Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble

The press realises that mainstream science is really in the dark. SPACE.com begins their article: "If the notion of dark energy sounds improbable, get ready for an even more outlandish suggestion."

"Earth may be trapped in an abnormal bubble of space-time that is particularly void of matter. Scientists say this condition could account for the apparent acceleration of the universe's expansion, for which dark energy currently is the leading explanation."

In this scenario, we occupy a bubble of Space with unusually low density. Distant Type Ia supernovae would appear to be dimmer, mimicking the effect of cosmic acceleration. This has some similiarties to the work of David Wiltshire in New Zealand, who suggests that timne itself may move at a different rate in distant regions of the Universe. A changing rate of time is mathematically equivalent to a changing speed of light.

GM=tc^3, the speed of light has changed. Redshifts of distant supernovae are related to c, so the Universe appears to accelerate. In Planck units the equation reduces to M = R = t. A child could figure it out, yet the simplest Theory has not yet reached the mainstream press. Just as astronomy was once dominated by epicycles, today speculation is rife about "dark energy." Someday we may read that real advances in science happen out of the limelight.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Hubble Trouble

10,000 galaxies from the Hubble Ultra Deep Field.

The Hubble Space Telescope has suffered a failure in the Control Unit/Science Formatter. This device stores and transmits all telescope data. This will almost certainly delay Servicing Mission STS-125 scheduled for next month. The astronaut's training in Houston has already been impacted by Hurricane Ike. In turn STS-126 to the Space Station will be delayed, for which Endeavour is sitting on Pad 39-B for Launch On Need rescue.

Both Shuttle missions were intended to launch before late November, when the Sun's inclination on solar panels makes ISS missions more difficult. Also "workforce issues" come into play, as NASA personnel wish to take holiday! After flight Pad 39-B was to be modified for the Ares 1-X launch. That flight was scheduled for April 009, then June, and now will be delayed further. The effect of this system failure will cascade down the line.

As befitting its name, Hubble's primary scientific mission is to measure expansion of the Universe. That is expressed in the famous "Hubble Constant." Hubble's constant is not really constant; astronomers agree it changes with time. By measuring redshifts of distant supernovae, astronomers came to the paradoxical conclusion that the universe is accelerating! That would violate the First Law of Thermodynamics, so a repulsive "dark energy" was inferred to oppose gravity. Pursuit of DE has misled physics for a decade. If scientists had realised that data pointed to the speed of light changing, it would have been one of history's great discoveries. Humans may lack the wisdom to use an instrument like Hubble.

Launch Complex 39 with two Shuttles on the pads simultaneously. Atlantis sits on Pad 39-A in preparation for STS-125. In the background Endeavour is poised on Pad 39-B for Launch On Need.

Jennifer of Twisted Physics hosts this week's Carnival of Space!

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

SpaceX: If At First You Don't Succeed...

Go, Hot Dog, go! On its fourth test flight, SpaceX's Falcon 1 has finally reached orbit. The 5-second delay after Main Engine Cutoff (MECO) made a big difference. On the last attempt the first stage kept burning and bumped into the second stage. Next up is the larger Falcon 9, which uses the same Merlin regeneratively cooled engine. Elon Musk will shortly approach the US government about COTS D, a capability to send humans to ISS. SpaceX is currently the best poised to take that duty after the Shuttles are retired. We can continue to wish them good fortune.

UPDATE: The first launches of Falcon 9 are scheduled for June and November 009. In March 2010 Falcon 9 and Dragon are scheduled to dock with ISS.

Jennifer of Twisted Physics hosts this week's Carnival of Space!


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Heavy Rings

Cassini data and computer simulations have led scientists to conclude that Saturn's Rings are ancient, perhaps billions of years old. Previously they thought the Rings could not survive more than about 100 million years. We would then face the anthropic question of why the Rings are around at just the right time for humans to enjoy them, just like Earth is the centre of the Universe. The Rings are also much more massive than previously thought. More about this soon.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Going With the Flow?

According to Space.com, astronomers have discovered a mysterious Dark Flow. Giant clusters of galaxies appear to be moving at high speed toward a mysterious source of gravity. No known gravitational source can account for this massive flow. We have long known of a hidden "Great Attractor" pulling galaxies toward it. The mass causing this Dark Flow must be even more enormous.

In this picture from the Cosmic Microwave Background, white spots are moving clusters of galaxies. They are all being drawn toward the small region marked in violet. Since there is no visible source of mass, scientists are speculating that the mass is outside the visible Universe! They should consider this: perhaps the source of attraction is truly dark, an ultra-massive Hole in Space.

This was predicted back in October 2006, Stirring Things Up.

"Expansion of the Universe is not uniform. Individual motions of galaxies can oppose the Hubble flow, like trout swimming upstream. The Milky Way and thousands of other galaxies are falling at 600 km/sec toward an unseen mass called the Great Attractor. This object has the mass of 10^16 Suns or 100,000 galaxies! It may be a true Black Hole, so monstrously massive that nothing can escape. There is evidence of another Great Attractor some 700 million years away.

"These monsters could be common, yet they are not counted in mass surveys. The missing 2/3 ascribed to "dark energy" may be hidden from us. It is foolish to think that humans know all that is out there. That is like Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius not realising that he is falling into an abyss.

