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Pioneer [gravitational] anomaly put to the test
Physics World ^ | September 2004 | Slava Turyshev and John Anderson

Posted on 09/27/2004 11:38:32 AM PDT by PatrickHenry

The European Space Agency is considering a unique experiment that could explain strange gravitational phenomena in the outer solar system.

Since 1998 astronomers have known that the space probes Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 are following trajectories that cannot be explained by conventional physics. Launched in 1972 and 1973, respectively, to explore the outer planets, the Pioneer craft are now at the edge of the solar system, with Pioneer 10 being some 86 astronomical units (about 13 billion kilometres) from the Sun. But they are not quite where they should be, based on the gravitational pull of the known bodies in the solar system.

When the craft were at distances of between 20 and 70 astronomical units, researchers found that the Doppler frequency of microwave signals that were bounced off the craft drifted at a small, constant rate (see "Spacecraft anomalies put gravity to the test" -- link in original article). This drift meant that the craft were experiencing a constant acceleration directed towards the Sun, at a level that is 10 billion times weaker that the Earth's gravitational pull. The most obvious explanation for this anomalous deceleration is some mundane systematic effect, such as heat radiating from the craft or leakage from the propulsion thrusters. But no such mechanism has been found.

Attempts to test the anomaly using other spacecraft such as Galileo and the Voyager probes have proved unsuccessful, and the deep-space missions that are currently being developed - for example the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) and the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO) - will not be designed to test the properties of the Pioneer anomaly. Given this situation, we concluded that the anomaly could no longer be ignored.

At its Cosmic Vision workshop in Paris this month, the European Space Agency (ESA) will consider plans for a number of experiments and missions that will test gravity in new ways, one of which is designed to test the Pioneer anomaly directly. If the anomaly is an indication of new physics, finding its origin might change our understanding of the laws of nature at a very basic level and turn our cosmic backyard into the new terra incognita.

Theoretical proposals

The inability to explain the Pioneer anomaly with conventional forces has led to several theoretical proposals. One is that the deceleration is due to the gravitational attraction of "dark matter" - the invisible matter that astronomers think is responsible for the excess gravity that appears to affect objects on galactic scales.

Other explanations involve modifying Einstein's general theory of relativity, which many theorists think is necessary in order to merge gravity with quantum mechanics. Some of these theories suggest that gravity might attract a little harder than expected at large distances or small accelerations, so the concept of dark matter may not even be necessary.

Meanwhile, there are a number of attempts to go beyond the Standard Model of particle physics. String theory and/or supersymmetry, for example, involve higher dimensions of space that introduce new degrees of freedom and possible violations of space-time symmetries such as Lorentz symmetry. This could result in very weak forces that act on the scale of the solar system, although different theories make different predictions of the precise corrections to the spacecraft trajectories.

Some of these theoretical proposals have recently been given support by experimental results. For example, we now know that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, and some researchers have detected possible variations in the values of the fundamental constants (see "Dark energy" and "Are the laws of nature changing with time?" -- link in original article). However, no current proposal can explain the Pioneer anomaly. It is therefore vital to test our understanding of gravity more precisely, which is best carried out in the isolation and apparent weightlessness of space.

We have argued that it is time to settle the Pioneer issue with a new deep-space mission that will test for, and decide on, the origin of the anomaly (Class. Quantum Grav. 21 4005-4023). Any result would be of major significance. If the anomaly is a manifestation of new or unexpected physics, it would be of fundamental importance. But even if it turns out to be due to an unknown systematic mechanism, understanding the anomaly could help engineers build more stable and less noisy spacecraft that can be navigated more precisely for the benefit of deep-space experiments.

Pioneering mission

Thanks to new technologies such as precise accelerometers, improved launch techniques and optical navigation methods, we have come up with a proposal for the most precisely tracked spacecraft ever to go into deep space. The craft is also designed to eliminate essentially all on-board effects that might mask the result, such as forces due to radiated heat. And its hyperbolic orbit, like that of the Pioneer probes, will allow it to distinguish between the different types of effect that might be causing the anomaly.

