Supersonic Man

June 21, 2018

hydrogen economy? how about methane instead?

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,science!,the future! — Supersonic Man @ 4:52 pm

Ever since the seventies, there’s been an idea floating around that someday, in order to replace fossil fuels, we’d start using hydrogen as our main chemical fuel.  We’d have hydrogen tanks instead of gasoline tanks, and hydrogen pipelines instead of natural gas pipes.  The hydrogen would be produced from water with either renewable or nuclear energy sources, and then whenever we needed a chemical fuel, we’d use hydrogen.  And wherever we needed a portable source of electric power, we’d use hydrogen fuel cells.  Our cars might be fuel cell powered, for instance.

Since then, fuel cell cars have advanced pretty well, and building a fleet of electric cars which get their power from hydrogen fuel cells looks fairly doable.  There are even some demo filling stations which allow you to fill up a fuel cell car with hydrogen, if you have one of the test vehicles.

So that part is doable, though nobody’s sure if there’ll be any need for it.  Cars might do just as well by simply using batteries, and plugging in to charge, as many people do today.  Making a new network for delivering hydrogen to cars might be an unnecessary expense.

But what about all the other things we use fossil fuel for, besides transportation?  What about heating our houses, and fueling our stoves and ovens?  Could we, for instance, substitute hydrogen for natural gas?

I think the answer is that we could, but maybe we shouldn’t, because there’s a better idea.  An approach which lets us keep using the natural gas infrastructure that we already have.  Switching to hydrogen would entail replacing most of it, because a pipe or a valve that safely contains natural gas can easily fail at containing hydrogen.  Since it is the lightest of all gases, one of its properties is that it can find its way through leaks which, to any ordinary gas, aren’t leaks at all.  Every piece of every pipe, and every valve in every appliance, would have to be either carefully tested, or replaced.  Also, the pipes would either have to be expanded for a larger volume, or operated at higher pressure.

We can avoid all that with one simple step: taking the hydrogen we produce and converting it into methane.  Natural gas is 95% methane, and if we make it artificially, it could be used as a direct replacement for gas.  And the way we’d do that is with a process called the Sabatier reaction.  In this process, hydrogen is combined with carbon dioxide by means of a metallic catalyst.  The oxygen is stripped off of the carbon atoms and hydrogen takes its place.  The result is methane, plus leftover oxygen.

The best part is where we get the carbon dioxide: out of the atmosphere.  At first, we could take it directly from the smokestacks of industries which still burn fossil fuel.  (Steelmaking, for instance, might have a hard time using anything but coal.)  Later, as the scale increases, we could just separate it out of regular air.  This makes your home’s existing stove and furnace and water heater carbon neutral.  And even your car, because existing piston engines can be modified to run on methane, which might help ease the transition to the time when we all go electric.

With some further chemical processes we could probably convert the methane into longer chain hydrocarbons, producing oils and so on — substitutes for things like butane or kerosene or diesel or gear oil… or even gasoline for classic car enthusiasts.

Between battery cars and methane conversion, maybe there wouldn’t be all that big a market for straight pure hydrogen.  It would definitely have some uses, but I don’t think all that big a part of our energy supply would be used in hydrogen form.  We might, however, use hydrogen to store solar energy from midday for use at night.  Such hydrogen might be produced directly by vats of algae, then fed to stationary fuel cells as the sun sets.

If a big methane convertor works, we should of course encourage its use.  We’ll have tax credits for making carbon-neutral methane, and penalties for fossil fuels.  The rival approach of getting gas by fracking might even be banned outright, because of its harmful side effects.  This assumes, of course, that at some point we overcome the reactionary political forces who want to prop up the oil and coal industries, and let all the profitable advances in renewables be done overseas.

One cool thing is that methane making machines are being developed right now, as part of the space program.  Not NASA’s space program, but SpaceX’s private program.  They’re building it for future Martian explorers and colonists, so they’ll be able to make their own rocket fuel for flights back to Earth.  Who knows, maybe at some point they’ll use the machine to fuel rockets here as well  so they can say they have carbon neutral satellite launchers.  Both of the major reusable rocket companies say methane is the fuel they want to use… and there’s no denying that a lot of older rockets are terrible polluters.

Of course, some other rockets will keep on using hydrogen, which when practical is still the cleanest option.


