# Lunar Recession

It can also be said that in some instances, scientific skepticism has slowed down the scientific process, because the skeptics (even though they were being rational) were being rational about the wrong things.

Right. Even well-documented observations that do not fit easily into a
preconceived notion of how the world should work, may be rationalized away
or just neglected. One example of this is the observed mean acceleration
$${\dot n}$$ of the Moon; from lunar laser ranging experiments this has the value of about -13.8 arcseconds/(century)^2. Furthermore, the
mean motion of the Moon $$n$$ is about .549 arcseconds/s.
Now the interesting part is that to within one standard deviation,
$${\dot n}=-Hn$$, where H is the Hubble parameter.

How should a real skeptic react to this fact?

Pythagorean
Gold Member
Right. Even well-documented observations that do not fit easily into a
preconceived notion of how the world should work, may be rationalized away
or just neglected. One example of this is the observed mean acceleration
$${\dot n}$$ of the Moon; from lunar laser ranging experiments this has the value of about -13.8 arcseconds/(century)^2. Furthermore, the
mean motion of the Moon $$n$$ is about .549 arcseconds/s.
Now the interesting part is that to within one standard deviation,
$${\dot n}=-Hn$$, where H is the Hubble parameter.

How should a real skeptic react to this fact?

I haven't done any astronomy (currently studying Lagrangian and Hamiltonian in classical mechanics) so I'm a little shaky, but I'm interpreting what you're saying is that the velocity of the moon depends only on it's location about its center of orbit.

Until I understand what you're saying though, I can't see your point.

Hurkyl
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
How should a real skeptic react to this fact?
One appriate response is "So what?"

StuMyers
I think he's stating a coincidence.

A skeptic would probably say that looking in an enormous sea of facts and figures, you are bound to find some meaningless coincidences.

Humans are VERY good at naturally finding patterns in nature. After all, that's what intelligence really is, at its core. Humans are not so good at separating meaningful patterns from coincident ones (correlation vs causation). Hence, superstition.

Aether
Gold Member
Now the interesting part is that to within one standard deviation, $${\dot n}=-Hn$$, where H is the Hubble parameter.

How should a real skeptic react to this fact?
This equation implies that the fundamental physical constants vary over cosmological time scales: e.g., the SI base units of time (the second), of length (the meter), and Newton's gravitational constant. That is an interesting proposition that deserves to be carefully examined. If it is presented in that way (e.g., as a proposal for further investigation), then a "real skeptic" (e.g., a scientist) should react positively. If however this is presented as a claim/conclusion, then a "real skeptic" should react by pointing out (directly or indirectly) that it is premature to be making claims/conclusions at this stage of your investigation.

In this particular case for example, all spinning and orbiting bodies in the universe should also obey this equation if it is really true (e.g., not just a coincidence) for the earth's moon. Therefore, a claim/conclusion like this should at least be accompanied by a thorough analysis of the orbits of all planets and moons in our solar system, and of the observed spin-down rates of all known millisecond binary pulsars (this data is readily available in several online catalogs) before it is presented as a claim/conclusion.

A good starting point for such an investigation would be to review this article: J.P. Uzan, The fundamental constants and their variation: observational and theoretical status, Reviews of Modern Physics, Vol. 75, April 2003, pp. 403-455.

