The Pioneer Anomaly Fires the Imagination by Prospero


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The Pioneer Anomaly Fires the Imagination
The unknowns about the Universe appear to be piling up in recent years, just as the Grand Theories of Everything are being advertised as almost boring and anticlimatic. First, there was the anomalous non-Newtonian rotation of nearby, and upon closer examination all, structurally opaque galaxies, pointing to Dark Matter halos. The evidence has been adding up for its ubiquity ever since. Still, no one knows what it is, though the astrophysicists have some real candidates. But just as the interactions of Dark Matter with the manifestly RF Universe seem to be clear, we are confronted with massive structures of inferred Dark Matter with no optical counterparts and then, just this past week NASA releases a photograph of a relatively local spiral galaxy whose stars rotate in Newtonian fashion, apparently a galaxy without a Dark Matter component. Go figure! Then, we have Dark Energy, subject of pure denial by the camp in favor of a slowing expansion, of the known Universe doomed to collapse again after the Big

Bang and similarly denied by the camp inspired by a slowing expansion that will, nevertheless, never overcome expansion. Behold, a known Universe whose expansion sped up, slowed and is now accelerating. Occam's Razor suggests, "all things being equal," the simplest explanation tends to be the most likely. What could the simplest explanation be of an accelerating known Universe, however? Perhaps the answer is a kind of quantum equivalent to an optical illusion. Gravity Waves are presumed to exist, waiting for the most sensitive instruments to detect. Nevertheless, they may not exist at all. Perhaps, like the mind-bending "super-position" of sub-atomic particles which suggest "information" can be propagated, after a fashion, quite literally not just faster than the speed of light, but instantly. Perhaps the suggestion of M/String Theory that every particle of matter is no further away from every other particle in the known Universe than 3 millimeters is correct. Gravity may propagate "instantly." One thing is slowly beginning to be suggested in polite society. Gravity may be something quite exotic, to our previously conventional ways of thinking about it, and Newton's suggestion that every mass in the Universe is attracted to every other mass in the Universe with only the size of those masses and the inverse-square law as a check upon the strength of that attraction. That suggests the vision of Dark Energy as a halo existing everywhere upon the inside of the outer membrane of the expanding known Universe is rather silly. The acceleration of universal expansion could be an illusion, or it could be an infinite event horizon. Lastly, for the moment anyway, there is the buzz about the so-called "Pioneer Anomaly." The long-observed anomalous acceleration of all our probes observed in their trajectories, usually immediately after a close encounter with Earth or Venus used to speed those vehicles up still further.

There have been a lot of folks lately who've been trying to explain it, and the Knight Science Journal takes it on today. The physOrg report was interesting, at least it was to Hacks like me.

It’s just a little story on a small service, but Charles Q. Choi’s piece over at shivers the spine a bit. Five spacecraft, according to a few people who watch their trajectories very, very closely, shifted around by a bit as though responding to forces other than standard gravity and the rustlings of the solar wind. For those familiar with these things it is, yes, another example of the “Pioneer anomaly” that, some say, mysteriously oonched those two interplanetary probes as they left the inner solar system some years back. Giving the notion of a non-Newtonian gravity field a bit of extra plausibility is that the American Institute of Physics’s news office put out a guarded press release on it. Choi says it may have to do with “unbound orbits” - a term suitable for idle chatter late at night among sci-fi novelists looking for a new, plausible-sounding explanation for alien powers.

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