Only once 5

Many people had begun queuing up for free tickets to Hawking’s 8:00 p.m lecture, titled “The Origin of the Universe,” 12 hours earlier. By 6:00 p.m. local time, the line was about a quarter-mile long.

People want to know How All That Is Came To Be. They burn to know – and always have. Needing a theory, and knowing nothing, they invented creator gods.

NBC News reports:

Our universe didn’t need any divine help to burst into being … Stephen Hawking told a packed house … at the California Institute of Technology [April 16, 2013]. …

A second auditorium and a Jumbotron*-equipped lawn, which itself was jammed with an estimated 1,000 viewers, were needed to handle the crowd. At least one person was observed offering $1,000 for a ticket, with no success.

Stephen Hawking [said] that many people still seek a divine solution to counter the theories of curious physicists, and at one point, he quipped, “What was God doing before the divine creation? Was he preparing hell for people who asked such questions?”

… Hawking gave a quick review of [several] scientific cosmological explanations, including Fred Hoyle and Thomas Gold’s steady-state theory. This idea hypothesizes that there is no beginning and no end and that galaxies continue to form from spontaneously created matter.

Hawking said this theory and several other ideas don’t hold up, citing recent observations by space telescopes and other instruments.

This report is very much for the non-scientist. But many of us non-scientists could stand a little more science.**  What observations? How did they demolish the steady-state theory? Hawking must have said how, but either NBC couldn’t follow the explanation or thinks its audience couldn’t.

Go here and here (eg) for the real thing. (Hawking’s A Brief History of Time;  and, intriguingly titled, The Dreams That Stuff Is Made Of, important writings of great scientists collected by Hawking.)

The NBC report of the lecture continues:

After giving a brief historical background on relativistic physics and cosmology, Hawking discussed the idea of a repeating Big Bang. He noted that in the 1980s, he and physicist Roger Penrose proved the universe could not “bounce” when it contracted, as had been theorized.

Therefore, time began at the moment of singularity, and this has likely occurred only once, Hawking said. The age of the universe — now believed to be about 13.8 billion years — fits that model, as the number and maturity of observed galaxies seem to fit in the general scheme.

Hawking noted that in the 1980s, around the time he released a paper discussing the moment the universe was born, Pope John Paul II admonished the scientific establishment against studying the moment of creation, as it was holy.

“I was glad not to be thrown into an inquisition,” Hawking joked.

He closed by outlining “M-theory,” which is based partly on ideas put forward years ago by another famed physicist, Caltech’s Richard Feynman. Hawking sees that theory as the only big idea that really explains what he has observed.

M-theory posits that multiple universes are created out of nothing, Hawking explained, with many possible histories and many possible states of existence. In only a few of these states would life be possible, and in fewer still could something like humanity exist.

(There seems to be a contradiction between “M-theory” and the “moment of singularity” which “likely occurred only once”, in both of which Hawking is said to believe. This is probably a result of poor reporting. And the word “created” must be a mistake.)

Hawking mentioned that he felt fortunate to be living in this state of existence.

And that is a remarkable statement, considering how hard his life has been, afflicted for 50 years by a motor neurone disease which keeps him confined to a wheel-chair and has deprived  him of the ability to speak so that he communicates through a speech-generating machine. It prompts us to add a footnote to this post:

There’s a one and one only chance of coming into existence for each human being. So we think it deplorable that in the US, since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, some 56,000,ooo conceived individuals have been aborted. We are not wholly against abortion, but we think it should be rare, performed early in the period of gestation – preferably before 16 weeks – and only for good reason, such as: the pregnancy is the result of rape; the mother’s life is in danger because of the pregnancy and the baby cannot be saved; the child will undoubtedly be born to incurable suffering. And that “undoubtedly” sets an almost insuperable barrier to judgment, in the light of Stephen Hawking’s case.

NOTES

*From Wikipedia: A Jumbotron (sometimes called “Jumbovision”) is a large-screen television using technology developed by Sony, typically used in sports stadiums and concert venues to show close up shots of the event.

** A little more science is to be found in a 2010 NBC report, discussing Hawking’s book The Grand Design, here. The reporter seems unimpressed and unconvinced. We suspect him of being a believer in the supernatural.

