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Space Science

Voyager Clue Points To Origin of the Axis of Evil 293

KentuckyFC writes "Cosmologists have been scratching their heads over the discovery of a pattern imprinted on the cosmic microwave background, the radiation left over from the Big Bang. This pattern, the so-called Axis of Evil, just shouldn't be there. Now an independent researcher from Canada says the pattern may be caused by the boundary between the Solar System and interstellar space where there is a sharp change in pressure, temperature and density of ions in space. Known as the termination shock, astronomers had thought this boundary was spherical. But last year, data from the Voyager spacecraft which have crossed the boundary, showed it was asymmetric. The new thinking is that the termination shock acts like a giant lens, refracting light that passes through it. Any distortion of the lens ought to show up as a kind of imprinted pattern on an otherwise random image. But the real eye-opener is that as the shape of the termination shock changes (as the Solar Wind varies, for example), so too should the pattern in the microwave background. And there is tentative evidence that this is happening too (abstract)."
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Voyager Clue Points To Origin of the Axis of Evil

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  • by cromar ( 1103585 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @11:46AM (#28040607)
    It all sounds very interesting and important and technical, but what does it all mean? Dammit! What does it all mean, man?
    • by DamageLabs ( 980310 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @11:52AM (#28040695) Homepage

      It means that the end of the world is imminent.

      Quick, grab that towel!

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 21, 2009 @11:53AM (#28040709)

      It means that in the next two to five years we can confidently expect the development and release of FTL travel, zero-point energy, a cure for mortality, replicator technology and hot green alien nymphomaniac bikini chicks. From Mars.

      Now do you care?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by scorp1us ( 235526 )

      Depending on the size and nature of the effect, all of our earth observations could be tainted. While observing simple things like galaxies with Hubble are barely affected, it could possibly upset the belief that the universe is expanding. If photons are being slowed as they cross the terminal shock boundary, it would make it look like the universe was expanding in all directions, which is a belief we currently hold. If the effect is strong enough, it could even tell us its expanding when it is contracting.

    • by physicist_percy ( 1558997 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @12:07PM (#28040917)
      Understanding the Cosmic Microwave Background is fundamental to our understanding of the Big Bang. In essence, the CMB is left over energy from the Big Bang itself. We initially thought that the CMB should appear uniform across the entire universe. Two major experiments showed that it was not, which left many scratching their heads. This most recent postulate may explain these results.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by MikeB0Lton ( 962403 )
        I would like to think there are people scratching their heads trying to figure out what was here before the big bang, and more importantly where did that come from. Hopefully these CMB discoveries will move us closer to answering these questions.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by jandoedel ( 1149947 )
          actually, before the big bang, "here" (space) didn't exist yet. "before the big bang" (time) also didn't exist.
        • by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @12:28PM (#28041207) Journal

          The singularity, or big bang, is the lowest common denominator state of the mass/energy of the multiverse. This universe is an expression of one of many higher order patterns which the multiverse can assume. Entropy and gravity are expressions of the universes inevitable degeneration back to the singular state. "Before" the big bang, there was another universe, and "After" the big bang, there will be another universe. Although that is misleading, because time is just another spatial dimension, and all of these universes exist simultaneously, connected at the singularity. None of this is infinite, just incredibly large and complex.

          Understanding the shape of the multiverse is synonymous with understanding the laws of reality. Where the multiverse came from is beyond human experience, and not really a useful question to contemplate.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      I think it means that we now don't have to worry about the inflationary theory, so it will be easier to solve the economic crisis with Obama bucks.

      Or something like that. But I'm no rocket surgeon.

    • It means that the Sci Fi channel will soon produce a really bad TV movie based on the idea.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CraftyJack ( 1031736 )
      I suppose we could always dumb it down, call it the universe's "missing link", get it a History channel special and a few articles in New Scientist.

      Or we could just say that if it doesn't interest you enough to give it a five-minute read, you can just move on.
  • So? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nicolas.kassis ( 875270 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @11:48AM (#28040627)
    Does that mean that to get a clear view we need space crafts beyond the boundry?
    • you need to position yourself outside of the milky way galaxy, and far from the andromeda galaxy too

      and even then, the light pollution from these gaudy neighborhood photon hogs spoils the good view

      but take heart: nasa already has a plan to send a telescope outside the galaxy to get a good view, and it should be fully operational in 25,000 years

      of course, there's the issue of the slight lag between taking a picture and the picture being transmitted back to earth, but top minds are working on that small probl

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JamesVI ( 1548945 )
      No, it means that you need to characterise the distortion so that you can remove it from images taken inside the solar system. The same way that you characterise atmospheric effects to make corrections to images take by ground-base telescopes.
    • Re:So? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Ioldanach ( 88584 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @01:15PM (#28042031)

      Does that mean that to get a clear view we need space crafts beyond the boundry?