Such a mission could also be an excellent opportunity to develop and test new technologies for spacecraft design, in-space propulsion, on-board power and many other developments that may ultimately find their way into many other space and terrestrial applications.

In what turned out to be a gratifying and most encouraging surprise, a number of our European colleagues had also became interested in developing technologies that would enable the precise testing of the Pioneer anomaly. So now, almost seven years after we and our co-workers Philip Laing, Eunice Lau and Tony Liu published the initial analysis of the anomalous deceleration, interest has grown to the point that ESA is considering a mission that would test the Pioneer anomaly to the level of a thousand times better than the announced value of this mysterious force.

Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Bremen and the Los Alamos National Laboratory are also preparing to reanalyse earlier, less precise, Pioneer data from the time when the craft were closer to the Sun. This should provide valuable information about the anomaly in earlier stages of the trajectory, and could also reveal other interesting properties of the effect - particularly during planetary fly-bys.

Dispassionately, the most likely cause of the anomalous acceleration of the Pioneer spacecraft is on-board systematics, but the smoking gun has not yet been found. The only other possibility is the existence of new physics. This dichotomy represents a healthy win-win situation because either one of these two explanations for the Pioneer anomaly would constitute an extremely important discovery.

About the author: Slava Turyshev and John Anderson are at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena and Michael Martin Nieto at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, US


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Miscellaneous; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: astronomy; gravity; kuiperbelt; nibiru; oortcloud; physics; pioneer; pioneeranomaly; planetx; quaoar; sedna; space; stringtheory; xplanets
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1 posted on 09/27/2004 11:38:32 AM PDT by PatrickHenry
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To: VadeRetro; jennyp; Junior; longshadow; RadioAstronomer; Physicist; LogicWings; Doctor Stochastic; ..
Science list Ping! This is an elite subset of the Evolution list.
See the list's description in my freeper homepage. Then FReepmail me to be added or dropped.
2 posted on 09/27/2004 11:39:30 AM PDT by PatrickHenry (I'm PatrickHenry and I approve this message.)
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To: PatrickHenry

Probably because they used a Hp-15 back in the day...


3 posted on 09/27/2004 11:40:12 AM PDT by 2banana (They want to die for Islam and we want to kill them)
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To: PatrickHenry
The only other possibility is the existence of new physics.

Or Romulan scans. ;)

4 posted on 09/27/2004 11:41:40 AM PDT by Mr. Jeeves
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To: PatrickHenry

This might be over my head but I'm glad you posted. I'll bookmark for later. :)


5 posted on 09/27/2004 11:43:10 AM PDT by cvq3842
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To: PatrickHenry

Spacehead bump!!!!!!


6 posted on 09/27/2004 11:44:38 AM PDT by Nowhere Man ("Laws are the spider webs through which the big bugs fly past and the little ones get caught.")
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To: Mr. Jeeves

Gaseous anomalies in the Neutral Zone?......


7 posted on 09/27/2004 11:46:04 AM PDT by Red Badger (If you shoot from the hip enough times, eventually you'll shoot yourself in the a$$......)
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To: PatrickHenry

I believe that this effect was confirmed during one of Cassini's earth flybys.


8 posted on 09/27/2004 11:48:30 AM PDT by <1/1,000,000th%
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To: Red Badger

Cracked dilithium crystal.....................?


9 posted on 09/27/2004 11:49:45 AM PDT by spokeshave (<img src="http://photopile.com/photos/dead/auctions/146584.jpg">)
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To: Red Badger

Gaseous anomalies in the Neutral Zone?......

That's what you get for letting defensive linemen eat chile before the game.


