Alternate View Column AV-41
Keywords: antigravity, rotation, bad science, spindizzy, Blackett
Published in the September-1990 issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact Magazine;
This column was written and submitted 2/10/90 and is copyrighted © 1990, John G. Cramer. All rights reserved.
No part may be reproduced in any form without the explicit permission of the author.
This page now has an access count of:
James Blish's famous "Cities" series, first published in the Astoundings of the 1950s and later collected in Cities in Flight, (Avon, 1970), used a device called a spindizzy (or "Dillon-Wagoner gravitron polarity generator") a wondrous contraption that used principles from the "Blackett-Dirac equations" to transform rotation and magnetism into gravitational attraction or repulsion, making enough antigravity to lift whole cities and in the bargain providing impenetrable shielding and faster-than-light travel. Both spindizzy and Blackett-Dirac equations were purely the products of Blish's far-ranging imagination, but the work of P. M. S. Blackett is real.
Blackett was a prominent British astronomer who noticed a correlation between the rotation rates, the gravitational fields, and the magnetic fields of the Sun, Earth, and Jupiter. In a paper in the British journal Nature Blackett presented an empirical equation relating these quantities. He went on to suggest that there might be a previously unsuspected principle of nature by which magnetic fields are generated directly in massive electrically neutral rotating bodies like the Earth.
A few years later, a science-fact article in John W. Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction described Blackett's work as the possible discovery of a new law of nature. The author of that article suggested that if gravity and rotation could produce magnetism, then rotation and magnetism might produce gravity and even antigravity. With some nudging from Campbell, the prominent SF writer James Blish picked up Blackett's ball and ran with it. Hence, the spindizzy.
In the SF of James Blish, the ideas of Blackett lead to the stars, but unfortunately they never got off the ground in the real world of physics and astronomy. Improved measurements of the magnetic fields of various objects in the solar system did not fit the predictions of Blackett's "law", nor did the geological evidence that the terrestrial magnetic field undergoes periodic reversals. The present "standard" explanation of planetary magnetism is that in the liquid cores of planetary objects are dynamic currents that are coupled like dynamos to the planetary rotation. These currents generate the magnetic fields of the objects.
Over the recent 1989 Christmas Holidays, however, it appeared that the spindizzy and gyro-gravity might be due for a renaissance. A paper entitled "Anomalous Weight Reduction on a Gyroscope's Right Rotations about the Vertical Axis on the Earth" appeared in the December 18, 1989 issue of the journal Physical Review Letters. It is the work of two Japanese physicists, Hideo Hayasaka and Sakae Takeuchi of the Department of Radiation Engineering, Tohoku University, in Sendai, Japan. The paper presented detailed evidence that three different motor-driven gyroscope rotors made of brass, aluminum, and silicon-steel each showed a weight loss of up to 12 milligrams (weight) or a few parts in 100,000 in overall weight when the gyro was spun clockwise (as viewed from above) at between 3 and 13 thousand RPM. The gyro showed no weight-loss effect when spun counter-clockwise. The clockwise-spin data showed that the weight loss of the gyro depends linearly on the rotation rate of the gyro. The weight loss data is very regular. In fact, it is too regular for strict consistency with the error bars of the experimental data points. The Hayasaka-Takeuchi paper was careful to emphasize that no known physical effect, including general relativity, can account for an effect of this size and rotational dependence.
There was a considerable delay before the gyro-gravity paper to actually appear in print. It was first submitted to the rapid publication journal Physical Review Letters (PRL) on March 7, 1988, but it required an additional 21 months before it appeared in PRL, a journal which ordinarily publishes within 4-8 weeks after submission. Reportedly the paper was delayed because the PRL editors and referees were very skeptical of the reported effect but could find nothing wrong with the experimental techniques described. After repeated revision of the paper, some re-refereeing, and much editorial deliberation, paper was finally published.
As soon as it appeared, science-oriented journalists were quick realize the anti-gravity implications of gyro-gravity. In late December an intensive telephonic search was in progress for scientists and others who were willing to provide quotable comments on the work. This search was more difficult because most universities and many government laboratories were closed for holidays. One of the most memorable comments on gyro-gravity reported in the press came from "a noted UFO expert", who said that the result must be correct because it is well known in UFO circles that the engines of flying saucers work by gyro-gravity.
Scientists among the quoted "experts" tended more toward skepticism and caution. Many said that the effect must be reproduced in other laboratories before it could be taken seriously. There were also some feeling that the Japanese result was likely to be wrong because it had a very peculiar and unphysical spatial dependence, in that it did not change sign when the gyro's spin direction was reversed but instead went to zero.
At a small number of laboratories, experiments were set up to test whether the Hayasaka-Takeuchi effect could be reproduced. There was less of a "gold-rush" atmosphere about these experiments than had been the case with the cold fusion furor of the previous year. Perhaps this is because there was more skepticism that the effect was real. Or perhaps the expensive money and manpower investment in cold fusion negative results last year has made the scientific community more cautious about "table-top" experiments with spectacular results.
