Monday, August 31, 2009


Astronomer Michael Brown is known for his observations of Kuiper Belt objects like Sedna. This weekend, from his 9th floor window at Caltech, he made this photo of the fire raging in the California hills. JPL has already been evacuated, but appears to be out of danger. Presently Mount Wilson and it's famous telescopes are in the line of fire.

From Mount Wilson's 100 inch telescope Edwin Hubble found evidence that the Universe was expanding. Hubble's initial graph of redshift vs. magnitude was so scattered that it is amazing that anyone could see a trend. Despite the fuzzy data, Hubble's chart convinced even Einstein that the Universe expanded. In a well-publicized 1932 visit to Mount Wilson, Einstein conferred with Hubble and peered through the telescope. To the assembled reporters Einstein happily admitted that his Cosmological Constant was an error.

Old ideas eventually give way to better theories. Out of the ashes of the cosmological constant came the Big Bang theory. A simple expression like R = ct can predict an expanding Universe. Out of today's speculation about cosmological constants and "dark energies" will come a better theory of the Universe.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Big Bang in Iran

A tiny Black Hole in Earth's core would not suck up the planet. The small amount it did eat would be largely converted to radiation. Outward radiation pressure would balance gravity's inward pull until equlilibrium was achieved. We would feel this radiation in the internal heat that causes earthquakes and volcanoes, forms continents and islands. Some of this heat would also form petrochemicals in Earth's interior. The petroleum that powers your car could be formed by leftover energy from a primordial Black Hole.

Though it has been largely forgotten by most media (who would rather obsess over Michael Jackson) the struggle in Iran continues. On August 14 an explosion rocked the Pars Petrochemical facility in Bandar Assaluyeh, the country's largest. The explosion, almost certainly sabotage, knocked out the country's supply of Liquified Petroleum Gas. Most of Tehran's busses and taxis have been converted to run on LPG because of the continuing shortage of gasoline. More protests and strikes are coming soon. Despite the horrific oppression, the people's struggle continues.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Another Hot Jupiter

Speaking of Jupiters, a tip of the hat to the wondrous Kea and Lobo! Kea's Friday post is about extrasolar planet Wasp-18b. This newly discovered planet is so close to it's star that it orbits in a single Earth day! Wasp-18b adds to the growing list of "Hot Jupiters," giant planets orbiting close to stars. Today's scientists can't explain how these planets can even exist without boiling away.

If Jupiter and other planets formed around singularities, a Black Hole's continued presence would stabilize these planets and prevent then from completely boiling away. Radiation from a Black Hole would explain why Jupiter emits more heat than it receives from the Sun. A Black Hole's rotation would generate electric currents in the whirl of charged particles at the planet's core. This would produce a bipolar magnetic field, whose poles would not necessarily line up with the geographic poles. Existence of Black Holes within planets would explain mysteries of our Earth. A singularity could exist in the last place humans would look, beneath their feet.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Big Splash at Jupiter

The Great Black Spot imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope using the newly installed Wide Field Camera 3.

The Great Black Spot was first sighted by Australian "amateur" astronomer Anthony Wesley. These photos by WFC3 were Hubble's first science observations since the STS-125 servicing mission. Astronomers can not decide whether the impactor was an asteroid or comet. Unlike Shoemaker-Levy 9 no one saw the object coming. They guess that it had a diameter of several hundred metres. An rock of 220 m radius would have a mass of about 10^10 kg, just right for a small Black Hole. A singularity impacting Jupiter would arrive unobserved and leave a mark just like this.

Despite the smoke and fury, the singularity would not suck up the planet. It would eventually join a larger Black Hole that has occupied Jupiter's core since before the planet formed. The Hole in Jupiter's core would be primordial, formed shortly after the Big Bang. Jupiter and other planets may gave formed around singularities like pearls around a grain of sand.

Despite amazing instruments like Hubble, humans are unable to perceive that Black Holes could be nearby, even within our planetary system. Though Hubble observations of supernovae show the speed of light slowing, most humans are unable to see that. Rather than wonder about the wonder of light, scientists have promoted an accelerating universe dominated by "dark energy.". The credibility of science continues to sink like a Black Hole into Jupiter's core.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Happy Hawaii Five-Oh!

This is a year of many anniversaries: 500 for Galileo's telescope, 40 for the first Moon landing and even the X-15 program. Lest we forget, on August 21, 1959 Hawaii was admitted as the 50th US State!


Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Test pilot and astronaut (STS-2) Joe Engle explaining the X-15

2009 is also 50th birthday of the first reusable spaceship. In October 1959 the X-15 made its first flights, starting a test programme that lasted until 1968. Wednesday at Johnson Space Center pilot Joe Engle remembered his involvement with the most successful test plane ever.

X-15 flights had a great influence on the Shuttle program, since reentry parameters were very similiar. For instance, the X-15 landed "dead stick" without power. X-15 flights convinced Shuttle designers that extra turbojet engines for landing were not worth the extra weight. The X-15 flew to heights of 67 miles, earning astronaut wings for some of the pilots. Joe Engle and the other X-15 pilots flew the first spaceship.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009


From Friday to Monday Johnson Space Center played host to this latest version of the Orion spacecraft. This one was recently used for water entry tests. The shape is that of Max Faget's Apollo capsule, one of the best shapes for a reentry vehicle. This would also be a good shape for a Mars lander. Presently the Augustine Commission is examining multiple architectures for exploration, but all of them use Orion. This spacecraft appears to be here to stay.

