperature. This is an inferrence supported by no geological evidence whatsoever. Studies of iron carbonates by Rye et al. conclusively show that Earth had at most 20 percent the required amount of CO2. We have evidence that Mars also had temperatures suitable for liquid in its distant past. It is unlikely that CO2 would custom-heat both planets.

Fortunately, Relativity and new physics may help save the standard solar model. The Sun converts its fuel to energy according to E = mc^2. One theory of Space/Time predicts that c is related to t by:

GM = tc^3

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

Earth is estimated to be 4.6 Ga and the Universe 13.7 Ga, 1.5 times its age at the time of Earth’s formation. Energy mc^2 is adjusted by 1.5^{2/3} = 1.31 times the initial estimate. Multiplying by an estimate of 70 percent, the Sun’s actual output was 0.917 of the present value. Temperature was then 98 percent of the value we enjoy today. If we start with an estimate of 76 percent, solar luminosity was exactly the present value. The “paradox” leads to an extraordinary test of Theory. If c had not changed in precisely the amounts predicted, life would not have evolved on Earth.


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Monday, October 22, 2007

Oops, I Did It Again

Interior of Soyuz spacecraft at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum

Expedition 6 was the 3-person crew Marooned on ISS in the wake of Columbia's accident. After various options were weighed, they ended up returning on a Russian Soyuz. That became a wild ride when Soyuz inexplicably went "ballistic," turning a 4 G descent into over 8 G's! Their adventure was recently turned into an experimental play at San Francisco's Magic Theatre by actor Bill Pullman.

Over the weekend the Soyuz glitch appeared again. This time it tormented Russians Fyodor Yurchikhin, Oleg Kotov and Malaysian Muszaphar Shukor. Their Soyuz went into an 8 G ballistic descent and ended up 300 kilometres West of their landing site in Kazakhstan. Fortunately all three crewmembers were found unharmed.

At 1138 EDT Shuttle mission STS-120 successfully launched from KSC commanded by Pamela Melroy. Discovery carries the Harmony node, to which the European and Japanese modules will be attached. These modules will allow more real science to be done aboard ISS. The mission will be very busy with at least 5 EVA's. Shuttle Discovery also carries an original lightsaber from STAR WARS.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Mars, Water and Life

The Spirit and Opportunity rovers were designed to last just three months. Having survived a huge dust storm, they are now projected to operate until 2009. Spirit suffered a locked wheel, which may have led to a big discovery! Humans could find much more walking on Mars, but that may not happen until 2037.

Presently Opportunity is slowly descending into Victoria Crater. The crater is 70 meters deep and nearly a kilometer wide. Rok layers within suggest sedimentation and ancient water. On the far side of the world, Spirit is exploring an region of basalt and ancient vulcanism.

Though our explorations have been limited to a few tiny probes, Mars continues to surprise. From time to time photos show tantalizing features of water flow that seem to come and go. A flow will be there in one photo and gone in the next. Scientists suggest that ice deposits erupt briefly into liquid before freezing again. Some inner source of heat may be required to melt the ice.

From the Toronto Star: Canadian researchers claim the strongest evidence yet for water on Mars. When one of Spirit's wheels became stuck, it churned up a white layer just beneath the surface. Careful analysis by the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer revealed that this salty layer may be 18 percent water. The white layer was seen in four separate sites in the Columbia hills, suggsting that it is quite common. Professor Iain Campbell of the University of Guelph was assisted by physicist Joanne O'Meara with students Mary Lee and Christianne Mallett.

Like characters in a Monty Python sketch, Mars volcanoes may not be dead, just sleeping. NASA-funded scientists have been comparing features on the Tharsis bulge (above) with shield volcanoes on our Big Island of Hawaii. Though no volcanic activity has been directly observed on Mars, a lack of impact craters suggests that the terrain is relatively new. Ascraeous Mons, Northernmost of the chain, has the most lava tubes and appears to be youngest. Tharsis volcanoes are EXTREMELY similiar to our Big Island. NASA Press Release

The Hawaiian Islands began far to our Northwest, with islands like Midway that have since subsided into atolls. The most recent activity in the Big Island is in our Southeast. The Big Island is less than a million years old, and still very active. Airborne eruptions (at least this week) are limited to a small vent at Pu'u O'o. Another big eruption could start at any time. Farther to sea the new island of Lo'ihi is already building and will emerge in a few thousand years.

