Saturday, January 20, 2007

Pareidolia: part n + 3

Looks like Jesus is showing up in a tree again.

You know, if I were Jesus, I don't think I'd be too keen on making appearances on big wooden things. The time he did so 2,000 years ago didn't end so well for him.

Scientific Literacy

Over at Uncommon Descent, DaveScot notes that from 1995-1999, there was a sharp increase in scientific literacy according to this survey.

Various speculations are being tossed around as to the cause of it. DaveScot speculates that it may have been due to the increased availibility of internet access beginning around that time. User russ suggests that it may be the result of more channels with strong science programs like PBS and Discovery Channel. At Reasonable Kansas, FTK implicates Behe's book, Darwin's Black Box... which didn't come out till 1998.

Anyone else have any idea of big events that could have lead to this increase?

Regardless, we can be pretty certain that it has nothing to do with Intelligent Design like proponents would like to claim, given that ID didn't come on the scene in any major way until 1999 when it was first implemented in Kansas.

On Galaxies and Globulars

Last night I attended a talk by Dr. Keith Ashman from UMKC. His topic was galaxy formation. The majority of it is things that are covered in an intro astronomy class, but there were a few points that tied everything together that I wasn't aware of before. So I figured I'd share with everyone.

In looking around the universe, it seems that there are two main types of galaxies. The first is the familiar spiral galaxy, like M 83. These galaxies tend to be thin, fast rotating disks, with a bright center region, and beautiful spiral arms defined by the dark dust lanes and glowing regions where star formation occurs.

The second major type is the elliptical galaxy. The nearest major one to us, is M 87, featured on the right. These galaxies are characterized by typically being far more massive than the typical spiral galaxy, rotating slower, having spheroidial shapes, and being devoid of gas and dust that allows for new star formation.

The challange for astronomers is to determine how such things form.

Fortunately, it's actually relatively simple to get the basics of a spiral galaxy. During the first few billion years of the universe, things were expanding. Due to slight density variations, some regions began to collapse gravitationally. As one part would slow down, it would "rub against" the adjacent material which wasn't being slowed as much. This would cause a sort of torque and cause a slow rotation in that contracting cloud.

As something rotating contracts, conservation of angular momentum tends to make things spin faster and flatten out. Thus, from the initial contraction, we can get the flat, fast spinning disks.

What's been harder to understand is how to form the more massive ellipticals. These galaxies present a far greater problem. One way this has been approached was to try to establish a relationship between the two major categoires.

One of the earliest attempts with which I'm familiar for this, is work done by Edwin Hubble. His idea was that elliptical galaxaies evolved into spirals. This was the idea behind what is known as the tuning fork diagram in which he proposed that elliptical galaxies would contract, and in doing so, flatten out to become spirals, travelling from the left side of the diagram to the right, branching off into either the upper branch (spirals without bars in their core) or the lower (barred spirals).

However, this concept had many flaws. The first is that there is no mechanism to cause the collapse. Without something to slow the orbits of stars down so they would move towards the core, ellipticals should not do this. Additionally, this would require spontaneous generation of the gas and dust which is not present in ellipticals, but is in spirals. Lastly, it did not account for the large amount of mass that would disappear.

Thus, Hubble's theory was abandoned. In the mean time, astronomers still use the tuning fork diagram as a convenient way to label galaxies. Our own galaxy is believed to be an Sb or Sc, although I've occasionally heard arguments for the presence of a bar.

The emerging consensus now is that Hubble got it backwards. Instead of ellipticals turning into spirals, astronomers now believe that the collision of the easily formed spiral galaxies results in the formation of an elliptical galaxy. This would seem to make sense since the largest elliptical galaxies are typically found in the center of clusters of galaxies where the chance for collision would be the greatest. This idea isn't exactly new (in fact I think even Hubble entertained this notion), but until recently, there have been fatal flaws in it.

The first is that spiral galaxies have a lot of gas and dust. If you stick two together, you should still have a lot of gas and dust.