June 3, 2018

Trends in rocketry

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,science! — Supersonic Man @ 11:07 am

I’ve been taking an interest in the space industry and orbital rockets — a field which is evolving very rapidly nowadays.  So far this year we’ve seen the debut orbital flights of the Electron, the Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9 Block 5, and seen a new record set for the smallest rocket to put up a working satellite.  In the remaining months, we’re expecting the maiden flights of the LauncherOne, the Kuaizhou 11, the Vector R, and the Starliner and Dragon 2 crew capsules.  We just might see one of those capsules take live astronauts to the Space Station by the end of the year.  And the next couple of years will have plenty of action too, with several lunar landers being sent up by different countries, and more new vehicles making their debut: the SLS, the Vulcan, the New Glenn, the Dream Chaser, and more.

With so much short-term activity, it may be hard to spot the longer term trends, but I think I can lay out a few here:

1.  China is rapidly overtaking Russia as a superpower in space.

China now has three different families of major rockets, and are planning a fourth which, if they pull it off, will be bigger than Apollo.  They also have three different types of small solid rocket in service.  They’re starting on their own space station, and will attempt next year to bring moon rocks back to Earth.  Their rate of satellite launches is comparable to that of market leader SpaceX, while Russian rockets are losing business.  Trying to compare budgets can be misleading when different currencies are used, but on paper, the Chinese are spending more.  Their level of investment and ambition is impressive.

The Russians, on the other hand, are struggling to consolidate programs and cut costs.  Their Angara modular rocket program (which was supposed to modernize their fleet) is in difficulty, and rival aerospace organizations are fighting over shares of a shrinking pie.  They’re trying to phase out obsolete systems such as the Soyuz, and finding them difficult to replace.  And they’ve alienated Ukraine, where some of the best rocket builders from the old days are based.  For small solid-fuel launchers, all they’ve got is one type which is made from recycled ICBMs, which they quit using in 2006 but are now trying to bring back.  Unless China runs into difficulties in the next few years, Russia will soon be the #3 spacefaring nation, if they aren’t already.

You have to give respect to the Russians as the O.G.s of spaceflight, but I would say a weaker Russia in space is a good thing, as long as Putin or anyone like him remains in power.  But on the other hand, for a bunch of top Russian rocket experts to be looking for jobs, eager to be hired by dubious regimes, is probably not a good thing.

2. SpaceX is slowly decimating traditional aerospace companies who build large rockets, and nobody looks likely to beat them.

At first, SpaceX launched expendable rockets, just as everyone else did.  It took them years to develop a booster that could land itself dependably, then a bunch more time to show that these landed boosters could be refurbished into flyable condition, then more time yet to study the lessons learned from refurbishing, and upgrade the rocket so it can hopefully be reflown without needing an overhaul.  They still have not yet reached the point where they can launch a rocket, land it, wash off the soot, refuel it, and launch it again the next day, which is their goal.  They believe it’s close now, that their “Block 5” is the rocket that can do it… but they haven’t proven it yet.

And yet in spite of how the great cost savings promised by rapid reuse are still just a hope for the future, they are already undercutting the prices of all the traditional launch providers who sell large rockets, forcing them to lower their margins and reduce costs.  In fact, they have been for years.

Since a lot of launches are still done by governments, there’s a lot of inertia which keeps big government contractor rocket builders such as United Launch Alliance in business… but to the extent they’re exposed to the free market, they’re hemorrhaging customers.  This hits the Russian rocket builders particularly hard.  They haven’t got a path forward to cut costs with reuse.  Both ULA and the EU’s Arianespace do have such plans, though they will take years to implement, but as yet the Russians have nothing.  The for-profit parts of their space businesses are already shifting their investment from making rockets to building satellites, which is where the money now is.  The Chinese also have nothing yet, but in their case there seems to be a lot of willingness for the government to keep propping up uncompetitive rockets, including models that already have superior replacements in use, while also developing new ones.  That can’t keep up forever, but it shouldn’t have to: they’re looking at the question of reuse and are bound to figure something out eventually.

Speaking of the plans of ULA and Arianespace, what they’ve got coming is probably sufficient to match the price cuts that SpaceX has brought to the industry so far, but if rapid reuse works it will start a second round of cost-cutting, and it seems likely that both will remain years behind if they attempt to catch up.  The plans they have in the works now are conservative, and won’t be able to make a really dramatic difference in cost — they’re both aiming to recover only the engines at the bottom, while still discarding the rest of the rocket.  Those engines are the most expensive part, but they only account for around half of the total cost of a launch.  (Arianespace is also now starting a small scale research program for vertical landing, just to see whether it’s a technique they might eventually want to use, but they have no firm plans yet to follow it up with anything commercial.)

