Dark FlowNovember 10, 2008
xkcd had a funny sappy strip this morning:
Click to read the whole thing.
I wasn’t 100% sure exactly what they were referring to, but a quick click on the Goog brought up this couple-month old article from New Scientist, which is pretty dang cool.
The alt-text on the xkcd strip referred to the Pioneer Anomaly, which I have to admit I also didn’t know anything about. Wikipedia has the score.
It’s counter intuitive and mysterious: basically, the now-interstellar Pioneer spacecrafts (10 and 11) are not traveling quite as fast as they should be (to the tune of some 5000km per year), and nobody knows exactly why. There’s a handful of precursory explanations, with a smattering of evidence for a few, and it’s possible that it could be something mundane but unforeseen like a cracked tank or something, but it’s equally possible that we’re seeing some as yet-unobserved physical phenomenon that is only apparent to us because of the vast distances the Pioneers have traveled. Figuring this out could be incredibly important.
The Planetary Society agrees, and put out a call for increased research on the Pioneer data. (That page also has a nifty summary, if you don’t want to believe Wikipedia.)