Astrophysics and Astrochemistry

Technical stuff for understanding the cosmos.

From Chapter 9 of The Static Universe

Is the Universe expanding? It would appear not. What do we see? We do not see, let alone measure, large objects systematically moving away from all other large objects. On the contrary, it would seem to be quite the opposite, at least in the case of colliding spiral galaxies. Every observable large scale system is to all intents and purposes in a state of equilibrium, even if it might be expressed dynamically as a cycle. Is the Universe in any sense, on any axis, finite? It might be, in theory at least, but where is the evidence? Of course, we cannot observe anything infinite; but then again, neither do we detect even the faintest sign that the Universe reaches finality. We do not come across any kind of absolute boundary condition.

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Archive Freedom

Astronomy ought to be an observational science. It really should. It used to be, after all, a hundred years ago or so. Ideally, astronomers would point their instruments at the heavens, find astounding new things, and publish them where we could all share in the joy of discovery. I wish it were so. The appalling truth is that we are permitted to see only what a faceless, nameless group called “the moderators” deems fit for our eyes. Thought Police are alive and well in the world of space science, and who knows, some of them might even be friends of ours. Alas, so great is their commitment to anonymity that we would simply never know.

In acknowledging my sources in The Static Universe, I paid tribute to the publicly-funded online science repository arXiv. The following paragraph was written before I was (quite rudely, I thought) blacklisted by arXiv. After a deal of sombre thought, I decided to leave it there, unchanged:

“It is about time that someone gave credit to the most-used reference set in the history of science: The well-worn Cornell University online library arXiv. Pronounced archive from the Greek letter Chi, arXiv currently stores about 500,000 scientific publications, with about 4,000 being added every month. Access is free and open, and it is the preferred point of reference for scientists seeking to refer to the work of others. What an outstanding service! Thank you so much, Cornell for administering it, and Paul Ginsparg for inventing it.”

That was said in all sincerity. I’m sure you will understand that I am somewhat more cynical about arXiv these days. It presents an imbalance—the absence of even a few of those who argue against the motion means that arXiv becomes the expression of a particular opinion, rather than a place where scientific results can be compared without let or hindrance.

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Geoff Burbidge, Tea & Crumpets

I am terrified of Geoffrey Burbidge. I admit it. He makes me quake in my boots. The larger by a considerable margin of the famous husband-and-wife team that has earned the moniker “B-squared”, Geoff is certainly a different kettle of fish. Margaret, on one hand, is a motherly figure, treating visitors to their lovely San Diego home to tea and crumpets in the glorious English tradition. Dealing with her husband is quite another matter. Geoffrey does not suffer fools gladly, and it would seem to me that by his definition, all the world’s a fool. And that includes me, of course.

Over the years, I have enjoyed a cordial relationship with the Burbidges, and hasten to assure you that Geoff has never been unkind to me. We are, after all, on the same side (I think, I hope!). It’s just that he’s direct. Very direct. Dr Burbidge’s brand of civility is unadorned by frills or meaningless platitudes. If you’re a spade, he will certainly not call you a shovel. My point is this: Whether or not Geoffrey Burbidge’s social skills make you feel all warm and cuddly, you will ignore him at your peril. He is arguably the most accomplished theoretical astrophysicist alive today, and although I disagree with him on the fundamental issues of universal expansion and what energises the Sun, I use every opportunity that comes my way to learn from him. He is without doubt one of the giants of the modern era.
So it was that a significant paper by Geoff Burbidge came my way towards the end of last year. I had been corresponding with him about my presentation to the ASSA symposium, and he referred me to it. It’s called B2FH, the CMB, and Cosmology (arXiv:astro-ph/0806.1065). I’d like to share some of it with you today.

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What’s Next – Nobel Prize?

Something completely different happened to me several months back, and I’d like to share it with you. I got a letter from Prof Kiril Panov of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences with an unusual request: He had been invited by the prestigious Franklin Institute to submit a nomination for the 2009 Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science. He had chosen as a nominee my friend and colleague, Prof Oliver Manuel of the University of Missouri, and asked if I would agree to writing the required letter of support. Of course I said yes, and here is the letter I sent them:

Ms Beth Scheraga
Awards Program Director
The Franklin Institute

Dear Ms Scheraga,
Below is my letter in support of the nomination by Professor Kiril Panov of Professor Oliver K. Manuel for the Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science, 2009.

