January 12, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

Astronomical Theories Totally Wrong and Upside Down

From the planetary scale to the cosmic scale, astronomers are throwing away textbooks.

Wrong About Planets

‘Totally Wrong’ on Jupiter: What Scientists Gleaned from NASA’s Juno Mission (Space.com). The Juno mission has brought earthlings their first images of Jupiter’s poles, and new estimates of processes deep inside the giant planet. Here’s what this article says:

Before NASA sent its Juno spacecraft to explore Jupiter, astronomers were “totally wrong” about much of what they thought they knew about the planet, the mission’s principal investigator, Scott Bolton, said during a lecture here at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society on Tuesday (Jan. 9)….

“Our ideas were totally wrong about the interior structure, about the atmosphere, [and] even about the magnetosphere,” Bolton said. Astronomers believed that Jupiter had either a very small and dense core, or perhaps no core at all. But data from Juno revealed that Jupiter has an enormous, “fuzzy” core that might be partially dissolved. This discrepancy between scientists’ expectations and the data suggests that there’s a lot we still don’t know about giant gas planets, he explained….

Jupiter South Pole from Juno (NASA/JPL)

Juno is the first space mission to get a good look at the poles, and the mission’s scientists did not expect them to look as weird and chaotic as they do, Bolton said. “Had someone shown me a picture of just the pole 10 years ago, I never would have guessed it was Jupiter.”

While scientists and astronomers have been scratching their heads over all these new groundbreaking discoveries enabled by the Juno spacecraft, the photographs Juno has taken of Jupiter have been similarly mind-boggling, Bolton said. Juno’s raw images, taken by the spacecraft’s JunoCam, are available online for citizen-scientists to download and process, and people have helped to create the most amazing images of Jupiter the world has ever seen. “I’m not sure that anybody on my team was ready for Jupiter to look like that,” Bolton said. “We were just startled.”

Wrong About Exoplanets

Planets around other stars are like peas in a pod (Science Daily). The Kepler Mission had already forced revision of astronomical predictions that planetary systems around other stars would resemble our solar system. Now, a new survey of 909 planets in 355 stellar systems, led by Lauren Weiss at the University of Montreal, shows that exoplanets tend to be regularly spaced. The findings require new ideas, invoking unobserved past interactions, to explain why our solar system is so different.

“The planets in a system tend to be the same size and regularly spaced, like peas in a pod. These patterns would not occur if the planet sizes or spacings were drawn at random.” explains Weiss….

Regardless of their outer populations, the similarity of planets in the inner regions of extrasolar systems requires an explanation.

Wrong About Stars

Nature article turns theory of stellar evolution upside-down (Phys.org). Study of a white dwarf not only challenges theories about these specific objects, thought to be the end points of stellar evolution, but of stellar evolution theory itself. White dwarfs are thought to be the end products of 97% of stars in the universe. This upset was published by “Nature, one of the world’s top science magazines,” the article notes.

This week, Nature published an article that could challenge the theory of stellar evolution.

“I think that, over the coming months, stellar astrophysicists will have to redo their calculations,” said Gilles Fontaine, a physics professor at Université de Montréal and one of the authors of the article, titled “A large oxygen-dominated core from the seismic cartography of a pulsating white dwarf.”…

When examining the star, located at the edges of the Cygnus and Lyra constellations, the researchers discovered that its carbon and oxygen core was twice as big as the theory predicted. “This is a major discovery that will force us to re-evaluate our view of how stars die,” said Fontaine. “That said, more work must be done to confirm whether this observation holds true for other stars. It may just be an anomaly.”

Wrong About the Universe

‘Serious gap’ in cosmic expansion rate hints at new physics (BBC News). One of the winners of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2011, Adam Riess, is having doubts about the measurements that led to his award. He may have to invent a new particle to close the gap.

A mathematical discrepancy in the expansion rate of the Universe is now “pretty serious”, and could point the way to a major discovery in physics, says a Nobel laureate.

The most recent results suggest the inconsistency is not going away….

What this all suggested, he said, was that the Universe is now expanding 9% faster than expected based on the data – a result he described as “remarkable”.

One way to bridge the divide is to invoke new phenomena in physics.

The new particle might be a “sterile neutrino,” the article guesses. “Another possibility is that dark energy behaves in a different way now compared with how it did in the early history of the cosmos.” Would that ad hoc suggestion not lead to another conundrum about fine-tuning, leading to wonder about how humans live in a privileged time when the earth is habitable and we can see a universe filled with stars?

Historical science is fun. You can be totally wrong, change your story, invoke unseen phenomena, and claim you are providing “understanding” of reality. And the media and public will believe you and let you keep your job.

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