Friday, November 26, 2010

Far Side of the Moon

Happy Thanksgiving to the US!

Despite uncertainties in budgets and the world, work is continuing on the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle. On December 14 Orion will be displayed at the Michoud Assembly Facility to mark completion of the Ground Test Article. Congress has approved funding for a Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle to boost Orion beyond LEO. Both a CEV and booster would be needed to finally get beyond Low Earth Orbit.

Lockheed-Martin, prime contractor for Orion, is still thinking of missions using Orion's unique capabilities. Previously they proposed using two docked Orions for an asteroid mission dubbed "Plymouth Rock." This week they proposed a mission to Lagrangian Point L2, on the far side of the Moon. A crew at L2 would send robotic probes to the surface, exploring the far side and poles. L2 is also a point coveted by Space colony enthusiasts, who would use it as a staging area for lunar materials. The far side of the Moon is a great location for radio astronomy, being protected by the Moon's bulk from Earth radio noise.

Another possible destination is the Earth-Sun L2 point, 1.5 million km from Earth. This is the future location of the troubled James Webb Space Telescope. JWST, like previous Space telescopes, will someday need servicing. Hopefully the JWST builders will include a docking capability with Orion. Rendezvous with JWST would be good training for a near-Earth asteroid.

FLORIDA TODAY reports an even more audacious plan. Their article claims that Lockheed wants to launch Orion unmanned atop a Delta IV EELV in 2013. In this mission Orion would orbit to 8000 km altitude and test its performance in the deep Space environment. Controllers on Earth would test the spacecraft's stability and control. The test would include reentry and water landing off Southern California. If successful, this would make a human asteroid mission possible by 2015. The article doesn't mention that a heavy lift booster would still be required to reach an asteroid.

High Earth orbit, the lunar farside or Sun-Earth L2 point are possible stepping-stones to an asteroid mission. The trip to a near-Earth asteroid could put a crew in Space for months. In turn an asteroid mission would be training for a mission to Phobos or Deimos. With the right steps, Orion and a Heavy Lift Launcher could send crews on the way to Mars soon.

Check out the latest Carnival of space!

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Top 50!

One more Florida photo, Spaceship Earth at Disney's EPCOT.

Guide to Online Schools has released a list of:

50 Astounding Astronomy Blogs.

"Astronomy is the science that asks the eternal "big-picture" questions, which is precisely what makes it so fascinating. Its discoveries and theories about the origin, organization, and ultimate fate of the universe appeal to our innate desire to learn about what goes on around us, but they are also some of the most difficult questions to answer. We've searched the web to bring you fifty astounding blogs that capture the mystery and beauty of the cosmos."

By complete surprise a little blog called "GM=tc^3" has made the list! Thank you, Guide to Online Schools! You are the future!

This year also saw mention from Portugal, in the AstroPT Blog

"GM=tc^3: Uma nova teoria, sobre a velocidade da luz estar a abrandar (que dirá o João Magueijo?), e que poderá explicar os desvios para o vermelho, e sobretudo a energia negra.

Parece-me é que ainda não foi avaliada pela comunidade científica…"

In my bad Portuguese this begins as, "GM=tc^3: A new theory, in which the speed of light is slowing..."

Thank you AstroPT! An equation has the same meaning in all languages. Once it is discovered it cannot be killed or suppressed. GM=tc^3 will strive to be worthy of these honours.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Time Machines

While waiting for the Shuttle launch, one can enjoy wandering the theme parks. At Universal one can meet Doc Brown from BACK TO THE FUTURE. His ideas on time seem to have been rejected by the scientific community. He doesn't appear to be teaching in a university or working in a government lab. If he were, he might have a hard time being original.

The time-travelling Delorean car. In the back is a "Mr. Fusion" power source, a souvenir from the year 2015. Science has long dreamed of nearly limitless power from fusion. Billions have been spent trying to control fusion, but breakthroughs tend to come from lone investigators. Hopefully some Tony Stark is building a mini-fusion reactor in his garage now.

Trapped in the late 19th century, Doc Brown went steampunk with this locomotive time machine. He attained happiness and true love, things which mainstream science has never found. Following "inflation" or "dark energy" has led to a divergence of speculations but no answers. Even if "dark energy" existed it would be so diffuse that it could not power a lightbulb, much less a flying car.

Another Curious character, who travelled into Space in one of his books. Curiosity and a desire to explore are not just a part of humanity, they are part of all sentient life.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Waiting for an STS-133 launch that doesn't happen isn't too bad. In central Florida there are many things to see, like the new Harry Potter attraction. The Wizarding World opened this Summer. Here is Hogwart's castle at the Universal theme park. Science must play a big part in Dumbledore's magic; the tallest point at Hogwart's is the Astronomy Tower. In the tower Dumbledore studies the Universe and possibly Space/Time.