      Not necessarily, we just need glasses. Knowing our observations are being altered by what is in effect a lens is the first step. Once we know the actual shape and properties of that lens we can mathematically apply alterations to our observations to correct for the distortion and end up with representations of our galaxy, other galaxies, and the background photons and radiation of the universe with much more accuracy than ever before.

      Of course, stationing observatories beyond the field would be the best option, much like observatories like Hubble that are outside our atmosphere are better than ground-based telescopes. It is possible that not everything is actually making it through this lens, so even applying corrections won't yield a 100% perfect picture.

  • Wikipedia (Score:4, Informative)

    by Lunoria ( 1496339 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @11:49AM (#28040639)
    Wikipedia says the Axis of evil is "Cosmic anisotropy, an uneven temperature distribution of the cosmic microwave background radiation" []
  • by OglinTatas ( 710589 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @11:49AM (#28040643)

    I tried to understand this, but it was too (abstract)

    • Re:too (abstract) (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mr Z ( 6791 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @12:11PM (#28040979) Homepage Journal

      Short version: You know how stars twinkle because of the Earth's atmosphere? Something similar happens at the boundary of the solar system. The difference there is that the boundary is due to the solar wind as opposed to an atmosphere.

      The actual distortion is similar to the ripples of light you see on the bottom of a swimming pool due to ripples in the surface of the water. Because the surface is uneven, the light gets bent unevenly and bunches together in some places and spreads out in others. So, instead of even lighting across the bottom of the pool, you see a pattern of light and dark areas.

      Same thing's happening to the cosmic background radiation. It should be evenly distributed, but instead it's brighter and darker in places, and they think it's due to the uneven surface of the termination shock.

      • by clintp ( 5169 )

        So I picked up that much. What I'm unclear on is shouldn't the distortions (from Earth's perspective anyway) be moving? As we observe a point outside our solar system through the year, we'd be looking through a slightly different part of the heliopause "lens". So the distortions should move as Earth does (or whatever our observation platform is).

        If the "ripples" are fast (relative to a solar year) we should see them, and be able to correct them over a short period of time. If they're slow, then a longe

        • by Mr Z ( 6791 )

          They mentioned that directly in the last paragraph of the second link.

          And sure enough, Sharpe says astronomers have reported just such a change between two sets of images taken by the WMAP spacecraft, called the WMAP3 and WMAP5 maps.

          So yes, they should fluctuate, and we have hints that we've seen it fluctuate. I imagine the fluctuations would be a function of both solar output and variations of density of interstellar mass. It'd be really cool if someone could correlate something like a CME [] to a "pinch" i

      • by StevenMaurer ( 115071 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @12:41PM (#28041403) Homepage

        Just like the bottom of a swimming pool, the uneven pattern should change over time as the termination shock fluctuates.

      • *Alex Trebec Voice* I'm sorry, but your response was not in the form of a car analogy.

        Seriously though, excellent explanation.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by radtea ( 464814 )

        It should be evenly distributed, but instead it's brighter and darker in places, and they think it's due to the uneven surface of the termination shock.

        However, in a paper linked from the first article there is a second effect that optical phenomena at the termination shock won't account for: there appears to be a preferential handedness of spiral galaxies, and the handedness exhibits itself along an axis that is close to the Axis of Evil.

        Furthermore, while this paper on optical effects is interesting and

      • Re:too (abstract) (Score:5, Informative)

        by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @01:38PM (#28042477)

        I don't think that's quite right. You are describing small-scale fluctuations in the "surface" of the termination shock. But the main effect being considered in the scientific paper [] is a large-scale anisotropy in the termination shock.

        The termination shock (TS) is usually assumed to be spherical: the sun emits supersonic solar wind in all directions; the point at which this solar wind is slowed by the interstellar medium should be the same in all directions. But what if it's not? The paper considers what effect a termination shock shaped like a "prolate ellipsoid of revolution" would have on an otherwise isotropic (at large scales) cosmic-microwave-background (CMB).

        They quickly calculate that a prolate TS could lead to the observed quadrupole in the CMB. The authors suggest that the coupling between TS and CMB may be due to refractive index effects (basically as if the solar system is inside a gigantic lens), or possibly differences in scattering at different parts of the TS. Either way, some types of light reaching us should have a corresponding signature of the anisotropy.

        Note that this isn't the first time the CMB had to be corrected. A very significant dipole in the full-sky map has to be removed to account for the relative motion of our planet in the galaxy, the motion of our galaxy with respect to the rest frame of the CMB, etc.

