Surface Pro Blues; Pledge Drive; Dyson Spheres; Big Bang Coming?

Chaos Manor View, Monday, October 26, 2015

Today was mostly devoured by locusts, although it ended with a nice dinner with friends.


I have killed my Surface Pro 3. Perhaps Eric can revive it; we’ll see.

Today my Surface Pro 4 keyboard came. It looks good. Very good. The keys are separated, making it a lot less likely for a clumsy typist to hit two keys at once. Since my stroke I have been entirely unable to touch type, and my two finger efforts often result in multiple keystrikes; I often spend as much time correcting a sentence as I did writing it.

I had read in reviews that the Surface Pro 4 keyboard would work in the Surface Pro 3, and on inspection the connectors looked identical. I thought what the hell, took the Surface Pro 3 out of the docking station, swapped keyboards noting that the Pro 4 keyboard had the defect of not having a loop into which you could insert the stylus for safekeeping and carrying, but did have a new area obviously intended for fingerprint input. The swap was easy, and nothing happened to the Pro 3. I put it back in the docking station

It did not fit as easily; the docking station could close without quite making contact, and the little light that indicates closure is tiny and it’s easy to overlook that it’s not on. The battery icon showed that Precious was not being charged. I fussed with the seating in the docking station and it closed properly this time, the little light on the dock showed, and the battery icon on the screen chowed that it was charging.

The Surface Pro 3 was working properly but I had been using the touch screen; now I tried the Pro 4 keyboard, and nope: it was as if it were not attached. The mush pad had no effect on the cursor, and no key I hit did anything. I fooled about a bit aimlessly, but it was getting lunchtime and in an hour Larry would arrive to take us to an interview and dinner, so I was perhaps in more of a hurry than I ought to be.

I looked in the box. A manual, sort of, in many languages, but I couldn’t see any useful information, and I was unlikely to do any of the silly things it warned me not to do; and told me nothing about using that keyboard.

Do I decided to reset the system. Did; it said it needed an update; odd, perhaps it detected the strange keyboard? I pressed update and install. It trundled.

It took a while downloading and installing, but nothing disturbing. Came time for the final restart –

And now Precious is in an endless cycle of partial reboots, detecting an error, doing what it thinks is repair, restarting, finding the same errors, attempting to repair, etc. etc.

I’ll get Eric over to see if he can do anything. Of course I have the OLD keyboard in there now, but restoring the old Pro 3 keyboard has not changed the problem. More when I know more. It’s bed time.


It’s pledge week at KUSC which means I get to annoy you about renewals if you haven’t renewed in a while, and subscribing if you haven’t ever subscribed. This place operates on the Public Radio model: it’s free, and don’t want your rent money, but if I don’t get enough subscriptions, this place will go away. We have got quite a few renewals and some new subscriptions already. Keep them coming. Patron subscriptions are $36 Dollars; not per month as KUSC wants. Just per year, or as often as you think you should renew. Platinum subscriptions are $100, generally per once a year. Regular subscriptions are $20 when you feel like it, certainly at least once a year. See Paying for This Place for more information. If you have never subscribed, now’s the time. If you don’t remember when you last renewed this is a good time. If you have a vague feeling that you haven’t subscribed in a while – well, you get the idea.

I don’t like grubbing for money, but this seems to work. I don’t do it often, only when my local good music station has a pledge drive. I don’t annoy you with adds, and I easily could. And we’re all tired of this paragraph. Subscribe now and get it done with


Astronomers spot incredibly rare, insanely explosive pair of stars

This goes beyond a “contact binary” to an “overcontact binary,” with the two O-class stars sharing 30% of their mass:
If/when they blow, they will sterilize “every single planet within a non-trivial distance.” The article also cites a gamma ray burst that was so bright that it likely did the same, over galactic distances.
This makes me wonder if the paucity of interstellar contacts with other civilizations has to do with literally cosmic events. Brr.
The article also links to this visual display of spectral class stellar relative sizes.
Do have your astronomer friend comment on this. Looks fairly interesting. It will fascinating to see how it all turns out – and when.

I have asked Stephanie to comment. She did so, quickly, and hasn’t had a lot of time to think on this.

I was just about to log off and go to bed when I saw this (it is about 2:30am here). I will see about responding more later.

But such overcontact binaries are not THAT unusual. My graduate work was in binary variable stars, and so I can state for a fact that’s the case. We used to nickname ’em “peanut stars,” ’cause that’s about the shape. I’ve never heard the “strapless bra” reference before. Seems a bit crass.

