December 31, 2008

Creation AND Evolution: Catholic Church comes to grips with Galileo

Filed under: Cosmology, Religion — bferrari @ 11:32 am

By Bob Ferrari

Galileos original self-made telescope

Galileo's original self-made telescope

For centuries, various religions have touted their views of the Universe as the one true vision. There has been the most esoteric battle of all raging throughout the centuries, the combatants are many, their ideologies are one, be it – Theologist vs. Cosmologist, Priest vs. Astronomer, Alchemist vs. Heratic, Wiccan vs. Christian, Druid vs. Muslim, and so on…

This globe-spanning battle continues today and yes people are still dying over this ideology. The ideology is a basic one with universe-spanning consequences. It all boils down to this – Science vs. Religion.

Indeed, the terrorists we as a world are fighting today, base their views on a rather backward-looking religious belief system which justifies their violent actions which includes the miserable way they treat women in their own world.

Religion certainly has it’s place in today’s society as in many cases, helps to guide people’s morals, ethics, and daily lives. For those that take the extremist views, they purposefully misinterpret their religious doctrines to justify crimes against humanity all for their own gain. I don’t need to remind our readers that bomb-vest wearing Muslim-extremists practice this absurd radicalism all in the name of their god.

Science also has it’s place as it serves to explain the mechanisms and laws that the universe today operates on. Indeed Cosmologists believe that they can prove that the universe began some 13.7 billion years ago. They believe they can explain how the universe began…almost. We can go as far back in time to the first billionth of a yactosecond when the four basic forces (strong, weak, electromagnetic, gravity) of the universe were one and the same. Before this time… before the first billionth of a yactosecond, modern science has no explanation of what occurred as the known laws of nature did NOT exist due to the incredible heat and pressure brought on by the initial expansion of the Big Bang.

This initial moment in time is now formerly known as, the Planck Era, named after Max Planck a brilliant German physicist. Science has no knowledge of this era… could god have been part of this era, performed his handiwork by initiating the Big Bang, and then stepped back to let the mechanism of the universe fulfill its destiny? If you base your belief system on Science – no, if Religion – yes. But maybe the universe itself exists due to both, a hybrid of Creationism and Evolution.

The Planck Era (before the first billionth of a yactosecond)

The Universe Life Cycle (Planck Era - the first billionth of a yactosecond after the Big Bang)

With the coming online of the new Large Hadron Collider we may soon even understand what happened during the Planck Era, but I seriously doubt we will know what caused the Big Bang to actually commence. Science does not have the answer for everything yet.

Maybe god didn’t create the universe in seven days but started the process and let it evolve. Maybe, like most ideas, the truth lay somewhere in the middle….

Even the catholic church is coming to grips with science:

Good heavens: Vatican rehabilitating Galileo

VATICAN CITY —  Galileo Galilei is going from heretic to hero.

Pope Praises Galileo, Astronomy in General

VATICAN CITY —  Pope Benedict XVI is marking the 400th anniversary of Galileo's use of a telescope.


December 27, 2008

Scientific illiteracy all the rage among the glitterati

Filed under: Stupidity — bferrari @ 7:24 pm
Kate Moss, who believes diet can detox your body (Getty Images)

Kate Moss, who believes diet can detox your body (Getty Images)

Yet, Hollywood know-it-alls seem to think that when it comes to politics, they know best, right.

By Steve Connor, Science editor

Saturday, 27 December 2008

When it comes to science, Barack Obama is no better than many of us. Today he joins the list of shame of those in public life who made scientifically unsupportable statements in 2008.

Closer to home, Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith faltered on the science of food, while Kate Moss, Oprah Winfrey and Demi Moore all get roastings for scientific illiteracy.

The Celebrities and Science Review 2008, prepared by the group Sense About Science, identifies some of the worst examples of scientific illiteracy among those who profess to know better – including top politicians.

Mr Obama and John McCain blundered into the MMR vaccine row during their presidential campaigns. “We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate,” said President-elect Obama. “Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it,” he said.

His words were echoed by Mr McCain. “It’s indisputable that [autism] is on the rise among children, the question is what’s causing it,” he said. “There’s strong evidence that indicates it’s got to do with a preservative in the vaccines.”

Exhaustive research has failed to substantiate any link to vaccines or any preservatives. The rise in autism is thought to be due to an increased awareness of the condition.

Sarah Palin, Mr McCain’s running mate, waded into the mire with her dismissal of some government research projects. “Sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not,” Ms Palin said. But the geneticist Ellen Solomon takes Ms Palin to task for not understanding the importance of studies into fruit flies, which share roughly half their genes with humans. “They have been used for more than a century to understand how genes work, which has implications in, for example, understanding the ageing process,” she said.

