Monday, February 22, 2010

Einstein Aces New Test, Scoring at least 99.999999%

UC Berkley announced yesterday the results of the most precise test of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity ever accomplished. Professor Holger Muller’s experiment confirms Einstein’s prediction that the passage of time is slowed down by gravity. Muller’s measurement matches Einstein’s prediction to better than 1 part in 100 million, which is the limit of the experiment’s precision and is 10,000 more accurate than any prior measurement.

To achieve this extraordinary accuracy, Muller cooled cesium atoms to a few millionth of a degree above absolute zero (-455oF) and “tossed” half of them up 4/1000ths of an inch. In the 1/3 of a second it took the elevated atoms to fall back down, they “aged” 20,000 trillionths of a trillionth of a second more than did their stationary siblings. Muller was able to measure that infinitesimal difference to an astonishing 0.000,1 of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, using an atom interferometer

Einstein Theory of General Relativity is the foundation of our scientific understanding to the universe, the big bang, and black holes. It is also essential to GPS, the Global Positioning System that many of us have in our cars. If not corrected for the slowing of time due to gravity as Einstein explained, GPS readings would drift by 6 miles per day – if GPS got you home on Monday, you’d be in the next town on Tuesday, and possibly out to sea by Friday.

Find out more about gravity and time on my radio shows "Hey, Einstein, What Time Is It?" and "Gravity and the 3 R's" on my website:

Muller feels he can do even better, and has already started building a more precise experiment.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Solar Energy At Turtle’s Pace

Worth $1 Million?

According to the Los Angeles Times, environmental proponents have stopped a solar energy project in the Mojave Desert that would eliminate 6 square miles of the habitat of two dozen threatened desert tortoises. Government officials propose the energy company purchase 19 square miles elsewhere and relocate the tortoises, at a cost that the company estimates to be $25 million. This amounts to $1 million per tortoise, or 6 times their weight in gold.

This portents a key challenge facing large-scale solar energy production. In a November 2009 article in Scientific American, Dr. Mark Jacobson and Dr. Mark Delucchi proposed a plan for supplying all the world’s energy from solar and wind power. They said solar collectors would need to cover 170,000 square miles, about 30,000 times more than the area contested in the tortoise dispute. Imagine how many other, frightfully expensive disputes lay ahead. The article estimates the cost of this plan at “on the order of 100 trillion dollars”, not including environmental mitigation costs or power transmission costs. Transmission costs will be very substantial since solar and wind plants will almost always be far from major urban areas.

We must, and we can, do better. More advanced technologies will deliver cheaper, cleaner, and more abundant energy that doesn’t imperil the environment, the tortoises, or our economy.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Can Russia Stop the Sky from Falling on Us? Da or Nyet?

The New York Times reports that Russia’s space agency RKA plans to intercept and deflect a large asteroid heading our way. NASA estimates the 1000-foot-wide asteroid Apophis will pass within 20,000 miles of Earth in 2029 and will make a second pass at us in 2036. As Earth orbits the Sun at a speed of 66,000 miles per hour, this means Apophis is projected to miss Earth by 17 minutes, give or take. RKA plans to launch a space craft to push Apophis off course and away from Earth. Former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickert voiced concern that a miscalculation by RKA could send Apophis crashing into Earth. As this would be the first time anyone has attempted to deflected an asteroid, Schweickert suggests experimenting on a more distant asteroid that wouldn’t hit us in case RKA’s efforts aren’t A-OK.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Scientific American Jan 2010 & the Weak Nuclear Force

Contrary to the cover story in Scientific American's January 2010 issue, life would NOT be possible in a universe without the weak nuclear force, because then matter and antimatter would have completely annihilated each other, leaving no atoms to make life. Only the weak force treats matter and antimatter asymmetrically, allowing slightly more matter to develop in the first second after the Big Bang. Everything we see, and are made of, comes from that slight excess that the weak force enabled.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Star Power: A Solution to Global Whining

This responds to a NY Times piece recently about global warming. $100 Trillion is per Scientific American article of November 2009.

Instead of rushing to spend $100 Trillion to install “renewable” energy, let’s spend far less and learn to make energy as nature does. Based on Einstein’s discovery, science promises energy sources that are cheap, clean, and abundant.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Science and Religion are Compatible

As a scientist who strives to provide public access to science, I applaud the wonderful article by Lori Kozlowski about science and society in the Los Angeles Times on August 22, 2009, and wish to contribute some thoughts.

Contrary to what some scientists and some non-scientists stridently proclaim, I believe science and religion are compatible – both are organized efforts to find Truth. Best go to science to find the distance to the Sun, the age of the Earth, or similar questions whose answers are numbers. But science has not, and in my view never will, determine whether or not God exists, what is the purpose of human life, or to what ethical code good people should aspire. Science is incapable of answering such very important questions.

Science is not an obscure cult practiced by estranged people. Science is simply the extension of everyone’s innate curiosity. Children continually ask Why? They are born wanting to learn about and understand their world. Scientists are just people who never stopped asking Why?

Science should be for everyone. Just as you don’t have to be a great musician to appreciate great music, you don’t have to master complex math and technical jargon to appreciate the exciting discoveries of modern science. We live in the Golden Age of Science – more has been discovered in our lifetimes than in the entire prior history of mankind. We have found nature’s smallest parts and have seen out to the edge of the universe and back almost to the beginning of time. These exciting discoveries can be presented so that everyone can participate. I have given science talks at a wide range of venues from major universities to the Latina club of a local middle school. Audiences everywhere and of all ages have the same desire to understand more about their world. They just need information they can digest.

Science has not just increased our academic knowledge, but has also added to our wealth and welfare. A century ago, life expectancy in the U.S. was 47 years. In a single year, 40 million people died of the flu worldwide. Only 6% of Americans graduated from high school, and there were no iPods, DVDs, cellphones, internet, GPS, lasers, radio, movies, or television. In 100 years, our life expectancy has increased to 78 years, and of Americans over 25, 85% now graduate from high school and 27% earn college degrees. Most of these improvements are due to the advance of science and technology.

Looking forward, science is how we will reduce our dependency on foreign oil, mitigate pollution and solve global warming. It behooves the public to better understand science, so they can more knowledgeably participate in determining what sort of world we will leave to our children and grandchildren.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

EPA Should Not Deny Public’s Right To Know

An EPA decision to restrict greenhouse gas emissions may be of some benefit to the climate, but it certainly will substantially increase energy costs and unemployment as more jobs will be lost to countries without such restrictions. As a scientist and a taxpayer, I strongly believe the public has a right to a fair and open hearing and examination of the evidence supporting restrictions that will have such far-reaching impact.

As reported in the LA Times on August 25th, EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan claimed no public hearings were necessary because scientific evidence “overwhelmingly indicates that climate change presents a threat to human health and welfare.” However, nothing was said about any evidence that human activity is the cause of climate change, or that restrictions on the U.S. economy will solve this problem despite the most populous and most polluting nations continuing their rapidly increasing emissions.

I was particularly appalled by the reactionary comment of Brenda Ekwurzel of the Union of Concerned Scientists who compared a public inquiry to a witch hunt. Scientists who aren’t willing to publicly present their data and defend their conclusions should get out of science and become political lobbyists, no doubt that pays better. Oh, maybe some has already thought of that.

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