Click image for larger version
Douglas Adams says in The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy:
“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
The immensity of the galaxy almost seems beyond human comprehension. But this image does start to bring it home to me. It shows the extent of penetration of human radio signals into our galaxy since we have had radio. It’s that small blue dot, 200 light years in diameter, you can see in the enlarged section.
And our galaxy is only an extremely small and irrelevant part of the universe.
Book review: The Day We Found the Universe by Marcia Bartusiak
Price: US$11.53; NZ$20.82
Hardcover: 368 page
Publisher: Pantheon (April 7, 2009)
This is a great book – just the sort of history of science I enjoy. One that smashes a few illusions, introduces new personalities, describes the significant research and debates of the time. And also describes the key scientists in a human way, with all their foibles, prejudices and illusions as well as their scientific contributions.
The title is apt. The book describes the work and people which produced our modern day understanding of the universe. Less than a century ago we used to think that our galaxy, the milky way, comprised the whole universe. And that it was static. Now we see it a infinitely bigger, with billions of galaxies similar to ours. We also understand that it is expanding and that we can trace this expansion back almost 14 billion years to the “big bang.”
The big illusion the book shatters is the received story of how this happened through the work of Edwin Hubble. Of course he played a key role – but we normally never hear the background stories, the other personalities involved or details of the disputes and resolutions. It’s normally all about Edwin Hubble.
Posted in philosophy, SciBlogs, science, Science and Society
Tagged Edwin Hubble, Emanuel Swedenborg, expanding universe, Georges Lemaître, Giordano Bruno, Harlow Shapley, Hubble, SciBlogs, universe, Vesto Slipher
In Fiddling with “fine-tuning” I discussed the way theologians and philosophers of religion have used claims of fine-tuning of the cosmological constant erroneously. That they have taken the fact that the value of the measured cosmological constant is 120 orders of magnitude different to the value of vacuum energy used to explain it. This has been described as the “worst calculation in physics history.” But never mind, these apologists have just utilised the huge mistake to claim that the cosmological constant is fine-tuned to 1 part in 10120! So there god must be responsible.
This is what happens when you use scientific knowledge opportunistically. Like a drunk uses a lamppost – more for support than illumination. Because the problem with the theological approach is that there is no interest in understanding the world around us – just in using science to support any argument they can drag up to “prove” the existence of their particular god.
Mind you, some non-theists also find the fine tuning concept beguiling. And they can also uncritically accept some of the fine-tuning claims that circulate. The idea that many of the physical and cosmological constants in our universe are extremely delicately balanced to values necessary for life to exist. The so-called anthropic principle.
So, Victor Stenger’s new book The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us will be very useful for anyone attempting to check out these arguments by actually considering the science. He describes the physical and cosmological background to the constants, or parameters as he prefers to call them, usually used in fine-tuning arguments. And then he considers, one by one, just how valid – or invalid – the fine-tuning arguments are.
Here I will just deal with two “fine-tuned” constants – the “Hoyle resonance” for carbon nuclei and the “nuclear efficiency.” I think they illustrate two common mistakes made in estimating the degree of fine-tuning.
Posted in book review, creationism, faith, god, intelligent design, philosophy, religion, SciBlogs, science, Science and Society
Tagged anthropic principle, big bang, fine tuning, Fine-tuned Universe, Fred Hoyle, Hydrogen, Neutron, nuclear effcieincy, physics, Proton, SciBlogs, universe, Victor J. Stenger, Victor Stenger
The catch – you are limited to 140 characters on Twitter.
Oh, yes, also the entry must “explain the origins of the Universe.”
Simple – should be plenty of entries for that!
I guess the trick is in the syntax, as well as the science.
Have a look at Otago University‘s Centre for Science Communication Twitter Competition for the details.
Deadline is Tuesday 15 November. You will have a chance to vote on your favourite entry from Wednesday 16 November until noon Saturday 19 November.
And, Professor Lawrence Krauss, author of the forthcoming book A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing, will then select the winning tweet from the five tweets receiving the highest number of votes.
I still have a week or so to solve that problem and send my entry.
Thanks to: Best Science Tweet Competition.
Posted in New Zealand, SciBlogs, science, Science and Society
Tagged astronomy, cosmology, iPad, SciBlogs, Tweets, Twitter, universe, University of Otago
Have a look at this brief interview of Leonard Mlodinow – the co-author with Stephen Hawking of the just published book The Grand Design
The extreme media reaction to this book was based on the simple sentence: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” Apparently some theologians were so bent out of shape by the “audacity” of the claim they just had to attack a number of straw men, and assist the book up the best seller list in the process*. You would think they would be used to this by now. As far back as 1878 George Romanes, a biologist and lapsed catholic, wrote “There can no longer be any doubt that the existence of God is wholly unnecessary to explain any of the phenomena of the universe.”
In this interview Mlodinow expands a little on the extract and helps bring some sense into the discussion.
