Welcome to the thoughts that wash up on the sandy beaches on my mind. Paddling is encouraged.. but watch out for the sharks.
HUBBLE finds Extrasolar planets far across Galaxy
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has discovered 16 extrasolar planet candidates orbiting a variety of distant stars in the central region of our Milky Way galaxy. The planet bonanza was uncovered during a Hubble survey called the Sagittarius Window Eclipsing Extrasolar Planet Search (SWEEPS). Hubble looked farther than has ever successfully been searched before for extrasolar planets. Hubble peered at 180,000 stars in the crowded central bulge of our galaxy 26,000 light-years away. That is one-quarter the diameter of the Milky Way's spiral disk.
This tally is consistent with the number of planets expected to be uncovered from such a distant survey, based on previous exoplanet detections made in our local solar neighborhood. Hubble's narrow view covered a swath of sky no bigger in angular size than two percent the area of the full moon. When extrapolated to the entire galaxy, Hubble's data provides strong evidence for the existence of approximately six billion Jupiter-sized planets in the Milky Way.
Five of the newly discovered planets represent a new extreme type of planet not found in any nearby searches. Dubbed Ultra-Short-Period Planets (USPPs), these worlds whirl around their stars in less than one Earth day. "Discovering the very short-period planets was a big surprise," said team leader Kailash Sahu of the Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore. "Our discovery also gives very strong evidence that planets are as abundant in other parts of the galaxy as they are in our solar neighborhood."
Hubble could not directly view the 16 newly found planet candidates. Astronomers used Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys to search for planets by measuring the slight dimming of a star due to the passage of a planet in front of it, an event called a transit. The planet would have to be about the size of Jupiter to block enough starlight, about one to 10 percent, to be measurable by Hubble.
The planets are called candidates, because astronomers could only obtain follow-up mass measurements for two of them due to the distance and faintness of these systems. Following an exhaustive analysis, the team ruled out alternative explanations such as a grazing transit by a stellar companion that could mimic the predicted signature of a true planet. The finding could more than double the number of planets spied with the transit technique to date. There is a tendency for the planet candidates to revolve around stars more abundant in elements heavier than hydrogen and helium, such as carbon. This supports theories that stars rich in heavy elements have the necessary ingredients to form planets.
The planet candidate with the shortest orbital period, named SWEEPS-10, swings around its star in 10 hours. Located only 740,000 miles from its star, the planet is among the hottest ever detected. It has an estimated temperature of approximately 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. "This star-hugging planet must be at least 1.6 times the mass of Jupiter, otherwise the star's gravitational muscle would pull it apart," said SWEEPS team member Mario Livio. "The star's low temperature allows the planet to survive so near to the star."
"Ultra-Short-Period Planets seem to occur preferentially around normal red dwarf stars that are smaller and cooler than our sun," Sahu explained. "The apparent absence of USPPs around sun-like stars in our local neighborhood indicates that they might have evaporated away when they migrated too close to a hotter star."
There is an alternative reason why Jupiter-like planets around cooler stars may migrate in closer to the star than such planets around hotter stars. The circumstellar disk of gas and dust out of which they formed extends in closer to a cooler star. Since the discovery of the first "hot Jupiter" around another star in 1995, astronomers have realized this unusual type of massive planet must have spiraled in close to its parent star from a more distant location where it must have formed. The inner edge of a circumstellar disk halts the migration.
Planetary transits occur only when the planet's orbit is viewed nearly edge-on. However, only about 10 percent of hot Jupiters have edge-on orbits that allow the planet to be observed transiting a star. To be successful, transit surveys must view a large number of stars at once. The SWEEPS transit survey covered a rich field of stars in the Sagittarius Window. The term "window" implies a clear view into the galactic center, but much of the galactic plane is obscured by dust. Hubble monitored 180,000 stars for periodic, brief dimming in a star's brightness. The star field was observed over a continuous seven-day period
To ensure the dimming was caused by an object orbiting a star, the team used Hubble to detect from two to 15 consecutive transits for each of the 16 planet candidates. Two stars in the field are bright enough that the SWEEPS team could make an independent confirmation of a planet's presence by spectroscopically measuring a slight wobble in the star's motion due to the gravitational pull of an unseen companion. They used the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, located on
One of the planetary candidates has a mass below the detection limit of 3.8 Jupiter masses. The other candidate is 9.7 Jupiter masses, which is below the minimum mass of 13 Jupiter masses for a brown dwarf. A brown dwarf is an object that forms like a star but does not have enough mass to shine by nuclear fusion. Since the stars are so faint and the field of view is so densely packed with stars, measuring the slight wobble in the star's motion using spectroscopy to confirm most of the planet candidates is not feasible. Future telescopes such as NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will provide the needed sensitivity to confirm most of the planet candidates.
