Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pondering Space Theology

Relativity of top science of today
Even without Mr Popper reminding us we instinctively know from the history of Science that Nature is more, much more, than what the humanity combined knows today. Tomorrow's scientists may look back at our times and see some bright lights but mostly annoying lack of knowledge, false theories and explanations, scientists missing the point and the general public being rather ignorant. Just as we look at the science of early 20th century which nevertheless paved the way to today's scientific achievements.

Astrotheology is conflict resolving
The history and development of religious and scientific world views are of greatest importance to humanity. The earthquake of Copernican revolution marks the beginning of modern scientific era - and flaming up of the battle between rationalism and religious faith. Astrotheology helps us to understand the discussions. There has been a civilization defining conflict between the first modern scientist, Galileo Galilei who based his opinions on observed reality and the dominant Catholic Church with plenty of earthly power with its dogmas claiming that for religious and philosophical reasons the Sun which is the perfect symbol of absolute God cannot and does not have any dark spots.

Astrotheology invites to serious study of natural sciences
It is so important that we take Nature seriously and as it is. It proclaims the glory and majesty of God in itself without our help. Not everyone sees or hears the hymn Creation is singing to its Maker but some do and join it and rejoice.

Because we want to take Nature seriously Astrotheology requires intensive study of the fast developing natural sciences from Mathematics and Nuclear Physics to the many branches of space sciences and technologies. This is not an easy task and even astronomers and cosmologists tend today to be experts only on selected fields since the amount of knowledge is so vast. But without at least a rudimentary knowledge of what natural scientists are talking about Astrotheology has no real content. On the bright side it must be said that space technology and research is among the most exciting branches of sciences today and the tsunami of new scientific discoveries not only challenges traditional faith in God but can also contributes to it in most positive way.

Truth is the key
Astrotheology is not a shortcut to knowledge through divine revelation in the Old Book.

Space theology examines Judeo-Christian faith systems but does not require faith. Atheist and Agnostic views of the origins and nature of the Universe must be analysed trying to understand the underpinnings in such world views.

There is no shortcut to truth and Truth is the key.

This seems so obvious and every Christian wants to be truthful - and yet, what mess it is out there, total lack of truthfulness religious people pursuing their goals regardless of facts!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Brian Greene - Strings, Multiverse and Black hole electron

Picture from the official website
Professor Brian Greene has the gift and motivation to put extremely complex scientific things into exceptionally clear sentences. He has even written a book for children which I think shows something very positive about his personality as does appearing in the Big Bang Theory series as himself.  

Stephen Hawking sometimes puts off people with religious beliefs by opening his lecture saying "I will now show you how the world was born without a god." Brian Greene seems to be very careful when talking about religion emphasizing not his own views but the need for mutual respect between people from various backgrounds.

The careful way Brian Greene talks about world views and religions makes him as a person less interesting from a theological point. The subject matters that he so aptly introduces are, on the other hand, of utmost interest!

Here are some excerpts from an wikipedia article introducing this famous scientist and writer.
Brian Greene (1963) is an American theoretical physicist and string theorist. He has been a professor at Columbia University since 1996.

Greene's area of research is string theory, a candidate for a theory of quantum gravity.

String theory attempts to explain the different particle species of the standard model of particle physics as different aspects of a single type of one-dimensional, vibrating string.

One peculiarity of string theory is that it postulates the existence of extra dimensions of space – instead of the usual four dimensions, there must be ten spatial dimensions and one dimension of time to allow for a consistently defined string theory. The theory has several explanations to offer for why we do not perceive these extra dimensions, one being that they are "curled up" (compactified, to use the technical term) and are hence too small to be readily noticeable.

In the field, Greene is best known for his contribution to the understanding of the different shapes the curled-up dimensions of string theory take on. The most important of these shapes are so-called Calabi-Yau manifolds; when the extra dimensions take on those particular form, physics in three dimensions exhibits an abstract symmetry known as supersymmetry.

He is also known for his research on the flop transition, a mild form of topology change, showing that topology in string theory can change at the conifold point.

Currently, Greene studies string cosmology, especially the imprints of trans Planckian physics on the cosmic microwave background

brane-gas cosmologies that could explain why the space around us has three large dimensions, expanding on the suggestion of a black hole electron, namely that the electron may be a black hole.

Three books by Brian Greene
The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory, (1999) is a popularization of superstring theory and M-theory.

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality (2004), is about space, time, and the nature of the universe.

Aspects covered in this book include non-local particle entanglement as it relates to special relativity and basic explanations of string theory. It is an examination of the very nature of matter and reality, covering such topics as spacetime and cosmology, origins and unification, and including an exploration into reality and the imagination.

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos (2011), deals in greater depth with multiple universes, or, as they are sometimes referred to collectively, the multiverse.

Introductory text picked from wikipedia artcile on professor Brian Greene.Read the entire article from here.

Einstein and Space-Time Continuum

Artist concept of Gravity Probe B orbiting the Earth
to measure space-time, a four-dimensional description
of the universe including height, width, length, and time.
Matter changes the geometry of spacetime, this (curved) geometry being interpreted as gravity. The grid lines do not represent the curvature of space but instead represent the coordinate system imposed on the curved spacetime, which would be rectilinear in a flat spacetime. (wikipedia)

Space-time continuum (spacetime) is common parlance in today's scientific talk but during most of the history of humanity this has not been so.

The geocentric world view that ruled until the beginning of 16th century AD is natural to us. Our brains conceptualized the world on the basis of what we could observe around us and up there on the sky.

Our everyday experience also makes it natural to think that time progresses at a fixed rate of days and nights, months and years, hours, minutes and seconds. Saying otherwise sounds rather counter-intuitive if not outright crazy.
In non-relativistic classical mechanics, the use of Euclidean space instead of spacetime is appropriate, as time is treated as universal and constant, being independent of the state of motion of an observer.
In relativistic contexts, time cannot be separated from the three dimensions of space, because the observed rate at which time passes for an object depends on
  • the object's velocity relative to the observer and also on
  • on the strength of gravitational fields, which can slow the passage of time.

Euclidian space
Euclidean space is the three dimensional geometric world in which we recognize width, length and height. That space is so familiar to us and is ruled by the fundamental axiom that parallel lines never cross. From this it has been possible for humanity to build Euclidian geometry to measure spatial things for example with the help of trigonometry.

Measuring spatial things was figured out already by the ancients already in the earliest cultures so that Pharaonic Egyptians living on the shores of the Nile, the Sumerians in Mesopotamia (the Land between the Rivers), the inhabitants of Hindus Valley, and the gifted people inhabiting Yellow River Valley in China. Engineers and architects and government officials used ropes and sticks and advanced calculations to control the proportions of temples and public buildings, the taxation of cultivated land and other things.

The honour of the name for geometry of parallel lines not crossing goes to the Greek genius Euclid who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, during the rule of king Ptolemy I (323-283 BC).

Albert Einstein
Portrait of Albert Einstein 1921
It has taken some very advanced and expensive instruments and experiments to verify that Einstein actually was right when he claimed just by figuring things out in his brilliant mind that even time itself is relative to space and movement.

Theory of Relativity has since become a common word in everyday parlance implying something incredibly clever and hard to understand.

Allow me to remind the reader of a blog talking about Theology that Albert Einstein (1879-1955) belongs to the chosen people of God of Israel. Founders of the modern State of Israel actually invited him to become the first President - an invitation he declined the job being taken by another eminent scientist, Chaim Weizmann. Einstein can thus be considered one of the divine gifts God has bestowed upon the humanity He has made out of dust - star dust that is!

