A Physicist’s Critique
by Dr. David L. Morgan
In 1996, I was asked to review the content of a Bob Lazar website by an online acquaintance. Since then, my critique has been posted to Usenet discussion boards, featured on web pages, and taken on something of a life of its own. I still get email about it monthly, which is quite amusing, considering it’s been almost 5 years since I wrote it. Since the original posting was intended to be an informal email, the tone was somewhat harsh and flippant, and some sections were a bit too dismissive. I decided recently that I would try to put together a revision of the now-infamous paper. That revision is presented below.
After reading an account by Bob Lazar of the “physics” of his Area 51 UFO propulsion system, my conclusion is this: Mr. Lazar presents a scenario which, if it is correct, violates a whole handful of currently accepted physical theories. That in and of itself does not necessarily mean that his scenario is impossible. But the presentation of the scenario by Lazar is troubling from a scientific standpoint. Mr. Lazar on many occasions demonstrates an obvious lack of understanding of current physical theories. On no occasion does he acknowledge that his scenario violates physical laws as we understand them, and on no occasion does he offer up any hints of new theories which would make his mechanism possible. Mr. Lazar has a propensity for re-defining scientific terms, and using scientific language in a confusing and careless way. For these reasons, I don’t feel that Lazar’s pseudo-scientific ramblings are really worthy of any kind of serious consideration.
I will focus on the parts of Lazar’s text which I took the most exception with- most of these excerpts relate to particle physics, which is my field. Lazar’s text is in boldface. He begins by describing the principle behind interstellar travel…
This is accomplished by generating an intense gravitational field and using that field to distort space/time, bringing the destination to the source, and allowing you to cross many light years of space in little time and without traveling in a linear mode near the speed of light.
I’m less bothered by the wording of this passage now than I used to be, although I still think it’s misleading. If you are distorting spacetime with a gravitational field, it produces a very specific kind of distortion, and a very specific kind of attraction. That’s what gravity IS – a distortion in spacetime, at least according to general relativity. And gravity attracts EVERYTHING. A gravitational field is a gravitational field…you can’t pick and choose which objects it has an effect on. So, going by what Lazar says here, I still say that if you were to generate a gravitational field intense enough to warp spacetime and “bring the destination to the source” you’ll also bring everything else in the nearby universe to the source too! If Mr. Lazar had really distorted spacetime like this back in his “Area 51” lab, every object on the face of the Earth would have rushed into New Mexico. Before they crashed back in the 50’s, the alien saucers would have sucked the Earth right out of orbit!
Now I’m no expert in general relativity, but I believe that there ARE solutions in GR which do involve distortions of spacetime that are not “gravitational” in nature. (In other words they would not “attract” things outside of the distortion.) There are serious scientists that do serious work on wormholes and warp bubbles and other mechanisms which could allow faster-than-light travel by taking advantage of distortions in spacetime. As this research stands right now, it seems clear that the energy requirements which would be required by this kind of travel are unimaginable by any standards – even the most fanciful extrapolations of alien technology. I’m talking about an entire star’s-worth or even a galaxy’s-worth of energy! More mass/energy than could be contained in a tiny saucer, or even all of New Mexico for that matter.
There are currently two main theories about gravity. The “wave” theory which states that gravity is a wave, and the other is a theory which includes “gravitons”, which are alleged sub-atomic particles which perform as gravity, which by the way, is total nonsense.
These statements by Lazar are “total nonsense”. There is only ONE currently accepted theory of gravity: General Relativity. In GR, gravity is described as a distortion of spacetime, not as a particle or a wave. There are phenomena known as “gravitational waves” which exist in GR, but this does not seem to be what Lazar is talking about. Lazar says that gravity IS a wave. It isn’t a wave. The “gravitons” which he speaks of are a feature of QUANTUM gravitational theories, and I think they require a little explanation.
All physicists realize that the theories of QM and GR are incomplete, because they are mutually incompatible. In order to have a complete theory, theoretical physicists are looking to combine the two into a unified theory which will involve a quantum theory of gravity. There are currently no quantum theories of gravity that work. But even though a satisfactory theory does not yet exist, there is nothing at all nonsensical about gravitons. When an adequate quantum theory of gravity IS formulated, the energy of the gravitational field will be quantized. This quantum of the gravitational field is what physicists call the graviton. It is no more nonsensical than the photon – which is the quantum of the electromagnetic field.
(To add to the confusion of Lazar’s statement, in any quantum theory of gravity, as in all quantum theories, the graviton will be, in a sense, BOTH a particle AND a wave!)
The fact that gravity is a wave has caused mainstream scientists to surmise numerous sub-atomic particles which don’t actually exist and this has caused great complexity and confusion in the study of particle physics.
