Friday, April 10, 2009

Bad Science Alert 

While I find some of Mike Rivero's political reporting at whatreallyhappened.com useful, he does often twirl off into tinfoil hat land, and I won't forgive him for turning against President Obama on January 21, 2009. However, there's one subject he seems to be dogmatic on -- and wrong -- and that is the origin of the universe. He's definitely in crackpot science land on all of his arguments as to why the Big Bang never happened, but he pulled a particularly heinous bad science error in a recent posting.

The bad bit of science he relies on in this posting follows:

Our Solar System and planets have heavy elements (without which you would not be here) because at some time prior to the creation of our Solar System another star in the immediate vicinity exploded, creating the heavy elements and scattering them into the universe.
He then uses this to claim that the Big Bang could not have happened because all heavy elements are created by super nova, the Big Bang was just a giant super nova, but the early universe lacked heavy elements -- ergo, the Big Bang never happened.

The problem is, he's dead wrong when he claims that super novae create the heavy elements. In fact, super novae occur because a star has finished synthesizing the heavy elements. The physics are complicated, but the short version is this: the first stars were pure hydrogen. Along with helium, those were the heaviest elements created in the primordial universe. The helium didn't do much by way of forming stars, but the hydrogen did, collapsing from clouds into incredibly massive, hot and fast-burning stars that immediately began to fuse hydrogen into helium. This fusion created heat and energy, which counteracted the tendency of the star to collapse under the force of gravity, keeping the thing alive. Eventually, when enough helium was created, the force of gravity began to fuse the helium into carbon, then the carbon into neon, the neon into oxygen, then finally the oxygen into silicon. Each step of the way, the fusion process released energy and counteracted gravity.

However, after silicon, the star would begin to create iron by fusion, and this is critical because the creation of iron by fusion does not release energy. At this point, gravity begins to take over because the pressure of the fusion reaction is not enough to push against it. The outside of the star collapses rapidly, in effect behaving like one gigantic fusion (or "hydrogen") bomb. In the resulting explosion, the outer layers are blown off. This creates a nebula of gas and heavy elements, but the heavy elements have taken a few million years to be created within the star.

Ooh. Real science. If Rivero had really done his homework, he would understand why a Big Bang, which is an outward explosion from nothing, is not the same as a super nova, which is the sudden explosion and implosion of an element factory. When you understand how stars work, his argument blows apart like Eta Carinae.

Political bloggers should not dabble in science, unless they know science. This is ironic, because Rivero has alluded to working for NASA in the past -- but he was obviously not an astrophysicist. It's also a shame because, while he preaches against people blindly drinking the KoolAid and accepting dogma, on this particular issue he is blind to his to his own prejudices.

All evidence points to a singularity that exploded to create this universe. We don't know the causes or conditions much earlier than about first 10^-43 seconds after it happened, but what we know after that time pretty much indicates that, yeah -- Big Bang.

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