Another problem is that of globular clusters. If you go back to the image of M87 I stuck in at the beginning of this post and blow it up, you'll see several speckles in the general glow of the galaxy. Until last night, I hadn't ever paid much attention to them and just assumed they were stars in our own galaxy that were along the line of sight.

But what Dr. Ashman pointed out is that these are in fact globular clusters. Elliptical galaxies tend to have a lot of them. Far more than can be accounted for by the simple addition of two spiral galaxies.

So at this point, any theory seeking to explain ellipticals as the combination of spirals would have to explain where these new clusters appeared from, and where all the gas went.

The explanation finally came about when it was realized that one of these problems could provide the solution to the other. Galaxies colliding tends to be a very violent process. The interaction will cause compression in the gas and dust, which should trigger new star formation, in particular, the formation of new globular clusters.

Fortunately, there are many ways to test this hypothesis. One of the ways is to look at some interacting galaxies and see if we see new star formation. In NGC 4038/39, we can see precisely this effect. There are gigantic regions of star formation, highlighted by the bright blue knots scattered all over.

So clearly, the idea that interaction can cause massive star formation is sound.

But what about all that annoying gas and dust? It turns out that one of the places it goes, is into the formation of new stars. However, with the formation of new massive stars, comes intense stellar winds as well as radiation pressure from the light itself. This should help to blow remaining gas and dust out of the galaxy. And fortunately, we can observe just this in galaxies like M82, shown here on the left. M82 is currently undergoing the long process of being canabalized by it's nearby neighbor M81.

So observations of other galaxies confirm that the idea is at the very least, plausable. When spirals collide, it can both create new globular clusters (in the amounts needed to get up to ellipticals), and blow out massive amounts of gas and dust.

However, Dr. Ashman has been going even further to confirm this theory.

If there are indeed globular clusters being formed from the interaction, then we should see at least two distinct groups: Ones from the original spirals, and then a younger generation formed at the time of the merger. Fortunately, it turns out that this is precisely what we see.

So nearly a century after Hubble began trying to work out the relationship between spirals and ellipticals, it looks like a well supported theory is finally coming around. However, there's still more work to be done.

As images like the Hubble Ultra Deep Field show, even shortly after the big bang, there were already elliptical galaxies. The challange now, is to attempt to discover how they could have formed so quickly. This will most likely come from a better understanding of how spiral galaxies form.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Hovind gets off light

Of the possible 288 years in prison Hovind faced for 58 counts of federal tax evasion, it looks like he'll only end up serving 10.

This is even more of a shame considering that, in the article, Hovind admits to not having learned a thing from all this, nor has he acted like an adult and admitted his errors.

Instead, he says "If it’s just money the IRS wants, there are thousands of people out there who will help pay the money they want so I can go back out there and preach."

In other words, "Why should I pay? I've already done the con work. Now people will pay for me!"

Anyone care to take bets on how long after he gets out it will take for him to be charged again with tax evasion and/or failing to obtain building permits?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Dembski for failed reading comprehension

Over at UD, Dembski makes a post about "Pro-ID doctors", linking to a list of physicians and surgeons denying the favourite made up word of creationists (macroevolution).

However, it seems that Dembski has failed to read the actual statement these doctors signed because it quite clearly states: "This does not imply the endorsement of any alternative theory."

I wonder if someone could please explain how "does not imply the endorsement" is infact, endorsing ID?

Perhaps Dembski is just falling prey to that nasty case of contrived dualism that's infected creationism since its outset.

On Stellar Formation

Over at Reasonable Kansans, ForTheKids (FTK) and I have been having a bit of an ongoing discussion. Overall, it doesn't really pertain to anything I've been discussing here and in the meantime, it's grown into an exceptionally long discussion.

However, during the course of it, I pointed out the similarity of our understanding of common descent to the understanding of stellar evolution within my own field. In both cases, we cannot watch the entire process unfold in real time. Creationists frequently claim that because of this, we cannot hold the fossil record as being trustworthy. It's full of gaps.

Yet while this is freqently claimed, rarely do we hear creationists argue against other sorts of processes we understand via snapshots of history. Instead, they hypocritically harp on evolution. But as FTK pointed out, some are awfully fond of gaps.

