Exposing PseudoAstronomy

May 21, 2020

Did NASA Discover Proof of a Mirror Universe?


NO

a427bb01b0797741cf388dc0461517da

Mirror Universe Spock. ©CBS/Paramount

The Question

But, you wouldn’t know it if you’ve been reading tabloids over the last few days.  Even a site with a name like “New Scientist” is peddling this story, and they actually seem to be the originators of it.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was contacted – as one is wont to do – by Cristina Fernandez, one of the hosts of the award-winning podcast, “The Reality Check” (Cheque?), and she wanted to know if I would come on the show to talk about it (spoilers: Yes).  So I looked into the claim.  She provided me a link to a NY Post article claiming, “NASA Scientists Detect Evidence of Parallel Universe Where Time Runs Backward.”

The Search

I was intrigued, but my Skeptisense was tingling.  If for no other reason than I hadn’t heard of it.  The article was from May 19 and she contacted me May 20.  I consume a lot of media, and I have my fingers in astronomy news sources and I hadn’t heard anything about this, which would be odd for such a claim if it were real.

I went to the article and I only searched for one thing: A more original source.  They linked to the Daily Star as their source, which sounds like a tabloid and further raised the hairs on the back of my neck (which are long right now because of isolation and I can’t go get a haircut).  So, I went to that article, which is titled, “NASA Scientists Detect Parallel Universe ‘Next to Ours’ Where Time Runs Backwards.”  As of the time of this writing, it has over 1.2 million shares.  It’s from May 17, 2020.

I have a pretty sophisticated firewall program on my computer where I can block things on a per-application, per-domain, per-subdomain, per-port level.  It alerts me whenever an application is trying to contact something that I have not previously allowed.  When going to the Daily Star, it tried to draw content from The Daily Mail, a well known British tabloid that’s at the level of Weekly World News, “Mom Gives Birth to Alien Baby But Dad is Light-Years Away” kinda stuff.  That raised the Skeptisense further.

Looking through that article is difficult because every-other-paragraph is interrupted by links to get you to click on other websites.  I was again only looking for an original source.  It linked me to the New Scientist, an article entitled, “We May Have Spotted a Parallel Universe Going Backwards in Time.”  That article is from April 8, 2020.  Odd that there would be 6 weeks between the two.

And that’s actually where the trail ended, so far as news articles go for me.  The problem is that everyone reporting on this story in the last few days is linking to New Scientist.  The problem with that is New Scientist is behind a paywall, and no details are described in the public version.  No peer-reviewed paper, not even the original scientist’s name.

So, I went back to Daily Star.  There, and in the NY Post article, they quote Peter Gorham, an experimental particle physicist at U. Hawai’i, as saying, “‘Not everyone was comfortable with the hypothesis,’ he told New Scientist.”

Knowing how much the news likes to quote-mine, I didn’t take that as gospel for him responding to this latest idea, but it sounded like it’s his data that people are using for this.  A search on Google for his name, “tau neutrino,” and other key words yielded mostly things from the last few days and from 2018.

My next step was to look at one of the main resources astronomers use for finding papers: ADS.  ADS is the Astrophysics Data System, and it is an advanced search engine for searching relevant journal articles and it even searches through non-peer-reviewed stuff (more on that in a moment), including things like conference abstracts.  Searching for the guy yields nothing relevant in the last two years, which raised my Skeptisense further.

It appears as though the relevant peer-reviewed paper is from Physical Review Letters (a good journal in the field), “Observation of an Unusual Upward-Going Cosmic-Ray-like Event in the Third Flight of ANITA.”  That seems to be the paper that had the observation that everyone is talking about.

Basically, what they found is a tau neutrino (one of three types of neutrinos, where a neutrino is a fundamental particle with very tiny mass that rarely interacts with anything — there are gagillions streaming through your body now with no effect).  They could determine the direction of the tau neutrino, and it was coming up through the Earth, as opposed to down from space.

That’s weird.  It’s weird because tau neutrinos are the heaviest.  Those that we observe on Earth are usually formed by decay of heavier subatomic particles as they travel through Earth’s atmosphere, but they are blocked by Earth’s surface.  So how the tau neutrino could be detected coming up from Earth seemed a mystery.  (I’m not describing this very thoroughly for two reasons – first, I am not good at particle physics and so I’m just trying to give the briefest of overview, and second, it’s not hugely important for this story.)  The important part is that this is a case where the experts in the field say this is odd and very hard to explain, and that’s good enough for me.  The other important part is that, apparently, someone, somewhere, has explained this as the tau neutrino leaking from a parallel universe where time runs backwards.

