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NASA Still Trying to Verify Anti-Gravity Claims 430

Posted by michael
from the wild-blue-yonder dept.
uncoda writes "The L.A. Times has an article about NASA research into a phenomenon in which the effect of gravity is supposedly reduced. It sounds like cold fusion or polywater to me, but who knows?" We've posted two previous stories about Podkletnov's research: one from a couple of years ago and another more recently.
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NASA Still Trying to Verify Anti-Gravity Claims

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  • Interesting but... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Eric Damron (553630) on Monday March 25, 2002 @02:46AM (#3219592)
    If the experiments succeed it may give us some insite into gravity but don't look to this device to free us from the bonds of Earth.

    A super cooled, electrically charged, rapidly spinning super conducting disc that reduces the gravity field above the disc is interesting. However, taken as a whole, the entire system would still crash to earth.

    Sort of like putting a sail on one end of a skateboard and a fan blowing air on it on the other end. It still isn't going anywhere.
  • by quantaman (517394) on Monday March 25, 2002 @02:54AM (#3219620)
    From the sounds of it the writer of the article might be blowing this out of proportion. All they did is built a machine to the specifications of the physicist who claimed to have achieved results years ago but no one was able to publicly replicated his results (and the set up had to be exactly right so even if he's right it still might not work!). Also I pulled this quote from the article,
    The Podkletnov effect suggests it may be possible to effectively reduce the mass of the ship, thereby reducing the overall energy needed for acceleration.
    Gravity has NOTHING to do with mass, anyone who took high school physics should be able to tell you that. I also have doubts if this could be used to help propel a ship out of the atmosphere. If this really worked this could be used as the basis of a perpetual motion device. Piston floats up, falls down, infinite energy. Going by the law of conservation of energy if this does reduce the effect of gravity I strongly suspect the amount of energy needed to maintain the effect will be at least equal to or greater than the potential energy difference of the material affected. The writer is obviously ill informed and I wouldn't put too much veracity in this claim. Sorry people:(

  • PM Article. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by stuffman64 (208233) <stuffman@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Monday March 25, 2002 @03:10AM (#3219704) Homepage
    Popular Mechanics ran something to this effect sometime ago. It can be found online here [popularmechanics.com].

    I can just imagine it now, getting spam that reads: "Do you weigh over 200lbs? Well we have the solution for you! Loose over 4lbs INSTANTLY! Thats right, INSTANTLY! NO gimmicks, NO drugs, just pure science! Only $600,000! Act Now!"
  • by Calrathan (114381) on Monday March 25, 2002 @03:12AM (#3219708) Homepage
    Is this effect similar to that of the levitating frogs? [I dont have a link handy... anyone care to help?]

    If so, could the rotating simply be acting to create a focus point of magnetic energy at some point on the axis of rotation, above the superconducting disc? If the object being tested has any magnetic substace in it at all, then a strong magnetic field could cause it to seem less weighted, right?

    I also question the use of the Cavandish balance to measure the mass of the item above the spinning disk. We're dealing with a superconductor in a magnetic and electric field... What is preventing this device from causing some strange magnetic effect. What about ionization of the air around this device?

    These are just my inital reactions to the article, and I'm no Physics expert. What are your thoughts, friends?
  • by thogard (43403) on Monday March 25, 2002 @03:43AM (#3219763) Homepage
    All the space probes we can measure are slowing down. The ones where the effect is most oticed are teh GPS sats since they have real good clocks and we know where they are and the long distance Pioneer and Voyagers. NASA isn't sure why this is happening. They know its going on and need to find out why.

    If I do an experiment where I can show gravity doesn't work like its expected to, they will look into it. Most of the time the result is that somone put an Acme magnet in the wrong place. NASA doesn't care what the experimentor's (or crackpot's) theory is, they want to duplicate the experiment and try to find out the real reason for the change in mass. If your respected enough to do an expirment, its worth their time to look into it even if your theory is the disk weighs less because of the magic elves.
  • hmmm...seems fishy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by andrewtea (208706) on Monday March 25, 2002 @03:45AM (#3219767) Homepage
    as always, extraordinary results require extraordinary proof

    as much as id love to see this kind of stuff a reality, this particular claim seems off to me. It happens way too often in the physics community that someone claims to have made some breakthrough, be it in superluminal light pulses, or cold fusion and really they are just full of it.

    it seems most often that theyve put so much of their life and time into their work that when they dont get anything meaningfull they either fudge the results or "see" what they want to.