Hollywood did not escape the critical analysis of the scientific reviewers, who lambasted Tom Cruise, for his comments on psychiatry being a crime against humanity, and Julianne Moore, who warned against using products full of unnatural chemicals.

“The real crime against humanity continues to be the enduring misery caused by the major mental illnesses across the globe, and the continuing lack of resources devoted to supporting those afflicted,” said the psychiatrist Professor Simon Wessely.

In answer to Moore, the science author and chemist John Emsley said that natural chemicals are not automatically safer than man-made chemicals, which undergo rigorous testing.

“Something which is naturally sourced may well include a mixture of things that are capable of causing an adverse reaction,” Dr Emsley said.

Other mentions went to the chefs Nigella Lawson, who said “mind meals” can make you feel different about life, and Delia Smith, who claimed it is possible to eliminate sugar from the diet. The dietician Catherine Collins said that Lawson’s support for expensive allergy foods is a wasted opportunity and too costly for those on limited incomes, while Lisa Miles of the British Nutrition Foundation said that sugars are part of a balanced diet.

Kate Moss, Oprah Winfrey and Demi Moore all espoused the idea that you can detoxify your body with either diet (scientifically unsupportable) or, in the case of Moore, products such as “highly trained medical leeches” which make you bleed. Scientists point out that diet alone cannot remove toxins and that blood itself is not a toxin, and even if it did contain toxins, removing a little bit of it is not going to help.

But top prize went to the lifestyle guru Carole Caplin for denouncing a study showing that vitamin supplements offer little or no health benefits as “rubbish” – it is the third year on the run that she has been mentioned in the review. Science author and GP Ben Goldacre pointed out that the study Ms Caplin referred to was the most authoritative yet published. “Carole should understand that research can often produce results which challenge our preconceptions: that is why science is more interesting than just following your nose,” Dr Goldacre said.

Talking sense: Two who got it right

*The writer Jilly Cooper gets nine out of ten for making a stab at why alternative treatments might work: “If you believe them, then they work.” That describes the placebo effect, where a harmless but useless remedy seems to work because the patient feels as if it is working.

*The vocal coach and singer Carrie Grant is applauded for raising the profile of Crohn’s disease without abusing the science. “There are so many therapies available, but none of them are going to cure you,” she said.


Heroes of Space: Apollo 8, Forty Years Later

Filed under: Inner Solar System, Moons, Space Exploration — bferrari @ 9:53 am
The famous full-color image of the Earth rising over the moon. (NASA)

The famous full-color image of the Earth rising over the moon. (NASA)

It hadn’t been a very good year.

Nineteen-sixty-eight saw the Tet offensive in Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, riots across the world and the My Lai massacre.

But on Christmas Eve, Americans turned on their TVs to see perhaps the first good news all year: Apollo 8 astronauts reading from the Book of Genesis as they became the first humans to orbit the moon.

“And God said, Let there be light: and there was light,” read Lunar Module Pilot William Anders.

His crewmates, Commander Frank Borman and Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, followed with more verses.

The Apollo 8 crew wasn’t even supposed to have gone to the moon. The mission was planned as a low-Earth orbit to test the Lunar Module, the lander later used by Apollo 11 and subsequent missions to land on the moon’s surface.

But production delays meant the Lunar Module wouldn’t be ready for testing until February 1969. Since the orbiter, the Command Module, had already been thoroughly tested, a decision was made in August 1968 to send Apollo 8 into lunar orbit instead.

That gave the crew only four months to rush through whole new round of training. It’s estimated they spent seven hours training for each actual hour of the mission. The night before the launch, they were visited by hero aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife, as Lindbergh recounted his famous 1927 solo transatlantic flight.

The Saturn V rocket launched on Dec. 21 without major incident. One the way to the moon, Borman got sick, which sent globules of bodily fluids floating around the cabin — the first documented case of space sickness.

Nearly three days after launch, the braking engines fired and the Apollo 8 capsule went into orbit around the moon. The astronauts gazed down upon the lunar craters, the first humans to see them from so close.

“The Moon is essentially gray, no color; looks like plaster of Paris or sort of a grayish beach sand,” Lovell reported back to Mission Control.

Jim Lovell, Bill Anders and Frank Borman. (NASA)

The Apollo 8 crew standing in front of a simulator during training. Left to right: Jim Lovell, Bill Anders and Frank Borman. (NASA)

The astronauts orbited around the moon a total of 10 times over 20 hours, reading from Genesis during the ninth orbit. The journey back to Earth, which began on Christmas Day, was uneventful, though hardly calm; the astronauts themselves had given their mission only a 50-50 chance of succeeding.