Check out the week's Carnival of Space!

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Remembering Moonraker

The International Astronomical Union meeting in Rio de Janeiro officially ends today. We are on the summit of Sugar Loaf mountain with Copacabana far below. 2009 is not just the 400th birthday of Galileo's telescope and 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing. This Summer is also 30th anniversary of the spaciest James Bond movie ever, MOONRAKER!

Ian Fleming's original novel took place entirely in Britain. Hugo Drax was a mysterious aerospace executive building a ballistic missile for the crown. In reality Drax is a Nazi with evil plans for the Moonraker. The image of a gleaming silver rocket in its silo found its way into movies from THE INCREDIBLES to Bond's own YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.

In 1977 Bond found BO gold underwater in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. The biggest grossing movie of that year was, of course, STAR WARS. For Bond's next adventure the producers decided to put him in Space. Now Hugo Drax was building Space Shuttles as part of his evil plot. The pre-credits sequence launches the Shuttle from a 747, as ENTERPRISE had been carried in 1977.

Bond's search for a missing Shuttle takes him to Rio, where he does some spying from the summit of Sugar Loaf. The villainous JAWS, he of the shiny teeth, meets Bond on the cable car line. Bond overcomes his fear of heights before being launched into Space.

A descent from summit to midpoint is surprisingly quick, about 1 minute 45 seconds. Note the ascending car passing at the halfway point so that Jaws can leap over.

After stopping at a Carnival, Bond takes a speedboat into the Amazon, where he finds Drax's secret base beneath a pyramid. There are no pyramids in South America. The location was Tikal in Guatamela, also used as STAR WARS' Rebel Base.

Accompanying Bond on his adventure is Dr. Holly Goodhead (!) astronaut candidate and first American woman in Space. (Sally Ride would not fly until 1983.) In 1979 the Shuttle had not flown either, so the movie used special effects by THUNDERBIRDS' Derrick Meddings. In miniature the FX artists recreated the launch, jettison of Solid Rocket Boosters and External Tank. Finally Bond and Holly rendezvous with a modular space station that rotates for simulated gravity, though the decks seem to be in the wrong plane.

While the plot is quite bad, the movie accurately portrays 1970's dreams of Space. Shuttles are used to supply a space station and a military Shuttle is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Shuttle Launch Complex 6 at Vandenberg was built at cost of 1 billion US but never used.) In this alternate reality, even a James Bond villain can have his own Shuttles! Today we still hope that spaceflight will someday be routine.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Rio In the Light

As promised, here are some photos from Rio de Janeiro. Last week was very busy, but Friday afternoon we visited Rio's observatory.

Forte Copacabana and its guns occupy a commanding position overlooking the beach. If someone looks tired, it is from hiking here from the Copacabana Palace Hotel.

These sand sculptures on Copacabana seemed an appropriate place to wear the native clothing.

The sun sets over Copacabana and Sugar Loaf Mountain..

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

From the Beach

Yesterday bought a very small swimsuit! This morning was finally a chance to swim in the ocean! On Sunday Avenida Atlantique in front of Copacabana Beach is given over to pedestrians, bicycles and rollerblades. The weather in Rio this weekend is nearly perfect.

With a nod to Carl Brannen, the wondrous Kea today links to a paper by Yves Sanejouand:

Empirical evidence for a varying speed of light

In concluding remarks Yves thanks someone named Riofrio, with whom he has apparently been in touch. As to which side is winning this game, who is on the beach in Rio?

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Extreme Scope

From the IAU assembly in Rio de Janeiro: This model of the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) is impressive even in miniature. Many concepts were studied, notably an Overwhelmingly Large telescope (OWL) with a mirror 100 metres in diameter! Final approval is expected next year for first light in 2018.


Wednesday, August 05, 2009


View out window of Sulamerica Convention Centre.

General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union happens every 3 years. Among other issues, the IAU gives objects their official names. The last meeting in 2006 was infamous for demoting Pluto to minor planet status. For the next 2 weeks IAU is meeting in Rio de Janeiro. More photos coming soon!

In this sunny place, there are virtually no talks on "dark energy." That is largely a physicists' supposition, not of much interest to astronomers. Emphasis on "DE" has threatened funding for promising astronomical projects like Constellation-X. However, IAU is devoting 3 whole days to asking:

Are the Fundamental Constants Changing With Space/Time?

Bravo to Kea for reporting in The Imperial Force, a public debate at Imperial College between Oxford's Subir Sarkar abd a Dark Side apprentice. Subir gave several very convincing arguments that DE doesn't exist. At the end of the discussion the audience was informally polled as to whether DE exists. Subir won by an overwhelming margin. Among astronomers and the public, "dark energy" is starting to lose popularity.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009


Next week's posts come from a place of Carnivals, but in the meantime check out the
Carnival of Space!

Steinn at Dynamics of Cats links to an interesting new paper:

Improved CMB Map from WMAP Data.

The paper takes issue with the standard interpretation of WIlkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe data. Among other results, the new paper estimates the amount of missing mass, usually ascribed to "dark energy," at only 68%. This is exactly what a student's very short paper predicted back in 2004. Since then other models have been explored that give a proportion of 72%. Creating models where the speed of light slows down will keep physicists employed for decades. The "GM=tc^3" cosmology looks better and better.

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