Monday, July 23, 2012

Carl Sagan - Contact

SETI project is searching for signals that were sent by extraterrestrial intelligent beings. Seti@home is based in the University of California, Berkeley. Anyone interested can participate in the work by donating personal computer power to the massive analysis of the search data.

Carl Sagan (1934-1996) was intrigued by the possibility and he was instrumental in bringing search projects into reality. There is now a Carl Sagan Center in the non-profit SETI Institute.  It is nothing to sneer at as recent news demonstrate
A team of astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is reporting the discovery of another moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto. "The moons form a series of neatly nested orbits, a bit like Russian dolls," said team lead Mark Showalter, Senior Research Scientist at the SETI Institute.
SETI institute

First contact
Sagan put his brilliant scientist's mind at work and allowed his imagination merge with accurate information about the space.

What if the unexpected happens and an actual contact is made?

What would the message be? How would we be able to understand it? What could it contain?

The result of his thinking was given to the public as a novel Contact (1985) and made into a Hollywood movie Contact in 1997 with Jodie Foster as Eleanor Arroway. 
The book was highly successful:
In 1981, Simon & Schuster gave Sagan a $2 million advance on the novel. At the time, "the advance was the largest ever made for a book that had not yet been written." The first printing was 265,000 copies. In the first two years it sold 1,700,000 copies. It was a main selection of Book-of-the-Month-Club. The novel won the Locus Award for Best First Novel in 1986.

The signal
Eleanor "Ellie" Arroway is the director of "Project Argus," in which scores of radio telescopes in New Mexico have been dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Sagan named the novel's protagonist, Eleanor Arroway, after two people: Eleanor Roosevelt, a "personal hero" of Sagan's wife, Ann Druyan, and Voltaire, whose last name was Arouet.

The project discovers the first confirmed communication from extraterrestrial beings. 
  • The communication is a repeating series of the first 261 prime numbers (a sequence of prime numbers is a commonly predicted first message from alien intelligence, since mathematics is considered a "universal language," and it is conjectured that algorithms that produce successive prime numbers are sufficiently complicated so as to require intelligence to implement them). 
  • Further analysis reveals that a second message is contained in polarization modulation of the signal
  • The second message is a retransmission of Earth's first television signal broadcast powerful enough to escape the ionosphere and be received in interstellar space; in this case, Adolf Hitler's opening speech at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.
  • A third message is discovered containing over 30,000 pages describing plans for a machine that appears to be a kind of highly advanced vehicle, with seats for five human beings. But they cannot understand the third message until they find the fourth message, a primer hidden in phase modulation. The primer allows them to translate the alien language to human language.
Such a message was surely sent by someone whose mind works in a way we humans can recognize. It contains the blueprint for an advanced vehicle with seats for five humans so this contact is actually a door opening to interstellar transportation and "close encounter of the third kind.

Not necessarily a positive contact...
Very interestingly Carl Sagan did not see the possibility of close encounter necessarily as a benevolent event a la Spielberg's famous film. After all, perhaps there are ET scientists out there looking for specimens stupid enough to enter the trap and to get into something horrible.
The scene where the NASA scientists give Arroway the "cyanide pill" caused some controversy during production and also when the film came out. Gerald D. Griffin, the film's NASA advisor, insisted that NASA has never given any astronaut a cyanide pill "just in case," and that if an astronaut truly wished to commit suicide in space, all he or she would have to do is cut off their oxygen supply.

However, Carl Sagan insisted that NASA did indeed give out cyanide pills and they did it for every mission an astronaut has ever flown. Zemeckis said that because of the two radically different assertions, the truth is unknown, but he left the suicide pill scene in the movie as it seemed more suspenseful that way and it was also in line with Sagan's beliefs and vision of the film.

Snake-oil preacher
The cult leader
Kingdom of God media
Carl Sagan's critical view on religions is clearly visible especially in the movie characterization of a self-proclaimed doomsday prophet - a portrait of a hateful, scary and lying religious preacher, cult leader, out there to fight the truth revealed by SETI.

Sadly, there are such religious people in the USA and around the world on which this caricature is based. But when this is the only religious aspect in the movie it leaves a rather bad after-taste of lack of balance and perception of the meaning of religions.

Sagan and Verne
Perhaps we are not too far off if we call Carl Sagan the Jules Verne of our times! But while Verne was mostly interested in the technical details of an imagined trip to the Moon Sagan included in Contact also deeper philosophical and moral issues and was inspired in this, among others, by Voltaire.

