Saturday, December 27, 2008

A dark cloud over dark matter?

Astronomers working with the Chandra X-Ray Observatory have announced the results of new research that they say confirms the existence of dark energy. They speculate that the findings could lead to new insights into the beginning and perhaps the eventual end of the cosmos. But, there's a fly in the ointment. Its name is Halton Arp.

The universe started with a big bang and is constantly expanding. That expansion is accelerating. We know this because the redshift of the light from far away cosmic entities tells us how fast they are moving away from us (remember the train whistle analogy in high school). The model has run into some problems over the decades, such as the fact that there wasn't enough matter to account for galaxies staying together and that there was no explanation for accelerated expansion. Don't panic. New forms of energy and matter were called into being to fix those problems: dark energy and dark matter.

The expanding universe model is no longer open to debate. It's an established fact and indisputable....or is it? A man named Halton Arp has a different idea. He has done extensive and very convincing research aimed at demonstrating that the redshifted light from far away objects is not a measure of velocity, but of age. He proposes that galaxies occasionally eject matter, which may become a new galaxy. The new galaxy is formed of newly formed particles, as a result of the explosive expulsion, which are lower in mass than their older counterparts. The particles in the new galaxy increase in mass as they age. It is the difference in the mass of the particles between the parent and offspring galaxies that accounts for the difference in redshift.

Mr. Arp has produced volumes of research, including observational evidence, that I will not go into here. Please visit the site for more detailed information.

The importance of the proposal is that, if it is correct, everything we think we know about the cosmos suddenly changes. A galaxy that is observed alongside another that has a much higher redshift would be assumed to be far away from its apparent neighbor and rapidly accelerating under the current model. Under Arp's model, the higher redshifted galaxy would be adjacent to, and the offspring of the other galaxy. The currently accepted relative positions and motions of all far away cosmic objects would suddenly be thrown into disarray, along with any research based on them. You can understand why the scientific community in general is not clamoring to support Arp's work.

Whatever the truth is, either Arp is wrong or the scientific community at large is wrong. History has proven that it is indeed possible for the broader scientific community to be dead wrong, even in the face of compelling evidence, for decades and even centuries at a time.

"But there is research, even brand new research that supports the dark energy/dark matter scenario." When you establish a false premise as an absolute truth, any observation you make must be made to conform to your premise. The research being done into dark energy and dark matter is heavily dependent on redshift being an indicator of the relative location and velocity of the objects being studied. If those "facts" are not facts, much of the data derived from them is meaningless.

I'm not a physicist or an astronomer, but I do believe in Occum's Razor. When faced with two plausible possibilities, the simpler one is usually correct. When you have to develop new particles and new properties of existing particles to explain what you are observing in the context of your established premise, check your premise.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Algae, Solar Power and the Electric Car

The lobbyist for the algae to fuel industry will be on Capital Hill this week, trying to convince lawmakers that their industry should be included in any comprehensive, long term energy strategy. They've got the support of the airline industry behind them and at least one company, Sapphire Energy, has actually produced a viable fuel.

Ascent Solar passed a major milestone recently when the Department of Energy officially certified that their thin film photovoltaic cells achieved nearly 10% efficiency at converting sunlight to usable power. Ascent hopes to have commercially available building products, incorporating their cells, on the market in 2010.

The electric car has gotten a lot of hype recently, but there is one major problem I haven't heard anyone address yet. No matter how much range they get and at what efficiency, people are inevitably going to overdrive their charge. What do you do when you're stuck on the side of the highway and out of juice? With gas powered vehicles you can at least grab a gas can and hitch a ride. I've heard of no counterpart to the gas-can for the electric car. Before they can go mass-market, they need to come up with a portable device one can carry to a charging station or outlet. You would charge the device with enough juice to get you at least 20 miles or so and return to your car with it. I suppose an alternative would be the emergence of an industry based on cars or trucks driving the highways and byways with enough power to sell stranded motorists a quick charge. But what if one doesn't happen to be patrolling your area? It's not an insurmountable problem. In fact, it's probably a simple fix. I'm just surprised none of the egg heads at the automobile companies have though about it yet.