Subsurface heat might explain the brief appearance of flow formations on the Martian surface. Just as volcanic eruptions fill Earth's atmosphere with greenhouse gases, volcanoes on Mars may resupply the thin CO2 atmosphere. If Mars began with a tiny Black Hole, it could still be giving off Hawking radiation. The Black Hole could still be inside Mars.

Paul Davies is author of many books and one of Australia's best-known scientists. Today he makes a home at Arizona State University and continues to study the Universe. In the latest issue of Cosmos magazine, Davies again wonders whether life on Earth originated on Mars. We have many examples of Martian meteorites that made the journey to Earth. Mars is "uphill" in the Sun's gravity well. The chemicals of life originated even further away, in explosions of supernovae. We and all life on Earth could be Martians! Exploration of Mars may lead to discoveries that will shed light on human existence.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Roller Coaster

To help crews escape from the Ares I, NASA is building the world's third tallest roller coaster at Pad 39B. Present Shuttle crews train on a trolley that slides down a long cable to a bunker on the ground. Follow the yellow-black deck markings leading to your ride. From a height of 116 meters, your car will drop straight down! NASA consulted roller coaster builders for construction tips. This Space technology could be adapted to one great amuement park ride!

STS-116 may have been the last Shuttle flight from this pad. 39B will be kept in reserve in case a rescue mission is needed for STS-125, the Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. The pad will be reconfigured for the first unmanned flight of Ares I sheduled for 2009. Servicing Hubble places additional risk because crews can not evacuate to ISS.

Central Florida has many great rides. Have you ever wondered why Disneyworld does not have a super-tall roller coaster? The answer lies in FAA regulations. The tallest structure at Disneyworld is Sleeping Beauty's castle, just shy of 200 feet. If the castle were taller than 200 feet it would need a red aircraft light.

As expected, NASA has issued a Request for Proposals for a next-generation spacesuit. Though the press release talks about seeking more flexible suits, reality may choose an outfit only slightly better than present suits. Most plans resemble the ILC Dover "I-Suit" with the addition of rear entry. You're Going Out in That? That won't stop something interesting coming from private industry! Below is a Shuttle Extravehicular Mobility Unit along with a more advanced prototype.

A bounty of interesting articles are at the new Carnival of Space!


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Women on Top

One of the first Moon movies was Fritz Lang's FRAU IM MOND, or "Woman in the Moon." In reality there have been 12 men on the Moon but no women. Returning to the Moon could be justified to correct that omission. This week Peggy Whitson of Expedition 16 ascended via Soyuz as the first Space Station commander who happens to be female. She is pictured with the whip given to her by friends in Kazahkstan. Previously Shuttle mission STS-114 was commanded by Eileen Collins. Discovery's flight to ISS is scheduled for October 23 commanded by Pamela Melroy.

Women have adapted amazingly well to life aboard Space stations. One could propose different reasons why we can share small quarters. Shannon Lucid holds the US endurance record for her 188 days aboard Mir in 1996. Scott Horowitz told me that us fitness types don't adapt well to the confined quarters. Lucid did so well because she is a couch potato!

To become a NASA astronaut a woman must gain experience as a pilot, scientist or both. Today we have a growing number of woman pilots, even in flight test and combat. In science, we see more and more women slowly ascending the ranks. Today in the military and science a woman still encounters sexism or outright harassment. There are still precious few women in the highest ranks of science.

Tuesday's New York Times featured an interview with biologist Cindy Lee Van Dover, the first and only woman to pilot the submersible Alvin. The US Deep Submergence Facility, soon to be retired, is as valuable to science as the Space Shuttle. Observations of deep sea vents show that they could be cradles of life on Earth. Van Dover says the training would be tough for anyone, male or female. On her way to the bottom of science she encountered people who said openly, "You shouldn't be a pilot." She doesn't know why there has never been another woman Alvin pilot.