Originally, I was going to debunk that article in my response to her, but I figure that it's worth posting here as well. So let's look at a few of the major points.

WARNING! This is going to be a very long post... Here we go:
Evolutionists claim that stars form from swirling clouds of dust and gas. For this to happen, vast amounts of energy, angular momentum, and residual magnetism must be removed from each cloud. This is not observed today, and astronomers and physicists have been unable to explain, in an experimentally verifiable way, how it could happen.
First off, evolution and cosmology are two distinct fields and are wholly unrelated. Their conflation of the two does not impress me.

Regardless, the claim that energy must be lost is absolutely true. However, the claim that we do not observe such things is a blatant lie. Newly forming stars are able to shed this excess energy in numerous ways, the most prominent among them being mass outflow in both the form of stellar wind as well as jets. Many stars in regions which are forming new stars have been observed with precisely such properties.
If [O class] stars evolved, they should show easily measurable characteristics such as extremely high rates of rotation and enormous magnetic fields.
This statement is pulled out of thin air with no justification or reasoning I can find. This would be like me saying "If the bible is true, then pigs should fly."

Since it makes no sense, I can't properly address it.
Instruments which could detect dust falling into and forming supposedly new stars have not done so.
Another outright lie. Perhaps due to the fact that they are (presumably intentionally) using horribly outdated sources (they cite two, from 1990 and 1985 respectively). With the advent of the Hubble telescope, we have directly observed infalling matter into protostellar disks (NOTE: Several of those images also show the matter outflows which carry off the excess energy I mentioned earlier).
We have seen hundreds of stars die, but we have never seen a star born.
When stars die, it's frequently a rather dramatic and messy process. Occasionally, it's very bright as is the case with supernovae. It can also happen very rapidly (on the order of a few days) in such cases. Even if we don't get the dramatic event of the supernova, we'll still see a leftover mess of the supernova remnant, or, for lower mass stars, a planetary nebula. Thus, bright things, that make big messes that have clearly defined times will tend to stick out.

This is not the case for star formation. Stars form inside nebulae, enshrouded in dust and gas. Thus, the process is somewhat hidden from us. The process also takes a much longer time than the death of a star. As such, it's difficult to define a time when a star is "born". We've seen things that are forming into stars. We've seen stars that are formed. We've seen fuzzy things that are somewhere inbetween. But the birth of a star is not like flicking on a light switch. Furthermore, when the process is complete, there's not as much of a mess left behind. The excess gas is not being superheated by shock waves and glowing brightly for us to easily identify newly formed stars.

As such, it's not surprising we see stars dying with far more frequency than we observe stars being born.
Also, stars are found where astronomers agree they could not evolve, near the center of our galaxy. These short-lived stars orbit a massive black hole, where gravity is so strong that gas and dust clouds could never evolve into a star.
True enough, but this makes the horrible assumption that stars stay where they're formed. This animation clearly shows they don't. Stars can inevatably form further out and migrate in due to gravitational perturbations.
Nor could stars have evolved in globular clusters
Good thing that we don't see stars being born in globular clusters.
Wind and radiation pressure from the first star in the cluster to evolve would have blown away most of the gas needed to form subsequent stars in the cluster.
This would presume that the first star would instantly sweep out all gas, before others could form. Given that interstellar clouds we see forming stars today are tens to hundreds of light years across, this is an amazingly absurd claim. If the claim were true, we should not even see newly forming open clusters. Yet we do with the Pleaides, the orion nebula, the Tarantula nebula, or the Eagle nebula. The fact that we see such things forming numerous stars from the same cloud demonstrates how hollow that claim is.

It should also be noted that globular clusters we see today are not as they would have been when they first formed, billions of years ago. The clusters would have been much larger and spread out. As they orbit the galaxy, they would undergo tidal stripping. When this happens, outlying stars are pulled off while stars that remain are pulled in even closer. As such, the density of globular clusters is not indicative of their initial density.