As a particle physicist, I must say that I have NO IDEA what he is talking about here. Surmising particles that don’t exist? I can’t think of a single particle whose existence has been postulated as a result of gravitational theories. Perhaps the graviton is one, but that’s about it.
You must have at least an atom of substance for it to be considered “matter”. At least a proton and an electron and in most cases a neutron. Anything short of an atom such as upquarks and downquarks which make up protons and neutrons; or protons, neutrons, or electrons, individually are considered to be mass and do not constitute “matter” until they form an atom.
These are peculiar and nonstandard definitions. The standard use of the term “matter” includes anything which has mass. Even a single quark is considered to be a particle of matter. If a quark isn’t “matter” than what is it? All elementary particles are either matter particles or force-carrying particles. An electron is a mater particle, and so is a quark.
It may seem like a small point, but I think that errors like these are what make Lazar’s “theory” so dubious. How can we give much consideration to someone who claims to be overthrowing the foundations of particle physics, when it’s fairly obvious that he isn’t even familiar with the terminology?
Gravity A is what is currently being labeled as the “strong nuclear force” in mainstream physics …
This is the place where Lazar begins to get him self in real trouble. As it is understood now, the strong nuclear force has NOTHING TO DO WITH GRAVITY. Such a statement shows either a complete lack of understanding of the physics of the Standard Model of particle interactions, or a BLATANT attempt at deception. The equations and coupling strengths which describe the two forces are totally different and unrelated. The strong force couples only to quarks and gluons. The gravitational force couples to all particles with mass. The strong force is extremely short range. The range of gravity is infinite. The gravitational coupling constant is orders of magnitude smaller than that of the strong interaction. There is NO BASIS for using the word “gravity” to describe the strong interaction IN ANY WAY.
If Mr. Lazar has formulated a NEW model in which the two forces are really the same, then he has unified gravity with the other three forces of nature, and he should publish it now and collect his Nobel Prize. If he DOES NOT have such a new theory then his statement here is ABSOLUTELY FALSE.
It’s not good enough to just call the strong interaction “gravity A wave”. You’ve got to demonstrate that it actually has SOMETHING to do with gravity if you’re going to attach that name to it! The words by themselves are meaningless. I want to see some equations. Otherwise, this statement is not only wrong, but utterly incomprehensible.
…it should be obvious that a large, single star system, binary star system, or multiple star system would have had more of the prerequisite mass and electromagnetic energy present during their creations.
Now we get into some fuzzy astronomy. Mr. Lazar doesn’t seem to understand where heavy elements come from, or
how they are formed.
First we have to assume that when Lazar says “large” he means “massive.” The “largeness” of a star says nothing about its mass. In five or ten billion years, the sun will be as large as the orbit of Mars. A star’s size changes drastically during its lifetime. It’s pretty clear that what Lazar should be talking about here is the MASS of the star.
The next section is a little vague, but he SEEMS to be suggesting that his element 115, the alien fuel source, which doesn’t exist on the Earth, should be present in those solar systems that were more massive at their inception. The implication here is that a star system which condensed out of a more massive primordial cloud should have a greater abundance of heavier elements. This is quite incorrect.
Heavy elements – all elements heavier than iron – are not formed during the normal life cycles of stars. The only time when these nuclei are “cooked” is during the collapse and subsequent explosion of supernovae. The supernova explosion then spreads heavy elements throughout the galaxy. For this reason, the abundances of heavy elements in any particular star system depend NOT upon the properties of the current star, but on the properties of the nearby stars of the PREVIOUS GENERATION! Therefore, all of the star systems in a particular region of the galaxy will have essentially the same abundances of heavy elements, regardless of the mass of star. If element 115 is STABLE, as Lazar claims it to be, then it should be created in supernova explosions and it should exist EVERYWHERE!
The most important attribute of these heavier, stable elements is that the gravity A wave is so abundant that it actually extends past the perimeter of the atom. These heavier, stable elements literally have their own gravity A field around them…
No naturally occurring atoms on earth have enough protons and neutrons for the cumulative gravity A wave to extend past the perimeter of the atom…
Since Mr. Lazar has already identified this gravity A wave with the nuclear force, he is essentially claiming that the nuclear force of element 115 extends beyond the limits of the “115-ium” atom. (I’m tempted to call it Lazarium…and somewhat surprised that he doesn’t!!) This is simply not possible, given the known properties of the nuclear force. The past 50 years of probing the nucleus have taught us that the range of the nuclear force is VERY short, and protons and neutrons only feel the pull of their nearest neighbors in a nucleus. Because of this fact, the nuclear force extends out to about the same distance away from a nucleus NO MATTER HOW MASSIVE THE NUCLEUS IS. This fact is fundamental to the science of nuclear physics.
