“When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall
find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you
joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall
see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your
delight.” -Khalil Gibran
Another incredible week has gone by here at
"nofollow" target="_blank" href="/r2/?url=http://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/"
target="_blank">Starts With A Bang! If you didn’t get a
chance to catch me in Jacksonville, don’t fear; I’ll be at
MidSouthCon in Memphis, Tennessee in just a little over a week.
Catch me there! Our "http://feeds.feedburner.com//https://www.patreon.com/startswithabang"
target="_blank">Patreon campaign is really taking off, and
with the new rewards commitments I have, there’s never been a
better time to join. (And if we can hit the next rewards tier,
I’ll be able to buy better equipment to help me produce them, which
would be a tremendous help!) There has been a lot of fighting in
the comment sections on a variety of posts, so I thought I’d remind
everyone of a reason we all have to delight in this world: "nofollow" href=
target="_blank">Maru. Who is still at it after all these years,
this time with a hamster ball.
You’ve had your Maru fix, but now it’s time to chew on some of
the meatiest morsels you’ve doled out on this edition of
target="_blank">comments of the week!
Image credit: Universe Review.
target="_blank">Michael Mooney on traveling close to the speed
of light: “Does special relativity actually claim that distance,
between stars for instance, depends on the speed of a traveler
between them… not just “apparent” distance, but actual astronomical
It depends on the distance and to whom. If you’re in the
spacecraft and moving towards a star 4 light years away, but you’re
doing it at 88% the speed of light, then yes: the star will be only
2 light years from you, and you will reach it in a little over two
and a quarter years. That contraction is “real”. Now your
spaceship, to an outside observer, will also appear contracted, as
the ball in the above image appears. Is that contraction physically
real? We don’t think so. Relativity is still challenging to wrap
your head around, even more than 100 years after we’ve first
"A planetary nebula represents a phase of stellar evolution that the Sun should experience several billion years from now. When a star like the Sun uses up all of the hydrogen in its core, it expands into a red giant, with a radius that increases by tens to hundreds of times. In this phase, a star sheds most of its outer layers, eventually leaving behind a hot core that will soon contract to form a dense white dwarf star. A fast wind emanating from the hot core rams into the ejected atmosphere, pushes it outward, and creates the graceful, shell-like filamentary structures seen with optical telescopes. It also looks like an exploding brain. Image credit: NASA / CXC."
A planetary nebula represents a phase of stellar evolution that
the Sun should experience several billion years from now. When a
star like the Sun uses up all of the hydrogen in its core, it
expands into a red giant, with a radius that increases by tens to
hundreds of times. In this phase, a star sheds most of its outer
layers, eventually leaving behind a hot core that will soon
contract to form a dense white dwarf star. A fast wind emanating
from the hot core rams into the ejected atmosphere, pushes it
outward, and creates the graceful, shell-like filamentary
structures seen with optical telescopes. It also looks like an
exploding brain. Image credit: NASA / CXC.
target="_blank">Wow on comment moderation: “Ethan are you
going to do anything about that…”
No. He has not violated my comment policy in any way. He has not
threatened anyone; he has not link-spammed anyone; he has not
promoted his own personal pet theory ad nauseum. He is also not the
person you accuse him of being, which I
strongly against anyone doing. You are allowed to
comment anonymously/pseudonymously here, and he is, too. His actual
name is John, but he is not the John you accuse him of being. Nor
should you be accusing anyone of being someone in particular, as
you would not like me to say whether someone was right or not if
they guessed at who you are. And if you think that one or ten or a
thousand extra clicks on this site makes a lick of
difference in what I get paid, you are sorely mistaken as to how my
So no, I am not going to do anything about the comments of a
commenter who’s abiding by all the rules here, who you (or I, or
anyone) simply disagrees with.
"The contributors to global warming, from the 2013 IPCC report."
The contributors to global warming, from the 2013 IPCC
target="_blank">Denier on global warming: “There are kernels of
truth in most of it. I’m swapping right side #3 with #4 just
because I think it lines up with the left counters better.”
First off, kudos to you on reading
target="_blank">the undark piece I linked to. I didn’t even
think to line up the two narratives side-by-side in a
point-counterpoint fashion, and it may be more interesting to do
so, as you did. It’s interesting to me that you find public opinion
and actions designed to sway public opinion just as valid — or
perhaps even more valid — than what the actual science says. You
claim quite frequently that “ "http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2017/03/10/a-200-year-old-lesson-scientific-predictions-are-worthless-unless-tested-synopsis/#comment-577814"
target="_blank">the models have failed to make accurate
predictions” so I went and looked up the first predictions I
The most seminal paper in climate change history? Perhaps!
