How the largest star known is tearing itself apart

Oct 16, 2013
This picture from the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO's Paranal Observatory shows the remarkable super star cluster Westerlund 1. This exceptionally bright cluster lies about 16 000 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation of Ara (The Altar). It contains hundreds of very massive and brilliant stars, all of which are just a few million years old — babies by stellar standards. But our view of this cluster is hampered by gas and dust that prevents most of the visible light from the cluster's stars from getting to Earth. Now, astronomers studying images of Westerlund 1 from a new survey of the southern skies have spotted something unexpected in this cluster. Around one of the stars — known as W26, a red supergiant and possibly the biggest star known— they have discovered clouds of glowing hydrogen gas, shown as green features in this new image. Credit: ESO/VPHAS+ Survey/N. Wright

(Phys.org) —An international team of astronomers has observed part of the final death throes of the largest known star in the universe as it throws off its outer layers. The discovery, by a collaboration of scientists from the UK, Chile, Germany and the USA, is a vital step in understanding how massive stars return enriched material to the interstellar medium—the space between stars—which is necessary for forming planetary systems. The researchers publish their results in the Oxford University Press journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Stars with masses tens of times larger than that of the Sun live very short and dramatic lives compared to their less massive siblings. Some of the most massive have lifetimes of less than a few million years before they exhaust their nuclear fuel and explode as supernovae. At the very ends of their lives these stars become highly unstable and eject a considerable amount of material from their outer envelopes. This material has been enriched by nuclear reactions deep within the star and includes many of the elements necessary for forming rocky planets like our Earth, such as silicon and magnesium, and which are also the basis for life. How this material is ejected and how this affects the evolution of the star is however still a mystery.

Using the Very Large Telescope Survey Telescope (VST) at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile an international team of astronomers has been surveying our galaxy using a special filter to detect nebulae of ionized hydrogen. The VST Photometric H-Alpha Survey (VPHAS) has been searching our galaxy for ejected material from evolved stars and when the team observed the super star cluster Westerlund 1 they made a remarkable discovery.

Westerlund 1 is the most massive cluster of stars in our galaxy, home to several hundreds of thousands of stars, and is the closest analogue to some of the truly massive star clusters seen in distant galaxies. The cluster is about 16,000 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation of Ara (The Altar), but our view of the cluster is hampered by gas and dust that makes it appear comparatively dim in visible light.

When the astronomers studied the images of Westerlund 1 they spotted something truly unique. Around one of the stars, known as W26, they saw a huge cloud of glowing , shown as green in this new image. Such glowing clouds are ionized, meaning that the electrons have been stripped away from the atoms of hydrogen gas.

Clouds of this type are rarely found around and are even rarer around red supergiant stars such as W26—this is the first ionized nebula ever discovered around such a star. W26 itself would be too cool to make the gas glow; the astronomers speculate that the source of the ionizing radiation may be either hot blue stars elsewhere in the cluster, or possibly a fainter, but much hotter, companion star to W26. The fact that the nebula is ionized will make it considerable easier to study in the future than if it were not ionized.

On investigating the star W26 in more detail the researchers realized that the star is probably the largest star ever discovered, with a radius 1,500 times larger than the Sun and is also one of the most luminous red supergiants known. Such large and luminous massive stars are believed to be highly evolved, all of which suggests that W26 is coming towards the end of its life and will eventually explode as a supernova.

The nebula observed around W26 is very similar to the nebula surrounding SN 1987A, the remnant of a star that exploded as a supernova in 1987. SN 1987A was the closest observed supernova to Earth since 1604 and as such it gave astronomers a chance to better study the properties of these explosions. Studying objects like the new around W26 will help to understand the mass loss processes around these massive stars, which eventually lead to their explosive demise.

Explore further: Two families of comets found around nearby star Beta Pictoris

More information: The new work appears in "The Ionized Nebula Surrounding the Red Supergiant W26 in Westerlund 1," Nicholas J. Wright, Roger Wesson, Janet E. Drew, Geert Barentsen, Michael J. Barlow, Jeremy R. Walsh, Albert Zijlstra, Jeremy J. Drake, Jochen Eisloffel, Hywel J. Farnhill, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, in press. A preprint of the paper can be seen at arxiv.org/abs/1309.4086

The paper will be published online in the next few days and will then be available at dx.doi.org/10.1093/mnras/slt127

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Lurker2358
1.4 / 5 (22) Oct 16, 2013
W26 itself would be too cool to make the gas glow; the astronomers speculate that the source of the ionizing radiation may be either hot blue stars elsewhere in the cluster, or possibly a fainter, but much hotter, companion star to W26.


How about another possibility? A fundamental theory about electromagnetism or ionization might be wrong?
Q-Star
3.7 / 5 (18) Oct 16, 2013
W26 itself would be too cool to make the gas glow; the astronomers speculate that the source of the ionizing radiation may be either hot blue stars elsewhere in the cluster, or possibly a fainter, but much hotter, companion star to W26.


How about another possibility? A fundamental theory about electromagnetism or ionization might be wrong?


When ya hear hoof-beats, why look a unicorn if ya know there is a herd of horses are milling about? Let's rule out the horses first. The article is reporting on the fact that this is an object that will be easier to study more than reporting some unknown physics at work.