Great. So now that each of their points has been rather trashed, let's take a look at those sources. As has been pointed out by many, such as Barbara Forrest in Creationism's Trojan Horse, creationists have a huge pension for using outdated material. In fact, creationists (including Intelligent Design proponents) barely use cite sources published in the past 7 years, than they do ones 20 years old or more (p. 43). Meanwhile, reputable scientific journals cite nearly 3 times as many recent sources as they do old ones.

But if you don't believe it, then check out the outdated citations list these guys cited.

The first one is from 1986 and, as I pointed out was long before the Hubble was launched, which added tremendously to our knowledge. Gee. I wonder why they're forced to quote mine from outdated material.

Their second source is recent, being from 2004. However, this source is in no way being used to support a claim. Rather, it is merely used to define a term.

The third citation again, makes use of old sources in ever to ignore newer knowledge.

The fourth citation has two parts. The first is an article from Science from 1990 and consists of a rather vague quote. I strongly suspect it's taken out of context, but given that I do not have the full text, I cannot verify that at this time. However, the abstract seems to directly contradict the claims of the creationist source by saying,
Fueled by this new knowledge, a comprehensive empirical picture of stellar genesis is beginning to emerge, laying the foundations for a coherent theory of the birth of sunlike stars.

The other half of the fourth citation is again, horribly outdated and falsified by more recent observations.

The first source in #5 is another classic example of quote mining. It claims that the authors are dumbfounded at how stars exist near the center of the galaxy, yet in the article several explanations are given and subsequently overlooked.

I suspect the second is the same situation. The quoted scientist says "[stars] appear to be too young to have moved there from farther out." Key word there is "appears". Frequently in literature, such things are given as a narrative device to lead into the explanation. I'm not hunting down the full article now to verify it, but given the dishonesy we've already seen exhibited, I'm fairly confident in my assertion.

The third part of citation #5 is, again, horribly outdated and not worth consideration.

The last, again is from a recent article, but again, misstates the author's point. Still on the topic of young stars near black holes, the creationist fails to mention that in most galaxies, we see precisely what we expect to. It's only in the Andromeda galaxy that the author talks about there being this odd concentration. But given the rather strange condition that exists in Andromeda (with it having 3 massive black holes), it is likely that there are other processes which, although undiscovered, account for the presence of such young stars.

Citation number six is another textbook example of quote mining. The author claims that no convincing explanations for globular clusters yet exists as the first sentence to the entire paper looking at forming clusters to determine a reason.

The seventh citation is incomplete listing only an author and page number. No date, nor relevant quote is given.

For the last set of citations, it can easily be seen from the quotes given that the creationist authors are horribly overstating the sources they cite. All the quotes given say something to the effect of "We don't understand it." Yet the creationists somehow interpret this as "it defies the laws of physics." I, again, suspect it's more quote mining, but I'm quite tired of checking.

So what's the moral of all this? Speaking from five years of experience looking at creationist material, I'll say this is absolutely nothing shocking. They find a theory they don't like, take an outdated model of it, existing before much of the relevant data was accumulated, and where they do use "current" sources, they're typically out of context quotes. I've seen FTK cite this same, dishonest website in other posts and, although I didn't spend the time tearing it apart there, I found it similarly laden with intellectual dishonesty. In talking with FTK in a fair number of threads and having met her briefly in person, I know she's not an evil bible thumping young earth creationist that hates science. She's genuinely interested in these topics, and as her choice in references shows, it looks like she's a bit too trustworthy of sources telling her what she wants to hear.

Then again, it's hard not to. But since we've now seen just how intellectually bankrupt this source is, I would expect that FTK would discontinue use of such a worthless source. Time will tell of course.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

All for McNaught

Unfortunately, I was unable to catch a glimpse of comet McNaught. I didn't bother to bring my telescope to campus this year so I couldn't catch it while it was still rather faint.

By the time it was readily apparent to the naked eye, Kansas did as Kansas does and we had nothing but cloudcover. The one night that it was mostly clear, a large bank of clouds sat right over the spot in the horizon where the comet was. But I figured if I couldn't see the comet, I could at least make a nice time lapse animation of the sunset. You can download it here (1.3 MB, Quicktime required).

But wouldn't you know it! My camera batteries died right as the sunset started getting really pretty.