On the other hand, two O stars in an overcontact binary IS rarer, true. I would have to question, however, what precisely the full designation is of the two stars — usually the full spectral classification consists of (at least) a letter and a Roman numeral. (Sometimes an Arabic number is also added immediately after the letter, to subdivide the spectral class.) The letter — O, B, A, F, G, K, M, R, N, S — tend to denote photospheric temperatures/colors, and the Roman numeral denotes the size/luminosity. 

Example: Our Sun is a G2V. This means it is spectral type G, subcategory 2, and the V means it is a dwarf main sequence star. AKA yellow dwarf star.

Nowhere can I find a designation of the actual size of the stars in the system. I assume, given the reference to a hypergiant if they merged, and a combined mass of about 57 solar masses, that they are at least a II or III, and possibly a I — but not a 0. (III = giant; II = bright giant; I = supergiant; 0 = hypergiant.) I fully expect them NOT to have the exact same spectral designation; that very rarely happens, to be so perfectly twinned.

Still and all, it is unlikely to be nearly so catastrophic as is being claimed.

For one thing, the probability that they will both supernova at the same time is essentially nil. And once one of ’em does go blooie, that pretty much takes care of the problem, because it will blow the other star’s outer layers to hell and back again, leaving mostly the stellar core, which will be much hotter than the outer layers but much less massive than the original star. (This sort of thing has been observed, not happening, but the aftermath — with the hot, compact stellar core orbiting the stellar remnant.) It will also ensure that the other star cannot supernova, because a supernova is kind of the irresistible force (outer layers falling inward relativistically under gravitation) meeting the immovable object (the core, which is USUALLY a neutron star, made up of nucleon-degenerate matter), and the explosion itself is the resultant “splat.” It’s also how all the really heavy elements get made, as there is kinetic energy and to spare and to waste, in forcing together nuclei that normally don’t want to hold together. Anyway, so without the outer layers, the second star can’t really supernova. It’ll just gradually exhaust its fuel and probably pull a white dwarf. If there’s enough mass left, it can maybe still form a neutron star, but without the big blooie. 

If the first star does indeed form a black hole (and it sounds like it is big enough, regardless of which one of the pair), then we are probably looking at it cannibalizing the companion star pretty rapidly, given proximity. And again, that would pretty much prevent the companion’s going blooie. Arguably this could be considered a merger, but it isn’t the type being talked about, where they are both already black holes spiraling into each other. 

I just really can’t see either the double-supernova scenario OR the two-black-holes death-spiral scenario occurring. Were they farther apart, then perhaps. It is the very fact that they are an overcontact binary that I think will actually prevent those scenarios.

However, it should be noted that even a standard supernova can clear a wide swath of life — depending who you talk to, on order of 100LY radius. And yes, GRBs are much more powerful — but tend to be directed, as I understand it. Still and all, such things are factored in as one possible solution of the Fermi Paradox.

Stephanie Osborn

“The Interstellar Woman of Mystery”

My own thought is that it’s not likely to do much to us at that distance… We’ll have more when Jim gets back from a business trip.


A reader says:

Sometimes your web site takes more time than I have time to  think!  That’s a good thing, btw. 

The Dyson sphere discussion is one of those times

And yet there’s a touch more.

Dyson Swarm


Most of the popular articles on the oddly variable star KIC 8462852 are misusing the term “Dyson Sphere”, of course – a true Dyson sphere would totally enclose the star and collect all its energy, and would be visible externally only as a warm-ish infrared source. What we’re talking about here is the possibility that 8462852 is a “Dyson Swarm” – a star with enough orbiting energy-collection structures to block a significant fraction of its total output.

Not as remarkable a possibility as an actual Dyson Sphere, of course, but remarkable enough for me. The combination of variability too complex and large to be caused by a small number of planets and the apparent absence of the dust you’d expect to accompany a large number of natural-origin bodies is intriguing. I’m looking forward to the results of proposed radio-telescope surveys. I’m also hoping some bright person can take the existing Kepler data and come up with an orbiting-objects model (or models) that fits the observed variations.

Interesting times, indeed. In the good sense, in this case.


Dyson Sphere discussion

Jerry, just a few closing remarks.

1) Lack of artificial signal from the star: As I said in the original correspondence, it does not matter what type of communications medium an alien race might use; human astronomers are well equipped to detect it. As I mentioned, Claudio Maccone, the chairman of the SETI Permanent Committee of the International Academy of Astronautics, is a friend of mine and we have actively discussed what alien comm might look like, as well as ways to communicate over interplanetary and interstellar distances. If there were an alien race around that star, it would be the brightest object in WHATEVER MEANS they chose to communicate — and it isn’t. In any means, visible, IR, microwave, radio, UV, X-ray, gamma-ray, neutrino, WHATEVER. It simply isn’t. And they have to be able to broadcast/transmit — you cannot string fiber optics all around a stellar system for ALL of your comm. Also, contrary to popular belief, lasers are not THAT highly collimated, and spread out a considerable distance just from here to the Moon; how much the more interplanetary distances? Which again means that we would see the comm. More, since lasing frequencies are readily calculated and many used here, we know exactly where to look. And again, we don’t see it.