    unfortunately that is probably the case here..a dead giveaway is Mr P's (i cant spell his name) initial secrecy, that always kind of says something about the authenticity of the claim...it also doesnt help that his hosting university throws him out and noone else can reproduce his claim...on the grounds that its too complicated to set up properly. bs

    but im always the skeptic...even if im hopeful

    good for nasa though in actually staking out the claim...and if they need to killing the hype

    id like to know how Mr P measured his weight change too...if he use similiar ballances to nasa or something else he cooked up
  • by Observer (91365) on Monday March 25, 2002 @04:11AM (#3219829)
    This "research" has all the signs of pseudo-science. The results are alledgedly reproducible, but only when conditions are "exactly right" which they never seem to be when other people try to repeat the tests independently. The researcher himself won't help other people or publish more than vague information because, so he says, he's afraid of being ripped off. As a result, he's has been thrown out of the academic institution where he used to work. No plausible theoretical underpinning for the effect, and plenty of scope in the test setup outlined in what little has been published for other effects to be present which might be confused with the result that's claimed, especially by someone who - to put it charitably - may find it difficult to maintain full scientific objectivity when considering the results.

    NASA must have contracted a bad dose of the "but they said Einstein was wrong" meme to even consider getting involved in this quackery.
  • by RedWizzard (192002) on Monday March 25, 2002 @04:20AM (#3219853)
    So what you're saying is that NASA have spent $2.6M trying to disprove this "crackpottery" and haven't yet managed to do it?
  • by moonless (550857) on Monday March 25, 2002 @04:22AM (#3219860)
    Unfortunately, this seems to be one more symptom of NASA's desparate search for something, anything, to recapture its former glory. Yes, it makes sense to investigate valid scientific experiments which yield potentially valuable anomalies, like Podkletnov's supposed results. But the field of science thrives on peer review. A 'scientist' who is not willing to submit himself to peer review ought to raise some red flags somewhere... Podkletnov's claims seem suspiciously similar to those of proponents of perpetual motion machines and cold fusion.

    The basis of science today is in testing phenomena and reproducing results. Podkletnov refuses to submit to this basic tenet of scientific society. He claims that people will steal his ideas and take his credit - yet if he's well known enough that NASA, let alone the LA Times, has heard of him, such intellectual thievery ought to be very difficult. In addition, by publishing a paper with all his procedures and results, he would not only prove that such "gravity shielding" phenomena do exist, he'd be able to defend himself against future intellectual thievery, and he would allow other scientists to build off of - note, not steal - his work.

    However, Podkletnov chooses not to publish his actual procedures. This makes his experiments functionally untestable. This is fortuitous for him if he is a fraud. That way, if NASA does manage to discover "gravity shielding", he can claim that their procedure was his, and cash in on their prestige and fame. If NASA fails, as they are likely to do, he can simply claim that they didn't do it quite right, and continue to refuse to release his results. Given that he's kept the chemical composition of some of the components of his apparatus, namely, the spinning disk, secret, it's hard to see how NASA would succeed even if his claims were valid. Finally, if, as Podkletnov claims, "dozens of people" have matched his results, we could expect at least one of them to have come forward by now. Certainly, they can't all be hiding their data for fear of thievery - are we to suppose that not one of "dozens" of scientists has the bravery, initiative, far-sightedness, or even plain greed to publish these results, which could have such an impact on the world if verified? That seems highly unlikely...

    It's somewhat disheartening to see an institution like NASA following pseudoscience like Podkletnov's "gravity shielding". With current budget cuts, NASA would be much better off spending its diminishing money on developing technology that already exists, rather than chasing implausible alternatives. Everyone would profit off of an alchemist's ability to turn lead to gold, or a perpetual motion machine, or cold fusion, but, because those have been shown to be so implausible, for various reasons, we don't see serious research institutions researching them. "Anti-gravity", at least of Podkletnov's variety, should be placed in the same category, at least until the 'scientist' is willing to back up his claims with some real, verifiable, and repeatable procedures and data.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 25, 2002 @04:23AM (#3219863)
    > it has more time to react in the air

    That's not the point. Even if you had all time you wanted to react in the air, you wouldn't land on your feet because there are no handles in the air you would need to turn around. But the cat has a very flexible backbone so she can bend her body into a U shape and then she doesn't need a handle to turn her back from the outside of the U to the inside.

    To see the differenc take a piece of string between your fingers, stretch it and turn it around its axis. You will see that you would need a grip in the air to acheive that movement.