"A physicist can go with the flow, avoid risk, and not stand out. One can profess that the Universe is dominated by "dark energy" and the Sun circles the Earth. Such people end up complaining about their unsatisfying lives because they never make a difference. It is much more fun to stir things up!

Models can predict the 71.62% proportion of this dark mass. This is precisely the amount found by the WMAP spacecraft. Because the early speed of light was much larger, primordial Black Holes formed to immense size. These ultra-massive Holes cleared immense dark voids in Space. Today they would invisibly attract galaxies toward them, exactly as has been observed. This is one more indicator of a changing speed of light.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008


A 2-year old's earliest memory is of flying across the Pacific. The weather was clear, so out the window we could see the waves thousands of meters below. Since then there have been innumerable flights across the ocean--10 hours from San Francisco to Tokyo, 14 hours from Los Angeles to Sydney! Even commuting from Hawaii to the mainland takes 5 hours. While sleeping on the long flight, we can dream of a better world.

It's the year 2008 and the woman is proud pilot of the Boeing 2707 supersonic transport. The plane is assembled in the Everett, Washington factory that also produced the 747. Unlike the aluminium-hulled Concorde, the plane's fuselage is made of titanium. Powered by 4 huge turbofan engines, we cruise to the edge of Space at three times the speed of sound!

On a typical day 300 passengers fly 6400 km in about 2 hours. One aircraft can fly two roundtrips in a day, doing the work of two subsonic planes. Since we fly across oceans, our sonic booms never reach land. At altitudes over 64,000 feet, we fly above 95% of Earth's atmosphere. Even at midday, the sky is dark and full of stars. We live in a world where little girls can dream about flying supersonic.

This mockup of a supersonic transport was built by Boeing in the late 1960's. When all the pieces were assembled, the plane was 90 meters long! Unfortunately, the SST fell victim to the times. Doubts were raised about sonic booms and the plane's effect on the ozone layer. The US Office of the Inspector General concluded that the plane would not be economically sound. In 1971 the US Congress ended funding for the SST.

Built with government aid, the Anglo-French Concorde flew until 2003. Unfortunately, the skyrocketing price of oil made the economic warnings come true. By the early 1970's Western nations had foolishly outsourced their energy production to the Middle East. With only 10 built, the Concorde never earned back its development cost. The Russian TU-144 was completely impractical and crashed at the Paris Airshow.

This SST may have been an idea ahead of its time. If the US, Britain and France had used more reliable sources of energy the story may have been different. It is thrilling to believe that people can build machines like this. For decades our commercial planes have been stuck in subsonic. On long flights across the Pacific, we still feel the need for speed.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Alien Life

This blog enjoys exploring a strange world and unusual forms of life. A census of Australia's reefs has found hundreds of new species. This white topped coral crab crab has claws bigger than its body. The segmented forms of shellfish could resemble future spacesuits.

This dendronepthya or soft coral was found near Lizard Island.

Pohls sea urchins, also found off Lizard Island. This writer had the great pleasure of studying in Australia. Lizard Island also contains an excellent resort surrounded by the Reef. Creatures in this weightless environment may hint at the forms of alien life.

This tardigrade, or "water bear," is an eight-legged creature about 1.5 millimeters long. In extreme environments it can suspend all biological activity. In a dehydrated state it can survive great heat, cold and even the vacuum of Space. A colony of them spent 10 days in Space aboard an ESA spacecraft called FOTON-M3. Tardigrades survived solar UV radiation 1000 times more intense than that of Earth's surface. These tardigrade's survival lends support to panspermia, the idea that life could cross Space to seed other worlds.

In deep sea vents, scientists have found organisms surviving at temperatures up to 120 degrees Celsius. The vents are warmed by geothermal heat originating deep in Earth's interior. The source of interior heat is still unexplained, but could conceivably come from a tiny Black Hole in Earth's centre. Worlds as diverse as Ceres and Europa appear to contain oceans. All these worlds are potential abodes of alien life.

See Part 2 of the Carnival of Space!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"Irrelevant, Unobservable, Impractical,.."

Interesting letter from Charles Gallo in September's issue of PHYSICS TODAY:

"I will take the discussion further and include physics TV programs, such as some shown on NOVA and the Science Channel, that are even less relevant than physics classes. Those TV shows emphasize irrelevant, unobservable, impractical, and inaccessible subjects such as mysterious dark matter, dark energy, black holes, parallel universes and string theory -- all subjects that have no relevance to the daily lives or ordinary people."


Tuesday, September 16, 2008


(Talk of a certain theory has reached so many forums that one can't keep track of them all. This comes from the solarcycle24 forum.)

Faint Sun Paradox

ENOUGH wrote:

One major issue that leaves a lot of issues hanging is the Faint Sun Paradox. Here is one of the latest papers dealing with an explanation. Have not seen anything on this board about topic and am looking for comments.



SOLOMON wrote:

If space itself is expanding (negative energy) and not just the distance between things, then the apparent speed of light might be changing. One small problem, we have not been able to measure any shift.
How about taking some of these topics to the new board?!