Shockingly, almost no women have won the Nobel Prize in physics since Marie Curie! Women such as Jocelyn Bell and Rosalind Franklin have done work deserving the Nobel but not received it. Cecilia Payne and Vera Rubin also come to mind. Though there is no Nobel for math, no woman has ever been awarded the Fields Medal. Congratulations to all who have won, but omission of women from the trip to Stockholm ought to be a scandal.

It is logical for society to make maximum use of its human resources. Women with talent in sciences should be encouraged. More effort should be made to promote science careers in general. It is through science that we will solve Earth problems from food to the environment. The wonders of science should not be restricted to an lucky few.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

MAGIC and Light

The Major Atmospheric Gamma-ray Imaging Cherenkov (MAGIC) telescope recently began operations in the Canary Islands. MAGIC found that high-energy gamma rays from a distant blazar arrived 4 minutes later than low energy photons from the same event. This may indicate that particles travel at a different speed of light. The results are being hailed as indicating a new physics.

Though gamma rays are blocked by Earth's atmosphere, upon striking the atmosphere they give off showers of Cherenkov radiation. MAGIC detects this cascade of particles and calculates origin of the incident gamma rays. The blazar is in galaxy Markarian 501, half a billion light-years away. Blazars give off powerful jets of gamma rays simultaneously with lower energy photons. Both are forms of electromagnetic radiation and supposed to travel at velocity c. UC Davis Press Release.

Not long ago talk of a changing speed of light would get a woman literally shouted down. Today in Floyd Stecker of Goddard Space Flight Center says, "There are some postulated but unproven theoretical models, inspired by the motivation to unite the quantum theory with the general theory of relativity, which violate special relativity." Notice how the "constant c" trolls remain anonymous while the GM=tc^3 advocate has a name? Who is afraid of someday looking foolish?

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Inconstant Constants

Hello again! Things have been busy, but this scientist hopes to blog more often. Check out my guest post at Quantum Diaries Survivor. The output of science is definitely not constant.

Another interesting item is in the October 13 issue of NEW SCIENTIST, Supernova Shift May Distort Dark Energy Readings.

"EFFORTS to discover the nature of the mysterious force known as dark energy have been thrown into disarray by the discovery that supernovae are not as predictable as had been assumed.

"Because the average brightness of the stellar explosions known as type Ia supernovae was thought to stay the same over the universe's history, astronomers have treated them as "standard candles". In other words, they have used their apparent brightness as seen from Earth as a yardstick for measuring how far away they are, and from this they have estimated the rate of expansion of the universe.

"Now an investigation of supernovae by Andrew Howell of the University of Toronto, Canada, and colleagues has thrown the basis for such measurements into doubt."

Howell's research shows that the average Type Ia supernova was 12% brighter billions of years ago. Even if DE exists, a "Dark Energy Mission" would not return a single particle or even a track in a bubble chamber to prove it exists. All we would have is an "equation of state" that physicists could puzzle over and write papers about. The equation of state could be explained by changing parameters, like the speed of light. The high precision required for an equation of state requires that supernovae be constant. The Howell paper is in Astrophysical Journal v. 667, p. 37 Do taxpayers really want to spend 1 billion+ US for this?

As someone writes in Quantum Diaries:

"Inferences of cosmic acceleration depend on many other values being constant, including luminosity of supernovae. Many values have changed in the billions of years since distant stars exploded. The metal content of ancient stars is known to have been much less than today. Since we cannot time-travel into the past, it is difficult to determine if fundamental values are constant."

Many quantities that were once thought constant have been found to change. Even the output of science is not constant--it proceeds in fits and starts. Advances are slowed by dogma and accelerated by revolution. We may find that the only constant is change. It is best to give science its opportunity to advance.

This week Space for Commerce hosts the Carnival of Space!

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Friday, October 12, 2007


More than one fan has asked for pictures. Here is a watercolour done recently of this blogger in a suit bought in Bali. We have found that H2O is surprisingly common in the Solar System, even far from the Sun. Liquid water exists in asteroids like Ceres and moons like Enceladus. Many worlds are now seen as possible homes for life. They are too distant to be warmed by the Sun, and must have internal sources of heat. This heat could be the sign of Black Holes. Thanks to their warmth, there could be life forms swimming in oceans far from the Sun. Like deep sea fish, they may see in different wavelengths or with no light at all. Perhaps they have developed their own forms of art.