Contact describes a Mars rover robot getting stuck in sand dunes - an unintended prophecy that actually happened to a NASA rover in 2009.

It will be so interesting for our - or some future - generation to see how accurate Sagan's imagination of the First contact turns out to be!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Neon-5, thin galaxies and Dr. Shobita Satyapal

NGC 3621 some 22 million light years from us
Heavy-weight elliptical galaxies have bulking central bars shining so brightly in the deep space. In their center exists one of the more amusing misnomers of Astronomy, supermassive black hole, which is so called as light cannot escape from its enormous gravity field. But around the core of the galaxy there is plenty going on releasing photons and "Black holes" are not black at all - actually they among the brightest things seen in the cosmos.

But what about skinny spiral galaxies that do not have such a brilliantly shining central bulk? Are they exceptions to the rules science has established about the forming of galaxies missing the black hole?

Paul Rincon published in BBC Science Nature an interesting article on work done on this question by Dr. Shobita Satuapal and her associates. The article was published online 11 January 2008.  Here are some excerpts from it; you can read the entire article from here.
Now, Shobita Satyapal, of George Mason University in Virginia, US, and her colleagues have discovered eight active supermassive black holes in skinny galaxies with minimal star bulges.

"Prior to this discovery there was only one example of an active black hole in a galaxy with no bulge," said Dr Satyapal.

"These observations show that it's not an anomaly for a super-thin galaxy to harbour a supermassive black hole. This constitutes the best evidence yet that a bulge is not a necessary ingredient for a black hole to exist and grow."
BBC Science
How would she know?
Dr. Shobita Satyapal, Physicist
NASA Goddard Space Flight Cent
I may be partial to women in Astronomy but it seems to me that associate professor Shobita Satyapal is an exceptionally smart human being. For in studying the data from Spitzer she picked an unusual fingerpint among all the elements in the spectra of galaxy light, neon-5. This must have been a somewhat brave move in Astrophysics since the creation of neon isotopes is currently still "a hot scientific debate" - which is a polite way of saying "we do not know enough about it".
In this case, Dr Satyapal discovered the unique fingerprint of neon-5, a highly ionised form of this element. Stars are incapable of producing neon-5 - only a feeding black hole has the energy to excite the element to this ionised state.
BBC Science

Seeing through dust 
"Prior to this discovery there was only one example of an active black hole in a galaxy with no bulge," said Dr Satyapal.

"These observations show that it's not an anomaly for a super-thin galaxy to harbour a supermassive black hole. This constitutes the best evidence yet that a bulge is not a necessary ingredient for a black hole to exist and grow."

These have been difficult to detect in the past, because bulgeless galaxies also tend to be very dusty. The dust lets little visible light escape.

But by looking at objects in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, astronomers are able to see through cosmic dust. Using Spitzer, they were able to detect the signatures of active black holes in galaxies millions of light-years from Earth.

Black holes swallow matter in their vicinity. But these "feeding" black holes also spit out high energy light that ionises much of the gas in the core of a galaxy.

In this case, Dr Satyapal discovered the unique fingerprint of neon-5, a highly ionised form of this element. Stars are incapable of producing neon-5 - only a feeding black hole has the energy to excite the element to this ionised state.

The researchers are to publish their research in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal. BBC Science

Scientific publications
The following articles give some idea about the scope and methods of Dr. Satyapal and her colleagues

