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Dark Matter, Missing Planets & New Comets : Tom van Flandern


  09:22:36 pm, by Nimble   , 1923 words  
Categories: Announcements [A]

Dark Matter, Missing Planets & New Comets : Tom van Flandern

What can I say about Tom van Flandern? Crank isn't quite the right term. Tom has some crankish ideas. He also has some interesting-but-not-mainstream ideas. However, he has a good background, has not gone off the deep end, and has made his own contributions to science and has an interesting resume. That makes him way more interesting than a crank.

Anyhow, in addition to his Meta Research web site, he has a book out with a mouthful of a title: "Dark Matter, Missing Planets & New Comets: Paradoxes Resolved, Origins Illuminated". The content ranges from crankish to extremely speculative to downright intriguing. I'll cover them in summary.

He makes much ado about the troubles of induction in science to explain things. Induction works backwards, so there are many more possibilities that explain exactly the same phenomena. He holds up the forward-looking deduction as an ideal, but ends up doing a fair amount of inductive reasoning in the book anyhow. I've seen others make better arguments about the reason behind the current mess in physics and cosmology. Still, he attempts to make predictions in numerous parts of his book, many of which stand a chance of being tested, so I'll give the man some credit there.

There are a few somewhat disparate topics he goes into in this book. One major section is trying to describe reality. This is where a lot of the deductive logic of the book is concentrated. He goes over the implications of a single-particle universe, a two-particle universe, etc. to suss out the meanings of rotation, scale, distance, and to make some implications for forces.

He then goes on to describe some of his ideas for the underlying structure of the universe. Interestingly, he reintroduces the idea of an "aether" (a light-carrying medium), which has a maximum wave speed, and goes through some objections such as the Michelson-Morley Experiment and Einsteinian Relativity.

Where he goes a little off the rails is in a discussion of gravity. He goes through current Einsteinian theory with its treatment of gravity as an "effectively instantaneous" force - in that the "curvature of space" changes instantaneously. Arguing that "curvature of space" does not get us any closer to explaining gravity, he posits gravity as a force caused by particles (gravitons), but the particles must have a speed faster than light. Much faster, in order to give the instantaneous effect it seems to, and that it interacts with the light-carrying medium. He has an online paper about it.

His is one of many "push gravity" theories I have come across, where the idea is that an apparent force of attraction is really due to a mutual shadow in a constantly repelling force, akin to the way two strips of paper hanging side by side are being hit on all sides by air, but blowing between them (creating a 'shadow' of low pressure) will cause them to move towards one another.

He works through some implications of this. One is that objects can achieve such a density that gravitons cannot penetrate to the center. This may mean that a true singularity or even a black hole might not be able to form, because there's an upper limit on the force gravitons can therefore apply.

For the science fiction lover, he also holds out the weak but theoretical promise that if we can harness gravitons properly, we may be able to move faster than the speed of light. How? He likens this to the way you can never go faster than the speed of sound in a propeller plane, because you're using the medium (air) to try pushing you faster. Jets, however, do not use the medium, so they do not have the same restriction... though they do have sonic booms. I guess if you wanted to have fun conjecturing, you could look up into the sky for "light booms" :)

One other implication is that gravity may have a limited range. He explores this possibility, and finds that it sharply reduces the need for dark matter to be present in galaxies, (similar in its implications to MOND - Modified Newtonian Dynamics) by making the effect of gravity tend towards 1/d instead of 1/d^2 at larger distances. This would make the center of the galaxy less massive and the outer rim more massive than currently suspected by a rigorous application of normal gravity equations, I believe.

He then goes on to a relatively terse tearing apart of Big Bang Theory, since his model strongly implies a 'static' (as opposed to an expanding) universe, and does a pretty good job of it.

He throws in some of his ideas on quantum mechanics for good measure. Not very well explored at all, but then again, quantum mechanics has been excellently calculated but poorly explained for decades.

Then he gets into orbits, and this is where things start coming back to more mundane topics... though still with some mind-benders.

His discussions of "spheres on influence" are in some ways well worth the price of admission, and he really appears to know his orbital mechanics. Orbital mechanics defies common sense a little here. The general idea is that it is substantially easier to hold on to satellites the further you are from the Sun. A good "rule of thumb" is that far away from the influence of the Sun, a body can hold onto satellites at roughly 100x its own diameter, and this shrinks substantially when you get much closer to the Sun.

He talks about how difficult it is to actually capture anything moving past you into an orbit. The possibilities seem to be basically: it smashes into you, or it skips right by you. The possibility of it slowing down "just enough" are incredibly small.