10 posted on 09/27/2004 11:51:23 AM PDT by ProudVet77 (Vietnam Veterans Reconciliation Day - 02NOV2004.)
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To: PatrickHenry
Very interesting PH. I've always had a soft spot for guys that design and launch satellites, just for the almost-immediate obsolescence issue. Must be very frustrating knowing that, by the time your bird gets to where you want it, it's many years behind your current technology.
11 posted on 09/27/2004 11:51:50 AM PDT by Shryke (Never retreat. Never explain. Get it done and let them howl.)
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To: PatrickHenry
What if gravity isn't weak or consistent?

Some of these theories suggest that gravity might attract a little harder than expected at large distances or small accelerations, so the concept of dark matter may not even be necessary.

12 posted on 09/27/2004 11:53:18 AM PDT by GOPJ (The effect of‘MSM bias’ is the Democratic party and the press sustain each other’s delusions. Steyn)
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To: PatrickHenry

Is it possible/likely that the acceleration towards the sun could have been the result of a prolonged encounter with an asteroid, whose orbit took it close enough to Pioneer to affect its path.


13 posted on 09/27/2004 11:53:27 AM PDT by GeraldP (Non-violence never solved anything.)
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To: ProudVet77

Maybe the COWBOYS can take note for tonight's game!!!!!FALSE STARTS, Indeed!....


14 posted on 09/27/2004 11:54:10 AM PDT by Red Badger (If you shoot from the hip enough times, eventually you'll shoot yourself in the a$$......)
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To: GOPJ

It needs GRAVITAS!......


15 posted on 09/27/2004 11:55:34 AM PDT by Red Badger (If you shoot from the hip enough times, eventually you'll shoot yourself in the a$$......)
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To: cvq3842

It's over the heads of most, but this phenomenon will lead to some modification of physical theory.


16 posted on 09/27/2004 11:57:38 AM PDT by RightWhale (Withdraw from the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty and establish property rights)
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To: PatrickHenry
OK ... first off, we've got a couple of authors whose main purpose would seem to be to garner funding for their pet mission. Then we have this:

Attempts to test the anomaly using other spacecraft such as Galileo and the Voyager probes have proved unsuccessful,

First off, let's be clear what these guys are talking about: the trajectory determination process has shown what appears to be an unexplained perturbation. Apparently the same perturbation has not been noted with Voyager.

Note that the data in question here are tracking data gathered using Very Long Baseline Interferometry.

While it's entirely possible that they're observing some real effect, the apparent lack of corroborating data for other deep space probes suggests to me that there's a subtle error somewhere in the ground system -- probably in the databases used for Pioneer trajectory processing.

It is not clear why the authors have tossed Galileo into this -- it was a Jupiter orbiter, far closer to the sun than the Pioneers and Voyagers, and its perturbation environment was much different. The effect, if real, is being detected outside the solar system.

My bet: it's something stupid and overlooked on the ground. It almost always is.

17 posted on 09/27/2004 11:58:02 AM PDT by r9etb
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To: Red Badger

But on the other hand it might become a false end of play whistle.


18 posted on 09/27/2004 11:58:18 AM PDT by ProudVet77 (Vietnam Veterans Reconciliation Day - 02NOV2004.)
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To: PatrickHenry
Since 1998 astronomers have known that the space probes Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 are following trajectories that cannot be explained by conventional physics. Launched in 1972 and 1973, respectively, to explore the outer planets, the Pioneer craft are now at the edge of the solar system, with Pioneer 10 being some 86 astronomical units (about 13 billion kilometres) from the Sun. But they are not quite where they should be, based on the gravitational pull of the known bodies in the solar system.

The tragectories have been effected by cloaked Romulin vessels observing us from the edge of the solar system.

19 posted on 09/27/2004 12:01:02 PM PDT by spodefly (A bunny-slippered operative in the Vast Right-Wing Pajama Party.)
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To: Red Badger

The answer is obvious. Our Solar System is a gigantic Dyson sphere and all the galaxies Hubble is exposing is actually just some of the fancier porch lights of people who live on it's surface.

The really cool thing is that the entire Dyson sphere is actually haning in a mobile in Gods family room.


