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Archive for the ‘Astronomy’ Category

The Large Hadron Collider Can Destroy Our World Indeed

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The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) currently awaiting to be turned on at CERN in Geneva will not destroy the Earth. But it can destroy our world: by detecting definitive evidence for so-called “dark matter”.

Current cosmology indicates that the total amount of “dark matter” may be five times the amount of “normal” matter. As reported by Freeman Dyson on the New York Review of Books, the LHC is expected to find that “dark matter” is composed of the “supersymmetrical” equivalents of ordinary matter.

If the above is confirmed, it may be the first step towards making the world we experience as vanishing and irrelevant as a ghost in the desert at midday.

For all we know, there is a wholly separate “universe”, a “material world” coexisting with everything we can touch and see, with a lot more mass than ours, and getting by without much interaction with our “material world”, apart from gravity perhaps.

Imagine a “dark matter telescope” showing a completely different sky. Like Nicole Kidman’s character in “The Others”, it will be the revelation that the ghosts, it’s us.

And Plato would be very proud of himself.

Written by omnologos

2009/May/25 at 07:04:07

Is your SUV Destroying the Universe?

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Is your SUV destroying the Universe?

Supernovae data from the 1950’s to 2007 show trends very worrying for the fate of the whole cosmos.

The Magnitude (brightness) of observed explosions, after hovering for several decades around the 20 mark, has recently dropped to 15 (i.e. towards brighter supernovae).

Furthermore, the number of observed supernovae has been increasing at an exponential rate, again after many decades below 50 per year, to 95 in 1996 and a little less than 600 in 2007.

The fact that this is happening exactly as anthropogenic greenhouse-gases emissions are on the increase, cannot be just a coincidence. If this will not convince Governments about the importance of stopping CO2 emissions, nothing will!

Written by omnologos

2008/Jan/06 at 23:17:14

The Best Science Blog 2007 Saga (1 of 3)

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Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy (BA) and Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit (CA) have been awarded the 2007 Weblogs Award for Best Science blog. Remarkably, they are both prisoners of their own devices: BA cannot criticize mainstream science, CA can only criticize mainstream science. They are both great blogs and their shared Award is a honest snapshot of their relative merits. PZ Myers’ Pharyngula, on the other hand…

The Best Science Blog 2007 Saga (1 of 3) – Introduction and The Bad Astronomy Blog
The Best Science Blog 2007 Saga (2 of 3) – The Climate Audit Blog and The Weblogs Award for Best Science Blog committee
The Best Science Blog 2007 Saga (3 of 3) – Pharyngula and Conclusions (and a Prayer)

The 2007 Weblogs Award for Best Science blog has been jointly awarded to Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy (BA) and Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit (CA) after a nail-biting finale that has seen the lead swing back and forth (amazingly, even after the poll had closed, demonstrating that the Internet is a province of Florida).

I cannot but be very pleased with the result, as I have been a regular subscriber to both BA and CA for years and months respectively (yes I am an astronomy and climate basket case).

Are Bad Astronomy and Climate Audit the best science blogs on the web? Surely not. This is the best blog about everything in the whole Universe, I am sure you’ll all agree.

The circumstances have made both Plait and McIntyre rise in this reader’s consideration, alongside of course the extremely smooth operators of the Weblogs Award. The only protagonist that has lost several hundreds points is PZ Myers, the author of the close-minded gratuitously-offensive flame-throwing Brighter-Than-Thou fundamentalist Pharyngula blog.

The Bad Astronomy Blog
BA is a great blog, especially if you like astronomy. It comes out of a great website (“Bad Astronomy” of course) that has been pointing out for years the scientific fallacies of public astronomical depictions, including in the media, and especially in the movies (silly sounds in the vacuum of space and all that). Of course there is also much to learn, mostly in the form of ever-more-spectacular astronomical pictures, but there are also extraordinarily good posts on the absurd attempts by certain astrologers, fear-mongerers and deluded “religious” people to scientifically demonstrate their craft or beliefs. (Plait gets all my envy when he talks about his friendship with James Randi and Penn Jillette).

The series on pareidolias is particularly humorous. In fact, pretty much everything on BA is great fun (including the sometimes harrowing love confessions for all sorts of pop-culture heroes).

Phil Plait (bless!) has even dedicated a blog entry to my discovery that National Geographic Magazine has “sexed up” at least one recent article. And of course he has written a “Bad Astronomy” book and is going to publish a new one “Death from the Skies!” soon.

The bit where the BA blog falls short is when Plait “the Bad Astronomer” talks climate change and/or launches in long tirades against the current White House inhabitant. The two things are obviously related. Plait sees himself fighting for “Science” against the Bush Administration’s admittedly rather clumsy attempts at getting only the “right” messages across, even in matters of science. When there is climate involved then, Plaits sides with the “scientists” (i.e. the mainstream) in opposition to the White House’s reluctance e.g. to follow the recommendations of the IPCC.

Alas, in the process Phil Plait forgets to apply to climatology the same healthily skeptical methodology he is so good at using with the various nutters usually so skilfully dealt with.


Written by omnologos

2007/Nov/28 at 21:11:10

Ptolemy’s Revenge

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2154 years after being written, and 464 years after being rendered obsolete by Copernicus, the Ptolemaic System is coming back with a vengeance, masquerading as Garrett Lisi’s Theory of Everything

Written by omnologos

2007/Nov/18 at 17:12:41

The Elementary Coincidence of Watson and Holmes

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2007/Oct/27 at 10:18:19

Venus Forecast

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In a few years, the old ideas of Fred Singer will come back into fashion.

