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Dark skies…over Southwest Kerry February 1, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Astronomy, Science.

Some good news for sky watchers…

A 700sq km area in southwest Kerry is expected to be named an international “dark sky reserve”, securing the highest designation for the exceptional quality of its night sky.

It will be the first region in Ireland to receive such an award and – if it achieves “gold-tier” reserve status – the first region in the northern hemisphere to get this designation, spawning hopes for an astro-tourism spin-off.

Scale October 26, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Astronomy, Science, Uncategorized.

It’s odd, it’s only in the last few months that I realised just how small the Moon is in relation to the Earth. Sure, I knew it was smaller, but I hadn’t thought about that fact in any detail probably in decades. If you asked me how much smaller I’d probably have guestimated somewhere about somewhere less than an half and greater than a third the size diameter (see comments) of the Earth. But no, the Moon is considerably smaller than that again.

How much? Well, look at these images here, about or a little less than a quarter the diameter.



And that’s interesting because recently looking at the Shadow of the Moon documentary, and this is probably what unconsciously sparked my thoughts in this direction, it seemed to me that the journey from the Command Module to the surface of the Moon seemed quite short. Very short. And it probably was, even accounting for editing, because the Moon has a surface area about that of Asia. Indeed look again at the image above and you’ll see that set up against the Earth (let’s not try that experiment for real – eh, folks?) it would be about as ‘high’, as Africa.

But that sparks a further thought. How far away is it? Well, the easy answer is that it’s … of course it is. But let’s think about that in more human terms of scale. Here’s the ever excellent Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog and a post on just this matter.
If the Earth is the size of a basket ball and the Moon a tennis ball, and the ratio is more or less spot on, more rather than less I hasten to add, then the Moon would be 24 feet away! That’s quite a distance. There’s a bunch of videos on YouTube that show what other planets would look like if they were orbiting the Earth at the same distance as the Moon. I can’t say how accurate they are, some are probably there or thereabouts.

But as Plait says:

I’m sometimes asked what’s the one thing I wish people would understand better about the Universe. My answer is always the same: scale. We humans have a miserable sense of just how big space is, and I’ve spent a lot of time over the years working out ways to express it better.


Space is big. Very, very big.

And using the same scale Plait makes a very thought provoking point. How far away is the nearest star from Earth?

It would be — to scale, mind you — 800,000 km (480,000 miles) away: twice as far as the real Moon is from the real Earth!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the prospects for human interstellar travel, and I’m moving to a position where I wonder if sheer scale is just too great a challenge, at least for the foreseeable future. Humans are notoriously bad at future planning, and there’s no proof that our artefacts can survive the sort of time spans required. Add those together and the lack of viable technologies and the future looks… isolated.

Charles Stross deals with this issue here… and funnily enough Robert Silverberg in the current edition of Asimov’s raises the point in a slightly different context.

Where are the Voyager space craft now? July 27, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Astronomy, Culture, Science.
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<I want a proper diagram updated in real time! Does anyone know of one?

A glancing blow… May 18, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Astronomy, Science.
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…is expected from a Coronal Mass Ejection from the sun which occurred when four massive X-class solar flares were produced on Monday. The CME’s from three didn’t move in the direction of this planet, but the fourth did and that will impact in that ‘glancing blow’ today with the Earth’s magnetic field.

As NASA puts it…

Also causing temporary radio blackouts, AR1748 is likely not finished. Still forecast to have a significant chance of producing strong flares, the active region is rotating into more direct view across the Sun’s nearside.

Good to know.

Cosmophilia December 21, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Astronomy, Science.
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Here’s Phil Plait’s best astronomy images of of the year on Slate. It is a genuinely amazing universe out there… look at ‘Rotating Gas Cloud’ for perhaps the most amazing. But then again they’re all good.

Cosmophobia… December 21, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Astronomy, Culture, Science, Uncategorized.

This has to be the most depressing aspect of the recent stuff about Mayan apocalypse (and in truth was ever a people so traduced after the fact in terms of the contemporary nonsense about their supposed predictions? They should sue.). On this fact sheet produced by the SETI Institute to assure people all will be well there’s the following:

Cosmophobia: Many young people write to me that they are scared of astronomy. When they read about some new discovery, the first thing they think is that it might hurt them, even if it is happening in a distant galaxy. There is no reason for such fears, which I call cosmophobia (fear of the universe). This rash of concern seems to be the result of too many conspiracy theories and sensational stories featured on the Internet and irresponsible news outlets. Astronomical objects are so distant that they cannot threaten the Earth. Please don’t be afraid of the Sun or the planets or comets or asteroids. The universe is not your enemy.

Though this from Voyager 2’s twitter feed is sort of funny, appearing early this morning (and reported on the Guardian’s liveblog):


Bits and pieces… December 15, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Astronomy, Culture, Libertarianism, Science, Uncategorized.

This is odd, assuming it’s accurate. Glenn Beck made a piece of parodic ‘art’ which has a figure of Obama in what is supposedly urine, a play on the famous Piss Christ work by Andres Serrano. Problem is that this can’t function in the way Beck seems to think it will, i.e. enraging Democrats and US liberals. It’s simply not the same dynamic – few would consider Obama as being equivalent to a deity (and truth is I’ve often wondered how many people were genuinely upset by Piss Christ in the first place) – perhaps not even the same import given that it is essentially unserious (and Beck seems to say that it beer not urine). Still, it is oddly interesting as an example of pretty poor trolling (I’d say on an epic scale, except somehow although that might be the intent it is not the actuality). You’d have to worry about the man. Sort of.