Moving forward, the mystery is, why is this coming up now?  Did the author to whom this is attributed recently have a new paper out that explained the result in this weird way?

No.  Looking again through numerous articles in the popular press, all cited “a Cornell University paper describing the odd phenomenon.”  That’s a giant red flag to me that whomever wrote the original copy does not know what they are doing.  It’s a common statement by non-science writers who are trying to write science: Cornell University runs the very popular site for astronomers and physicists called arXiv.org, where the “X” is the Greek letter “chi,” so it’s pronounced “archive dot org.”  Clever, no?  They just proctor the site, they don’t “publish” anything and it’s not their paper.

So what I did was two things next, for I interpreted this to mean that there is some new non-peer-reviewed paper out (because people typically post to arXiv before peer-review) that made this claim based on the two-year-old result.

First, I went back to ADS and its link to the original Gorham et al. paper.  ADS provides a link to see every paper that cites it, including those from arXiv.  But, that also showed nothing obvious.  So maybe it hadn’t been indexed.  I headed over to arXiv and searched for anything by Gorham in the last year (though especially last month) and again found nothing.  Unfortunately, without any of these other articles citing any author other than Gorham, I can’t find whatever might have triggered the latest set of news stories.

The Conclusion

So, where are we?  We have a spate of recent articles in the last few days saying this is A Thing.  We have the original source news story behind a paywall, linking to further stories behind its paywall including the one where they say that all other explanations have been ruled out.

We have an original paper that showed an interesting result, but nothing new that references that result in the peer-review literature or even in the non-peer-reviewed science literature.

We also have numerous papers that provide possible explanations for the observation, including slight modifications to the Standard Model of physics, an interpretation that this could indicate dark matter, a search to try to duplicate the observations using another experiment, or even mundane explanations like layers of ice in Antarctica (where the experiment is done) can be weird reflectors and have thrown off the directionality conclusion.

What we don’t have is proof that NASA discovered a parallel universe where time runs backwards.

Post Script

After I did all the above research, CNET came out with their own take: “No, NASA Didn’t Find Evidence of a Parallel Universe Where Time Runs Backward.”  The author, Jackson Ryan, has the same take I do, though he doesn’t go through the same deep dive I did of trying to track it down.  It’s still worth reading as another follow-up, and he interviews some of the people who can put it in better perspective.  He also, twice, chides New Scientist about putting this behind a paywall and credits that for part of the issue surrounding this.

July 14, 2018

Podcast Episode 170: Interlude, and Another Podcast Endeavor


Where has the podcast
Gone? Qui’t is the sound. How can
I keep you list’nin’?

An interlude episode, you know, the one that happens in the game between going up against the little boss and the big boss where you do the side quest to get the special magic sword and silver arrows. Or something like that.

In this entirely ad lib episode, I discussed where I’ve been: Working and on travel. When you’re out of the house 24–27% of the year, it’s hard to put out a regular podcast. When you do enough work to place in the upper 15% of your division, it’s hard to have a life. But I’m trying … and in the meantime, two of the hosts of The Reality Check (cheque? chœk? … they’re Canadian) podcast – Pat roach and Christina Fernandez – and I have a new endeavor: “5 Minutes with an Astronomer.” The show is done in spurts, when I have a week or two of a few hours to sit down and record.

In fact, we recorded most of the first 28 episodes – all now released – in their basement while I was visiting the Great White North (Canadia). Pat does the vast majority of the work, so he deserves most of the credit and it’s his concept. The show is roughly 5 minutes – we do tend to go over a bit, but never more than 10 minutes – where we tackle any topic remotely related to astronomy. While I have a few notes written down for each episode, there is NO script, so that cuts down significantly on the time that I need to prepare.

In most episodes, I ask a critical thinking question based on the material. For example, after talking about what causes seasons, I ask my cohosts what they think would happen for something like Uranus, where the spin axis is pointed towards the sun for half its year. A hope is that this kind of show could be useful in classrooms.

Anyway, let us know what you think — comment here, there, e-mail, or whatever. If you like it, tell lots o’ folks and give it both a rating and review on your podcast portal of choice!

5 Minutes with an Astronomer

5 Minutes with an Astronomer

December 22, 2017

Podcast Episode 169: Modern Eclipse Lunacy, Part 3: Richard Hoagland’s Claims


Richard C. Hoagland:
Of course he has claims about
The solar eclipse.