Turns out there’s a paper going all the way back to 1967 that
asked this question: "http://feeds.feedburner.com//https://www.carbonbrief.org/the-most-influential-climate-change-papers-of-all-time"
target="_blank">Thermal Equilibrium of the Atmosphere with a Given
Distribution of Relative Humidity, by Syukuro Manabe and
Richard T. Wetherald. It’s now 50 years old. And as professor Steve
Its results are still valid today. Often when I’ve think I’ve
done a new bit of work, I found that it had already been included
in this paper.
One of the largest uncertainties around — climate sensitivity
and water vapor feedback — was first quantified and addressed in
this paper. There isn’t a definitive solution, but many plausible
ones that all fall within a particular range. By averaging that
range, we can arrive at a “best guess” prediction. That’s how the
modern IPCC arrives at their results, and it’s incredibly
Of course, the big sticking point is “what do we do about it,”
and the status quo answer seems to be, “burn all the fuel and let
the climate change, unfettered by environmental conservation
efforts.” But I can’t help myself in being dissatisfied with the
status quo in this regard. I love the natural world too much.
Perhaps your retort will be that you love economic success and
(what you define as) freedom too much, and that’s our fundamental
"A sample of telescopes (operating as of February 2013) operating at wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum. Observatories are placed above or below the portion of the EM spectrum that their primary instrument(s) observe. Image credit: Observatory images from NASA, ESA (Herschel and Planck), Lavochkin Association (Specktr-R), HESS Collaboration (HESS), Salt Foundation (SALT), Rick Peterson/WMKO (Keck), Germini Observatory/AURA (Gemini), CARMA team (CARMA), and NRAO/AUI (Greenbank and VLA); background image from NASA)."
A sample of telescopes (operating as of February 2013) operating
at wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum. Observatories
are placed above or below the portion of the EM spectrum that their
primary instrument(s) observe. Image credit: Observatory images
from NASA, ESA (Herschel and Planck), Lavochkin Association
(Specktr-R), HESS Collaboration (HESS), Salt Foundation (SALT),
Rick Peterson/WMKO (Keck), Germini Observatory/AURA (Gemini), CARMA
team (CARMA), and NRAO/AUI (Greenbank and VLA); background image
target="_blank">John on the future discoveries from NASA’s new
observatories: “With science extending and enhancing human senses,
humanity’s perception of itself and its relationship to the natural
world can, and with luck will improve.”
To me, the best part of this is that given our understanding of
light, gravity, nature and the electromagnetic spectrum, we can
make our own luck. We can extend and enhance and go well beyond our
senses and our perceptions. Our minds, rooted in the full suite of
scientific knowledge and with the full suite of scientific data,
can help us understand the natural world in a superior fashion to
any humans that have ever come before. Thousands and thousands of
living scientists understand gravitation and quantum theory better
than Einstein or Feynman ever did in their lifetimes, and we
continue to do better with each new discovery.
To look inward, however, and perceive ourselves and our
relationship to the natural world, is a journey that it’s up to
each of us to take as individuals. Science will only take you so
far in that one.
"Valentina Tereshkova, just prior to her launch aboard Vostok 6 in 1963. Image credit: Science Source/Photo Researchers, Inc."
Valentina Tereshkova, just prior to her launch aboard Vostok 6
in 1963. Image credit: Science Source/Photo Researchers, Inc.
target="_blank">dean on Valentina Tereshkova: “I remember
learning about her in a high school world history course, but I had
forgotten that she made 48 orbits.
I suspect the Soviet Union was ahead of the United States in
allowing women into their space program not because they were more
knowledgeable about the ability of women in general, but because
they had a history of women demonstrating their strength from the
roles women played in their military during WWII.”
The 48 orbits thing is actually the easiest thing
to explain. In low-Earth orbit, you need to continuously move at
the right velocity to maintain your orbit, or you’ll either crash
into the planet, fly off into deep space, or require a tremendous
(i.e., unrealistic) amount of fuel in order to consistently stay in
orbit. The equilibrium speed you need to reach, dependent on your
altitude, means you make a complete orbit every 90 to 100 minutes,
depending on your orbital parameters, which translates to 15-to-18
orbits per day. The earliest cosmonauts and astronauts orbited at
the same speeds and rates that the ISS does today. For 3 days in
space, 48 orbits was really the only realistic number for
Why did it turn out this way? The best I can tell you is that
Korolyov (sometimes "http://feeds.feedburner.com//https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Korolev"
target="_blank">Korolev, according to Wikipedia) was both
incredibly competent and had incredible vision for a space program.
If he hadn’t unexpectedly died in 1966, there are many who
speculate that the Soviets would have won the ultimate prize of the
space race — humans on the Moon — instead of the Americans. Alas,
we will never know.