Single manifold
We all enjoy the pure logic, pure science of Euclidian space - and then some Mr Einstein has to go to mess up the beautiful theory that during millennia has so brilliantly served humanity. Single manifold, is it single or many?
From a Euclidean space perspective, the universe has three dimensions of space and one dimension of time. By combining space and time into a single manifold, physicists have significantly simplified a large number of physical theories, as well as described in a more uniform way the workings of the universe at both the supergalactic and subatomic levels.

When dimensions are understood as mere components of the grid system, rather than physical attributes of space, it is easier to understand the alternate dimensional views as being simply the result of coordinate transformations.
Note the word simply so innocently used by the anonymous contributor to the wikipedia article I am digesting here!

Spacetime in Cosmology
In cosmology, the concept of spacetime combines space and time to a single abstract universe.

Mathematically it is a manifold consisting of "events" which are described by some type of coordinate system. Typically three spatial dimensions (length, width, height), and one temporal dimension (time) are required.

Dimensions are independent components of a coordinate grid needed to locate a point in a certain defined "space". For example, on the globe the latitude and longitude are two independent coordinates which together uniquely determine a location.

In spacetime, a coordinate grid that spans the 3+1 dimensions locates events (rather than just points in space), i.e. time is added as another dimension to the coordinate grid. This way the coordinates specify where and when events occur.

However, the unified nature of spacetime and the freedom of coordinate choice it allows imply that to express the temporal coordinate in one coordinate system requires both temporal and spatial coordinates in another coordinate system.

Unlike in normal spatial coordinates, there are still restrictions for how measurements can be made spatially and temporally (Spacetime intervals). These restrictions correspond roughly to a particular mathematical model which differs from Euclidean space in its manifest symmetry.

Read the entire wikipedia article from here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Digital Universe Atlas and evolution of human eye

Human eye (ref)

The visible part of the spectrum is that region of the EM spectrum where the Sun emits its peak intensity. This is the main reason that humans have evolved to see in this region of the spectrum. Our eyes can simply be thought of as filters that see only in the visible part of the EM spectrum. With a prism, this region can be split into its component colors from red to violet. Visible light reveals the main stellar populations in galaxies.
Digital Universe Atlas Guide p. 216
The Guide accompanying the Digital Universe Atlas is a shining example how to teach astronomy and to make students understand and evaluate scientific evidence, the meaning of observations and also the limitations inherent in various data sets.

But in the otherwise excellent short introduction to various types of electro-magnetic radiation the Guide ventures in a rather unfortunate manner to the world of Biology.

"This is the main reason that humans have evolved to see in this region of the spectrum."

Dragonfly eyes  wikimedia  .

The statement is not similar to the strictly scientific style of the Guide approaching an introduction to Mathematics or Physics. For human eyes are deep in their sockets already in the earliest known skulls of our species some five million years ago - how much they have evolved since is difficult to say as the tender organs do not survive. Also the eyes of our cousins the chimpanzees are highly developed.

As for the first living creatures able to see something in sunlight upon the Earth we know very little about the development for the same reason, the fragility of eyes. The first eye fossils are rare and date to the Cambrian period. These are already very complex, f.ex. the 36.000 lenses working in harmony in the eyes of the Anomalocaris that were discovered in 2011 myBlog

The quoted text from the Digital Universe Atlas Guide represents a particular world view and there are scientists who think that the appearance of these extremely complex organs some 530 million years ago can be explained by referring to the need of organisms to have them.

I beg to disagree.

No to Christian science!
I also disagree with the view of Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminar, who in 2004 wrote about the so-called Stephen Meyer controversy.

If natural selection is the only accepted method in scientific study of evolution then the appearance of Cambrian eyes is not easy to explain. The alternative is not to suggest that the explanation is the Intelligent Design by some supernatural being that cannot be studied. The Holy Bible to which Mohler refers does not offer any shortcut to knowledge about the nature God has created and those who believe in it can actually hinder scientific progress.

At the moment it seems that the most promising way forward in studying the origins of eyes is to learn more about DNA. True, the study of the genetics of eyes is very complicated and takes very hard work. Amazing achievements have already been made in this line of study by biologists, for example Trevor D. Lamb and his team myBlog

The mighty sign for King Hezekiah

Besides Joshua 10 the Bible has another story that is related to the heavenly signs, Sun, Moon and Stars, showing the passing of time.

Mechanical clocks were not known in ancient Israel but we have a very old reference to a kind of Sun dial.

I am not quite sure but I suspect this may be among the oldest literal references to time keeping we have from the Near East.

The story is told in the first Isaiah in Chapter 38 and tells about the Assyrian period when king Hezekiah ruling in Jerusalem 715 - 686 BC.

Since the famous Qumran Isaiah scroll has first, second and third Isaiah's as a single Book of Isaiah as a  manuscript that is dated to the 2nd century BC we can be confident that the story of the "Sun dial" is more than 2500 years old.

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3 “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes. ” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and tell Hezekiah, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. 6 And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city.

“‘This is the Lord’s sign to you that the Lord will do what he has promised: 8 I will make the shadow cast by the sun go back the ten steps it has gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.’” So the sunlight went back the ten steps it had gone down.
Isaiah 38:1-8 NIV

I have a bit of a problem trying to figure out in my mind how the steps in the palace in the City of David south of the Temple were located for the shadow cast by sun to move on them and showing time.

Today there is a historic Sun dial on the steps leading to the Dome of the Rock standing in the area where the Temple of Solomon and later Temple of Herod once stood.

Isaiah 38 has a touching poem written by king Hezekiah after he recovered from the deadly sickness.

When Sun stood still - Book of Joshua

The event in the Valley of Ayyalon was so rare that the Book of Joshua adds a reference to sources!

Otherwise we do not have a copy of the "Book of Jashar" (the Book of the Just) that dates to the Iron Age.

The events described in Joshua 10 date to the period of the Conquest that falls somewhere in the Late Bronze Age - Early Iron Age horizon. (Modern Biblical scholars are working hard to find out if, how and when the events described in the Book of Joshua, Judges and other Deuteronomist history took place.)

This is the only fragment that has survived from the ancient source quoted in Joshua 10

On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:
“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
    and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon. ”
    So the sun stood still,
    and the moon stopped,
    till the nation avenged itself on its enemies,
as it is written in the Book of Jashar.
Joshua 10:12-13 NIV
Just before this momentous event Book of Joshua describes the victorious battle that rolled down the Valley of Beth Horon. [Today the geologically ancient river valley is one of the major highway routes from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.] The Hebrews felt how even their God was participating in the war and in the killing of the enemy.
After an all-night march from Gilgal, Joshua took them by surprise. The Lord threw them into confusion before Israel, so Joshua and the Israelites defeated them completely at Gibeon. Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon and cut them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah. As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the Lord hurled large hailstones down on them, and more of them died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.
Joshua 10:9-11 NIV
NIV helps us with the translation "hailstones" as the Hebrew text has the word "stones". 

It is interesting that something in the weather conditions in the generic area of the Valley of Ayalon are such that there have been also in recent years in the exact same region very heavy rain of large hailstones as reported in Israeli newspapers.