Ejfjallajokull 0

Eruption of the volcano under the Ejfjallajokull glacier in Iceland, April 2010
The pictures with the green and blue in them are of the Northern Lights beside and above the volcano’s fire

Posted under Climate, Cosmology, Energy, Environmentalism, Miscellaneous, News, Science by Jillian Becker on Thursday, April 22, 2010

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Shutting the new frontier 4

The most innovative nation in all the world and all history is the United States of America. One of its greatest characteristics – the product of its liberty – has long been its driving energy to look forward and upward, to reach new heights, to achieve ever more and better understanding of our universe. In nothing was this vision proved so spectacularly as in the exploration of space, the landing of men on the moon, the search with ingeniously devised spacecraft, loaded with technological marvels, ever further through the galaxy.

The leftists now in control don’t like it.

Charles Krauthammer writes:

Within months, Russia will have a monopoly on rides into space.

By the end of this year, there will be no shuttle, no U.S. manned space program, no way for us to get into space. We’re not talking about Mars or the moon here. We’re talking about low-Earth orbit, which the U.S. has dominated for nearly half a century and from which it is now retiring with nary a whimper.

Our absence from low-Earth orbit was meant to last a few years, the interval between the retirement of the fatally fragile space shuttle and its replacement with the Constellation program (Ares booster, Orion capsule, Altair lunar lander) to take astronauts more cheaply and safely back to space.

But the Obama 2011 budget kills Constellation. Instead, we shall have nothing. For the first time since John Glenn flew in 1962, the U.S. will have no access of its own for humans into space — and no prospect of getting there in the foreseeable future.

Of course, the administration presents the abdication as a great leap forward: Launching humans will now be turned over to the private sector, while NASA’s efforts will be directed toward landing on Mars.

This is nonsense. It would be swell for private companies to take over launching astronauts. But they cannot do it. It’s too expensive. It’s too experimental. And the safety standards for actually getting people up and down reliably are just unreachably high.

Sure, decades from now there will be a robust private space-travel industry. But that is a long time. In the interim, space will be owned by Russia and then China. The president waxes seriously nationalist at the thought of China or India surpassing us in speculative “clean energy.” Yet he is quite prepared to gratuitously give up our spectacular lead in human space exploration.

As for Mars, more nonsense. Mars is just too far away. And how do you get there without the stepping stones of Ares and Orion? If we can’t afford an Ares rocket to get us into orbit and to the moon, how long will it take to develop a revolutionary new propulsion system that will take us not a quarter-million miles but 35 million miles?

Of course, the whole Mars project as substitute for the moon is simply a ruse. It’s like the classic bait-and-switch for high-tech military spending: Kill the doable in the name of some distant sophisticated alternative, which either never gets developed or is simply killed later in the name of yet another, even more sophisticated alternative of the further future. …

Moreover, there is the question of seriousness. When John F. Kennedy pledged to go to the moon, he meant it. He had an intense personal commitment to the enterprise. He delivered speeches remembered to this day. He dedicated astronomical sums to make it happen.

At the peak of the Apollo program, NASA was consuming almost 4 percent of the federal budget, which in terms of the 2011 budget is about $150 billion. Today the manned space program will die for want of $3 billion a year — 1/300th of last year’s stimulus package with its endless make-work projects that will leave not a trace on the national consciousness.

As for President Obama’s commitment to beyond-lunar space: Has he given a single speech, devoted an iota of political capital to it?

Obama’s NASA budget perfectly captures the difference in spirit between Kennedy’s liberalism and Obama’s. Kennedy’s was an expansive, bold, outward-looking summons. Obama’s is a constricted inward-looking call to retreat.

Fifty years ago, Kennedy opened the New Frontier. Obama has just shut it.

Sun-made global cooling 0

From Investor’s Business daily:

The world has significantly cooled in the last decade, a period that corresponds to a decline and virtual halt in sunspot activity. Solar activity is in a valley right now, the deepest of the past century. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that in 2008 and 2009 the sun set Space Age records for low sunspot counts, weak solar wind and low solar radiance.

R. Timothy Patterson, professor of geology and director of the Ottawa-Carleton Geoscience Center of Canada’s Carleton University, has said that “CO2 variations show little correlation with our planet’s climate on long-, medium- and even short-time scales.”