"Richard Feynman, at approximately the age he was during the 1957 conference. Image credit: Caltech."
Richard Feynman, at approximately the age he was during the 1957
conference. Image credit: Caltech.
target="_blank">Anonymous coward on Feynman and gravitational
waves: “The article doesn’t seem to mention the curious detail that
Feynman had, to express his disdain for the state of gravitational
physics, insisted on registering under a pseudonym (”Mr. Smith”)
when he attended that conference.”
I didn’t know that detail either, and perhaps it may even be
novel to Paul as well. Having heard many, many stories about people
who knew Feynman personally, the only thing that surprises me about
that story is the pseudonymous method employed about expressing his
disdain. Feynman was both one to feel disdain frequently at a great
number of targets, and to rarely censor himself from expressing
such disdain. He had a touch of the egomania, but he never had the
insecurity that plagued his contemporaries like Gell-Mann, whom I
met once and was still, decades and a Nobel Prize of his own later,
still bathing in it.
"TRAPPIST-1 system compared to the solar system; all seven planets of TRAPPIST-1 could fit inside the orbit of Mercury. Note that at least the inner six worlds of TRAPPIST-1 are all locked to the star. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech."
TRAPPIST-1 system compared to the solar system; all seven
planets of TRAPPIST-1 could fit inside the orbit of Mercury. Note
that at least the inner six worlds of TRAPPIST-1 are all locked to
the star. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.
target="_blank">Wow on planethood and definitions: “The
clincher really is the quote you started with there. The problem
for the geophysical definition was it was OK as long as you could
look close enough to determine the composition roughly and
determine the size in enough detail to SEE it is round.”
The geophysical definition doesn’t require a
teleporter/transporter either, no more than the IAU one does.
Because we understand gravitation so well, simply measuring a
planet’s mass is a good enough proxy for knowing whether it’s in
hydrostatic equilibrium. Hit about 10^21 kg, more or less, and
you’ll be in hydrostatic equilibrium. Vesta, under most arguments,
falls just short; Makemake, similarly, makes it in.
The geophysical definition is a
purely intrinsic definition, however, and that’s
what I don’t like about it. You can learn a lot about a world by
standing above it and looking down: at the atmosphere, surface and
interior. I’d argue that you can know almost half the things there
are to know about it that way. The rest? Its temperature, its
orbital properties, its proximity to other objects, etc., are all
extrinsic. And to me — like most astronomers — that’s what’s
required to define its planethood. Otherwise, there’s nothing
special about being a planet in the way that Earth is a planet, and
that’s scientifically less useful to me.
Of course, that’s scientifically more useful
to planetary scientists, and that’s where the current argument
"This artist’s impression shows the view just above the surface of one of the planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system, which may contain liquid water on the surface if the atmospheric conditions are right. Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser/spaceengine.org."
This artist’s impression shows the view just above the surface
of one of the planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system, which may contain
liquid water on the surface if the atmospheric conditions are
right. Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser/spaceengine.org.
target="_blank">Dunc on how to solve the dilemma: “Here’s a
radical suggestion: we should abandon the entire concept of
“planets”. There are lots of different types of objects orbiting
around out there, and you can categorise them into different
groupings depending on which characteristics you’re particularly
interested in, but trying to reify this distinction between
“planets” and “non-planets” looks increasingly arbitrary and
meaningless. Does the Earth really have more in common with Jupiter
than it does with Pluto, or even it’s own Moon? Well, in some ways
it does, and in other ways it doesn’t…”
This is probably fair. My proposal is that we allow everyone to
call objects what they will. Dwarf planets, ice planets, minor
planets, rogue planets, orphan planets, ejected planets, former
planets, etc. It’s all fine. But give the 8 in our Solar System —
and the ones meeting the needed criteria in other Solar Systems — a
name denoting how they are special. Major planets, classical
planets, astronomical planets, or you can go with my
(tongue-in-cheek) suggestion: actual planets.
"Pluto's atmosphere, as imaged by New Horizons when it flew into the distant world's eclipse shadow. Image credit: NASA / JHUAPL / New Horizons / LORRI."
Pluto’s atmosphere, as imaged by New Horizons when it flew into
the distant world’s eclipse shadow. Image credit: NASA / JHUAPL /
New Horizons / LORRI.
target="_blank">Melvin Whartnaby on a different opinion:
“Sorry, I just don’t buy it! Not just me, but all of my friends and
family know that Pluto is a planet. Our teachers told us. We say it
All of these things are true, but none of those things count as
“meaningful evidence.” In science, we require a much sterner
standard. You will learn there’s an “appeal to authority” argument
out there that’s a classic logical fallacy. What it really means is
that it is a fallacy to appeal to a false authority.