The Hubble SWEEPS program is an important proof-of-concept for NASA's future Kepler Mission, scheduled for launch in 2008. The Kepler observatory will continuously monitor a region of the Milky Way galaxy to detect transiting planets around mostly distant stars. Kepler will be sensitive enough to detect possibly hundreds of Earth-size planet candidates in or near the habitable zone, the distance from a star where liquid water could feasibly exist on a planet's surface.[So, there could be six billion Jupiter sized planets in this Galaxy alone. That's a lot of planets. It's probable that systems with Jupiter sized planets have smaller Earth sized planets too - some of which will reside in the habitable zone where liquid water exists. That could mean millions of life bearing planets - in this Galaxy alone. I thin k that the odds for life elsewhere just went up - don't you?]
It quickly became apparent on reading this historical work that the dog referred to in the title had a double meaning – that of Rousseau’s faithful companion Sultan and the fact that Rousseau suffered from the darkest depressions. It also became apparent that the ‘war’ alluded to in the sub-title was nothing of the sort. The actual conflict – between Rousseau and the Scottish philosopher David Hume - was more of a spat, conducted in public, over a simple misunderstanding. Fought in the press and through letters to friends both in
Though interesting enough from an historical point of view the authors rarely touched on the philosophy of either Hume or Rousseau (which disappointed me slightly) but did throw a great deal of light of Rousseau’s character and the many flaws in contained. Clearly the man was very ill indeed and I couldn’t help wondering what would have been the consequence for philosophy and politics if Rousseau could have been cured by the judicious use of chemicals. Would we have lost a great mind or gained one of even superior genius?
This was an enjoyable enough read – if more than a little disappointing – and, I think, should be read as a historical study rather than a philosophical one. Offering interesting insights into the character of both Hume and especially Rousseau it should really be read as a study of the times rather than a study of the gentlemen involved. An informative piece of background reading, but little more than that I’m afraid.
Bad guys really do get the most girls
NICE guys knew it, now two studies have confirmed it: bad boys get the most girls. The finding may help explain why a nasty suite of antisocial personality traits known as the "dark triad" persists in the human population, despite their potentially grave cultural costs. The traits are the self-obsession of narcissism; the impulsive, thrill-seeking and callous behaviour of psychopaths; and the deceitful and exploitative nature of Machiavellianism. At their extreme, these traits would be highly detrimental for life in traditional human societies. People with these personalities risk being shunned by others and shut out of relationships, leaving them without a mate, hungry and vulnerable to predators.
But being just slightly evil could have an upside: a prolific sex life, says Peter Jonason at
James Bond epitomises this set of traits, Jonason says. "He's clearly disagreeable, very extroverted and likes trying new things - killing people, new women." Just as Bond seduces woman after woman, people with dark triad traits may be more successful with a quantity-style or shotgun approach to reproduction, even if they don't stick around for parenting. "The strategy seems to have worked. We still have these traits," Jonason says. This observation seems to hold across cultures. David Schmitt of
Barbara Oakley of
[Ha! I always knew that women liked bastards. Now we have scientific proof! I guess that I’m just too nice for my own evolutionary good – laughs]
I've been Tagged....
... by Stardust over @ Stardust Musings. Here's my response.
Q1. How would you define “atheism”?
Basically a lack of belief in the existence of God. Some people go further and actually dispute His existence – as I do myself from time to time – but it’s a much harder position to hold and defend. Atheism is a sceptical response to the God question. Nothing more.
Q2. Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?
My parents are (or where in my Dads case) Catholics – at least nominally. I was baptised into the faith so basically if Heaven does exist I’m a shoe-in as long as I die in a state of grace. Saying that, neither of my parents has ever professed any faith position as far as I know. I had little exposure to religion in general or Catholicism in particular during my childhood. Indeed my parents insisted that I attend CofE schools (Protestant) rather than the Catholic equivalent – for which I will be eternally grateful.