2) Since the IR is coming FROM the purported orbital structure, the notion that the structure is BLOCKING said IR is moot. And it is therefore also not possible to redirect the IR. The structure becomes a blackbody radiator, absorbing all of the star’s energies, rising to a given temperature, and radiating at a frequency corresponding to that temperature, which would (per calculations) be in the IR. Also you don’t want to stop the radiation, as this provides the equilibrium system to prevent runaway temperature rise.

3) The whole point of a Dyson sphere was originally to create a homeworld-type environment which could be inhabited around the entire star, while collecting all of the energy release of that star. Therefore you would indeed want to place the sphere at approximately the orbital radius of the homeworld; it is no fallacy, but was inherent to the original concept. If, of course, you only want to capture the star’s energy, you can place it at any distance you like, though certain distances will be more efficient than others, and placing the structure at the homeworld’s distance, or proximal, is certainly easiest. It is worth noting that the objects occulting the star are in fact roughly in the Earth to Mars orbital range, judging by their period(s) of occultation.

4) No structure is ever going to simply “hover.” That just isn’t the way the universe works. You can begin by placing it in hover mode, but it will not remain there, for the simple reason that you will have many other forces working on it. Remember that we still have not solved the multi-body problem: this is because of the extreme complexity of the forces involved, and it would have to be solved — or approximated to an immense accuracy — in order to “hover” structures in orbit around a star. More, you would have other things acting upon it. It isn’t, for example, a matter of IF a micrometeoroid hits a solar sail — it’s WHEN. And over time, the tiny, incremental momentum imparted will mount up. And the more system material you’ve incorporated into your structure, the less you have left over for adjusting. Solar sails can “tack,” but as soon as you start all that, now you have motion that subtracts from the “hover;” you’ve just destabilized the system, and it will start to fall from orbit.

5) It is also worth noting that whatever is being seen is NOT “hovering,” but actively in orbit about the star.

6) I will repeat my original statements regarding a ring structure and segmental variants: a ringworld is the ONLY such construct which has a hope of working. And it has its own problems: the orbit must be circularized, and perfectly circular orbits are NOT natural, and tend to be easily perturbed into elliptical orbits, which then deforms a solid ring to the point of breaking, and which will tend to result in collisions between components if the ring is unconnected. (Accelerating as they near periastron, decelerating as they approach apastron, etc.) Yes, you will have transverse forces on a ring structure as well, but assuming a relatively narrow ring, they will be much much less than the forces on the polar regions of a Dyson sphere.

7) Magnetic suspension of an orbital ring: The thing to realize here is that stars do not have simple, relatively unvarying dipolar magnetic fields like Earth. Stars are not solid bodies — they differentially rotate. This means that the core does not rotate at the same speed as the photosphere, and the equator does not rotate at the same speed as the circumpolar regions. And all of that differentially-rotating material is plasma, aka charged particles — aka electric currents. This scenario results in a very complicated dynamo, or series of dynamos, which in turn results in a very complex, and often varying, magnetic field. And this is quite aside from stellar winds (plasma flowing away from the star), coronal holes (locations where the magnetic fields don’t recurve back to the star but, like at the poles, extend out to infinity), coronal mass ejections (titanic “mushroom clouds” of plasma thrown off by giant magnetic reconnection events), etc. — which latter would be potentially devastating to a Dyson or ring structure anyway, and which I haven’t brought up until now. So while theoretically possible, from a practical engineering standpoint, probably not possible.

8) And again, let me just point out that the concept of a true Dyson sphere was tossed out by humans years ago as being impossible to build (due simply to the orbital mechanics) without some serious exotic matter…which would, again, almost certainly require interstellar travel in order to obtain. And frankly if you have the ability and technology to manipulate such exotic matter, you have the ability and technology to do interstellar travel anyway.

9) Colonization as an overpopulation solution: only in the near term, agreed. Very quickly the colonies would establish population increase rates of their own, which would negate the homeworld solution, unless whatever organizing body imposed some very harsh reproduction rates/rules on the colony…which rules likely wouldn’t last long, at least on an “existence of the race” timescale. For that matter, the governing/overseeing body probably wouldn’t last much longer than said rules. 