ENOUGH wrote:

I have been playing with the new board and trying to decide when to jump. In a way I hate losing the old threads. The Faint Sun Paradox has left no one satisfied. The AGW has not even jumped on it. The three most popular ways around it that I am aware of:

1. GM=tc^3 from the link originaly posted.

2. Cosmic Rays and Solar Wind

3. And of course massive green house gas levels early in the lifes history.

Will cross post in the up coming days

(SO, we have the leading theory for explaining the "Faint Young Sun." Numbers 2 and 3 are barely theories at all, but rely on inferrences of gas. As they say at Fighter Weapons School, "No points for second place!")

(Now to a thread about the Speed of Light. )


speed of light is decreasing.

how did i find this?

one lady/woman had this written on her "about me" in her blog -

Full-time researcher in cosmology. Before graduating I learned that the speed of light is slowing down and came up with the GM=tc^3 equation, which most physicists still can't explain. More recent work seeks Black Holes in some very unexpected places. I enjoy exploring a strange world and unusual forms of life.

I thought she was joking until I saw this - http://www-conf.slac.stanford.edu/einstein/talks/aspauthor2004_3.pdf

The above link is an abstract and is in PDF..and was given as a talk to Stanford Univ. just to say that I'm not joking.



It is certainly not crank physics - Riofrio is a respected physicist - but it's not something I've come across before. I've cleaned up a paper by Riofrio on the matter (it was graphics and nasty - I've OCRd it and tidied it up a bit).

There is also an article where she explains the theory in more accessible language...


(The virus is spreading!)


Monday, September 15, 2008

Sighting a New World

Using our Gemini North telescope atop Mauna Kea, astronomers may have the first photograph of a planet orbiting a sunlike star. Star 1RXS J160929.1-210524 is 500 light-years from Earth. The planet has about 8 times the mass of Jupiter and an orbit approximately 330 astronomical units in diameter. Current models of planet formation can not explain a giant planet orbiting so far from its primary. The gaseous disk that is thought to precede solar system formation would be thin indeed.

If this planetary object formed around a primordial Black Hole, the singularity would gather mass even from a thinnest disk. The Black Hole would be too small to ignite the fusion of a sun, but large enough to produce a Jupiter-like object. This planet's estimated temperature is around 1500 degrees C, possibly indicating an internal source of heat.

Last week's operation of the LHC led to some silly fears about Black Holes. Even if a Black Hole existed inside Earth, we would not be sucked up. Outward radiation pressure would balance gravity's inward pull until an equilibrium was achieved. Presence of a Black Hole would cause Earth to have internal heat and a magnetic field whose poles do not coincide with the geographic poles. Makes one think, does it not?

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

In Houston We Have a Problem

Again we must express hope and concern for friends in the Houston - Clear Lake area. What an exciting weekend! Financial institutions are sinking. American political polls are in a seismic shift. We have the pleasure of living in interesting times.

From the NASA website: "NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston remains closed and likely will be limited to recovery operations for the next week. Johnson may not be open for normal operations until the week of Sept. 21."

This may or may not affect the Shuttle flight schedule. The building housing Mission Control building has roof damage. Its functions have been moved to a temporary home in Austin. Astronaut training and other activities at JSC will be delayed.

Back in January 2007, the blog described the damage Cumbre Vieja would cause to major cities:

Cumbre Vieja volcano in the Canary Islands looks peaceful now. Undersea surveys have found a 400 cubic km landslide, the debris of a prehistoric eruption. Previous activity has caused the Western slope to come loose, creating a North-South fracture. Another large eruption would cause 500 cubic kilometres of mountain to crash into the sea. Dr. Simon Day and Steven Ward have modelled what would happen next.

The initial impact would create a water dome 900 meters high, collapsing and spreading like a stone creating ripples. A massive tsunami would race across the Atlantic at nearly 800 km/hr. The coast of Morocco would be struck by waves 100 meters high. Waves up to 50 meters from crest to trough would strike the US East Coast. Water would inundate coasts from Britain to Brazil.

The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 produced waves up to 30 m high. Krakatoa's eruption in 1883 created 6 m waves, killing 30,000 people. The damage in New York City alone would make 9/11 look like a college prank. The Northeastern US is also vulnerable to earthquakes. As recently as 1925 a magnitude 7 quake struck the region. Unlike California or Hawaii, New York has never prepared for a major earthquake.

Before Einstein and Planck some scientists believed they knew everything about physics. Even today some will tell you that they have inventoried the entire Universe. It is the height of folly to think we know everything in nature. Previously humans did not suspect what lies beneath their feet. The hiccoughs of a Black Hole less than a millimetre across can wipe out whole coastlines. The Universe has power and mysteries far beyond human understanding.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hawaiian Solar System

Concerns and best wishes to friends in the Houston - Clear Lake area.

Mauna Kea's summit seen from my plane. The Islands often seem like little worlds, each with its own unique character. The Hawaiian solar system is central in the vast Space of the Pacific. Polynesian navigators settled the Pacific island by island in a process that took centuries. Future humans could settle the Galaxy in the same way.