    Then move your hands togeher, so that the string bends down in a U. When you turn it now you can see that all you need for this movement is some muscles in the bow of the U.
  • by martyn s (444964) on Monday March 25, 2002 @05:06AM (#3219940)
    Actually, perhaps, mass loss. AFAIK, mass is the constant of proportionality between weight and acceleration. If the rotating disc is lowering the weight of something, still on Earth, why do you assume the disc is disrupting gravity and not lessening the mass of the object?
  • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Monday March 25, 2002 @05:25AM (#3220005) Homepage Journal
    Antigravity is a lot older than 1992 kids. That's just when it became fashionable to be an antigravity crackpot again. Here's an idea, rather than wasting your time trying to make antigravity devices to power some future space ship, why dont you spend your time trying to make a gravity device that we can put on our existing space ships and space stations? A decent gravity simulator is desperately needed for the human mission to mars (which may never happen in this economic climate) and other long term space projects, and frankly, if you cant make a gravity device, what chance do you have of making an antigravity device?
  • by gilroy (155262) on Monday March 25, 2002 @08:05AM (#3220353) Homepage Journal
    Blockquoth the poster:

    Gravity has NOTHING to do with mass

    Leaving aside the trivial counterexamples some others have offered (F=GM1M2/R^2), this is actually 100% wrong, as would be known if you consulted anything higher than a high school physics textbook. Even if you want (as the post seems later to imply) to disavow a connection between gravity and inertia, you'd be wrong. Gravitational mass is the same as inertial mass. This has been both empirically validated for 350 years and theoretically established by the Equivalence Principle in General Relativity. Gravity and inertia are one and the same, in ways we don't entirely understand.


    So if you could actually reduce G, which is what these guys basically claim, you would indeed be reducing the inertial mass as well. Of course other weird effects would have to propagate, as well.

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Monday March 25, 2002 @08:37AM (#3220449) Homepage
    • an earlier $2M that got dropped on this crackpottery.

    To be fair, most things that NASA does are crackpottery, until they work.

    But in this case, they really are pushing the boundaries of credibility.

    A (crack)potted history of Podkletnov goes something like this. Podkletnov throws together a bunch of superconducting junk that he has lying around his lab, and spins it up. He then waves some instruments at it, decides that he's seeing a 2% reduction in weight, and ascribes that to a reduction in gravitic mass (he can't test inertial mass, as he can't move the mass).

    So far, so good. Stranger things have happened through serendipity. Podkletnov has no theory to explain it, but that's incidental. All he needs to do to obtain credibility is to publish all details of his experiment so that it can be replicated.

    He fails to do this.

    Instead, he publishes a vague description of the apparatus, and continues to make the claims. He refuses to disclose further details, or to let anyone examine his apparatus. Eventually, his university becomes so tired of his antics that they terminate his employment.

    Various people with more money than sense try to replicate the experiment. Nobody who claims to have seen the weight loss will publish their details. Sound familiar? To anyone who reports that they cannot replicate the result, Podkletnov replies that they have the details wrong, but he still won't tell them what the details are.

    Enter NASA. With some input from Podkletnov, NASA spends $1 million and thinks it maybe kinda might be seeing a 2e-6 reduction, sorta. Podkletnov suggests a few changes, but he still won't just give them his details, and NASA spend another $1 million, at the end of which, they stop claiming that they even might be seeing an effect.

    And so here we are again. Someone's scraped together the spare change from other projects, and they've maybe, kinda, sorta got some details out of Podkletnov now. Or not. Who knows? Probably not NASA, and almost certainly not Podkletnov.

    Podkletnov is a poor scientist, but a great publicist. Maybe that's what gets funding in NASA these days. It certainly gets publicity, as this discussion proves.

  • by Tim C (15259) on Monday March 25, 2002 @09:10AM (#3220538)
    Not the least of which is that the platform is visible to the occupant and causes disorientation.

    Maybe I'm missing something, but can't you just create a windowless torus, spin it about an axis going through its centre perpendicular to the plane of the torus, and use the outer wall as the floor? (Pretty much how it was done in 2001, iirc).

    There's no disorientation, as there's nothing visibly moving. Sure, if you think about it too hard, it might cause you a few conceptual problems, but surely no more so than thinking about people on the other side of a planet.

    the moon is a shitload closer and we cant convince anyone to fork over funding to go back there

    I'm hopeful about a Mars mission; after all, we've sent people to the Moon, and there are no more political points to be gained from doing so again. Mars, on the other hand, is another "Species First" thing - the first time a human being has set foot on another fully-fledged planet. I can see Bush now - "not only are we successfully waging war on terror and making the world a safer place, we're expanding our reach to the rest of the Solar System too, furthering the cause of all humankind. God Bless America!"

    I just have to hope that he sees it that way, too, and not just as a waste of valuable dollars that could be better spent on expanding America's reach on this planet.