This week Space for Commerce hosts the Carnival of Space!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

STARDUST and Niels Bohr

STARDUST is based on a graphic novel by Neil Gaiman. A star (Claire Danes) falls to Earth in human form and can't return to the sky. Along the way she encounters lovestruck Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox) and pirate Captain Shakespeare (Robert DeNiro), who captures lightning in his airship. She is pursued by Prince Septemus (Mark Strong) and a wicked witch (Michelle Pfeiffer). The villains wish to cut out the star's glowing heart to gain her secret of eternal life.

The eternal life of stars has been a mystery that life on Earth's surface depends on. According to standard models, life should not have evolved here at all because when the Solar System was forming the Sun was only 75% as bright. Earth's average temperature would have been 15 degrees below zero Celsius, frozen solid. This can't be true, for geology and the fossil record say that Earth had liquid water and life when models say it was frozen solid. This conflict with observations is the Faint Young Sun paradox.

Niels Bohr is best known for describing the heart of an atom, but he also turned his attention toward stars. Bohr's atomic model is based upon a miniature Solar System. In the early part of the 20th century many old ideas of science were questioned. Bohr would say that "Your theory is crazy, but it's not crazy enough to be true." In work that was never published, Bohr hypothesised that a star's heart is made of an unknown material radiating at a constant temperature To.

The region surrounding this core would be composed of a hot plasma. At the boundary, particles of the plasma would have energies given by:

E = (3/2)nkT

If To of the core were greater than T of the plasma boundary, an equilibrium would be reached. The star would maintain a constant luminosity.

Bohr's hypothesis required a material radiating at a constant temperature, something unknown in the 1930's. Though Black Holes are predicted by Relativity, even Einstein himself didn't believe they exist. In 1974 Stephen Hawking reached the amazing conclusion that they radiate at a temperature depending upon their mass. For many Black Holes this temperature would be nearly constant. Connecting Bohr with Hawking, a Black Hole at a star's heart would be just the thing to maintain a constant luminosity.

Recently astronomers have discovered that the outer Solar System contains many objects with temperatures suitable for liquid water. These distant bodies are now considered possible abodes of life. They are far too distant for the Sun to warm them, and must depend on an internal source of heat. Presence of Black Holes may create conditions for life on these dark worlds too.

The history of science is full of great unpublished work. Account of Bohr's theory came from friend George Gamow. In 240 BC most people thought that the Sun circled Earth and stars were fixed to an immense sphere. Aristarchus, librarian of Alexandria, wrote "On the Distances to Stars and Planets," with estimates that were remarkably accurate for the time. Those distances were estimated from the Earth, fitting an Earth-centred cosmology. The enormous distances may have started Aristarchus thinking about alternatives. He wrote another book that is now lost and only known through citations of contemporaries like Archimedes.

The second book introduced a cosmology where the stars were immeasurably distant and that Earth circled the Sun as a planet! The book caused great argument, with another contemporary writing that Aristarchus should have been put on trial! (Did he write nasty comments in blogs?) If Aristarchus' model had been widely disseminated, the world might have been saved 1500 years of Ptolemy. Alternative cosmologies need to be considered, or science will again be wound up in epicycles.

In fantasies from Harry Potter to STARDUST, heroes overcome many trials. New theories are almost inevitably hounded by the jealous lords and wicked witches of science. Bohr also said that "An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field." Heroes are often aided by some lost knowledge or ancient wisdom. It is very pleasing that truth always wins in the end.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

Burma Not Over

Though the protests have been violently suppressed, the oppression in Burma continues. Goons from Rangoon have been hunting people down in their homes and hauling them away. Four of the protest leaders are still at large. Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest longer than Galileo. Despite the dire situation within Burma, Saturday saw large protests in cities from Melbourne to Paris. Sixty people of diverse backgrounds signed the following:


We, the undersigned Nobel Laureates, are outraged by the
human rights situation in Myanmar. Expressing our solidarity
with the Burmese people, we denounce the oppressive rule of
the junta government. Moreover, we condemn the ongoing
violent repression of the Buddhist monks and other protesters,
whose peaceful demonstrations against the government have
resulted in hundreds of arrests, severe injuries and deaths.