Luther and Copernicus
In the 16th century AD the worldview was genuinely geocentric. The discovery of the New Continent by Christopher Columbus and his crew had made it certain that Earth indeed is a ball and not flat. But the ideas of Nicolaus Copernicus that the world is actually heliocentric and Earth rotates on its orbit around Sun was too much for many. Since the theory was rather abstract and mathematical it did not raise such a storm as the discoveries of Galileo half a century later which were based on actual observations using the newly invented telescope.

Elderly Martin Luther heard of the theories of Copernicus and ridiculed them. He correctly pointed out at that such an idea is in conflict with the story in Joshua 10. For how could Joshua stop the Sun and the Moon if they were not put up there in the firmament above Earth as the Bible tells us?

My personal experience
On early morning some years ago I was driving down the Beth Horon highway and turned to the smaller road that passes Emmaus-Nicopolis where we were at that time excavating the area.

I simply had to stop the car in the Valley of Ayalon (Aijalon) to admire the view - while the Sun was rising in the East the full Moon was still visible in the west in the direction of the Great Sea of the Bible.

It was a totally quiet moment, morning mist was bluish and the atmosphere made both the Sun and the Moon appear larger than usual.

In my bones I could feel the mysterious power of the archaic poem and combat story in Joshua 10. It must have been quite a battle as the Lord of the Hosts participated in the fight that day from heavens and Joshua commanded even the Sun and Moon to stop on their paths so that there would be enough light and time to kill all those Amorites!

(Much has been written about this subject trying to bypass the problem that Luther noticed and to prove in one way or other that the Biblical narrative is true.)

Time and Genesis 1

 בראשׁית ברא אלהים את השׁמים ואת הארץ׃
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
Gen 1:1

The Hebrew word Bereshit, in the beginning implies time.

The word can also be understood as "in the first one God created the heaven and the earth."

Days of Creation
Creation takes places in sequence of days and nights that imply the presence of time. These days of Creation happen on the basis of Light that exists before the creation of the Sun.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. 
Genesis 1:13-15 KJV

Also elsewhere in Genesis the passing of time is usually expressed with the concrete word yom, day, as in "his days" rather than using some word for the abstract concept of "time".

Biblical day begins when Sun sets - according to rabbinical rules this takes place exactly when three stars are visible on the night sky over Jerusalem (or Babylon).

The rhythm is expressed in the Creation story. King James translators may not have quite understood the Hebrew expression means and created a monster sentence
"and the evening and the morning were the fourth day".

Late the beginning of night which is especially important for the marking the Shabbat is defined very accurately using astronomical data.

Signs of times
God sets Sun, Moon and stars on the firmament (raqia) for the soon to be created humans as signs to show the passing of time. This is the first thing and the second purpose is to shine light upon Earth!

And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
Genesis 1:16-19 KJV

KJV translation is not very clear with the fine concepts of time. For example, the New International Version tries to improve:
And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so.
Genesis 1:14 NIV

In the time of Genesis life is rather relaxed and there are no hours and minutes not to speak of seconds. However, elsewhere Bible uses the concept of "moment" and the Babylonian 12 moments system is in use for counting the hours of days and nights.

The concept of seven days week is visible in the structure of the Genesis. The names have no special names as in Greco-Roman culture and later but are named by numbers also in modern Hebrew  "First day" "Second day". Only the seventh day has a special name derived from the word shbt "to rest". Sabbath is the Day of Rest.

Bible uses Lunar calendar to define sacred times. It causes difficulties because the heavenly moon clock is not exactly following human calculations and shifts by time. Adjustments were necessary from the beginning.

Also Sun based calendars have problems as we know and fix our calendars by adding a day to February once every fourth year.

But as Genesis says, Moon rules!

In the Biblical world and in the ancient Near East There are twelve moments in the day and in the night and twelve lunar months in the year.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Time and Multiverse

Here just a link to a most interesting FCQI article from which the above image on the pull of multiverse is taken

Time and the Multiverse
Could multiple universes explain our arrow of time? Does time run backwards in other universes?

by Miriam Frankel
FQXi Awardees: Laura Mersini-Houghton
June 17, 2010

Truly foundational question!

Foundational Questions Institute awarded Dr. Laura Mersini-Houghton and Richard Holman $50.000 grant to to study a rather esoteric subject

The Puzzle of the Initial Conditions and the Multiverse 

Here is a summary of the project copied for your convenience from the Institute page

Professor Laura Mersini-Houghton
FQXi Community
We believe our universe started with high energy inflation. We also know it is inflating again at present. Both events seem extremely unlikely with our current understanding of physics.

This disturbing fundamental issue seem to guide us to a picture where the missing piece in the puzzle is an extension of our theories to the multiverse framework and where the dynamics of gravity plays a crucial role.

Three important theories predict a multiverse. Yet only one can correspond to physical reality. We thus need a better understanding of the ontology of the multiverse; its background space-time; and, potential observational imprints.

We proposed to study the selection of the initial conditions by taking the multiverse to be the landscape of (3+1) dimensional worlds predicted by string theory. In this picture matter content in each initial patch tries to crunch the domain to a point while the energy of the vacuum (inflaton energy) tries to blow it apart. Thus the only way for our universe to grow large and to survive the pull of matter is by starting at high energies. One of our predictions here, the existence of a giant void was confirmed by observations only 7 months later.
Laura Mersini-Houghton

Theological comment

This is scientific research and must remain such. But the idea of Multiverse has, of course, tremendous Theological connotations, as well.

Personally this brings to my mind the "multiple realities" present in Biblical texts that do not fit well into a worldview boxed into a single physical universe and the existence of only linear time. Multiple dimensions do not seem to me as interesting in this context as the Multiverse ideas presented by Professor Laura Mersini-Houghton and her colleagues.

Obviously the Eridanus Supervoid is under scrutiny and much work is being done to verify the observations. But this is, indeed, how science progresses from known towards the unknown, often on the basis of just slight problems in the existing models that explain physical reality.

Laura Mersini-Houghton and Parallel Universe

Laura Mersini-Houghton
University of North Carolina (ref)
Dr. Laura Mersini-Houghton (née Laura Mersini) is a theoretical physicist-cosmologist and a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since January 2004. Her theories concerning observational proof of the existence of the multiuniverse, our universe's relationship to it, and her predicted observational confirmations of those theories, have resulted in opening new insights into the Big Bang theory and other physical phenomena.

Parallel Universe
A controversial claim by Laura Mersini-Houghton is that [the Eridanus Supervoid] could be the imprint of another universe beyond our own, caused by quantum entanglement between universes before they were separated by cosmic inflation.

Laura Mersini-Houghton said, "Standard cosmology cannot explain such a giant cosmic hole" and made the remarkable hypothesis that the WMAP cold spot is "… the unmistakable imprint of another universe beyond the edge of our own."

If true this provides the first empirical evidence for a parallel universe (though theoretical models of parallel universes existed previously). It would also support string theory. The team claims there are testable consequences for its theory.

If the parallel universe theory is true there will be a similar void in the opposite hemisphere of the Celestial sphere (which New Scientist reported to be the Southern hemisphere; the results of the New Mexico array study reported it as Northern hemisphere).

Infinite number of Universes - what is time?
The multiverse view offers a simple answer: If there are an infinite number of cosmoses, it would make sense that at least some universes should start in a low entropy state. Mersini-Houghton first became interested in the idea of a multiverse with the advent of the string-theory landscape. In 2003, string theorists began to realize that their equations offered a staggering 10500 equally-valid solutions, each of which could describe a possible universe. Suddenly there was talk of a string landscape—a multiverse of universes, each with different physical laws.
FOQXi Community Journal June 17. 2010

Eridanus Supervoid and Multiverse

WMAP cold spot
Why Universe, why not Multiverse?