So who is there who is in a position to compete?  Really, only one company is looking good right now.  It’s the one other company which has already implemented soft landings and reuse: Blue Origin.  They’re the only ones in a position to challenge SpaceX head-on.  But even they may struggle to compete, regardless of how much Amazon money they have behind them, because their forthcoming New Glenn rocket is too big.  It’s probably going to be even more powerful than SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy (which can orbit thirty tons and still land all three boosters).  And I note that when SpaceX first planned the Heavy, they thought it would end up doing half of their business, but over time, its role is getting smaller and smaller.  They are not finding many customers for such heavy lifting.  A lighter rocket with the same technology can probably offer a better price to the majority of customers.  The New Glenn also has a much larger, and presumably much costlier, second stage than the Falcon has, and they’ve got no plans for making that stage reusable, so that puts a floor under how low they can cut their prices.  And in general, Blue Origin has a more conservative engineering approach than SpaceX does, and this leads to much less aggressive cost reduction.

I think the only way that Blue Origin is likely to come out ahead is if either there’s an unforeseen boom in large heavy payloads, or if SpaceX develops a bad safety record while Blue Origin’s remains clean due to taking more time and care than SpaceX does.  That scenario is definitely plausible… but the safe bet is definitely on SpaceX.

Speaking of rockets that are too big, the shortage of heavy customers may leave SpaceX regretting the size of the fully reusable “BFR” system they plan to build in the next decade.  They might find that the most profitable rocket they could have built is just like a BFR but only a fifth as massive.  The dramatically low costs they say the BFR will bring might not materialize if the market for large payloads remains limited.

But even if the BFR proves to be too large, SpaceX still has the upper hand, because every other approach has a per-flight hardware cost floor that the technology can’t go below, while the BFR, if it works, could in theory fly for only the cost of the fuel.

There is one wildcard company which might challenge these two: Reaction Engines Ltd, makers of the SABRE engine.  They say they’ll be able to use it to make a single stage orbital spaceplane, but even if they don’t, a suborbital plane which acts as a substitute for a booster stage could end up being quite competitive.

Whether Blue Origin or Reaction Engines succeeds or not, I think the large rocket market is likely to see a shakeout.  The Russians are feeling it already, and ULA was wise to plan ahead for replacing their Atlas and Delta lines with the more competitive Vulcan.  ULA has had to shed employees, but I think they’re responding fairly well to the challenge, and the fact that their existing rockets have the best success record in the business may count for a lot.  They’ll never catch SpaceX on price but I suppose they should still have customers at the more premium end of the launch market, especially if human safety is involved.  In the end, though, even the survivors will probably have to downsize.  And a company like Orbital ATK, which has no idea how to do reuse and has no chance at winning on either cost or track record, might be completely out in the cold.  They just got bought up by Northrop Grumman, who may have little incentive to invest further in orbital launch capability, as that’s probably not the part of the company that attracted them.

3. The shortage of small commercial launch services could easily become a glut… but the resulting balance could be vulnerable.

While SpaceX and its ilk get the attention with their big rockets, most of the satellites that people would like to launch don’t need a big rocket.  Rocket Labs’ Electron, with its capacity of around a quarter ton, is big enough to cover about two thirds of the commercial market, they estimate.

There are lots of older small rockets, many of them based on solid fuel missiles, but their costs per kilogram are usually uncompetitive with the otherwise less attractive option of waiting to hitch a ride as a secondary payload on a large rocket.  But now there are new companies such as Rocket Labs which aim to bring the cost of small launches downward.  The trouble is, there are too many new companies.  They’re cropping up in many different countries.  They can’t all get the dozens of launches a year that they will probably need in order to become profitable.  Also, the Chinese are rapidly commercializing their small solid-fuel launchers, at cheap prices.  Small-launch industry insiders are already starting to mutter the word shakeout, even though for the moment there is still a long backlog of unmet demand.