This is the good stuff. It may even possibly one day lead to predicting when a supernova will occur,,, wouldn't that be a cool thing?
Osiris1
1.2 / 5 (9) Oct 16, 2013
Suppose it has a black hole as its' companion
DavidW
1 / 5 (27) Oct 16, 2013


This is the good stuff. It may even possibly one day lead to predicting when a supernova will occur,,, wouldn't that be a cool thing?


That comment is spot on for sole and only purpose of getting to the Truth. As most that read hear already know, there is no warning to be seen after it has happened. Learning to accurately, better yet Truthfully, predict what comes before is key to protecting that which is Truthfully Most Important in Life: Life.

It's all about getting to the Truth because the Truth is need for Life.

Strange how some in the science field have lost children, been tortured and have suffered other almost endless tragedies in promotion of the Truth and how many of those commenting here throw away all honor, self-respect, and respect for others, by ignoring the Truth in witness of their peers with some adages along the lines of, 'No one says that so it has to be wrong' or 'I have a degree in xyz and blah blah blah, so that can't be correct'
DavidW
1 / 5 (25) Oct 16, 2013
Well, you have heard to respect other Life before, many, many times. And the reality is that it's hard to accept the fact that you just may be doing more wrong in the world than someone addicted to meth.

That's what it really is. So many here have such a strong addiction to killing for taste that they refuse to accept that they cannot kill for taste and justify it Truthfully. In an effort to hide their addiction to causing needless harm and accepting their mistake and making better choices they toss the very point of all the blood ever spilled for us. This is 100% Truthfully provable too. Then they try to take it out on me because accepting that their choices are actually not Truthful, not based in reality, and causing more harm than someone addicted to meth is easier to do then facing their own addiction to needless killing.

Predicting supernova is good stuff, but commenting without REALLY understanding why it's important is very misleading to other commenter's that you get 101
katesisco
1.2 / 5 (18) Oct 16, 2013
I don't feel this has been sufficiently explained. Sol is reputed to be in the 90th percentile of star size (altho this fact is stated less and less because of the problem I am elucidating) and the larger stars then constitute 10 percentile yet they range to many times Sol's size and supposedly extinguish themselves in a fraction of Sol's supposed life span.
It just doesn't make sense.
Hopefully a new theory will arise that explains Sol in terms of the result of these supersize explosions where the matter is compressed and condensed and confined within magnetic fields. The star literally remakes itself ejecting the 'dirty gas' that then constitutes the rocky planets. How magnetars are born would make an exciting discovery.
GSwift7
4.5 / 5 (8) Oct 16, 2013
I think you might be a bit confused Katesisco.

Big stars are rare because they don't live long. Smaller stars are more numerous because once they form, they stick around for a lot longer.

The most common type of star we have detected are small red dwarves, not stars like our sun. Small red dwarves burn their fuel so slowly that we think they can live longer than the age of the Universe, so if that's true then just about every red dwarf that's ever formed is still burning.

Whether a supermassive star leaves a neutron star (same as magnetar really) or a black hole when it explodes would be cool to see (from a distance, lol).
Tuxford
1.1 / 5 (16) Oct 16, 2013
Big stars are rare because they don't live long. Smaller stars are more numerous because once they form, they stick around for a lot longer.


Big stars are rare because their greater mass induces accelerated growth of new matter from within their cores, leading to runaway explosive consequences. Smaller stars are more numerous because once they form, their smaller mass means they grow much more slowly, leading to longevity, especially in regions of the galaxy of lower matter density, such as outside of star clusters.
HannesAlfven
1.6 / 5 (25) Oct 16, 2013
Re: "When ya hear hoof-beats, why look a unicorn if ya know there is a herd of horses are milling about? Let's rule out the horses first."

The reason is very important: It's because investing people into just one particular interpretation induces a natural bias in subsequent inferences.

The analogy made here with horses and unicorns is itself biased. Nearly every single observation and inference in the cosmic sciences is in some way colored by the worldview and models which scientists already possess. The knowledge structures that result from these observationally-challenged domains are sufficiently sensitive to mistakes at the level of the worldview that skepticism should be the rule. Nobody should be rushing to conclusions.

In other words, there are no horses. It's unicorns as far as the eye can see, and regardless of what your worldview is. It's okay to "take sides", but listen for alternatives and keep your mind open to their logic ...
Q-Star
3.7 / 5 (18) Oct 16, 2013
In other words, there are no horses. It's unicorns as far as the eye can see, and regardless of what your worldview is. It's okay to "take sides", but listen for alternatives and keep your mind open to their logic ...


Oh boyo, I wish I had ya on my side when the American Zoological Society turned down my many requests for funding my search for the last unicorn before it became extinct. They said it would be a waste of money,,, even though they couldn't provide adequate proof (proof that I found acceptable) that the last unicorn had in fact gone extinct.

I still think they should fund my obsession to find that last unicorn before it is lost to humanity.

