Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Happy Birthday Carnival of Space! April is also 40th birthday of the greatest movie of all time, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Friday saw the anniversary screening at the Motion Picture Academy's Samuel Goldwyn theatre in Beverly Hills. The host was none other than TOM HANKS, who loves Space and 2001! He has seen the movie over a dozen times in theatres, which explains his success in the movies. Also attending were Keir Dullea (Bowman) and special effects artist Douglas Trumbull.

This writer had a long talk with Dullea, who looks great after 40 years. He spent many uncomfortable hours high over the set on wires, something he would only do for Stanley Kubrick. In one scene where he enters the centrifuge on one side, then walks around the circumference to join Poole for breakfast. Gary Lockwood was chained upside down on the set while acting like he was sitting. The life of an actor is never easy.

Many of us were inspired by the vision of humans in Space. Men walked on the Moon the following year. The winged Space Shuttle came early, but was not all we dreamed it to be. Today we have a large Space Station under construction, with a commercial habitat planned by Bigelow. Many companies are competing to take passengers into Space. The COTS programme will result in commercial flights bringing cargo and hopefully people to ISS. Though Pan American is no longer with us, the dream of routine commercial travel is finally coming true.

Sometimes life improves on the movies. The Earth described in Clarke's novel was a place of continuing Cold War and 26 nuclear powers. The women we saw were flight attendants and receptionists. In today's reality there are many women in the Space business, from astronauts to scientists. This time it will not just be men on the Moon.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Constraining Theories of the Speed of Light

A successful Theory satisfies far more constraints than speculations about repulsive energy. While the latter violates the First Law of Thermodynamics, Theory conserves energy even in the case of Black Hole entropy. This was a response to a "Brief Communication" in NATURE 2002 by Tamara Davis, Paul Davies and Doug Linaweaver. No conspiracy suspected, but unfortunately by the time this was prepared NATURE was no longer publishing brief communications. Presently this little paper is seeking another home. Enjoy!

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Angular Correlation

Many things were known before we were born, but far more important is what will become known after we are born. Stirring the pot is useful, and the post "Inflation Sinking" has drawn lively comment. We have a great positive post from Carl Brannen, an entire post devoted to critique that Starts With A Bang, and positive review on the new Carnival of Space!

For nigel and others: here is the early crude version of the angular correlation function. David Cline lectured on this to us at Stanford back in 2003. "Something funny," Dr. Cline titles this page, "the angular correlation function is nearly zero for angles beyond 60 degrees." A student kept his notes, calculated the red prediction curve without computers, and wrote it with marker pen. The typeface has been cleaned up, the data curves untouched. (Dr. Cline may have confused TE with TT curves, but that too is untouched.)

This graph measures the scale of density fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background. The old inflationary paradigm states that the Universe is flat, like the Earth. Density fluctuations should exist on all scales. These fluctuations can be modelled using spherical harmonics, the same maths we students used to model the hydrogen atom. When those fluctuations are added together they produce the "Inflation" curve. This prediction is ruled out by both COBE and WMAP experiments.

Theory predicts that the Universe is curved with radius R = ct, therefore the biggest possible fluctuation has peak-trough distance of 180 degrees. This prediction is very robust. You can model this curve in a calculator using sine waves, sawtooth or even square waves because all repeating functions can be modelled as sums of sine waves. Given the limits of marker pen, prediction fits the data quite closely.

Responding to everyone will take some time, but more comments are welcome. Please note that nobody here hates inflation, it has been acknowledged many times as a useful step. This work has been discussed personally with Alan Guth, who is considered a friend. We loved the Titanic, but it too slipped beneath density waves.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Going Ballistic

Interior of Soyuz spacecraft at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum

ISS Commander Peggy Whitson has spent a record-setting 377 days in Space. Her return with South Korean Yi So-Yeon and Russian Yuri Malanchenko was an adventure in itself. In 2003 the Marooned Expedition Six crew returned on a Soyuz that unexpectedly went into ballistic trajectory, landing them hundreds of miles off-target. Several tense hours passed before they were even known to be alive. In October 2007 the same glitch caused two Russians and a Malaysian to land 300 km off target. Oops, I did it again.

