Forgotten Science: Gravity Probe B

Science and technology exposed
Gravity Probe B, confirmation bias and Albert Einstein

Escher's_RelativityNASA’s Relativity Mission NASA’s Gravity Probe B mission, also known as GP-B, will use four ultra-precise gyroscopes, orbiting the Earth in a unique satellite, to experimentally test two extraordinary predictions of Einstein’s 1916 theory that space and time are distorted by the presence of massive objects. The two effects being tested are: The geodetic effect, the amount by which the Earth warps local spacetime in which it resides, and the frame-dragging effect, the amount by which the Earth drags local spacetime around with it as it rotates.

The wooden-headed

Quote: If you are different, you had better hide it, and pretend to be solemn and wooden-headed. Until you make your fortune. For most wooden-headed people worship money; and, really, I do not see what else they can do. Oliver Heaviside

The worship of money by the wooden-headed is not so different from the worship of science by the wooden-headed and there are many who cling to every word as if it were a religious gospel. I don’t see what else they can do when they have allowed their ability to think for themselves to be removed by their education. Those of a scientific education are encouraged to quote the words of past scientists rather than think, and this becomes a habit that completely removes any ability for critical appraisal. They don’t think, they remember what they were told to remember and they think they are thinking… If you are different, you had better hide it, and pretend to be solemn and wooden-headed.

New Scientist: Gravity Probe B scores ‘F’ in NASA review 20 May 2008

Considerable scepticism’

The noisy data meant that GPB could not measure the effects as precisely as astronomers had by firing laser beams at mirrors left on the Moon by the Apollo astronauts.
GPB managers had asked for additional funding to March 2010 to try to extract more information from the data, but the review panel doubted they could reach their goals.

It warned that the reduction in noise needed to test rigorously for a deviation from general relativity “is so large that any effort ultimately detected by this experiment will have to overcome considerable (and in our opinion, well justified) scepticism in the scientific community”. Gravity Probe B’s principal investigator, Stanford University physicist Francis Everitt, could not be reached for comment.
The panel gave top ranking to SWIFT, which launched in 2004 to study fleeting cosmic explosions called gamma-ray bursts.

The purpose of the Gravity Probe B experiment was to prove a physics theory that has been around for a hundred years. One would think that by now there would be ample evidence in support of Einstein’s theories, but all past relativity tests have been highly controversial as we will see in these pages. One of the most recent was the Global Positioning System or GPS that many think proved the point. But at that time some physicists said it would not work because of relativity and others said it would work for the very same reason. What this says to me is that after a hundred years physicists still don’t understand Einstein’s theories. As I recall, it was the work of Einstein that introduced the word “counterintuitipigs_flyve” into physics. The idea was born along with this word that our common sense (the same thing as logic) is just not adequate when dealing with relativity. That we plebs are just not smart enough to understand. The trouble with this idea is that I don’t believe that physicists are any more smart than anyone else and that counterintuitive was a ruse to make it appear that they are.

The problem with Einstein is that the effects of his theories are so small that they have no effect on anything here on Earth. And so physicists have to rely on things so far away that no one can go there to check the results. Further theories are required to support such things as black holes and pulsars that cannot be seen – but apparently they also can be used in “support” of the original theory? In the case of Gravity Probe B the results of the experiment are so minute that they cannot be separated from background noise. They are processed with a computer until something is found that appears to support the theory. That’s how a scientific industry is created and thousands of jobs for physicists who still, after a hundred years don’t understand what Einstein was talking about. Even Einstein did not know what he was talking about:
“Since the mathematicians have invaded the theory of relativity, I do not understand it myself anymore.” Albert Einstein quoted in P A Schilpp, Philosopher-Scientist (Evanston 1949).