Logic tells me there are unicorns, otherwise why would all those artists have been drawing pictures of them and poets writing poems about them?
GuruShabu
1.4 / 5 (22) Oct 17, 2013
HannesAlevn, it is always a pleasure to read your well balanced comments.
I cannot believe people give you 1 star!
I know those same people will come here and click on 1 star for me just because of their great minds and magnanimous hearts...:)
GSwift7
4.5 / 5 (12) Oct 17, 2013
Tuxford:

Where do you get that stuff? Absolutely nothing you said is correct.

Hannes:

In other words, there are no horses. It's unicorns as far as the eye can see


No! No! No! You are wrong too. It's turtles all the way down, not unicorns.

I see the points you try to make, and I understand them, but I don't agree with them. You argue that science isn't 'correct' because there are exceptions to the rules. I say that it is as correct as it needs to be, and that you can use an incomplete theory as long as you 'understand' the limits of the theory's completeness. You act as if scientists are unaware or are in denial of the limits of our state of the art theories. This is not the case. In fact, whole careers are based on exploring the limits of our theories, testing them, trying to break them. You have it backwards when you claim the establishment defends the orthodoxy. The establishment exists to challenge it, riggorously.
Mr_Science
2.6 / 5 (18) Oct 17, 2013
whole careers are based on exploring the limits of our theories, testing them, trying to break them.

Well said, this is the basic understanding of science that seems to be lacking. I'm not sure if it's just the trolls around here or if it's true about the world in general.
HannesAlfven
1.2 / 5 (20) Oct 17, 2013
Re: "I say that it is as correct as it needs to be, and that you can use an incomplete theory as long as you 'understand' the limits of the theory's completeness."

You know, a lot of the problems we see here in comments relate to the failure to implement useful metrics. We are given "stars" to measure one another with. WTF is the star metric, guys?

Completeness, on the other hand, is indeed a metric ... As is quantitative/qualitative ... Many principles of philosophy of science can also be turned into metrics. To be clear on this point, if we were given the ability to observe all of the useful metrics, conventional astrophysics and cosmology would look less than "correct as it needs to be". And this is the actual reason why many of us keep our eyes open to alternatives.

Re: "You act as if scientists are unaware or are in denial of the limits of our state of the art theories."

Yes, please read Jeff Schmidt's Disciplined Minds.
HannesAlfven
1.4 / 5 (21) Oct 17, 2013
Re: "In fact, whole careers are based on exploring the limits of our theories, testing them, trying to break them."

But where are the checks and balances? What you will observe is that there is no system of accountability which has been built to gauge whether or not our scientists are staying true to the values we associate with "thinking like a scientist". In fact, more and more, thinking like a scientist is associated with thinking what scientists think.

The problem actually mirrors a problem we can see within our system of science education as well, and that's no coincidence: We are training students to problem-solve, but we are failing to teach them how to effectively question the theories and identify good alternative candidates. You can't do that without philosophy, actually, but notice that philosophy of science is increasingly treated as irrelevant today.
HannesAlfven
1.2 / 5 (19) Oct 17, 2013
Re: "You have it backwards when you claim the establishment defends the orthodoxy. The establishment exists to challenge it, riggorously."

Yes, but this is why you need to become fluent in Jeff Schmidt's thesis. Professionals are trained to think within the confines of an assigned ideology. This is much, much bigger than just the physics discipline. This is how we train just about all professionals today.

And so, what you end up with is -- to take a tangible example -- a situation where astrophysicists generally refuse to read IEEE's Transactions on Plasma Science. Where you see entire disciplines insulating themselves from their best critics, what happens philosophically is that you see an amplification of the philosophical problem of unconceived alternatives. It's not just about this example; it's really about the value of being open-minded to alternative notions in science.

For a complete list of these values, see Pravin Singh's "Science Education and Scientific Attitudes".
HannesAlfven
1.2 / 5 (18) Oct 17, 2013
After listing out the values which have been identified, Singh asks the question:

"But is it an unquestionable fact that scientific attitudes have been important in the success of the scientific community? Can one accept without exception that open-mindedness, disinterestedness, objectivity etc. are actually inherent or acquired qualities prevalent amongst the members of any scientific community? Is it not possible that these scientific attitudes have been popularised and then reified as a set of ideal attitudes but in reality is not often found in actual scientific practices? The following studies raise serious doubts about the scientists' adherence to institutional imperatives ..."

The truth is that we can indeed fix these problems with today's technology -- if we are willing to shift our discourse from an empty text box to a system of better metrics which more accurately represents the values associated with thinking like a scientist.
HannesAlfven
1.4 / 5 (19) Oct 17, 2013
What people have yet to realize, en masse, is that there is a very tricky problem -- potentially unsolvable (?) -- that pertains to how to train scientists. And it speaks directly to the purpose of education: Do we train scientists to be independent, critical thinkers? Or, do we train scientists to fit into the large organizations which they will predictably end up working within? There are few "lone wolves" anymore. We live in an era, for the most part, of (B)ig science.

Jeff Schmidt does not offer an answer to this question, but what he does do is show that the current system of science education is designed to weed out the "maverick". All scientists today are basically trained to be professionals, as opposed to mavericks, and there are incredibly important consequences that affect our theories.

