Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On Gravity ('n) other stuff...)

On Gravity ('other stuff…)
By Dale Bryant
  All matter attracts all other matter; nature does, indeed, seem to abhor a vacuum, as if it were trying to recover a unity it once possessed by removing the space and occupying it with matter. However, space is utilized, in that, material objects travel through it from one point to another in trying to assume ventral, or, central positions from distal positions. It takes a measurable amount of time for this repositioning to occur; therefore, because of space, time exists. Time is only a measure of an object's relative position in space against some other position. It is only a perceived interval - an illusion bestowed upon creatures that happen to inhabit a world of three physical dimensions. Remove the space and you have essentially achieved time travel. All physical contact becomes instantaneous.  

  Because space is warped in the presence of material objects, gravity exists. This is what Einstein was referring to in 'space-time'. Space, time, gravity and acceleration are different states of the same thing, in the same way that ice, water and steam are different states of the same thing or that matter and energy are different states of the same thing. Einstein was looking for a way to unite these four things in his quest for a Unified Field Theory. You can see here how space, time and gravity are related. Einstein showed that gravity and acceleration are indistinguishable. Let’s say you are inside an elevator in a zero-g (free-fall, or, weightless) environment. The control panel indicates you are on the ground floor. You press the button marked ‘penthouse’ on the panel. The elevator starts to move ‘upward’. You feel your feet pressing into the floor of the elevator as you ‘ascend’ at a rate of 1g (one Earth gravity). But you are not only moving - you are accelerating - faster and faster toward the penthouse. As long as this acceleration is maintained, you are moving faster with each passing moment. You will, therefore, feel your feet pressing into the floor of the elevator for the entire trip. Without a window, and unless you knew otherwise, the sensation of your feet maintaining contact with the floor would tell you that you were experiencing normal Earth gravity (1g). This is how acceleration is indistinguishable from gravity. This is how acceleration relates to space, time and gravity - again, all different states of the same entity.

  The unification here is clear. But if this is so, does it negate what is known as 'spooky action at a distance'? ‘Spooky action at a distance’ refers to an instantaneous reaction to some action or stimulus, regardless of distance. Why would 'spooky action' be permissible? Does nature attempt to unite matter even at the risk of making allowances for 'spooky action'?

Exo-planets and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life

Exo-planets and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life 
by Dale Bryant
Dedicated to the memory of Neil Armstrong, the first human being to walk on another world...

Though the figures are tough to keep up with as they are changing almost daily, the Kepler space telescope has discovered over 2,300 exo-planets in all.  Those are just the few in existence whose orbital planes lie at a favorable incline from our perspective. Of those 2,300+, at least 207 are Earth-sized and at least 48 lie in the so-called 'Goldilocks' or habitable zone.  The way Kepler achieves this miracle of detection of extra-solar planets is by measuring the varying light curves of their parent or host stars.  As a planet transits or passes in front of a star, as seen from our neighborhood, there is a barely measurable but significant decrease in the star's light, on average about 2%, with another .03% decrease in the presence of a planetary atmosphere.  This is roughly equivalent to the amount of light lost by an observer of a housefly passing in front of a car headlight as seen from several miles away.  When a regular pattern of dimming and brightening can be determined by astronomers, they can deduce that the star has at least one planet in orbit around it.  Stars vary in their brightnesses for other reasons, as was seen earlier, but this may the most exciting one. 

In 1952, Otto Struve suggested that extra-solar planets might be detected by dips in a host star's light during a planet's transit.  Even then, techniques were available to detect such a drop in light but it was forgotten about for decades.  In 1999, two professional astronomers using a 10-centimeter telescope discovered the first tell-tale signs of such a transiting extra-solar planet.  Amateur and professional astronomers have since detected countless candidates.  

One other technique for detecting extra-solar planets is through the measurement of the radial velocity (RV) of a host star, producing changes in the Doppler shift of the stellar lines by the tugging of the planet on the star.  By this technique, Right Ascension, Declination, transit depth and ephemerides can be determined by amateurs possessing modest CCD equipment.