Frame Dragging is also a hundred years old
Wiki: Frame-dragging is an effect on spacetime, predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity, that is due to non-static stationary distributions of mass–energy. A stationary field is one that is in a steady state, but the masses causing that field may be non-static, rotating for instance. The first frame-dragging effect was derived in 1918, in the framework of general relativity, by the Austrian physicists Josef Lense and Hans Thirring, and is also known as the Lense–Thirring effect. They predicted that the rotation of a massive object would distort the spacetime metric, making the orbit of a nearby test particle precess. (The orbit shape (ellipse) moves with its own additional orbit)

What is spacetime?
Don’t be silly, we all know what spacetime is… don’t we?

There is no agreement as to what the word space represents. Wiki says: The concept of space is considered to be of fundamental importance to an understanding of the physical universe. However, disagreement continues between philosophers over whether it is itself an entity, a relationship between entities, or part of a conceptual framework.
Time cannot in any way be shown to be energy, matter, a container, or something we move around in,  be it scientific or philosophical. The word spacetime is a combination of two words that have no meaning in terms of matter and energy.  Physics boasts that everything is matter and energy and yet would be unable to function without (t) time.


Wiki can’t make up its sceptical mind: In physics, spacetime is any mathematical model that combines space and time into a single interwoven continuum. (This is quite meaningless – spacetime is space plus time) The spacetime of our universe has historically been interpreted from a Euclidean space perspective, which regards space as consisting of three dimensions, and time as consisting of one dimension, the “fourth dimension”. (How can something not matter and not energy have dimensions?) By combining space and time into a single manifold called Minkowski space… (Minkowski Space is a mathematical construct that has no place in what we call reality.)

And so spacetime is a metaphysical mathematical construct: Quote: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”  Albert Einstein, quoted in J R Newman, The World of Mathematics (New York 1956).

Tests of general relativity, gravitomagnetism and related models that failed

The luminiferous aether was a predominant scientific theory of the 19th century, dating back to antiquity. The attraction of the theory was that if light is a wave, then it had to have something to wave in. I think that is pretty sound reasoning? However, later experiments by physicists, designed to demonstrate the existence of an aether, even though there were tentative positive results, were deemed unsuccessful by the consensus. Only the electrical pioneers had reason to support the theory as all of their discoveries were dependent upon it. As a result, physicists faced a dilemma with few options and it was Albert Einstein who provided an escape route and the aether was enthusiastically replaced and debunked by a dominant group of relativity supporters led by Arthur Stanley Eddington. A little serious research will show that historically this coincides with a decline in electronic inventiveness. Yes, all the electronic technology we have today can be traced back to pre-1930’s science, the 1930’s being the period when Einstein’s theories began to be acceptable to the consensus.

It was Arthur Eddington who made the observation of the Solar eclipse of 29 May 1919 that provided the earliest, so called, confirmation of relativity, although he was criticised by the astronomical community of the day both at home and abroad, for sloppy observations. Notwithstanding, it was publicly reported as a success and Eddington’s publicity machine elevated Einstein to the dizzy heights of Hollywood super-stardom and genius. All subsequent tests of relativity have been riven with controversy and what follows is just a part of the anomalous, controversial evidence of the Einstein myth making machine that typifies modern science:

Wiki: “The Hafele-Keating experiment was a test of the theory of relativity. In October 1971, Joseph C. Hafele, a physicist, and Richard E. Keating, an astronomer, took four caesium-beam atomic clocks aboard commercial airliners. They flew twice around the world, first eastward, then westward, and compared the clocks against others that remained at the United States Naval Observatory. When reunited, the three sets of clocks were found to disagree with one another, and their differences were consistent with the predictions of special and general relativity.”–Keating_experiment

But sadly, it’s all untrue, and as always seems to be the case with proofs of Einstein,…along came Louis Essen, FRS no less and spoiled it all. “In 1955, he (Louis Essen) developed, in collaboration with Jack Parry, the first practical atomic clock by integrating the caesium atomic standard with conventional quartz crystal oscillators to allow calibration of existing time-keeping.”