To be clear, professionals and mavericks do not share the same set of values. We need to very deeply engage this problem if we hope to truly improve our theories on the BIG questions.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (8) Oct 17, 2013
Oh boyo, I wish I had ya on my side when the American Zoological Society turned down my many requests for funding my search for the last unicorn before it became extinct. They said it would be a waste of money,,, even though they couldn't provide adequate proof (proof that I found acceptable) that the last unicorn had in fact gone extinct
Yeah sorry we had a barbecue. It was very tasty. I think I am immortal now but I dont really want to try to prove that so I will just assume.
no fate
4.3 / 5 (11) Oct 17, 2013
Hopefully we will get to see this one go off and put every set of eyes on it when it does. The information would be invaluable.

Hannes: What do Schmidt and Singh say about inferring the abilities/beliefs of individuals based on qualities they posess that allow them to be part of a group? If the establishment is so rigid then why is any work being done at all?

It's fine to disagree with a theory or state why you think something is a waste of time and money, but if it is going to be damn near the same 3000 characters of philosophical rant (6000 if they mention the word plasma) no matter what the article, who are you talking to? I think most people here have had multiple reads and just skip the posts by now.

For a guy who wants to be heard and considered, look at the psychological effects this style has on the people you are trying to communicate to. Personally I went from finding some of your EU insights interesting on occasion to wishing they would repo your computer.
GSwift7
5 / 5 (9) Oct 17, 2013
Hannes:

The bulk of your comments are reasonable, but there are many ways to apply that philosophy, some reasonable and some not. An open mind is a good thing, but you've also gotta be open to the possibility that the mainstream is on the right track, especially when you aren't offering a plausible alternative.

The problems you perceive are based in human nature. They are not new or unique to any culture. Despite your perception of a failed system, progress continues at an explosive rate. Mistakes are made, just as they always have been, but there's ample evidence that our system encourages mistakes to be found and corrected over time.

The things Schmidt is speaking against are called social norms, and they are hard-wired into our pack instincts. I disagree with his assertion that professionals are more prone to this than working class people. It just manifests more strongly in professionals because they have the power to create rules, while workers do not.
GSwift7
5 / 5 (11) Oct 17, 2013
For a guy who wants to be heard and considered, look at the psychological effects this style has on the people you are trying to communicate to. Personally I went from finding some of your EU insights interesting on occasion to wishing they would repo your computer


Not to mention the fact that he is trying so hard to be a non-conformist that he has become a classic stereotypical non-conformist. Since he doesn't actually offer any constructive ideas of his own, he is just a carbon-copy of someone else's rubber stamp ideology. Like a religious cultist, who rebels against the mainstream church because they are too dogmatic, but doesn't realize that he still spends most of his time chanting the montra of his new cult in stead of his old one.
HannesAlfven
1.3 / 5 (16) Oct 17, 2013
Re: "I think most people here have had multiple reads and just skip the posts by now."

and

Re: "An open mind is a good thing, but you've also gotta be open to the possibility that the mainstream is on the right track, especially when you aren't offering a plausible alternative."

The problem is that different people require different approaches to reasoning. Many people -- I am one -- need to see the big picture before the smaller arguments start to click. From what I can tell, what generally happens with these comments threads is that people tend to pre-judge the arguments -- either because they are already fully invested within another idea, or because they fail to actually digest enough of the whole to "get it".

Note that immunity to change is a hot topic of research. People use these same worldviews to justify their life purpose and daily actions. Nobody should expect that the process of questioning somebody's worldview will just go smoothly in light of evidence & arguments.
HannesAlfven
1.3 / 5 (14) Oct 17, 2013
Re: "I disagree with his assertion that professionals are more prone to this than working class people. It just manifests more strongly in professionals because they have the power to create rules, while workers do not."

The thing is, in education, what you test for is basically what you get. If you don't test for conceptual understanding, then you will get students who exhibit trouble resolving misconceptions, questioning theories and/or comparing & contrasting competing models. If you tell students, "Hey, memorize this stack of problem sets", then you will get students who can reproduce the recipes, but who might not understand what it all means. And to the extent that you omit the controversies associated with our current theories, and create a feeling for students that science has progressed as if on a paved road in a completely controlled fashion, you will get students who exhibit naive beliefs about our current theories. They won't even be aware of ongoing controversies.
HannesAlfven
1.3 / 5 (14) Oct 17, 2013
What Schmidt has done better than anybody before him is to link the details of the PhD program (using physics as his primary example) to the needs of industry, in the process taking fairly accepted educational activities like memorization, and casting them into a completely new light.

Those who are accustomed to involving themselves in these "big picture" debates in cosmology and astrophysics would be wise to take a closer look at Schmidt's thesis because it very strongly suggests that the primary reason why we see so much agreement within the extremely speculative domains of science is due to the training itself. The implications are really quite enormous, for climate change cannot escape this line of reasoning. It's very easy to understand why the AIP dropped the case and settled, for if this had been permitted to fester within the national media, then more people would have started to ask these difficult questions about the meaning of consensus on these hyper-complex models.
HannesAlfven
1.3 / 5 (14) Oct 17, 2013
Re: "Since he doesn't actually offer any constructive ideas of his own, he is just a carbon-copy of someone else's rubber stamp ideology."