Peggy Whitson's Soyuz went into the same ballistic trajectory, complete with punishing gee forces. During descent Soyuz pitched so that the entry hatch instead of the heatshield faced forward. The hatch was seriously damaged; if it had burned through the crew would be shrimp on the barbie. An antenna failure left them out of communication. The pressure equalising valve was also damaged--failure of a similiar valve on reentry in 1971 killed three cosmonauts. They landed 260 km off target. Fortunately after Expedition Six the Soyuzes were equipped with a satellite phone. This is the second time in a row that the ballistic descent has occurred.

This year's mission to repair Hubble will be the last for Atlantis. After the Shuttles are retired in 2010, there will be a gap until Orion can carry people into Space (2015? 2016? Later?). NASA hopes that the commercial COTS programme will be able to fly crew and cargo to ISS. Let us wish Elon Musk and the other competitors good fortune. Relying on Soyuz creates both political and safety risks.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Inflation Sinking

In the 1970's as today, rising prices were on everyone's mind. Inflation was proposed to explain uniformity in the cosmic microwave background (which shows that the speed of light has slowed) and other puzzles. Physicist Alan Guth and others proposed that the early Universe expanded at warp speed, many times faster than light. Inflation would violate both the First Law of Thermodynamics and Relativity's stipulation that nothing can travel faster than light. Theorists invoked mysterious "scalar fields" and "inflatons" to explain their idea. None of these inferrences has ever been observed in nature. Inflation theories have multiplied like epicycles, providing comfortable careers for Guth and others.

April is also the 96th anniversary of the Titanic sinking! Back in 2006 (when St. Louis reached 1000 viewings of this blog) we saw The Puncturing of Inflation and Inflation Leaking. The leak in Titanic didn't look bad at first, but ship's designer Mr. Ismay did some quick calculations and realised they were sunk. Like the first boats from a sinking ship, leading scientists are abandoning the inflationary paradigm. At the beginning of this New Year physicist Paul Steinhardt publicly abandoned inflation, and is now working on cyclic universes. Read the links for more.

As with the string enterprise, inflation theorists are increasingly desperate to prove their idea. 5 years ago they prevailed upon the WMAP team to interpret the data their way. More recently they have claimed that gravitational waves would be a "smoking gun" proof. Too bad that gravitational waves have never been detected. Monday Physicist Lawrence Krauss, who has been arguing against inflation since 1992, revealed to us what he has been up to. In the new issue of Physical Review Letters; Krauss, grad student Katherine Jones-Smith and associate professor Harsh Mathur show that these waves, if detected at all, could come from an entirely different source. So much for smoking guns.

Inflation predicts that the Universe is geometrically flat, like the Earth. The WMAP angular correlation function is from Glenn Starkman and Dominik Schwarz, Scientific American August 2005. Inflation predicts that density fluctuations are the same at all scales, leading to the red prediction curve. In fact fluctuations are nearly zero for angles greater than 60 degrees. Note the error bars--inflation's prediction is ruled out by both WMAP and COBE. As surely as a ship's sails disappearing over the horizon, this shows that the Universe is curved with the radius predicted.

Though it has been useful to cosmologists, the inflationary paradigm can not, repeat can not be proven. Humans can not time-travel to the first 10^{-33} seconds, and no human experiment can approach the titanic energies and densities near the Big Bang. A real Theory would offer a falsifiable prediction: that the speed of light has changed. No experiment can prove that c is constant, for a more accurate experiment can always prove that foolish. It is very possible to prove the Theory. Type Ia supernovae, the "Faint Young Sun" and Lunar Laser Ranging can all be interpreted to show not just that c has changed, but that it has changed in exactly the amounts predicted.