The Eridanus Supervoid is the largest supervoid (an area of the universe devoid of galaxies) discovered as of 2007. At a diameter of about one billion light years it is much larger than any other known void and represents a challenge for current theories of the origins of the universe to explain.

It was discovered by linking a "cold spot" in the cosmic microwave background to an absence of radio galaxies in data of the United States National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array Sky Survey. There is some speculation that the void may be due to quantum entanglement between our universe and another.

Typically, the largest fluctuations of the primordial CMB temperature occur on angular scales of about 1°. Thus a cold region as large as the "cold spot" appears very unlikely, given generally accepted theoretical models.

Various alternative explanations exist, including a so-called Eridanus Supervoid or Great Void. This would be an extremely large region of the universe, roughly 150 Mpc or 500 million light-years across, at redshift , containing a density of matter much smaller than the average density at that redshift. Such a void would affect the observed CMB via the integrated Sachs-Wolfe effect.

If a comparable supervoid did exist, it would be one of the largest structures in the observable Universe.

If you are following me this blog on Space Theology we have just concluded a wonderful tour to the limits of the observable Universe with the help of the Hayden Planetarium Digital Universe Atlas. Brian Abbott explains in the Guide Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation and we can admire in Partiview a 3D model of the WMAP data.

And now, right away after that, we hit the possibility of the existence of Multiverse as an explanation to an enormous "cold spot" noted the direction of the Eridanus (River Po) constellation. Some have explained this void of anything as a quantum entanglement between our universe and another.

Our trip to space exploration is getting more and more grandiose!

Stellarium, WWT or DUA - WABS!

Stellarium in action

What astronomy software should you choose for your personal study or as a teaching aid in your class? There is Microsoft Research WorldWide Telescope, free Stellarium PC planetarium, Digitial Universe Atlas from Hayden Planetarium, Night Sky for iPad and much more.

Different goals and approaches

WorldWide Telescope is a truly fabulous offering created with massive resources. It has a carefully designed GUI for easy of use and for clarity of orientation. Its creators want to give  you everything in a single portal in WEB 2.0 and Silverlight 4.0.

WWT surely is a resource hug - the recommended 2 GB memory, good graphics card and fast internet connection are required for smooth operations. Of course, any of the programs discussed here will work more smoothly and faster with better resources. But WWT will not work properly or at all in weak computers. Once this amazing Internet telescope is is up and running in your machine there is so much you can do with it exploring the space.  It is designed also to assist in teaching modern astronomy and cosmology with the help of guided tours and many other resources and features.

Stellarium is there for you for free download if your main concern is to learn to know better the stars and constellations visible in the night sky and to decide where to aim your binoculars or telescope. The Stellarium PC planetarium is less fancy and simpler then the visually rich WWT but its compactness and easy to use interface gives you exactly what you need for orientation and finding. When does Arcturus rise tonight or is it visible at all in my place at this time of the year?

Stellarium is a truly multicultural system probably knowing also your mother tongue if its is not English and can display the constellations as seen in twenty different cultures.

Night Sky for iPad is not free software and it is an iPad not PC application. Night Sky can even run in the iPhone that you may carry in your pocket. The experience of walking out there in the fields admiring the starry night can be greatly enhanced with Night Sky. Just point iPad  towards the part of the sky that interests you. The device remembers the location you gave it and feels the direction you are pointing it. Night Sky cleverly uses this location and orientation information to show you exactly what it is up there in the part of the sky you are aiming the iPad.

Digital Astronomy Atlas has no parallel in this group of software if you want to learn astronomy more deeply. It is practical and science oriented and gives overview of the history, scope, limitations and meaning of modern scientific data collected in various projects like, for example, the Microway (WMAP) all-sky survey. The software lets you explore the 3D model of the observable universe with you in full control of navigation and what type of data you see while following the very clearly written Guide.

Why DUA?
I am afraid that despite its great educational value the Digital Universe Astronomy package is doomed to obscurity because of its difficult interface and the demands it puts on us, the spoiled and lazy users. We prefer ready meals like the very easy to use Stellarium and like the fancy visual stuff offered by the WorldWide Telescope and its guided tours.

The learning curve for the archaic looking Partiview GUI with its strange controls is steep in comparison to the other programs mentioned here. But the engine is, in fact, a very modern 3D display system and learning to use it is rewarded manifold. IMHO even a hologram hovering over your table would not necessarily be more enchanting than the multicolored 3D image of the entire Universe created by Partiview from nearly million points - once you get that SLUM slider in the right position...

Surprisingly, the greatest benefit from Digital Universe Atlas is reaped by those who bother to learn to use the Partiview engine and follow the interactive tutorials and teaching in the accompanying Guide. It is the effort that drives in the significance of the data. Merely seeing Microwave WMAP all-sky survey data and reading and hearing about it in WWT is less effective in learning than working with the DUA navigator and getting it finally right.

The remarkable thing is that the making of all these software packages takes so much work and so many experts on astronomy and on computer technologies they are still all free downloads.

We Are Being Spoiled!

So why not to take them all and more?

Never before has the study of the magnificent creation of God of Israel been so affordable, interesting and easy for all Earthlings as it is today thanks to the information technology revolution and the kind people who share their enthusiasm, knowledge and use their skills to help us to grasp what is known today.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Let there be light! - CMBR

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning —the first day.
Genesis 1:1-4

There are many very interesting things in this beginning of the ancient story of Creation. Just think the first word in the first verse - Beginning.

Of course, the language is ancient and the geocentric scenery strange and we may wonder how the days and nights of creation are separated long before Sun is created on the fourth day.

But note the delay - God creates heavens and earth and then there is a period of mysterious time when the Spirit of God "hovers" over the waters of deep (Tehom).

And then there is light!

Cosmologists and astrophysicists are telling today that after the initial Big Bang there was a period when the newly born Universe was opaque. Protons and electrons where flying after the plasma stage preventing photons from moving freely.

After some 379.000 years things changed, hydrogen was being formed and photons were free to fly - let there be light!

Modern theory suggests that origins of space and time, matter, and energy come from a time when the Universe was extremely hot and dense. About 13.7 billion years ago, the Universe exploded, forming space itself, which would later be populated with the galaxies we see today.

Very soon after the Big Bang, matter in the Universe was so hot that it formed a plasma, a state in which atoms are separated into nuclei and free electrons, similar to the Sun’s interior. These free electrons prohibit the free flow of light in the Universe. The Universe was opaque to light in these early times. Later, as the Universe expanded and cooled, the electrons combined with the nuclei and formed hydrogen atoms. With few free electrons, light was now free to travel the Universe. This transition took place about 379,000 years after the Big Bang, ushering in a new era in the Universe.

The Universe was then transparent to light as photons, which traveled freely across the Universe, encountering few collisions that would absorb or scatter the light. If we could have seen it, the Universe would have been about 3,000 Kelvin and would have glowed orange in visible light.

In fact, the peak intensity of the Universe at that time was around 1 micron (in the infrared). Since that time, the Universe has expanded 1,000-fold and the light waves have expanded along with space. The light, then, appears redshifted as space itself expands.