No, Schmidt -- like all of us -- is specialized. He was a talented editor for Physics Today for 19 years. That does not qualify him to create solutions to the problems he identified. I disagree that he should even try to propose a solution. That would seem to be somebody else's job, if you ask me. Just as it took Schmidt a quarter century to write that book, it will probably take somebody at least that same amount of time to propose a solution.

But, notice that nobody's even talking about any of it today. The AIP successfully squashed the conversation. But, it was a conversation that we desperately needed to have, in order to reform our system of science education. Now, we just go on as if it never happened. Chances are that the newer grad students never even hear of the book prior to entering the graduate program.
Zephir_fan
Oct 17, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
GSwift7
4 / 5 (4) Oct 18, 2013
...of science is due to the training itself


No, it's human nature, and as I pointed out above, everyone does this. Even young children of preschool age do this, as well as many primates in the wild.

The implications are really quite enormous


If we was correct, then it would be. Fortunately, he's a bit off his rocker, so your assertion is a bit of an exageration (to put it kindly).
HannesAlfven
1.5 / 5 (15) Oct 18, 2013
In physorg comments today ...

Re: "HannesAlfven you are an idiot. If Zephir was around he would show you just how stupid you are. Shouldn't you be over at the new age site where they teach you that you don't really need to learn anything, just thinking stuff is all it takes?"

and

Re: "he's a bit off his rocker, so your assertion is a bit of an exageration (to put it kindly)."

Meanwhile, in the upcoming issue of the Economist (Oct 19th), from http://www.econom...es-wrong ...

"How Science Goes Wrong: Scientific research has changed the world. Now it needs to change itself ... A SIMPLE idea underpins science: "trust, but verify". Results should always be subject to challenge from experiment ... But success can breed complacency. Modern scientists are doing too much trusting and not enough verifying—to the detriment of the whole of science, and of humanity ..."
HannesAlfven
1.5 / 5 (15) Oct 18, 2013
more:

"... Too many of the findings that fill the academic ether are the result of shoddy experiments or poor analysis ... As their ranks have swelled, to 6m-7m active researchers on the latest reckoning, scientists have lost their taste for self-policing and quality control. The obligation to "publish or perish" has come to rule over academic life ... Careerism also encourages exaggeration and the cherry-picking of results ... The most striking findings have the greatest chance of making it onto the page. Little wonder that one in three researchers knows of a colleague who has pepped up a paper by, say, excluding inconvenient data from results "based on a gut feeling" ... Conversely, failures to prove a hypothesis are rarely even offered for publication, let alone accepted ... The failure to report failures means that researchers waste money and effort exploring blind alleys already investigated by other scientists ..."

---

Unfortunately, the article fails to link to education.
Mr_Science
1.4 / 5 (15) Oct 18, 2013
@HannesAlfven - More biased information from biased websites. You should take a look at the about us section of their page.

"The Economist online offers authoritative insight and opinion on international news, politics, business, finance, science and technology."
http://www.econom...omistcom

Any real news or information organization does not inject their opinion. News and information sources should only give the facts. Let you make up your own mind and not try to interject their viewpoint into your consciousness.

I will be the first to admit phys.org doesn't always accomplish this. However, they get it right more often than not.
HannesAlfven
1.3 / 5 (15) Oct 18, 2013
That is actually just one of two articles they are running in the next issue on the subject of troubles with scientific research. The other one is titled "Trouble at the Lab: Scientists like to think of science as self-correcting. To an alarming degree, it is not".

You can view that one at http://www.econom...trouble.

Note that it was really only five weeks ago that a PhD student wrote a letter of resignation that went viral, and that links many of these same problems to the PhD program. From http://crypto.jun...gnation/ ...

"I am writing to state that, after four years of hard but enjoyable PhD work at this school, I am planning to quit my thesis in January, just a few months shy of completion ..."
HannesAlfven
1.5 / 5 (16) Oct 18, 2013
more ...

"... the essential motivation stems from my personal conclusion that I've lost faith in today's academia as being something that brings a positive benefit to the world/societies we live in. Rather, I'm starting to think of it as a big money vacuum that takes in grants and spits out nebulous results, fueled by people whose main concerns are not to advance knowledge and to effect positive change, though they may talk of such things, but to build their CVs and to propel/maintain their careers ..."

"... the current publish-or-perish system makes it difficult to put bread on the table while working on problems that require at least ten years of labor before you can report even the most preliminary results. Worse yet, the results may not be understood, which, in some cases, is tantamount to them being rejected by the academic community ..."
HannesAlfven
1.5 / 5 (16) Oct 18, 2013
more ...

"... I cannot help but get the impression that the majority of us are avoiding the real issues and pursuing minor, easy problems that we know can be solved and published. The result is a gigantic literature full of marginal/repetitive contributions ..."