Q3. How would you describe “Intelligent Design”, using only one word?
Q4. What scientific endeavour really excites you?
Science in general excites me. But in particular there’s Space exploration (not enough of that going on), AI & Robotics, Genetic engineering, and Alternative power sources.
Q5. If you could change one thing about the “atheist community”, what would it be and why?
I don’t think that there is an ‘atheist community’ at least not on this side of The Pond. Over here, as far as I can tell, people are either Agnostic, Atheists or completely indifferent to Religion. Very few people I know profess to have any religious faith. I don’t think we atheists need a community being by nature rather individualistic.
Q6. If your child came up to you and said “I’m joining the clergy”, what would be your first response?
Laughter – assuming that s/he was winding her old man up…
Q7. What’s your favourite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?
I like the classic – “Where do morals come from”? – as if we don’t have thousands of years of cultural history behind us! Morality, I tell theists, is a cultural construct that has developed in particular places over long periods of time. This culture is passed on to new members of that society in the same way all other such constructs are. This is why morality varies with time and between cultures. There is no objective morality. My own morals are an amalgam of my culture, my upbringing, my schooling, my peer group, my life experience and my genes.
Q8. What’s your most “controversial” (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?
I’m not sure if there are ‘general attitudes amongst atheists’. Anyway, I am anti-monarchist and think we should become a Republic, that the State should have nothing whatsoever to do with Religion and that people should have to pass some kind of test before they are allowed to have children…. Have I reached ‘controversial yet?
Q9. Of the “Four Horsemen” (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?
I like Dawkins very much though I found The God Delusion rather boring, I find Dennett difficult to read though he speaks well, I don’t like Hitchens as a person but he does write well and I enjoyed Harris’s book The End of Faith. I’d have to go with Dawkins – but only for his Evolution books.
Q10. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?
I’m not in the business of de-converting anyone. If someone loses their faith because of debating with me I’d think that their faith was pretty weak to begin with. I’m not even sure if it’s at all possible to convince anyone that their faith position is wrong. Faith is not amenable to reason. If it was there would be a lot more atheists about I’m sure.
A ‘lost’ Legion of Rome fighting on alien worlds, an armada of 14th century knights and men at arms snatched from a deadly storm to do likewise…. Alien abductions are real and have been occurring throughout our history – just not for the reasons usually mentioned (just what is it with those anal probes?). The truth is that factions within an intergalactic trading empire are fighting for supremacy amongst the stars. The only rule is that they cannot use superior technology to conquer primitive species. Enter the Roman Legion apparently destroyed in Partia. Fielded on alien worlds they become an invincible fighting force with hundreds of years of combat experience. Controlled by fear and ignorance the ‘commanders’ singularly underestimate their native cunning until the moment comes when they strike back. Once in control of an alien ship the Romans quickly realise that they have a far greater empire to carve out than any Emperor ever dreamt of.
Starting with the classic Ranks of Bronze by David Drake this was a collection of short stories and novellas based in the universe Drake created. Almost uniformly entertaining this was a good collection of slightly odd combat SF stories by David Weber, S M Stirling, Eric Flint and others. It was actually a nice change of pace from ‘death rays’ and orbital bombardments to read about aliens being sliced & diced by Roman swords and English longbows. The final story was rather silly but had some nice touches – such as retro-fitted battleships taking part in space battles against an alien invasion fleet. But if you can get past things like this I’m sure you’d enjoy this bit of light reading. Enjoyable if not exactly mind bending stuff.
US Military’s Middle East Crusade for Christ
by Robert Weitzel for CommonDreams.org
“They are proselytizing not on behalf of the Constitution of the
Last August the watchdog group Military Religious Freedom Foundation foiled a Pentagon plan that would have allowed the shipment of “freedom packages” to soldiers and Marines in
General Caslen was promoted despite the Defense Department’s recommended disciplinary action against him and several other senior military leaders because they had “improperly endorsed and participated with a nonfederal entity while in uniform” by participating in a promotional video for the Campus Crusade For Christ’s Christian Embassy, an evangelical organization that ministers to Beltway politicians and sponsors weekly Bible studies at the Pentagon. According to the DoD Inspector General’s report, one of the generals involved “asserted that Christian Embassy was treated as an instrumentality of the Pentagon Chaplain’s office for over 25 years, and had effectively become a ‘quasi federal entity.’” Arguably, he believed his participation in the video was in the line of duty. Considering both the Pentagon’s evangelical proclivity and a 2006Pew survey which found that of the major religious groups in America, evangelicals have the most negative views of Islam and Muslims, the U.S. sniper who was recently caught using the Quran for target practice in the Baghdad neighborhood of Radhwaniya might be excused for thinking the book was a legitimate target upon which to perfect his craft . . . excused for thinking he was acting in the line duty.