But when they got back to Earth, they were hailed as conquering heroes. Time magazine named the trio Men of the Year. Life magazine called their famous color photograph of the Earth rising over the moon one of the “100 photos that changed the world.”

Notable atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair sued NASA over the Genesis reading, but the court ruled it had no jurisdiction over events in space. And Borman got an anonymous telegram that said simply: “Thank you Apollo 8. You saved 1968.”

Forty Christmas Eves later, it’s best to remember the line that Borman closed the Genesis reading with: “Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas — and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”


December 19, 2008

‘Wet’ Early Universe: Water Vapor Detected At Record Distance

Filed under: Black Holes, Cosmology — bferrari @ 7:52 pm

CFHT, J.-C. Cuillandre, Coelum)

Discovery spectrum (insert upper right) showing water maser emission from the quasar MG J0414+0534 with high redshift. The background image, an HST near infrared image of the quasar, shows how the quasar appears broken up into four components by a foreground galaxy (diffuse source in the centre), acting as a gravitational lens and strengthening the signal by a factor of 35. The inset (lower right) with galaxy M87 shows how the quasar could be seen from nearby. (Credit: Milde Science Communication, Background Image: HST Archive data, Inset: CFHT, J.-C. Cuillandre, Coelum)

ScienceDaily (Dec. 19, 2008) — A research group led by graduate student Violette Impellizzeri from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy has used the 100 m Effelsberg radio telescope to detect water at the greatest distance from Earth so far. The water vapour was discovered in the quasar MG J0414+0534 at redshift 2.64, which corresponds to a light travel time of 11.1 billion years, a time when the Universe was only a fifth of the age it is today.

The water vapour is thought to exist in clouds of dust and gas that feed the supermassive black hole at the centre of the distant quasar. The detection was later confirmed by high-resolution interferometric observations with the Expanded Very Large Array.

The discovery of water in the early Universe was possible only due to the chance alignment of a foreground galaxy and the distant quasar MG J0414+0534. The foreground galaxy acts like a cosmic telescope, magnifying and distorting the light from the quasar forming four distinct images of the quasar. Without this gravitational lensing effect, 580 days of continuous observations with the 100 m telescope would have been needed instead of the 14 hours used to make this remarkable discovery. “Others have tried and failed to find water, and we knew we were looking for a very faint signal”, says Violette Impellizzeri, “so we thought of using a foreground galaxy like a cosmic magnifying glass to observe at a far greater distance and had to be persistent, and sure enough the line emission of water popped up.”

The detection of water from MG J0414+0534 with the Effelsberg radio telescope also occurred thanks to a touch of fortune. The object is within just the right redshift interval to stretch the line emission of the H2O molecule from its original frequency of 22 GHz to 6 GHz and so within the tuning range of the 6 GHz receiver installed at the telescope.

“It is interesting that we found water in the first gravitationally-magnified object we observed from the distant Universe”, says co-author John McKean. “This suggests that the water molecule may have been much more abundant in the early Universe than first thought, and can be used for further research into supermassive black holes and galaxy evolution at high redshift.”

The water emission was seen in the form of a maser, that is, beamed radiation similar to a laser, but at microwaves wavelengths. The signal corresponds to a luminosity of 10,000 times the luminosity of the Sun. Such astrophysical masers are known to originate in regions of hot and dense dust and gas. With the detection of water from MG J0414+0534 it is the first time such a dense gas component has been observed in the early Universe and shows that the conditions for the water molecule to form and survive already existed only 2.5 billion years after the Big Bang.

The story continues here:

December 16, 2008

Enceladus has ‘spreading surface’

Filed under: Extraterrestrial Life, Inner Solar System, Moons, Saturn — bferrari @ 9:17 am
The tiger stripe fractures (bottom right) are places where the surface spreads

The tiger stripe fractures (bottom right) are places where the surface spreads

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News, San Francisco

A US space agency (Nasa) probe has witnessed a moon of Saturn do something very unusual and Earth-like.

Pictures of the icy satellite Enceladus suggest its surface splits and spreads apart – just like the ocean floor on our planet splits to create new crust.

The information was released at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

Evidence is mounting that liquid water lies beneath the surface

Evidence is mounting that liquid water lies beneath the surface

The data from the Cassini spacecraft is said to strengthen the idea that Enceladus harbours a sub-surface sea.

“Bit by bit, we’re accumulating the evidence that there is liquid water on Enceladus,” said Carolyn Porco, team leader of the Cassini imaging group and one of the senior scientists on the mission.