In the final regular episode in the three-part Solar Eclipse of August 2017 series, several of the claims made by Richard Hoagland are addressed. Three types of claims are examined: Whether shadow bands indicate there are glass structures on the Moon, whether the Accutron watch readings indicate there is a hyperdimensional physics, and alleged disinformation.

This is – surprise, surprise – the last episode for 2017, the only episode for December. Just work/podcast balance realities. Of course, if I started selling ad space and had a Patreon like those OTHER podcasts … but this is free and ad-free and I’m keeping it that way.

Anywho, I also finally get to feedback in this episode, and I think I’m caught up on e-mails from 2017 except those of you who responded to my recent responses. Seems like whenever you clear the Inbox, people have a spidey sense of it because that’s when I get another flood of e-mail. Could just be confirmation bias.

Solar Eclipse from August 21, 2017 (©Stuart Robbins)

Solar Eclipse from August 21, 2017 (©Stuart Robbins)

November 27, 2017

Podcast Episode 168: Common (and False) Fine-Tuned Universe Beliefs, Discussed


Fine-tuned Universe:
Not just for creationists
Anymore. Let’s see …

Fine-tuning of the universe to allow us to exist has tended to be a focused argument by young-Earth creationists, but it’s also used by other folks to generally argue that we are special. In this episode, I discuss four categories of claims that fit into this broad argument.

An exploration into four groups of fine-tuning arguments used by some to say that we are special: Solar outbursts, habitable zone, lunar origin and effects, and giant planets and impacts on Earth.

Fine-Tuning Image

Fine-Tuning Image

November 14, 2017

Podcast Episode 167: Modern Eclipse Lunacy, Part 2: Flat Earth


Eclipse lunacy,
This time from flat Earth folks, and
What they thought of it.

Returning to the series I started in September, we have modern eclipse lunacy, part 2, as discussed by flat Earth proponents. Part 3 should come later (well, obviously not earlier) and will be about the ideas espoused by Richard C. Hoagland as related to the solar eclipse from August.

Due to the lateness of this episode, I am really hoping that I can get another one out by Sunday. I leave for a trip Saturday night and will be gone through the following Sunday, so if I don’t at least get something written and recorded by the 18th, there won’t be an episode until after the 26th. I already have the topic, it’s going to be “Common (and False) Fine-Tuned Planet Beliefs, Discussed.” Surprisingly, this is NOT from young-Earth creationists, but rather from a UFOlogist, Whitley Strieber, that I recently heard him repeat on his internet radio program.

Flat Earth Lunar Eclipse

Flat Earth Lunar Eclipse (found on Reddit)

October 18, 2017

Podcast Episode 166: Stellar Evolution, Age of the Universe, and Young-Earth Creationism


Star evolution,
Age of the universe, and
Creationism.

Young-Earth Creationism strikes again and this time misuses error bars to argue that GodDidIt. The episode covers a science paper that discussed the age of a very old star which was derived to be a bit older than the universe. But, add in the appropriate error bars, and potentially a correction to its color, and there’s absolutely no issue whatsoever. But, try telling that to a creationist with an agenda. There’s only a very brief singular additional segment in this episode.

M15 from HST

The dazzling stars in Messier 15 look fresh and new in this image from the NASA/Hubble Space Telescope, but they are actually all roughly 13 billion years old, making them some of the most ancient objects in the Universe. Unlike another recent Hubble Picture of the Week, which featured the unusually sparse cluster Palomar 1, Messier 15 is rich and bright despite its age. Messier 15 is a globular cluster — a spherical conglomeration of old stars that formed together from the same cloud of gas, found in the outer reaches of the Milky Way in a region known as the halo and orbiting the Galactic Centre. This globular lies about 35 000 light-years from the Earth, in the constellation of Pegasus (The Flying Horse). Messier 15 is one of the densest globulars known, with the vast majority of the cluster’s mass concentrated in the core. Astronomers think that particularly dense globulars, like this one, underwent a process called core collapse, in which gravitational interactions between stars led to many members of the cluster migrating towards the centre. Messier 15 is also the first globular cluster known to harbour a planetary nebula, and it is still one of only four globulars known to do so. The planetary nebula, called Pease 1, can be seen in this image as a small blue blob to the lower left of the globular’s core. This picture was put together from images taken with the Wide Field Channel of Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. Images through yellow/orange (F606W, coloured blue) and near-infrared (F814W, coloured red) filters were combined. The total exposure times were 535 s and 615 s respectively and the field of view is 3.4 arcminutes across.

September 24, 2017

Podcast Episode 164: The World Didn’t End on September 23, 2017


Doomsday yet again!
The story of this one, though,
Has a surprise end.