Friday the national Space Society and John C. Mankins (expert on Space Solar Power) announced the first long-distance transmission of solar energy. The project transmitted power between antennas on two Hawaiian islands 148 km apart. This is similiar to the distance from low Earth orbit, though far from the 36,000 km geosynchronous orbit. Earlier this year we heard Colonel "Coyote" Smith announce a project to transmit power from orbit. The dream of limitless clean energy from Space may finally be moving forward.

Orbital Hub hosts the new Carnival of Space!

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Thursday, September 11, 2008


"We go to defend freedom, and all that is good and just in the world."

The proof of 'dark energy,' the Korean Peninsula seen from Space. The North has famine, energy shortages and no electricity after 9 PM. North Korean officials deny rumours that dictator Kim Jong is Ill. He missed the parade for the 60th anniversary of their totalitarian state. North Korean officials spout claims that he is fine, but no evidence. South Korean sources speculate that Lil' Kim is recovering from surgery.

Times Online reports the surprising theory that Kim Jong Il's lights went out permanently back in 2003! According to Professor Toshimitsu Shigemura's new book, "The True Character of Kim Jong Il" has been concealed for years. The occasional appearances of Lil' Kim have been played by doubles. (He did not appear this year to accept the Olympic torch, or at the recent 60th anniversary celbration of communist rule.) This theory is opposed by most NK experts, but Professor Shigemura believes that his theory will turn out to be accurate.

Kagemusha (Shadow Warrior) is a Japanese legend and a great film by Akira Kurosawa. A peasant who resembles the king is recruited to pose in the King's uniform during battles. The soldiers are energized by the appearance of their leader overseeing the battle. Unexpectedly the king dies and the Kagemusha is forced to take over all his roles. This charade ends with a tragic conclusion.

7 years after 9/11/01, most of the world believes that Osama Bin Laden is still a live target. Certainly terrorists are still a threat; their cause is aided by belief that OBL lives. Followers flock to OBL's message even though no one has seen him. All we see are old videotapes and crude audio. Major media dutifully report and amplify these crude messages. Convincing evidence would be video of him walking around while waving a current newspaper. Terrorists have every reason to produce such evidence, but do not. OBL may have met his fate within 1-2 days of December 15, 2001. Perhaps the "War on Terror" has been more successful than people realise.

Kagemushas have much in common with 'dark energy.' Like terrorism, 'dark energy' threatens to tear the Universe apart. Scientists have flocked to DE even though no one has seen it. Some of their interest is financial, for grants flow to DE researchers. Even if a Joint Dark Energy Mission is launched, it will not return a single particle or wave, just an "equation of state" which could be explained by a changing speed of light. That would not distinguish between the myriad DE theories. Cosmologists have flocked to DE like the Emperor's New Clothes, for it will keep them employed and unsuccessful indefinitely. 'Dark energy' may have tragic conclusions for the reputation of science.

UPDATE SEPT 12: Barack Obama, who has been looking pale lately, is out of action tonight due to "stomach flu."


Wednesday, September 10, 2008


The early morning was full of news about the Large Hadron Collider. We enjoyed a celebration at the local Swiss mission, with a 2-way video link to the LHC control room. No less a voice than Stephen Hawking has bet 100 dollars that the Higgs will not be found. In an interview for Wired science, I expressed hope that LHC will discover some new physics. We can hope that the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer also goes into operation. While the LHC will find particles of around 10^12 eV, the AMS will find particles in excess of 10^20 eV!


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Einstein and Gamow Take a Walk

George Gamow, another giant of 20th century physics, made mistakes of his own. He had a tempestuous marriage, drank heavily, was fond of gossip and practical jokes. His famous "Alpha, Beta, Gamma" paper was co-authored by Ralph Alpher with Hans Bethe added to complete the title. This 1948 paper describes the formation of elements after the Big Bang. A follow-up paper predicted a cosmic microwave background with a temperature of 5K. In his book "Creation of the Universe" Gamow mistakenly calculates the temperature at 50 degrees K!

Prediction of the cosmic microwave background was ignored and forgotten for nearly two decades. Robert Dicke and James Peebles of Princeton, unaware of Gamow's work, independently calculated CMB temperature at 10K. Nearby at Bell Labs, physicists Arthur Penzias and Joseph Wilson were tuning a large microwave antenna to communicatewith satellites. Finding a strange background signal, Penzias and Wilson accidentally discovered the CMB. It's temperature would eventually be measured as 2.7K, barely half Gamow's original prediction.

One day in the 1940's Einstein and Gamow were walking through Princeton. Gamow mentioned that one of his students had calculated that it was possible to make a star from nothing; its gravitational energy is equal and opposite to rest energy. Einstein, realising that this could apply to the whole Universe, stopped in the middle of the street. Unfotunately history has not recorded the math behind this calculation or who Gamow's student was.

The gravitational potential energy U of two particles is: U = -GMm/R. The total mechanical energy of a star works out to:

E ~ -(3/10)(GM^2)/R

Where M and R are the star's Mass and Radius. If our Sun's luminosity came from gravitational collapse, this energy would be used up in only 10 million years. Early in the 20th century, this led astronomers to conclude that something beyond gravity powered the stars.

