Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Random Bits

Photo credit: National Geographic News

Random bits of news from all around.....

If someone, somewhere in the world, had been looking at the right spot in the sky last Wednesday, they would have seen something extraordinary....a dim flash of light that has been traveling through the cosmos for 7.5 billion years. This gamma ray burst, reported in National Geographic News (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/03/080321-brightest-object.html), resulted from the collapse of a supergiant star

I often ask my students how we can be so sure that the laws of the universe apply to the distant past when "no one was there to see it" (a common creationist argument). I ask what tool we would need to confirm these things. Eventually someone says, derisively, that it would require a time machine. I ask if we have such a thing, and after all of the negative answers I argue that a telescope is indeed a time machine. Everything we see now in the cosmos happened in the past. And all that we see in the cosmos shows that gravity is operating to hold stars and galaxies together, and that electromagnetic energy was present in the most distant objects in the most distant times.

And this week, it was possible to see with the naked eye an event that took place before our Solar System existed....

And yet we have short-sighted decisions made by bureaucrats. From the Associated Press we get this: NASA Cut Means No Roving for Mars Rover. NASA has a way of cutting the most exciting and interesting programs (Hubble Telescope, e.g.) that have had the most profound effect on our view of the universe. The Mars Rovers have been one of the most successful adventures on another planet...designed for a 3 month mission, they have lasted for four years, and continue to transmit valuable data that are changing our view of the origin of the Solar System, and the past history of Mars. It is a poor decision; they should be fighting for these programs, not cutting them. More information on the Mars Exploration Rover Mission can be found at http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/home/. The 4 million dollars they intend to cut represents 16 minutes of Iraq war funding, if the numbers I heard are right.

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