Nomination Support Letter
Nominee: Professor Oliver K. Manuel

Since the 1930s, studies of the Sun and the Solar System have been fairly well constrained by principles collected together into what is currently the Standard Solar Model (SSM), and for most of that time, it has harmonised with the Standard Model of Particle Physics (SMPP). Both are physical models that have enjoyed wide acceptance in the fields of astrophysics and cosmology. However, from the 1960s measurements taken empirically by many investigators in widely disparate arenas of study have given cause for concern that some of the underlying principles of the SSM may to some degree at least be in need of revision.

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Is Newtonian Mechanics an Advantage or a Limitation in Astrophysics?

Here is an extract from my Hypography thread Is Newtonian Mechanics an advantage or a limitation in astrophysics?

Quote from The Virtue of Heresy:

“There are no Black Holes, no Dark Matter and Dark Energy, no curved spacetime, no ultimate speed limits, no beginning and no end. By simply accepting infinity as a fact of life, we avoid all these desperate contortions that scientists subject themselves to. The real universe does not run on black magic, yet it is immeasurably more entertaining than the one invented for us by unconstrained mathematical daydreams. In reality physics we explain a far smaller chunk of the universe than mathematical theories do, but we understand it in a fundamentally better way.”

Question from Barcelona: “Would you not say that our understanding of natural laws is at present incomplete?”

Skywalker: Oh yes, I do say that, most emphatically! In fact, the sum of our knowledge is infinitesimal.

Barcelona: “And, that a prerequisite to fully coming to terms with those laws is precisely through mathematical constructs? If not, then why can they not all be deduced from empirical facts? Or conversely, why, if all the laws are known, has it not been possible to formulate a standard world model (a theory of everything?) that encompasses all observations, without exception?”

Skywalker: The hunt for the Theory of Everything is an arrogance worn only by mathematical theorists. Empiricists do not do such things. Stephen Hawking alludes to ToE. Roger Penrose called his >1000 page door-stopper “The Road to Reality – A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe”. Both are mathematical theorists. Isaac Newton, for all his personality problems, was given to far less boastfulness in his publications.

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Bottom Up or Top Down?

Hi Wanderers,

I am writing two books simultaneously, much to the chagrin of my collaborators and publishers. Book two, “The Static Universe – A Challenge to Scientific Prejudice”, a fairly technical, scholarly work with Sir Patrick Moore, is nearly complete, and I intend taking the manuscript and a bottle of tranquilisers to Sir Patrick’s home in Selsey, England, in the New Year. The third of my tomes,“Unseemly Haste – The Catastrophe of Modern Science” hovers at around 200 pages, and changes colour like a chameleon.

One of the issues that raised the blood pressure of a few – very few – Virtue of Heresy readers concerns the question of evolution. The evolutionary scheme espoused by Big Bang Theory just doesn’t work, and I say so. Chapter 5 in Heresy lays out my arguments quite clearly, and is purely secular. It has nothing at all to do with religion. So relax, please, those at left and right extremes of the creation divide. Just use your common sense. That should be sufficient to clarify the need for BB theorists to go back to the drawing board and rework the way they suggest the Universe grew to what it appears to be today.

Here is a paragraph from book three for you to mull over while you save up to buy a gilt-edged, leather-bound hardback of the first edition:

“If we look at two parameters of biological organisms – diversity and complexity – and suggest, according to a purely evolutionary theory, that both conditions came about fortuitously because of interaction events over long periods of time, then we should expect that the phenomena of diversity and complexity should be scale invariant. Tiny things and gigantic things on the universal scale should also be diverse and complex.”

Take care

Cosmology? Bah, Humbug!


Hello and welcome to my cosmology and astroscience blog.

Is Cosmology fact or fiction, science or fairy tale? Do we need it? Is it good for us? Does it have any useful purpose? Should we be confined to a Standard Model?

Civil, rational comments are welcome, rudeness and manic euphoria are discouraged. Let me know what you think of my  website and the articles on it.

Hilton Skywalker