A Chandra View Of NGC 3621: A Bulgless Galaxy Hosting An AGN In Its Eearly Phase? Mario Gliozzi, Shobita Satyapal, Michael Eracleous, Lev Titarchuk and Chi C. Cheung The Astrophysical Journal 700 (2) 1759. 2009
A Spitzer Spectroscopic Survey of Low-Ionization Nuclear Emission-Line Regions: Characterization of the Central Source R. P. Dudik, S. Satyapal and D. Marcu The Astrophysical Journal 691 (2)1501. 2009
The Incidence of Active Galactic Nuclei in Pure Disk Galaxies:The Spitzer View S. Satyapal, T. Böker, W. Mcalpine, et al. The Astrophysical Journal704 (1) 439. 2009
A joint mid-infrared spectroscopic and X-ray imaging investigation of LINER galaxies S. Satyapal, R. M. Sambruna, and R. P. Dudik Astronomy & Astrophysics 414 (3) 825. 2004
Mid Infrared Fine Structure Line Ratios in Active Galactic Nuclei Observed with the Spitzer IRS: Evidence for Extinction by the Torus R. P. Dudik, J. C. Weingartner, S. Satyapal, et al. The Astrophysical Journal 664 (1) 71. 2007
Spitzer Uncovers Active Galactic Nuclei Missed by Optical Surveys in Seven Late‐Type Galaxies S. Satyapal, D. Vega, R. P. Dudik, N. P. Abel and T. Heckman The Astrophysical Journal677 (2) 926. 2008
A Chandra Snapshot Survey of Infrared‐bright LINERs: A Possible Link Between Star Formation, Active Galactic Nucleus Fueling, and Mass Accretion R. P. Dudik, S. Satyapal, M. Gliozzi and R. M. Sambruna The Astrophysical Journal 620 (1) 113. 2005
The Link between Star Formation and Accretion in LINERs: A Comparison with Other Active Galactic Nucleus Subclasses S. Satyapal, R. P. Dudik, B. O’Halloran and M. Gliozzi The Astrophysical Journal633(1) 86. 2005

Neon, primordial and nucleogenic

Mill Mountain Star Neon Lights
There is an excellent article on neon in wikipedia. Here are selected passages from it (rearranged and formatted by me):

Neon is a chemical element with symbol Ne and atomic number 10.

Neon is the first p-block noble gas. Neon is generally considered to be inert. No true neutral compounds of neon are known. It is commercially extracted from air, in which it is found in trace amounts.

Although neon is a very common element in the universe, it is rare on Earth; it is the fifth most abundant chemical element in the universe by mass, after hydrogen, helium, oxygen, and carbon.

Its relative rarity on Earth, like that of helium, is due to its relative lightness, high vapor pressure at very low temperatures, and chemical inertness, all properties which tend to keep it from being trapped in the condensing gas and dust clouds which resulted in the formation of smaller and warmer solid planets like Earth.

Stable forms of neon are produced in stars.

It is created in fusing helium and oxygen in the alpha process, which requires temperatures above 100 megakelvins and masses greater than 3 solar masses.

A colorless, inert noble gas under standard conditions, neon gives a distinct reddish-orange glow when used in either low-voltage neon glow lamps or in high-voltage discharge tubes or neon advertising signs. It is commercially extracted from air, in which it is found in trace amounts. Neon is monatomic, making it lighter than the molecules of diatomic nitrogen and oxygen which form the bulk of Earth's atmosphere; a balloon filled with neon will rise in air, albeit more slowly than a helium balloon

Neon isotopes
Neon has three stable isotopes: 20Ne (90.48%), 21Ne (0.27%) and 22Ne (9.25%).

21Ne and 22Ne are partly primordial and partly nucleogenic (i.e., made by nuclear reactions of other nuclides with neutrons or other particles in the environment) and their variations in natural abundance are well understood.

In contrast, 20Ne (the chief primordial isotope made in stellar nucleosynthesis) is not known to be nucleogenic or radiogenic (save for cluster decay production, which is thought to produce only a small amount). The causes of the variation of 20Ne in the Earth have thus been hotly debated.

The principal nuclear reactions which generate nucleogenic neon isotopes start with magnesium
  • start from 24Mg and 25Mg, 
  • which produce 21Ne and 22Ne, respectively, after neutron capture and immediate emission of an alpha particle. 
The neutrons that produce the reactions are mostly produced by secondary spallation reactions from alpha particles, in turn derived from uranium-series decay chains.

The net result yields a trend towards lower 20Ne/22Ne and higher 21Ne/22Ne ratios observed in uranium-rich rocks such as granites.

Neon-21 may also be produced in a nucleogenic reaction, when
  • 20Ne absorbs a neutron from various natural terrestrial neutron sources.
In addition, isotopic analysis of exposed terrestrial rocks has demonstrated the cosmogenic (cosmic ray) production of 21Ne.

This isotope is generated by spallation reactions on magnesium, sodium, silicon, and aluminium. By analyzing all three isotopes, the cosmogenic component can be resolved from magmatic neon and nucleogenic neon.

This suggests that neon will be a useful tool in determining cosmic exposure ages of surface rocks and meteorites.

Non-atmospheric source, Sun?
Similar to xenon, neon content observed in samples of volcanic gases is enriched in 20Ne, as well as nucleogenic 21Ne, relative to 22Ne content.