Here's why we are winning: An independent mind is far more agile than a group mind. Independent thought allows new ideas to be considered, checked, discarded or advanced at the speed of thought. Group minds are slowed by speed of communication, time for ideas to be digested by members of the group, organizational rot and reluctance to part with familiar notions. Old paradigms will last until their proponents go to their grave, then a better Theory takes over..

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dark Matter: The Movie

Actor Liu Ye before the cosmic web of DARK MATTER

Controversy about Dark Matter has been with us at least since Fritz Zwicky in the 1930's. From motions of the Coma Cluster in Berenices, Zwicky deduced the existence of unseen mass. His eccentric manner earned Zwicky much derision from colleagues, whom he called "spherical bastards" because they appeared that way from any direction. Astronomer Vera Rubin saw spherical haloes of dark matter in the rotation curves of galaxies. On the way she probably encountered challenges to women and to new ideas, dark matters which have always been with us.

Argument about this unseen mass continues to this day. An alternative theory called Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) has been championed by Mordecai Milgrom since the 1960's. Recently observations of the Bullet Cluster seemed to confirm the Dark Matter's existence, but MOND advocates quickly found a way to make observation fit their theory. Argument exists whether Dark Matter is composed of Black Holes, undiscovered particles, old AOL disks, something else or a combination.

DARK MATTER is a film by opera and theatre director Chen Shi-Zheeng. Liu Xing (Shooting Star) arrives at an American PhD program with plans to study the Universe. His talents get him accepted into the cosmology group by department head Aidan Quinn and wealthy patron Meryl Streep. He accompanies his professor to a cosmology conference and comes up with an original Theory about Dark Matter.

Liu clings to belief that science is a free market for ideas. Unfortunately his Theory conflicts with the professor's model and the hierarchical university system. After being warned against pursuing his idea, Liu publishes on his own. The paper is derided, his dissertation is rejected, and Liu finds himself unemployed in a strange land. His frustrations explode in a graphically violent end. The movie was inspired by a University of Iowa physics department meeting in 1991, when a grad student killed five colleagues and himself.

DARK MATTER the movie was completed a year ago, but sat on the shelf because of the Virginia Tech tragedy. (The campus had been declared a gun-free zone, which didn't discourage the lunatic from mowing down 32 defenseless people.) Some of us women have encountered opposition from professors who possibly didn't need to be around. Having enjoyed similiar experiences, one can say that there are better ways than violence. Better to let them live long enough to see how wrong they were.

The exact amount of Dark Matter can be predicted from pure math. It is 23.87%, exactly matching the WMAP findings within half a standard deviation. Theory also provides big clues to what the Dark Matter really is. The amount of baryonic matter can also be predicted as 4.507034%, also matching WMAP within half an S.D. When a prediction fits the data this closely, perhaps someday more people will take notice. Until then, it is fun asking lecturers about the 4.507034% and seeing their befuddled reaction.

More Space news in the new Carnival of Space!

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Earth Trembles

Gateway Arch seen from Adams Mark Hotel.

Today the San Francisco (baseball) Giants begin a 3-game series in St. Louis against the Cardinals. April 18 is also the 102nd anniversary of the San Francisco Earthquake and fire. This morning the event was commemorated with a 5.2 magnitude quake centred in the Midwest. Few regions of Earth, even New York or London, are safe from earthquakes. The New Madrid Quake of 1811 was centred just 225 kilometres Southeast of St. Louis. It had a magnitude of at least 7.0, greater than the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. A similiar quake today would be disastrous. Earthquakes and volcanoes may all be powered by a Black Hole in Earth's core.

Also today the Delta Queen (below) begins what may be her last season cruising the Mississipi. She is the last steam-powered sternwheeler making overnight trips in the US, and a National Historic Landmark. The ship was built in Scotland, then shipped in pieces to California where she began service from San Francisco to Sacramento. She has survived because her wooden superstructure has been exempted from US Coast Guard safety regulations. The US Congress has stupidly failed to renew this exemption, which could spell the end of an era. At one time 3,000 steamboats stopped at St. Louis each year. How foolish if politics and regulations caused this bit of history to end.