20 posted on 09/27/2004 12:04:57 PM PDT by RobRoy (You only "know" what you experience. Everything else is mere belief.)
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To: spodefly
The tragectories have been effected by cloaked Romulin vessels observing us from the edge of the solar system.

For years I've wanted to write a Science Fiction short story where aliens intercept the Pioneer vehicles, decode the famous plaques thereon, and discover that we're a form of "cosmic cockroaches" that need to be exterminated.

21 posted on 09/27/2004 12:05:36 PM PDT by r9etb
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To: RobRoy
Maybe it's just that the Pioneer's are now going DOWNHILL!...
22 posted on 09/27/2004 12:06:43 PM PDT by Red Badger (If you shoot from the hip enough times, eventually you'll shoot yourself in the a$$......)
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To: r9etb; PatrickHenry

I have a mental picture of an "ice-rimed" and ancient Mariner coasting slowly along. The gradual accumulation of interstellar frost would be something they have no way to measure.

The overall mass would obey the same gravitational rules, but the accumulating frost would be at a slower velocity, gradually slowing the craft in an inexplicable manner.


23 posted on 09/27/2004 12:10:28 PM PDT by NicknamedBob (AuthorHouse.com/BookStore/Hawthorne)... (Pay no mind to this guy Hawthorne, he keeps trying to intru)
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To: r9etb
For years I've wanted to write a Science Fiction short story where aliens intercept the Pioneer vehicles, decode the famous plaques thereon, and discover that we're a form of "cosmic cockroaches" that need to be exterminated.

The aliens may have a point:


24 posted on 09/27/2004 12:11:28 PM PDT by spodefly (A bunny-slippered operative in the Vast Right-Wing Pajama Party.)
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To: PatrickHenry

25 posted on 09/27/2004 12:11:46 PM PDT by js1138 (Speedy architect of perfect labyrinths.)
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To: PatrickHenry
As I say on all of these threads, I think there is a conventional physics explanation for the anomaly.

For one thing, there almost can't be anything wrong with gravity. Any gravitational effect large enough to explain the anomaly would noticeably affect the ephemerises of the outer planets. Yes, it is mathematically possible to dream up some function whereby the probes are affected but Pluto and Neptune are not, but that's awfully contrived and poorly motivated.

My expectation is that the probes have acquired a significant electrical charge during their journey. This causes their trajectories to bend slightly as the probes pass through the sun's magnetic field (to say nothing of the local galactic magnetic field). This bending causes the probe to acquire a momentum component that is transverse to its direction of travel, but because its total momentum is roughly constant, its momentum along our line of sight (which is what the Doppler shift measures) is necessarily reduced. We have no way to measure the transverse momentum component.

If this idea has been rejected, I'd like to see a quantitative reason.

26 posted on 09/27/2004 12:21:43 PM PDT by Physicist
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Comment #27 Removed by Moderator

To: RobRoy
Our Solar System is a gigantic Dyson sphere and all the galaxies Hubble is exposing is actually just some of the fancier porch lights of people who live on it's surface.

Now that's just silly.
People on the surface of Dyson spheres wouldn't need porch lights. It's day all the time. It's the reflection from the bodies of water.

28 posted on 09/27/2004 12:37:03 PM PDT by tnlibertarian (I live at the end of a one-way deadend street)
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To: Physicist
If this idea has been rejected

Not that I know of. :-)

29 posted on 09/27/2004 12:40:16 PM PDT by RadioAstronomer
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To: Physicist
My expectation is that the probes have acquired a significant electrical charge during their journey.

Now that I read your post, I recall that we've had a thread (or maybe two) on this topic before. But it's been at least a year. Anyway, kinks like this need to get worked out. Anomalies are where the action is.

30 posted on 09/27/2004 12:52:17 PM PDT by PatrickHenry (I'm PatrickHenry and I approve this message.)
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To: Physicist
As I say on all of these threads, I think there is a conventional physics explanation for the anomaly.