I will note that none of these small launch companies is yet offering anything truly revolutionary in terms of cost lowering.  They’re all just reducing costs incrementally.  None of them, for instance, has any solid plans to embrace reusability, except for one small outfit in Spain which is probably years away from putting up its first satellite.  If someone does, they could make this whole batch of companies uncompetitive.

Some of them are hoping that reduced prices will lead to increased volume, but the reductions being hyped just aren’t that dramatic.  It’s in the large launch market that such dramatic price cuts may have a major effect.  If SpaceX succeeds at rapid reuse, they could cut their prices far below anyone else’s without any sweat at all, giving them something fairly close to a monopoly on large non-governmental launches, or a duopoly if Blue Origin matches them.  (Or perhaps more likely, they could keep their prices higher so the market remains more open and competitive, but make a huge profit margin.)  But nothing equivalent is on the horizon in the small market.  They not only seem likely to spread their market too thin, but also to fall even further behind on cost compared to the option of piggybacking on large launches.

Conclusion: what the market is missing is a highly reusable small launcher.

If some company wants to disrupt SpaceX the way they disrupted the aerospace dinosaurs, the way to do it is to make a rocket which takes advantage of the latest advances in reusability, and applies it to payloads of under one ton.  It would not be all that expensive to develop; such a venture would be easily within the reach of some existing aerospace companies, or of the Russians.  But it may be out of reach of most of the small startups currently pursuing the light launch market.

Or it may not.  Rather than developing the complex systems that allow rockets to land themselves on concrete pads, a small booster might easily be recovered with a simple parachute, and if you can snatch it out of the air before it hits the ground or the drink, it might be very easily refurbished.  More than one small-launch company is adding parachutes to their boosters in the hopes that they might recover some intact, and at least one is waterproofing it, in the hope that it can splash down undamaged.  And if the empty rocket weights only a ton or less, instead of the thirty or so that a heavy booster might weigh, then snagging a parachute with a helicopter or airplane is actually quite doable.  The Air Force has done it for years, and United Launch Alliance is planning to use this approach to recover their jettisoned engines.  This cheap lightweight approach might not sound technically impressive, but if done right it could mean a big price advantage for small satellite launches.

If light rocket reuse is as difficult as it was for SpaceX’s heavy rockets, then we might again be seeing one company push all others aside.  But if it’s much easier, as I hope it can be, then several outfits might do it and competition could remain wide open, while bringing prices way down for small customers.  Solid-fuel rockets might become obsolete for commercial launches, because there’s no way to make them cheaper.

The one company that could easily and quickly bring full-blown modern reusability to the small launch business is Blue Origin.  They already have, in the New Shepard, a reusable booster stage of about the right size; all they need to do is create a second stage for it.

Woops, there is one company now developing a small reusable launcher: Boeing.  Their Phantom Express spaceplane, developed for the Pentagon’s XS-1 program, would take off vertically from a transporter-erector-launcher, and land on a runway.  Its second stage would be expendable, but it would also be small, as the plane would get to higher suborbital speeds than most boosters do.  As yet this vehicle is intended solely for use by the military, who are more interested in rapid turnaround than in saving money, but if it succeeds at that it’s bound to be a hit commercially as well.

It’s the sort of complex system that only a big established aerospace company is likely to pull off, but costwise, simpler and cheaper approaches such as parachute-grabbing could be very competitive with it.

This is still a few years away, and commercialization would be a few years after that, but the writing is now officially on the wall for makers of expendable small launchers.

May 10, 2018

if the solar system fit in a stadium…

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,science! — Supersonic Man @ 12:00 pm

(I wrote a post about this a few years ago somewhere else, but now I can’t find it, so I am redoing it here, and expanding it.)

How big is the Solar System?

Let’s start by assuming that we have some general idea of how big the Earth is.  If we fly from coast to coast in the United States, we’ve gone one eighth of the way around it.  A long day of driving in a car, say 500 miles, goes about one fiftieth of the way around.  So the Earth is very large compared to your local town or neighborhood, but it’s of a scale that can be grasped and managed with common means of travel, such as cars and planes.  Even preagricultural people sometimes traveled and traded over distances of a thousand miles or more, and that’s not tiny compared to the size of the Earth.

The Moon is a good deal smaller than the Earth, but quite far away from it.  It takes well over one second for a beam of light to travel from the Moon to the Earth.  The distance to the Moon is enough to wrap around the Earth nine or ten times (the Moon’s distance varies over that range during each month).  It’s the sort of distance that a junky old car might accumulate on its odometer after twenty or thirty years of driving — over a quarter million miles when the moon is furthest out.  People are capable of traveling such distances over many years, or in just a few days with our most powerful rockets.

