Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Outsider physicists and the oh-my-god particle


IN OCTOBER 1991, astrophysicists observed something incredible in the skies above Dugway Proving Ground, a former weapons-testing facility in a remote corner of Utah. It was a cosmic ray with an enormous amount of energy - equivalent to the kinetic energy of a baseball travelling at 100 kilometres per hour, but compressed into a subatomic particle. It came to be known as the oh-my-god-particle, and though similar events have been recorded at least 15 times since, mainstream physicists remain baffled by them.
To Jim Carter, a trailer-park owner in Enumclaw, Washington, ultra-high-energy cosmic rays pose no problem. They offer proof of a radical theory of the universe he has been developing for 50 years.
In Carter's theory, these rays are photons left over from the earliest stage of cosmic evolution. He calls them "apocalyptic photons" and believes that one of them was responsible for the Tunguska eventMovie Camera in 1908, in which a mysterious something from outer space flattened 2100 square kilometres of Siberian forest.
Carter's ideas are not taken seriously by the physics mainstream. He does not have a PhD and has never had any of his work published in a scientific journal. He has just a single semester of university education, which was enough to convince him that what was being taught in physics departments was an offence to common sense.
In response, Carter went off and developed his own ideas. Five decades on he has his very own theory of everything, an idiosyncratic alternative to quantum mechanics and general relativity, based on the idea that all matter is composed of doughnut-shaped particles called circlons. Since the 1970s he has articulated his ideas in a series of self-published books, including his magnum opus, The Other Theory of Physics.
For the past 18 years I have been collecting the works of what I have come to call "outsider physicists"...