Monthly Archives: January 2007

Dark Energy

See this article regarding a torsion balance being used to test inverse square law, and the results were that down to distances of 55 nanometers the inverse square law holds and there is no indication of the existence of dark energy.

I am not surprised by these results. I’ve been of the opinion that Dark Matter, Dark Energy, Inflation, Cosmological Constant, and Dark Energy are all just fudge factors to try to make “the big bang theory” conform to observations. It’s like using a complicated lens to make a square peg look round so you can explain how it must have fit into the round hole.

Dark Energy

Measurements of Voyager I and II showed an anomalous reduction in deceleration as they left the solar system. Because the Sun’s gravity acts upon them, they are expected to slowly decelerate as they leave the solar system, and they are but not quite as quickly as expected.

The mysterious force that caused this was attributed to yet another cosmological fudge factor, dark energy.

I suspect there may be a much more mundane explanation. To understand how the velocity of these craft is measured, one has to be familiar with Doppler shift. When a train blows it’s whistle as it approaches you and continues as it passes then heads away, at first you hear the whistle at a higher pitch, then as it moves past you and away, a lower pitch. The same is true for electromagnetic radiation.

The velocity of these craft is measured by measuring the Doppler shift of their transmitters. The transmitters are designed to be extremely stable to allow Doppler shift to be measured precisely.

In order to measure the Doppler shift precisely, you have to measure the frequency of the received signal precisely. This means you have to measure how many cycles occur in a specific period of time. This in turn requires that you can very accurately measure out a segment of time. That in turn requires a highly accurate clock.

The United States maintains a time standard and provides the reference to the world from the National Institute of Science and Technology, formerly the National Bureau of Standards. There, they have highly accurate atomic clocks clicking off the nanoseconds.

NASA, in order measure frequencies accurately as well as time launches and other time critical operations precisely, has to have accurate clocks, they have their own time reference.

On the other side of the country, NewNet, an IRC network I founded in 1995, was trying to get a couple of servers to link up. IRC uses a protocol known as Time Stamp Protocol, to determine after a server split, who owns a particular nick or channel if there is a conflict.

In other words, let’s say you have two servers, A and B on a network and normally they communicate in real time. User “MyNick” connects to server A and is talking to people. Then a split occurs (server A temporarily looses communications with server B) and during that time another user logs into server B with the nick “MyNick”. Now, the split is resolved, both servers resume communications and there are two people on the network with the same nick. The servers use Time Stamp Protocol to determine which user had the Nick first and force the other user to change his nick.

In order for Time Stamp Protocol, both servers much agree on what time it is. This requires that the servers be synchronized to some accurate external time source. If for some reason the clocks on two servers do not agree, they will not link.

So here I am working with another site trying to link their server to mine and they will not connect. The admin of the other server says to me, “Your clock must be off because mine is sync’d to NASA”. I say to him, “Mine is sync’d to NIST so it must be yours that is off.”

We both test our servers and find that indeed our servers clocks do agree with the sources we sync’d them to. Then I checked NASA’s time server against NIST’s, there was five seconds difference.

Now getting back to Voyager I and II… If the clock you are using to measure the received frequencies of their transmitters is in accurate, then those received frequency measurements will be inaccurate. If the received measurements are accurate, then the velocities calculated to be causing the received Doppler shift is inaccurate.

Maybe it’s just me but before I would introduce a whole new fudge factor into cosmology, I’d check the clocks. Apparently that hasn’t occurred to NASA however, and I guess this explains why shuttles explode, less than half the Mars missions actually make it to Mars, etc.

Hawking Radiation

There is something I haven’t been able to get regarding Hawking radiation and I think the scientific community, by trying to create black holes in a particle accelerator, might be making a serious mistake. Hawking radiation isn’t a proved phenomena, it is only theoretical, and if it turns out not to exist, or not to work as expected, then we’re potentially in a world of hurt.

Here is what I don’t get about it. Hawking radiation works like this. A virtual particle pair forms right at the event horizon. One particle in the pair is sucked into the black hole, the other escapes and becomes real. This results in radiation from the black hole and theory has it decreases the mass of the black hole.

There seems to me to be some assumptions here that I’m not so comfortable with. The first is that if a virtual particle in a virtual particle/anti-particle pair can’t unite with it’s mate, it becomes real. The second is that the other virtual particle, being sucked into the black hole, will somehow decrease the mass of the black hole.