This is for all those who think well of Carl Sagan…

I’ve already referenced the ‘Pale Blue Dot’ here, and I’m not sure whether I’m pleased or appalled that there’s something of a cottage industry on YouTube producing animations and videos to go along with the text he recorded above – a sort of secular humanist prayer as it were.

Continuing matters astronomical, what of this from wiki about Patrick Moore where it is claimed that he played ‘Anarchy in the UK’ on xylophone at a Royal Variety performance. Hard to believe. Here though from Room 101 is Moore doing something not entirely dissimilar with Jon Culshaw.

Interested in Objectivism? Or are you an Objectivist? Or do you know one? Here’s a site focussed on all things Rand.

Reading through it I found a piece on Bioshock, the computer game, which I’d forgotten has an Objectivist back story. Though it’s not entirely complimentary to the philosophy. Hmmmm…

Patrick Moore 1923 – 2012 December 9, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Astronomy, Culture, Science.

…as noted in comments here. A complex person, clearly a leading light in the field of astronomy (but as evidenced in interviews with the ability to make some particularly reactionary statements at times and to champion, and quite actively too, some very reactionary causes). Yet of huge significance, and value, as a key populariser of astronomy (and the author of a range of juvenile SF novels which I recall, at this distance as being not bad at all). And also to his credit a populariser who didn’t dumb down.

Science and anti-science, Catholicism, and… oh yeah, Mars. November 22, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Astronomy, Religion, Science, Uncategorized.

It’s interesting to hear news from the United States that up and coming Republican contender Marco Rubio has been explicitly saying in a GQ magazine interview that he doesn’t know whether the earth is 4.54 billion years old. Actually it’s even worse than that because he slips into a discourse rooted in the Bible.

Q: How old do you think the Earth is?
A: I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

Er… no, no it’s not a mystery at all. The research and theoretical basis for asserting that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old is solid.

Actually it’s arguably even worse than that again because Rubio, as it happens, is a Catholic and whatever else about the Catholic Church, and boy are we seeing it in some respects at its most unlovely at the moment in this state, it has never been shy in the modern period about integrating scientific theories and concepts into its worldview. In other words the Catholic Church accepts the science on the age of the Earth, the universe and so on. Though interestingly – to me at least – it adds its own spin as regards believing is a process guided by God. Tricky one that.

At a stretch so, one could say that in terms of science on the big ticket items it gets it particularly right, whereas on the smaller more human scale as we’ve seen… well… anyway.

Now, as noted here in the past, there have been some wobbles, a certain tone entering the discourse which is troubling. And perhaps in the super-heated context of US political activity, in a state where 58 per cent of Republicans and 46 per cent of US citizens claim to believe in creationism (as noted in the NYT by Juliet Lapidos) – statistics that are stunning in their own way.

But one wonders is this a straw in the wind as regards unreason. The list of Catholic creationist organisations and lobbies appears to be increasing – many are US based, but not all, and tellingly some are allied with ‘traditionalist’ views. In that context perhaps Rubio’s remarks are suddenly more explicable, in that lamentably creationist views are gaining a wider currency. And closer to home there’s more than a hint of the broader environment within which these beliefs flourish from Alive!

Meanwhile in Slate there’s a good [no it's not, on reflection I read it too quickly and as smiffy says it's disingenuous] piece on how this discourse distorts even Obama’s responses, albeit not to anything like the same degree – where he too fudges on the age of the universe, while giving a sterling performance in regards to supporting evolution.

But what sort of a pass have we reached?

And as for Mars, also from Slate, seems like the Curiosity rover may have found something very interesting there. Very interesting indeed. Though they’re not saying what. Yet.

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena are keeping their lips sealed for the time being while they run additional tests to make sure the discovery holds up. That, however, hasn’t stopped one of the mission’s leaders from speculating loudly that it’ll be one that rewrites at least some of what we know about the universe. 
“This data is gonna be one for the history books,” John Grotzinger, the rover mission’s principal investigator, told NPR last week for a the buzz-inciting segment that aired today. “It’s looking really good.”

If you look through the comments you’ll find some entertaining suggestions as to what has been found. Tongue in cheek, I have to add.

Rubio and NASA. There one has it, a sort of dichotomy between world views, between abstractions and actual events both on this world and an immediate neighbour.

Good astronomy – Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy moves to Slate. November 12, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Astronomy, Culture, Science, Skepticism.

For those of us who take a rational and sceptical view of matters the news that Phil Plait’s excellent Bad Astronomy blog is moving to Slate.com is very welcome.

Well worth checking out if you are interested in astronomy, space science and debunking… well… here’s what he has to say about it himself…

Over the years, anyone who loves science will let you know how badly it gets spun, folded, and mutilated. Sometimes it’s the press, sometimes the public, or movies, or politicians—actually, a lot of the time it’s politicians—but there are a lot of misconceptions about science in people’s minds. I started writing about this way back in the early Dawn of the Internet and haven’t been able to stop. 

But it’s not just myths about science that are so aggravating; out-and-out attacks on science are rampant. The main venues of this are politics and religion, and usually some combination of the two. I will not hesitate to call such attacks out when I see them. If you think the Earth is 6,000 years old, if you think global warming is a hoax, if you think vaccines cause autism, then my goal in life is to show you what science and reality have to say about that.

Plait has a book of the same name and it’s a great read and fits in with a body of work that includes Carl Sagan and others. And as someone noted in comments on Slate, just in time to deal with the 2012 apocalypse stuff that is infesting much of the internet. Not a moment too soon.


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