Friday, February 28, 2014

Free to Discriminate

Kaleesha and I were discussing this recent attempt in Missouri to introduce a "right to refuse service" religious freedom bill yesterday and it occurred to me that there might be some merit to the idea. But it would come with a requirement. Allow business owners to discriminate but require a sign in several prominent places that clearly states who they will not serve. Then we, as customers and neighbors, will clearly see who it is in our community we should boycott. I have no interest in doing business with anyone who cannot tolerate (even better, accept and embrace) other humans because of some trait they were born with. It's past the time we evolve beyond such cultural baggage. Here's her post about it.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Credulous Mind

“A credulous mind... finds most delight in believing strange things, and the stranger they are the easier they pass with him; but never regards those that are plain and feasible, for every man can believe such." -- Samuel Butler, Characters (1667-9)

Excerpted from Carl Sagan's Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Supernova!

Animation showing SN 2014J

Around January 19th a new supernova was detected in the night sky. Dubbed SN 2014J, the supernova is visible from the northern hemisphere in M82, a galaxy in the constellation Ursa Major. Consider, M82 is 12 million light years away so this explosion actually happened 12 million years ago but it has taken the light that long to travel the distance between our galaxies. 12 million years ago our Earth was in what is now called the Serravallian stage of the Miocene geological epoch. While humans did not yet exist at the time of the explosion the Earth was populated by a diversity of life including apes which were widespread.

I set out to observe the new-to-us supernova the first clear night after it's announcement. I've looked at M82, also called Bode's Nebulae or the Cigar Galaxy, many times. It's one of my favorites and I am familiar with it. It is an elongated galaxy with more visual definition than most galaxies. In dark skies with a telescope of 8" or greater it is possible to see the mottling of dust and gas. I saw the supernova immediately as it appeared to be a tiny star in the lower part of the galaxy. To a casual observer it would not appear to be much other than a small and faint star not unlike many of the smaller and fainter stars in our own Milky Way galaxy. But this is not a star in our galaxy.

Let me offer some perspective. Our Milky Way is an estimated 100,000 light years in diameter. Most of the stars we see with the unaided eye are 10,000 light years or less in distance. The most distant we can see unaided is about 15,000 light years away. Most of what we see is a good deal closer than that. Now, to reiterate, this supernova is 12 MILLION light years away and yet we can see it as a distinct point of light. That must have been one magnificent event and when it happend humans did not yet exist on Earth. But our curious species does exist today and we have been around long enough that we have telescopes to observe as well as the science needed to understand it. When the light from this event reached us we were ready for it.

Astronomers classify this kind of supernova as a type Ia. Essentially, when stars the size of our sun have exhausted their hydrogen and helium fuel (after 10 billion years or so) they collapse in on themselves to something much smaller and more dense. We call this kind of collapsed star a white dwarf and they have a mass comparable to that of the Sun, but a volume comparable to that of the Earth. At this point the star is no longer undergoing the nuclear fusion of gas but is just radiating lots of heat into space and will do so for trillions of years. However, if the white dwarf had a companion star it might, thanks to gravitation, begin pulling off gas from that star. If this goes on long enough the white dwarf will form an accretion disk of gas around itself and as the gas accumulates it builds in pressure and density due to the increasing weight which raises the temperature of the core. When the star nears a size of about 1.44 solar masses a period of convection begins and then ignition. Because white dwarfs do not regulate the fusion process as normal stars do, ignition results in runaway fusion reaction. Much more detail about the process is available via this page at Wikipedia.

 

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Lunch with Carl

Lunch with CarlLunch with Carl Sagan! Working our way through Cosmos in preparation for the new series with Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Standing Desk Experiment

I’ve read about this a bit and have decided I’ll be experimenting with a standing desk for a month or two. I know I’ve felt for far too long that I sit/recline too much and recently I've been doing a lot more freelance graphic design which has meant more work at the desk. Looking forward to giving it a go. More info at JustStand.org

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Actually reading the Bible

I've been reading the 1st draft of Kaleesha's book and just about finished. She concludes with a kind of endnotes regarding her exploration of 14+ year exploration of Christianity and religion. At the end so that those that don't want to be bothered with reading the details about religion don't have to... I have to say, it is very interesting seeing the work she put into questioning what she'd been told was the truth. She's not kidding when she says she studied her way out of religion. I don't understand all the details but what I'm really curious about is how well Christians would be able to follow along. Or, put another way, how well have Christians actually read and studied the Bible and if they have really read it, really studied it, what do they think of the serious problems within it? Do they know the story of how it was written? For example, where did the story of the virgin birth come from? Who put it in there and why? It seems to be a pretty important part of the story for many people but if it's not true, well, what other parts aren't true? And if they have not really read it, studied it, why not?
I'm excited to be getting closer to publishing. She's got a bit more editing to do and then it is layout time. Stay tuned.