Since we are on the subject of gravitational anomalies, do you know of a good explanation of the Allais effect? Might the probe anomalies be a manifestation of whatever causes this other gravitational anomaly?

I hesitate to stray from conventional physics regarding gravitation for vaguely related theoretical reasons, but there are some strange chinks in the mathematical armor of conventional physics models at the quantum level that may be showing themselves. Maybe Gravity Probe B will shed some light on this, given the precision of its instruments.

31 posted on 09/27/2004 12:58:20 PM PDT by tortoise (All these moments lost in time, like tears in the rain.)
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To: tortoise
Since we are on the subject of gravitational anomalies, do you know of a good explanation of the Allais effect?

Yeah, somebody pointed out this paper on a previous thread. Ironically, the author is the notorious face-on-Mars/infinite-speed-of-gravity guy, Tom Van Flandern. If nothing else, the publication of this paper in Phys. Rev. D. proves that the scientific establishment is not out to silence him.

32 posted on 09/27/2004 1:33:32 PM PDT by Physicist
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To: PatrickHenry
They didn't mention it in the article, but I think the voyager spacecraft have exhibted similar characteristics. I recall reading another article about this, and they mentioned that one reason one can rule out outgassing from the craft is because it is not just one craft that appears to be slowing down in a manner not predicted by current theories, but is all of them. This would be rather a important fact IMnsHO if it is true.

Does anyone know if the Mariner craft have exhibted any unpredicted orbital deviations? I think the Mariner craft are still in orbit around the Sun between Earth and Venus if I remember it correctly. Looks like I get to dig around NASA's sites a bit this evening. :-)

33 posted on 09/27/2004 1:45:50 PM PDT by zeugma (Face it folks, the Great Experiment is over.)
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To: PatrickHenry
Anomalies are where the action is.

You know we just love it when you talk dirty like that.....

;-)

34 posted on 09/27/2004 2:14:09 PM PDT by longshadow
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To: longshadow
A gravitational anomaly walks into a bar. The bartender asks: "The usual?"

"No," says the anomaly.

35 posted on 09/27/2004 2:57:38 PM PDT by PatrickHenry (I'm PatrickHenry and I approve this message.)
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To: PatrickHenry
Klingon tractor beams.

-ccm

36 posted on 09/27/2004 4:41:34 PM PDT by ccmay
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To: GeraldP

The "unseen large mass" would seem to be ruled out by the fact that the two probes were launched a year apart, yet both exhibited the same effect. The "asteroid" would have to be damned lucky to be in exactly the same position, relative to the second probe, that it was to the first.

37 posted on 09/27/2004 4:52:18 PM PDT by Nick Danger (Freeping in my pajamas since 1998)
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To: r9etb
For years I've wanted to write a Science Fiction short story where aliens intercept the Pioneer vehicles, decode the famous plaques thereon, and discover that we're a form of "cosmic cockroaches" that need to be exterminated.

Humor Columnist Dave Barry of the Miami Herald beat you to it. See his piece "Bring Back Carl's Plaque." ;-)

38 posted on 09/27/2004 5:12:14 PM PDT by grey_whiskers (The opinions are solely those of the author and are subject to change without notice.)
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To: Physicist
This bending causes the probe to acquire a momentum component that is transverse to its direction of travel, but because its total momentum is roughly constant, its momentum along our line of sight (which is what the Doppler shift measures) is necessarily reduced.

It'd take an accelerator jock to think of this. Kind of reminds me of GC/Mass Spec. Can we check the estimate of the charge by looking at curvature of the flight path, the mass, and the applied B field? (Wink, nudge)

39 posted on 09/27/2004 5:14:50 PM PDT by grey_whiskers (The opinions are solely those of the author and are subject to change without notice.)
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To: longshadow
You know we just love it when you talk dirty like that.....

;-)

Apparently these degeneracies are clasically forbidden!

