Posts Tagged ‘astronomy’


June 25th, 2011 No comments

This is beautiful:

It’s the galaxy cluster Abell 2744, and it appears to be the collision of four separate clusters of galaxies. Clusters are the largest gravitationally-bound structures in the universe. That means that galaxies are bound by gravity into groups, and groups into clusters, but clusters aren’t bound do anything bigger than themselves. Our minds boggle at the size of our own stellar neighborhood, much less our galaxy, and beyond that it’s just zeroes. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,” said the Psalmist. “The night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

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More Stars, Types of Life, Than Previously Thought

December 2nd, 2010 No comments

Today’s New York Times had not one but two interesting science articles.

The first is the discovery of a new type of bacteria in Mono Lake not far from here in California. What makes it unique (compared to every other type of life on earth) is that it has DNA, but the “ladder” structure of the helix is formed using atoms of arsenic instead of the phosphorus used in the DNA in you and me and whatever we had for dinner. This is truly amazing, and raises profound questions about evolution. What does it mean that a nontrivial molecule like DNA can either (a) evolve twice, or (b) evolve once, but then survive such a profound alteration? (Interestingly, one of the scientists involved is Paul Davies, who won the Templeton Prize in 1995.)

The second interesting article is a reassessment of the number of stars in the universe. I’m always fascinated by this sort of thing, even when it’s just pushing back the frontiers of knowledge. But consider this for a moment:

“We may have to abandon this notion of using the Milky Way as a template for the rest of the universe,” Dr. van Dokkum said.

Ouch! That had to smart. Copernicus proposed that the earth revolves around the sun, rather than the reverse. Since then, it’s been a matter of (ahem) faith among scientists that there’s nothing at all exceptional about us or our place in the universe. But we keep finding exceptions to that rule.

Updated (Dec. 10): apparently there are serious flaws in the study that purported to find evidence of arsenic-based DNA. I tried to read Rosie Redfield’s article, but about halfway down the page it got too dense for me to understand. There’s a point waiting to be made here about the responsibility of the science press not to hype things until they’ve been subjected to proper peer review, because people like me just aren’t as scientific as Rosie Redfield and Paul Davies.

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Starry Nights in Yucca Valley

October 9th, 2010 1 comment

Today is the Starry Nights festival in Yucca Valley, and it has been a beautiful night for stargazing. After going to one of the talks this afternoon, we went to the digital-astronomy presentation tonight at the community center. That was so much fun we came home and did some more stargazing from our front yard. Jupiter is gorgeous, and with my binoculars, I saw one of the Galilean satellites. The Milky Way was gorgeous, too, and cut right through the summer triangle. What a privilege it is to live in a place where you can see these things!

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
  and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

Psalm 19:1

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