The neon isotopic content of these mantle-derived samples represents a non-atmospheric source of neon. The 20Ne-enriched components are attributed to exotic primordial rare gas components in the Earth, possibly representing solar neon.

Elevated 20Ne abundances are found in diamonds, further suggesting a solar neon reservoir in the Earth.

Read the entire article on Neon from wikipedia

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Parkes Radio Telescope Webcam

Thursday, 19th July, 2012 @ 14:50 (+1000)
Credit: CSIRO

CSIRO Pakes Observatory. "The Dish", Australia's famous Parkes 64 meter Radio Telescope has been operational in top Astronomy since 1961.

This impressive instrument was uniquely used to broadcast live TV signals broadcast from the Moon by the Apollo 11 mission.

Another Space Theology bookmark

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What the HECC?

NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division NAS

"NASA's High-End Computing Capabilities (HECC) Project provides world-class computing, storage, and visualization resources to users across the nation to accelerate the development of innovative technologies, ensure new scientific discoveries, develop complex engineering systems, and reduce risks in support of NASA missions."

Pleiades Supercomputer (SGI)
"Pleiades, which ranks 11th on the TOP500 list of the world's most powerful supercomputers, represents NASA's state-of-the-art technology for meeting the agency's supercomputing requirements, enabling NASA scientists and engineers to conduct modeling and simulation for NASA missions. This distributed-memory SGI ICE cluster is connected with InfiniBand ® in a dual-plane hypercube technology."

"The system contains the following types of Intel® Xeon® processors: E5-2670 (Sandy Bridge), X5670 (Westmere), X5570 (Nehalem), and E5472 (Harpertown). Pleiades is named after the astronomical open star cluster of the same name."

Columbia Supercomputer (SGI)
"The Columbia supercomputer has made it possible for NASA to achieve breakthroughs in science and engineering for all of the agency's mission areas, particularly in space exploration. When the original system was installed in 2004, it was ranked second on the list of the top most powerful supercomputers in the world at 63 teraflop/s."

"As the Pleiades supercomputer expands, Columbia is gradually being phased out, to be replaced with next-generation technology."

Archival Storage System (SGI)
"The NAS high-end computing environment includes a 115-petabyte tape storage system that allows science and engineering users to archive and retrieve important results quickly, reliably, and securely. Data stored on RAID is migrated to tapes as needed. Copies of users' data are written to two separate tape media in silos located in two different buildings. SGI's Data Migration Facility (DMF) and Tape Management Facility (TMF) manage data migration (disk-to-tape) and de-migration (tape-to-disk), respectively."
Archival Storage System

Networking Resources (Cisco)
"Our local-area network (LAN) supports high-speed connections and data transfers for all HECC supercomputing systems, visualization systems, and other resources. The LAN is composed almost entirely of Cisco Systems® equipment and has a 10 gigabit (GigE) Ethernet backbone supporting both 1 G and 10 G hosts."

"Nearly 10 miles of fiber and 10 miles of copper cabling are currently in use for Ethernet and fiber channel networks, and up to 20 miles of each could be supported by the infrastructure."

Visualization System: hyperwall-2 (Colfax International) 
"Our in-house developed hyperwall-2 visualization system—one of the largest and most powerful in the world—provides a supercomputer-scale environment to visualize and explore the very large, high-dimensional datasets produced by NASA supercomputers and instruments."

"The hyperwall-2 helps researchers display, analyze, and study high-dimensional datasets in meaningful ways, allowing the use of different tools, viewpoints, and parameters to display the same data or datasets."

"128-screen tiled LCD wall arranged in 8x16 configuration; measures 23-ft. wide by 10-ft. high." (7 x 3 meters).

Creation in action - Disk Galaxy Formation

Disk Galaxy Forms. Supercomputer simulation NASA APOD
Video Credit: Fabio Governato et al. (U. Washington), N-Body Shop,
NASA Advanced Supercomputing
"Strange and fascinating cosmic dance"

Another Space Theology bookmark
Creation in action: Supercomputer simulation of the formation of a disk galaxy.

Under no circumstances - Do not miss this one!


Where's the Theology of it?
Well, first of all, seeing in front of your eyes the evolution of a disk galaxy shape in Giga light years is an awesome and highly educational experience. This NASA Advanced Supercomputing video gives what is very difficult for us mere mortals to visualize without help of such simulation. Surely there are mathematicians who can see such clouds of pixels in their mind just on the basis of mathematical thinking but I think even they benefit from the number crunching assistant provided by the binary machines.