"... Unfortunately, not only does this lead to quantity over quality, but many researchers, having grown dependent on the bandwagon, then need to find ways to keep it alive even when the field begins to stagnate. The results are usually disastrous. Either the researchers begin to think up of creative but completely absurd extensions of their methods to applications for which they are not appropriate, or they attempt to suppress other researchers who propose more original alternatives (usually, they do both). This, in turn, discourages new researchers from pursuing original alternatives and encourages them to join the bandwagon, which, though founded on a good idea, has now stagnated ..."
HannesAlfven
1.5 / 5 (16) Oct 18, 2013
"... and is maintained by nothing but the pure will of the community that has become dependent on it. It becomes a giant, money-wasting mess."
cantdrive85
1.5 / 5 (15) Oct 18, 2013
Any real news or information organization does not inject their opinion. News and information sources should only give the facts. Let you make up your own mind and not try to interject their viewpoint into your consciousness.

Not sure if you're naive or just dumb. Please name one news or info org that does not "frame" or inject particular POV into the "news" stories. That being said, 'The Economist' is a fairly respectable mag, it has a well read readership.
Mr_Science
1 / 5 (12) Oct 18, 2013
Well read is does not mean intelligent. Respected does not mean good. Sadly, there isn't very many non biased news outlets. However, many do a much better job than others. The better ones do not intend to put their perspective on it and do not have it as part of their about us or mission statement. Public news such as NPR is normally better but still not perfect.
HannesAlfven
1.5 / 5 (16) Oct 18, 2013
What remains unexplained is why the Economist, this grad student, Jeff Schmidt and to some extent, Wal Thornhill of the EU, are all telling a very similar, self-corroborating story -- each from their respective vantage points. And don't forget that both Peter Woit and Fred Hoyle have both formerly pointed to the university graduate system as basically the source of theoretical problems in physics.
cantdrive85
1.4 / 5 (16) Oct 18, 2013
Well read is does not mean intelligent. Respected does not mean good. Sadly, there isn't very many non biased news outlets. However, many do a much better job than others. The better ones do not intend to put their perspective on it and do not have it as part of their about us or mission statement. Public news such as NPR is normally better but still not perfect.

NPR seems to think the editors of 'The Economist' are worthy.
http://www.npr.or...-economy
Mr_Science
1 / 5 (13) Oct 18, 2013
Thanks for pointing that out. However, I had already said they are not perfect.
Lurker2358
1.5 / 5 (16) Oct 18, 2013
Guys you can keep "1ing" Hannes if you like, but Michio Kaku even says some of the same things on one of the clips from his "Big Think" series.

He was talking about how schools don't even teach people to "think" or "problem solve" any more. Science is taught as a series of memorizations, and obeying and believing what previous scientists have claimed. This, he said, was a bad thing, because it was no longer about "learning how to learn" or learning how to understand, but just a dead-end memorization.

I forget his exact words, but I suppose that when coming from a man as credentialed as him, it can be taken more seriously than you people give Hannes credit for anyway.

I suppose that the String Theorists will reach a dead end, which Michio is well aware, because even it can't explain QM and Relativity at the same time without producing "Division by Zero" scenarios, which was one of the things Michio wants to do away with in science theory. At least he acknowledges this publicly.
Lurker2358
1.5 / 5 (16) Oct 18, 2013
At any rate, science education in general is not about problem solving. It's a series of "believe it or else because Dr. SoAndSo says so."

There is also a difference between experimental results, and interpretation of what those results might entail in general.

It may well be the case that a hidden object exists, or it may well be that a fundamental understanding of physics is wrong. Without actually seeing conclusive evidence of a hidden object, you can't rule out the second possibility.
HannesAlfven
1.5 / 5 (16) Oct 18, 2013
Re: "There is also a difference between experimental results, and interpretation of what those results might entail in general."

Yes, and it is oftentimes the case in the more speculative domains like astrophysics that we don't actually know what the experimental results SHOULD be. This problem -- known as experimenter's regress -- was an important aspect of attempts to detect gravitational waves.

From The Golem: What You Should Know About Science by Collins & Pinch (p98):

"Thus, what the correct outcome is depends upon whether there are, or are not, gravity waves hitting the earth in detectable fluxes. To find this out we must build a good gravity wave detector and have a look. But we won't know if we have built a good detector until we have tried it and obtained the correct outcome. But we don't know what the correct outcome is until ... and so on ad infinitum."

---

One has to imagine that this is a common problem within astrophysics & cosmology. So, where's mention of it?
HannesAlfven
1.8 / 5 (16) Oct 19, 2013
Eric Mazur is an undergrad physics prof at Harvard, and he is one of the most outspoken science education reformers. There are a couple of excellent YouTube videos by him, and he's a pleasure to watch because he speaks so eloquently on the subject.

From "Confessions of a Converted Lecturer" on YouTube ...

26:44 - 27:18
"So, I would argue that there's much more that needs to happen than just delivering information. And the fact that delivering information was not enough became clear when I gave this FCI [force concept inventory]. What is it that needs to happen? … What needs to happen is that the student needs to make sense of the information, build mental models -- not just remembering facts, but try to understand it and build mental models that you can use in other contexts. I would call that assimilating the information."

Mazur is probably most responsible for the new popular trend of "flipping" classrooms today.
HannesAlfven
1.5 / 5 (15) Oct 19, 2013
The FCI is a concepts-only test that tests whether or not a student actually understands what they are problem-solving. The FCI is incredibly useful because there are no pre-requisites for taking it. Thus, a student can take it both before and after a semester-long course, and the instructor can learn if the student actually increased in their conceptual *comprehension* of the material.

