Thursday, January 29, 2009

Welcome Miles O'Brien

Welcome to the web Miles O'Brien's blog! CNN's long-time science reporter, whom we saw at the ISDC dinner in July, was suddenly sacked in December. Furthermore, CNN dumped his staff and their entire science & techology unit. Who will report on Space, energy, climate change, the environment, technology and the science that affects our very lives? The flailing network will continue to report on wars, criminals and vapid celebrities. This month Miles has begun his own blog. Hopefully he will have another job soon.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ruining Britain?

Friend Kea is a fine scientist and mathematician, and has earned a great job at Oxford University. At last notice she was still stuck outside the UK due to nonsense with immigration. She has already missed a speaking appointment January 7. The British consulate appears to have kept her passport, which keeps one from quick trips to Sydney or Lord Howe Island. One commenter has suggested there is internecine warfare involving the Borders Agency. Whatever the cause, this is the last straw.

If scientists were vengeful, we would punish the UK like a James Bond villain. From our secret island headquarters, we would launch weapons into Space that would shower ruin on Britain's shores. Better to go somewhere (like Texas) where the economy is doing relatively well and young women are still being employed.

We need not bother. As if in retribution, Britain suffered the subway bombings of July 2005 and the 2007 London-Glasgow bombings. (Here's a good idea: Next time let us in and lock those guys out.) During March 2007 their sailors were captured and humiliated by Iran without firing a shot. (Another hint: Iran has only one gasoline refinery which could be taken out by a single ship.) Even Home Secretary Jacqui Smith admits that London streets are no longer safe to walk. Quite without our help, Britain is facing ruin from within.

Halfway across the pond, Iceland is already bankrupt. The government in Rekjavik tried desperately to hang on, but the people's protests finally brought it crashing down. No doubt Gordon Brown is looking across the water and losing sleep. He knows better than anyone that Britain is next.

Shortly my friends in Labour will realise that Gordon Brown is a liability. Even if he is removed, they face a defeat like 1979, which led to 18 years of Tory rule. On the way Britain's people will face even more trials. At this point we can not be sure if the sun has set on the UK.

One last hint for the UK: Next time don't mess with the skinny girl.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Testing a Prediction

With a nod to Starts With a Bang, more people are starting to wonder Is the Speed of Light Truly Constant? A new online paper by Lorinzo Iorio looks at Solar System planetary tests of cdot/c Using data on planetary orbits, his paper limits c change to less than 10^{-7} per year. With a little math, we can predict just how little c changes today.

Start with GM = tc^3:

c(t) = (GM)^{1/3} t^{-1/3}

cdot = (-1/3)(GM)^{1/3} t^{-4/3}

cdot/c = -1/3t

Estimating age of the Universe t at 13.7 Gyr, cdot/c is 1 in 41.1 billion years.

In one year c would change by approximately 0.25 x 10^{-10}. From a speed of 3 x 10^8 m/sec, yearly change today is only about 0.75 cm/sec! This is well within the cookie boundaries of Iorio's estimate.

It is impossible to prove experimentally that c is constant, because a more accurate experiment can always prove that wrong.

Measurements of planetary distances are limited by many sources of error. Thanks to the Apollo program, we have accurate distances to one body: the Moon. The Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment (photo) from 1969 allows us to measure lunar distance to cm accuracy or better. According to LLRE, the Moon has been receding at 3.82 ± .07 cm/yr.

Geology and paleontology can tell more precisely how the Moon’s orbit has changed. Starting with today’s LLRE measurement, Bills and Ray [1] have compiled the most accurate estimates of lunar orbital distance.

The Mansfield datum, the most precise, indicates that the Moon has been receding at 2.9 ± 0.6 cm/yr. The LLRE measurement is outside this range. As with Mercury, small discrepancies in orbits can be very significant. 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 seen by LLRE. We have cdot/c of 1 in 41.1 Gyr. Multiplied by the Moon’s distance of 384,402 km, that distance will appear to increase an additional 0.935 cm per year. An anomaly in the Moon’s outward drift is precisely accounted for, indicating that c is slowing to this day.