    Cheers,

    Tim
  • by Zapman (2662) on Monday March 25, 2002 @09:54AM (#3220689)
    Er, no. If you've read "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", you'll see that 95% of all science is hidebound to their assumptions. Great leaps forward happen when enough young scientists (not bound to the previous theory, since they didn't build their career on it) find enough data that doesn't 'fit' with the current theory.

    Once the weight of these new scientists is great enough, there is a violent 'paradigm shift' to a new theory that fits all the old data and all the new.
  • by bpb213 (561569) <bpbyrne@NosPAM.gmail.com> on Monday March 25, 2002 @09:55AM (#3220701)
    Well, astronaughts in space have to maintain a vigorous excersice program to keep fit. So yes, if we managed to lower gravity in homes, we would be unfit if we tried to come back to normal gravity.
    But if the entire continent/earth whatever had this same gravity reduction, then youre fit in the same sense you are today.
  • by Xaoswolf (524554) <Xaoswolf@gmaPASCALil.com minus language> on Monday March 25, 2002 @09:55AM (#3220702) Homepage Journal
    Actually, a pertetual motion machine works without the assisstance of other machines and uses it's own energy. What you are saying is no different than putting an electric engine beside the wheel, and attaching a belt to it and saying it is a perpetual motion machine.
  • by barawn (25691) on Monday March 25, 2002 @10:42AM (#3220927) Homepage
    (first, correction in your post: you want F = GMm/r^2, not g: g is 9.8 m/s^2, which means it can't have any variables in it. it's g = GM/R^2, where M is the Earth's mass, and R is the Earth's radius)

    Not really: G is a conversion factor between mass and force, making it a coupling constant (like Coulomb's constant) - it's more a field strength than anything else.

    Note that you can make G go away with a convenient choice of units (mass is mass is mass: they would still have the same units - grams - even if you had inertial and gravitational, just like kinetic energy, potential energy are both measured in joules). For the rest of this, we'll work in units (call them 'statgrams') such that G = 1 Newton-m^2/statgram^2.

    When people say that gravitational mass is the same as inertial mass, we mean: force is equal to inertial mass times acceleration, and force is equal to gravitational mass of the two objects divided by radius squared.

    OK, so F = (m_i)a , and F = (m_g)M/r^2. Now, when we say that gravitational mass is the same as inertial mass, we mean that if you set these two forces equal, so gravity's providing all the acceleration, the inertial and gravitational masses cancel, that is, g = (m_g/m_i) M/r^2 goes to g= M/r^2.

    There are several ways to test this, and all any of them can test is that the ratio is constant (indep. of radius, indep. of inertial mass, etc.) and so we set this constant to 1.

    It's a subtle difference, but there: there're two different things that're in the force equation, a coupling of matter to matter (G) and a conversion between gravitational mass and inertial mass (m_g/m_i). Setting one of them to 1 doesn't necessarily set the other to 1, but since they're both 'unit choices', you can freely set them both to 1. The important thing is that since all derivatives of m_g/m_i appear to be zero, it IS merely a unit choice. If there WAS a difference, you could set G to 1, but not m_g/m_i.

    One other thing: quantum-mechanically, it's not surprising that gravity is solely attractive: it's a tensor (spin-2) field, which IS solely attractive. That part's understood (We know that a spin-2 field can mimic linearized GR - that is, GR in the weak field limit).
  • by deepvoid (175028) on Monday March 25, 2002 @10:47AM (#3220949) Journal
    In a nutshell, this is the theory behind this:
    If photons are absorbed by matter to cast a shadow proportional to the absorption rate, then gravity must as well under the right circumstances. Problem is: matter generates gravity, hence a fancy way to mask gravitons (which by the way have never been detected) is needed to cast a weight reducing shadow.

    If their claims are correct, the weight of an object will be reduced, but the mass itself will remain unchanged since that is a property of the object itself.

    They beleive the cooper pairs in the superconductor are somehow responsible for this absorption, though I have a hard time believing this is true since amorphous superconductors have been spun up and exposed to large RF pumping with no effect.

    My idea is it is more likely an effect brought about by the alternating conductive and insulating layers of the composit superconductor that might produce the effect, creating a pseudo cassimer barrier with a negative net energy ballance which could attenuate gravitational flux.

    By the way: any attempt to measure the mass will not find any mass reduction, though the weight will decrease due to the gravitational shadow being cast by the device. I imagine that the 2% reduction is optimistic at best, since the umbra and penumbra of any gravitaional shadow would be rather acute, due to an inability to mask the gravitation coming from mass off-center to the device.

