Monday, November 23, 2009

What's Wrong With Modern Physics: The Planck Length

The Math
Modern theories on quantum mechanics predict the significance of something called the "Planck Length". The Planck Length is equal to approximately 1.616253x10^-35 meters. That's almost unimaginably small; somewhere near ten sextillionths the length of a single proton (yes, a sextillionth is a real number, and as far as I know, not the name of a porno).

The Planck Length has significant mathematical significance in most commonly accepted quantum theories; it is one of several units of measurement (all named after Max Planck) that are based purely on perceived universal constants and not on measurements of physical objects. In particular, the Planck Length is derived from the strength of gravity, the speed of light, and the relationship between the energy of a photon and the frequency of its electromagnetic wave. Note that these three constants are all derived from separate physical theories: special relativity, general relativity, and quantum mechanics respectively. Relativity and quantum mechanics contradict each other in many ways (this is one of the greatest unsolved scientific puzzles of our time) so to me, the significance of the Planck Length is already suspect.

The Physics
Many theories on the behavior of the universe at a very small scale (most notably several forms of a theory called quantum gravity) also state that the Planck Length has special physical significance. In fact, some physicists seem to have a preoccupation, or at least an interest, in determining the physical significance of the Planck Length. This is part of the point I will eventually be making. Some quantum theories state that relativity breaks down at distances less than the Planck Length and the universe at smaller scales behaves as sort of a multidimensional foam (don't ask me; I don't understand that one either). Some state that the universe may be quantized at this length, much as an image on a computer screen is quantized, or becomes blocky, at the length of one pixel. Some state that the Planck Length may have influence on the speed of light.

Scientists were recently able to test the latter.

The Problem
The Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope recently observed a gamma-ray burst called GRB 090423. Along with the normal smattering of high-energy photons, it picked up one that was truly exceptional. It came in at a whopping 31 giga-electron-volts. That's extraordinarily energetic. Energetic enough that its wavelength came to approximately 4x10^-17 meters. This was a far cry from the 1.6x10^-35 meters of the Planck Length, but it was just close enough so that the Planck Length's influence on its speed could potentially be measured when you consider the massive distance that the photons traveled. And what did they find?


When compared to the gamma-ray burst's other photons, it did not arrive at the predicted time differential.

Does this mean that quantum theory is wrong? Not at all. But it does mean that the physical significance of the Planck Length is highly suspect. To be fair, scientists are taking this a lot more seriously than the quasar problem, and are beginning to eliminate some forms of quantum gravity from theoretical models due to this discovery. However, they don't seem to be taking a second look at the big picture, which I believe suggests that mathematical models do an inadequate job of describing the nature of the universe.

Flawed Methodology
Much of today's physics are based purely on mathematical models. All of string theory, for example, is based upon the idea that the behavior of subatomic particles seems to fit well with mathematical equations that describe the vibrations of multidimensional strings (hence the name). The science was born from the math. The Big Bang theory was based upon the perceived expansion of the universe, but many of the details that make up the theory are based purely on math. Originally, the Big Bang theory predicted a universe much older than it currently does. Then when observations showed otherwise, the underlying math of the theory was altered to fit the observations. This happened not once, but three or four times! The entire concept of the "inflationary phase" of the early universe was added to force the math behind the theory to fit the observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation.

This appears to be very different from the methods used to make discoveries in the past. They were made by coming up with an idea, then later finding math that fit that idea. Newton came up with the idea that all matter has a slight attraction to all other matter, then later discovered the math that became a successful model of gravity. Einstein came up with the idea that if you're traveling very fast and then shined a light ahead of yourself, the light is still traveling at the same speed as when you are standing still. Then later, he discovered the math that became a successful model of special relativity. Today's science is doing it backward; they are coming up with the math first, using the math as a theory of how the universe works, then changing the math when observed behavior doesn't fit the theory.

I suggest to you that this is a flawed method. I'm not saying that using this method can't come up with answers, but I believe that it will come up with a lot of mathematically-correct wrong answers (such as those rejected forms of quantum gravity) before it stumbles upon the right ones. Do the Planck Length and the other Planck units have mathematical significance? Probably. At the very least, they make it easier to express measurements on the levels needed for quantum theory. Do they have inherit physical significance? My guess is no.

Trip to Space
Progress: 6.47%  Flight Time: 0:09:42
Solar Array
Progress: 6.47%  Power: 65W

Friday, November 20, 2009

Excalibur Almaz To Use Soviet Spacecraft

This is actually a bit of old news, but I just stumbled upon it, so I figured I'd throw it in the mix.

