A lot of space missions are poised for launch right now! NASA has the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter which will blast off no earlier than June 2, and the Hubble servicing mission for the Space Shuttle Atlantis is now scheduled for launch on May 11. I’ll have lots more about that soon.
|Herschel and Planck|
The European Space Agency isn’t exactly taking it easy, either: Herschel and Planck are two astronomy missions that will launch on a single Ariane 5 rocket on May 14th.
Herschel is a massive infrared telescopic observatory with a 3.5 meter mirror, by far the largest infrared observatory ever put in space. It will look at far-infrared light, from 55 to 180 microns (our eyes are sensitive to light out to roughly 0.7 microns, so this is way out in the IR). For comparison, the awesome Spitzer telescope has a mirror 0.85 meters across, so Herschel will return incredible imagery of the sky. I can’t wait to see what it shows us!
Planck will map the entire sky at microwave frequencies, looking at the leftover radiation from the Big Bang. The NASA satellite WMAP did this a few years back and answered many questions about the physics of the early Universe, but as we have to come to expect in science, any new observations will also raise even more questions. Planck will have ten times the resolution that WMAP did, so it will see smaller features on the sky. It’s also more sensitive than WMAP was, so it will see fainter features as well. This means it may answer a lot of those questions WMAP raised.
Now get this: the Big Bang model is the best one we have to explain the origin of the Universe. But it does not tell us about how that moment occurred. Did the Universe get its start from a singular event, a quantum fluctuation in some larger metaverse? Are we the last in a series of past Big Bangs and recollapses (the last because we’re pretty sure the cosmic expansion will go on forever this time)? Are we here because two high-dimensional membranes collided?
|WMAP map of the microwave sky|
These questions stretch our brains to the breaking point… but the thing is, there is science here! These different ideas predict different structures in the background glow leftover from the Big Bang. WMAP saw many cooler and warmer spots on the sky in that microwave glow, equal numbers of them. But some theories say we should see just a hair more cold spots. WMAP did a fine job observing the sky, but it simply lacked the resolution to be able to see any asymmetries in the hot and cold spot numbers.
Planck may very well have the resolution needed to see that. Do you understand the implications? We may be on the verge of determining if the origin of the Universe was a singular event, or if it was due to some other mechanism.
We’re on the edge of "holy crap!" territory with this. We have progressed from last century’s having no clue about how the cosmos got its start, to now possibly being able to get a handle on what happened before the Big Bang.
That’s why I love science! Some people try to tell me that science will never answer the big questions we have in life. To them I say: baloney! The real problem is your questions aren’t big enough.
I haven't looked at Hulu before but poked around a bit on it a bit after seeing that Cosmos was available. I watched the 1st in the series tonight; it's as wonderful now as it was when it aired a little over 28 years ago on Sept 28, 1980.
I’m getting lots of emails that Hulu is now carrying the entire Cosmos series (though, as far as I know, Hulu is still only available in the US). That’s very cool; Cosmos was groundbreaking and still stands today as perhaps the greatest science/astronomy TV documentary ever made.
If you watch the standard astronomy documentary these days, it’s all fast cuts and tons of information thrown at you, and in my opinion the average viewer walks away with nothing. Cosmos is slower paced, but fascinating, and Sagan took care to make everything fit in such a way that by the end all this stuff makes sense. You have a more complete idea of how science works, and how all the puzzle pieces fit together.
I would strongly urge everyone to watch the series, especially if you have curious kids. Sagan influenced a whole generation of today’s astronomers — including me — and he can still inspire a new one, too. (link Bad Astronomy Blog)
I find the polls saying that x% of Americans believe in creationism, astrology, etc depressing but this is just incomprehensible. This is something I think I've known for as long as I remember, something like a turned on stove is hot. I just don't understand how people can be this out of touch with the world around them. But then again 44% of adults believe that humans were created by a magical skygod sometime in the last 10,000 years - some form of YEC.
Sigh. I should be surprised by stuff like this, but the most damning thing about it is that I’m not surprised.
Only 53% of adult Americans know it takes the Earth a year to go around the Sun. The reason it’s not surprising to me is that that’s how many Americans couldn’t ask Oprah or Dr. Phil about it first.