Secondly, Fabio Governato and his friends who produced this magnificent simulation may have had to add some input into the calculations. Let me dare to suggest that possibly they even had to do some experimentation and tweaking of calculations and parameters in order to produce such a fabulous simulation of a bar galaxy. For example, it is said that the simulation includes Dark energy although not showing it and the central black holes in the centre of the galaxies must provide some computational complexities of their own.

The estimated age of the Universe is one of the parameters suggesting a time framework for the expected end result.

Or am I wrong, and all it took was to provide a resource for a chaotic sea of pixel and simulated laws of nature used by the supercomputer to creat the shape all by itself? Automatically, so to say... without human intelligence.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Colossal Christ and Saint Patrick

Interior of St Patrick Cathedral Dublin (1199 AD)
National Shrine of Ireland
photo Historical Cathedrals
According to critical analysis Saint Patrick (386-460), the Apostle of Ireland, wrote himself the Confessio and Epistola (Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus). These two are the only authentic documents surviving from his own writings. Early on in his Confessio Saint Patrick confesses his Christian faith in a way that includes strong rejection of Arianism without mentioning him. The controversy about Arius' teachings was raging in the Church beyond the borders of Rome and at the time of Saint Patrick the Gothic Kingdoms were still Arian.

In a 2011 post Jesus le Petite Prince I wrote about the fundamental change in our perspective when we look at the Universe through our modern instruments. Once we figure out the place of planet Earth in the enormous Cosmic context modern space sciences have revealed, the ruler of our planet is a diminutive character, indeed!

Deacon Arius was a rationalist more than a theologian and he reasoned that if Son was born of Father there must have been time when the Son did not yet exist. Arius also emphasized the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John 14:28 "Father is greater then me".

There is no surviving Arian confession of faith summarizing his views that I know about but something of it has survived in the confession of Wulfila, the Apostle of the Goths, which displays how dominant was the Arian intellectual play on the relation between Father and Son.

It is therefore very educational and interesting to hear how Saint Patrick emphasizes the divinity of Jesus Christ when confessing his Trinitarian faith:
This is because there is no other God, nor will there ever be, nor was there ever, except God the Father. He is the one who was not begotten, the one without a beginning, the one from whom all beginnings come, the one who holds all things in being – this is our teaching.

And his son, Jesus Christ, whom we testify has always been, since before the beginning of this age, with the father in a spiritual way. He was begotten in an indescribable way before every beginning. Everything we can see, and everything beyond our sight, was made through him.

He became a human being; and, having overcome death, was welcomed to the heavens to the Father. The Father gave him all power over every being, both heavenly and earthly and beneath the earth. Let every tongue confess that Jesus Christ, in whom we believe and whom we await to come back to us in the near future, is Lord and God.

He is judge of the living and of the dead; he rewards every person according to their deeds. He has generously poured on us the Holy Spirit the gift and promise of immortality, who makes believers and those who listen to be children of God and co-heirs with Christ.

This is the one we acknowledge and adore – one God in a trinity of the sacred name.
The Confessio of Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick is extraordinarily biblical writer and his Confessio contains interwoven in his text over 500 references to the Scriptures. The quoted passage refers, among other verses, Saint Paul's Letter to the Colossians
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
St Paul's Epistle to the Colossians 1:15-17 NIV
Everything we can see, and everything beyond our sight, was made through him.

For us today this "everything" means the entire world as modern natural sciences teach us. Saint Patrick gives us in his confession of faith a truly Colossal Christ!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Orion nebula - Hubble view

Orion Nebula. NASA APOD July 15, 2012

Space Theology bookmark referring to an exceptionally fabulous Hubble space telescope photo of Orion Nebula.


Dont' miss it!

Here is an excerpt from the APOD text introducing the image
Few cosmic vistas excite the imagination like the Orion Nebula. Also known as M42, the nebula's glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1,500 light-years away.

The Orion Nebula offers one of the best opportunities to study how stars are born partly because it is the nearest large star-forming region, but also because the nebula's energetic stars have blown away obscuring gas and dust clouds that would otherwise block our view - providing an intimate look at a range of ongoing stages of starbirth and evolution.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Halogens in space - Astatine

Wikipedia tells that
Astatine ( from the Greek astatos ("unstable")) – is a radioactive chemical element with the chemical symbol At and atomic number 85.