A much shorter episode this time, announcing what you already know: We survived doomsday, again (yay!). But, the story of this particular doomsday claim may surprise you — it did me. But I could be wrong, so please let me know if you have additional information beyond what I found (listen to the episode for more of what I’m talking about).

Meanwhile, this is either a bonus episode or the episode for the second half of September. I haven’t decided yet because I’m not sure if I can get out another episode before the beginning of October. My 10-day vacation in Utah was great, but it requires a lot of catch-up at work.

There are no additional segments.

Gallifrey in the Skies of Earth (from Doctor Who episode S04E18)

Gallifrey in the Skies of Earth (from Doctor Who episode S04E18)

September 1, 2017

Podcast Episode 163: Modern Eclipse Lunacy, Part 1


Solar Eclipses:
Even in the modern day,
Lunacy exists.

Back and pumping out a 42-minute episode on some of the crazy surrounding the recent lunar eclipse, crazy that you’re not going to hear from other sources. This past eclipse on August 21, 2017, was perhaps one of the most-hyped and most-viewed solar eclipses in human history. As with any such mass-sighted event, pseudoscience is bound to rear its ugly head. In this episode, I address doom and gloom, earthquake predictions, astrologic predictions, Planet X predictions, and other topics related to the eclipse.

There’s one additional segment, and that’s about where I’ve been (literally).

Solar Eclipse from August 21, 2017 (©Stuart Robbins)

Solar Eclipse from August 21, 2017 (©Stuart Robbins)

May 29, 2017

Follow-Up on NASA Providing Open Access to All Its Funded Research


Open Access Banner

Open Access Banner

Last August (2016), I wrote a post about the recent announcement that NASA would be making available all research that it funded, for free. In the post, I wrote many reasons why I was in support of the concept of such an endeavor, but I had serious questions and potential issues with the implementation of it. Namely, we had zero information about the implementation.

Last week, I got an e-mail that seeks to clarify:

Dear Stuart Robbins,

As a NASA grant awardee, you have the option to submit your accepted manuscript(s) to NASA’s PubSpace repository. PubSpace is available from a collaboration between the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NASA to allow wider access to the results of federally-funded research. For the grant listed below, you may deposit any peer-reviewed manuscripts describing work supported by NASA awards that were published or accepted for publication through the NIH Manuscript Submission (NIHMS) system. At this time, this is not a Term and Condition of the grant listed below; however, you may voluntarily submit any manuscripts that were a result of the funded research from this grant.

Grant Award Information:
Grant Number: █████
Proposal: █████
Technical Officer: █████
Technical Officer Email: █████

In order to complete this process, you will need to have an ORCID ID number. Your ORCID ID number is required to align your award information to you and to allow you to log into the NIHMS system. Please follow this link to create an ORCID ID or to log in with your current ORCID ID number.

You will need to allow NASA to have access to your ORCID record as a trusted third-party. To do this, confirm that the box is checked next to “Allow this permission until I revoke it.” When creating a new ORCID ID, once you have all the required fields filled out completely, click the “Authorize” button at the bottom of the screen. For those who already have an ORICD ID, once you log in your ORCID profile will be associated with NASA. This will take you to a landing page that will provide further information and details on the NIHMS system.

Please allow three business days from when you register your ORCID to login to the NIHMS system. We are asking for you to complete this process so that when you do have a manuscript you wish to deposit, you will be able to access all systems and have a more streamlined experience.

If you have any questions or concerns please contact the NASA Open Access Help Desk at nasa-researchaccess@mail.nasa.gov or call (757) 864-6736. You can also navigate to https://www.nasa.gov/open/researchaccess/frequently-asked-questions for additional information.

Regards,
Michelle

Michelle L. Chrzanowski
NASA Open Access Help Desk
(757) 864-6736 (OPEN)

So, we now have a system, apparently. I haven’t tried it, but I’ll be submitting my first paper based on the above redacted grant later this summer, so we’ll see how it works out as that progresses.

May 6, 2017

Podcast Episode 162: Geocentrism, Take 2


Geocentrism
Is so wrong, even young-Earth
Creationists know!

Slightly longer segment this time, a bit of a mishmash between episodes 78 and 152, young-Earth creationists refuting geocentrism. I go through about five different arguments against geocentrism and also look at the language that young-Earth creationists use to argue against geocentrists.

I added feedback to this episode again, almost catching me up, covering several varied topics including potential future episodes. There’s also an announcement about the episode schedule.

Geocentrism Cartoon

Geocentrism Cartoon

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