The village of Hogsmeade on the way to Hogwart's, where the rooftops are covered in snow year-round. Having been discovered by tourists, today it is full of souvenir shops.

The Hogwart's Express.

Hermione's Time Turner, a gift from Dumbledore. A hand-held time machine is very handy for keeping up with school! The magical folk at Hogwart's long ago learned that Space and Time are one phenomenon related by R=ct, where c is a conversion factor commonly called the speed of light. Muggles will never, ever figure out such a simple expression. We can see why wizards shy away from those who just can't get it. The magical world is much more fun and rewarding!

NEXT: More movie time machines.


Sunday, November 14, 2010


Artist's image (not a telescope photo) of two enormous bubbles of gamma-ray emitting material discovered above and below our Milky Way. They were discovered by NASA's Fermi Gamma Ray observatory and extend about 25,000 light-years from the galactic plane. The bubbles are estimated to give off the energy of 100,000 supernova explosions. Astronomers are not sure what is giving off the gamma rays, but these bubbles could contain millions of tiny Black Holes. The Universe is far stranger than we imagine.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

What a Tangled Webb We Weave

This blog has chronicled various ill-starred projects to search for fictional "dark energy." These were given names like SNAP and DESTINY, planned as Space telescopes up to 2.0 m diameter. After much disagreement, they were recently folded together into a 1.5 m telescope called WFIRST. This combined project was given highest priority in a Decadal Survey of the National. Research Council. WFIRST would search for extrasolar planets and, as a secondary goal, "dark energy." Even the reduced project may be done in by this:

The James Webb Space Telescope, NASA's flagship astrophysics mission, is years behind schedule and will cost at least 1.5 billion more than its current 5 billion dollar budget. To meet a launch date of 2015 JWST needs an immediate 400 million. In today's budget environment, NASA can not spare such a sum. Delays to JWST will impact other missions, especially WFIRST.

Additional budget pressure comes from the Stratospheric Observatory For Infared Astronomy. SOFIA, a giant telescope mounted in a 747SP, is also far over schedule and budget. JWST, SOFIA and the Hubble Space Telescope consume most of NASA's astrophysics budget. Their huge costs are causing delay or cancellation of other projects. Despite the high priority given WFIRST, it will not fly in this decade, if ever.

The hypothetical acceleration of "dark energy" is caused by something so simple that physicists have overlooked it. Redshifts are proportional to the speed of light c. Rather than the Universe accelerating, we have observed the speed of light slowing down. Long before scientists even get a chance to find their "dark energy," evidence will show a "c change" in physics.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Life from Mars

I gave another talk was today here at Johnson Space Center, on the latest evidence for life on Mars. I've had the honour of working with the scientists who in 1996 discovered life signs on meteorite ALH84001. The presentation was originally given at the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) conference in Buenos Aires. Like a changing speed of light, the discovery of life signs on a Martian meteorite has fought an uphill battle. Today evidence shows what many have long believed, that life exists on another world.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Remember the Alamo

The Alamo in San Antonio is where a small force of Texas rebels held off the huge Mexican army. The University of Texas at San Antonio was a brief stop on the way to Florida. Talk to the Joint Meeting October 22-24 of the American Physical Society (APS), American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) and National Society of Hispanic Physicists:

GM=tc^3 Cosmology and the Moon

Relativity suggests an expanding cosmology of scale R = ct, where t is age of the Universe. Gravitation would then require that c be further related to t by: GM = tc^3. Where G and M are mass and gravitational constant, this simple expression predicts data from the microwave background, including 4.507034% baryonic matter and a stable density $ \Omega$ = 1. The non-linear increase in Type Ia supernova redshifts may be precisely predicted without repulsive energies. (Riofrio, 2004) Prediction of a changing c may be tested with modern lanterns and the distant hilltop of the Moon. Our Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment has measured the Moon's semimajor axis increasing at 3.82 ± .07 cm/yr, anomalously high. The Mansfield sediment (Bills, Ray 2000) measures lunar recession at 2.9 ± 0.6 cm/yr. More recent work accurately measures a recession rate of 2.82 ± .08 cm/yr. LLRE differs from independent experiments by 10 $\sigma$. If the speed of laser light were decaying, the Moon's apparent distance is predicted to increase by 0.935 cm/yr. An anomaly in the Moon's orbit is precisely accounted for. This interesting result may have importance for cosmology, shedding light on puzzles of "dark energy.'' In Planck units, this may be summarised as: M = R = t.

The audience at San Antonio was very intent and interested. If a scientist ever feels surrounded by adversity, remember the Alamo!

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