This is the result of a survey done by the California Academy of Sciences. The other results aren’t a whole lot more encouraging. What slays me is that the vast majority of Americans think that science is important to their lives:
Despite this lack of knowledge, U.S. adults do believe that scientific research and education are important. About 4 in 5 adults think science education is “absolutely essential” or “very important” to the U.S. healthcare system (86%), the U.S. global reputation (79%), and the U.S. economy (77%).
Pi Day and Pi Approximation Day are two holidays held to celebrate the mathematical constant π (pi). Pi Day is observed on March 14 (3/14), due to π being roughly equal to 3.14. Pi Approximation Day is observed on July 22, due to π being roughly equal to 22/7.
Pi Minute is also sometimes celebrated on March 14 at 1:59 p.m. If π is truncated to seven decimal places, it becomes 3.1415926, making March 14 at 1:59:26 p.m., Pi Second (or sometimes March 14, 1592 at 6:53:58 a.m.).
The first Pi Day celebration was held at the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1988, with staff and public marching around one of its circular spaces, and then consuming fruit pies; the museum has since added pizza pies to its Pi Day menu. The founder of Pi Day was Larry Shaw, a now retired physicist at the Exploratorium who still helps out with the celebrations.
Actually barely even a short note. As PZ says below if they'd played it against the history of the universe if would have been even more striking but probably would have been a video of almost nothing happening as far as life goes until the last few seconds.
Seed has compiled a short list celebratory articles and media for your Darwin Day — take a look. I rather liked The Evolution of Life in 60 Seconds: it's very short, but it puts everything in perspective by listing key events in the 4.6 billion year history of the planet with appropriate timing to fit into one minute. If they'd put it into the context of the over 13 billion year history of the universe, it might have been even more dramatic.
Also the birthday of Abraham Lincoln.
Get out and celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the most important scientists of all time, Charles Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of one of the most important books in biology, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. It's that day! (link Pharygula)
Forty years ago* on December 24, 1968, Earthrise was captured by astronaut William Anders during Apollo 8--the first manned voyage to the orbit of the Moon. It is a photograph that forever changed the way many humans perceive our place in the universe.
As we celebrate the new year, take a moment to consider our impact on this pale blue dot in the short span of time since then... and just imagine what we may yet accomplish and discover by 2048. (link)
click on photo for Wiki link
Follow the link "pale blue dot" above for a video clip and narration from Carl Sagan. The photograph and his thoughts on the "pale blue dot" always provide perspective and purpose.
Voyager I was launched in 1977. Science didn't learn anything from this picture but it was Carl Sagan's hope that maybe human beings could. As Voyager I was about 4 billion miles from earth (a bit beyond the orbit of Pluto) in 1990 they turned it around at Carl Sagan's suggestion for a picture of our receding planet. It's still traveling and is now in interstellar space traveling at 37,790 mph. Voyager I and II both carry the famous gold record.
I found some basic statistics on world population, in 1970 there were 3.7 billion people on the planet, in 2007 there were 6.6 billion. Many of those now alive were not yet born in 1968. How much real progress has there been for most of those 6.6 billion since 1968?
An endorsement from the editors of Seed.
by The Editors • Posted October 29, 2008 03:00 PM
Our world is more complex, dynamic, and interdependent than at any time in recent history. Financial markets are in turmoil, geopolitical conflicts abound, and our pale blue dot is in serious peril. Yet these are also times for great optimism — about what can be known and what can be accomplished, about our potential to discover and innovate. To navigate this new reality, to realize opportunity within this massive change, we need a new approach to governance and problem solving; we need a new way of looking at the world and a new set of values founded on the conviction that knowledge is good; and we need leaders who have the courage and wisdom to change their mind in the face of new evidence. Today we stand at an inflection point in modern history, and America, still inarguably and essentially the world's beacon, will chart the way forward next Tuesday. At this critical moment, we offer an endorsement and a perspective that we hope informs the decision of our American readers....(link)
I haven't been following the debates at all but I do like this soundbite. This should be THE key topic to insure that American children and their children do not end up living in a 3rd world environment. I know it wouldn't get that much support if it were THE topic, but it should at least be one of the top ones.
My Favorite Debate Moment
Finally, one of the most important topics is raised. Let's hope that the Democratic candidate continues this focus on science.
Quicktime Video .7 MB | Duration: '23 (via onegoodmove)