British-based Excalibur Almaz Limited has announced some specifics concerning their plans to launch tourists into space. It plans to using Soviet-built reusable return vehicles that were used in the 70s to reach the classified space station Almaz (and suddenly the company's name makes a lot of sense).

The company bought the designs and the spacecraft from the Russian company JSC MIC NPO Mashinostroyenia (who originally designed the spacecraft). They are now updating them to be compatible with today's launch vehicles and to have improved capabilities useful for the orbital tourist (and scientific and educational) launches that it plans to conduct.

No word on price though. We'll see.

Trip to Space
Progress: 6.47%  Flight Time: 0:09:42
Solar Array
Progress: 6.47%  Power: 65W

Thursday, November 19, 2009


My dog sleeps in my room with me. Every morning, she steps over to my bed and puts her head on the edge waiting for me to get up.

So every morning, I open my eyes and see this:

Daddy? Are you awake yet? Daddy? Daddy? Are you awake yet? How about now? Daddy? Now are you awake? Daddy? Daddy? Are you awake now? How about now? Daddy? Are you awake yet? Daddy? Daddy? Are you awake yet? How about now? Daddy? Now are you awake? Daddy? Daddy? Are you awake now? How about now? Daddy?

Trip to Space
Progress: 6.47%  Flight Time: 0:09:42
Solar Array
Progress: 6.47%  Power: 65W

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What's Wrong With Modern Physics: Quasars

Be warned: this and upcoming posts contain much geeky science content.

There is one constant that has occurred throughout scientific history. Every theoretical breakthrough that has been made in the past few millennia has been met with skepticism and derision throughout the established scientific community. The earth is round? Preposterous! The earth spinning around the sun? Sacrilegious! The moon has craters? Insane! Yet these theories have all been confirmed, and each one of them has irrevocably altered the scientific paradigm and fundamentally changed how we think of the world.

What about current accepted scientific theory? Following history's pattern, it must all be wrong too, right?

Actually, that's right.

I'm not going to make any scientific breakthroughs here. I'm not nearly smart enough for that. What I am going to do in the next few posts is point out a few of the more obvious anomalies in our current understanding of cosmology and quantum mechanics that fundamentally call into question our understanding of how the universe works.

Note that these are all observations made by scientists smarter than me. These observations, at best, are considered to require a slight rethinking of our understanding of science, and at worst are being ignored altogether. But they all fly in the face of modern science. What we know is wrong, there will be a breakthrough soon that will confirm that what we know is wrong, and here is why:

The Problem With Quasars
This is my favorite tidbit of information commonly overlooked by the scientific community. Quasars, as you will read in most textbooks, are incredibly powerful objects found in the most distant reaches of the universe. When the universe began, the story goes, a lot of the matter coalesced into huge proto-galaxies with incredibly active, powerful black holes at their cores which shed an almost indescribably massive amount of energy. These are observed as quasars. Eventually, as the black holes sucked up much of the matter surrounding them, these quasars were reduced to the calmer galaxies that we see in the nearby universe.

However, there is one teeny, tiny problem with this story.

It is a little-known fact that most quasars, as observed, appear to be directly behind or in the vicinity of nearby foreground galaxies. Some quasars even seem to be associated with the spiral arms of these nearby galaxies.

Then, in 2006, a nail was hammered into the coffin of the scientific community's accepted explanation for quasars. Astronomers found a galaxy (NGC 7319) where a background quasar appears within its central bulge. The problem with this is that the center of the galaxy is so dense that there's no chance in the world that these astronomers should be able to observe a "background" quasar. Look, there's even a picture:

That arrow points to an object that has all the properties of your run-of-the-mill quasar, where it couldn't possibly exist according to the standard model.

There is other evidence as well, such as the fact that many quasars (APM 8279+5255, for example) have extremely high concentrations of iron. These concentrations couldn't possibly exist in the early universe under the Big Bang theory because there hadn't been enough of the right kind of supernovae to form that much iron. Also, many of the quasars have jets on either side that, at the distances suggested by the redshifts, would appear to be moving faster than the speed of light. Scientists have attempted to explain this away by saying that the jets are actually traveling toward us at relativistic speeds causing the appearance of faster-than-light motion, but it is hard to believe that there are two jets on opposite sides of these objects, both moving toward us. A nearby explanation for quasars would make those jets unremarkable. Furthermore, there is evidence of disturbed gasses in the "foreground" galaxies nearby to quasars, including the one discovered in 2006, that has not been explained by the standard model.