The observation on Earth that the sea floor is splitting at mid-ocean ridges and moving apart was one of the great scientific discoveries of the 20th Century; and became a key feature in the theory of plate tectonics – the idea that massive slabs of the Earth’s surface move around and are recycled.

Cassini sees something very similar on Enceladus.

The surface of this snow-white moon is riven with cracks – dubbed tiger stripes – at its south pole.

Dr Paul Helfenstein from Cornell University used digital maps of this region to reconstruct a history of the stripes, pushing the fractures around on a computer screen until they fitted together like pieces in a puzzle.

He found that sections of the cracks had clearly moved from their original locations.

Dr Helfenstein told BBC News that the resemblance to the Earth process was remarkable.

“What’s different about them is that spreading ridges on the Earth typically spread symmetrically about a rift,” he said.

“On Enceladus, what we see is a type of spreading but it is strongly asymmetric – it’s like a conveyor belt, in which, if it’s true it’s coming up from a convection well, it seems to be only pushing in one direction. It does happen on Earth, but only in very peculiar situations.”

On Earth, sea-floor spreading is fuelled by molten rock upwelling from deep inside the Earth.

On Enceladus, the scientists speculate the liquid may be water.

If that is the case, it makes this moon one of the most exciting targets for future exploration.

Enceladus is already known to have some of the fundamental chemistry required to make and sustain life. Liquid water currently is the major missing ingredient.

Dr Porco commented: “We first discovered this region in early 2005 and now it’s nearly four years later, so it’s still kind of brand new; but already there are some of us who really want to go back with a spacecraft that focuses on the south pole of Enceladus and investigates whether or not it is a site of either pre-biotic or biotic processes.”


December 13, 2008

New Detector Will Aid Dark Matter Search

Filed under: Uncategorized — bferrari @ 10:35 am
An inside view of a neutron detector in development at MITs Laboratory for Nuclear Science. Pappalardo Fellow Jocelyn Monroe, is seen through the detector. (Donna Coveney)

An inside view of a neutron detector in development at MIT's Laboratory for Nuclear Science. Pappalardo Fellow Jocelyn Monroe, is seen through the detector. (Donna Coveney)

ScienceDaily (Dec. 12, 2008) — Several research projects are underway to try to detect particles that may make up the mysterious “dark matter” believed to dominate the universe’s mass. But the existing detectors have a problem: They also pick up particles of ordinary matter — hurtling neutrons that masquerade as the elusive dark-matter particles the instruments are designed to find.

MIT physicist Jocelyn Monroe has a solution. A new detector she and her students have built just finished its initial testing last week at Los Alamos National Laboratory. When deployed in the next few months alongside one of the existing dark-matter detectors, the new device should identify all of the ordinary neutrons that come along, leaving anything else that the other detector picks up as a strong candidate for the elusive dark matter.

“Dark matter experiments are very hard,” explains Monroe, who worked on the project with undergraduates Dianna Cowern and Rick Eyers and with graduate students Shawn Henderson and Asher Kaboth. “They are looking for a tiny signal, from a phenomenon that happens very rarely,” namely the collision of a dark-matter particle with one of ordinary matter, producing a tiny, brief flash of light.

Such flashes can be detected by putting a tank of liquid deep underground to shield it from most stray particles, then lining the tank with photomultiplier tubes that can pick up even the faintest bursts of light.

The problem is, even buried a mile underground, calculations show such detectors will pick up far more collisions from particles of ordinary matter than from those made of the still-unknown particles of dark matter. To be precise, the ordinary collisions should happen about 10 billion billion times (19 orders of magnitude) more often than the dark-matter collisions. So learning how to rule out those ordinary collisions is the key to finding the unknown matter.

The story continues here:

December 10, 2008

Supermassive Black hole found at center of our galaxy

Filed under: Black Holes — bferrari @ 1:09 pm

(CNN) — German astronomers say they have discovered conclusive proof of a supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy.

The center of the galaxy is a unique laboratory for astronomical study.

The center of the galaxy is a "unique laboratory" for astronomical study.

The 16-year study involved tracking the movement of 28 stars at the center of the Milky Way using telescopes at the European Southern Observatory in Chile.

Using the data collected, astronomers were able to calculate important properties about the black hole — called Sagittarius A* — such as its size and mass.

Professor Reinhard Genzel, who led the study at the Bavaria-based Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, said the data collected proved the existence of the black hole “beyond any reasonable doubt.”

“Undoubtedly the most spectacular aspect of our long term study is that it has delivered what is now considered to be the best empirical evidence that super-massive black holes do really exist,” said Genzel. The black hole had a central mass concentration of four million solar masses, he added.