He goes on to talk about tides, and even tides in gaseous bodies, which are usually presumed not to have tides due to the mobility of the gas.

He talks about the discovery of minor satellites, around Hebe and Herculina, although from my other readings, these two have not been yet found to have companions; they may simply be oblong.

Some of his controversial pieces in this section of the book tie together.

One controversial assertion, perhaps (though science magazines used to conjecture about this stuff all the time), is that it seems very likely that planets explode, and that two, possibly three, planets have exploded in this solar system already, and that the most recent of these was approximately 3.2 million years ago.

He goes on to say that comets and asteroids are the remains of these planets. He cites relatively recent studies of composition and albedo that show that comets cannot be the balls of ice we once thought they were; they are considerably darker on their surfaces.

By extension, the Oort cloud does not exist. The Oort cloud was postulated once upon a time because if comets were created at the start of the solar system, they would have run out by now. Nobody has ever seen an Oort cloud, though, and a recent planetary explosion would still be providing us long-period comets... with the requisite composition.

One piece of evidence he uses for the explosion hypothesis is that there are many bodies in the outer solar system that are blackened on one side. Another is that half of Mars is more thickly crusted on one hemisphere.

In looking at the formation of the solar system, he comes to the conclusion that planets accreting in place is a poor probability, since material in the same orbit does not tend to get sucked up, but rather, librates.

He goes on to say that the vast majority of the solar system's angular momentum is in the planets, which doesn't make much sense from an accrete-gas-in-place model of solar system formation.

His postulate is that as the Sun itself started forming from material, that as it grew and contracted, it would have spun faster and faster, then put itself into an overspin state. Bulging and tidal effects would spit out similar bodies on opposite sides, giving us pairs of planets: Neptune/Uranus, Jupiter/Saturn, Planet K/Planet V (the two exploded planets in the inner and outer asteroid belt positions, with masses about 4-10 Earth masses), and Earth/Venus.

He says that these overspin conditions also occurred on the planets as they then went on to accrete material, causing some of them to spin out a satellite. He believes Earth's moon likely formed this way, and that Mercury is a former satellite of Venus (Mercury is strangely iron-rich, Venus strangely iron-poor, amongst other things).

He considers Mars a possible former satellite of Planet V, since it got a big chunk of added crustal material, and unusually slow spin.

He does tours to see solar eclipses, but not to the usual total eclipse locations. Some of the more interesting features of a solar eclipse happen much closer to the edge of the total eclipse areas, because they do not happen so abruptly. Pick the right spot, and you can even catch things like Baily's Beads.

There's a neat, short anecdote about Tom being in the room with Harrington when Harrington was wondering whether to publicize Charon's existence. Amusingly, it turned out that there were prior observation plates of Pluto that were 'discarded' because Pluto appeared as an ellipse, which was assumed to be due to smearing.

He ends the book with discussions on the Scientific Method. There's a lot in the discussion, but the basic gist (and you can guess why) is a modification a quote Carl Sagan's said fondly: "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". Tom's preferred writing would be more along the lines of "extraordinary claims require ordinary evidence to merit a look" (and lots of further ordinary evidence when you look into it shows that you made the right choice). On that summary, anyhow, I suppose I can agree :)

I've saved his crankiest business for last: artificiality at Cydonia on Mars. Yes, the face on Mars and its attendant bits and pieces that Hoagland is a big promoter of. On balance, this is garbage. When he attempts to make the link between these structures and the ascent of man, he shows himself to be pretty amazingly ignorant of evolutionary research and what we know. Quite frankly, I'm all in favour of taking some good pictures of the area, or doing a cheap probe, just to fire up peoples' imaginations, but no, apart from that this is cranky crankness at its best :)

There's a lot of stuff in this book. Pages and pages of predictions, evidence, and lots of bits like a projected planet X, that the Great Red Spot on Jupiter and Neptune's Dark Spot are from debris from a collision, Mars rotating on its side from the mass accretion, comets will come apart when they orbit inside of the orbit they were formed in, etc. There were a few interesting things that were discovered as the book was about to go to printing, so there are a few pieces near the end of the book that give him some hope about his discoveries.

All in all, an interesting, if a little tiring read at times. It could use a bit better formatting, and some illustrated tips and notes instead of making 10-paragraph long footnotes, and a little less of a martyr complex in the beginning of the book, but if you're interested in a few fresh thoughts that aren't 100% cranky (though definitely not 0% cranky *grin), I'd recommend it, with a couple of grains of salt handy nearby.

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