Thursday, March 27, 2008

We Can't See Our Universe


As I go about my daily reading, one source of information I check occasionally is The Reference Frame written by Luboš Motl, a Czech physicist. Recently, he posted a note [and the picture below] about a gamma-ray burst some 7.5 billion light years... about half the distance of the farthest observed object... away from us that was visible by the naked eye.

Like many people who are not scientists, I have always had a fascination about astronomy... mainly the neat pictures as opposed to the tedious work. The immensity of our known universe is too much to really comprehend. Even trying to scale down the universe into something that represents it gives a result that is too big for real comprehension.

One of the questions that has been there all along, but has never been answered in a way that I can understand, is what does the universe look like now? Well, think about it.

The picture above represents something that is 7.5 billion light years [7.5 billion times 9.5 trillion kilometers] away. That's too many billion-trillion miles/kilometers away for me to begin to understand.
But wait! If we are seeing something as it was relative to earth that long ago... where is it now? I'm presuming that the measurements are based on the apparent distance that we can observe, since all light reaching the earth at any moment started out at a different instant... a different moment in time.

That means, even looking at the sun and planets, we are looking through time as well as space. Travel through time may or may not be possible, but viewing through time is something we do every day.
Astronomers tell us that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. Certainly not at the speed of light... but some objects are moving away from us at close to that speed. And most of the universe seems to be moving away from most everything else... expanding in all directions. So, does that mean that those really distant objects of 10-15 billion light years distance are more like 20-30 light years away now? Think about that! Okay, that's enough.
Large portions of the universe could have changed significantly or already disappeared or new portions appeared... and we will never know about it... will never see it... even if those changes happened when earth was forming or when life first appeared on earth.

And if we ever figure out how to travel really, really fast through space, will we be headed for something other than what we can see when we start? That nice solar system might have become a supernova and we haven't seen it yet.

And what if the end of the Universe has already started someplace far away, but we think those nice galaxies are still spinning around. We could be doomed already and not even know it!
Thanks, Luboš, my whole day is ruined. I guess we'll just have to be content with a picture of reality that is really, really distorted by time and space... and focus on closer objects and issues... like presidential candidates and climate scams.
Where's my aspirin?

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There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
Henry Louis Mencken (1880–1956)
“The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, chapter 25, p. 443 (1949)
... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
It was beautiful and simple, as truly great swindles are.
- O. Henry
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Tracking Interest Rates

Tracking Interest Rates


SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

About Me

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Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)