The Commonly-Accepted Assumptions
So if quasars are really nearby phenomena, where did modern science get it wrong? To find that out, we must examine how the standard model identifies an object as a quasar: What makes quasars special is their observed redshift. Let me explain.

Light passing through a gaseous element, for example the hydrogen of the outer layers of a star, will be partially absorbed by the hydrogen. In specific, certain colors of light will be absorbed. So when you put the resulting light through a prism (remember high school science?) a predictable pattern of gaps (called absorption lines) will appear in the rainbow due to the hydrogen having absorbed the light. According to the standard model, when an object is moving away very fast, those gaps will be shifted toward the red end of the spectrum, creating the "redshift". See this image as an example:

This is supposedly the same effect that causes the horn of a passing train to lower its tone. When the train is moving very fast away, the tone is shifted downward.

However, this only explains that quasars are moving away from us very fast. Why would this mean they are very far away? This is due to the commonly accepted expansion model of the universe. It has been observed that recognizable objects (spiral galaxies, for example) that appear smaller in the night sky have greater redshifts. It is assumed, then, that since more distant objects have greater redshifts and therefore tend to be moving away faster, the universe is expanding. Since quasars have extremely high redshifts, they must be very very far away, right?

I would suggest that most of the evidence of nearby quasars is incontrovertible enough to imply serious problems with the standard model, and most of the evidence that they are far away is based on assumptions piled on top of assumptions. These assumptions, however, are what have been accepted in the scientific community, and that quasar discovered in 2006 is generally considered an observational fluke; a curiosity at best. Some have suggested that there is a convenient "hole" in the gasses of the galaxy that lets the light from the quasar pass through, but that's a bit too convenient for my liking.

The Lyman-Alpha Problem
There is, however, one observation that seems to heavily favor the distant-quasar theory, and it is the reason that is most often given as evidence against nearby-quasar theories: the Lyman-alpha forests.

Remember the absorption lines described above? Lyman-alpha refers to one of the most well-defined and recognizable absorption lines in the hydrogen absorption spectrum. When light passes through a cloud containing hydrogen, this line is always apparent. Since hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, the Lyman-alpha line is most commonly used to determine redshifts. Furthermore, since light from distant objects in the universe passes through hundreds of clouds of gas and dust before reaching us, each one of those clouds leaves a Lyman-alpha line on the object's spectrum. These groupings of lines are collectively called a Lyman-alpha forest. The problem to nearby-quasar theories is this: the Lyman-alpha forests of quasars are as big and as dense as those of distant galaxies, suggesting that they are, indeed, distant objects.

I have seen conflicting data on the Lyman-alpha density of high- versus low-redshift quasars, so I'm going to ignore those potentially important arguments here. I will instead point out as a rebuttal that it seems to be shaky ground to use Lyman-alpha redshifts as evidence against a theory which casts into doubt the usefulness of redshifts as a measure of distance. If quasars are nearby objects and redshifts therefore do not accurately measure their distance, can't a quasar's Lyman-alpha forest simply be a feature caused by the structure of the quasar itself? For example, layers of hydrogen-rich clouds around the quasar that bear some of the the effect that causes the quasar's high redshift could easily explain the forests.

So let us assume that I am right, and that quasars are nearby objects. What does this mean for the standard model?

The most obvious consequence is that all current theory on galaxy formation needs to be rewritten. Since current theory starts off ancient galaxies as quasars, that must not at all be how they form.

However, there is a much bigger consequence. If we assume that A) quasars are nearby objects, and B) quasar redshifts are caused by objects moving away, then we would have to conclude that all quasars are moving away from us as soon as they form. This is inconceivably unlikely, so there is only one other conclusion that we can draw: Redshifts can be caused by something other than an object traveling away from us.

In fact, there is one other known mechanism that can cause redshifts. Light escaping an intense gravity well, such as that of a black hole, will appear redshifted. However, according to the standard model, a nearby quasar with enough mass to cause the observed redshifts would itself collapse into a black hole. That leaves us with one of two possibilities.

Either redshifts can be caused by some mechanism we don't know about, or our models of the collapse of massive celestial objects are flawed.