Venus’ retrograde rotation, incredibly massive atmosphere and relatively young (<500 million years) surface will be elegantly explained by the crash of a massive satellite half a billion years ago (with subsequent melting of much if not the whole crust, and humongous outgassing).

Current lead-melting surface temperatures will be just as beautifully explained by simple adiabatic processes.

The role of CO2 in the heating of the atmosphere via some “greenhouse effect” will be seriously reconsidered and almost completely dismissed.


Some quick computations:

Ratio of available solar energy Venus/Earth: 190%

Earth, surface pressure: 1000 mbar; temperature: 288K
Venus, 50km altitude pressure: 1000 mbar; temperature: 330K
330K/288K = 114% < 190%

Venus, surface pressure: 90,000 mbar; temperature: 735K
Temperature of terrestrial air compressed from 288K/1,000mbar to 90,000mbar: 887K
735K/887K = 82.9% < 190%

Far from showing any CO2-induced global warming, Venus is much cooler than expected, likely because of the high-altitude clouds that prevent us from looking at the surface.

Written by omnologos

2007/Aug/17 at 22:45:02

Pretty Awful Astronomy on Astronomy Magazine

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Astronomy Magazine’s latest Collector’s Edition issue “50 Greatest Mysteries in the Universe” (ed: David J Eicher) is even more special than usual, unintentionally so given the width and breadth of its errors.

With mistakes ranging from excessive simplifications to incredible blunders, it is just too tempting to wonder about Mystery #51, namely “Does anybody do any proofreading at Astronomy Magazine?

Here’s a list of what I have spotted so far, starting from the biggest howlers:

Question 36: “Could a distant, dark body end life on Earth?”: (page 73):
“Among them are the Sun-like star Alpha Centauri”
Egregiously wrong. Alpha Centauri is not a single star. In this case, the text does not show the most elementary grasp of astronomical knowledge.

Question 31: “Does inflation theory govern the universe?”: (page 62):
Under caption titled “Minuscule Time”
“…compare 1 second to the 13.7-billion-year-age of the universe. Next, divide that 1 second into an equivalent number (13.7 billion) of parts…”
Egregiously wrong. The text mistakes “years” for “seconds”. This is quite worrying as it is trivial to understand that the correct “equivalent number of parts” is 31 million times larger: that is, 13.7 billion years times 365 days a year times 24 hours a day times 3600 seconds per hour.
The result is 4.32*1017, definitely not 13.7 billion.

Question 19: Can light escape from black holes?”: (page 41):
“1067 years, or more than one million times longer than the whole history of the universe to date”
Egregiously wrong. If the Universe has been around for 13.7 billion years, that’s 7.3*1056 times less than 1067. That number is 730 billion quadrillion quadrillion, not just “one million”.
Looks like whoever did the computations, misread 1056 into 106. Or worse.

Question 6 “How common are black holes?”: (page 18):
“Encountering a black hole of any type, your body […] would be pulled into a very long line of protons”
Wrong. If one were shielded against radiation, falling into a sufficiently large black hole would entail experiencing relatively weak gravity gradients.

Question 8 “Are we alone?”: (page 21):
“Viruses…’life’ – which for them amounts to cannibalizing cells”
Wrong. Only some viruses kill the host cells: many of them are more like non-lethal parasites (I am leaving aside the fact that cannibals eat their own species, and that’s not what viruses do).

Question 42: “What will happen to the Sun?”: (page 82):
“As the swollen Sun incinerates the solar system’s inner planets, its outer, icy worlds will melt and transform into oases of water…”
Mostly wrong. That is, true only under extraordinary conditions. Liquid water can exist only at pressures above Water’s Triple Point’s (661 Pa). And so it will only appear on those satellites and asteroids capable to maintain at least that much atmosphere.
How many will? Not many, perhaps just a handful or none at all.

Question 13 “Will asteroids threaten life on Earth?”: (page 30):
“The destructive power a rock carries to Earth is directly proportional to its size”
Oversimplistic. Roughly, the consequences of an asteroidal impact are directly proportional to its mass. But this leaves out other considerations, including the asteroid’s chemical make-up, density, shape, atmospheric entry angle, and more.

Question 6 “How common are black holes?”: (page 16):
“If you could throw a baseball at a velocity of 7miles per second, you could hurl it into space”
Oversimplistic. As the baseball would have to go through lots of air at first, the initial speed must be considerably larger, for a simple throw (even leave aside all considerations about heating by friction). This may look trivial, but considering the other errors in the magazine, one is left with the lingering doubt that the 7mi/s figure may have been not just a simplification.

Question 2 “How big is the universe?”: (page 10):
“…we live in a Universe that is at least 150 billion trillion miles across…”
Antiquated. The galaxies we observe as 10 billion light years away have obviously had 10 billion years to move away much further by now, and that is not all. By considering additional effects such as post-Big Bang inflation, and the acceleration of the expansion of the Universe, the actual value for the size of the Universe may be in the region of 160 billion light years

And finally…
Question 2 “How big is the universe?”: (page 10)
“Other universes might exist beyond our ability to detect them. Science begs off this question…”
Question 3 “How did the Big Bang happen?”: (page 12):
The often-asked question ‘What came before the Big Bang?’ is outside the realm of science”
Antiquated. For a more up-to-date view, check and Science magazine

All in all: plus 50 points for the magazine’s idea, but minus several million for being so careless with the stuff they are supposed to know more about…

Written by omnologos

2007/Aug/08 at 21:15:04