Locklin on science

Open problems in Astronomy

Posted in astronomy, Corliss, Open problems by Scott Locklin on June 11, 2021

As promised, as I go through my William Corliss books (and feel like writing things down), I’ll check for anomalies which persist in being anomalous.

Globular Clusters; these are the weirdest goddamned things. While I was still in grad school, they were considered to be older than the age of the universe. Someone fiddled with a constant somewhere, and now we’re supposed to be OK with this (AOF24), but it’s really only the beginning. Other mysteries, like the galaxies themselves, these things don’t move right. I believe the present fashion is to talk about nebulous forms of matter nobody can see as being responsible for it. Corliss just says what they do; they apparently have weird velocities. Worse, they persist. These are objects nearly as old as the universe, with known, small angular momenta. You’d think they would have collapsed by now. I guess it’s magical dork matter holding them back from doing this. Except everyone says globulars are actchually missing dark matter, because reasons. Oh yeah, they also have a lower limit as to the number of stars, which is just freaking weird.  AOB3,4,8,9,17. Other of Corliss anomalies didn’t fare so well; he asserts (albeit claiming only sparse evidence AOB19) there are no globular binaries, but in fact, there are. Easy mistake to make, and the type of thing you’d expect astronomy to get better at over time as telescopes get better. FWIIW not accounting for doubles may be why they look so old. Astronomy, once you start to look into it, sure does have a shitload of assumptions baked into it.

Quantized redshift; fuck you universe, you can’t do shit like this. There are, of course, experimental error reasons this might happen, but there’s enough of these things out there it merits its own wikipedia page. I suppose it could be data artifacts; noise can look pretty weird if you stare at it long enough.AOF18, AQB1,2,6, AWB7, ATF11.

Bode’s law (and friends). ABS1 ABS6 This is one of those things you’re confronted with immediately in astronomy; not even telescope tier; stuff that Babylonians could have figured out. Why is the solar system following a power law? I mean it could be some kind of nebula thing. Could be sheerest coincidence. Could be God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom. There are all kinds of “resonances” in the solar system which defy explanation beyond “it must be a resonance.”

AU secular increase. Here’s one Corliss missed: the orbit of the planets around the sun is increasing. It could be tidal forces, as people attribute to the moon slowly moving away from the earth. People have tried to unify this with the various other anomalies we’ve seen in orbital mechanics; flyby anomalies and so on, not sure how successfully. But people are pretty sure it’s happening. Hey, I got a dumb idea; maybe it’s the same thing making galaxies spin weird and globs not collapse. Maybe … gravitomagnetics? Don’t know! Apparently there are weird things going on with Saturn as well.

Spiral persistence. AWO13. This is another one that is weird, but so old nobody really talks about it. Yeah, like so galactic angular momentum implies dork matter or whatever, why do they so often look like spirals. Worse, spirals with bars. Based on the age of galaxies and their angular momentum, and, like the Virial theorem, the spirals should have turned into pancakes by now.

 

Origin of Galactic rotation. AWB9. This is a peculiar one, and I sort of hesitate to include it, but it might be an important idea and it certainly bothered important people back in the day. I mean, the universe spontaneously appearing is weird enough I don’t mind it having non-zero angular momentum. The angular momentum of galaxies may have originated in some kind of tidal forces. Others suggest the universe itself rotates. I suspect there is some Kapitza-tier basic physics here that angular momentum conservers didn’t notice, but I include it here anyway as I don’t think anyone has ever talked about how it might have occurred. Corliss also talks about the existence of galaxies itself as being pretty weird (AWB17), which is probably true, but which I also don’t have a  big problem with as long as they behave themselves.

Solar wind isotope variation. ASF4. There’s huge variance in the nitrogen-14/15 isotope ratios in the lunar regolith. There’s also  variation in the solar system at large. Could be some of it is from the early solar system, could be broken solar models. Corliss calls this one a “2” -and people don’t seem to worry about it too much, but it struck me as pretty weird.

Axis of Evil. Another one Corliss couldn’t see in his day. How come cosmic background anisotropies are correlated with the plane of the earth around the sun? Was Copernicus right? Is it all some weird systematic error? I’m betting on the latter. It could be sorted out by sending a Planck style microwave space telescope into some non-earth orbit and see if it goes away or looks different. It also should give anyone trying to build new physical models based on astronomical observations pause as to the numerous things that could go wrong.

Solar magnetic cycle. ASO4 ASO5 ASO10 ASZ. First we get the sunspots, then we get the solar flares, then the magnetic field of the sun flips. And sometimes you get stuff like the Maunder minimum. Sun’s pretty weird man. It’s all very well documented; both directly and from secondary sources, and nobody has the slightest idea what’s going on -not even, really on a hand-wavey level. FWIIW solar models are the basis for an awful lot of astronomy if that makes you feel any better about astronomy.

8 Responses

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  1. Altitude Zero said, on June 11, 2021 at 7:10 pm

    It’s really surprising how few of these mysteries have been solved, given that Corliss wrote these books 40-50 years ago

    • Scott Locklin said, on June 11, 2021 at 7:57 pm

      There are a lot more of them too.
      Astronomy is one of those fields which are based on lots of assumptions based on models based on assumptions. I remember Joe Taylor came back to U-Mass to give his talk on his dual pulsar GR tests when I was a junior or something and thinking “holy shit that’s a lot of assumptions.” I have little doubt he was right, at least more or less, but most of astronomy is at least a couple turtles worth of assumptions deep.

  2. Leonardo Herrera said, on June 12, 2021 at 1:56 am

    Being a total outsider, and having my mind broken by software development (where things should be deterministic even they aren’t), I remember watching a picture taken with a telescope or something like that, with all that noise and thinking, “wow, that surely looks like nothing to me”. Yet there was so much information astronomers could gather from it.

    Or can they?

    Anyways, lovely article. It’s a good thing astronomy is not in the business of saving lives yet.

  3. Frank said, on June 12, 2021 at 11:25 am

    All of these mysteries have been solved and the people who solved them now make UFOs for a living.

  4. a scruffian said, on June 14, 2021 at 4:37 pm

    We’re taught in school that the Sun’s photosphere is “not a true surface”, that is, it’s only the boundary between opaque and transparent gas-plasma. I prefer to believe on the contrary that it is a true surface of condensed matter.


    Click to access PP-35-16.PDF

    Galaxies: Halton Arp was right but didn’t go far enough. Galaxies are very High forms of life, and quasars are infant galaxies. (You thought that Seraphim, Thrones, & the rest didn’t have bodies?)


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