        The authors end their paper by mentioning that if this effect is real, then small-scale fluctuations in the surface of the TS may also affect the smaller-scale fluctuations we see in a map of the CMB []. Those fluctuations are normally thought to be an imprint of the randomness in the early universe. The authors suggest that the fluctuation spectrum may be altered by, or possibly even totally an artifact of, ripples in the TS. But as the authors note this is very, very speculative at this point. (We've been mapping the CMB for many years and the maps seem roughly consistent, so any time-varying rippling in effect would have to be subtle and/or slow...)

    • by JustOK ( 667959 )

      Short version: everything from nothing. Film at Elveon.

  • A week too late. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geckipede ( 1261408 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @11:49AM (#28040647)
    Would have been nice to find this out before ESA launched their shiny new Planck telescope to study the CMBR.

    Perhaps Planck2, or whatever the next model is called, will have to travel outside the solar system to get a clear view. If so, we'll be waiting for a very long time for results from it.
    • by jandoedel ( 1149947 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @12:00PM (#28040821)

      No, it just means there's an extra factor that influences the images Planck will make. We just need to find out what the influence is of this extra factor, and then delete that factor from the images Planck makes.

      Planck can make the images now, and we can compensate for the Axis of Evil afterwards.

      • by geckipede ( 1261408 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @12:16PM (#28041073)
        A lot of the effects that Planck is looking for are extremely subtle, weak signals. I'm not sure how signal and noise compare in this case, but if they're comparable we will have to hope that heliopause effects are predictable enough to be cancelled out. One of the major objectives of Planck is to look for remnant signals resulting from gravity waves shortly after the inflation phase, and this could be not just weak but a localised signal, so small scale features of the heliopause may matter in this case.
    • Not really. If hubble taught us anything, its that space telescopes can compensate for weird lens effects. Of course, getting to L2 to run a service mission is out of the question, so lets hope Planck's physical lenses are up to the job!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by huckamania ( 533052 )

      Gee, I can't see how being able to map out the boundary of the Solar System we live in could be beneficial to science. We should all crawl back into our caves and shine our clubs for the coming Ice Age.

  • by Xerolooper ( 1247258 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @11:51AM (#28040687)
    until Voyager returns from the edge as Vyger and answers all our questions or are we in an alternate timeline now?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Has anyone checked Iran, Iraq and North Korea for traces of this radiation?
    • by Teese ( 89081 )
      isn't there a -1 joke was way to obvious? (to be fair it was the first thing I thought of too)
  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @11:55AM (#28040719)

    So does this mean torture's ok and waterboarding might prevent the heat death of the universe?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jollyreaper ( 513215 )

      So does this mean torture's ok and waterboarding might prevent the heat death of the universe?

      Get over yourself, you twat, whoever you are. That was funny.

  • Changing shape? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mc1138 ( 718275 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @11:57AM (#28040771) Homepage
    So if it's changing shape, and distorts light, does that mean that it voids a majority of data we get from long range observations?
  • by TrevorB ( 57780 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @11:58AM (#28040777) Homepage

    Be careful what you label your anomalous data. It may come back to be your new theory.

    Try explaining to Americans why "The Axis of Evil" won out over conservative theory. Give the genius who thought that term up another grant... ;)

  • Fascinating stuff (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fuji Kitakyusho ( 847520 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @12:00PM (#28040831)
    I have been following the Voyager updates with some interest over the past couple of years. I find it astounding that we are still managing to get useful data from these vehicles which were launched back in the 70's. Certainly, they have exceeded their design mission, and only advances in large aperture radio coverage here on earth have allowed continued communication. To put this in perspective - the one way light time from earth to both vehicles is now on the order of about 30 hours! Interestingly, the vehicles are adorned with a message to prospective lifeforms who would encounter the spacecraft long in the future - a "golden record", which is technology long since obsolete here on earth during only the short 30 year span of the mission. Food for thought.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Interestingly, the vehicles are adorned with a message to prospective lifeforms who would encounter the spacecraft long in the future - a "golden record", which is technology long since obsolete here on earth during only the short 30 year span of the mission.

      Yet still probably the most appropriate technology for the mission, unless you have a fool-proof way of describing to someone who doesn't share any languages with you how to quickly build a Bluray player.

      • Come on, this is NASA we're talking about. There is no way they ever would have gone with a Blu-Ray format.

        They would have gone with HD-DVD.
        • by clintp ( 5169 )

          Come on, this is NASA we're talking about. There is no way they ever would have gone with a Blu-Ray format.

          They would have gone with HD-DVD.