Watching a steam engine in operation is fascinating. Coal and oil both gain their chemical energy from Earth's internal heat. Recently we have found that Saturn's moon Titan contains even more hydrocarbons than Earth. Energy powering the Delta Queen up the Mississippi may also be a byproduct of a tiny Black Hole.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


With completion of the transcontinental railway, a bridge across the Missisippi was needed so that trains would pass through St. Louis. The Eads Bridge was a project they said couldn't be done. Old Man River is treacherous, and this would be the longest span yet built. Engineer James Eads had never built a bridge, but he was intimately familiar with the River. He also used a new materiel, steel. Finished in 1874, the Eads Bridge pioneered the way for others like the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It's arched form is reflected in the Gateway Arch, from which this photo was taken.

Eero Saarinen's Arch is also called Gateway to the West. Pioneers crossed the river into an unknown future. Most of them headed West knowing that succeed or fail they would never return home. Kea has suggested that this is the true way to colonise Mars. Saving all that return fuel would make settling another planet far easier. Who knows what monuments will be built to Space pioneers?

Monday's talk was attended by well over 100 people, more than saw Ed Witten last December. (Witten still gets more press.) Immediately afterward lunch was scheduled with Lawrence Krauss, who also doubts the Concorde Cosmology. We saw cosmologists struggle with Powerpoint and "dark energy," while a solution was right under their nose. The life of a pioneer is exciting, but never easy.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Meet Me in St. Louis

St. Louis, Missouri seen from atop the famous Gateway Arch. To the right of the courthouse is the Hyatt (formerly Adams Mark) hotel, site of the American Physical Society (APS) April meeting. The weather is literally freezing, 0 degrees Celsius at night with highs around 10 degrees. Best to stay in the hotel, see the view of the Arch and the many talks.

The arch was conceived by Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen, who also gave us the old TWA terminal at JFK. It is a 630 feet high inverted catenary, like we studied in Mechanics class. To reach the top you must wait in line and take off your jacket for a metal detector, like at the airport. (The government is afraid of arch villains and anarchists.) You then board these tiny capsules barely big enough for five, which ascend in two trains up the curve. The apex has a narrow observation deck with lovely views from the angled windows.

Speaking of reaching the top, the talk on "Hot Young Solution to Faint Sun and Supernova Problems" is in the session for Cosmology/Early Universe. At one time it might have been banished to "New Ideas in Cosmology" with ideas considered cracked. Last night at a reception Roger Blandford of KIPAC said hi; I thanked him for mentioning Violations of Lorentz Invariance in his GLAST talk. Violating Lorentz is physicist talk for changing the speed of light.

Dr. Blandford mentioned that some of his best colleagues are now working on Lorentz Violations, which could be a compliment. He introduced me briefly to Pierre Oddone of Fermilab, who has some big budget problems. Socialising is very relaxed when one is not looking for a job and Fermilab has no jobs to offer. In his later years Einstein said that his happiest time was when he was unknown, studying whatever he pleased. Meet me in St. Louis at 12:20 PM Monday!


Thursday, April 10, 2008


The Martian moon Phobos seen from 5800 km by the Mars Reconaissance Orbiter on March 23. Stickney Crater on the right is the largest featore on the surface. The crater is 9 km wide on a moon only 22 km across. Some have suggested these moons as stopping-off points for Mars. Scientists still are not sure how the Martian moons formed or how they survived impacts like Stickney, but they are certainly pretty.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Higgs Appears

The Higgs has appeared at CERN! Not the boson or field, but THE Higgs, the physicist who hypothesised its existence over 40 years ago. The standard model of particle physics does not account for mass. Peter Higgs and others suggested the existence of a field or particle to account for this very important property. At first their work was ignored by physicists at CERN, which seems to be standard for new ideas. Last week Peter Higgs surfaced at CERN to tour the new Large Hadron Collider, expressing confidenced that the Higgs boson will finally be found.