I understand the thinking, conservation of mass, in order for that to be upheld, since radiation, matter / energy is “leaving” the black hole, it must decrease in mass. But nothing actually “left” the black hole, what left was a virtual particle created at the event horizon.

So, scientists are counting on these tiny black holes they hope to create in a particle accelerator to evaporate via Hawking radiation. But what if one of these assumptions is wrong? They don’t get smaller in mass or Hawking radiation doesn’t happen? Then they’re going to keep sucking up surrounding matter and growing in mass until the whole planet is sucked in and we’re all dead. This sounds like a pretty high risk scientific experiment to me. The kind of experiment that if we have to do it we should be doing it somewhere in deep space.

I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I’ve read that when scientists set of the first hydrogen bomb, they really weren’t sure if it wouldn’t detonate all the hydrogen in the water vapor in the atmosphere. We’re all here, so apparently it didn’t. I’m all for the advancement of science, but I question the wisdom of risking the entire human race on these types of experiments.

Radioactive Waste – New Problem

I have been advocating building advanced nuclear reactors capable of burning actinides to eliminate long term radioactive waste rather than attempting to store it in a national repository for 20,000 years.

Now, a new problem emerges. It has been found that radiation given off by radioactive waste materials breaks down minerals containing them much faster than originally believed. This makes long term storage essentially not viable. Glassification of waste won’t work for the long term because the alpha particles emitted by decaying radioactive elements break it down in just a few hundred years.

Follow this link for an article that details this process. This means that the radioactive waste will not be contained at the site for more than a few hundred years. If we store radioactive waste instead of destroying it, we are creating a huge mess for future generations.

Building actinide burning reactors to fission actinides not only will eliminate long-term radioactive waste leaving only fission products that will be save in several hundred years rather than 20,000, it will also provide 20-30x as much energy as the initial Uranium or Plutonium did when it was first used in a fission reactor. Given our energy situation this also is a good reason to build these.

If we don’t build them, then commercial reactors will continue to fission Uranium and generate Plutonium which is the most problematic element in nuclear waste. Other actinides, elements heavier than Uranium, also are long term waste problems. Plutonium-239 can be used as fuel in conventional thermal reactors (neutrons moderated to thermal speeds), but most of the other actinides can only be fissioned by fast neutrons, and this is why special reactors are needed to destroy them.

Now to be sure there are safety issues associated with fast flux reactors, and in general maintaining stability is more difficult than with a thermal reactor. This is because in a thermal reactor, neutrons have to be moderated (slowed) before they can be absorbed by another nucleus and cause a fission. Thus there is a built-in delay that limits the rate a reaction can ramp up. This built-in delay is not present in a fast-flux design.

There are other methods of providing stability in a fast-flux design. Fast flux reactors generally have negative temperature coefficients. That is, as the temperature rises, the reaction rate slows. This has the effect of providing negative feedback on the reaction rate thus stabilizing it.

However, we can mitigate these dangers to a large degree by building a fast-flux reactor form in the Yucca Mountain facility intended for waste storage.

The bigger problems aren’t safety, they’re economic. It is simply cheaper to build conventional thermal reactors and keep running Uranium through them one-pass and generating huge amounts of waste. Uranium is cheap and since the waste isn’t being dealt with, nobody is presently bearing that expense in real terms.

If we are realistic about expense, we must build these reactors and burn these actinide wastes because there simply is no safe way to store them long term.

Solar Activity, Earth Warming

I think it is undeniable that the carbon dioxide that we are pumping into our atmosphere is having a warming effect on our planet. However, I do not believe it is the only cause. I do believe we should stop screwing our atmosphere up and not add to the natural warming.

The other planets are heating up as well, Pluto (well it used to be a planet.. poor Pluto) is heating even though it’s on a portion of it’s elliptical orbit taking it further from our Sun. Mars is warming up. Jupiter is warming up. Some regions of Saturn (polar just like earth) appear to be warming. Neptune’s largest moon, Triton, is warming up. Neptune herself is warming up but it’s spring on Neptune so that’s to be expected. Uranus is warming up but it’s also spring on Uranus. So all the planets farther from the sun than Earth are also warming.