Mazur likes to make his point by giving tests which include both traditional problem sets and FCI's. He states in the same video around the 43 minute mark ...

"[Y]ou find that about 50% of the students do equally well here, on both types of problems … The student who does well on the conceptual problem tends to do well on the conventional problem, so if you understand the basics, you're gonna do well on the conventional problem. However, there's 40% that does well on the conventional problem, but has no clue on the basics. What are these 40%? ..."
HannesAlfven
1.5 / 5 (15) Oct 19, 2013
[...]

"How do they get there? Who are these students? What are they doing? Memorizing … Plug and chug, right?""

1:01:51 - 1:02:38
"This means that better understanding leads to better problem solving. Makes sense in hindsight, right? But -- and this is the most important message I want to leave you with -- the converse of this statement is not true. Good problem solving does not necessarily mean understanding. I had been fooling myself for many years to believe that I was an effective professor, based upon the performance of my students. But, after all, it was just a house of cards. They were just plugging and chugging … And other studies have shown that retention is very, very low when you learn problem-solving by rote."

1:04:33 - 1:04:40
"Change always comes from outside, not from inside -- which is probably why I'm here talking about it."

---

Now, consider that we have all been taught the old way. There are cultural ramifications to this.
Captain Stumpy
1 / 5 (13) Oct 19, 2013
Whether a supermassive star leaves a neutron star (same as magnetar really) or a black hole when it explodes would be cool to see (from a distance, lol).


definately from a distance!!!!! LOL

Personally I went from finding some of your EU insights interesting on occasion to wishing they would repo your computer.


no fate says it all, right there! i am in the SAME boat! sometimes wading through the crap makes it difficult to learn, and i dont always have patience like i should

GSwift7 - cultist... that is actually a really good definition of how they act... right on the money.
i am just waiting for some of these "cultists" to pop off with an Anti dihydrogen monoxide rant, for all the sense they make.
Q-Star
3.9 / 5 (12) Oct 19, 2013
@ Everyone:

To help ya understand where these Electric Universe and Plasma Cosmology people have found the only "home" available to them please peruse the following links. They often rely on the authority and gavitas of the IEEE to add legitimacy to their "proponents". The IEEE allows any one to establish a "journal" under their banner. They also allow anyone to sponser a "conference" under their banner. They will "sell" or "rent" their logo to anyone who can afford the fee.

http://iaria-high...pot.com/

http://junkconfer...org.html

http://blog.lib.u..._fa.html

http://netdriver....-in.html

These are the people who would have ya believe that their is a conspiracy to prevent ya from hearing the truth and that the mainstream physics community are frauds and unscientific.
HannesAlfven
1.5 / 5 (15) Oct 19, 2013
Re: "These are the people who would have ya believe that their is a conspiracy ..."

I'm sorry to complicate your worldview, but this doesn't even remotely fit the definition of a conspiracy. What's being alleged is really much less fantastic and sensational: That "thinking like a scientist" now exhibits ideological components to it; that graduate students who stop to think about what they are memorizing fall behind the gung-ho memorizers; that students who make the mistake of straying from the technical questions into the "political" are weeded out of these programs; and that even though memorization is clearly an absolute necessity in science education, the difference between creating critical thinkers and brainwashed, disciplined thinkers who confuse ideology with facts boils down to the fine details of how memorization is deployed within the educational program.

It's only complicated if you are trying your hardest not to understand.
HannesAlfven
1.5 / 5 (15) Oct 19, 2013
And as for the incessant attempts to discredit the completely fundamental notion that cosmic plasmas -- like the terrestrial plasmas we see within the laboratory -- might actually be conducting electrical currents across vast distances, notice that what we see argued is that the notion is so absurd that it deserves less attention than constructs like dark matter, dark energy and string theory.

And yet, we can see that the MHD models used to model the cosmic plasmas are crude compared to the behavior of laboratory plasmas.

We see repeated warnings -- including Alfven's 1970 Nobel lecture for the creation of MHD -- that the models are not being applied correctly, and these warnings continue on to this day.

We consistently see measurements of G that are very far outside of the error bars.

And, of course, NASA is now telling us that they want to create a mission to study the numerous gravitational anomalies which it currently has no explanation for.
Neinsense99
1.3 / 5 (11) Oct 19, 2013
"How the largest star known is tearing itself apart" I read the headline and thought it was a story about Meatloaf having a breakdown of some kind on stage. Astronomy is much more interesting.
HannesAlfven
1.5 / 5 (15) Oct 19, 2013
From "Puzzling Measurement of "Big G" Gravitational Constant Ignites Debate" at http://www.scient...ide-show ...

"We know the strength of gravity hasn't been fluctuating over the past 200 years, for example, because if so, the orbits of the planets around the sun would have changed, Quinn says."

This is the same sort of logic we consistently observe with characters like Leroy Ellenberger and Tom Bridgman. It's incredibly problematic, because notice that if G is not a constant, then part of the task at hand is to devise COMPLETELY NEW systems for stabilizing the solar system. And if you take a look at Wal Thornhill's article, "Newton's Electric Clockwork Solar System" at http://www.holosc...system/, you'll observe that this is the approach he takes.