And is it any wonder that with evangelicals and fundamentalists at the very top of the military’s officer corps — to say nothing of their Commander in Chief — that an enlisted Marine was passing out Christian “witnessing coins” inscribed in Arabic at a checkpoint in Fallujah? One side of the coin asked, “Where will you spend eternity?” An evangelical favorite, John 3:16, was on the flip side.Sheik Adul-Rahman al-Zubaie, a tribal leader in Fallujah who was outraged by the Marine’s proselytizing said, “This event did not happen by chance, but it was planned and done intentionally.” While the Marine’s proselytizing is not the official policy of the predominately Christian force occupying the predominately Islamic
As the demands of fighting a perpetual war against “radical Islam” begins to strain both the military’s resources and the country’s resolve, the Pentagon has begun outsourcing larger chunks of the war to private contractors. Predictably, our “government paid missionaries” have become more expensive and much less controllable or accountable. The Bush administration’s favorite contractor, Blackwater, is the most powerful private army in the world. It commands thousands of mercenaries in
No one in the last decade has contributed more to end time, apocalyptic evangelism than John Hagee, a televangelist seen by millions of viewers weekly and pastor of the 19,000-member
John Hagee is not just a mad evangelizing prophet. He is the mad evangelizing prophet who is courted by a war president, a hawkish presidential candidate and members of Congress from both parties. His Islamophobic bile has trickled down from Capital Hill, through the labyrinthine corridors of the Pentagon, and into the chamber of a sniper’s rifle and the hand of a Marine guarding a checkpoint in Fallujah. Officers in the military are expected to lead by example. Enlisted personnel are expected to follow that example. If the recent incidents at Radhwaniya and Fallujah are not just the acts of renegades, then the chain of command seems to be working the way it was designed.
'Nation of suspects' fear on DNA
From the BBC
A DNA database containing details on all people in the
Speaking on BBC One's Andrew Marr Show, Mr Davis said: "Do we want to turn
Meanwhile, former home secretary David Blunkett suggested the database could be extended on a voluntary basis. He told Sky News: "I don't think the government could possibly go snap and just say well let's move from those who have committed a crime or been arrested to the whole population. "I don't think in one go that is a feasible proposition, but I think actually saying to people you've got nothing to fear from this so long as we legislate to protect you." The Liberal Democrats have said the party is opposed to the idea of a national system, saying it did not "stack up on practical grounds".
The Association of Chief Police Officers is calling for a debate on whether to expand the current database - of DNA details taken from crime suspects - to cover all people in the
The DNA database, which covers
[You know, this New Labour government makes me so angry sometimes that I could almost bring myself to vote Tory – again. Almost…….]
Subtitled: A Prophetic Vision of the Future this book was definitely not what I imagined it would be. The cover illustration – on my edition (rather than the one pictured above) shows the giant gun & Raymond Massey as featured in the 1936 film directed by William Cameron Menzies. After seeing the film several times – worth a viewing if you haven’t already seen it – I fully expected that the book would follow the same plot. How wrong I was. It appears that Menzies took some of the essence of the book and really ran with it.
I wouldn’t classify the book itself as a work of fiction at all. It is a speculation from the point of view of citizens living in a
This is definitely not a light read and took me almost two weeks to finish – being almost 500 pages long didn’t help. There is a lot of discussion of the failings of both capitalism and democracy which may seem rather quaint and uninformed from our perspective 75 years after the book was published. There are also rather offensive comments regarding the role of women and non-Europeans (which is par for the course at the time but still irritates). The second half of the book is generally more interesting though somewhat far fetched as a reasonable speculation. The
My Favourite Movies: The Matrix
If I had to pick my all time favourite movie at gun point The Matrix would probably be it. I remember seeing it in a small(ish) city centre cinema, virtually on my own, one Saturday afternoon. Pretty much from the moment the music started – which still gives me goose-bumps every time I hear it – I was totally hooked. The opening scene where Trinity (played by the coldly beautiful Carrie-Anne Moss) escaped from a group of police and Agents of the System (headed up by the marvellous Hugo Weaving) made my jaw repeatedly hit the floor. I was, literally, stunned by the whole thing.