If I am right, and if this statement is eventually accepted, it will have dramatic repercussions for all of modern cosmology. If our understanding of redshifts is broken, we will have to rethink the positions of everything in the universe, and whether the universe is indeed expanding as we currently believe. Who knows? The concept of Dark Energy could conceivably be killed by quasars. However, if our understanding of the collapse of massive objects is broken, we will have to rethink the evolution of stars and the formation of a wide variety of phenomena from white dwarfs to black holes. Even the Big Bang theory may need to be reworked.

It all makes my head spin.

Next post: I will take apart the significance of the Planck Length.

Trip to Space
Progress: 6.47%  Flight Time: 0:09:42
Solar Array
Progress: 6.47%  Power: 65W

Friday, November 13, 2009

An Open Letter on the App Store

Dear Apple,

I am severely disappointed in the App Store approval delays and mistakes. I am not even an iPhone developer, but I have been inconvenienced many times by these issues.

Parallel Kindgom is a great cross-platform multiplayer online game, but it has taken you longer than two weeks to approve the newest expansion. This means Android users will be able to get in the MMO's new version to expand their territories and advance in the game while we iPhone users are locked out and will be forced to play catch-up when the app is finally approved.

RSS Player is an app that was submitted, was accepted, but due to a signing error while putting it in the App store, people who purchased it weren't able to download it. The developer tried to get Apple to correct the error, but in the end, he had no choice but to resubmit the app. Now the new submission has been rejected because of a tiny picture displayed for two seconds as part of the intro screen that has been present in all previous versions. Now people who paid for the app over two weeks ago will still not be able to use it for at least another two weeks.

I am beginning to regret getting an iPhone.

Trip to Space
Progress: 6.47%  Flight Time: 0:09:42
Solar Array
Progress: 6.47%  Power: 65W

Thursday, November 5, 2009

LaserMotive Wins Space Elevator Competition

Speaking of contests, another interesting competition was held that I hadn't actually heard about until recently.

The Spaceward Foundation, for the past few years, has organized space elevator competitions inspired by the X-Prize for the past few years. The Space Elevator Competition actually has two different contests: one for tether strength, and one for climber speed and capabilities.

It is the climber contest we're interested in here. There have never been any winners until now, yet the competition has become more difficult every year. In order to win this year, a competitor must demonstrate a device that climbs a nearly kilometer-long tether hung by a helicopter at a speed of at least two meters per second using wireless power provided from the ground. A difficult feat to be sure!

Yet this year, we have a winner. LaserMotive successfully demonstrated this feat using a climber attached to a solar panel that collected energy from a ground laser. LaserMotive is primarily a company interested in developing remote power capabilities rather than doing space-oriented activities, but that is certainly one of the pieces of the puzzle needed to create a successful space elevator.

Trip to Space
Progress: 6.47%  Flight Time: 0:09:42
Solar Array
Progress: 6.47%  Power: 65W

NASA Awards Lunar Lander Prizes

Okay, I've been gone for a long while. Here's a brief explanation of why: My workplace has been treating me and those around me so horridly this past year, that I hardly have motivation enough to come to work in the morning, much less update this website a couple of times per week.

However, enough space tourism news has happened recently that I feel compelled to write a few updates. Also, I want to write one of my long-winded rants, this time on the subject of quasars. Take note, though, that I still won't be posting as frequently as before until I get out of this horrid job.

But enough of that. Let's start with this:

I have written before about the Lunar Lander Challenge, which is managed by the X-Prize foundation. Well, this year's challenge has come and gone, and this time, there are two winners.

Masten Space Systems won 1.15 million dollars from Nasa for completing the more difficult Level 2 challenge, to demonstrate a vehicle that can take off to hover at least 150 feet, stay flying while at least 180 seconds, travel 300 meters, lan on a rocky moon-like surface, then repeat the whole process in reverse within 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Armadillo Aerospace won second place, earning $500,000 for doing the same thing; they just didn't do it quite as fast.

It should be noted that the principal goals of each of these companies is not to create landers; they are both interested in actual spaceflight, specifically with the average consumer in mind. Masten is interested in flying your stuff to space on the cheap (though they emphasize vertical takeoff and landing technology), and Armadillo is working toward developing tourist spacecraft. So this good news for space tourism all around.

As an added bonus, these flights represent the first time the Level 2 challenge has been completed.

Oh, another interesting note: I just updated the bars at the bottom of the post. My solar panel savings have caught up with my trip to space savings, exactly. They're both at 6.47%. Weird.

Trip to Space
Progress: 6.47%  Flight Time: 0:09:42
Solar Array
Progress: 6.47%  Power: 65W