There is no sense to questioning G, but then refusing to reconstruct the entire theory.
HannesAlfven
1.6 / 5 (16) Oct 19, 2013
And this is why we have computers that run our models: Because the human faculties are not particularly skilled at making accurate sweeping speculations about what sorts of results those hyper-complex models might come up with.

To the extent that scientists suggest that certain lines of investigation are simply so absurd that we should intentionally avoid the creation of models which might cast light on how to make these new ideas work, I do think that there is an important role for the public here to step in and say ...

"Hey, wait a minute. You've been chasing dark matter for more than twenty years now. You're advocating a cosmology which can only identify 4% of the universe. And you are now talking about a form of gravity that repels matter.

You are the ones who have crossed into the world of the absurd. The idea of cosmic plasmas conducting currents is really quite a boring idea compared to these unicorns.

WTF is going on here?"
cantdrive85
1.5 / 5 (16) Oct 20, 2013
To help ya understand where these Electric Universe and Plasma Cosmology people have found the only "home" available to them please peruse the following links. They often rely on the authority and gavitas of the IEEE to add legitimacy to their "proponents". The IEEE allows any one to establish a "journal" under their banner.

That's great isn't it? The largest professional org in the world allows a dynamic scientific/engineeric discourse. Your argument is weak though, the PC/EU papers were published in the 'IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science'. None of the questionable "journals" you have linked to have anything to do with PC/EU papers.
Peratt (PC) is a Life Fellow of the IEEE Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society, bunch of cranks and crackpots over there. Don Scott, one of the EU guys, was a professor of EE for 30+ years at Umass. As his bio states;
"Dr. Scott was the recipient of several good-teaching awards". You ever get anything like that Q? Didn't think so.
HannesAlfven
1.3 / 5 (13) Oct 20, 2013
Astrophysicists and their advocates have fought quite hard for their right to model cosmic plasmas as gases, while simultaneously doing their best to obscure the very existence of the debate over these models to the public.

Fresh purges of EU- and catastrophist-related material on wikipedia appear to pop up about weekly these days. It's a striking trend given that global catastrophe is a more mainstream scientific topic today.

Joshua Schroeder, who has at least 10 known aliases on wikipedia, "was so assiduous in his harassment of Eric Lerner over concepts about an 'Electric Universe', leading even to Lerner being barred from contributing to Wikipedia on subjects on which he is expert" (Henry H Bauer)

Leroy Ellenberger's quest has driven him to a number of letter-writing campaigns, and these letters have resulted in the apparent severing of all communications between the EU and Dr. Peratt. What did Peratt do to deserve this? He put unused supercomputer cycles to work on the EU.
HannesAlfven
1.3 / 5 (13) Oct 20, 2013
Don Scott has spent a considerable amount of effort responding in detail to the critiques which have been made, but few of the critics appear to engage the subject deeper than skimming Tom Bridgman's pages. Bridgman's pages are frequently pointed to, but rarely ever discussed. That is a striking observation in light of the complexity and depth of this subject material. Concepts like quasi-neutrality, synchrotron radiation, HI hydrogen, double layers require some careful attention to detail, in order to be properly understood. These critics' eagerness to come to a conclusion w/o any apparent need for clarification or discussion speaks to their likely failure to actually engage the debate at any serious level. To these critics, the links supposedly speak for themselves. But, this is telling in itself, for there are many opportunities to misunderstand the idea.
HannesAlfven
1.3 / 5 (13) Oct 20, 2013
Note what's happening today in "science" at http://www.nbcnew...11422949

"... The observed B-mode pattern arose from gravitational lensing, in which light gets bent and deflected by massive cosmic objects such as galaxy clusters and lumps of mysterious dark matter, researchers said. But there is another way to produce B-modes: primordial gravitational waves produced during the earliest moments of the universe, when it was in its rapid "inflation" phase, mere trillionths of a second after the big bang.

During inflation, the idea goes, the universe expanded faster than the speed of light, doubling in size 100 times or more in just a few tiny fractions of a second ..."

---

What's being argued by the critics of the EU is that we should not even dare to propose that cosmic plasmas might behave as laboratory plasmas. It's not even something that should be investigated. But, these other shaky, speculative ideas get a pass.
scottfos
4 / 5 (8) Oct 21, 2013
it's really too bad you've decided that it is your (religious-like) DUTY to hijack every article to spout your own ideas.

you didn't say one thing about this article. in dozens of posts, arguing and defending your thoughts about .... everything, and not one statement about this article.

that makes you a zealot, HA. and you won't agree - you cannot see it - because zealots never do.

i wish you'd just talk about the articles.
GSwift7
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 22, 2013
it's really too bad you've decided that it is your (religious-like) DUTY to hijack every article to spout your own ideas.

you didn't say one thing about this article. in dozens of posts, arguing and defending your thoughts about .... everything, and not one statement about this article


Yep, that's exactly the reason Popular Science decided to stop allowing comments on its website. Trolls like him wrecked it for all the rest of us. Popular Science especially mentioned crank theorists and political zealots as being the cause of the problem. I won't even bother reading the enviromental articles on this site any more because of the troll-fest in those comments.