We urge the international community, particularly China,
Russia and India who have influence in Myanmar, to use it on
the Burmese government to secure basic democratic freedoms
and to ensure the protection of human rights. In addition, we
echo the appeals for the release of our colleague, Nobel
Laureate for Peace, Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, who has led the
Burmese people’s non-violent struggle for democracy, and
who has, as a result, been held under house arrest for much of
the past 18 years.

Alexei Abrikosov
Nobel Prize, Physics (2003)

Peter Agre
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (2003)

George A. Akerlof
Nobel Prize, Economics (2001)

Baruj Benacerraf
Nobel Prize, Medicine (1980)

Sydney Brenner
Nobel Prize, Medicine (2002)

Arvid Carlsson
Nobel Prize, Medicine (2000)

Thomas R. Cech
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (1989)

Aaron Ciechanover
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (2004)

J. M. Coetzee
Nobel Prize, Literature (2003)

Claude Cohen-Tannoudji
Nobel Prize, Physics (1997)

Elias James Corey
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (1990)

Paul J. Crutzen
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (1995)

Robert F. Curl Jr.
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (1996)

Christian de Duve
Nobel Prize, Medicine (1974)

Frederik W. de Klerk
Nobel Prize, Peace (1993)

Johann Deisenhofer
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (1988)

Peter C. Doherty
Nobel Prize, Medicine (1996)

Robert F. Engle III
Nobel Prize, Economics (2003)

Richard R. Ernst
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (1991)

John B. Fenn
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (2002)

Val L. Fitch
Nobel Prize, Physics (1980)

Jerome I. Friedman
Nobel Prize, Physics (1990)

Donald A. Glaser
Nobel Prize, Physics (1960)

Sheldon Glashow
Nobel Prize, Physics (1979)

Clive W.J. Granger
Nobel Prize, Economics (2003)

David J. Gross
Nobel Prize, Physics (2004)

Roger Guillemin
Nobel Prize, Medicine (1977)

John L. Hall
Nobel Prize, Physics (2005)

Dudley R. Herschbach
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (1986)

Avram Hershko
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (2004)

Roald Hoffman
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (1981)

Brian D. Josephson
Nobel Prize, Physics (1973)

Daniel Kahneman
Nobel Prize, Economics (2002)

Eric R. Kandel
Nobel Prize, Medicine (2000)

Walter Kohn
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (1998)

Roger D. Kornberg
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (2006)

Harold W. Kroto
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (1996)

Finn E. Kydland
Nobel Prize, Economics (2004)

Leon M. Lederman
Nobel Prize, Physics (1988)

Yuan T. Lee
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (1986)

Jean-Marie Lehn
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (1987)

Wangari Maathai
Nobel Prize, Peace (2004)

Rudolph A. Marcus
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (1992)

Craig C. Mello
Nobel Prize, Medicine (2006)

Robert A. Mundell
Nobel Prize, Economics (1999)

Erwin Neher
Nobel Prize, Medicine (1991)

Marshall W. Nirenberg
Nobel Prize, Medicine (1968)

Douglass C. North
Nobel Prize, Economics (1993)

Paul Nurse
Nobel Prize, Medicine (2001)

William D. Phillips
Nobel Prize, Physics (1997)

Harold Pinter
Nobel Prize, Literature (2005)

John C. Polanyi
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (1986)

Norman F. Ramsey
Nobel Prize, Physics (1989)

Richard J. Roberts
Nobel Prize, Medicine (1993)

Jens C. Skou
Nobel Prize, Chemistry (1997)

Steven Chu
Nobel Prize, Physics (1997)

John E. Sulston
Nobel Prize, Medicine (2002)

Joseph H. Taylor Jr.
Nobel Prize, Physics (1993)

Klaus von Klitzing
Nobel Prize, Physics (1985)

Elie Wiesel
Nobel Prize, Peace (1986)

Torsten N. Wiesel
Nobel Prize, Medicine (1981)

Frank Wilczek
Nobel Prize, Physics (2004)

Williams, Betty
Nobel Prize, Peace (1976)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Space Age is 50

On October 4, 1957 Sputnik was launched and the world changed. Prior to 1957, most people considered Spaceflight either an impossibility or some fantastic dream. The shock of Sputnik began the Space Age that we grew up in. We live in a world expanded enormously by the realm of Space.