Today, the peak intensity of the Universe is 1,000 times lower than it was then, so the wavelength is 1,000 times greater and is close to 1 millimeter (1 micron 1,000 = 1 mm). This peak intensity corresponds to a gas temperature 1,000 times less, or 3 Kelvin (3,000 K 1,000 = 3 K). Light at 1mm is in the microwave portion of the EM spectrum, and this is where we see the remnant light from the Big Bang, called the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation, or CMBR.

The CMBR pervades the Universe. It is an imprint of the time of recombination in the Universe, when protons and electrons combined to form hydrogen, when light began to travel in space unimpeded.

When we look at that light, we are looking back in time to that event, 379,000 years after the Big Bang. Before that time, the Universe was opaque, like looking through a fog, so we will never see the Big Bang event itself. The CMBR, then, defines that part of the Universe that we can see, what we call our Observable Universe. While the CMBR is everywhere in the Universe, we can also think of it as our outer limit, that which we cannot see beyond.
Brian Abbott Digital Universe Atlas Guide 2012

Let us here it one more time
Astronomers believe that the Universe was born from the Big Bang, when space expanded from an extremely hot and dense condition. You might imagine that this event was spectacular in its energy and luminosity output. If we think quasars are bright, the creation of the Universe must have been incredible. Given that, wouldn’t you expect to see something from this energetic event?

In fact, astronomers do see the light from just after the Big Bang. At that time, the Universe was very hot, so hot that atoms could not form. Instead, there were free electrons and protons and neutrons that made up the primordial Universe. Light could not travel very far before it collided with a free electron. Thus we say the Universe was opaque, as radiation and matter were constantly interacting. As the Universe expanded, the temperature of the plasma dropped and, after 379,000 years, the Universe was cool enough to allow electrons and protons to combine, forming hydrogen atoms. Once this occurred,the light from the Big Bang was free to traverse the Universe, since the free electrons were captured by atomic nuclei.
Brian Abbott Digital Universe Atlas Guide 2012 p.169

Microsoft WorldWide Telescope

Microsoft WorldWide Telescope is a free service to humanity. Here are some excerpts from the introductory text

The WorldWide Telescope (WWT) is a Web 2.0 visualization software environment that enables your computer to function as a virtual telescope—bringing together imagery from the world’s best ground- and space-based telescopes for the exploration of the universe.
WWT blends terabytes of images, information, and stories from multiple sources into a seamless, immersive, rich media experience delivered over the Internet. Students of all ages will feel empowered to explore and understand the cosmos using WWT’s simple and powerful user interface.

The mission of the WWT is twofold:
  • To aggregate scientific data from major telescopes, observatories, and institutions and make temporal and multi-spectral studies available through a single, cohesive Internet–based portal
  • To stimulate interest in science among younger generations, providing a compelling base for teaching astronomy, scientific discovery, and computational science.

Utilizing the Microsoft® high performance Visual Experience Engine™, WorldWide Telescope allows you explore the universe as never before. It enables you to seamlessly pan the sky and to zoom in on celestial features, including stars, nebulae, and planets. For every object, you’ll find multiple information sources at your fingertips, just a mouse click away.

The data in WWT is not only readily accessible; it is presented in a form that facilitates integrative research, thereby helping to bridge the gap between cutting-edge research, education, and public knowledge. WWT represents a major step toward the democratization of science, and it has turned the Internet into "the world´s best telescope"—a veritable supercomputer at your desktop.
WWT intro

Read more about the Microsoft WorldWide Telescope from here.

As for me - I am speechless!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Almost as if being on the surface of the Moon

There is another incredibly high quality APOD image that shows today 24. June 2012 an eerie lunar landscape from the Taurus-Littrow valley. The picture was taken during the Apollo 17 landing on December 11.-14. 1972.

The presence of astronaut Harrison Schmitt in this exceptionally sharp photo gives the picture a very rare billion dollar human scale (it costed $1 536 000 000 in 1997 dollars to get him there according to Artemis estimate). His white space suite helps viewers to estimate the size of the rocks on the ground and gives human dimensions to the arid landscape with no atmosphere to soften the sight.

Last men on the Moon
Ronald Evans stayed in the lunar orbit while Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt landed on the surface of the moon at 2:55 PM EST December 11 and lifted off December 14 at 5:55 PM EST 1972.

Since they left no humans have walked on the Moon.

Harrison Hagan "Jack" Schmitt (born July 3, 1935) is an American geologist, a retired NASA astronaut, university professor, and a former U.S. senator from New Mexico.
Eugene Andrew Cernan (born March 14, 1934) is a retired United States Navy officer and a former NASA astronaut and engineer. He has been into space three times: as pilot of Gemini 9A in June 1966; as lunar module pilot of Apollo 10 in May 1969; and as commander of Apollo 17 in December 1972, the final Apollo lunar landing.
Ronald Ellwin Evans, Jr. (November 10, 1933 – April 7, 1990) was a NASA astronaut and one of only 24 people to have flown to the Moon. He also served as a Captain in the United States Navy.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Spectroscopes then and now

The WYSIWYG principle myBlog is so crucial for understanding the advances of space sciences from the times of Galileo Galilei on.

But there is also another principle - DYUWYS or Do You Understand What You See?

Here is an example of this principle - there is only about 150 years between the making of the two instruments depicted. But while the first one has been of fundamental importance to the history of science the second one is "just one among many" modern spectroscopes and is filling in the - many - missing details.

We wish plenty of people with positive DYUWYS will benefit from the Italian marvel. But do not despair if you do not have access to such tools or the budget to get your own Echelle. For It is not only in the power of the instruments and sharpness of eyes but also in what is between the ears of the viewer.

Kirchhoffs firrst spectroscope (1896)

There has been some progress in the making of these instruments since Kirchhoff's times as seen, for example, in the impressive tool installed in Campo Dei Fiori (Varese).

Schiaparelli Observatory Spectrograph (2008)
An Echelle Spectrograph is installed at Cassegrain F20 focus of the 0.6m reflector. It has been completely designed and built by Paolo Valisa and took first light on sept 2008.

It is equipped with a 2192x1472 SBIG XME CCD Camera.

Echelle grating is an R2 79 lines/mm and with 100mm camera lens gives 0.15 (bin 1) or 0.3 (bin 2) A/pixel dispersion at Halfa.

Cross disperser is a 300 l/mm transmission grating and from order 57 to order 26 covers the 3900-8600 range.

Spectral resolution is usually 12'000 (with 2.5 arcsec slit) but can attain 18'000 for bright sources (1 arcsec slit).

Radial velocity measurements routinely attain 1 Km/sec precision with a RMS error of 0.7 Km/sec.
Schiaparelli Observatory

Kirchhoff's three laws of spectroscopy

Gustav Robert Kirchhoff (1824-1877)
  1. A hot solid object produces light with a continuous spectrum.
  2. A hot tenuous gas produces light with spectral lines at discrete wavelengths (i.e. specific colors) which depend on the energy levels of the atoms in the gas. (emission spectrum)
  3. A hot solid object surrounded by a cool tenuous gas (i.e. cooler than the hot object) produces light with an almost continuous spectrum which has gaps at discrete wavelengths depending on the energy levels of the atoms in the gas. (absorption spectrum)

Kirchhoff did not know about the existence of energy levels in atoms. The existence of discrete spectral lines was later explained by the Bohr model of the atom, which helped lead to quantum mechanics

Digital Universe Atlas, radio sphere and ET planets

As a reader of this blog can quickly notice this is a very personal voyage to the world of modern astronomy and a cosmology. This is the story of a student having great fun and many amazing learning experiences rather than an attempt to teach others. For I am not qualified to teach with so many black holes in my knowledge and understanding. Also, there is no need for yet another teaching resource for facts as the Internet space is so full of brilliant stars bringing accurate and expert light on space sciences. See, for example, Caltech's Cool Cosmos with Infra red hide and seek game for kids, young and old!

