Outsider Physics

Interesting quote from the article ‘Physics on the Fringe’ by Margaret Wertheim:

Quantum theory and special and general relativity (which Carter, like many outsider physicists, rejects) aren’t entrenched for no reason. They seem to describe the world in a real way – having proven empirically robust and useful in various applications. Microchips, GPS satellites, and many other inventions rely on the remarkably precise predictions they make about how matter and energy interact. Wertheim points this out, but fails to adequately address the obvious question – given these theories’ successes, is it really all that much to ask that an outsider theory provide at least as much explanatory power?

Maybe the answer is an obvious, no? String theory fell into the outsider realm for a couple decades. It lacked a testable prediction (the strings are too small to be observed). General relativity had the advantage of the Sun having enough mass to bend light and an eclipse blocked the glare enough to confirm the theory valid. For it to be science, the theory must describe the way the world works better than something else. If it cannot, then maybe it belongs with metaphysics?

Kepler 22b

Previously blogged about a TED Talk for finding planets around other stars. This announcement makes me insanely excited.

NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed its first planet in the “habitable zone,” the region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Kepler also has discovered more than 1,000 new planet candidates, nearly doubling its previously known count. Ten of these candidates are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of their host star. Candidates require follow-up observations to verify they are actual planets.

The newly confirmed planet, Kepler-22b, is the smallest yet found to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun. The planet is about 2.4 times the radius of Earth. Scientists don’t yet know if Kepler-22b has a predominantly rocky, gaseous or liquid composition, but its discovery is a step closer to finding Earth-like planets.

Over the next few years, I expect more to be discovered.

First we looked at the Moon. Then we looked at other planets and other stars. We traveled to the Moon. I do not write off traveling to other planets or stars.

Tearing the Fabric of the Cosmos

  1. Freakin’ laser beams! Actually one of the most awesome lasers coming from of science in the next few years: http://t.co/3RTGF5vo
    November 5, 2011 11:27:10 PM EDT
  2. The laser requires 200 petawatts of energy, aka 200,000 terawatts. A problem is world-wide production of energy by coal, oil, natural gas, solar, wind, nuclear, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass combined is just 21 terawatts. So they plan on huge batteries to store up the power. That seems like a really bad and enormously expensive idea. Saving up that much power when resources are already on edge increases the price for the rest of us.

TED Talk: Finding planets around other stars

How do we find planets — even habitable planets — around other stars? By looking for tiny dimming as a planet passes in front of its sun, TED Fellow Lucianne Walkowicz and the Kepler mission have found some 1,200 potential new planetary systems. With new techniques, they may even find ones with the right conditions for life.

A prior method of detecting planets around other stars was looking for the wobble. As planets orbit their star, they affect the position of the star. The more mass the planet has, the more the wobble and easier to detect. Of course, a shorter orbit also makes it easier to detect. So it was really good at locating gas giants like Jupiter or larger as close as Mercury or Venus. It would not find an Earth.

Kepler has done a fantastic job so far locating planets, especially those near the size of Earth. Apparently we can even participate by looking for the light dips through the Planet Hunters web site. (Kind of surprised this is not automated. But then, getting credit for having helped find a star is pretty cool.)

If you cannot see the video below, visit Finding planets around other stars.


from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4

Vibration-Induced Drop Atomization

Something really cool from Georgia Tech.

… a small liquid drop is placed on a thin metal diaphragm that is forced to vibrate by an attached piezoelectric transducer. The vibration induces capillary waves on the free surface of the drop that, upon attaining the critical conditions, begin to eject small droplets from the wave crests.

They call it Vibration-Induced Drop Atomization. If the embedded video below fails, check it out on Youtube.

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4

Internal Compass

Human sailors had a longitude problem. English sailors frequently enough shipwrecked on the coast of England because they did not know where they were east-west wise. The pocket-watch was a huge innovation to improve navigation. GPS even more so improved sailing. (Though I recently watched a GPS put our position on the ocean when we clearly were a quarter mile up a river.)

Birds and reptiles have an internal compass. Move an alligator without putting magnets near her head will just result in her walking and swimming home. This story about loggerhead turtles using magnetic maps is interesting.

To see whether the turtles somehow use magnetic information to decipher east-west direction, researchers recreated ocean-like conditions. They placed hatchlings inside a circular, water filled arena. The space was surrounded by coils to generate a magnetic field. The turtles were tethered to a tracking device that monitored their swimming direction.

When the turtles were exposed to a field like that which exists on the southwest side of the Atlantic, near Puerto Rico, the animals swam northeast, which would take them back toward North America and their normal migration route.

When they were exposed to fields as exist on the northeast side of the Atlantic, near the Cape Verde Islands, they swam southwest. This would again take them to the North American coast.

Since the hatchlings had never been in the ocean, the ability to recognize east-west direction seems to be inherent. “Turtles exploit at least two different geomagnetic features that vary in different directions across the Atlantic,” states the report.

That animals know and understand the differences of the magnetic fields to know where they are located while we do not is so fascinating.