A Letter from Louis Essen to Carl A. Zapffe Provided by Harry H. Ricker III
“One aspect of this subject which you have not dealt with is the accuracy and reliability of the experiments claimed to support the theory. The effects are on the border line of what can be measured. The authors tend to get the result required by the manipulation and selection of results. This was so with Eddington’s eclipse experiment, and also in the more resent results of Hafele and Keating with atomic clocks. This result was published in Nature, so I submitted a criticism to them. In spite of the fact that I had more experience with atomic clocks than anyone else, my criticism was rejected.” “Louis Essen, elected FRS for developing the Caesium Clock, wrote to Nature that the alleged confirmation of Relativity by the gentlemen who took Caesium Clocks round the world by airplane was bogus because the caesium clock did not have the claimed accuracy. Nature refused to publish, preferring the PC ‘confirmation’ of relativity to stand.”
The passage above now seems to have been removed.

It appears that the physicists can do anything they want with statistics supporting Einstein and get away with it. It makes good copy for science journalism and gives the readers something to talk about, not to mention keeping numerous physicists and mathematicians employed. Everyone is happy until the physicists tell the engineers that an invention cannot work because of the results of dubious theories or those that follow below. We all lose-out on a new technology or an exotic clean power supply.

crazyPhysics on the edge and beyond the pale
NASA Announces Results of Epic Space-Time Experiment: Frame dragging Gravity Probe B. (or the Lense-Thirring effect) “According to calculations, the twisted space-time around Earth should cause the axes of the gyros to drift merely 0.041 arc seconds over a year. An arc second is 1/3600th of a degree. To measure this angle reasonably well, GP-B (Gravity Probe B) needed a fantastic precision of 0.0005 arc seconds. It’s like measuring the thickness of a sheet of paper held edge-on 100 miles away.”

Wiki: “The Gravity Probe B satellite, launched in 2004 and operated until 2005, detected frame-dragging and the geodetic effect. The experiment used four quartz spheres the size of ping pong balls coated with a superconductor. Data analysis continued through 2011 due to high noise levels and difficulties in modeling the noise accurately so that a useful signal can be found. Principal investigators at Stanford University reported on May 4, 2011, that they had accurately measured the framing effect relative to the distant star IM Pegasi, and the calculations proved to be in line with the prediction of Einstein’s theory. The results, published in Physical Review Letters measured the geodetic effect with an error of about 0.2 percent. The results reported the frame dragging effect (caused by the Earth’s rotation) added up to 37 milliarcseconds with an error of about 19 percent. Investigator Francis Everitt explained that a milliarcsecond “is the width of a human hair seen at the distance of 10 miles”…

Wiki:…Other precision tests of general relativity, not discussed here, are the Gravity Probe A satellite, launched in 1976, which showed gravity and velocity affect the ability to synchronize the rates of clocks orbiting a central mass; the Hafele Keating experiment, which used atomic clocks in circumnavigating aircraft to test general relativity and special relativity together; and the forthcoming Satellite Test of the Equivalence Principle.

Wiki: In January 2012, LARES satellite was launched on a Vega rocket to measure Lense-Thirring effect (frame dragging) with an accuracy of about 1%, according to its proponent. This evaluation of the actual accuracy obtainable is controversial.

The most perfect spheres “The four gyroscopes in GP-B are the most perfect spheres ever made by humans. These ping pong-sized balls of fused quartz and silicon are 1.5 inches across and never vary from a perfect sphere by more than 40 atomic layers. If the gyroscopes weren’t so spherical, their spin axes would wobble even without the effects of relativity.”

It is an engineering impossibility to produce two or more spheres of “exactly” the same size and shape, as in the real engineering world some kind of limits for deviation must be set. The spheres take on the characteristics of the technology used to produce them, such as temperature variation and vibration and each will be slightly different. They must all be slightly different because that is the nature of engineering, a result of the scientifically imperfect world we all live in.

