Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Phlogiston, Ether, Dark Matter, and Starships

I've been reading about and playing with space stuff again recently. There are so many great astronomy and space apps on the iPad (more later maybe), and so much interesting SF and non-fiction space stuff to read. Going Interstellar, edited by Jack McDevitt,  is a mix of SF stories and non-fiction articles related to interstellar flight, all written with the constraint that only “known physics” could be assumed. This means no warp drives or space-time worm holes, but fusion and anti-matter based propulsion and advanced AI are OK, even though a huge amount of “it’s just engineering” remains before such systems could possibly be built. And for anti-matter propulsion, even if you can build the reactors and starships, the energy costs and logistics of generating, collecting, and containing large amounts of anti-matter are non-trivial to say the least!

This limitation means that the starships in the fictional stories are limited to something like 0.2c (20% of the speed of light). While this is fast, a journey to Gliese 581 (20.1 light years) is going to take 100 or so years, so we are talking “generation ships,” or possibly some sort of hibernation technique to allow humans to survive the long journey (unless the travelers are technologically enhanced or even non-biological, advanced AI’s or hybrids of some sort). “Known physics” still allows a lot of room for imagination. The best story in the book is Michael Bishop’s Twenty Lights to “The Land of Snow,” in which a group of 990 Tibetan Buddhists sets off with the Dalai Lama to found a new homeland on a planet in the Gliese 581 system.

I also recently re-read Ender’s Game, where starships are still sub-light-speed, but there exists an advanced communication system captured from the enemy aliens. The “ansible”  somehow (quantum entanglement? It is never explained) allows instantaneous communication across interstellar distances. This supports the key plot point of a fleet of starships sent toward the enemy’s home world years before anyone knew who would command them. When Ender Wiggin finally arrives at the Earth orbiting Battle School to learn how to save the day, there needs to be a way for his commands to reach Earth’s faraway fleet with no light-speed delay.

All of this got me thinking about dark matter and the question of “known physics.” Of course SF authors have always felt free to assume that new and convenient features of the universe will eventually be discovered so that faster-than-light travel  and other amazing feats can be accomplished. The convenience of writing away the problem you need to solve is one of the luxuries of fiction. Quite possibly boring old Einstein is right and c is the ultimate speed limit. But once upon a time, there was phlogiston theory, which explained combustion in terms of a special essence contained within materials that burn. Chemistry and oxygen eventually provided a better explanation. And what about the ether? In the nineteenth century, physicists quite logically assumed that light waves would require a medium, much as do sound and water waves. Michelson, Einstein  and others showed that no such medium existed nor was needed.

“Dark matter” really sounds like phlogiston or the ether to me. A placeholder until some new Einstein comes up with a better explanation. Will that explanation allow matter or energy to travel faster than the speed of light? Not necessarily. Einstein was a pretty sharp dude and plenty of experiments have shown that going faster than c is pretty damn hard if not impossible.  I’m just saying that it’s quite likely that the physics we have now is nowhere near the final word on how the universe really works. It’s a very good approximation, as was Newton’s mechanics for most of the problems anyone could think to ask until around 1900, and still good enough for most purposes. Einstein’s special and general relativity theories are minor corrections for most mechanics problems even today (even for most orbital mechanics, but not quantum mechanics). Any “bigger and better” physics that may arrive in coming years will still have to reduce down to what we have now for most circumstances. But with any kind of luck, someone will figure out how to build some special circumstances into the back ends of starships, and when the new physics kicks in, we’ll be able to get to Gliese 581 in time for dinner.


mpc755 said...

Aether has mass. Aether physically occupies three dimensional space. Aether is physically displaced by matter. There is no such thing as non-baryonic dark matter anchored to matter. Matter moves through and displaces the aether.

'NASA's Voyager Hits New Region at Solar System Edge'

"Voyager is showing that what is outside is pushing back. ... Like cars piling up at a clogged freeway off-ramp, the increased intensity of the magnetic field shows that inward pressure from interstellar space is compacting it."

It is not the particles of matter which exist in quantities less than in any vacuum artificially created on Earth which are pushing back and exerting inward pressure toward the solar system.

It is the aether, which the particles of matter exist in, which is the interstellar medium. It is the aether which is displaced by the matter the solar system consists of which is pushing back and exerting inward pressure toward the solar system.

'Galactic Pile-Up May Point to Mysterious New Dark Force in the Universe'

"The reason this is strange is that dark matter is thought to barely interact with itself. The dark matter should just coast through itself and move at the same speed as the hardly interacting galaxies. Instead, it looks like the dark matter is crashing into something — perhaps itself – and slowing down faster than the galaxies are. But this would require the dark matter to be able to interact with itself in a completely new an unexpected way, a “dark force” that affects only dark matter."

A 'new dark force' is more speculative than understanding space itself has mass. What is occurring is analogous to the bow waves of two boats which pass by each other. The aether displaced by the galaxies interacts and 'piles-up' as the galaxies pass by each other.

'Ether and the Theory of Relativity by Albert Einstein'

"the state of the [ether] is at every place determined by connections with the matter and the state of the ether in neighbouring places"

The state of the aether at every place determined by connections with the matter and the state of the aether in neighboring places is the state of displacement of the aether.

'Hubble Finds Ghostly Ring of Dark Matter'

"Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope got a first-hand view of how dark matter behaves during a titanic collision between two galaxy clusters. The wreck created a ripple of dark mater, which is somewhat similar to a ripple formed in a pond when a rock hits the water."

The 'pond' consists of aether. The analogy are two boats which pass by each other very closely. Their bow waves slosh back and forth and create a ripple in the water.

The Milky Way's halo is what is referred to as the curvature of spacetime.

The Milky Way's halo is the state of displacement of the aether.

The geometrical representation of gravity as curved spacetime physically exists in nature as the state of displacement of the aether.

Displaced aether pushing back and exerting inward pressure toward matter is gravity.

FlyingSinger said...

Whoa. So it sounds a bit like Mark Twain ("reports of my death...") or perhaps the parrot in the old Monty Python sketch -- the ether isn't dead, it's just resting, is that it? Seriously, I was simply following the widely accepted notion that the ether is as obsolete as the spelling "aether." Apparently not everyone has given it up yet. But this was not the main point here. I simply wonder whether in a few years, people might look back at "dark matter" and find that it was a strange, interim, and partially correct theory from the early 21st century.

mpc755 said...


There is no such thing as non-baryonic dark matter anchored to matter.

Matter moves through and displaces the aether.

Aether has mass.

mpc755 said...

'Comment on the higher derivative Lagrangians in relativistic theory'

"The relativistic theory of an Aether was discussed several time, see for e.g. [8], [9]. In this paper, our hypothesis is different and gives a relativistic theory of the deformation of continuous media (for which the geometry is described by the metric field)."

The 'deformation of continuous media' is the state of displacement of the aether.

The Milky Way's halo is the deformation of continuous media. The Milky Way's halo is curved spacetime. The Milky Way's halo is evidence of the correctness of relativity. The Milky Way's halo is the state of displacement of the aether.