YouTube – Leonard Mlodinow: God Is Unnecessary.
* One of the worst comments I read was by Mike Bara (see Hawking’s Latest Absurdity Spells the Death Knell for Scientific Materialism). He called Hawking “arrogant and ignorant”, a “self-appointed academic elite”, “deluded”, “a broken, ill and crippled man”, “narcissist” and a victim of “the Darwinian delusion”. He added, for good measure, that “science is an empty path bereft of meaning” and “the scientific materialists day is over, and Hawking, their champion, deserves not our wrath, but our pity.”
Move over Dawkins – we have another demon to stick pins in.
Posted in atheism, belief, creationism, faith, god, religion, SciBlogs, science, Science and Society
Tagged Books, god, Grand Design, Leonard Mlodinow, Stephen Hawking, universe
Isaac Asimov via last.fm
I like the quote from Isaac Asimov which goes something like:
“The most exhilarating statement in science is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘Hmm, that’s funny’!”
Every researcher knows the feeling. When our experiments or observations produce the result we didn’t expect. That conflicts with our hypothesis – or even better conflicts with current theory.
Because we know this means progress. We have found something we can’t explain and that gives us a chance to discover something new.
Good scientists are not afraid to say “I don’t know!” Ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of. However, we should not be satisfied with it. So scientists usually add “Let’s find out!”
That’s why it is galling to hear opponents of science claim that we are an arrogant lot. That we claim to know everything. Or that we claim we can, eventually, know everything.
I confronted these sort of arguments recently in a discussion with some religious apologists (see Science and Religion: Theism and Explanatory Idleness). They were criticising scientific arrogance. Claiming that many scientists had a “science of the gaps” approach – assuming everything could eventually be explained by science alone. I challenged the claim – asking for evidence of any scientist advancing the argument. And was told to google Dawkins!
Ah, the Dawkins who doesn’t exist but has been invented as an apologist voodoo doll (see The Dawkins Delusions).
Posted in Christianity, Dawkins, philosophy, religion, SciBlogs, science, Science and Society
Tagged Astrocast, astronomy, Fraser Cain, Galaxies, Isaac Asimov, Milky Way, podcast, solar system, universe
The origin of the universe is one of the biggest questions there is. Some people resort to easy answers – which don’t answer anything. But its good to know that others do take the question seriously and actively research it.
Here is a great lecture from Lawrence Krauss – “A Universe from Nothing”.
He is always an informative and entertaining lecturer. He injects quite a bit of humour into this talk he gave at the Athiest Alliance International Convention held in California earlier this month.
‘A Universe From Nothing’ by Lawrence Krauss, AAI 2009.
Posted in agnostic, agnosticism, atheism, belief, Krauss, Science
Tagged Atheist Alliance International, cosmological constant, cosmology, dark energy, dark matter, Lawrence Krauss, Lawrence M. Krauss, universe
This is a lovely video. Brings home just how big our universe is. And that’s without consider possible other parts of an even larger universe.
Really gets you thinking.
Einstein & Lemaître
Back in 1951 Georges Lemaître warned Pope Pius XII about the opportunist use of science to support religious beliefs. Lemaître, a Catholic priest and astronomer, was responsible for the initial formulation of a “big bang” theory for the origin of the universe. He was reacting to the Pope’s claim that the new theory was a scientific validation of the Catholic faith. In his statement Lemaître said:
“As far as I can see, such a theory remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being… For the believer, it removes any attempt at familiarity with God… It is consonant with Isaiah speaking of the hidden God, hidden even in the beginning of the universe.”
Implicit in his statement was the idea that such opportunist use of science misrepresents science. It is also bad theology. This view was also articulated by Father George Coyne another Catholic priest and former Vatican astronomer (see “Scientism” in the eyes of the beholder).
Coyne points out that scientific knowledge is relative. Conclusions will alter as more evidence produces better knowledge of reality. Therefore a theology which justifies itself in scientific terms lays itself open to being proven wrong.
Posted in Christianity, creationism, god, intelligent design, religion, science, superstition
Tagged big bang, Christian apologetics, cosmology, Georges Lemaître, Pope Pius XII, universe
Phillip Plait, in his new book, Death from the Skies! makes a very succinct comment about life, evolution and fine-tuning:
“Earth seems marvellously tuned to support life, but that’s an illusion: we are the ones who are in fact tuned by evolution, as are all the other forms of life on, below, and above the Earth’s surface. As the Earth has changed over the eons, so has life. It seems almost inevitable that, once life first got its start on Earth, it would flourish.”
This is surely a much better attitude than the one usually pushed at us by those who cling to magical answers and ancient myths. Surely its the ultimate in narcissism to believe that the whole entire universe is “fine-tuned” just to ensure the existence on our species.
Much simpler to see us as being “fine-tuned,” by our very evolution and development, to fit into an existing universe.
By the way Death from the Skies! is a great read.