It’s been a fun month to follow space news - here’s the top stories.

July 9th - Astronomers at Hawaii’s Keck Observatory discovered an unexpectedly enormous black hole that called into question current theories about galaxy formation.

July 14th - After nearly a decade and a journey of three billion miles, the New Horizons space probe flew past Pluto.

July 20th - Stephen Hawking launched the biggest project to date to search for intelligent life on other planets: Breakthrough Listen.

July 20th - The 46th anniversary of the lunar landing (1969) put these recent space landmarks in the context of a century of exploration

July 23rd - NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler Telescope spotted the first roughly Earth-sized world orbiting in the “Goldilocks zone” of another star – offering perhaps the best bet so far for life elsewhere in the universe.
This mesmerizing video shows how incredibly vast space really is
Even at the speed of light, the solar system is gigantic.
By Joseph Stromberg

This is phenomenal. This virtual camera moves through our solar system at the speed of light. An amazing perspective by Alphonse Swinehart which, as the article states, “shows how huge just our corner of the galaxy is, even for a photon of light traveling at that remarkable speed." 


The last but not least to Red, White and Blue Stars month!

This week’s entry: Whose Hotter?


Vines by Terry Virts Aboard the ISS.


Emanuel Bowen - The Solar System, with the Orbits of 5 remarkable Comets, “Complete System of Geography”, 1747.

The map shows the Solar System with each Planet given a circular orbit. The real highlight of the map is Bowen’s identification of 5 remarkable Comets. He does not name any of the Comets, but does give dates and orbital periods, as then known:

1337 - xxxx. Most likely the Perseid Comet. Bowen does not offer a return date, but if it is the Perseid Comet, it reappeared in 1468, with 131 year window. The speculative nature of this Comet’s path is indicated by a dotted line.

1590 - xxxx. Another speculative Comet, but most likely an early observation of Halley’s Comet, which appeared in 1590.

1661 - 1789. In all probability Comet Ikeya-Zhang which reappeared in 2002. The 18th century calculations performed by Johannes Hevelius giving this Comet a 129 year orbit were apparently incorrect. The Chinese and Japanese astronomers Zhang Daqing and Kaoru Ikeya, respectively, recalculated the course of the Comet following its 2002 appearance giving it a 366.51 year orbit, the longest of any periodic Comet.

1680 - xxxx. This is the Great Comet of 1680, also called Kirch’s Coment or Newton’s Comet. Visible even during the day with a spectacular tail that bisected the night sky, this was one of the brightest Comets in recorded history. This comet was also used by Isaac Newtown to test Kepler’s laws. As a non-periodic Comet it is not known when or if this spectacular satellite will return.

1682 - 1758. Halley’s Comet, which appeared in 1759 and has a 75-76 year orbit.

anonymous asked:

Without a transcendent creator and designer of the universe, how do you explain the absolute beginning of the universe and the incomprehensible fine tuning of the universe?

This sounds like a legit question but I smell some form of religious bias…a supernatural aroma, perhaps? 

Let’s start out with a definition.

transcendent: beyond or above the range of normal or merely physical human experience; surpassing the ordinary; exceptional; and (of God) existing apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe.

The universe and everything we’ve observed within it is absolutely fascinating, and the mere reality that we exist within this universe and are able to attempt comprehension of our (and its) origins is equally as fantastic. But let’s put this into perspective: 

We arrived into consciousness via a taxonomic classification we later dubbed homo sapien sapien. In our early adolescence (not so long ago), we advanced our plight by outrunning or hunting predators, banding together in collaborative ways to survive, and we explored over the horizon, whether for curiosity or to evade uncomfortable shifts in climate. 

Watch BBC’s ‘Incredible Human Journey’, it will change your life. Also, Symphony of Science produced a tribute to the series (and our origins) aptly titled “Children of Africa (The Story of Us)”

During this time, before the advent of scientific theory, we were still contemplating our origins, developing stories to pass on in the absence of knowledge, and asked questions. What kinds of questions? Perhaps, “are those two eyes staring back at me illuminated by the fire, or are they two independent insects emitting light by their own devices?” Or maybe, “is this tool strong or sharp enough to get the respective jobs done?” I’m sure our questions were much more complex than this as we matured and advanced geographically around the world, but used as a simple example, what I’m getting at, is that we grew up to survive, not to understand quantum physics, relativity, or cosmological inflation. 

I’m reminded of words from theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, who talked about “Caveman Common Sense” to Big Think (video below): 

We have to force our ideas to conform to the evidence of reality, rather than the other way around. And if reality seems strange, that’s OK. In fact, that’s what makes science so wonderful. It expands our minds, because it forces us to accept possibilities which, in advance, we may never have thought was possible.

What does this have to do with an assumed transcendent creator/designer? Human beings don’t encounter the microscopic world of particles, atoms, and molecules on a day-to-day basis (unless of course, they’re research scientists who study these respective fields). So, when we see a snowflake at 3mm magnified, it’s absolutely breathtaking, because on that scale, it’s seemingly incomprehensible until revealed right in front of you with a finer tool than the human eye permits. 