I am a tour guide to the gardens of God who is all the time learning himself new things, as well. But I suspect with the words of John Lennon that "I am not the only one".

For the tsunami of knowledge coming to us from every direction about the Universe quickly becomes overwhelming  - a scientific fact from yesteryear is now history of science and a totally new horizon has been opened by this or that survey or theory or discovery or research instrument, including the most expensive scientific tools every built by humanity! This is all very exciting but also quite confusing if the foundations of understanding the science news are as shaky as in my case.

Orientation and data sets
In just few days Brian Abbott and his friends who contributed to the Hayden Planetarium Digital Universe Atlas have revolutionized my understanding of the proportions, structures and distances of stars, clusters, nebulas, radiations and other things in the Milky Way Galaxy and also given a new glimpse to updated information about the Local Group of galaxies. The unique 3D model created in Partiviview software has been highly effective for me as Brian's expert text has such unusual clarity and levels of teaching from overview to details. I am eternally grateful for this free gift from Hayden Planetarium and NASA that has supported the project!

Critical view of scientific data
The Guide offers a critical attitude towards the data sets that have been made available in the various Atlases. I do not claim to know all the teaching resources but personally I have never met another source of information on space sciences that describes the data itself  in such an exemplary way.

For the Digital Universe Atlas not only describes in few sentences the essence of the project that has gathered the information, for example the 2MASS all-sky survey, and its main results. Many books and articles do that. But it also shows the scope and limitations of the data. By focusing attention also on what is missing, what has not been yet seen, what is still hidden behind thick space clouds, what is too far for accurate distance measurements, Brian gives an example of what really good science is. The examination of the limitations of the data also gives fundamental understanding of what is involved in the research project. 

Digital Universe Atlas and ET
The search for extraterrestrial intelligence is of greatest interest to humanity and a deeply significant subject in Astrotheology, as well. Who has not wondered is there anyone out there, a person similar to us in ability to think, talk and pray?

The Milky Way Atlas includes a particularly educational data set that visualizes a point I had never realized before. It is based on the fact that humanity began serious messing with radio transmissions during the Second World War as radio transmission technology began to develop. We also blew up some bombs that sent notable radiation to the space. First this was just making radio noise for our own purposes. Only relatively recently humans have purposely beamed a signal "Hello, we are here, can you hear us" to outer space.

The Atlas gives a wonderful perspective showing the physical reach of the radio noise and beamed signals from planet Earth. This is done by drawing a radio sphere from the initial point of interest in the model, our Sun. In this way we can see on the computer screen how deep to the Universe all our radio signals and nuclear bomb radiation travelling at the speed of light has reached since 1940.

How else could we really grasp this important piece of information in such a concrete and easy to understand way as by looking with our own eyes? Just reading that the diameter of the sphere is 2x 72 ly is nice but so what? The distance of a light year is extremely difficult to grasp as it is not a measure humans are used to. The enormous distance to the Sun is only eight light minutes or so. Actually seeing that tiny red sphere lost in the Milky Way Galaxy as you fly a bit further away from Sun is a truly unforgettable learning experience!

Extraterrestrial planets
Seeing the radio sphere in the Milky Way Atlas changed for me a misconception. I had somehow fixed the realm of searching for extraterrestrial intelligent life to other galaxies. The distances makes ridiculous the idea of talking with someone in Andromeda galaxy using current technologies. Just a lucky ping from Earth and its return would take more time then the 5 million years existence of human species on this planet counting from Lucy and her most distant ancestors in East-Africa.

But! The radio sphere around Earth is really tiny in the perspective of Milky Way galaxy. Digital Universe Atlas has another data set that includes the results from quickly expanding surveys for extraterrestrial planets. Brian explains how scientists have from the 1990'ies on identified the presence of planetary systems around stars with the WYSIWYG principle - greatly improved observation techniques and instruments.

By activating both the radio sphere and the ET planet data set delivered to me an important message. There actually are planetary systems within the reach of radio signals from Earth. In other words, I realized that it is not Andromeda Little Green Men who we are talking to but possible quite near neighbours who in theory can hear our signals and for us even to catch the reply within the time span of one or two generations.

So where is the screen shot?
As I said, not text or two dimensional computer image can deliver the punch that the 3D model of Digital Universe Atlas gives when you follow the Guide.

So in order to really grasp the reach of human radio noise in space, download, install and start navigating the Milky Way Atlas - I guarantee that you will not be disappointed!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What Space Theology is not?

This blog on Astrotheology is not yet another layman's introduction to scientific astronomy and cosmology. Internet has made easily available many very useful and educational sources on information about space on pages written by professional astronomers.

Scientific sites rarely talk about God and creation. This is more often than not left to a diversity of Creationist writers or Atheists mocking Christianity and all religion.

Space theology is not limited to scientific argumentation and is not limited to creationist hermeneutics on Bible. Rather, it studies both of them in the freedom of academic Theology not being afraid of Philosophy, either.

Not seeking evidence for God from Science
Space Theology aka Astrotheology is NOT Natural Theology trying to prove the existence of God a la William Paley (1809), Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity (12th ed.), London: Printed for J. Faulder.

Astrotheology is NOT Christian apologetics seeking evidence for God from Science. The mangled masterpiece of Michelangelo from the roof of the Sistine Chapel in the web site referred above is a symbol of what should not be done. Michelangelo is Michelangelo, atoms and DNA are atoms and DNA, let us not mix improperly potatoes and perfumes!

The fundamental difference between such apologetics looking for scientific facts that could prove God exists and proper Theology is in the respect for God of Israel. He is secret, invisible, someone humans cannot see face to face or understand let alone use as an argument in scientific inquiry. Most importantly, God of Israel who is the only real God there is a Person having dangerously hot temperament, not some cool philosophical principle behind the design of DNA.

Faith is personal relationship, not just knowledge
Theology underlines that true faith in God is something else then knowledge. Faith has its own eyes and these eyes see the works of God in the grandeur of Nature as Psalm 19:1 writes. Faith can also distort the world view when it lacks the essential element for love for truth. Faith in God is not a prequisite for good science and good scientific knowledge is not a prequisite for faith. Biblical faith is a very personal matter, a Me-You thing as Martin Buber wrote, and it goes much deeper into the person than our brilliant God given brains can ever reach.

It is so important to make the theological distinction between Nature and Grace and realize that the book of nature is open to all to read while the divine revelation in the Bible calls for faith.
And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith.
2 Thess 3:10 NIV
Not everyone believes in God - the Bible tells us so. Faith in God is the greatest gift but it is also a rather powerful one that can turn a man into a monster. There are scientists who are sceptical about all religions and consider religious belief systems a hindrance to proper scientific inquiry. They have full right to question the role of religions considering, for example, the history of natural sciences and the Christian Church.