As with Louis Essen above, “The effects are in the twilight (read fantasy) zone of what can be measured”. The spheres are therefore unreliable for use at their theoretical limits because the theoretical exceeds practical engineering possibility. Engineering necessity requires a real nuts and bolts world as opposed to a theoretical world. It comes as no surprise that physicists don’t understand engineering. They live in an unreal world of imaginary numbers based on theory, based on further theory. If they cannot understand basic engineering, how are they able to understand the physical world?

What a surprise !
We find at “However, a more subtle effect, involving the tug of Earth’s rotation on space itself, has not yet been seen unequivocally. Because of an error in the gyroscopes manufacture, GP-Bs measurements have been riddled with wobbles that have made the ongoing data analysis for this frame dragging effect tremendously challenging. GP-Bs final results were expected this year, but the GP-B team, based at Stanford University, appealed to NASA to continue funding through March 2010 to extract the precision measurements that team managers say still lie buried beneath a layer of noise…

…Central to GP-Bs operations is a redundant set of four superconducting gyroscopes that each must point in precisely the same unwavering direction in space throughout the satellites orbit. For the experiment to work, these gyroscopes must drift no more than 0.00000000001 (a one hundred-billionth) degree per hour. Even advanced navigational gyroscopes in airplanes or guided missiles lack this precision by a factor of at least 1 million.”

Improvements in gyroscopes come in small increments,  million-fold improvements are impossible BS.

Wiki:“Data analysis continued through 2011 due to high noise levels and difficulties in modeling the noise accurately so that a useful signal can be found.”
See also:

Nevertheless, data manipulation and statistical bias will ensure that yet another myth is born. It will gather momentum and in time will become a “Fact” among several other “Facts” that “all” support the Einstein theory. Proof of relativity, physics style, priceless!

“The authors tend to get the result required by the manipulation and selection of results.”
Louis Essen.
And they will do the same with the Gravity Probe B results. So many jobs and reputations are at stake that they can do little else.

Gravity Probe B and confirmation bias
Wiki: “Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias) is a tendency of people to favour information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.” …(and in physics when ones livelihood and reputation is at stake.)

Nothing changes but the names “Frame-Dragging (The Lense-Thirring effect)
In Newtonian gravity, the gravitational field of a mass is independent of whether or not that mass rotates. In general relativity , a mass’s rotation influences the motion of objects in its neighbourhood. Put simply, the rotating mass “drags along” space-time in the vicinity.
How do you drag space?
How do you drag time?

Compare to Aether Dragging: Just the names change to protect the guilty
Wiki: The aether drag hypothesis dealt with the question whether the luminiferous aether is dragged by or entrained within moving matter. According to the first variant no relative motion exists between Earth and aether; according to the second one, relative motion exists and thus the speed of light should depend on the speed of this motion (“aether wind”), which should be measurable by instruments at rest on Earth’s surface… …While Fresnel’s almost stationary theory was apparently confirmed by the Fizeau experiment (1851), Stokes’ theory was apparently confirmed by the Michelson-Morley experiment (1881, 1887). This contradictory situation was resolved by the works of Hendrik Antoon Lorentz (1895, 1904) whose Lorentz ether theory banished any form of aether dragging, and finally with the work of Albert Einstein (1905) whose theory of special relativity doesn’t contain the aether as a mechanical medium at all. (It contains the non-existent Spacetime as a mechanical medium)

Lorentz Ether Theory
Wiki: Lorentz’s initial theory created in 1892 and 1895 was based on a completely motionless aether. It explained the failure of the negative aether drift experiments to first order in v/c by introducing an auxiliary variable called “local time” for connecting systems at rest and in motion in the aether. In addition, the negative result of the Michelson-Morley experiment led to the introduction of the hypothesis of length contraction in 1892. However, other experiments also produced negative results and (guided by Henri Poincar’s principle of relativity) Lorentz tried in 1899 and 1904 to expand his theory to all orders in v/c by introducing the Lorentz transformation (used by Einstein). In addition, he assumed that also non-electromagnetic forces transform like electric forces. However, Lorentz’s expression for charge density and current were incorrect, so his theory did not fully exclude the possibility of detecting the aether. Eventually, it was Henri Poincare who in 1905 corrected the errors in Lorentz’s paper and actually incorporated non-electromagnetic forces (including the gravitation) within the theory, which he called “The New Mechanics”. Many aspects of Lorentz’s theory were incorporated into special relativity (SR) with the works of Albert Einstein and Hermann Minkowski.