NASA's Ames Research Center lists a table of 70-plus confirmed  exo-planets discovered by Kepler as of May 2012 and designated by the name 'Kepler' followed by a letter.  Planetary charcteristics in the table for each planet  include the following headings: Jupiter Masses, Earth Masses, Jupiter Radii, Earth Radii, Density, Temperature, Transistion Duration, Period, Semi-Major Axis (UA), Eccentricity, Inclination (in degrees) and Distance (in parsecs).  The table also lists characteristics of the host star.  It should be noted here that Kepler 23b - Kepler 30b (15 planets) are planets that are within just a few Earth radii, though they are several hundred times more massive and their orbital periods seem much too short (just a few days) to be within the habitable zone.  But it tells us that exo-planets, roughly the size of Earth, are indeed detectable and are out there.

If life is discovered elsewhere in the universe, is it likely it will be found on Earth-like extra-solar planets - planets that fall into that comfy, cozy distance from their host stars that we refer to as the Habitable Zone?  We humans like to think so, and it may very well be, but life may also be found in much less likely environments.  The diversity of life on Earth itself is staggering in that it can be found in the deepest ocean trenches in waters above 600 degrees Fahrenheit, and pushing well north and south of the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, respectively, on land, in temperatures well below freezing.  It must be remembered that we are products of our environment in the struggle for life.  Nature has tried out many kinds of organisms through the process of natural selection and most of those organisms were ill-suited to the task of survival.  In fact, more species of living things have become extinct than have survived.  But some of them were very well suited, indeed, and lived to write about it! 

Life "as we know it", would require that it evolve on a planet with the exact same physical make-up as Earth. Life here on Earth is carbon-based, but we shouldn't necessarily exclude, say, even silicon-based life on other worlds.  Our body chemistry is that of the Earth.  But life will come in many forms.  It may be possible to detect life on Earth-like exo-planets possessing an atmosphere by measuring gaseous emissions in its atmosphere by spectroscope, such as the oxygen given off by vegetation here on Earth.  Other forms of life give off carbon dioxide and even methane into the atmosphere.  Luckily, the universe operates the same everywhere else as it does locally, so we can know what signs to look for.  The presence of such gases can be determined by measuring a planet's transmission spectrum during its transit across the face of a star.  If a planetary atmosphere is not present, the light fall-off will be the same at all wavelengths.  If certain elements are present in the planet's atmosphere they will absorb some of the star's light.  In one case, sodium present in the atmosphere of a planet made the planet appear to be six percent larger than at other wavelengths.  Another way that exo-biologists expect to be able to detect the presence of life is by spectropolarimetry, or, looking for biosignatures in the reflected polarized light of a host star by one of its planets. 

One method of detecting life elsewhere in the universe not mentioned thus far is, of course, through the long-hoped for detection of artificial radio signals, which is what the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute hopes to do.  As early as 1896, Nikola Tesla suggested that radio could be used to contact extraterrestrial life.  The first modern SETI experiment was conducted by Cornell University astronomer Frank Drake and was called Project Ozma.  Drake used a radio telescope 26-meters in diameter at Green Bank, West Virginia to examine the stars Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani near the 1420 gigahertz marker frequency, a frequency called "the water hole" due to its proximity to the hydrogen and hydroxyl radical spectral lines.  With the exception of a couple of minor false alarms, no one has been heard from to date.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Weight and Speed Conversions for the Hand-Held Calculator

Weight and Speed Conversions for the Hand-Held Calculator
Weight and Speed Conversions
Sun        27 x 1g
Mercury 0.378 x 1g
Venus   .907 x 1g
Moon     0.166 x 1g
Mars      0.377 x 1g
Jupiter   2.364 x 1g
Pluto     .067 x 1g

Weight of 180 pound person on:

Sun: 4,872.9 lbs.
Mercury  68 lbs.
Venus: 163.2 lbs.
Moon: 29.8 lbs.
Mars: 67.8 lbs.
Jupiter: 425.5 lbs.
Pluto: 12 lbs.
Speed of Saturn V rocket: 26,000 MPH (0.000037% speed of light)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Time Troubles

