Archive for January, 2013

More about Cosmology, Mass, and Dark Matter

January 13, 2013

I kept thinking about this. I don’t think astronomers pay enough attention to the time factor when they analyze the universe. I know that they’re aware of it; but do they truly analyze galaxies and other objects based on their assumed age?
Let me illustrate: from our point of view, everything out there is older. We think the universe is about 14 billion years. Our solar system is about 4.5 billion years old. It’s estimated that the sun is somewhere in the middle of its cycle of existence, so for argument consider that mid-level stars such as Sol last about 9 billion years.
Our closest neighbor star is Proxima Centauri, about 4.2 light years. So when we observe that star, a part of a binary system, we’re seeing it as it was 4.2 years ago.
We extrapolate to describe this star, based on what we know of stars in general. That’s what we do with all stars, including our own.
But not much happens in a year, so far as a star is concerned. So we can assume that we’re observing P. Centauri as it is now. By contrast, the most distant objects we’re seeing are protogalaxies and gamma-ray burst objects (structure not defined; just something that’s emitting a lot of energy) that are 13 000 to 13 370 million light years away. So we’re looking at those as they were back when the universe began.
Objects in between are intermediate in age.
Consider a mind experiment, if you will. Say I was to surround myself with people, organized in layers, from about 5 meters to perhaps 1 000 meters. In the first layer, I put teenagers. The second layer would be 20-somethings, and in the third layer there would be 30-somethings, right up to a final layer of centenarians.
I would then try to describe this thing called ‘human’ by looking at those people. Could I truly do so without considering the effects of age?
And yet, that’s what astronomers do. When they describe a galaxy, do they take approximate age into consideration?
Extrapolating from this, can they describe the universe without considering that each ‘layer’ contains objects that are young, middle-aged, and old?
To really describe the universe, I would think that we need to break down the universe according to ‘age’. And since stars age in billion-year time frames, perhaps we could use a hundred-million light-year ‘slice’ of the universe. So anything up to a hundred light years would be about the same age, from P Centauri to 100 light years out. Slice two would run from about 100 to 200 light years. These are only off-the-cuff ideas; perhaps slicing by 500 million years or even a billion years would work better in practice.
The next thing would be to attempt to extrapolate what would likely be happening in those older sections. If we’re observing them a billion years ago, what would they be like in half a billion years? Would they have collided with another galaxy, or most of their bigger stars gone nova/supernova and reformed into smaller stars? Would they have more or fewer star systems within the galaxy?
Do all that, and then we might get some idea of how much mass there really is in the universe.
Say there are X galaxies in that oldest slice, 1 000 mly or more. Say further that there are X+Y galaxies in the slice 900 to 1000 mly distant. Calculate that there are X+?Y galaxies in the 800 to 900 mly slice. Continue until done.
Then graph the numbers. We can decide whether the process of galactic formation is increasing, remaining the same, or decreasing over 100 my time segments.
That, in turn, should give us an idea of about how much normal matter there is in the universe.
I don’t think this has been done. If you’re aware of something along this line, feel free to correct me.

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Cosmology, Dark Matter, and Assumptions

January 13, 2013

Written in answer to a comment by my Australian friend Gavan. FWIW, we’re both members of International Mensa and he’s a believer in currently-accepted theories in Cosmology. I’m a skeptic.

I’ve heard that, Gavan; but at the same time, I maintain that there is much ordinary matter that has simply not coalesced into something that’s visible to us here in any of the spectra that we can detect. As evidence, I cite the emergence of new galaxies and within galaxies, new star systems. And we also keep discovering dim, barely visible items that only our new, more powerful, viewing instruments can detect.
Consider this, as well: most of what we view is seen through a time machine. We’re looking at the events of billions of years ago. We have no way of viewing things that happened this year, or a hundred million years ago. The radiation from those distant events won’t be here for another hundred million or billion years.
So estimating the current total mass of ordinary matter based on an unimaginably ancient photo is simply silly. It’s similar to looking at human populations on the Earth of 1 million b.c. and estimating the current human population…and then declaring that our estimate must be correct, without regard for change that might take place over that time.
We might as well use gravitational influences, which we can detect, as indicators that there was much more unconsolidated matter a billion years ago than there is now.
I could, for example, pencil in a few million new galaxies, enough of them to actually balance the estimates of mass and the observed gravity. And point out that we won’t see them for another billion years, because they’re that far away, and have only begun emitting energy within the last few million years and so aren’t yet visible because the energy hasn’t arrived yet. ┬áIs that less logical than claiming that perhaps 90% of the gravity in the universe is due to some invisible, undetectable (at least, so far) ‘matter’?
Those new star systems and such that we observe in the process of formation and describe with great excitement because they just became visible this week? That happened a few hundred million years ago.
So apply Occam’s razor; there are masses in the universe that we can’t yet see because they’re so far away, or there is some sort of undetected invisible matter that’s here because we need something to balance the equations?
That’s my problem with the math of the universe; the equations may well be right, but the assumptions and estimates and interpretation are much less certain.

