A recently leaked paper on the controversial and relatively unknown EM Drive led to a lot of articles with titles like “Leaked paper proves EM drive works.” The leaked paper hasn’t made it through peer review, guys, so it has the same scientific reliability as a pile of Bazooka Joe wrapper comics. (Please do read it and help the community at large understand this.)
First among my problems with the paper are the relative scales at play here. The tabletop rig the researchers tested operated at max 80 watts. Eagleworks is making claims about what happens on the megawatt scale. While I understand that the ability to extrapolate is a happy consequence of the fact that math works, the anomalous 1.2 μN of thrust observed could very well fade into experimental error at megawatt scales, just because of the uncertainty introduced by scaling up without data. Or, it could represent an extremely welcome new scientific advance. To solve this problem, obviously we need more testing: by other groups, at functional scales, in the vacuum of space. To find relationships in the data that lead to observational hypotheses that lead to theories and laws, first you need some data.
Everyone seems to have a bone to pick with this paper, including /r/emdrive, and a lot of commenters on Reddit and elsewhere have awarded themselves the authority to say, “Nobody in the physics community is even interested in this development.” That’s not true. It’s just that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Sure, they have numbers, but the numbers need some context before they start to make sense.
The whole thing is on the obnoxious cusp between, “This represents a branch of physics that we actually didn’t have fully articulated, and now we need to re-evaluate our theories,” and “What we observed is actually within the experimental error and nobody has been able to nail down the uncertainty until now.” Because it’s not in its final iteration, we really shouldn’t take this leaked paper as proof of anything. Wait until it gets published. See what makes it through peer review.
For your viewing pleasure, take this fly-through at 20% light speed through the Proxima Centauri star system, courtesy of the ESO. Proxima Centauri is home to the recently discovered exoplanet Proxima b, which orbits in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri B.
The full moon early next week will be a supermoon. Supermoons happen when the moon is full as it makes its closest approach to the Earth, its perigee. During a supermoon, the difference in distance between apogee (farthest away) and perigee can be almost 14%, which means the moon casts 30% more light onto the Earth’s surface.
There are actually three supermoons this fall — one each month in October, November, and December. But this month’s supermoon is the only one where the moon will be completely full. On Monday, November 14, the moon reaches its perigee at 6:22 AM EST and is exactly “opposite” the sun — completely full — at 8:52 AM EST. Sadly, that’s after moonset for most of the US. But no worries if you’ll be asleep or otherwise engaged; you have options.
“I’ve been telling people to go out at night on either Sunday or Monday night to see the supermoon,” said Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission. “The difference in distance from one night to the next will be very subtle, so if it’s cloudy on Sunday, go out on Monday. Any time after sunset should be fine.”
Now read: Can the ‘impossible’ space drive survive falsification in orbit?