This last solar cycle was the most active in recorded history. We know from the past that solar minimums, extended periods of no sunspots, produce a substantial cooling effect. Is it then not reasonable to expect a highly active cycle to produce substantial warming? This next solar cycle is projected to be even stronger than the last.

Now, I have an idea what is causing all of this, and I’m not speaking of Richard Hoagland’s hyper-dimensional physics which I do not discount either since I do not at all understand Mr. Hoagland’s theory. No my theory is much less complex. It goes like this…

Neutrinos it turns out aren’t massless after all. They have a small mass and thus are affected by gravity. In the galactic plain, one would expect a higher neutrino flux both because there are more stars and other nuclear actions taking place in a parallel line than above or below the ecliptic and because gravity would affect neutrinos to some small degree as well.

Richard Feynman said that all nuclear reactions are reversible. You can fuse four hydrogen atoms into helium, get some energy in the form of gamma rays and neutrinos in the process. Or you can add energy, neutrinos, and split a helium atom up into hydrogens again, at least theoretically. The important point here is that neutrinos, in addition to being produced by nuclear reactions, should also be able to catalyze them.

The sun (and it’s planets) are nearing the galactic plane presently. The sun bobs up and down through the galactic plane and with every crossing it crosses a higher flux of neutrinos and other high energy particles.

These particles in turn influence the rate of fission reactions in the earth and fusion reactions in the sun causing general heating of the entire solar system.

There seems to be some general debate with respect to how often this happens, every 62 million years, every 65 million years, different sources give different figures, but whatever the cycle is, we’re approaching the galactic plane now and this could be part of the reason for solar system wide heating.

I’m not saying we should go out and burn more dead dinosaurs, not unless we like the climate on Venus, and while I like it warm, when lead melts, that is too warm.

Trying To Grock Relativity

A long long time ago in a place far far away, well maybe not so far away but it was a long time ago, I read a book entitled, “Understanding Einstein”, I don’t remember who the author was but it was a very interesting book because it went through Einsteins various thought experiments and how they lead to his theory of general relativity.

After reading the book, and I had at least thought I had comprehended it, I thought to myself, this is the same logic that lead people to believe that faster than sound travel was impossible, until we did it.

Moreover, things appeared to be mainly a perspective problem. That is, if you were able to watch the clock of someone receding from you of course their clock would appear to be running shorter, because the time it takes the light to travel from the clock back to you is getting ever longer because they are traveling away.

I ran into a bit of a logical non sequitur, because as I understand it, Einsteins theory of general relativity just specifies the motion relative to you, it doesn’t matter if it’s coming or going, the clock still goes slower as observed from your frame of reference. Trying to visualize it the way I was would have the clock going faster if someone was speeding to me at a significant fraction of the speed of light.

So I concluded I really couldn’t make sense of things at all. I read a bunch of physics books and they all made interesting implications as well.

You see, as I understood general relativity, based upon my reading Understanding Einstein, I was under the impression that if I watched someone moving relative to me at .87c, then I would see their clock run at half speed, their ruler become half as short, etc. But, from their perspective, their clock would be running at the normal speed, their ruler would be the correct length, but my clock would appear to be running slow and my ruler short.

I read various physics books, and articles like Alice in Quantum Land, and they give the impression that the moving person experiences their own clock running slow and their own ruler short. If I was running into a non sequitur before, now I’m really lost. That makes no sense at all because then everybody’s clocks would be out of whack equally and it would be as if nothing had happened. Alice in Quantum Land also makes the assertion that one second of time is equal to 186,000 miles of physical space. I don’t understand how that logic follows anymore more than one second of time is equal to 761 miles of physical space based upon the speed of sound.

Think about the classical example, someone takes a trip to a distant star system at a significant fraction of the speed of light, they get there in the expected time frame for them, let’s say Alpha Centauri at 4.3 light-years at .99c so the traveler would experience a trip duration of just over 4.3 years, but when they returned to earth, hundreds of years would have gone by, because relative to us their clock was going way slow.

But wait a minute, motion is relative, there is no absolute frame of reference. So someone traveling to Alpha Centauri at .99c, that’s exactly equivalent to them remaining stationary and the Earth, and Alpha Centauri and the rest of the stars moving towards the traveler at .99c, and then in that case, their clocks, all the clocks on earth would be running slow compared to the same traveler.