The morning of October 4 Nikita Kruschev decided to purge General Zhukov, the hero of World War 2, for the imagined crime of plotting to seize power. That evening a telephone call from Chief Designer Sergei Korolev informed Kruschev of Sputnik's success. Despite his immense contributions, Korolev himself would suffer many unfortunate fates. He had already survived years in Stalin's gulags. Eventually Korolev would succumb on an operating table due to incompetent Soviet doctors. His identity as the Soviet Space program's "Chief Designer" remained a closely held secret.

The Nobel Prize Committee decided to reward the "Chief Designer," but did not even know his name. When requested, the Soviets balked at revealing Korolev's identity. Sputnik had been produced by many hands, and other designers thought themselves equally significant. The Soviets refused to identify Korolev, and the Nobel Prize went to someone else.

Engine designer Valentin Glushko considered himself Korolev's equal. "My engines could send into Space any piece of metal," he said at one meeting. After the success of Sputnik, Glushko and Korolev had a falling out and Glushko offered his services to rival Soviet rocket designers. History has repeated itself--the designer and the engine designer of Spaceship One no longer speak and are working on rival projects.

The aftermath of Sputnik led to a new awareness of science. Western governments pushed science education to keep ahead of the Russians. It is hard to believe that before Sputnik women were not allowed into MIT. As late as the 1960's some elite universities did not admit women. Many of today's successes, from Space engineers to internet millionaires, received their science education is Sputnik's aftermath. The desire to innovate drives many of us today.

Many people will comment on the effects of Sputnik. For those of us who were not alive, it is hard to imagine the shock. However, our whole lives have been lived in Sputnik's aftermath. The ways in which Space has changed our lives can not be overestimated.

More about Space in the new Carnival of space!


Monday, October 01, 2007

M = R = t

"I perceive the Universe as a single equation, and it is so simple..."

--LT Barclay in STAR TREK TNG: "The Nth Degree"

Posting was light the past week, but some work got done. Today we'll return to the subject of Planck units. Max Planck started as a conservative physicist studying atomic spectra. The ultraviolet catastrophe led him to a "act of desperation," the quantum value h. Planck was also instrumental in getting a patent clerk's first papers published in 1905. If not for Planck, the world might have taken decades to hear of Einstein.

Planck noted that combinations of h, c and G led to this "universal" system of units. At the time he had no way of knowing whether h or c were constant. Some science types get lazy and say that h = c = G =1. They are not equal, or they could be used interchangeably.

We'll use Planck's units to express something more useful. A basic principle states that scale R of the Universe is its age, a timelike separation from the "Big Bang." R and t are related by factor c, the "speed of light."

R = ct

This equation (1) caused the Big Bang. As t increases, the Universe expands.

R/l_pl = ct/l_pl

Now l_pl = ct_pl, so:

R/l_pl = t/t_pl

Expressed in Planck units, equation (1) becomes:

R = t

We can simply express that size of the Universe is related to its age. This may appear more palatable to those used to thinking that c is constant.

The Universe can't expand at the same rate forever, for Mass and Gravity slow it down. We do some calculations, and c is further related to t by:

GM = tc^3

Expressing equation (2) in Planck units:

M/t = c^3/G = m_pl/t_pl

M/m_pl = t/t_pl

The Planckian expression of GM=tc^3 was also noted by bloggers Thomas Dent and Lubos Motl. Using Planck units can be misleading, because they are not all constant. Now we can state both equations (1) and (2) in a single line:

M = R = t

Repeat: This must be the simplest equation ever! It relates everything you want to know about the Universe but were afraid to ask: Mass M, size R, age t, expansion rate and how it slows with time. This shows just how powerful mathematics can be. According to STAR TREK, one line may explain an entire Universe.

Planck is not the only one who started as a conservative physicist. When these equations are worked out, the appeal is hard to deny even for the conservative. Arriving at a simple solution makes all the challenges of science worthwhile. The simplicity may someday be noticed by physicists, possibly in the 24th century. This may be an equation far ahead of its time.

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