          Whoa, whoa there buddy. That's a bit modern for NASA. They'd have opted for laserdisc or betamax.

          The best technology that 1978 has to offer.

    • Re:Fascinating stuff (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Tisha_AH ( 600987 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @12:14PM (#28041039) Journal

      Way back in the 80's I was taking a receiver design course at George Washington University. My lab partner was involved in the continual design of more sensitive receivers to listen in on the voyager craft.
      It led to interesting discussions about how the pace of receiver design (sensitivity, noise floor, selectivity). At the time we were learning the state of the art, the folks at the research labs were pushing the limits further and further. It warms my heart to realize that 25 years later they are still making significant advancements.

      What it will take to monitor the weakening transmissions from the Pioneers and Voyagers five years from now doesn't exist today. Kudos to everyone involved in the process.

    • by baKanale ( 830108 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @12:26PM (#28041195)

      a "golden record", which is technology long since obsolete here on earth

      Tell that to the audiophiles.

    • Interestingly, the vehicles are adorned with [...] a "golden record", which is technology long since obsolete [] here on earth [...]

      Oh really? []

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fm6 ( 162816 )

      I'm more impressed that we can still get signals from the thing. The radio only emits 20 watts. By the time the signal reaches earth, it's been attenuated to 0.00000000000000001 watts. Being able to grab that signal is equivalent to reading morse code transmitted by an ordinary light bulb 200 million miles away!

  • That new and improved version should be positioned in the interestellar space. Will take years, but will put clear once and forever that good have crosses and evil axis.

    But the big one will be Hubble 3.0, outside our galaxy, sending us the images of the Big Bang that suffered Earth a bit after it got lauched.
    • What I'm wondering is if anyone has proposed such a thing, perhaps with one of those Japanese ion drives?

  • Does this mean that the lensing effect alters what we can observe from the universe?

    How about what we think of the size and distribution of this universe? Or it's "expansion speed"? Could those be somewhat distorted due to this effect and the fact that the solar system itself moves at great speed?

    • Not really, no. Such distortion effects account for the Axis, but that's about it. We're not suddenly gonna realise that the universe is actually contracting, or that the galaxy is spinning backwards, or anything like that. Its a very small thing, and a lot less upsetting for cosmologists than the Axis.
  • Its all a lie, I tell you...

    If anyone has seen the Truman show then they will know what I mean when I say we all being fooled. The boundary is simply the painted wall of our illusion chamber. There is just a lot of goo before the wall to keep our hopes up. Now I want my Nobel Prize.

    Just kidding.

  • Shouldn't? (Score:2, Interesting)

    just shouldn't be there.

    Sorry, but that's religious talk. Science revels in unexpected results.

    • Re:Shouldn't? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Chelloveck ( 14643 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @12:44PM (#28041461) Homepage

      just shouldn't be there.

      Sorry, but that's religious talk. Science revels in unexpected results.

      Nah, that's good and scientific.

      Religious: "According to my faith, that shouldn't be there. So it's not. la-La-LA, I can't HEAR YOU!"

      Scientific: "According to my theory, that shouldn't be there. But it is. So what's wrong with my theory?"

      There's not necessarily a conflict between "shouldn't be" and "unexpected". It's "unexpected" because it "shouldn't be".

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Aqualung812 ( 959532 )

        Scientific: "According to my theory, that shouldn't be there. But it is. So what's wrong with my data?"


  • Epoch Fail (Score:4, Informative)

    by mbone ( 558574 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @12:16PM (#28041067)

    I hardly know where to begin, but the physics, as described in the original post, is wrong. I am going to read the article now, but just remember that Arxiv articles are not peer reviewed before they are posted.

    • by mbone ( 558574 )

      Having read the paper, there is basically no physics in it. A lot of handwaving and references to various effects, but no physics.

    • While you're at it, could you come up with a car analogy for those of us who know as much about physics as a cow knows about the inside of a church?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by JustOK ( 667959 )

        I took a cow to church one Sunday. After, I asked it what it thought. It said it was Moooving.

  • that spent several seconds trying to figure out how a deep space probe could possibly have found clues to the origin of a piece of bush administration war propaganda?

  • So, what they are saying is that their choices aren't simply limited to:

    Either you are with us, or you are against us.

    Now the axis of evil can chose to be around us instead.

  • Is change evil in science now? Or is the implication that the big crunch is on, and Armageddon's next Thursday?

  • OK, it's probably silly given that the heliosheath has a drop-off, but...

    How do we know there isn't a similar sheath around the galaxy that's similarly affecting observations?

  • by Xaroth ( 67516 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @03:13PM (#28044179) Homepage

    I could've sworn that 'yaw' was the axis of evil.

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.