Political Economics in the 21st Century

January 12, 2013

Written in answer to a series of comments by a friend:

Gavan, I have a different take on this. Those governments didn’t loan money in good faith.
They INVESTED money in US bonds with the expectation that they would be paid back, and that this investment was in their economic self interest. They’ve also been permitted to ride along as the US economy boomed, investing in American companies and even buying some outright. Diversification, in effect the financialization of national economies, has protected all the world’s economies to an extent.
The Constitution requires that we pay our debts. Any bondholder who faces default on American debt has the right to sue in federal court to get paid. And our courts would have no option but to force payment on the debt.
Meantime, we’ve got a political party that’s in the minority but which is willing to stop the US Government in order to force their vision on our politics. And they appear not to care at all whether other nations get paid. Regardless of the Constitution they claim to respect.
But the US is a sovereign nation, not bound by such things as Euro Union entanglements. Many have advocated simply creating money by fiat, as our laws permit (and also the laws of Australia and Canada and Britain, I think). That possibility was always there, and the nations and individuals who purchased US investments knew it when they invested. They did so, invested their money, with no assurance other than the belief that the US Treasury Bonds (German bonds, too) were the safest places in the world to invest. That’s why interest rates, set by auction, are so low on those bonds. Lower, in fact, than the rate of inflation.
So what’s being discussed is an end run around that arguably-insane political party. They, the Republicans and specifically the Tea Party Caucus of the Republican Party, are willing to see the government shut down rather than tax their wealthy sponsors. They also insist on cutting health care and unemployment and pensions paid to old persons, people who’ve been paying into the system for years already. They aren’t really about paying off the deficit, so much as they are about cutting payments to people they consider to be ‘freeloaders’. And the people who are sponsoring them, the real freeloaders who game the tax system to avoid paying taxes, are happy for this to go on.
Congress first votes to spend the money; they then refuse to raise taxes to fund the projects they’ve agreed to spend money on, and also to raise the debt ceiling to borrow money to spend on what they’ve agreed to fund. Get the picture? Only Congress can vote to spend money, and only Congress can set the tax rates. The debt ceiling is a fairly recent maneuver. There are a couple of other Congressional maneuvers they’ve used, as well; our two-party system allows the Speaker of the House, the leader of the majority party in the US House of Representatives, can block legislation from being voted on. He represents the majority, and sometimes a minority of that majority can force their will on the others. That’s what the Tea Party has done. They call it the ‘Hastert Rule’, after a former Speaker.
And so our Congress is paralyzed by this minority.
But there are a couple of ways that the President can bypass them. Rather than shutting down the government, he can either issue scrip coupons that could be bought by exchange houses, who would then make money by discounting those scrip coupons. They would be the ones to profit by Congressional gridlock, while people like me would lose because of the discounting. Or the Treasury could simply mint one or more platinum coins, in any denomination they wished. Those coins would then be deposited with the Federal Reserve, and an equivalent amount issued to government agencies to pay their bills or even pay off the debt. This has the advantage of not incurring any debt at all. Normally this course might be inflationary; but our inflation rate, because of the economic ills of the world, is quite low. Economists such as Paul Krugman, a Nobel winner, think it’s too low. So if the injection of money into the economy via government spending were to slightly raise the inflation level, that would be a good thing if it also stimulated the economy to begin producing.
And the restaurant owner gets paid, too.