What had Gamow's student found? If we equate an object's total potential energy with rest energy, we get:

GMm/R = mc^2

R = GM/c^2

Where M and R relate to a distant centre of Mass. If G, M and c are fixed this is the spherical Einstein Space. Such a Space would collapse unless it were expanding or supported by some repulsive force.

As nige and others have found, we can insert R = ct. Applied to the Universe, Scale R is distance to the Big Bang, age t multiplied by conversion factor c.

ct = GM/c^2

GM = tc^3

This can also be derived from Relativity, but doing so raises petty mathematical objections. There are multiple ways to derive GM = tc^3, but this is among the simplest and the most difficult to contest.

Thanks to George Gamow, we learned many things about physics and cosmology. His prediction of the CMB, though inaccurate in value, was eventually proved by Penzias and Wilson. We may never know exactly what Einstein and Gamow had hit upon while crossing the street. Perhaps they suspected that total energy of the Universe is zero. Our Universe may be the ultimate free lunch, which has allowed it to grow from a tiny point to the immensity we enjoy today.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Einstein's Mistakes

Fuld Hall at the Institute for Advanced Studies, a beautiful but chilly day in November 007.

EINSTEIN'S MISTAKES: THE HUMAN FAILING OF GENIUS by Hans Ohanian goes on sale today. The book does not try to diminish the man's extraordinary achievements. Physicist Ohanian shows that Einstein was human like the rest of us. Like a real scientist trying different approaches, Einstein made many errors. Part of his greatness was the willingness to make mistakes

The first derivation of m=E/c^2 is in a 2-page addendum to "The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies." There is an error in this hastily written proof, and more mistakes in the second, third and fourth proofs of 1906-07. Only in 1911 did Max Laue produce a full proof. Einstein's fifth proof in 1914, his sixth proof in 1934 and his seventh proof in 1946 also contained errors. By this time nuclear reactions and the atomic bomb had proved to the world that E=mc^2.

EINSTEIN'S MISTAKES finds errors in 4 of the 5 seminal papers, including the photoelectric effect and the size of molecules from Brownian motion. Einstein's PhD thesis was full of mistakes. The road to General Relativity contained many errors and dead ends. In 1916 Einstein made a mistake interpreting Mach's Principle. The last decades of Einstein's life were spent in a fruitless search for Unified Field Theory. Attempting to unite electromagnetism with gravity, he tried many approaches which all failed. The book lists dozens of mistakes stretching across an entire career.

Einstein's greatest blunder was the cosmological constant. In a 1917 paper Einstein dared to imagine the entire Universe. According to General Relativity, mass causes Space/Time to be curved. Einstein realised that enough mass would cause the Universe to be curved into a sphere of 4 dimensions. Travel in any spatial direction would be confined to the sphere. Such a sphere would collapse under its own gravity, unless it were already expanding. To support the sphere Einstein invoked the fudge factor of a cosmological constant.

If Einstein had proposed an expanding Universe it would have been one of history's great predictions. No doubt he would have been ridiculed for having no supporting evidence. That's why it is called a prediction, boys! If Einstein had waited long enough, Edwin Hubble would eventually have proven his amazing prediction. When faced with Hubble's evidence Einstein had to admit that the cosmological constant was a blunder.

Fortunately Einstein had a great patron in Max Planck. Planck was an editor of Annalen Der Physik, otherwise Einstein's great papers may not have been published in 1905. In later years Planck was first to hail Einstein as a new Copernicus. Planck's blackbody formula was an experimental result; many years passed before someone found a mathematical derivation.

Einstein had another regret: Submitting to refereed journals. Around 1936 he submitted a paper to Physical Review, the leading American journal. Despite Einstein being by then the world's most renowned scientist, his paper was returned with anonymous comments from a referee. Einstein withdrew the paper and henceforth avoided PRL and any journal with anonymous referees. This was a blessing in disguise, for the paper contained an error.

A child could figure out that R=ct and GM=tc^3. Proposing this gets the most tangled mathematical objections: the units don't add up (they do), the metric is (1, 1, 1, 1) rather than (1, -1, -1, -1),...and so on. We can see why these people, despite their expensive education, have never come up with anything original. By their own admission, such people referee papers. If they were reviewing Copernicus, they would insist that everything be expressed in terms of a fixed Earth.

History gives us many lessons for today. Even an Einstein can make mistakes. The cosmological constant was a blunder and still is. Predicting an expanding Universe or a shrinking speed of light is worth the wait for confirmation. Don't feel bad if refereed journals reject your stuff. A great physicist is prepared to make mistakes, lots of them. The book admires Einstein's "mystical, intuitive" approach. He used mistakes as "stepping stones and shortcuts" to success. We can still learn a lot from Einstein.

TOMORROW: Einstein and Gamow take a walk

A to Z with the Carnival of Space!

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Georgia Human Chain

Aerial photography puts many things in perspective. From Georgian television, this amazing human chain hundreds of thousands strong protests the occupation. The chain stretches from Tbilisi across the countryside to nearly every town in Georgia. The annexation has been recognised by no other country, not even China, but the invaders have allies elsewhere. Since Western television has not picked up this footage, the job is left for this little blog. Why has your local news reported on 'dark energy' but not this cry for freedom?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Sarah and John

TERMINATOR 3-D at Universal Studios Hollywood. Produced with the aid of Jim Cameron, this attraction pioneered the 3-D effects seen in the Las Vegas Borg Experience. The writer was fortunate to meet Jim at my birthday (which also happened to be the AAAS meeting) February 19, 2002. We share interests in undersea and Space exploration.