If you want a real authority to appeal to, try Alan Stern, the
Planetary Society or any number of planetary scientists. (Some even
work for NASA.) You’ll still be wrong, because you’ll still want to
group Pluto in with the other 8 planets of the solar system, but at
least you’ll be wrong for a less obviously bad reason.
alt="Image credit: NOAA PMEL Vents Program." width="500" />
Image credit: NOAA PMEL Vents Program.
target="_blank">PJ on Earth-life life on the TRAPPIST-1 worlds:
“You cannot say “not a chance”. If there are life forms existing
around earths fumaroles, the probability is high for that existence
around vents on another planet.”
This is exactly right, and is exactly the point that Adrian
Lenardic (and many other scientists) make. You don’t know what
conditions are present on these other worlds. Sure, the star they
orbit might make for “too much radiation” if all the other
conditions were like the ones we have on Earth, but who knows how
shielding is different, how the atmosphere is different, how a
magnetic dynamo is different, etc. All of these differences could
lead to surface conditions that are very much Earth-like, despite
any one of the remarkable and clear differences present.
That I can design conditions that would lead to very
similar surfaces on these worlds doesn’t make them likely, but it
means there’s a chance. And given that there are likely hundreds of
billions of such chances in our galaxy alone — of Earth-sized
planets around red dwarf stars — I would definitely not want to bet
on “not a chance” with the current information we have.
"Image credit: screenshot from the internet classic, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ll-lia-FEIY."
Image credit: screenshot from the internet classic,
target="_blank">eric on navigating the comment jungle out
there: “When I was a teen, I learned to choose my novels by author.
When I graduated HS, I learned to choose my classes by professor.
Now, I choose posts by handle. "https://s.w.org/images/core/emoji/2/72x72/1f642.png" alt="ð"
style="height: 1em; max-height: 1em;" /> And always remember, when
browsing, the scroll wheel is your friend.”
This is the internet in its natural state: with comments turned
on, moderated only lightly for spam and a very particular kind of
trolling. To run a “comments of the week” requires curation and
thoughtfulness. I am sure many, if not all, will disagree with my
choices. Hopefully at least articles like this continue to be
interesting. And if not, "http://feeds.feedburner.com//https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71hVro7CH80"
target="_blank">go watch that cat video again.
"Image credit: Astrophysics Pro, via http://astrophysics.pro/experiments/photoelectric-effect/."
Image credit: Astrophysics Pro, via
target="_blank">Anonymous Coward on the wave nature of light:
“And then just a little shy of a hundred years later, Albert
Einstein comes along and shows how light actually does have
particle-like properties too!”
Quantum mechanics gets weirder and weirder the more we learn
about it. The fault is not with nature, but rather with our
intuitions, and the unfamiliarity we have with the quantum rules
that govern actual reality at a more fundamental, small-scale.
"A theoretical prediction of what the wave-like pattern of light would look like around a spherical, opaque object. The bright spot in the middle was the absurdity that led many to discount the wave theory. Image credit: Robert Vanderbei."
A theoretical prediction of what the wave-like pattern of light
would look like around a spherical, opaque object. The bright spot
in the middle was the absurdity that led many to discount the wave
theory. Image credit: Robert Vanderbei.
And finally, from "http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2017/03/10/a-200-year-old-lesson-scientific-predictions-are-worthless-unless-tested-synopsis/#comment-577825"
target="_blank">Michael Hutson on the Spot of Arago: “Re. the
Arago Spot: this is why a simple occultation disc cannot be used
for imaging exoplanets. Rather, a disk is used that has a special
scalloped edge calculated to counteract the diffraction”
There are two ways to measure exoplanets accurately. You are
correct: a simple disk would block out a large fraction of the
light, but would create optical diffraction/interference patterns
that would make direct planet imaging… difficult, if not
impossible. You can, at best, get down to a contrast of 10^6-to-1,
where you can image planets a million times fainter than the star
they orbit. A better-designed coronagraph can get that down to
about 10^8-to-1, where the scalloped edges help much more. But the
best design of all is a free-flying starshade.
Image credit: Amy S. Lo et al. (2010), from the Starshade
Technology Development Astro2010 Technology Development White
This gets a 10^10-to-1 ratio, allowing direct exoplanet imaging
to a far better accuracy and resolution and sensitivity compared to
any other means/method so far. The only problems are cost and
navigation; the starshade would have to be physically moved many
tens of thousands of kilometers from the telescope to get the
appropriate alignment. Optics, even 330 years after Newton, is
still a challenging pursuit.
Thanks for joining us this week, and looking forward to a
fabulous week to come!
height="1" width="1" alt="" />
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