You can apply this same example to, for instance, examining a honeybee under an electron microscope, with which we would hardly have grasped the meticulous processes at work by which this technological instrument of science and research has allowed us insight into the foreign landscape of insect anatomy. Take the honeybee wing and the hamuli that cling to the wing fold like a notebook (below) at 170x zoom and again (below) at 700x magnified:

Recommended reading‘BEE’ by Rose-Lynn Fisher and ‘The Six-Cornered Snowflake’ by Johannes Kepler

That’s on the micro-scale, however. Take this perspective further out amidst the cosmos, and you have even grander examples of this type of hidden complexity from our human-conceited view. For example, the galaxy M31 of Andromeda (below) from Earth, followed by the same image with the galaxy superimposed if it were actually brighter so that we could see more than just the nucleus, and lastly, a composite image by the aid of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope:

References to the above images and the explanations that follow are provided over at Slate by astronomer Phil Plait.

So again, what about transcendent creators, designers, and this ancient bias we have to see patterns in everything and our insatiable need to imply the directed intentions of a prime mover? Well, Professor Krauss explained it best when he explained that our universe - even in the deepest, darkest, most seemingly “empty” places we’ve probed thus far, are what he describes as “a bubbling brew of virtual particles popping in and out of existence.” 

I invoke Lawrence Krauss into this response to you because it’s just too simple for anyone to assert the answer before understanding how to ask the right questions. We can’t state that something came from nothing and move on without communicating what physicists mean when they use the term “nothing”. And we can’t assert that we are part of that “something” when clearly this term must be defined thoroughly as well. Here’s Krauss again, discusses the “flavors of nothing” to drive this home a bit further: 

This is where the “transcendent creator/designer” bit runs out of gas…

Due to the laws of quantum mechanics and relativity, we now know that empty space is a boiling, bubbling, brew of virtual particles popping in and out of existence at every moment. And in fact, for that kind of nothing, if you wait long enough, you’re guaranteed - by the laws of quantum mechanics - to produce something.

The importance of this should be clear. We don’t need a prime mover, a creator, designer, Alpha, Omega, or divine cosmic spirit to spawn the cosmos into existence, because we have this beautiful thing called curiosity which we’ve compartmentalized into specialized fields to tackle the complexity of reality head on. 

Carl Sagan once said, 

We make our lives significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers.” 

There may be an infinite number of universes where each are governed by very different physical laws than the next. Therefore, when said universe comes into existence, the laws that bolster it come into existence because, upon further examination, it would be revealed that this is the case. We simply don’t know just yet, but the evidence is stronger than it’s ever been, and we would be being intellectually dishonest with ourselves as a species if we didn’t follow the evidence, no matter where it leads. 

Even if there were enough evidence to prove a transcendent creator/designer of the universe, it still would beg the question: where did this transcendent architect come from? Who/what created the creator? Turtles all the way down, perhaps? 

There are far too many paradoxes with invoking that type of hypothesis based on no evidence and absence of any method to test it. Simply looking around and saying, well, that appears to be designed by someone or thing that appreciates beauty the way my mind perceives it; or, because we are here to marvel at the universe, it must be fine-tuned so that we could come into being and appreciate the awe. Thus, the Anthropic Principle.

Read‘How does the Anthropic Principle change the meaning of the universe?’ (io9)

However, here’s the pickle. We are alive right now. But a few billion years ago, it wasn’t suitable for a species like ours to evolve and flourish. It’s very easy to observe the Grand Canyon or the African Rift Valley and compliment its beauty without knowing its origin story. The Grand Canyon is the result of complex geological processes, and the African Rift Valley is far from being the result of anything, as it’s still in motion, with plate tectonics pushing it 2 inches every year. “Given enough time”, noted Carl Sagan, “everything changes.” 

It’s only upon methodical inquisition and meticulous inspection of reality that we become closer to the truth.” - sagansense

You referenced the “incomprehensible fine-tuning of the universe”, yet, it’s exactly the opposite. We do understand and recognize the circumstances which allowed life to flourish on a planet like ours. It is most certainly comprehensible, and we have the scientific fields of study to show for it along with the research demonstrating our continual progress. 

Fine-tuning sounds too much like Intelligent Design. And frankly, (channeling Pierre-Simon Laplace), “I have no need for that hypothesis.” Besides, the same “fine-tuning” people call upon to justify our perceived importance in the universe as a way of asserting that we are the reason for it all seem to overlook the obvious contradictions to that assertion. 

For instance…this ”fine-tuning” allows for: 





Galaxy Collisions.

And beyond the scope of our ability to confirm or deny, there may have been countless worlds where, as a species was taking hold and evolving, thriving, and on a biological trajectory toward what we would define as sentience, they were swiftly wiped out by their parent star going supernova, a nearby pulsar, cometary collision, or being slingshot out of its system altogether to be engulfed by a black hole. See: Neil deGrasse Tyson on “Stupid Design”

So yeah. Where else can we go with the “fine-tuning” bit…I mean, birth defects, plagues, ozone depletion, climate change, sinkholes, predators, stairs…we’re not the apple of any deity’s eye. And to your question about the absolute beginning of the universe…what we call the Big Bang unfortunately doesn’t permit us to “see” far enough to observe the inception of the universe, so of course, we keep looking. The Big Bang model of cosmological inflation is the best chronological representation we have at this point, and if it’s good enough for Hawking, we should continue to explore it. 

Keep in mind as well that we have about 2 billion or so years before the sun exhausts its fuel supply and begins to swell, which is estimated to nearly consume Earth. We’re privileged at this moment in Earth’s history to even have a human history to reflect upon, and admire the consequences by which we’ve arrived at this level of understanding, which is constantly in flux as our questions become more refined, and we gain further ground on our present ignorance.