To appreciate the scale of the rest of the solar system in comparison to this, let’s imagine a scale model, sized to fit into a big football stadium.  The scale of this model will be 1/100,000,000,000 of life size.

Let’s look at how each part of the solar system would appear at this scale.  The Sun, which hangs over the middle of the fifty yard line, is a bit over half an inch across — about 14 millimeters, to be more exact.  It’s the size of an olive.  Mercury, the innermost planet, has an eccentric elliptical orbit around it which is eighteen inches (46 cm) from the sun at its closest, and twenty-seven and a half inches (70 cm) at its furthest.  The planet itself is a practically invisible speck, only one five hundredth of an inch across, or a twentieth of a millimeter.  Venus, the second planet, circles our olive-sized sun at a distance of about three and a half feet (108 cm), so its orbit crosses the 49 yard line on each side. The size of the planet is about 1/200 inch, or an eighth of a millimeter, a speck which is probably big enough to see if you get close enough.

The Earth’s orbit is found at a distance of a bit under five feet (150 cm) from the sun.  And the orbit of the Moon makes a little circle around the Earth.  The distance from the Moon to the Earth, which in real life is up to a quarter million miles, and is the farthest distance that any human being has ever voyaged, is only about 5/32 of an inch, or 3.9 mm, in this scale model.  The entire circle traveled by the Moon around the Earth is barely half as big across as the Sun is.  It would fit inside a pea.  The distance to the Sun is almost four hundred times as large.  The diameter of the Earth itself in this model is about 1/200 of an inch, the same as Venus, and likewise would be a barely visible speck.  The Moon, being smaller than Mercury, would be very difficult to see.

Mars circles seven and a half feet out (2.3 meters), and is about 1/400 inch or 1/16 of a millimeter across — a dust speck.  The asteroid belt spreads in a hollow disk around the sun, with the bulk of it starting about ten feet out, and then it thins out at a distance of around eighteen feet (3 to 5.5 meters).  None of the individual asteroids are big enough to see.

Jupiter, the largest planet, sits a little over 25 feet (7.8 meters) out from the Sun.  Its orbit crosses past the 42 yard line on each side of midfield.  The planet itself is plenty big enough to be more than a speck: it’s 1.4 millimeters in diameter, or somewhat under one sixteenth of an inch — the diameter of the head of a pin.  If the Sun is an olive, Jupiter might be a large poppyseed, or a small millet grain.  It has a number of moons, the four large ones being Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.  The orbit of Io sits about 5/32 inch (4 mm) from Jupiter, and the orbit of Callisto is about 3/4 inch (18 mm) out.

Saturn is 46 feet (14 meters) from the sun.  Its orbit crosses the 35 yard line.  It’s smaller than Jupiter, but if you include its rings, it looks bigger.  You might model it with a small flat sesame seed.  Its major moon Titan sits half an inch (12 mm) out from the planet.  Uranus is much further out, 98 feet (30 meters) from the Sun, so it nearly reaches the 17 yard line, and on the sides it spills over the out-of-bounds line into the sidelines.  Its diameter is half a millimeter, so you might represent it with a grain of fine sand.

In this model, the orbit of Neptune, the most remote true planet, has a span that just about reaches the one yard line, but can’t quite reach the goal lines, orbiting 148 feet (45 meters) from the sun.  Its size is about the same as sand-grain Uranus.

From this you can see that the Solar System is very empty.  Besides the olive-sized sun, everything else on the field is just some specks which, all added together, wouldn’t amount to a grain of wheat.

Now the Sun and all the planets pretty much fit onto the playing field, but that’s not the whole Solar System.  Beyond all the planets are a number of icy bodies, large and small.  They constitute a sort of second asteroid belt.  It’s called the Kuyper belt.  Pluto is one of these icy bodies, and it isn’t even the biggest one.  As far as we presently know, it’s the second biggest.

In our scale model, the Kuyper belt fills the rest of the stadium, beyond the playing field.  Pluto is down in a good low seat right near the sidelines, and some of the others are way up in the cheap seats, hundreds of feet from the field.

