Posts in Category: Science

Modern Day Titanic

nespoli-moon-overhead.jpgWhat busy lives we lead. Wake up in the morning for another day at work; routine pretty much the same. Days, weeks, and months fly by. Can you believe it is already 2013? What you are reading is already hours, days, and weeks old.

Mankind is riding in a conscious time machine called the Titanic. We are speeding along while we admire ourselves and advance the human race. Industrial revolution, space travel, modern medical miracles, what could be better.  With a life span of 80-90 years some struggle while others are comfortable with the day to day existence, all in a conscious moment.  But who is the captain of this ship? Who is watching our course and alerting us of danger? That captain is asleep and it may be too late to wake him. Our ship has been speeding along for millions of years much on autopilot. Humans may sink it after 200,000 years.

Approximately 3 billion years ago, life was created.  200,000 years ago, humans appeared.  A major event occurred about 12,000 years ago, the end of the ice age. Civilization began and flourished.  Another human milestone was 300 years ago when the industrial revolution began. Mankind’s technology accelerated at great speed with the captain’s order, “full speed ahead”.

The earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago in which a ozone layer was created in the atmosphere.  This layer protected life to make it possible for mankind’s creation.  As more countries began to use machines and technology CFC’s and hydrocarbons began to destroy the ozone layer. Yes our scientists alerted us of the danger. Politicians asked for more studies. It is ironic that man through intellectual development has created technology that could be catastrophic to our planet.  Not the first time. However, is this part of the evolution cycle?

Human’s intellect must overcome our primitive conscious desires; a captain must emerge in this every day ocean of existence. People, governments, science and technology must be understood and its limitations acknowledged.  It is important we realize evolution is a process over millions of years not to be destroyed in 300 years.  The destruction of the ozone is an iceberg and no one sees it on the Titanic. Alarms are going off but being ignored. We are comfortable with our everyday existence but asleep at the bridge.

Humans sit at the top of the food chain but through misguided beliefs, arrogance, and lack of understanding of science and technology, risks destruction of the human experience.  So how do we snap out of our conscious malaise? Is human evolution at a dead end?

We have the knowledge but not the will. Someone wake up the captain!

How big is the universe?

You look to the skies and see a lot of stars, right? But how big do you think the universe is? Scientists would probably give you answers in 100 trillions of light years. Since the universe is expanding at something like 50 to 100 kilometers/sec/Megaparsec, the answer would change. Maybe we should think of size in terms of galaxies, stars, and planets.

For now, to avoid our heads from hurting while using our calculators trying to convert kilometers and megaparsec, taking in small facts at a time seems sensible. Especially since we are anthropic, or human-centric and think in thousands of years or 4.5 billion, the age of our earth.

Let’s start with our Milky Way galaxy. Our solar system is part of the galaxy, which has a star or our sun and a few plants revolving around it. Our galaxy has four hundred billion stars and it would take a hundred thousand years to cross it at the speed of light. There are probably 500 billion plants around the stars. Do the math. It’s a lot of stars and planets.

(Illustration Credit: NASA; ESA; and Z. Levay, STScI; Moon Image Credit: T. Rector; I. Dell’Antonio/NOAO/AURA/NSF)

Now that we have acquired our orientation, let me share with you a recent observation from the Hubble telescope. NASA decided to see if they could observe a square of sky (above illustration, XDF square next to the moon) by taking pictures over several years. This would provide a field of light from deep space that we were not able to see without this eXtreme Deep Field or XDF study. The universe is 13.7 billion years old and the XDF galaxies observed were some of the youngest galaxies, some 13.2 billion years old. The light is just reaching the earth now. There are 5,500 galaxies in just this patch of sky alone! How many galaxies would then be in the universe? How many stars? How many planets, just like earth? The picture below is what was observed in the XDF square in deep space.

XDF Image (Credit: NASA; ESA; G. Illingworth, UCO/Lick Observatory and the University of California, Santa Cruz; R. Bouwens, UCO/Lick Observatory and Leiden University; and the HUDF09 Team)

So when you look into the sky at night and see the observable landscape of our universe, this is the same sky that our ancestors observed over thousands or millions of years. But their view was limited. With the advancement of science, we are seeing stars and galaxies which have never been seen before. This is the history of the universe as if we dug up a dinosaur bone. Think about the possibilities. Not just what is on the earth, but what is on the quintillions of earths yet to be discovered. Sounds like a Star Trek episode.

So what is next in our collection of technology for observing the universe? Look forward to the James Webb Space telescope. The Hubble telescope is only a baby compared to the James Webb Space telescope. We will stretch our vision even further into the vast universe past our home and into the history of our beginnings. Exciting discoveries ahead if you are interested in your neighbors.