Jerry, I will try to get on to the other thing you sent me last night, very shortly. I think the analysis I sent you last night is correct, but there are a few things I want to check first — my technical analysis ability may not have been enhanced by being exercised an hour past my usual bedtime of 2am…
Stephanie Osborn

“The Interstellar Woman of Mystery”


Freeman Dyson on climate change, interstellar travel, fusion, and more • The Register

Greetings, sir. I thought you might be interested in this interview with Freeman Dyson. I’m including an excerpt with a link to the rest of the interview.

Take care,

Tim Elliott

Are climate models getting better? You wrote how they have the most awful fudges, and they only really impress people who don’t know about them.

I would say the opposite. What has happened in the past 10 years is that the discrepancies between what’s observed and what’s predicted have become much stronger. It’s clear now the models are wrong, but it wasn’t so clear 10 years ago. I can’t say if they’ll always be wrong, but the observations are improving and so the models are becoming more verifiable.

It’s now difficult for scientists to have frank and honest input into public debates. Prof Brian Cox, who is the public face of physics in the UK thanks to the BBC, has said he has no obligation to listen to “deniers,” or to any other views other than the orthodoxy.

That’s a problem, but still I find that I have things to say and people do listen to me, and people have no particular complaints.

It’s very sad that in this country, political opinion parted [people’s views on climate change]. I’m 100 per cent Democrat myself, and I like Obama. But he took the wrong side on this issue, and the Republicans took the right side.

Because the big growing countries need fossil fuels, the political goal of mitigation, by reducing or redirecting industrial activity and consumer behaviour, now seems quite futile in the West.

China and India rely on coal to keep growing, so they’ll clearly be burning coal in huge amounts. They need that to get rich. Whatever the rest of the world agrees to, China and India will continue to burn coal, so the discussion is quite pointless.

At the same time, coal is very unpleasant stuff, and there are problems with coal quite apart from climate. I remember in England when we burned coal, everything was filthy. It was really bad, and that’s the way it is now in China, but you can clean that up as we did in England. It takes a certain amount of political willpower, and that takes time. Pollution is quite separate to the climate problem: one can be solved, and the other cannot, and the public doesn’t understand that.

Have you heard of the phrase “virtue signalling“? The UK bureaucracy made climate change its foreign policy priority, and we heard a lot of the phrase “leading the world in the fight …” and by doing so, it seemed to be making a public declaration of its goodness and virtue …

No [laughs]. Well, India and China aren’t buying that. When you go beyond 50 years, everything will change. As far as the next 50 years are concerned, there are two main forces of energy, which are coal and shale gas. Emissions have been going down in the US while they’ve going up in Europe, and that’s because of shale gas. It’s only half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal. China may in fact be able to develop shale gas on a big scale and that means they burn a lot less coal.

It seems complete madness to prohibit shale gas. You wondered if climate change is an Anglophone preoccupation. Well, France is even more dogmatic than Britain about shale gas!

…Now for my space-mad children’s question. They want to get to the stars. So how are we going to get there – what’s the best prospect for interstellar travel?

The main point is to leave the energy source behind; don’t carry it on the ship. What makes a huge difference if you really want to go fast is have a big laser in space, and ride the beam. The beam will supply the energy and you don’t have to carry it with you. It’s essentially a public highway system with the laser beam as the highway, and little ships with sails. That works and doesn’t involve any new physics – it’s just a question of engineering. And you could get up to half the speed of light, and that’s much better than you can with any energy source you have with you.

That was proposed by Bob Forward, he worked out the details, and it certainly does work. He called it Starwisp. You’re using the speed of light in your favour: you’re borrowing the momentum from the light.

Finally, what are your views on fusion? Do you see any real progress being made?

I think they made a terrible mistake 50 years ago when they stopped doing science and went to big engineering projects. These big engineering projects are not going to solve the problem, and they’ve become just a welfare programme for the engineers. You have these big projects, both national and international, that are really a dead end as far as I can see. Even if they’re successful, they won’t provide energy that’s useful and cheap.

But it’s not clear when you do science, whether you’ll discover anything or not. But that’s the only answer.

So with fusion, we should go back to the drawing board?

Yes, and it’s not going to solve any problems for the near future.

But I don’t think there is a problem in the near future anyway [laughs].

Top Physicist Freeman Dyson: Obama ‘Took the Wrong Side’ on Climate Change

A good article about Dyson’s “heresy” on the topic of CAGW, catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. The Gaeaists will never forgive him.

Top Physicist Freeman Dyson: Obama ‘Took the Wrong Side’ on Climate Change


Jim R

I have always considered Mr. Dyson as one of the sanest men on this planet





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