Higgs and other physicists believe that initially the Universe had no mass at all. We have seen that any particle has a rest energy (or Einstein energy) of E and a potential energy (or Newton energy) of U. If we add them together:

E + U = 0

The total energy is just 0! This result applies to any particle, from the smallest electron to the most massive Black Hole. It even applies to massless particles like the photon. The total energy of our big Universe is just zero. It's the ultimate free lunch, which explains how the Universe could evolve from a tiny point into the immensity we observe today.

The first mass took the form of singularities, which formed fro tiny quantum fluctuations grown large by the rapid expansion of the Universe. The protons, electrons and neutrons that we are made of came later, and today form 4.507034% of the Universe. Perhaps the Higgs field or boson gave this portion mass.

The standard model of particle physics has been mostly successful in describing the microscopic world. As physicists have moved into astronomy, they have come up with their own standard model. Cosmology's model consists of ethereal energies: a repulsive "inflaton" near the Big Bang, another repulsive "dark energy" driving current acceleration, and our Ptolemaic world in the middle. None of these epicycles can be observed in nature.

Experience can make one suspicious of "standard models." Who is this Mr. Standard? Why doesn't he show his face at conferences? How many years did he labour in darkness while physics ignored his Standard Model? How much hard work was required for Standard's Model to be accepted? Did a Mrs. Standard do all the real work? The idea of "standard models" is suspiciously like groupthink, which led to "dark energy" and other messes.

Though no one has found his boson yet, best wishes to Peter Higgs. The mass problem is an omission that needs to be solved. Higgs has waited long enough for his hypothesis to be tested. Even if the Higgs field or boson is not found, it will lead to new ideas in physics. Thankfully we need not wait until age 78 to show that the speed of light is slowing.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Eruption Continues

Halema'uma'u Crater April 8, 2008

The eruption of Halema'uma'u crater on Kilauea forced the evacuation of the surrounding settlements: Volcano House, the Kilauea Military camp and Volcano Charter School. Evacuation was recommended for the surrounding communities. Fortunately these towns are uphill from the crater and not in danger from lava flow. The greatest dangers are from sulfur dioxide and ash. Humans have long wondered what keeps Earth's core hot. The answer may lie in cosmology and a little Black Hole.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Black Holes in Small and Medium

Using data from the Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer, scientists have found the smallest Black Hole yet identified. It is part of a binary system in galaxy XTE J1650-5000. The Black Hole has 3.8 times the mass of the Sun and would have an event horizon 24 km in diameter. These findings were presented Monday at the AAS High Energy Astrophysics Meeting.

Separately, astronomers have identified a medium-sized Black Hole 17,000 light-years away in the Omega Centauri cluster. This globular cluster, pictured above, contains 10 million stars that are among the youngest in the Universe. Scientists have long wondered how globular clusters formed. Some estimates have them older than the Universe itself! Researchers using the Gemini South and Hubble Space Telescopes conclude that Omega Centauri contains a Black Hole of 40,000 solar masses.

Since globular clusters are so old, this Black Hole could be primordial, formed soon after the Big Bang. We have also found galaxies containing supermassive Black Holes formed when the Universe was less than a billion years old. Size of a primordial Black Hole is limited by a horizon distance related to the speed of light. Massive Black Holes within ancient globular clusters are another indicator that c has changed.

More Space news in the new Carnival of Space!


Tuesday, April 01, 2008


The Space Access Conference in Arizona is covered by bloggers like Henry Cate, Jeff at Personal Spaceflight and Rand of Transterrestrial Musings. XCOR aerospace has leaped to the forefront with plans for their LYNX vehicle. LYNX would carry one pilot and a passenger to altitudes of 200,000 feet. The Spaceship Two being built by Scaled Composites suffers from a long development process and the tragic accident of last year. XCOR expects to fly within 2 years, possibly beating Virgin and other competitors into Space.
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