This equation implies that the fundamental physical constants vary over cosmological time scales: e.g., the SI base units of time (the second), of length (the meter), and Newton's gravitational constant.
Taken in isolation, the equation just describes an observational fact. Attempting to implement the equation into a wider setting or theory is a different cup of tea.
The question is if this equation represents something potentially significant or if it
represents only a coincidence.
That is an interesting proposition that deserves to be carefully examined. If it is presented in that way (e.g., as a proposal for further investigation), then a "real skeptic" (e.g., a scientist) should react positively. If however this is presented as a claim/conclusion, then a "real skeptic" should react by pointing out (directly or indirectly) that it is premature to be making claims/conclusions at this stage of your investigation.
The equation was presented as representing an observational fact, nothing more.
The "real skeptic" would be asked for an assesment of the significance of this
observation as basis for further investigation.
In this particular case for example, all spinning and orbiting bodies in the universe should also obey this equation if it is really true (e.g., not just a coincidence) for the earth's moon. Therefore, a claim/conclusion like this should at least be accompanied by a thorough analysis of the orbits of all planets and moons in our solar system, and of the observed spin-down rates of all known millisecond binary pulsars (this data is readily available in several online catalogs) before it is presented as a claim/conclusion.
Of course the equation should be significant for orbits of other bodies than the Moon,
if it represents something more than just a coincidence. However, spin-down rates
of millisecond pulsars is another matter, since by extrapolation, the equation should apply only to orbits. For spinning bodies, extrapolation of the equation would be more risky. Overgeneralizing is not a good thing.
A good starting point for such an investigation would be to review this article: J.P. Uzan, The fundamental constants and their variation: observational and theoretical status, Reviews of Modern Physics, Vol. 75, April 2003, pp. 403-455.
Yes, I am aware of this paper. For LLR data and their interpretation, see

J. Chapront, M. Chapront-Touze and G. Francou, Astron. & Astrophys. 387, 700 (2002).

Hurkyl
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Furthermore, this response is useless, and I consider it inappropriate since it in effect denies any significance of the observation without giving any reasons why.
Contrary to popular belief, facts do not speak for themselves. Your post provided absolutely no reason why one would be interested in this fact, or what its implications might be. You never even raised the issue of whether the fact is interesting or significant. Asking, "so what?" cannot deny anything -- you haven't said anything that can be confirmed or denied!* "So what?" is exactly the question that prompts you to supply that missing information.

*: except for the veracity of the fact, which I will assume for the sake of argument and because I'm too lazy to check it myself)

Aether
Gold Member
Even well-documented observations that do not fit easily into a preconceived notion of how the world should work, may be rationalized away or just neglected. One example of this is the observed mean acceleration $${\dot n}$$ of the Moon; from lunar laser ranging experiments this has the value of about -13.8 arcseconds/(century)^2. Furthermore, the mean motion of the Moon $$n$$ is about .549 arcseconds/s.
Assuming that these numbers accurately reflect well-documented observations of LLR (Lunar Laser Ranging) measurements, and that you don't mean to suggest that they "do not fit easily into a preconceived notion of how the world should work" or that anyone has "rationalized away or just neglected" them; then it must be this statement of yours that you are saying does "not fit easily into a preconceived notion of how the world should work", and it must be this statement of yours that you are saying has been "rationalized away or just neglected":
Now the interesting part is that to within one standard deviation, $${\dot n}=-Hn$$, where H is the Hubble parameter
Right?

...Taken in isolation, the equation just describes an observational fact. Attempting to implement the equation into a wider setting or theory is a different cup of tea...The equation was presented as representing an observational fact, nothing more.
Wrong. This equation describes a line extending from a time several billion years in the past when the Moon was first formed to a time several billion years in the future when the Sun will burn out. The LLR observations that you have presented so far might represent, at most, one single point on this line. If you are claiming that this line is a plausible one, then please show a plot of this line over the life-span of the Moon vs. the mainstream scientific estimate of what this line should actually be (e.g., where the total angular momentum of the Earth-Moon system is conserved over the time period).

Assuming that these numbers accurately reflect well-documented observations of LLR (Lunar Laser Ranging) measurements, and that you don't mean to suggest that they "do not fit easily into a preconceived notion of how the world should work" or that anyone has "rationalized away or just neglected" them; then it must be this statement of yours that you are saying does "not fit easily into a preconceived notion of how the world should work", and it must be this statement of yours that you are saying has been "rationalized away or just neglected":Right?
Sure, noone is disputing the numbers. However, the numbers (represented by the equation) also suggest that cosmology may be relevant to the Solar system, since the Hubble parameter pops up for no apparent reason. If cosmology is indeed relevant to the Solar system, that would be contrary to predictions coming from standard theory "how the world works".
Wrong. This equation describes a line extending from a time several billion years in the past when the Moon was first formed to a time several billion years in the future when the Sun will burn out. The LLR observations that you have presented so far might represent, at most, one single point on this line. If you are claiming that this line is a plausible one, then please show a plot of this line over the life-span of the Moon vs. the mainstream scientific estimate of what this line should actually be (e.g., where the total angular momentum of the Earth-Moon system is conserved over the time period).
I agree that the equation should be shown to be consistent with paleo-geological data.
However, these data involve the spin-down of the Earth (sedimentary tidal rhythmities)
and usually a theory-dependent assumption (that the length of the year is constant).
To compare the equation to these data, one would need a prediction of the spin-down
of the Earth and a knowledge of the cosmic time variation of the Hubble parameter. To predict that, having a general theory yielding these predictions would be necessary. (One
must also correct the data for any theory-dependent assumptions inconsistent with the
theory one is going to test.)