TERMINATOR: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has been renewed for another year! Many of us girls were inspired by Sci Fi movies showing strong women of the future. Jim in particular showed many positive images of women on the way to TITANIC. ALIENS (1986) scared the teeth out of a 4-year old, but we remember Ripley fighting along with the boys and Vasquez doing chinups. In TERMINATOR 2 (1991) Sarah was re-introduced in the same shot pulling herself up with her own muscles.

Last week's events showed how much resistance remains to women in power. Vile sexist comments have circled the world aimed even at a candidate's daughter. Motherhood is difficult enough without the world watching. As we know, Sarah Connor was a young unwed mother. This post is not favouring one American party; Hilary supporters are disappointed that she was not even considered for VP.

Much of this online sexism has been spread by blogs, even "Kosmic" variants. A year ago we saw the same characters make an infantile attack on Tommaso, a real scientist reporting groundbreaking research. These people do not present at scientific meetings, but do show up at the Yearly Kos. As someone who knows them, I urge them to think about their words.

In the movie 300 Lena Headley held up the home front while the men went to battle. As in the Pelopponessian War, freedom periodically must be defended. Today she is Sarah Connor fighting for the future. Women are fighting in wars, and even vying for leadership. We believe in Sarah and know that she will continue the fight.

A to Z with the Carnival of Space!

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Last Flight

(Article accepted by major spaceflight publication)

The Space Shuttle era is coming to an end. For decades the winged Orbiters have symbolized humanity’s reach into Space. For American astronauts, the Shuttle held monopoly on their ability to reach orbit. The Columbia accident of 2003 led to a new Vision for the Moon, Mars and Beyond. With the coming of Orion and other spacecraft, the Shuttles are scheduled to retire in 2010.

Cosmic rays represent some of the biggest mysteries in science. The most energetic particles ever found, they may hold the key to mysteries like antimatter and “dark” matter. A new international experiment, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer has been built to study cosmic rays. Carried aloft by Shuttle and mounted on the Space Station, AMS would be one of the Station’s key experiments.

As the year 2010 nears, a conflict has developed between science and program. Congress and the science community want an additional flight for AMS. Eager to retire Shuttle, some in NASA would prefer that the experiment be grounded. One possible solution is simple, safe and already being planned for.

Cosmic Rays and AMS

Though they bombard Earth constantly, relatively little is known about cosmic rays. First discovered by balloon experiments in 1912, these particles present some of the biggest mysteries in science. For decades the very origins of cosmic rays were a mystery. They can have enormous energies, far higher than those produced in human accelerators. The highest energy cosmic rays, nicknamed "Oh My God particles,” defy today’s physics to explain. Ultra-high energy cosmic rays may have originated at a time near the Big Bang, when even the speed of light may have been different.

As one example, nearly everyone has experienced the power of a thunderstorm. We are taught in school that lightning originates from static buildup within storm clouds. What triggers the discharges is unknown. Since cosmic rays fall nearly steadily across Earth's surface, some researchers have suggested that cosmic rays are the cause of lightning! That may be one more example of how Space science affects life on Earth.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is the most ambitious physics experiment designed for ISS. From its perch on the S3 Upper Inboard Payload Attach Site, AMS will intercept cosmic rays from Space. The project was first proposed in 1995, shortly after cancellation of the Superconducting Supercollider. As conceived by Nobel laureate Samuel Ting, AMS would explore energies far greater than Earthly accelerators. While the Large Hadron Collider can produce particles of 10^12 electron–volts, cosmic rays have energies in excess of 10^20 electron-volts.

The heart of AMS is a two-ton superconducting magnet, cooled to a temperature of only 1.8 degrees Kelvin. The paths of charged particles are bent by magnetic fields. As in a bubble chamber, scientists can identify different particles by their tracks. For instance, the tracks of matter and antimatter would be bent in opposite directions. Study of antimatter particles would offer clues as to why our Universe is made mostly of matter.

One of the most ambitious physics experiments ever built, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is international in scope. Building AMS has employed 500 researchers from 16 nations. After a cost of 1.5 billion, the device is nearly completed. A prototype AMS-01 visited Space with STS-91 in 1998, returning data that validated the concept. During 2008 AMS will be moved from CERN to Kennedy Space Center for launch. Unfortunately, plans and lives were cut short by Columbia.

Shuttle Retirement

If NASA had known about the damage to Columbia’s Thermal Protection System, there would have been a small but fighting chance of rescue. While STS-107 was in orbit, Atlantis was being readied for STS-114. If certain safety protocols had been waived, she could have been launched early on a rendezvous attempt. Space would then have seen its greatest drama since Apollo 13. As the world below watched breathlessly, for the first time in history one spaceship would try to rescue another.

If her crew were evacuated, Columbia would have been left to her fate. She would have been boosted into a higher orbit to await another rendezvous. Possibly a way would have been found to repair the damage and return Columbia to service. More likely her orbit would have decayed until she met her end in the atmosphere.