It seems it just wasn't my day for astronoming.

Monday, January 15, 2007

And now for some good news

According to CNN, it looks like help is on the way for scientists wanting to attempt to regulate global warming. And where is that help coming from? The evangelical community!

It seems that someone finally realized that it doesn't matter if God did is stuff, if there was a giant cosmic accident, if well regulated natural forces went about thier buisness, or if Genie wiggled her nose; We've got a planet and life's going to get a lot harder if we don't start taking better care of it.

Now if we could just get the Bush administration to sign on...

Cleaning house

Now that blogger has enabled tags for posts, it occurs to me that the post index by which I used to organize posts has become obsolete. Thus, that's gone now. But to help in finding posts that I made before the tagging system came about, I've gone through nearly 300 posts and added tags to all earlier posts. Thus, if you're looking for something on a specific topic, it should be pretty easy to find.

The tag system also allows me to get a better feel for how much I've posted on certain topics.

As you might expect, some of the most frequent tags are astronomy and religion. However, both of these are pretty broad labels. Creationism and Intelligent Design are pretty common as well.

If you're new to this blog and are into the astronomy aspect more, I'd recommend checking out my series of posts with the basics tag applied to them. This summer I began a series on the basics behind astronomical techniques, starting from where the light we detect comes from, following it all the way to the detector, and then began to look at some of the science behind what we can learn from that light.

Pareidolia: part n + 2

It looks like the Virgin Mary has shown up again. And this time she's watching over your popsicles.

This time the virgin showed up in the freezer of a Texas grocery store. What started as a stalagmite is now the subject of adoration. I'm wondering what would happen if any of these people ever went to a place like Meramec Caverns. I suspect they'd die from religious overdose.

However, a virgin popsicle is still nowhere near as cool as a cheddar Cheesus.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Bible says...

A few different blogs have already reported on this topic but I figured I might as well too. Especially because it gives me the pleasure to introduce a nice new Kansas blog. It's more geared towards politics whereas mine tends towards science and those driving the attacks on science (crazy religious people, not sane religious people).

It seems that a school has come under fire for wanting to show "An Inconvenient Truth".

School board member Dave Larson says, "We have to ensure that our schools are not being used to politically indoctrinate anyone."

That's good. But global warming, like evolution, shouldn't be a political issue. It's a scientific one. So why the intent to try to change the battleground?

"The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn't in the DVD," says parent Frosty Hardison (father of 7).

Ah. It's not in the Bible. Thus, it's not true. After all, the Bible is the key in determining how science works and what we teach in schools.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

8 Year old adds to horse evolution fossils

One of the favourite "weakpoints" that creationists love to attack is that of the evolution of horses. However, it looks like one of the proverbial missing links has been discovered. And by an 8 year old boy no less.

The new fossil is of a three toed horse, a step between the five toed ancestors and the modern day, one toed horses.

Of course, instead of filling one gap, we all know this only creates two new ones.

Way to go kid.

Update: Check comment for more information on how this fits into the bigger understanding of horse evolution. Thanks to Josh Rosenau for passing along the info.

Commenting Glitches

I've been informed recently of a few glitches with commenting. Two have said that they can't log in or put in identifying information and thus have to post as "anonymous". One's reported that it just keeps crashing for him while using Internet Explorer.

I have no clue what's been going on, as I haven't changed any commenting settings in several months. However, blogger did just update to a new version and I'm assuming that's where the snafus have occured.

I'll have a look through the FAQ's and help pages to see if there's anything on it. If I can't find anything, I'll see if I can't Email someone about it.

But if all else fails, feel free to Email me and let me know what you're thinking!

Update: One thing I've found:
Users who have their Internet Explorer security settings set to “High” may have trouble logging in. After sigining in, they see a “Click here to continue” link that does nothing. One workaround is to right-click on this link and choose “Open in a new window.”

I wish they all could be California...

I'm not quite sure why oldies lyrics have been popping into my head recently (especialyl given that I've been listening to a lot of Muse and Apocalyptica recently).