And by the way, the "mainstream scientific estimate" contains a free parameter (the paleo-geological tidal friction) which may be tweaked to give consistency with the data.

In short, you ask too much since a general theory is needed to compare the equation
to paleo-geological data.

Is there ANY reason to speculate that it's anything more than a coincidence?
Well, according to standard theory, the Hubble parameter should have no
relevance for the Solar system. Yet H pops up in the LLR data, and very close
to the value found from cosmic observations. I would say that this is an
incredible "coincidence". A second, independent Solar system observation is
the infamous Pioneer anomaly, where the "anomalous acceleration" is close to cH.
Another "coincidence", suggesting cosmic relevance where none should be.

StuMyers
If you look through enough data, you'll probably find my birthdate, also. This just doesn't seem very convincing.

If you look through enough data, you'll probably find my birthdate, also. This just doesn't seem very convincing.
OK, I have a challenge for you. Please show how the (inverse) time scale 10H (.1H or 100H or whatever) pops out naturally from the LLR data, or the Pioneer data. When you fail this challenge, maybe you will learn that some facts are not arbitrary and cannot be dismissed
as such.

And, since I am interested in how people assess inconvenient facts; what would it take
to convince you that such a fact should be taken seriously?

Ivan Seeking
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
It is okay to point out an interesting "coincidence", but without a mathematical model to support your assertion, we can't argue that a significant relation is found. And even if you did it would be inappropriate for the S&D Forum. If you have such a model that meets the specified criteria, you may post it in the Independent Research Forum

Hurkyl
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Moreover, since no explanation can be made of this within standard theory, this fact is inconvenient, and easy to dismiss without justification.
Does the standard theory predict the wrong value for the ratio of the mean acceleration and the mean motion of the moon? If not, then your premise is patently false. If so, then it's the disagreement with observation that's inconvenient; not that you can express it in terms of the Hubble parameter.

This is part of why I strongly dislike implied arguments -- I don't know what you're trying to argue, and I don't know what you are assuming to make that argument. If it's not worth your time to say what you mean, then it's certainly not worth my time to guess at it!

Last edited:
Does the standard theory predict the wrong value for the ratio of the mean acceleration and the mean motion of the moon? If not, then your premise is patently false. If so, then it's the disagreement with observation that's inconvenient; not that you can express it in terms of the Hubble parameter.
The standard theory does not "predict" any specific value for this ratio. Rather, the tidal
friction term is a free parameter determined from the data, i.e., representing the
difference between the calculated effects of the planetary perturbations and the LLR observations. This means that standard theory is consistent with a wide range of this
ratio - yet the ratio that emerges from the data is the Hubble parameter. That's what
makes it inconvenient - from a large set of possible values, a very special one is observed. But it seems that I'm the only person here who thinks that this is an incredible "coincidence".
This is part of why I strongly dislike implied arguments -- I don't know what you're trying to argue, and I don't know what you are assuming to make that argument. If it's not worth your time to say what you mean, then it's certainly not worth my time to guess at it!
The only thing that I'm trying to argue is the incredibility and inconvenience of this "coincidence". Moreover I wanted to know how others assessed it. Ivan Seeking gave a clear opinion, you, however, seem reluctant to give an opinion.

Ivan Seeking
Staff Emeritus