I did have some issues with the casting of Keanu Reeves as Thomas Anderson/Neo. There were times that his acting bordered on the very wooden indeed but, fortunately, he did improve as the movie progressed. By far the best actors in the movie were Hugo Weaving as the now iconic Agent Smith and Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus ‘considered by some to be the most dangerous man alive’.
There is just *so* much in this movie that can be discussed at great length – because the whole film is, in itself, iconic. The movie broke *so* many rules that it became a benchmark for all that followed it and that’s before we get into the philosophical aspects! The Matrix not only wowed audiences across the world it also made them think – and how many
A movie that is definitely in my Top 10 best movies ever (even without a gun pointing at my head), a piece of cinematic history and a 20th Century cultural icon. The Matrix has it all.
Sun's properties not 'fine-tuned' for life
22 May 2008
There's nothing special about the Sun that makes it more likely than other stars to host life, a new study shows. The finding adds weight to the idea that alien life should be common throughout the universe. "The Sun's properties are consistent with it being pulled out at random from the bag of all stars," says Charles Lineweaver from the Australian National University (ANU) in
Some previous studies of the Sun's vital statistics have concluded that it is unusual among stars, for instance, by having a higher mass than average. Such atypical properties might somehow help explain why the Sun seems to be unique, as far as we know, in having an inhabited planet. But the earlier studies only looked at a small number of solar features, such as its mass and iron content. Lineweaver suspects there was a temptation to sift through the Sun's properties, then focus on the outstanding ones while ignoring the normal ones.
"You can mistakenly come to the conclusion that the Sun is 'special'," Lineweaver told New Scientist. With his ANU colleague José Robles and others, Lineweaver has now analysed 11 features of the Sun that might affect its ability to have habitable planets.
They included its mass, age, rotation speed and orbital distance from the centre of the Milky Way. Then they compared these with well-measured statistics for other stars to answer the question – overall, does the Sun stand out from the crowd any more than some other randomly chosen star would? The Sun did stand out in two ways: it is more massive than 95% of nearby stars and its orbit around the centre of our galaxy is more circular than those of 93% of nearby stars.
But when all 11 properties were taken on board, the Sun looked very ordinary. Robles's team calculates that there would be only about one chance in three that a star selected at random would be "more typical" than the Sun. They conclude that there are probably no special attributes that a star requires to have a habitable planet, other than the obvious one – the planet must be within the star's habitable "goldilocks" zone, orbiting at a distance where the temperature is not too hot for life, nor too cold, but just right.
How could I possibly resist a book on two of my favourite subjects? Well I did – for about 3-4 weeks. It was coming up to my Birthday when I spotted it and I didn’t dare buy it immediately just in case someone else had bought it for me. No one had, so I bought it on my Birthday itself – I was out shopping as I never work on my actual birth day.
Anyway, was it any good? Indeed it was. BSG is, of course, oozing with philosophical issues and this book hits all the highlights. One of my favourite chapters was on the Cylon ‘slave morality’ as outlined by Nietzsche (in his case talking about Christianity). Other chapters covered fleet politics with reference to Machiavelli, Cylon ‘personhood’ and identity in the face of multiple copies of the same ‘person’ and ‘resurrection’, trans-humanism and the emergence of intelligent machines and the ethics of resistance to repressive occupation. A whole section was given over to the Cylon and Colonial interpretations of the idea of God(s) together with a discussion of destiny, providence and the idea of Free Will.
This is certainly a book for anyone interested in the deeper meaning behind some of BSG’s most challenging ideas. It’s also an easy way for a fan of the series to start to get their heads around some of the basic philosophic ideas. I have uniformly enjoyed the pop-culture/philosophy books I’ve come across so far and recommend them to those who, like me, are interested equally in both. This was an excellent and thought provoking book.