With corroborating data from Type Ia supernovae and the "Faint Young Sun," there is reason to believe that "c change" is happening. Change in c is beyond today's ability to directly measure in the laboratory. That is the essence of scientific prediction: to correctly predict a result before the experiment.

[1] Bills and Ray, Geophysical Research Letters 26, 19, 3045-3048 (October 1, 1999)


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Saluting Mike Griffin

From Mike Griffin's visit to Houston January 8-9. He came down Thursday night for debrief of the STS-126 crew. At the left is Johnson Space Center Director Mike Coats and Mike Griffin. At the right is STS-126 Commander Chris Ferguson. Friday morning he gave an all-hands brief with Miike Coats (below) and took a long look at the Small Pressurized Rover (bottom photo). Washington DC is full of people ready to stab you in the back or spread unfounded rumours, but that is the Chicago Way. Mike seemed very relaxed among fellow scientists and engineers.

Shortly after he bacame NASA Administrator in 2005, a brash young student asked a possibly impertinent question. "Sir, I've always been inspired by NASA, but what we need from you is leadership. That goes straight down the line:

a president saying 'we choose to go to the Moon,'

Eugene Kranz in Mission Control saying 'failure is not an option,'

Alan Shepard sitting in the spacecraft saying, 'let's get off our butts and light this candle!'

Can you provide this?'

The student is happy to say that Dr. Griffin has provided leadership and direction for several critical years. Let us hope we keep on course to where no one has gone before.

One small step for a woman!

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rover at Inaugural

2 minute, 20 second video of our Small Pressurized Rover at the Inaugural parade. We helped build this! Unfortunately CNN, the network which recently sacked science reporter Miles O'Brien and his staff, cut to a commercial just as this was to be broadcast.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Houston Here

Update: The Small Pressurised rover to be featured at the inaugural parade.

Followers of this little blog may notice scenes of the Space program that few outsiders see: a space Station crew Welcome home, Shuttle Mission Control during an EVA, and a band of astronauts at the ISS Birthday Party. Before Christmas we saw the Small Pressurised Rover that will be at Tuesday's inaugural, A Miniature Sleigh and Eight Tiny Reindeer.

At one time scientists who thought the speed of light changes were considered outcasts, denied degrees and jobs. Since 2008 the writer has been working for NASA at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. As scientists we work on a project called ARES, preparing for the Moon and Mars. The writer's company is lead bidder to build the new Constellation Space System. Some of the details can not be disclosed at this time, but the work is very exciting! This blog will continue to provide a view of the Space program that few others see, from the inside.

Being part of the NASA community is a great honour. From top to bottom, there is a great feeling of teamwork while working for a common goal. In the future we hope to show more of the people who contribute to this enterprise. The Space Station and Moon program are enormous achievements for all humanity. Change is natural, and the speed of light is still slowing!


Monday, January 12, 2009

Falcon 9 Aims For the Sky

75 years ago January 12, 1934 a fleet of six Navy P2Y-1 flying boats made a nonstop flight from San Francisco to Hawaii. The crossing took 24 hours and 19 minutes. In 1935 Pan American introduced the famous China Clippers on regular flights across the Pacific. Today we take flight Hawaii to the mainland for granted. Will flight into Space someday become as routine?

Saturday SpaceX's Falcon 9 was hoisted into the vertical at Cape Canaveral. A launch is coming soon. Last September, on the fourth attempt, the smaller Falcon 1 finally reached orbit. After winning a COTS contract for resupplying ISS, SpaceX may be America's best hope for closing the "Gap" in human spaceflight.

Events in this small world depend on one another. If NASA keeps reaching outward, routine flight to LEO can be left to commercial operators. SpaceX needs the COTS contract to justify the expense of developing boosters. If SpaceX is successful, the Falcon will have other customes. Bigelow's orbital habitats will need a vehicle like Falcon 9 to deliver guests. If everything comes together, the dream of commercial flight to Space will finally come true.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Black Holes Everywhere

UPDATE: From a previous trip to Long Beach, something else Big and Black. The Queen Mary 2 (seen from the deck of Queen Mary 1) has a mass of about 10^8 kg, that of a small Black Hole. Despite our close proximity, QM2 is not about to suck us up gravitationally. The allure of travel draws us to her anyway!