    Then again it could be another cold fusion episode, though NASA lends it more credibility, though Pod could held and give them the real scoop.
  • by Guppy06 (410832) on Monday March 25, 2002 @10:55AM (#3220989)
    Or...

    4. Gravitational mass is no longer tied to inertial mass.
  • Falsifiability (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jfengel (409917) on Monday March 25, 2002 @12:44PM (#3221754) Homepage Journal
    I am concerned that NASA is funding non-falsifiable research. It is certainly true that it would be mind-blowingly neat if this experiment happened to demonstrate something that we couldn't explain.

    However, suppose the experiment fails to demonstrate the sought-after effect. This does not constitute a victory for the existing models, because Podkletnov just says, "Oh, you didn't use the right superconductor," or the right temperature, or something.

    There is no way to disprove his theory. That's called "non-falsifiable". Non-falsifiable theories are generally unproductive because you can never stop trying to prove them; you're caught in an infinite loop. Eventually you just lose interest, or start to apply Occam's Razor.

    It does not bother me that NASA should pursue research with a low likelihood of yield when the potential benefits are high. But whenever someone posits a non-falsifiable theory you must be suspicious, because it's the mark of somebody who is trying to get you to waste time and money.

    Note that "falsifiable" is different from "not easily proveable". I can't really go out and check that those points in the sky are really massive hot balls of gas. But at least theoretically it's possible, just not convenient. And I can run other tests which could disprove my hypothesis. I can prove that they're not real close, for example, by sending up a rocket ship. I can check that they happen to produce light in the same fashion that really hot things do. If these tests fail, you know that my theory is wrong.

    Inventing non-falsifiable theories is easy; you just leave a variable unbound. (That's the more general, and more useful, form of saying "you can't disprove a negative." You _can_ disprove a negative; I can prove that there's no elephant between me and my monitor right now.)

    Because creating non-falsifiable theories is both easier and less productive than creating real scientific theories, but make it possible to fool people into believing something they want to believe, such theories must be treated with extreme suspicion, especially when somebody has something personal to gain out of it. The theory is not necessarily wrong, but the odds decrease drastically, to the point where the probability * cost is lower than the potential value.

    The potential value may be very high here, but $2.6 million is non-trivial money, even for NASA, and the probability is vanishingly small.
  • by daveman_1 (62809) on Monday March 25, 2002 @12:59PM (#3221852) Homepage
    You've apparently never had an editor. She may not have even wrote this line. Would it make you feel better if she had said "breaking the laws of nature as we know them"? Let's try not to be a pedant. This article was after all, intended for the lay reader. (You didn't notice any theoretical/philosophical formulas or calculations in the article for example.) LA Times is not New Scientist or ieee.org.
  • by flatrock (79357) on Monday March 25, 2002 @02:04PM (#3222355)
    In order to make Interstellar travel a reality, we need to make a revolutionary jump in technology. Since examining the known laws of physics isn't producing the answers we need, NASA is looking at the prospect that we may not understand the nature of the universe as well as we like to think we do. We need to remember that the "Laws" of physics are theorys that have merely been proposed based on experimentation and observation. Throughout scientific history there have been some discoveries that some things we though were proven absolute, were only true for the many different situations in which they had been tested. The ability to shield an object from the effects of gravity is pretty far fetched, but so is interstellar travel. NASA is going to have to spend a lot of money checking out some radical theories. In the end most of the research won't turn up anything useful. In some cases it will turn up usefull information but not prove what they are trying to prove. One of the important things to note here is that this kind of research needs to be funded by the government because private industries just aren't likely to invest money on concepts that are such longshots, and would take far too long to produce a return on investment. It's true that most of these ideas won't pan out, but through NASA, our government is making a long term investment in our futures. Maybe this isn't as important as some more short term needs like Welfare and Defense budgets, but that's why we spend billions on those things, and millions over years on ideas like this one.
  • What NASA is doing is somewhat along the lines of insurance. Who here actually expects to have their house burned down, or to get squashed in a plane crash??? Nontheless we pay a small pittance in the hopes that if something like that doeshappen, we'll get money to cover the extraordinary expenses.

    In this case, the money spent on this project is rather small, in a NASA budget expense -- but even with a 2% chance of partial success, the amortized savings as a result of even a pointer in the right direction are enough to make the fool's rush more than worth it.

    As was vaguely aluded to in the article, the possible PR cost to NASA's credibility was probably more of an impediment to funding this venture than the financial cost.

    Think what would have happened if people had refused to fund semiconductor research? I mean, really! Electronics on silicon??? That stuf is almost an insulator!!!

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