So if that is the case, if there is no absolute frame of reference, and I was under the impression that the Michelson-Morley experiment proved that, then from each others perspective, each others clocks ran slow, and so everyone is really still in sync and nothing magical happened in terms of time going bonkers. Most of his friends and relatives would still be alive and hundreds of years would not have passed.

You see none of this really is making good sense to me right now. My latest physics read, “The Dancing Wu-Li Masters“, it gets me back into the “the person in motion relative to me, their clock is going to appear to run slow to me, their ruler short, their mass heavy”, but to them everything is normal. And since everything is relative, likewise my clock, ruler, and mass will be affected in the same manner from their perspective.

Can someone help me make sense of this? I’m going to have a hard time sleeping now.

Aurora Borealis

Auroral displays are natures multi-gigawatt plasma globe. There is a multitude of reasons I find them fascinating. The aspect that probably holds the greatest fascination for me is that they are prominently featured in many of my dreams involving the future.

Their complexity exposes the complexity of the interaction between the earth’s magnetic field, the solar wind, and the upper atmosphere.

I am fascinated by the anecdotal reports I’ve read ranging from descriptions of aurora related events, particularly descriptions of auroras at tree top levels or reaching the ground such as describe here, and by descriptions of sounds accompanying an aurora such as described here. Take a look at this page concerning auroras.

The reports of sounds associated with auroras are so numerous that it’s impossible to believe people do not experience this, however I am not sure that the sounds are acoustic in nature. The reason I make this conjecture is because nobody has succeeded in recording these sounds acoustically, although they can be recorded using VLF receiving equipment which records audio frequencies of electromagnetic waves. Also, the sounds are usually perceived as being in step with the lights although the distances involved would require minutes for the sound to transverse if it were acoustic in nature.

I have personally had the experience of hearing lightning strikes instantly. That is, I have heard crackling noises at the exact time I see the lightning strike followed later by thunder. When I experience this I hear the crackling at the exact same time I see the lightning flash. I do not know the nature of this phenomena but I suspect it is the same mechanism by which people hear auroras.

I’ve heard about something some people experienced on a polar air flight. During the flight, everything became charged as with static electricity, hair stood up on end, people smelled ozone, some felt ill. Following the flight they had what resembled sunburn.

I’ve seen auroral displays here in the greater Seattle area half a dozen times and each time they’ve been substantially qualitatively different and I am very puzzled by some of the phenomena I’ve seen displayed in auroral displays.

I have seen the classic greenish curtains and red kind of blob displays that are so commonly shown in photographs from higher latitudes. It is not difficult for me to visualize the physics involved in these displays, charged particles following the earth’s magnetic lines interacting with molecules in the upper atmosphere.

I have seen a display where there is a white narrow rope of light stretching across the sky that appears very thin, like a neon tube, and it moves, wriggles, and drifts. When I saw this display it lasted only about ten minutes. I have never seen a photograph of a display like this. The other night my wife saw a very similar display. It was bright enough to be seen even with an almost full moon in the sky. I do not understand what possible configuration of magnetic field lines and solar wind could produce such a display. I am very curious as to how this plasma could be confined to such a narrow path across the sky.

Another display that I saw was accompanied by the green curtain and red blob type of displays farther north, but immediately over our location it appeared as if someone had taken a giant point source of light, shined it on the ocean, and then the wave pattern reflected upon a giant projection screen in the sky. The waves moved in real time as waves in water do. The enormity of this display was overwhelming. I would like to understand the basis for these wave patterns and motions.

Auroras have affected telegraph lines in the past, inducing currents in the lines first of one polarity, and then of the reverse polarity. Take a look at these accounts.

One aspect of auroras that does puzzle me, I went the first three decades of my life without having seen one in this area, in spite of the fact that when I was younger I usually slept outside during the summer in a sleeping back looking up at the sky and stars before falling asleep, yet, in the last decade I’ve seen them on half a dozen occasions now.

I am wondering if this increase is just the result of an unusually active solar cycle (and the next is predicted to be even more active) or if there are other factors.

As I mentioned, I’ve had these dreams that often feature very intense auroras. In these dreams I see auroras that are so intense that they are visible during dusk and dawn. Also in these dreams they seem to be visible most often about 1-2 hours after sunset or before sunrise, this is different than the current pattern which tends to have them be strongest between about 11pm-3am.

