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.

William R. Corliss and open problems in science

Posted in Corliss, Open problems by Scott Locklin on August 2, 2020

William Corliss was a physicist and rocket scientist from the heroic golden age of physics. He did great work in everything from nuclear engineering, to telerobotics, to neutron spectroscopy, to space flight; a real universal man in the last exciting time in science. What we know him for most these days though are his catalogs of things we don’t know. 

Looked a lot like my late pal Marty as well

He represents exactly my kind of scientist; one who is interested in the cool stuff happening in current year, and all the stuff we don’t know. You infectious human waste “who fucking love science” don’t actually. Science is about the mystery. It’s not a clerisy you can use to bludgeon  your political opponents, nor a series of facts you can feel smug about “knowing” about; it’s about appreciating the wonder of all of it. It’s insufficiently appreciated what a bunch of dumbasses humans are, and how little we actually know about matters of the utmost importance to our self understanding as human beings. Most modern clerisy “scientists” couldn’t even tell you about important open problems in their field. They’re too busy filling out forms, grubbing for money and social status, diddling their students and engaging in maoist witch hunts to bother with the reason all honest people become scientists; appreciating the wonders of nature and figuring things out.

Corliss’ work looks like it more or less wrapped up around the mid-90s; it’s truly enormous and it was almost entirely done before the internet era. He has a sensible rating system involving quality of data and extremity of anomaly. Many of the really big mysteries mentioned are still mysteries. It vast, and at this point I own enough of it I don’t have to worry about you guys cleaning up on volumes I may not have yet. Of course, most of it is not so mysterious, but it is at least noteworthy and thought provoking. Pointing out a certain kind of rock formation is weird and interesting is vastly superior to never mentioning the weird rocks.

Contemplate writing two feet worth of authoritative books on biology, astronomy, meteorology, geology and archaeology before Al Gore invented the internet, while maintaining an active career in rocket science. There’s more to it than meets the eye here; this represents the in-print stuff and a few out of print books I managed to get my hands on: there is more of his work is in out of print books, and some of it only exists in his newsletters, some of which his son has preserved online.

Most of it is taken from Science, Nature and other respectable scientific journals. People will grouse about it, because people always grouse, but he seemed to do a bang up job of picking out interesting things for which there are no reasonable explanations, and a lot more things which are merely “pretty damn weird.” Probably using stuff like index cards.

Now some of it may seem fruity to smug yutzes. Dr. Corliss has a section on the Yeti in Biological Anomalies Humans III. However most of the citations are from, as I said, Science and Nature. Should we ignore these lacunae, “fucking love science” dipshits? I think at this point where even primitive barbarians have ipotato, it’s probable there is no Yeti hominid, but Corliss’ probability of this being a big deal back in 1994 is still approximately correct as far as I can tell. Even if the Yeti is ultimately silly and wrong, his preservation of wonderful tales of the Orang Pendek (a legendary sumatran dwarf homonid race)  or the Agogwe (african mini yeti) a few pages afterwords makes it all worth while.

Since I’ve got this giant stack of books of weird lacunae in the sciences, as I thumb through them, I’ll post a few here, checked against the latest research, at least as well as the most convenient search engines go. Maybe one or two will be worth a full sperdo nerding out on. Ideally to make some of you think about something useful, but at the very least, kick his kids a few bucks by buying his books

A few tastes: 

Fat tropical animals: here’s one looking us in the face: why the fook would fat animals be happy in the tropics? It’s possibly a recent evolutionary adaptation, hippos being in the tropcs, but it’s bloody weird. Most animals, even people are well suited to the climates they live in with physical adaptations that help. BMI3

Human Mortality Correlated with Geomagnetic Activity: here’s one Corliss rated as fairly low in data quality back when he wrote about it, but top notch as an anomaly if it turns out to be true. The geomagnetic field has weird disturbances correlated with the quasiperiodic solar activity. Apparently this also causes premature death. Obviously nobody knows why, but it is fairly well documented at this point;  with the years since Corliss originally wrote about it in BHF32 (Human Anomalies II) (one of his original refs conveniently available here), it’s become fairly well known. I linked seven references above; there are probably a hundred.

Nonrandom Direction-of-Approach of Comets to the Sun: the prevailing theory of the Oort cloud is comets should approach the sun from random directions. People are fairly certain that comet approaches are non-random. Lots of evidence of it; people are more certain than ever that there is something going on here, and various ideas on galactic tidal forces have been proposed to deal with it. (ACB2 The Sun and Solar System Debris)

 Bone Caves, Bone Caches and Other Superficial Accumulations of Bones: -this used to be a trope of H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs books; aka the elephant graveyard of lore. There are numerous examples of this, though Corliss kind of lumps them together in ESD1 (Neglected Geological Anomalies). Some of them are dinosaurs falling into a ravine and being pickled in the moss that eventually becomes coal. But it’s still freaking weird. Other bone caves are just insane; such things used to be considered evidence by geologists for the Great Flood back when that was the dominant paradigm (150 years ago isn’t that long). He gives this top ratings for weirdness; very strong data, very weird phenomenon. Moderns apparently just ignore it, despite the fact that Darwin himself thought it pretty peculiar.

Production-Consumption Discrepancy in Prehistoric Lake Superior Copper Mining. I bet most of you didn’t know that North America had pre-european copper mines; Indians had been mining copper there for 5000 years. Personally I consider this pretty weird in itself. It’s a fact, and it’s largely ignored. What propels it to “holy shit that’s weird” territory is nobody knows what happened to most of the copper (MSE6 “Ancient Infrastructure”). The calculation of how much copper was taken out of there is pretty straightforward, and copper doesn’t disappear easily; there are copper and bronze artifacts from the Americas (and everywhere else) from that long ago. The speculation is that, perhaps Phonecian Merchants (or Egyptians or Aliens or whatever) were trading with the Americas for much longer than we know. It is in principle a knowable thing; one can identify artifacts made with the particular chemical composition of Lake Superior Copper.  Not something likely to make you friends in the Archaeology department though.