The two summers prior to this last one I spent working at the St Louis Science Center. The first exhibit was pretty cool. It was called "Space: A Journey to our Future". It had a ton to see for the $7 adult admission. There was a great amount on the Apollo missions, including a moon meteorite slice that you could touch, as well as a rock brought back by Apollo 17 (which you couldn't). The adults that lived through this era really seemed to like that section, while kids ran straight through, looking for things that lit up and had buttons. We even got Gene Cernan (the last man to walk on the moon) to stop by for a special event.

For those that were more into the astronomical history, it had a section where an actor, dressed as Galileo, allowed kids (and adults) to look through a mock telescope and see the Galilean moons. I wasn't ever any good at being Galileo. Despite several years of theater, I can't fake an Italian accent. My extent of Italian language experience is "It'sa me, Mario!"

But the best part of the exhibit in my opinion, was that it had Hubble's original logbook in which, while observing Andromeda, he realized that one of the stars was a Cepheid variable and would allow him to derive a distance, which prompted him to write "CEPHEID" next to the observation. This artifact was overlooked by almost all guests. But to me, it was the relic that represented one of the most profound realizations in the entire span of humanity: Just how big the universe is.

The next summer, the exhibit wasn't nearly as interesting to me. It was an exhibit on the science of the circus. It didn't really have much science however. But what it lacked in science, it made up for in cool things to do.

One fun part of the exhibit was the tightrope you could try out. Patrons would be strapped into a harness, climb the stairs to a platform 15 ft in the air, and allowed to walk the tightrope. Most people we rigged in so all of their weight was being supported by the suspension system and even if they completely stepped off the wire, they wouldn't be more than an inch below, so it was no real challange. However, it was fun to get cocky little kids who bragged about how easily they'd be able to do it. We'd generally give them about 6" of slack then.

Not a single one ever made it across. By the end of the summer I could make it across without falling too many times.

But the best part was the eurobungee. This contraption was similar to those bungee trampoline setups that many amusement parks (and occasionally some malls) have. Essentially, the person is again put in a harness. They are strapped in on either side of the waist and connected to two sets of bungee cords, the top ends of which, were pulled up, until the person was suspended about 15 ft in the air.

From there, by pulling on the cords in a rythmic manner, you could get fantastic bounces going. For the brave (or perhaps just stupid), it was also quite easy to do flips, nosedives and all sorts of other stunts. Kids were generally petrified of being so high up in the air that they wouldn't let go of the ropes, but some did. We eventually got a contest going to set records for number of consecutive flips. One little girl and I ended up escalating this record to rather ridiculous amounts.

Her grandmother would bring her in every Sunday and she'd brake my record. Then during the week I'd break hers and the cycle would repeat. Sometimes I'd be working when she came in and we'd trash teasingly talk each other. Cutest kid ever. If ever I have kids, I'd want one that cool. But by the end of the summer, the record was somewhere over 350. As I understand it, I ended up losing, but this was due to the fact that I had to leave to go back to school.

But neither of these exhibits are as cool as this one at the California Science Center in LA (now you see where the title comes in). How much cooler can it get than a Star Wars exhibit.

This is one exhibit I'd love to work in. Unfortunately, I'm in Kansas. The midwest misses out on all the cool stuff. But I'm not complaining too much. There's an upcoming AAS meeting in my home of St. Louis for June 2008, so I won't be mising that.

Deja Vu...

MSN has an article on 99942 Apophis (formerly known as 2004 MN4). There's nothing wrong with the science of the article. There are a few bits of the article that I think are pretty nice.

The first is the mention of the Yarkovsky effect. This effect occurs when an object absorbs light on one face, but then rotates and reemits that radiation in another direction. The radiation being emitted exerts a very weak force in the opposite direction. But although the force is weak, it can go on for a very long time, and can significantly alter the orbit of objects.

Another part I really liked was the conclusion that, should it be necessary, we can build a probe to nudge Apophis slightly off course. And it's relatively cheap: a mere $250 million (the two Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity cost about $850 million). The article states:
Ironically, that's almost precisely the cost of making the cosmic-collision movies Armageddon and Deep Impact. If Hollywood can pony up a quarter of a billion in the name of defending our planet, why can't Congress?