Once again, if Mr. Lazar has a NEW MODEL of the nuclear interaction which explains the properties and decay rates of known nuclei…which can predict the abundances of elements synthesized in the Big Bang…which can describe all of the properties of nuclear reactions which take place inside of stars…all as well as our current theories do all of these things (which is VERY well!) then he should publish it and collect his Nobel Prize. If not, then once again his statements make NO SENSE in the light of everything that we know about nuclear interactions.
Now even though the distance that the gravity A wave extends past the perimeter of the atom is infinitesimal, it is accessible and it has amplitude, wavelength and frequency, just like any OTHER wave in the electromagnetic spectrum. Once you can access the gravity A wave, you can amplify it just like we amplify OTHER electromagnetic waves.
I have emphasized the use of the word “other” in this paragraph to show that Mr. Lazar apparently thinks that his “gravity A wave”, which if you recall, is also the strong nuclear force, is ALSO an electromagnetic wave. Perhaps he HAS formulated a “Grand Unified Theory” after all! Or perhaps this is just another example of his careless use of scientific terms.
I want to take some time here to talk about scientific progress, because there is one common objection to my critique of Lazar’s scenario. People will often say “Modern science could be wrong. Newton was wrong! Lazar could be right!” Yes. That is correct. In fact, modern science almost certainly IS “wrong.” But the only real test of a theory in science is that it works. Newton’s Laws worked. They still do in most situations. Einstein’s theories are better – they are more accurate and they work in more situations. New theories will continue to come along that are more precise and more generally applicable than the older theories, and these new theories will be tested by experiments until they supplant the old ones. That is how science has progressed for the past 400
So it is not enough to SAY that modern science is wrong. You have to demonstrate that you have something that is better. And that “better” theory needs to do everything that the old theory does, and then do more. And chances are that it won’t completely turn the old theory on it’s head – because we already know that the old theories work too well. It is not possible to create a new theory until you understand the old one well enough to present a coherent alternative. Calling current science “total nonsense” is nice rhetoric, and no doubt convincing to many non-scientists who feel alienated from science and look on scientists as a kind of modern priesthood of arcane knowledge. But science is a process – not a body of knowledge.
I can’t possibly demonstrate conclusively that Lazar’s mechanism is impossible. All that I can hope to demonstrate here is that his scenario would require a COMPLETE overhaul of our theories of gravity and particle physics in order to work. Not just some minor changes…I’m talking from the ground up. Mr. Lazar makes no mention of this fact, and he proposes no alternative theories. But, if Lazar’s scenario is true, then we will NEED some new theories, because we are wrong about a great many things. We don’t understand gravity. We don’t understand nuclear interactions. We don’t understand spacetime. We don’t understand stellar evolution. However, considering Mr. Lazar’s careless use of language, his casual redefinition of scientific terms, and the complete lack of details in his presentation, I’m willing to bet the farm that it is actually Lazar who doesn’t understand any of these things.
But wait…..There’s an addendum!!
Lazar explains on his current webpage (www.boblazar.com) how his element 115 not only serves as the generator of the Gravity A wave, but ALSO as the fuel for a matter/antimatter reactor that powers the rest of the saucer. Let’s take a close look at Lazar’s explanation of this reactor…
“The power source is a reactor. Inside the reactor, element 115 is bombarded with a proton, which plugs into the nucleus of the 115 atom and becomes element 116, which immediately decays and releases or radiates small amounts of anti-matter. The anti-matter is released in a vacuum into a tuned tube, which keeps it from reacting with the matter that surrounds it. It is then directed toward the gaseous matter target at the end of the tube. The matter, which in this case is the gas, and the anti-matter, collide and annihilate totally converting to energy. The heat from this reaction is converted into electrical energy in a near one hundred percent efficient thermoelectric generator. “
Lots of impressive sounding stuff about reactors and bombarding with protons and all that. But read it again. Antimatter and matter are converted into energy. Fine. But where does the antimatter come from? From element 115 when it is “bombarded with a proton” by the ship’s reactor. Hmmm. And just exactly HOW MUCH energy would your reactor have to put into each proton to have it create an antiproton?? Well, exactly the mass energy of an antiproton! And how much energy do you get back out when the antiproton annihilates? EXACTLY THE SAME AMOUNT OF ENERGY THAT YOU PUT INTO CREATING IT!!
(Actually, you can’t just make an antiproton by itself, you have to make a proton/anti-proton pair. So your reactor needs to put in 2 “protons-worth” of mass-energy into each proton in the beam.)
If you have to MAKE your own antimatter on board, your system produces NO NET ENERGY AT ALL!! You put 2 protons worth of energy in, and you get 2 protons worth of energy out! In fact, the BEST this system could do would be to make ZERO energy, but in fact, it would more likely USE far more energy than it would make.
Conservation of energy rears it’s ugly head, and once again – it looks like Bob’s saucer is going nowhere fast!
Dr. David L. Morgan
August 26, 1996, revised April 2001
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