More of the story here:

December 5, 2008

Star Caught in Act of Gobbling Up Planet

Filed under: Exoplanets, Supernova — bferrari @ 12:52 pm

An artists impression of a red supergiant engulfing a Jupiter-like planet as it expands. (NASA)

An artist's impression of a red supergiant engulfing a Jupiter-like planet as it expands. (NASA)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A planet outside of the solar system has been discovered orbiting a dying, puffed-up star called a red giant.

The finding could help astronomers learn more about the fate of our solar system.

The newly discovered exoplanet is nearly six times the mass of Jupiter and orbits the red giant star HD 102272, which is located 1,200 light-years away in the constellation Leo. To date, about 20 red giants are known to support planets.

The researchers suspect another world is orbiting farther out in the system. If confirmed, the system would be the first red giant star known to support more than one planet.

Small and medium-sized stars like our sun become red giants when they exhaust all of their hydrogen fuel near the end of their lives.

The stars’ cores contract and begin to burn helium, while their outer shells balloon up to 100 times their original size. When our sun does that, Earth and other planets will be vaporized.

The story continues here:,2933,459812,00.html?sPage=fnc/scitech/space

December 4, 2008

Blast From The Past: Astronomers Resurrect 16th-Century Supernova

Filed under: Supernova — bferrari @ 6:02 pm

ScienceDaily (Dec. 4, 2008) — Astronomers have used light echoes as a time machine to unearth secrets of

Multi-band image of the remnant of Tychos Supernova, composed from images taken with the 3.5 m telescope of Calar Alto and the camera Omega 2000 (infrared), the Spitzer space telescope (infrared) and the Chandra space telescope (X-rays). (Calar Alto Observatory)

Multi-band image of the remnant of Tycho's Supernova, composed from images taken with the 3.5 m telescope of Calar Alto and the camera Omega 2000 (infrared), the Spitzer space telescope (infrared) and the Chandra space telescope (X-rays). (Calar Alto Observatory)

one of the most influential events in the history of astronomy –a stellar explosion witnessed on Earth more than 400 years ago.

By using a Galactic cloud as interstellar “mirror” an international team led by Oliver Krause of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany has now re-analysed the same light seen on Earth in the 16th century and have, for the first time, determined the exact type of the explosion that happened. Calar Alto Observatory has contributed to this discovery and these results were published in the scientific journal Nature, 4th December 2008 issue.

A brilliant new star appeared on the sky in early November 1572. The new star outshined all other stars in brightness and was even visible during daylight. It was widely observed by astronomers all around the world and it helped to change our understanding of the Universe forever. Precise measurements of the star position by the Spanish scientist Jerónimo Muñoz, professor at the University of Valencia, and the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, revealed that the star was located far beyond the Moon. This was inconsistent with the Aristotelian tradition that had dominated western thinking for nearly 2000 years. The supernova of 1572 was a cornerstone in the history of science and is today known as Tycho’s supernova.

The story continue here:

Unique Extrasolar Planet Orbits Fast-rotating Hot Star

Filed under: Exoplanets — bferrari @ 5:56 pm

ScienceDaily (Dec. 4, 2008) — Three undergraduate students, from Leiden University in the Netherlands, have discovered an extrasolar planet. The extraordinary find, which turned up during their research project, is about five times as massive as Jupiter. This is also the first planet discovered orbiting a fast-rotating hot star.

Artists impression of the planet OGLE-TR-L9b. Circling its host star in about 2.5 days, it lies at only three percent of the Earth-Sun distance from its star, making the planet very hot with a bloated roiling atmosphere. The star itself is the hottest star with a planet ever discovered. (ESO/H. Zodet)

Artist's impression of the planet OGLE-TR-L9b. Circling its host star in about 2.5 days, it lies at only three percent of the Earth-Sun distance from its star, making the planet very hot with a bloated roiling atmosphere. The star itself is the hottest star with a planet ever discovered. (ESO/H. Zodet)

The students were testing a method of investigating the light fluctuations of thousands of stars in the OGLE database in an automated way. The brightness of one of the stars was found to decrease for two hours every 2.5 days by about one percent. Follow-up observations, taken with ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, confirmed that this phenomenon is caused by a planet passing in front of the star, blocking part of the starlight at regular intervals.

According to Ignas Snellen, supervisor of the research project, the discovery was a complete surprise. “The project was actually meant to teach the students how to develop search algorithms. But they did so well that there was time to test their algorithm on a so far unexplored database. At some point they came into my office and showed me this light curve. I was completely taken aback!”

The story continues here:

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