Since return to flight in 2005, the biggest concern is another Columbia accident. Batteries of cameras on the ground and spacecraft now monitor every launch for foam strikes. Before and after docking each Shuttle is minutely inspected for damage using the Orbiter Boom Sensor System. Each mission carries some risk of TPS tiles being lost.

If damage were found that prevented safe reentry, a Shuttle crew would evacuate to the Station. A Contingency Shuttle Crew Support (CSCS) mission would Launch On Need to bring the crew home. Since the Station has never hosted two Shuttles simultaneously, the damaged Orbiter would be jettisoned before the rescue mission docked.

In the aftermath of Columbia, every remaining Shuttle flight was directed toward completing ISS. To make way for Constellation, the Shuttles were scheduled for retirement in 2010. Despite its expense, importance to science and international partners, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer was taken off the launch manifest. Studies have since shown that Shuttle is the only feasible vehicle for carrying AMS into Space.

Hubble Servicing Mission STS-125 poses its own challenges. HSM-4 was removed from the manifest following Columbia, but restored after pressure from the public and Congress. Evacuating to ISS from Hubble’s orbit will not be possible. As Atlantis ascends from Pad 39-A, Endeavour will be poised on Pad 39-B for Launch On Need. At the conclusion of HSM-4 Endeavour will be moved from 39-B, which will then be modified for the Ares 1-X test.

At this writing, Contingency Logistics Flights STS-132 (Discovery) and STS-133 (Endeavour) are scheduled for launch April 8 and May 31, 2010. After flight Discovery will re-enter the Orbiter Processing Facility and begin preparations for Launch On Need. A new External Tank ET-138 and two Solid Rocket Boosters must also be prepared. If STS-133 needs no rescue, those expensive pieces of hardware will go unused. Launching 7 months before the end of 2010, STS-133 may be the last Shuttle mission.

Many in the Space community are concerned about the “gap” after Shuttle retirement. Scientists are eager to see AMS fly on Shuttle. Without AMS, the Station is open to charges that it lacks scientific purpose. The 15 nations that have funded AMS wish to see the US fulfill its commitment. On June 18, 2008 a new NASA authorization bill passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming 409-15 margin. In addition to increasing NASA funding, H.R. 6063 directs an additional Shuttle flight for AMS. As they supported Hubble Space Telescope, the people have spoken in support of science.


A scenario for an AMS mission is described here. It is similar to most Shuttle flights with one notable exception. The rescue contingencies previously described all include retiring the damaged Orbiter in Space. Prior to the Shuttle era, NASA threw away nearly all its spacecraft. This may represent a simple, safe way to launch AMS while ending the Shuttle program.

The AMS mission would bring new duties for ISS crew. During 2009 the Station will establish a permanent six-person capability. Three-person expeditions or “increments” will arrive and depart via Soyuz. To prepare for AMS, one increment would temporarily be reduced to two persons. A Mission Specialist would arrive in a Soyuz, along with a Russian pilot who would join the ISS increment. Four persons would then be aboard to welcome the Shuttle, supported by two Soyuz spacecraft.

AMS would fly aboard an Orbiter already prepared for STS-133 rescue, using the External Tank and the Solid Rocket Boosters already purchased. A Commander and Pilot in the flight deck would be responsible for docking with the Station. For EVA the Orbiter would bring the normal complement of three Extravehicular Mobility Units (spacesuits.) The Mission Specialist would be responsible for installing AMS assisted by the Pilot, with the ISS crew available for EVA support.

The Commander, Pilot and Mission Specialist would return to Earth by Soyuz. This removes the risk of a Columbia accident, and the requirement to prepare another Shuttle for Launch On Need. (Hopefully the Soyuz problem of ballistic entry will be solved by 2010.) After its last mission is complete, the Orbiter will no longer be needed.

Concerning spacesuits, three Extravehicular Mobility Units would add to the ISS collection. The EMU was designed for Shuttle and is not cleared for Soyuz or Orion. Once the Shuttles stop flying the ISS is currently due to have just four EMU's onboard. Since there is no precedent for EMU’s lasting over a 5-year gap, the additional suits would be invaluable. Any Shuttle visit to ISS is valuable for extra small payloads. STS-124 was especially welcome for bringing parts to repair the toilet.

At the mission’s conclusion the crew would arm the Orbital Maneuvering System, exit to ISS and ceremoniously close the hatch. Mission Control in Houston can command the Orbiter to separate, maneuver and fire the OMS engines. A tail-first reentry over the Pacific would likely be chosen. In 50 years dozens of unmanned spacecraft and boosters have broken up over oceans without a single injury. The AMS mission would be a memorable end to the Shuttle era.

The Logical Thing To Do?

Safety is a primary concern of Shuttle operations. Unlike most other Space flights, the AMS mission has redundant rescue capability. At no point does the total number of people aboard ISS exceed the six-person capacity of the two Soyuz. In an emergency, the Shuttle will still be able to evacuate all six crew.

