Friday, October 29, 2010

The Farthest Galaxy

The European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope has confirmed that the most distant object yet found is a fully formed galaxy. UDFy-38135539, first spotted by the Hubble Space Telescope, was formed just 600 million years after Big Bang. Like our Milky Way, this galaxy consists of luminous stars surrounding a supermassive Black Hole. ESO Press Release.

How massive Black Holes could have formed so soon after the Big Bang has long been a mystery. Size of a primordial Black Hole is limited by a "horizon distance," that light could have travelled. Once it was thought that light always had the same value, and primordial Black Holes would be tiny. Discovery of a fully-formed galaxy formed soon after the Big Bang is one more clue that the speed of light was once much greater.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dawn of a New Physics?

While we are enjoying central Florida, the latest issue of New Scientist has on its cover "Dawn of a New Physics?" The article refers to the possibility of the Fine-Structure value changing. the fine-structure value $ \alpha$ is important in atomic energy levels. It is composed of the electron charge e, the Planck value h, and the speed of light c. New Scientist describes the trials of Australia's John Webb, Michael Murphy, and Victor Flambaum, whom this blog has noted many times. Their work seems to indicate that $ \alpha$ has varied over time. This is a big indicator that the speed of light itself has changed. Even if the variation in $ \alpha$ proves to be an artifact, "changing constants" have become part of the vocabulary.


Monday, October 25, 2010


The Carbon-60 molecule was first found at Rice University in 1985 by Harold Kroto, Robert Curl, Richard Smalley, and then-graduate students James Heath and Sean O'Brien. Carbon-60 was found to occur naturally in common soot. Because of its resemblance to a geodesic dome, the molecule was named the Buckminster Fullerene or Buckyball for short. In 1996 Kroto, Curl and Smalley were recognised with a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. October 11-14 the discoverers were celebrated at this conference in Rice University.

Sean in particular was inspired by the Apollo program to follow a career in science. The spherical form of Carbon-60 was first proposed by R.W. Henson in 1970. Henson's idea was rejected by colleagues and was never published. The Buckyball's discovery began with cosmic dust. Diffuse Interstellar Bonds (DIB) were an unexplained astrophysical feature. Possibly unknown carbon molecules played a part. Speculation about the interstellar medium would eventually lead to Buckyballs.

When the team announced their discovery, many scientists tried to refute them. At least 6 papers were devoted to puncturing the discovery. One paper was nastily titled "C-60: a Deflated Soccer Ball." Some scientists are devoted to studying soot, and were miffed that the Buckyball team had discovered in soot what others had not. Finally in 1990 another researcher isolated a bottle of Buckyballs, vindicating the discovery..

The Nobel winners commented that "the structure of universities is counter-productive" and "Germanic."

The pressure to publish is "negative for the creative process."

At a big school like Harvard or UC they would have enjoyed little stature.

Buckyballs helped open up the new science of nanotechnology. They led to carbon nanotubes and other potentially useful products. This year, 25 years after they were found on Earth, C-60 molecules were observed in a planetary nebula by the Spitzer Space Telescope. Since the search for Buckyballs began with speculation about the interstellar medium, a discovery in Space was a fitting birthday present


Monday, October 18, 2010

Outpost No More

The Outpost Tavern, at the corner of NASA Route 1 and Egret Bay Blvd, was for decades a hangout for astronauts and NASA employees. The walls were decorated with photos of famous patrons and even a US Navy tailhook. In the movie SPACE COWBOYS it was scene of a barroom brawl. The Outpost suddenly closed in January 2010. Early Saturday morning the building caught fire and burned to the ground. Here is the wreckage from my camera Sunday. What a shame! If only there were Time and Space to preserve the Outpost as a museum.

UPDATE: Since the structure was sitting on blocks with no power or utilities, the fire is very suspicious. The Outpost originally opened its doors around 1980. Another fire in 2005 almost closed it. Recently the tavern's ownership was in dispute between its operators and the owners of the land. Originally scheduled to close January 31, 2010, the Outpost shut down mid-January when the proprietors found themselves locked out. The end of the Outpost is shrouded in mystery.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

The c Change Continues

Dr. Daniel Gezari worked for 28 years at NASA's Goddard Space flight Center, and is currently an Astrophysicist Emeritus. He received the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement. His current interests include tests of Lorentz invariance and searching for evidence of a preferred reference frame for light. Earlier this year he released a paper that has caused a stir.