I’ve also noticed changes in radio propagation lately. I have a shortwave receiver that covers pretty much from about 3 Mhz up to 30 Mhz. Those of you familiar with shortwave propagation will know about the term “maximum usable frequency”. The higher the radio frequency, the less it is refracted by the ionosphere back to the earth. At any given time, above some frequency the radio waves can not be refracted back. The highest frequency that can be refracted back is known as the maximum usable frequency.

This frequency varies with the degree of ionization in the ionosphere. That in turn varies with the level of solar activity. The higher the solar activity, the higher the ionization and by extension, the higher the maximum usable frequency. Higher levels of ionization also cause higher levels of absorption at lower frequencies and so high solar activity ruins radio propagation at lower frequencies.

The ionization is much stronger on the day side of the earth since it is receiving ultraviolet and other solar radiation that ionizes the upper atmosphere. There is also, for reasons I do not understand, seasonal variation, and summer months see stronger ionization and a higher maximum usable frequency. This might be because the solar radiation is more direct on and not at an obtuse angle, really I do not know. It is interesting that auroral activity is actually strongest in the spring and fall but this is not the time of the strongest ionization of the ionosphere.

When I was younger, with the exception of peak solar activity years, it would be rare to see significant shortwave propagation above about 18 Mhz in the daytime and 9 Mhz at night during the summer. During the winter months, even daytime propagation often didn’t get much about 10 Mhz.

I also used to do television DXing, this most often when the maximum usable frequency got high enough to propagate television frequencies. When I first got interested in this hobby, it was something that would “open up” maybe several times a year, usually during the late summer months and early afternoon time frame, usually only affecting channels 2 and 3, the lowest channels on the VHF television bands in the United States (some other countries have a channel 1 at 45 Mhz).

In recent years however, even in the winter I am frequently seeing the maximum usable frequency go up to 21 Mhz, occasionally up at 28 Mhz which is about the highest frequency I can generally receive anything on my shortwave receiver. Even at night I am seeing the maximum usable frequency still often around 15 Mhz.

At the same time I’ve been seeing these increases in high frequency propagation, I’ve noticed that night time propagation on the AM broadcast band seems to be very poor compared to what it used to be and even day time propagation over paths of a hundred miles or so seems substantially degraded.

I used to be able to receive CKLG 730 and CFUN 1410 from Vancouver BC quite well here in Shoreline, now they are both marginal under the best of conditions. I’ve also heard ham operators that like to work the 80 meter and 160 meter ham bands complain about poor propagation on those frequencies (about 3.6 Mhz and 1.8 Mhz respectively).

In the summer, television skip has become common, and I have seen it active all the way up to channel 12, (and we have a local station on 13) one occasion, and up to channel 6 and into the FM band on multiple occasions, and I have seen channel 2 and 3 active frequently, almost daily in late July and early August. I have also seen openings on these frequencies at night.

The increase in my observation of aurora phenomena and of high frequency radio propagation may be related to solar activity or to changes in the earth. The sun has been unusually active recently, but at the same time the earth’s magnetic field has been weakening and minor magnetic poles strengthening. This may be allowing more of the solar wind to interact with the earth’s atmosphere. I also wonder how the increasing amount of CO2 in the atmosphere affects things. It’s a very small percentage of the atmosphere still, but perhaps it has a significant effect on the electrical properties of the atmosphere even at low concentrations.

I know that some gases ionize very easily, argon for example, a relatively low voltage will produce long arcs in argon at atmospheric pressures, but even a small amount of nitrogen will stop those long arcs, so a very small percentage of one gas can greatly impact the electrical characteristics of the mixture.

I am curious if anyone else has seen the “neon tube” type of auroral display that I described earlier? It’s really difficult for me to envision any configuration of magnetic field lines that can account for this type of display.

The “water wave” display that I saw, seemed positively organic. This might seem really far-fetched, but I wonder if the increasing population of the earth is not perhaps directly responsible for the increase in these phenomena, if it doesn’t some how relate to the life force, qi, orgone energy, whatever label you might like to give it.

I’d be very interested in hearing from anyone with reports of anomalous aurora sightings (down to the ground, hearing them, radiation burns, etc), or radio conditions, or other anomalous geophysical phenomena.