Because an Orbiter, External Tank, SRB’s and launch facilities must be prepared for STS-133 rescue, adding the AMS mission would be relatively inexpensive. The Mission Specialist and her crewmates would ascend and return in Soyuz flights already purchased. Returning by Soyuz avoids the expense and risk of landing an Orbiter on Earth. Along with Enterprise, which today sits in the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy facility, two Orbiters would be available for display. For the final mission, retiring an Orbiter in Space is an unusual but logical step.

Aside from safety issues, the cost of recovering an Orbiter is many millions of dollars. The Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center and the alternate runway at Edwards Air Force Base must be prepared and the airspace cleared. Helicopters and chase planes must be deployed for rescue and security. At each location, a land armada of 20-30 specialized vehicles and 150 trained personnel also stand ready. Their jobs include disembarking the astronauts, “safing” the Orbiter and removing its explosive propellants. The Edwards Space Shuttle Recovery Team alone has several hundred members. After an Edwards landing, the Shuttle must be mounted atop its 747 carrier and flown to an Orbiter Processing Facility at KSC. There an additional Orbiter, External Tank and Solid Rocket Boosters must be prepared for Launch On Need in case the reentry is aborted. For the Shuttle program, the price of reusability is high.

While two Orbiters have been lost in flight, no precedent exists for retiring a Space Shuttle on Earth. The costs of safing an Orbiter and putting it on display are unknown but probably beyond the means of most museums. Only a few sites have a history of operating Shuttles. Kennedy Space Center could convert an Orbiter Processing Facility for Shuttle display. The Manned Spaceflight Center in Houston and the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum at Edwards would also be competing locations. Kennedy and Edwards both have the advantage of a Mate/Demate facility for an Orbiter and 747. Along with the two carrier aircraft, many Shuttle mockups and parts remain for museums.

Future generations will look upon the Orbiters with wonder. Starting with dreams of a reusable Spaceplane, the Shuttle has maintained humans in Low Earth Orbit for 3 decades. This period has provided both hope and tragedy. Hundreds of trained astronauts have reached LEO via the Shuttle Orbiters. As the year 2010 approaches, private industry is prepared to ferry humans into orbit and NASA is ready to again move beyond. The Space Shuttles will long remain as symbols of an era.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Bell Labs 1926-2008

Along with the Star Trek Experience, another era has ended. Bell Labs, which produced six Nobel Prizes and inventions like the transistor and the hydrogen maser, has been closed by parent company Alcatel-Lucent. In 1965, while tuning a microwave antenna, Bell Researchers Arnold Penzias and Robert Wilson accidentally discovered the Cosmic Microwave Background. The handful of researchers left will be reassigned to other projects.

"Increasingly, long-term research is being carried out in universities and national laboratories with federal grants," said an APS spokesman. This wishful thinking depends on shrinking college and federal budgets. Scientists are then reduced to wilfare cases, relying on the fickle spigot of government. To get grants one must fill out piles of paperwork. Only a few of the applicants will see a dime. Grants tend to favour those doing "safe" research. Scientists are forced to follow fashionable ideas like "dark energy."

Galileo, Newton and Einstein made their discoveries without national labs or government grants. Galileo did not finish the equivalent of a bachelor's degree, held a low-level teaching postion and was presecuted by mainstream science. Newton's greatest breakthroughs were made when plague exiled him from Cambridge. Einstein's first breakthroughs arrived while he worked as a patent clerk. To make fundamental advances in physics, all one really needs is a good pencil.


Monday, September 01, 2008

STAR TREK Experience 1996-2008

September 1 was the last day for the STAR TREK Experience in Las Vegas. This was the coolest ride in town, even for people who didn't enjoy the TV show. More than an amusement park ride, this attraction involved us in the adventure. Quark's Bar, Promenade shops and the "Klingon Experience" opened in 1996. Participants were part of an adventure that took them through the Transporter room, Bridge and a wild ride on a shuttlecraft. The "Borg 4D" Experience in 1996 added 3-dimensional effects. Captive audiences enjoyed the sensations of being assimilated before being rescued by USS Voyager. Afterwards we could relax at Quark's and enjoy the steaming "Warp Core" drink. Last Thursday, while the writer also enjoyed the Excalbian Enchiladas, the place seemed successful as ever. We will sorely miss the Experience, and wonder why it had to close.

Red uniform is from the classic episode: MIRROR, MIRROR. An alternate Universe was ruled by a conquering Empire, the Enterprise was run like a pirate ship and the women all had flat bellies. In the year 2008 mainstream scientists have given up on explaining the Universe, saying that it is just one of countless "multiverses." Each of these multiple universes would have different physical parameters. We all have our wicked side.

In "THE Nth DEGREE" ultra-advanced aliens turn unaccomplished Lt. Barclay into a super-brain, the most advanced human alive. Soon he has outperformed Einstein on a blackboard and found unsuspected applications of Space/Time. After beams of light fuse him to the ship's computer, his disembodied voice proudly announces:

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

According to STAR TREK, even by the 24th century humans will not have figured out a simple equation like GM = tc^3. If that is not simple enough, in Planck units M = R = t. After they are gone discoverers will, like Zefram Cochrane, be immortalised as statues with their human failings forgotten. STAR TREK reminds us that the humanity is capable of far more.


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