"Time Troubles"
by Dale Bryant
  I just calculated something out and the result is rather bleak.... The nearest star to Earth is Proxima Centauri (one of three stars in the Alpha Centauri system). Proxima is 4.3 light-years away. There are 5.8 trillion miles in one light-year (or 5.8 thousand billion, if you prefer), so we're dealing with about 25 trillion miles. That's bad enough. Let's say we decide to send an astronaut to Proxima Centauri in the fastest rocket at the fastest manned-flight speed we've been able to attain (that would be the Saturn V booster for the Apollo missions - a top speed of 26,000MPH).
  Now even if we could send that astronaut at the speed of light (roughly 186,282 miles per second), it would take him or her 4.3 years to complete the trip as measured by an observer on Earth (because of time-dilation, only a few days will have passed as judged by the astronaut - but that's another story).
  Here's the sad part; at 26,000MPH, which is 0.000037% the speed of light, the trip would take 116,000 years - one-way! The duration would be about the same for the astronaut. The effects of time-dilation at such low speeds are negligible so we can dismiss them here. The nearest star with a known planetary system is in the 15 light-year range. So, if we have cosmic relatives somewhere out there, the chances of meeting up with them are about nil. These distances and times involved are the main reason most astronomers don't believe we're being visited by extraterrestrials. They do believe they exist but not that we're being visited by them on a regular basis. The situation isn't much better with radio communications. Even though radio waves travel at the speed of light, a one-way transmission to those hypothetical beings will take 15 years - telepathy would prove much more economical! Another plausible answer would be travel through worm-holes to beat the clock, but that is, at this point, pure speculation.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Little Einstein. Anyone?

"A Little Einstein, Anyone?"
by Dale Bryant

  When someone hits on an idea - I mean REALLY gets it right, there is no way to disprove that idea because it is intrinsically correct. In fact the antitheses of such situations are known as "intrinsically impossible" situations in the scientific world - like an object being both cold and hot at the same time. Now this makes sense to most people but believe me, there will be those who will try to refute even that. You can't stop from happening something that has already happened. It's along the same lines as not being able to go slower than stop, or getting colder than absolute zero. It can't be done. That's what makes absolutes absolutes. This is the case with Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity. As hard as some have tried, no one has ever proven it to be in error. In fact, the only error about it in history was Einstein's once thinking that he was in error and was persuaded by a fellow physicist to include a formula known as the "Cosmological Constant" - which itself turned out to be in error! (Einstein referred to that persuasion as "the biggest blunder of my life" - some people try to remember him as referring to his theory of relativity in general as the "blunder" - that is not the case - a little ignorance goes a long way).
  A little light needs to be shed on the word "theory". Most people use the word to mean something "less than" or "just a guess" and use it interchangeably with "hypothesis". But something is left out here. For every "truth" or every "law" - and I'm talking "real" truths and "real" laws (like that it doesn't get "warmer" as the temperature drops, for those of you who are just dying to split hairs) there is the theory behind that truth or law. Who of us would doubt the existence of germs, viruses, etc.? Yet the explanation of these microbes is still called the "germ theory" of medicine. A theory is just that - an explanation of a given set of circumstances. It is not a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a different animal; it is a best guess. But it almost invariably gets confused with theory. To say that "germ theory" is just a theory or the "theory of evolution" is just a theory makes you wrong from the get-go. Of course, this used to be the case for these ideas before they were proven (for the first time in history, evolution is being observed "as it happens" in a certain cave lizard species in northern Madagascar. The original species has changed so much over just two generations that its descendants can no longer breed with the original line, making the descendants a new species in their own right) - and some people find it hard to let go or are simply unaware of the facts or intentionally "ignore" the facts (a little "ignorance" goes a long way). But rest assured, the "Big Bang" theory isn't far behind in the list of natural laws.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Here are some images I took with the Harvard Center for Astrophysics Robotic Telescope, located in the Arizona desert:

The top image is of galay M-51, the "Whirlpool" galaxy, an interaction of two galaxies in the constellation Canes Venatici just southwest of the Big Dipper.

The next image is of M-1, the "Crab Nebula", a supernova event remnant in the constellation Taurus.

Below that is expolding galaxy M-82, a spiral galaxy in the constellation Ursa Major.

Lastly, is galaxy NGC 253, a nearly edge-on spiral galaxy in the constellation Sculptor.

All of these objects are visible with even a modest backyard telescope.