Lunar Laser Ranging Test of the Invariance of c

According to Gezari's paper, the Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment (LLRE) measures the speed of light c as 8 m/sec less than its formerly accepted value. Perhaps c has slowed since the canonical measurement? Even more surprising, Gezari claims that c varies by as much as 200 m/sec depending on the observer's direction. This would undermine Lorentz Invariance, which says that c is the same regardless of direction.

Typically, the Gezari paper has drawn criticism. One arxiv abstract reads "We show that the conclusion of a recent experiment [arXiv:0912.3934] that claims to have discovered that 'the speed of light seems to depend on the motion of the observer' is wrong." If true, Gezari's results would undermine the basis of Special Relativity that is taught in schools. The schoolteachers may not be happy.

Shortly after Gezari was published, a similar paper appeared from Reginald Cahill at University of Flinders, Australia:

Lunar Laser-Ranging Detection of Light-Speed Anisotropy and
Gravitational Waves

Cahill also claims that LLRE shows a variation in c. He also claims a correlation with spacecraft flyby anomalies. These papers show the value of Apollo lunar missions to Physics.

Galileo was criticized for claiming that Earth circles the Sun, but he was also interested in light. At the time there was disagreement whether light travelled instantaneously or had a finite speed. Galileo suggested stationing lanterns on distant hilltops to time light's passage. Of course clocks of his time could not possibly measure time so accurately. Finally in the 1750's Ole Roemer used observations of Jupiter's moon to show that light had a limited speed. Despite Roemer's accurate predictions, it was 50 years before his conclusions were widely accepted.

Thanks to Apollo, we can measure light with laser lanterns and the distant hilltop of the Moon. LLRE has reported the Moon's semimajor axis increasing by 3.82 cm/yr, anomalously high. If the Moon were gaining angular momentum at this rate, it would have coincided with Earth about 1.5 billion years ago. Apollo lunar samples (which this scientist has had the honour to touch) show that the Moon is nearly old as the Solar System, over 4.5 billion years. Measurements using tidal sediments and eclipse records show that the Moon is receding at about 2.9 cm/yr. LLRE disagrees with independent measurements by 0ver 0.9 cm/yr, a huge anomaly.

If the speed of light is slowing according to GM=tc^3, the time for light to return will increase, making the Moon appear to recede faster as measured by LLRE. Predicted change is 0.935 cm/yr, precisely accounting for a 10 sigma anomaly. Since a little equation was first published, cracks have appeared in the "constant speed of light" canon.

Other voices at GSFC, who do not have a fraction of Dr. Gezari's experience, have been telling the press that they have found acceleration caused by "dark energy." The explanation for DE and the apparent acceleration of redshifts is something a child could understand. Since redshifts are related to the speed of light, it is not the Universe accelerating but the speed of light slowing down. A repulsive "dark energy" can not survive the light of discovery.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Graphene Eyes the Prize

The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for their work on graphene, a form of carbon just one molecule thick. Unlike physicists who require expensive machines, Geim and Novoselov extracted graphene from ordinary slabs of graphite using adhesive tape. A hundred times stronger than steel, graphene has many potential uses in electronics and material science. The prize committee also recognised the duo's "playfulness." In 1997 Geim used a magnetic field to levitate a frog, earning an Ignobel prize.

Once again there was no prize for "dark energy." At least one blogger predicted that 2010 would be DE's year. The New York Times, which has been a tireless promoter of DE, has long been predicting that it would win a Nobel. Even if "dark energy" existed, it would have no conceivable use. It would be too diffuse in Space to power a watch, much less levitate a frog. As this blog has noted, a shrinking number of scientists believe that DE exists at all. Better luck next time, guys.


Sunday, October 03, 2010


Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

A recent BBC story asks if Uruguay is Latin America's Best-kept Secret? The country's population is already largely European. According to BBC, many North Americans are joining them. Uruguay has a stable government, healthy economy, and good infrastructure. It is one of the few Latin American countries to escape effects of the economic crisis.

Dating from 1680, Colonia del Sacramento is the oldest settlement in Uruguay. We reach Colonia aboard Eladia Isabel. a very comfortable ferry from Buenos Aires. The ship contains cocktail lounges, a duty-free gift shop and live entertainment.

Colonia's historic quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ruins of the 17th century convent of San Francisco form the foundation of Colonia's lighthouse.

Stones of the Calle de los Suspiros (Street of Sighs) date from the 17th century. Compared to chilly Buenos Aires, the climate here is quite mild. Uruguay is a very pretty country, just right for a visit.

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