Over the years, NASA scientists have found several anomalies in the trajectories of different spacecraft. They speed up slightly, in a way that cannot be explained by the models NASA use.

One explanation is that there is something with the spacecrafts themselves which systematically makes them go faster than expected, or that there is an unknown external influence. But none such conventional mechanism has been found.

The other, more interesting, possibility, is that there is something we don’t understand about the habits, or “laws”, of the universe, and maybe specifically gravity.

Scientists – and most people in general – understand of course that our maps only have a temporary and functional value. What they refer to is always different from and more than what any map can cover or appear to explain.

When we use terms such as “laws of nature” it is easy to forget that this is the case. A law seem so permanent. So this is a good reminder that even our most basic maps about how the universe functions are still just maps, in need of revision now and then as any of our other maps.

And there are of course other areas where we forget this. In fact, whenever we identify with a story, we forget it, even if it is as simple as “she should do her dishes”.

So anomalies – whether in science or daily life – is a good reminder to look at whether we take our maps to be more than just a map, and maybe to revise them as well.

See the Wikipedia entry on the flyby and pioneer anomalies, and listen to the most recent Planetary Radio for an interview with a JPL scientist on this topic.

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