The light of the Sun doesn’t reach up there very well.  It casts a good bright illumination in midfield, but the goalposts are pretty dim, and in the top row of the seats you can’t see much when you look away from the sun.  If I have this figured correctly, at this scale, it puts out about five thousand watts of light.  But don’t compare that to a 5000 watt lightbulb — your ordinary traditional bulb puts out mostly heat, so the 100 watt lamp in your living room is only emitting about ten watts of actual light, and if you use a modern bulb such as a compact fluorescent, it will say “100 watts” on the box while only actually using about 25 watts.  The Sun puts out at least three quarters of its energy as visible light.  Think of it more as a 5000 watt welder’s arc than a 5000 watt lamp.

One thing this idea of an arc lamp in a football stadium fails to convey is how slow the light is.  You have to remember that the light from our tiny Sun takes minutes to reach Earth just five feet away, hours to reach Neptune, and most of a day to reach the upper seats.  If there were a snail crawling around on the grass, it might well be moving at several times the speed of light.  And the fastest rockets never approach even a thousandth of that speed.  (The fastest moving objects we’ve ever launched into space, or will launch soon, are solar probes that drop inside the orbit of Mercury.  That inward fall can give them a speed dozens of times faster than, say, the Apollo moon rocket.)

There’s more stuff beyond the Kuyper belt, also consisting mainly of icy bodies.  But I don’t really count this as part of the solar system.  This is where long period comets come from (short comets, such as Halley’s, come from the Kuyper belt).  This zone is called the Oort Cloud.  It’s found out in the stadium’s parking lot, and some thin parts of it probably extend out into the surrounding city, perhaps miles from the stadium.  While the Kuyper belt is similar to the asteroid belt in that it mainly lies in the same plane as the orbits of the planets and rotates in the same direction that they do, the Oort cloud is spread in all directions, and appears to have no net orbital direction shared in common among the various objects.  For all we know this spread of icy bodies may extend throughout the space between the stars, and not constitute a part of our own solar system at all, except to the extent that the Sun’s gravity causes a thickening in nearby parts of it.

Speaking of other stars, how far away is the nearest other solar system?  It would be about 250 miles away at this scale… about the distance you might find between your hometown football stadium and that of a rival team in the next state.  For instance, the distance between Cleveland and Cincinnati, or Green Bay and Minneapolis, or Chicago and Detroit.

August 25, 2017

ten percent of our brains

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,science!,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 9:40 am

If it were really true that we use only ten percent of our brains, then being granted the ability to use all one hundred percent wouldn’t really make a dramatic difference. It would be like comparing a desktop computer from 2017 with one from about 2005. Sure, the new one is better, but definitely not as much better as you’d hope it would be. They still both do basically the same things, and they’re both still probably hampered by running Windows.

I think there’s some metaphorical truth to the idea for a lot of people, though, because if they don’t get a good strong educational start, the majority of people don’t really have any chance of developing the intellectual side of their innate capabilities. I’m pretty convinced that most of the differences we see between people in “intelligence” have nothing to do with one person being born with a better brain than another. If you’re going to develop into a brainiac, you need to start very early and you need support for it, and most people around the world simply never get that opportunity. It’s only when drawing comparisons between people who have had those advantages, and are already part of a privileged minority, that you can even start looking at innate differences in talent.

August 17, 2016

will there ever be a material to replace steel?

Filed under: science!,the future!,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 12:14 pm

This post has been promoted to my website, here.


June 21, 2016


Filed under: science! — Supersonic Man @ 10:58 am

This post has been promoted to my website, here.

June 16, 2016

is there only spacetime? (part 1)

Filed under: science!,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 6:33 am

In a recent post, I mentioned in passing that “the close relationship between energy, gravity, and inertia is still a mystery, despite apparent confirmation of the Higgs boson.”  But wow, I may have just stumbled on an outsider theory that can resolve that whole mystery, and more.  It’s from a laser specialist and entrepreneur named John A. Macken, and his work can be found at

Where Macken begins is with the idea that “mass” is just energy confined to a particular frame of reference.  This sounds like it might be just an obvious truism based on special relativity, but once one looks at the details, it covers more ground than you might think.

His start on this came, naturally enough, when thinking about lasers.  The light inside a laser has energy, which means it has an equivalent mass, which means it has inertia.  Now inertia seems very mysterious as a property for particles, but for light, he realized, there’s nothing mysterious about it. (more…)

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