Science of Religion is something else then Theology
Science of Religion also studies the crucially important role heavens have on human religions and religiosity. The range of subjects to study is vast including sky gods, worship of celestial bodies, myths about the creation of the world, legends about the sun, moon, planets and stars, principles and practices of Astrology just to mention a few examples. Cosmological beliefs have affected prehistoric art and architecture, ancient Sumerian city planning, Third Reich warfare, Medieval dresses, Scandinavian folklore, modern music, yearly feasts of the classical Roman society and so on. Scientists of religion do also research modern attitudes towards events in the skies, such as the Comet Halley crisis, and effect of the rapidly growing information about the origins and evolution of the entire Universe on Philosophy and Religion.

Good examples of this type of research is the work done on Lakota Astronomy. In 1992 Ronald Goodman published Lakota Star Knowledge: Studies in Lakota Stellar Theology (

Astrotheology  is not Creationism nor ID
Astrotheology is not Creationism. Instead it examines the claims and theories of modern day creationists and examines the Biblical roots of fundamentalism so prevalent among some parts of Christianity today.

We let the heavens speak for themselves without messing the majestic declaration with our small talk. Astrotheology does not try to propose any explanation based on divine intervention to the scientific study of the Universe. More specifically, Astrotheology is neither Intelligent Design (ID )nor Creationism. Astrotheology is critical branch of Systematic Theology working on academic level to examine past and present relationship between humanity and the cosmos.

Astrotheology differs from Science of Religion. It shares the interest in the entire human experience with heavens but has its roots in the sacred Scriptures written by the people of Israel and inspired by the Holy Spirit. The fundamentum of Astrotheology is the God of Israel, who is the only real God there is. His voice is today heard all over planet Earth in great multitude of human languages from sunrise to sunset saying "I have made all this - and you too". The voice is clear and the message majestic but who is listening?

Astrotheology is Fundamental Theology but not fundamentalism 
Astrotheology is not preaching of religious truths as in synagogue or church hall but critical search for truth as in all academic Theology.

The search for truth involves taking seriously the historical-critical study of Biblical texts and how they have been understood through times. Thus, the Biblical creation stories must be understood by taking into account also their deep roots in Ancient Near Eastern cultures. Biblical texts concerning sky and celestial objects must be studied also in historical and archaeological context to discern and understand correctly different attitudes of the people of the Bible towards the heavens. Hermeneutics are critical to the use of Bible.

The marvellous night sky above Abraham, the Ladder of Jacob's Dream, the Sun and moon and stars bowing in front of Joseph are all of interest. The Queen of the Heavens in the times of prophet Jeremiah is as relevant as the militant Mars worship of the Romans occupying Palestine in the times of Jesus. The Sun worship of Constantine the Great and Julian the Apostate are as interesting as the application of Bible against Copernicus by Dominican father Giovanni Maria Tolosani.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Digital Universe Guide learning experience

Partiview screenshot showing distribution pattern of OB Associations
Digital Universe Atlas wonderful new approach to teaching the public astronomy using the combination of text book and computer model of the Universe can be seen better by taking a practical example.>

The Guide has tutorials to Space with introductory paragraphs and gives later on detailed information about the points of interest. Here is, for example, part of the tutorial text explaining the distribution of OB Associations in Milky Way Galaxy.

OB Associations Are in the Galactic Disk Again, it’s easy to see that the OB associations are found in the Galactic plane. Rather than look at their distribution from Earth’s perspective, let’s look upon them from a point away from Earth.

Fly backward from the Sun until you see all the OB associations in view, then orbit the Sun from this vantage point. You should still see the Galactic coordinates sphere encircling the Sun. It has a radius of 1,000 light-years. If you fly back toward the sphere, you will notice a few OB associations within that distance.

For scale, turn on the 10,000-light-year grid 10kly, which is in the plane of the Galaxy and spans the OB associations. Not all the OB associations are represented in this group, only those with known distances—those in the neighborhood.
Brian Abbott, Digital Universe Guide for Partiview. Hayden 2012, p.54.

What would a regular student learn from reading such English sentences? My guess is "next to nothing". The words are there but the text is not comprehensible without the computer simulator (and is not intended to be).

If we let the same student work interactively with the Milky Way Atlas in Partiview flying some 10.000 light years away from Sun the learning experience changes dramatically.

Suddenly - after some fiddling with the GUI - something clicks in the student's head. There really is a pattern in the scientific evidence shown on the screen and the visualized data visible has meaning. With the help of the computer simulation the student is now able to "see" celestial objects in dimensional space and can better understand complex spatial planes, distances and how astronomers are discovering new data about our Galaxy.

A mere photo in a book or browser page, like the screenshot above, does not do the trick. It is absolutely necessary to work and to follow the step-by-step tutorial in the Guide and to move in space to get the point (atually there are thousands of points out there...if not millions or billiions)

But once the student has successfully lifted off the launch pad of the tutorials and texts and understood the spatial concepts and dimensions it is so much easier to build up additional knowledge from the Guide and from the numerous excellent resources that are today available in libraries and in the WEB.

Digital Universe Atlas is an excellent tool for self-study and also for education.

The package includes also activity materials specifically aimed for teachers and students with hands-on advise how to use the interactive tools to understand space science and its methods.

The Galactic Census package is excellent, practical and in my opinion presents a very effective way to teach difficult concepts through activity (and not just teacher's LCD projector) such as the distribution of celestial objects in the different parts of the galaxy.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Stephen Hawking and a mosquito

Hawking on 5 May 2006, during the press conference at the
Bibliothèque nationale de France
to inaugurate the Laboratory of Astronomy and Particles in Paris
and the French release of his work God Created the Integers

International press has published as front page news fresh ideas by Stephen Hawking, ranked among the leading modern scientists in Theoretical Physics and in Cosmology.

An important question in his brilliant mind has been "Do we need a god for the creation of the Universe?" Still some time ago Stephen was thinking that a god is needed.

Now he has changed his mind and has noted - as reported by international news agencies - that the Universe could have began and developed to current characteristics all by itself without any god guiding the processes.

Stephen Hawking (b. 1942) fame is based largely on his ability to explain clearly and concisely to larger public very complicated problems that scientists are discussing in the fields of Theoretical Physics and Cosmology. His public lectures in Cambridge fill the auditorium and he is a distinguished guest in the most respected universities and institutions around the world.

The books written by Stephen are internationa best-seller - especially known is the book that has sold over 10 million copies and has the rather catchy title

A Brief History of Time. From the Big Bang to Black Holes, (Bantam Press,1988)

To the general public Stephen Hawking has also written:

Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays, (Bantam Books 1993)
The Universe in a Nutshell, (Bantam Press 2001)
On The Shoulders of Giants. The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy, (Running Press 2002)
A Briefer History of Time, coauthored with Leonard Mlodinow, (Bantam Books 2005)
The Grand Design, coauthored with Leonard Mlodinow, (Bantam Press 2010)

The latest book, Grand Design (2010), is the reported publication where Stephen and Leonard conclude that there is really no need for any god.

It is possible that Stephen's discussions with Leonard Miodinowin have modified his thinking to this direction.

Leonard Miodinow (b. 1954)

Theoretical Physicist Leonard Miodinow lives in the United States. He is from a Jewish family and both of his parents survived the Holocaust. His father was among the resistance fighters of Poland and was imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Leonard is obviously a very serious thinker and since Stephen chose him as co-author in the rewrite of his most famous book "A Brief History of Time" so the two have obviously spent many evenings in deep discussions on the subject.