And so It’s all cyclic, it’s all happened before, the same ideas presented with new names, where the aether (that has been debunked) is called space-time (that does not exist). One has to ask how, in a science of materialism, a material aether with proven electrical  material properties becomes an immaterial, metaphysical, ‘space-time’ with unproven and most likely unprovable attributes? One must not forget the difference between attributes and properties in a world where physics treats them as the same thing.
The aether becomes a curved empty space with the additional pseudo property of time. Neither time nor a vacuum can possibly have any properties that can be empirically proven. A vacuum cannot be influenced by the rotation of the Earth as it would then cease to be a vacuum.

But the properties of aether were proven by the explosion of electrical technology that took place during the period of aether theory – how else, the technology is still with us. There is no technology arisen as a direct result of relativity and therefore no comparable empirical, technological proof of theory. Space-time cannot be engineered.

The New Mechanics (1908)
by Henri Poincare, translated by George Bruce Halsted


GP-B STATUS UPDATE — May 4, 2011
After 31 years of research and development, 10 years of flight preparation, a 1.5 year flight mission and 5 years of data analysis, our GP-B team has arrived at the final experimental results for this landmark test of Einstein’s 1916 general theory of relativity. Here is the abstract from our PRL paper (see next section) summarizing the experimental results.

Original source:

A review by a panel of 15 experts commissioned by NASA recommended against extending the data analysis phase beyond 2008. They warned that the required reduction in noise level (due to classical torques and breaks in data collection due to solar flares) “is so large that any effect ultimately detected by this experiment will have to overcome considerable (and in our opinion, well justified) skepticism in the scientific community”.

Gravity Probe B data analysis

Gravity Probe B, the simplest data analysis ever

The data analysis quickly turned from a data fitting exercise to detective work. No one believed that the erratic motion of the gyroscopes (we had four on board the satellite) was the work of general relativity. There must have been an unforeseen classical torque acting on the gyroscopes. A planned set of calibrations at the conclusion of the science mission provided the first clue. Part of this classical torque was proportional and orthogonal to the misalignment between the gyroscopes’ spin axis and the satellite’s roll axis, which was nominally aligned with the telescope. Other oddities included a gyroscope spin-down time constant that was only 10,000 years (it should have been more like 1 million years!), a slowly damping gyroscope polhode period, indicating that energy was being extracted from the rotors at phenomenal rate of 10–13 W (!), and the most peculiar of all were brief but rapid changes in the orientation of the gyroscopes that occurred every time a high harmonic of the gyroscope’s polhode frequency (1 / a few hours) coincided with the spacecraft’s roll frequency (1/77.5 seconds). These ‘jumps’ can be seen in the plot above…

…The actual GP-B data analysis, lasting only about one year, finally began in earnest once we had the true model for the gyroscope motion, which accounted for the patch effect. This model indeed consisted of the straight line precession predicted by Einstein, but superimposed on this straight line was the motion induced by the patch effect, unfortunately involving hundreds of additional fit parameters. Our simple pre-launch data analysis that could be run quickly in Matlab on a single desktop computer was converted into a sprawling code that took about a week to run on a 44-core computer cluster. In the end, a 20% estimate of the frame dragging effect, consistent with GR, resulted. This was not the 1% measurement that we were hoping for, but it is still one of the best and most convincing measurements of frame-dragging to date.

2 thoughts on “Forgotten Science: Gravity Probe B

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