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting in Long Beach this week was full of holes. Astronomer Elizabeth Humphreys and her team reported the stars can form near our galaxy's core and its supermassive Black Hole. Using the Very Large Array of radio telescopes, the team found stars in the act of forming just 7-10 light-years from the galactic centre. Astronomers once thought it impossible that stars could form amid the massive tidal forces here. They thought that stars must form elsewhere and migrate toward the core. Elizabeth's work shows that the stars form in place, through a process that old science can't explain.

Chris Carilli of the National Radio Astronomy Obesrvatory reported that supermassive Black Holes formed before the galaxies that contained them. Astronomers have long known that central Black Holes weigh a nearly constant percentage of a galaxy's mass, about 1 in 1000. Why this ratio exists in many galaxies has been a mystery. The new evidence suggests that giant Black Holes formed first and the galaxies, including our Milky Way, formed around them. NRAO Press Release

Evidence is mounting that supermassive Black Holes are primordial, formed soon after the Big Bang. Size of early Black Holes is limited by a "horizon distance." This is the distance within range of gravity, proportional to the speed of light. Once scientists thought that early Black Holes were tiny because c has been constant. Formation of supermassive Black Holes soon after the Big Bang is one more sign that the speed of light was once much faster.

Separately, beautiful physicist Katie Freese of University of Michigan has been promoting "dark matter stars." There are many holes in present theories of star formation. Katie believes that stars may have formed around cores of dark matter. If DM turns out to be Black Holes then stars could have them at their centres. If so, that would explain how stars can form so close to the galactic centre. Someday humans may realise that a Black Hole could exist in the second last place they expect, rising in front of our faces each morning. We think of that while watching the sun rise from the lanai.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

Mike Griffin Visits

Life has been very exciting of late. Last night I attended a debrief of the STS-126 crew. Who should show up but (outgoing?) NASA Administrator Mike Griffin! He flew to Houston from DC Thursday afternoon for last night's event.

Sunday morning at precisely 0618 in the morning the Space Station rose in the early morning sky over Houston. My lanai has an unobstructed Southern view and caught the bright star rising over the horizon. ISS was visible in the sky for 4 minutes.

Friday morning was an "all hands" meeting with Mike. Though his future is uncertain, the people in the room gave him a standing ovation.


Sunday, January 04, 2009

Falling From the Sky

After Hurricane Ike, the evening of November 20 marked the first snow that Houston has seen in years. The white stuff first appeared around 8 PM. Looking out one's window into the darkness, it takes a moment to recognise snow. By 9 PM snow was falling in flurries and children were out making snowmen.

The next morning Johnson Space Center was covered in a white blanket. By lunchtime the snow had melted away and workers were outside waiting for something else to fall from the sky. The Space Shuttle endeavour was travelling back to Florida friom California. This journey takes several days on the back of a 747. After spending a night in El Paso, the Shuttle and 747 made a detour to flyby JSC.

The Shuttle era is scheduled to end in 2010. Our extra flight for the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer may push that date into 2011. Like snow, nothing lasts forever.

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Standing Still

Happy New Year! Very good news is coming soon!

After much searching, wondrous friend Kea of Arcadian Functor has a great new job at Oxford, and was scheduled to speak at Imperial College January 7. Unfortunately, she has been delayed by bureaucratic madness.

"It turns out that I will not be talking at Imperial College on Jan 7 after all, because unknown representatives of the UK government are holding my passport while my visa application is being processed. I was informed that the application had been deemed non standard (I cannot imagine how, having answered all the questions and, as far as I can tell, obtained the maximum possible score on the points system) which sounds ominously like 'you'll be waiting a while to hear from us'."

Trouble like this has occurred before, on a speaking trip to Imperial College no less. UK immigration officials are truly out of control. Even when one has a job, letters of acceptance, and a speaker schedule; petty tyrants can close the gate. This silliness did not stop July 7, July 21 or the 2007 London-Glasgow bombs. Home secretary Jacqui Smith admits that London streets are no longer safe at night. Perhaps the cowards in uniform should start pestering criminals and not innocent citizens. At this rate no sane scientist will want anything to do with Britain, but the bad guys will still come.

Check out the year's first Carnival of Space!


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