But what is rather strange about the article, is the timing. It's old news. In fact, I've already commented on how old it is. It doesn't say anything that we haven't been saying since December 04 (the time when the asteroid's trajectory was known well enough to rule out a 2029 impact). So why the sudden urge to post this story again?

I have no idea. It seems that astronomy stories are just so good that they have to be retold year after year...

Speaking of which, who wants to take bets on when we'll hear the first mention that this August, Mars will look as big as the full moon to the unaided eye?

"Come on baby, Light my fire"

What's with African priests? First one dies while claiming to be able to replicate Jesus' feat of walking on water.

Now we have one claiming to be Jesus and setting his congregation on fire as punishment for sins.

De-Lurking Week

I've recently been reminded that it's de-lurking week. I know I have a fair amount of readers, and I want to hear from you guys! So leave a comment, especially if you haven't before. If you can't think of anything to say, here's a few good questions:

1. Have we met in person?
2. How did you learn about my blog?
3. What do you do (i.e., are you a scientist)?
4. Are the "technical" posts too technical or too dumbed-down?
5. Which kind of posts do you enjoy the most?
6. Anything else?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Well, that's sad...

Many people are familiar with the "Pillars of Creation" image. It's been one of the most widely used images from the Hubble of all time.

However, it's now thought that they no longer exist.

The pillars of creation are a small section of a large star forming region in the Eagle Nebula (M16). In such regions, it's not only small stars that are formed, but large stars as well. Large stars are the rock stars of astronomy; They live fast, die young, and go out in a blaze of glory. This blaze of glory is a supernova.

The most massive stars will only live on the order of millions of years, which, astronomically speaking is a very short time indeed. Not long enough for the entire cloud of gas to finish making stars.

Thus, when the most massive stars end their lives, they will tend to take out whatever's nearby. Unfortunately for these pillars, just such a supernova happened right next door. The area cleared out by the supernova looks like it will expand into the pillars in about 1000 years. However, given that it takes light 7,000 years to reach Earth from this region, that means that the pillars were actually destroyed 6,000 years ago.

What we see is only a ghostly image as the final photons of the pillars travels to us.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Scientology grabs its tux

It looks like Scientologists are taking a hint from the Creationists.

They've become well aware that they're viewed as a cult and that they won't be able to preach their anti-psychiatric rhetoric in schools. So what to do? Take their name off of it and create a front group.

An agency known as Narconon snuck into at least 500 schools across Britain. This group has strong ties with the Scientology movement and follows their teachings, such as the belief that that "drugs remain in your body forever unless you use these very specific techniques such as niacin and saunas" which is lifted directly from Scientologist teachings. Scientists reviewing the teachings of Narconon said it "did not reflect scientific knowledge or good educational approaches."

Didn't I say I wouldn't do this?

It looks like Mollishka tagged me in some little meme. Generally, I make a rule not to do them, but this one isn't too bad and might actually have interesting results. I don't know yet. Let's try.
In this game I’m supposed to grab the nearest book, go to page 123, go to the fifth sentence, and write down the next three sentences. Then I’m to tag three more people, presumably ones that I think will play the game.
Only book I seem to have anywhere near me is Not In Our Classrooms Edited by Eugenie Scott and Glenn Branch. The fifth sentence begins the second third paragraph of the page and says:
As science teachers come to understand these realities, they will need to decide how to respond. With the religious controversy over the teaching of evolutiobn reported in the media, with parents confronting their children's science teachers on the issue, and with students themselves confronting their instructors in high schools and colleges, would it be best -- and easiest -- to just stop teaching evolution in the classroom? Can't stuents attain a well rounded background in science without learning about this controversial topic?
Well damn! What an awful place to stop, what with that hanging question and all. Just incase anyone's wondering, the next sentence states, "The overwhelming consensus of biologists in the scientific community is no."

It's a good book and I'd recommend it. It's a quick read, although, recently I haven't been much in the mood for reading.

Now I suppose comes the time I'm supposed to tag three more people. Generally, this part I despise as well, but there's a few people that I'd be interested to see what they're reading, although, I'm not sure how often they read my blog.