40 posted on 09/27/2004 5:19:40 PM PDT by grey_whiskers (The opinions are solely those of the author and are subject to change without notice.)
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To: grey_whiskers
Can we check the estimate of the charge by looking at curvature of the flight path, the mass, and the applied B field?

I don't know whether we have a good estimate of the magnetic field out there. If my explanation is correct, it may turn out that it was rejected early on because of mistaken assumptions about the size of the magnetic field and the net charge on the probes.

41 posted on 09/27/2004 5:36:40 PM PDT by Physicist
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To: Physicist; grey_whiskers
"... looking at curvature of the flight path..."

This seems to be inherently an unlikely possibility. Wouldn't any such deviation or curvature from its path be a great deal easier to detect than its Doppler shift?

What about an uncalculated effect of cold gas mass on slowing the craft gravitaionally?(As for example, a rather depleted "solar wind"?)

That would seem to make the gravity field a little more steep as it went.

42 posted on 09/27/2004 7:50:48 PM PDT by NicknamedBob (AuthorHouse.com/BookStore/Hawthorne)... (Pay no mind to this guy Hawthorne, he keeps trying to intru)
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To: NicknamedBob; RadioAstronomer
Wouldn't any such deviation or curvature from its path be a great deal easier to detect than its Doppler shift?

There's no way to measure the transverse velocity except by tracking its azimuthal displacement, but that can't be measured very precisely. Maybe RadioAstronomer can give us an idea of how accurately we can place a probe at that distance on the celestial sphere, based only on its signal.

What about an uncalculated effect of cold gas mass on slowing the craft gravitaionally?(As for example, a rather depleted "solar wind"?)

The solar wind travels outwards at a pretty good clip until it reaches the heliopause, so for (at least) most of the probe's journey, it would be pushing the probe in the wrong direction to account for the anomaly. As for a cold molecular cloud, I think that's ruled out because any cloud dense enough to account for the anomaly would have an obvious absorption spectrum on the light of remote stars. Not only that, but I believe that a couple of the probes measure the local radiation directly; they'd see the cloud particles.

43 posted on 09/27/2004 8:33:49 PM PDT by Physicist
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To: Physicist
Thank you for the link. I hadn't seen that paper.

I'm a big believer in the "stopped clock" hypothesis when it comes to cranks.

44 posted on 09/27/2004 9:09:11 PM PDT by tortoise (All these moments lost in time, like tears in the rain.)
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To: Physicist; NicknamedBob

here ya go:

http://deepspace.jpl.nasa.gov/dsn/images/album/dsn69.jpg


45 posted on 09/27/2004 10:25:33 PM PDT by RadioAstronomer
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To: RadioAstronomer; NicknamedBob
Wow! Thanks for that plot, RA; I never imagined it would be that precise. They ought to be able to spot a magnetic deflection of this magnitude pretty easily.

Another beautiful theory, spoilt by an ugly fact. :-)

46 posted on 09/28/2004 7:09:10 AM PDT by Physicist
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To: FairOpinion

Those with poor reading comprehension should note that they've just replied to a two year old thread. So don't write in, okay? ;')

But to FairOpinion, here's not one but two 2004 topics, related to each other, and you can write me any time (':

Gravitational anomalies: An invisible hand?
From The Economist print edition | Aug 19th 2004
Posted on 08/21/2004 4:31:57 AM EDT by ScuzzyTerminator
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1196132/posts


47 posted on 06/25/2006 2:06:10 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (updated my FR profile on Wednesday, June 21, 2006.)
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To: Red Badger
Gaseous anomalies in the Neutral Zone?......

They are especially strong near Uranus.

48 posted on 06/25/2006 2:10:46 PM PDT by P8riot (Stupid is forever. Ignorance can be fixed.)
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To: annie laurie; garbageseeker; Knitting A Conundrum

from 2004.


49 posted on 08/18/2006 8:46:09 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (updated my FR profile on Thursday, August 10, 2006. https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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50 posted on 08/18/2006 8:46:21 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (updated my FR profile on Thursday, August 10, 2006. https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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