For many Jewish children whose parents lived in the time of the Second World War any idea of a personal God is absurd in light of Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

The solution to the problem of this enormous evil is to adopt strict atheism: there is no God of Israel, no god at all, everything is up to the man alone.

For many other Jews the miraculous birth of the State of Israel after the Holocaust and the survival of the tiny state in the extremely hostile environment of the Near East has been source of deep comfort and encouraged them to believe that God is still alive and very real. The flourishing religious life of post-Holocaust Judaism is a witness that this much tested religion has survived also the Nazi attack. Third Reich is no more - it is gone.

I do not know anything about Leonard - I do not know him personally - but he may have influenced the concepts Stephen has about reality.

God is not really just a question of Mathematics or Theoretical Physics but also Theoretical Philosophy and even deeper Fundamental Theology (which has nothing to do with American Christian fundamentalism but a branch of Systematic Theology).

Stephen Hawking does not put his question like this "Does God exist?"

instead he asks "Is God necessary?"

Of course, the public connects the two questions - if the creation of the Universe can be figured out without a Creator, God is not needed and as Richard Dawkins suggest, He probably probably does not exist.

For if this exceptionally gifted scientist and expert on Theoretical Physics would ask "Does God exist?" one must ask is this question in the realm of modern science, cosmology. Can science itself in any way prove the existence or non-existence of God.

Even a child could tell Stephen "God of Israel is hidden, nobody can prove that He exists and nobody can prove that he does not exist".

It is a matter of faith.
And not every man has faith and faith cannot be rationally derived from black holes, baby universe if you just think long enough...

Stephen and Leonard beat me any time - and probably also you - with their high intelligence, deep knowledge of the laws of nature, their mathematical skills and logical thinking.

but when they think they are so wise, they have turned into something real stupid!

When Stephen looks at the great works of creation by the God of Israel, he does not notice the Biblica truth

1. that he himself is almost divine

2. the mosquito, that approaches Stephen sitting in his wheel chair, lusting after his blood and telling about the incomprehensible greatness of God the Creator.

Stephen Hawking is suffering from a very serious and incurable Lou Gehrig sickness, that slowly but surely destroys the nervous system controlling body movements.

MND (motor neuron disease) is a tragic sickness, that takes from so many the will to live in total dependence on other people and many dies too early just because the will to live has gone and life is getting more and more difficult each new day.

The specific sickness that Stephen has is ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), that can be slowed down but not cured by modern medicine.

He has had a long and rich life, is 68 years old with motorized wheelchair and talking machine that help him so much.

Who physically fully healthy human person has written such an amount of significant books!

Psalm 8

O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:
All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;
The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!
King James Version

Point 1 - almost divine

a man hardly sitting in his wheelchair, unable to speak, Stephen Hawking is almost divine

how come?

There is something in him that overcomes that body broken by sickness and the often nervous soul

for this "something" we use the Biblical word "spirit"

Stephen - as every human being - is a whole that includes body, soul and spirit.

So while sitting there on his chair the spirit of Stephen flies far beyond the star islands, galaxies, to the beginning of time, to the beginning of cosmos, and his brain is working on mathematical formulas concerning the finest details of matter, atoms, electrons, particles and their amazing logic.

Divine thoughts.

Stephen is not an atheist in the sense that it would be important for him to deny the Jewish-Christian-Moslem Creator or other targets of religion.

He does not mind if God exists, let Him be.

But the reality, the cosmos, that he is thinking with such almost divine power is a reality ruled by the laws of nature that this God does not break - He is the prisoner of His own system, so to say.

Faith in Science means that all trust is put in the ability of man to explain the secrets of nature and to put them in his good use.

Religions trust in dogmas and authorities, revelations and other such dark and contradictory stuff.

Bright rational thinking understands, in contrast to this, how things really are and always wins the competition with the hazy world of religious faith.

But from where Stephen has got this spirit, that separates him from all the rest of the creation on this planet?

I do not mean with this question rational thinking on the basic level - even a cat can plan how to catch that mouse and a chimpanzee can join bamboo sticks together to get that bunch of bananas from the ceiling of the cage.

I mean that spirit, that asks about the beginning.

That reaches the depths of the Cosmos and its infinite distances and finds out truths.

The spirit that is capable of believing in God and can talk with Him.

Or can deny such a faith in the cold, bloody, Zyklon b smelling smoky night of Auschwitz.

Stephen Hawking thinks and asks is God necessary?

God asks "where are you, Stephen?" (Gen 3:9)

Point 2 -- Mosquito

Unhindered by his wheelchair and MND sickness Stephen flies with his grand ideas in the bright heights of scientific rationalism making observations about the Universe and causing great amazement among the human race with his perceptions.

Great thoughts, far reaching calculations of the mysteries of the Universe and theories about patterns in the existence of everything!

(by the way, if Stephen with his thinking is capable of figuring out without being able to perform experiments how everything began, why it is so hard to believe that God would similarly - by thinking - perhaps even a bit deeper - figured them into existence. Bible does not say that God was thinking everything into being, but God said everything into being.)

Mosuqito - one of the great minuscule miracles of God

But there is danger!

quietly a bloodthirsty little thing approaches our hero who is not aware of the peril. With inerrant instinct it comes closer to the source of warm human blood, which it has observed from a distance.

Many man and woman has tried to push the intruder away but the devious enemy avoids the hand of the giant using the flow of air, makes another round and fearlessly returns back when it thinks that the time is suitable for another attack.

Stephen is unable to move and does not even notice the danger in his deep thinking, and so the enemy succeeds in sitting on his hand.

God has created to this insect a long sharp nose that it carefully sinks into the skin of Stephen. The nose is long enough to reach the blood vessels in skin and the delicious meal the mosquito is after. A true vampire!

But our beast has a small problem. It's weapon is very thin and narrow is the tube through which it wants to suck Stephen's red blood to its belly. And human blood has the life-saving ability to clog to prevent flowing from a wound.

However, God has given to this hard guy a poison, chemical, that it pours into the skin of Stephen preventing the thickening of his blood.

Well, mosquito would not be a problem without this poison, that causes our skin to itch and that irritates our skin (this too is wisdom of God, otherwise we would let them drink all our blood!)

Modern top science has succeed to clarify a few things about the anatomy of the mosquito, its legs, wings, technique of flying, life cycle from larva to the sky.

But modern science does not have any idea, how this system works together and how a mosquito has become what it is.

There is research going on and this is good thing (especially because of malaria).

But Stephen who explores the depths of the Universe is unable to explain the mosquito that sits on his hand.
So how he could with certainty proclaim is there a God or does the world need a God?

Some information about the spit of the mosquito
In order for the mosquito to obtain a blood meal it must circumvent the vertebrate physiological responses.

The mosquito, as with all blood-feeding arthropods, has mechanisms to effectively block the hemostasis system with their saliva, which contains a mixture of secreted proteins. Mosquito saliva negatively affects vascular constriction, blood clotting, platelet aggregation, angiogenesis and immunity and creates inflammation.

Universally, hematophagous arthropod saliva contains at least one anticlotting, one anti-platelet, and one vasodilatory substance. Mosquito saliva also contains enzymes that aid in sugar feeding and antimicrobial agents to control bacterial growth in the sugar meal.

The composition of mosquito saliva is relatively simple as it usually contains fewer than 20 dominant proteins.

Despite the great strides in knowledge of these molecules and their role in bloodfeeding achieved recently, scientists still cannot ascribe functions to more than half of the molecules found in arthropod saliva.
English wikipedia Mosquito