Higgs Discovery

 

 Illustration courtesy CERN

There was once an idea. The idea became a theory. Men of Physics pursued a particle for evidence of the forces of nature. Would there be electrons and protons or quarks or photons? It is hard to wrap your mind around Theoretical Physics much less the significance of the Higgs boson discovery. One thing is for sure, man’s understanding of the fundamental forces of the universe just reached another milestone. The excitement is not just the discovery but sharing this momentous occasion in your lifetime.

Clearly, mankind has come together in a global effort both in intellect and resources to achieve this brilliant human advancement in science. Several years and $10 billion dollars later more than 3,000 scientists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland provided evidence of the Higgs boson. The idea began in the 1960’s by the British physicist Peter Higgs but required the largest scientific project ever constructed to solve the mystery that was beyond human understanding.

Higgs theory was that the universe has subatomic particles one of which provided a kind of energy field that gives matter its mass.

Since the Higgs boson was incredibly difficult to detect, the LHC was constructed to smash protons together to detect its fleeting presence. So after 800 trillion collisions, measurements of billion electron volts and “five sigma” standard for physics discovery, a new particle theory emerges.

“The Higgs mechanism is the thing that allows us to understand how the particles acquire mass,” said Joao Guimaraes da Costa, a physicist at Harvard University who is the Standard Model Convener at the LHC. “If there was no such mechanism, then everything would be massless.”

On July 4, 2012, Rolf Heuer, CERN director said “We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature….. The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle’s properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe.”

Paul Nurse, president of Britain’s science academy The Royal Society, said: “This is a big day for science and for human achievement … Today moves us a step closer to a fuller understanding of the very stuff of which the universe is made.”

Prof Stephen Hawking told the BBC News, “This is an important result and should earn Peter Higgs the Nobel Prize.”

So not just congratulations to the scientist’s involved but to mankind for showing that nations can come together with imagination and determination to advance our understanding of the universe.

 

Man or beast, it is in the science.

Yes, buy man is a beast. It is across cultures and moral landscapes but plays out mostly in main stream world media. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s display of brain cupidity is one of much personal privacy highlighted by dissection. From politicians like John Kennedy, stuff Bill Clinton, cure Francois Mitterrand, Mark Sanford, Elliot Spitzer, and John Edwards some might think this is declining morality. Nope, this has been going on for years and in fact, Muslims believe polygamy really prevents “infidelity”. Some may say with power and money man may believe he is sanctioned and the women drawn to fame and fortune. Unfortunately it is not so, look at your next door neighbors. It is nature.
The real truth of this display of aggressive sexual tendencies can be found in the human condition, the brain. Helen Fisher, a researcher at Rutgers University, “Wonderful though it is, romantic love is unstable…” “You can feel deep attachment for a long-term spouse, while you feel romantic love for someone else, while you feel the sex drive in situations unrelated to either partner. This independence means it is possible to love more than one person at a time, a situation that leads to jealousy, adultery and divorce.”
So what is behind this risk taking that can take a Dr. Jekyll and make him a Mr. Hyde? Over millions of years the survival of man depended on food, water, and sex. The brain developed reward systems to make sure man preserved evolution success. These reward systems developed receptors for oxytocin and vasopressin in brain regions to reinforce vital behavior. Dopamine is released during sexual activity which causes the release of oxytocin and vasopressin. All of this makes you feel good, the hormone sex cocktail.

Helen Fisher discusses many of the feelings of intense romantic love, saying it begins as the beloved takes on “special meaning.” Then you focus intensely on him or her. People can list the things they dislike about a sweetheart, but they sweep these things aside [as well as family and friends] and focus on what they adore. Intense energy, elation, mood swings, emotional dependence, separation anxiety, possessiveness, physical reactions including a pounding heart and shortness of breath, and craving, Fisher reports, are all central to this feeling. But most important is obsessive thinking. As Fisher says “Someone is camping in your head.”

“Camping in your head” or is the part of the brain responsible for reasoning which becomes overwhelmed by evolution reward system? Let me think, reasoning developed over thousands of years and evolution reward system over millions of years. Reasoning does not have a chance. However, for the success of survival of mankind, a significant influence will be the continued development of love and respect while understanding our limitations. To control this mental capacity, we must concentrate on consequences before reward certainly very difficult when hormones are running a muck. I guess the simple solution is, keep it in your pants dude and ladies before hormones take over the harmonious bond you professed to your partner. Not an easy task.

WISE – We are not alone

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NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, provided millions of Galaxies, Stars, and Asteroids during it’s mission.

Astronomers across the globe can now look through hundreds of millions of galaxies, stars and asteroids collected in the first bundle of data from the WISE mission.

December 14, 2009, WISE was launched into space  to map the entire sky in infrared light.  WISE took more than 2.7 million images during its mission.

WISE  discovered 20 comets, more than 33,000 asteroids between Mars and Jupiter, and 133 near-Earth objects (NEOs), which are those asteroids and comets with orbits that come within 28 million miles of Earth’s path around the sun. The satellite went into hibernation in early February of this year.

Go to the link below for more information and dazzling pictures.

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/WISE/main/index.html