Atheism poster

Is your understanding of the Universe so complete that you can rule this hypothetical situation out?
Don't knock what you may not understand... this poster doesn't have it quite right, which, of course, is intentional. The idea of something being created from nothing might not make sense, but neither does the existence of God. Where else could something come from but from nothing? There are no other sources. Just because that doesn't make any sense to our (I am so often reminded by Christians) finite minds - ("We just don't understand the mind of God") doesn't make it any less plausible. Take a good look at quantum physics or relativity. Do they make any sense to you? Yet they are true. No scientist worth his salt would rule out the possibility of the implications of this misguided poster. Good scientists don't let their hearts do their thinking for them.

Still need proof for Darwin’s theory? Read on. The fact that new species develop according to adaptation and inheritance is known as the Theory of Selection, whether it be naturally or artificially induced. It was proposed by naturalist Charles Darwin in the mid-1800’s and is known as “Darwinism”. It’s a common misconception that Darwin was the originator of the Theory of Descent. Actually, the idea of the formation of new species by descent was proposed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck 50 years earlier and is called “Lamarckism”. It was even suspected by Aristotle. Darwin only explained the descent of organisms by means of Natural Selection, in his book, “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection”. In fact, this theory was independently developed by Alfred Wallace at about the same time. Darwin actually put off publishing the results from his observations in his book for 21 years until he was convinced that there was no other explanation possible.

The fact that breeders of dogs, cats, horses, tomatoes or strawberries breed their stock to achieve a desired result – whether the result be a tastier strawberry, a smaller dog or whatever, is proof that the Theory of Selection holds water. You may say that it is only a theory but that doesn’t make it improvable. All scientific ideas and natural laws are backed by theories. The Theory of Selection is a mathematical consequence of the relationship of available space for an organism to exist and the excessive number of organisms competing for that existence. Obviously, some organisms thrive while most others die off. It’s called Survival of the Fittest, or, the struggle for existence. The fittest, according to adaptation and inheritance tend towards survival while the least fit tend towards extinction. Very sensible, is it not? In fact, the seemingly endless variety of organisms, still very much in transitional states today, as can be seen in the existence of rudimentary limbs such as the remnant hind legs of whales, or the now defunct internal organs of many species, including the appendix of man, can only be explained by the Theory of Selection – otherwise it is left to the unfathomable realm of “miracles”.
The Theory of Selection is a self-evident law of nature and requires no further proof any more than you require further proof that more than one breed of dog exists. The fact that people from other parts of the world look differently, or that there are German Shepherds, Chihuahua’s, Beagles and Irish Setters, etc., is all the proof of the Theory of Selection you should require. These breeds, or, sub-species, were intentionally created – bred from a common ancestor of the genus Canis (dog) which was bred from Canis Lupus (wolf). In fact, some breeds of dog are so distantly related that they cannot reproduce together – although they belong to the same genus, they have, through Artificial Selection (selection induced by man, or, intentional breeding) become distinctly separate species. Selection induced by nature is called Natural Selection and works in exactly the same way, only much more slowly.  
Darwin also provided proof of another weighty philosophical question when he explained Natural Selection; that is, the question of how arrangements serving a purpose can arise mechanically without causes acting for a purpose. If that sounds a bit convoluted, just stop for a minute and think about it. If you’re at all familiar with some simple math and statistics, you’ll see the logic in it right away. If you still require proof, you either don’t thoroughly understand the theory or are not sufficiently acquainted with the fundamentals of biology – and if that is the case, you really should familiarize yourself before making any judgments on the subject.
I’ll end here with my favorite quotation on ‘obviousness’ as it applies to biology: “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck – it’s a duck.”
  Oh, just one more thing... I realize this little essay of mine smacks of sacrilege but that is not my intention at all. Like most of my writings, it was only meant to spark a little controversy; to bring people’s blood to near boiling, get them thinking and get them out of their heads for a bit (contrary to popular belief, I like to have a little fun too!) And unfortunately, like the rest of us, I was not present at The Creation (though I feel I could have given the Creator a few pointers) but alas, the truth is, I have an agreement with God – I don’t tell Him how to create Universes – and He doesn’t tell me how to interpret facts.

A Christian Message

Here's a wonderful, loving message from one our Christian friends, the same group of people who took from the year 1610 until the mid 1990's to finally admit - and begrudgingly at that - ("Google" it to find this out for yourself) that a certain Dr. Galileo Galilei, was correct in his view that the Earth was not the center of the Cosmos...