November 9, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Space Physics and Fables

Physics is supposed to be the king of “hard science” because of its precise mathematics, predictability and falsifiability.  When transferred off our planet, however, it seems speculation is the order of the day.

1.  Looney magnets:  According to simple physics, the moon should have cooled long ago, because any internal heat source from its formation was much smaller than Earth’s.  Why, then, did the Apollo astronauts detect magnetism in moon rocks that scientists surmise continued millions of years after its formation?  The most commonly believed theory of planetary magnetic fields requires convection in a rotating molten layer that sets up a dynamo.  New Scientist offered an answer with a Kipling-style headline, “How the cold, dead moon stayed magnetic.”  Reporter Melissa Fellet continued, “A mystery thrown up by the Apollo moon rocks may finally have been solved. How did the moon remain magnetic tens of millions of years after its molten core stopped sloshing?” 

Two groups have presented their proposals.  The first is the Washing Machine Theory.  A physicist at UCSB suggested that the moon’s faster spin as it migrated away from the Earth might have sloshed its interior like a washing machine till 2.7 billion years ago, giving it a longer life (and, presumably, whiter whites).  The second is the Impact Theory.  A French physicist thinks large impacts could have jumpstarted the magnetic field for periods of 10,000 years at a time.  An MIT physicist commented that both models offer “a way out of a pretty major conundrum,” but then he threw in another: the fact that some meteorites (presumably chips off the old asteroid) are magnetic, too.  Will the new models help explain how they became magnetized?  Only Kipling could tell.

2.  Antimatter matters:  Another long-standing conundrum in space is why our universe is composed predominantly (actually, almost entirely) of ordinary matter instead of having equal parts of matter and antimatter.  Antimatter is not some weird sci-fi writer’s invention, but simply subatomic particles with the opposite charge, like positrons, counterparts of electrons with a positive charge.  Even the designations “positive” and “negative” are arbitrary human conventions.  According to preferred cosmologies, the big bang should not have favored one over the other.  PhysOrg announced, “Physicists chip away at mystery of antimatter imbalance,” implying the mystery remains unsolved.  “The universe, they concede, has managed to keep its secret for the time being, but they’ve succeeded in significantly narrowing the number of possible answers.”  One physicist acknowledged, “It’s a huge mystery on the level of asking why the universe is here. Accepted physics can’t explain it.”  Another article on PhysOrg discussed efforts in South Korea to solve the mystery by studying neutrino interactions.

These explanations are so theory-laden it is hard to tell where the theory leaves off and the data begins.  Consider this excerpt from the last PhysOrg article:

The detector target is composed of 10m3 of liquid scintillator developed specifically for this experiment. The scintillator is doped with gadolinium in order to tag neutrons from inverse beta decays induced by the reactor anti-neutrinos. The target is surrounded by layers of other liquids protecting against other particles and environmental radioactivity. The target is observed by 390 immersed photomultipliers, converting the interactions into electronic signals. These signals are processed in a data acquisition system, which is ready to take data over the next five years.

So if they find something in the data, how could anyone ever possibly know that it explains the universe?  What are they going to do, run a big bang and create a new universe?  Even if they did, how could they prove the same processes gave birth to ours?

Regarding the moon’s magnetic field, the Washing Machine story is clearly contrived to fit uncomfortable data to an accepted belief system.  The Lucky Strike notion is even worse, but is par for the course in planetary science gaming: when confronted with a puzzle, send in an impactor to solve it.  (Try that with your next game of Checkers.)  One rule they will never, ever break is to consider a younger age for the moon.

It’s time to introduce a word that will probably be used often at CEH, since it fits all the evolutionary -ologies.  The word is confabulation.  One of its meanings comes from psychiatry: “to replace the gaps left by a disorder of the memory with imaginary remembered experiences consistently believed to be true.”  Another meaning is “filling in of gaps in memory by unconstrained fabrication.”  Consider the applicable “memory” as Darwin’s naturalistic conception of the cosmos, and the fit is perfect.  The word is derived from the Latin fabula, which means “a story” or fable.  Watch for its derivations: confability, confabulate, and “con”-fability, implying a con artist’s ability to put across fables as science.

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Comments

  • lux113 says:

    These scientists amuse me, they are willing to believe ANYTHING …. except ONE thing.

    That one possibility, the one which is most credible and most obvious, the one which neatly and tidily explains it all to them is utter sacrilege. 

    And I thought they were looking for truth?

    I pity them in a way..

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