Rather, he says, “I and the first-class scientists I work with are consistently finding excellent correlations between the regular fluctuations of the sun and earthly climate. This is not surprising. The sun and the stars are the ultimate source of energy on this planet.”…

Current solar inactivity is similar to what scientists call the Maunder Minimum, a period of solar inactivity from 1645 to 1715 that spawned what is known as the Little Ice Age. At Christmas, Londoners could ice skate on the frozen Thames and New Yorkers could walk over the Hudson from Manhattan to Staten Island.

The NCAR study shows how complicated atmospheric and climate science really is and how many variables must be factored in to have even a basic understanding of all the components that make up and influence earth’s climate before the world commits economic suicide.

Or else what? 4

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, demands world-wide redistribution of wealth and the curbing of economic activity in order to ‘save the planet’ from poverty, hunger, disease, and insecurity. This must be done within four months he says, or  else…

We have just four months. Four months to secure the future of our planet.

Any agreement must be fair, effective, equitable and comprehensive, and based on science. And it must help vulnerable nations adapt to climate change…

The science is clear… What is needed is the political will. We have the capacity. We have finance. We have the technology. The largest lacking is political will. That is why I will convey some meetings focused on climate change. I have invited all the leaders of the world … Two years ago, only a handful of world leaders could talk about climate change. Today, leaders of all the world, all the countries on every continent are aware of the threats we face now. This is great progress, for we need leadership of the very highest order. Awareness is the first step. The challenge now is to act. Since my first day as Secretary-General, I have spoken out about the grave climate change threat. My words, at times, have been blunt. When the leaders of the G-8 agreed in July to keep the global temperature increase within two degrees centigrade by the year 2050, that was welcomed and I welcome that statement. But I also said again, it was not enough. But leaders have agreed to cut green house gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. That is welcomed again. But that must be accompanied by the ambitious mid-term target by 2020 as science tells us to do. There I said, while I applaud their commitment, that is not enough. I called for matching these long-term goals with ambitious mid-term emission reduction targets.

Let me be clear about what we need to do.

There are four points [of] very important key political issues.

First industrialized countries must lead by committing to binding mid-term reduction targets on the order of 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels. Unfortunately, the mid-term emission targets announced so far are not close enough to this range…

Second, developing countries need to take nationally appropriate mitigation actions in order to reduce the growth in their emissions substantially below business as usual…

Third, developed countries must provide sufficient, measurable, reportable and verifiable financial and technological support to developing countries… Significant resources will be needed from both public and private sources. Developing countries, especially the most vulnerable, will collectively need billions of dollars in public financing for adaptation. I am talking here about new money – not re-packaged Official Development Assistance…

Fourth, we need an equitable and accountable mechanism for distributing these financial and technological resources, taking into account the views of all countries in decision-making.

Accomplishing all of this requires tough decisions. It will take flexibility and hard work to negotiate the most difficult issues. Trust between developed and developing countries is essential. When governments succeed in sealing a deal in Copenhagen, we will have shown the spirit of international solidarity. We will have shown leadership – political will

Roll on, Copenhagen. Only, while they’re at it, why don’t they agree to make gold out of moonbeams? The science is clear.

Galaxies collide 0

We bring our readers this from Little Green Footballs for the sheer beauty of the picture:

Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/E. O’Sullivan Optical: Canada-France-Hawaii-Telescope/Coelum

This beautiful image gives a new look at Stephan’s Quintet, a compact group of galaxies discovered about 130 years ago and located about 280 million light years from Earth. The curved, light blue ridge running down the center of the image shows X-ray data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Four of the galaxies in the group are visible in the optical image (yellow, red, white and blue) from the Canada-France- Hawaii Telescope. A labeled version identifies these galaxies (NGC 7317, NGC 7318a, NGC 7318b and NGC 7319) as well as a prominent foreground galaxy (NGC 7320) that is not a member of the group.The galaxy NGC 7318b is passing through the core of galaxies at almost 2 million miles per hour, and is thought to be causing the ridge of X- ray emission by generating a shock wave that heats the gas. …

Stephan’s Quintet provides a rare opportunity to observe a galaxy group in the process of evolving from an X-ray faint system dominated by spiral galaxies to a more developed system dominated by elliptical galaxies and bright X-ray emission. Being able to witness the dramatic effect of collisions in causing this evolution is important for increasing our understanding of the origins of the hot, X-ray bright halos of gas in groups of galaxies.

Posted under Cosmology by Jillian Becker on Thursday, July 16, 2009

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