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Newton versus NASA

It is now quite well known that scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have encountered what they regard as an anomaly. This is that the trajectories of their spaceprobes do not obey the ordinary rules of orbital dynamics. This anomaly is generally known as the ‘Pioneer anomaly’, since it first became evident with NASA‘s ‘Pioneer’ probes, numbers ten and eleven. This was during thirty years of those probes journeying between planets of the solar system, after which they now travel far off into interstellar space. In the following study we address this anomaly with a view to providing a simple – emphasise simple – logical solution, as opposed to what commonsense regards as esoteric.

All the NASA space-probes have to spin in order to maintain their orientations with respect to the earth and the other objects they visit. The total magnitude [*] of their angular momentum is therefore the sum of their spin angular momentum and their orbital angular momentum. The law of conservation of angular momentum rules that, barring any externally applied force (ignoring the tiny adjustments to maintain its spin that have to be made en route) the magnitude of the angular momentum of the probe remains the same, regardless of the proportion of its spin angular momentum to its orbital angular momentum. This means that any increase in the spin angular momentum of the probe, has to be compensated by a decrease in its orbital angular momentum, and vice versa. In standard dynamics, any reduction of the orbital angular momentum of the probe with respect to the earth, Jupiter, Saturn or whatever, entails a reduction in the radius of its orbit with regard to that centre. In the space between these planets the primary centre of orbit for the probe is, of course, the sun. With its reduced angular momentum (due to its spin) the probe has to orbit on a trajectory which, again by standard dynamics, is nearer to the sun, with a velocity and kinetic energy greater than if it were not spinning. This ‘acceleration towards the sun’ is precisely what the NASA scientists have discovered with their spinning space-probes. Where, then, is the ‘anomaly’? It is in the Newtonian orbital dynamics that NASA applies to the trajectories of its space-probes, which, typically, takes no account of their spin. All that counts in that Newtonian theory is the invisible ‘gravitational force of attraction’ between bodies, which is the product of their masses and the inverse-square of their distance apart in a constant relation, G, which is the same, whether or not those masses are spinning. The ‘anomaly’, then, resides nowhere but in the theory that is currently taken as standard for orbiting bodies. To upgrade that Newtonian theory would be simply, a) to replace ‘gravitational attraction’ with angular momentum; b) to think of that angular momentum as combining both orbital and spin and, c) to treat G as a constant only for the special case of orbiting bodies that are without spin, and as a variable for orbiting bodies with spin. With those three slight modifications to the existing theory, the ‘anomaly’ vanishes and Newton’s spinless ’falling apple’ becomes NASA’s spinning space-probe. No revolutionary ‘New Physics’ is needed to explain the ‘Pioneer anomaly’. All that is needed are these few minor adjustments to the standard Newtonian theory to bring that classic seventeenth century theory into our modern, twenty-first century space age. Viv Pope
[*] ‘Magnitude’ is stressed, here, because, despite the constancy of the amount, or magnitude of the angular momentum, its vectors can add or subtract, changing the spin-to-orbit ratio of an orbiting body, with the consequences described in Chapter 7 of Light-speed, Gravitation and Quantum Instantaneity, by A. D. Osborne and N. V. Pope.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------NB.: Applying this upgraded Newtonian physics to the spins of the spiral galaxies and of just about everything else in the universe, obviates any need of esoteric theories such as those of ‘dark matter’, ‘dark energy’ and so on to explain the so-called ‘missing mass anomaly’. All that is ‘missing’ is any account of spin in the unmodified Newtonian equations in which the constancy of G is taken as sacrosanct.