Interstellar Travelers of the Future May be Helped by MU Physicist’s Calculations
University of Missouri’s Sergei Kopeikin may have solved the Pioneer anomaly
Former President Bill Clinton recently expressed his support for interstellar travel at the 100 Year Spaceship Symposium, an international event advocating for human expansion into other star systems. Interstellar travel will depend upon extremely precise measurements of every factor involved in the mission.
The knowledge of those factors may be improved by the solution a University of Missouri researcher found to a puzzle that has stumped astrophysicists for decades.
“The Pioneer spacecraft, two probes launched into space in the early 70s, seemed to violate the Newtonian law of gravity by decelerating anomalously as they traveled, but there was nothing in physics to explain why this happened,” said Sergei Kopeikin, professor of physics and astronomy in MU’s College of Arts and Science. “My study suggests that this so-called Pioneer anomaly was not anything strange. The confusion can be explained by the effect of the expansion of the universe on the movement of photons that make up light and radio waves.”
Beams of radio waves were sent to and bounced off the Pioneer spacecraft to measure the probes’ movement. The time it took for the photons to complete a round trip was used to calculate the spacecrafts’ distance and speed. Kopeikin’s research suggests that the photons move faster than expected from the Newtonian theory thus causing the appearance of deceleration, though the craft were actually traveling at the correct speed predicted by the theory. The universe is constantly expanding and this alters the Earth-based observations of the photons bouncing off the spacecraft, causing the Pioneer probes to appear to slow down.
“Previous research has focused on mechanical explanations for the Pioneer anomaly, such as the recoil of heat from the craft’s electrical generators pushing the craft backwards,” Kopeikin said. “However that only explains 15 to 20 percent of the observed deceleration, whereas it is the equation for photons that explains the remaining 80-85 percent.”
Physicists must be careful when dealing with propagation of light in the presence of the expansion of space, noted Kopeikin, since it is affected by forces that are irrelevant in other equations. For example, the expansion of the universe affects photons, but doesn’t influence the motion of planets and electrons in atoms.
“Having accurate measurements of the physical parameters of the universe help us form a basis to make plans for interstellar exploration,” Kopeikin said. “Discerning the effect of the expansion of the universe on light is important to the fundamental understanding of space and time. The present study is part of a larger on-going research project that may influence the future of physics.”
The study “Celestial ephemerides in an expanding universe” was published in the journal Physical Review D.
Timothy Wall | EurekAlert!
The most recent press releases about innovation >>>
Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.
In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...
Biofilms: Researchers find the causes of water-repelling properties
Dental plaque and the viscous brown slime in drainpipes are two familiar examples of bacterial biofilms. Removing such bacterial depositions from surfaces is...
For the first time, scientists have succeeded in studying the strength of hydrogen bonds in a single molecule using an atomic force microscope. Researchers from the University of Basel’s Swiss Nanoscience Institute network have reported the results in the journal Science Advances.
Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe and is an integral part of almost all organic compounds. Molecules and sections of macromolecules are...