In any case, the results from a few follow up experiments to test the Hayasaka-Takeuchi effect have now began to appear. A group at the University of Colorado in Boulder and the National Institute for Science and Technology (formerly the National Bureau of Standards) has reported in a paper that has just been accepted by Physical Review Letters. To within their observed error of +/-0.5 milligrams, the Boulder group observed no weight loss of the gyro and no dependence on whether its vertical rotation was clockwise or counter-clockwise. They used a brass rotor with a hardened steel shaft rotated at speeds between 1,000 and 9 ,000 RPM. The rotor turned on jeweled bearings. It had about three times the mass of the rotors used by Hayasaka and Takeuchi and an overall sensitivity to the reported effects that was about 10 times greater. There were, of course, other differences in method. The Boulder experiment had very little magnetic material in the gyro, placed it in a lucite chamber, spun it up with a jet of compressed nitrogen blown tangentially on a nylon gear, and did not evacuate the chamber. Hayasaka and Takeuchi used an integral electric motor to drive their rotor (which included magnetic material). The gyro rotated on ball bearings and was enclosed in an evacuated steel container. In a related paper that has just appeared in the journal Nature, Dr. S. H. Salter, a mechanical engineer at the University of Edinburgh, presents calculations showing that the Hayasaka-Takeuchi observations might be explained by the action of vibrations from the rotating gyro on the ball bearings of the apparatus.
Thus, at present gyro-gravity seems to be in trouble. The effect has not been reproduced with similar apparatus, and the observed effects might plausibly result from vibrations. I would hope, however, that before that before the laboratory tests are abandoned altogether, someone will try using a rotor which, like the one in the Hayasaka-Takeuchi apparatus, contains significant magnetic material. As we SF readers know, a proper spindizzy requires rotation and magnetism to operate properly.
Since this has been a short column, I at last have some space to devote to letters and loose ends. One reader, referring to the column on the Bell Inequalities ["Einstein's Spooks and Bell's Theorem", Analog, 1/90] writes to complain about the use of the term "spooks". It seems to imply, he says, that some supernatural influence is required to deal with the problem of nonlocality in quantum mechanics. He argues that in the EPR experiments the photons have to be in the same polarization state, so no supernatural influences are needed.
I agree that there is nothing supernatural in the EPR experiments, but there is a mystery. The puzzle of the EPR experiments is not that the photons are in the same state, but that they remain in an indeterminate state (which is neither circular nor linear polarization, for example) until a state-selecting measurement is made in one arm of the apparatus. The "spook" terminology did not originate with me. The word "spooky" in its German form was used first in this context by Albert Einstein himself. He was referring (with some measure of contempt) to the seemingly supernatural action-at-a-distance influences with which quantum mechanics enforces correlations between separated systems which are part of the same quantum mechanical "state". Quantum mechanics seems to require some faster-than-light or backwards-in-time handshaking, done in such a subtle way that it does not permit communication of information.
Incidentally, the Calcutta Paradox ["Paradoxes and FTL Communication", Analog, 9/88] which seemed to permit such FTL communications using beams of neutral kaons has been resolved. There was a flaw in the Calcutta group's calculations in the way the mathematics of the problem was set up. Causality is, for the moment, preserved and FTL communication appears to be impossible, even with kaons.
Another reader writes suggesting that my discussion of the twin paradox in general relativity ["The Twin Paradox Revisited", Analog, 3/90] wasn't quite right because a universal gravity field would be detectable in that accelerated observers would see a Doppler shift in their observations of light emitted by various stars before the acceleration began. Wrong! There is also a gravitational Doppler effect which shift the frequency of light on its way to the observers so as to precisely remove the effect the reader suggests. Einstein first deduced the effects of gravity on light by considering just this kind of situation. The equivalence principle of general relativity requires that the switching on and off of a universal gravity field must be absolutely undetectable in all ways.
In another column ["Supernova 1987A ", Analog, 12/87], I referred to seeming anomalies in the suopernova's light curve then emerging, and to pulsar-driven models that might explain this unusual behavior. That light curve, as it turns out from more careful measurements, was not all that unusual and could be accounted for with a few tweaks of the standard model. The pulsar expected to be formed by SN-1987A remained in hiding until a few months ago. Then one group of radio astronomers reported that they caught a brief one-day glimpse of it, before it was once again obscured by the plasma from the original explosion. That one-day look was remarkable because, if the data is correct, the pulsar is spinning so fast that it should have exceeded bursting limits calculated for a neutron star. It should have literally flown apart like an overspun flywheel. Ever since this brief observation, radio astronomers have been hoping for another look at this system, but so far the pulsar has remained in hiding. If the high spin rate holds up under further examination, we may have to revise our thinking about neutron stars. New theories in this direction are already being spun.
Hideo Hayasaka and Sakae Takeuchi , Physical Review Letters 63, 2702 (1989);
J. E. Faller, W. J. Hollander, P. G. Nelson and M. P. McHugh , Physical Review Letters 64, #8 (1990);
S. H. Salter, Nature, (February 4, 1990).
This page was created by John G. Cramer on 7/12/96.