The first would be Pat Hayes. He was at the KCFS board meeting yesterday and had an interesting book with him that I haven't seen him mention as of yet in his blog. Perhaps because it's a pre-release copy from the author provided to KCFS for review purposes. I'm not sure if he can give us a three sentence sneak peak, but if nothing else, I'd like to hear him say what he's thought of it thus far.

I'll also tag Paul Decelles. He seems to be an interesting guy and I'm curious to see what kind of stuff he's reading.

And just for the fun of it, why not tag Forthekids. Let's see what she's up to besides dieting.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Slacker Astronomy

I've been pointed to it many times before, but never taken the time to really look at Slacker Astronomy. However, tonight, they pimped their blog from the AAS meeting in Seattle on the Astronomy livejournal group I keep an eye on. Phil Plait is keeping tabs on things as well and there's some big announcements going on.

Slacker Astronomy has been covering those as well, but they've got more than just the science. They've got the fun behind the scenes stuff, like them asking smart people stupid questions.

And I think that just might be Phil there at the end. If it is, we now know what size underwear he wears.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

And the college students weeped...

It seems that the inventor of the instant Raman noodles has died. For those reading this blog and haven't been college students recently, instant noodles, along with Easy Mac, cold day old pizza, and cheap beer, are typically considered to be staples of the college student's diet.

But in reality, I've never in my life had instant raman. I'm not a huge fan of Easy Mac (although I do have some in my pantry), and I prefer mixed drinks to beer. As such, I have a scratch made cheesecake in the oven right now and a fuzzy navel in front of me.

Some college students know how to eat...

Friday, January 05, 2007

One more reason to love Google

They're into astronomy.

Google has joined up to be a colaborator on the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). Google's specialty in this matter is to help organize all the data that the LSST will be generating, which is a lot given that the LSST will be using a 3-billion pixel camera to take series of which each exposure will last 15 seconds, giving somewhere around 30 thousand gigabytes of data a night! A scale model of the camera is shown at right. Each one of the little squares is an individual CCD, the combined image of each, producing the full mosaic.

And here I was thinking I was doing well with my nice new 250 gig I got for Christmas.

All this is still dwarfed by the realization that the survey mission of the LSST will be running for a decade, beginning in 2013. Another nifty feature is that it will be able to image the entire sky in just three days. Having such closely spaced images will help to pick out things that change their position or appearance on the order of days. This primarily means things like asteroids and comets, but could also be used for some longer period variable stars.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Russian Creationists seek to oust Dembski at stupid stunts

Dembski thought it would be a hoot to make flash videos of Judge Jones complete with flatulence. Creationists in Russia sought to one up him by sending an actor in a monkey suit with some banannas to court with the paperwork filing suit.

That's the fun part. The rest is the typical creationist drivel: Darwin kills morality and will lead to the downfall of society, evolution is atheistic, need to teach creationism as an alternative...

The student around whom the lawsuit is based says, "I believe we have the right to learn not only the theory of evolution, but creationism as well."

I'd agree with that. You go to school for the first. You go to church for the second. After all, the girl claims she's Christian so she does go to church to get her sermons, right?

Nope. Perhaps that's why she feels the need to get the government to sponsor her religious education. And for all the morals the young woman pretends to have, it's interesting that she's complaining that the school intends her for her actions. I find it much more likely that she's actually just failing because she has been skipping school to give interviews.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

What a concept!

It looks like the boys across the pond have come up with an amazing idea: Encourage celebrities to check their facts before promoting bad science. Now if only we could get Creationists to do the same.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Looks like someone finally caught on

Studies have shown that the effect prayer has, is non-existant at best, and damaging at worst. Yet regardless of the numbers, people still cling to the notion that prayer actually has some sort of a positive effect.

But every great once in awhile, someone catches on. And when they do, they're not too happy. Which is why, the four children of songwriter Darrel "Wayne" Perry are suing an aunt who convinced him to cease treatment and rely on prayer, resulting in his death.

Shame. The world could use a talented songwriter as opposed to yet another hack preying on the gullibility of her followers.