Any astatine that was present at the Earth's formation has long since decayed, and the minute amounts of astatine existing currently have formed through the decay of heavier elements. It occurs on Earth only as the result of the radioactive decay of certain heavier elements.
There is no data indicating that astatine occurs in stars.

All of its isotopes are short-lived; the most stable is astatine-210, with a half-life of 8.1 hours. Accordingly, much less is known about astatine than most other elements. Six astatine isotopes, with mass numbers of 214 to 219, are present in nature as the products of various decay routes of heavier elements, but neither the most stable isotope of astatine (with mass number 210) nor astatine-211 (which is used in medicine) is produced naturally.

The observed properties are consistent with it being a heavier analog of iodine; many other properties have been estimated based on this resemblance. Elemental astatine has never been viewed, because a mass large enough to be seen (by the naked human eye) would be immediately vaporized by the heat generated by its own radioactivity. Astatine may be dark, or it may have a metallic appearance and be a semiconductor, or it may even be a metal. It is likely to have a much higher melting point than does iodine, on par with those of bismuth and polonium.

Astatine was first produced by Dale R. Corson, Kenneth Ross MacKenzie, and Emilio Segrè at the University of California, Berkeley in 1940. Three years later it was found in nature, although it is the least abundant element in the Earth's crust among the non-transuranic elements after berkelium, with an estimated total amount of less than 28 grams (1 oz) at any given time. 
Read the entire article from wikipedia

Halogens in space - Iodine

Wikipedia tells
Iodine is a chemical element with symbol I and atomic number 53. The name is from Greek ἰοειδής ioeidēs, meaning violet or purple, due to the color of elemental iodine vapor.

Iodine is rare in the solar system and Earth's crust (47–60th in abundance); however, iodide salts are often very soluble in water. Iodine occurs in slightly greater concentrations in seawater than in rocks, 0.05 vs. 0.04 ppm. Iodine is found on Earth mainly as the highly water-soluble iodide I-, which concentrates it in oceans and brine pools.

Like the other halogens, free iodine occurs mainly as a diatomic molecule I2, and then only momentarily after being oxidized from iodide by an oxidant like free oxygen.

However, its presence in ocean water has given it a role in biology. It is the heaviest essential element utilized widely by life in biological functions (only tungsten, employed in enzymes by a few species of bacteria, is heavier).

Iodine's relatively high atomic number, low toxicity, and ease of attachment to organic compounds have made it a part of many X-ray contrast materials in modern medicine. Iodine has only one stable isotope. A number of iodine radioisotopes are also used in medical applications.

Iodine is required by higher animals, which use it to synthesize thyroid hormones, which contain the element. Because of this function, radioisotopes of iodine are concentrated in the thyroid gland along with nonradioactive iodine. The radioisotope iodine-131, which has a high fission product yield, concentrates in the thyroid, and is one of the most carcinogenic of nuclear fission products.

Iodine's rarity in many soils, due to initial low abundance as a crust-element, and also leaching of soluble iodide by rainwater, has led to many deficiency problems in land animals and inland human populations. Iodine deficiency affects about two billion people and is the leading preventable cause of intellectual disabilities.

Structure and bonding
Structure of solid iodine
Iodine normally exists as a diatomic molecule with an I-I bond length of 270 pm, one of the longest single bonds known.

The I2 molecules tend to interact via the weak van der Waals force called the London Forces, and this interaction is responsible for the higher melting point compared to more compact halogens, which are also diatomic. Since the atomic size of Iodine is larger, its melting point is higher.

The solid crystallizes as orthorhombic crystals. The I-I bond is relatively weak, with a bond dissociation energy of 36 kcal/mol, and most bonds to iodine are weaker than for the lighter halides. One consequence of this weak bonding is the relatively high tendency of I2 molecules to dissociate into atomic iodine.
Read the entire article from wikipedia

Halogens in space -Bromine

Wikipedia tells
Bromine (from Greek: βρῶμος, brómos, meaning "stench (of he-goats)") is a chemical element with the symbol Br, and atomic number of 35. It is in the halogen group (17). Elemental bromine is a fuming red-brown liquid at room temperature, corrosive and toxic, with properties between those of chlorine and iodine. Free bromine does not occur in nature, but occurs as colorless soluble crystalline mineral halide salts, analogous to table salt. Bromine has no known essential role in human or mammalian health.

Bromine is rarer than about three-quarters of elements in the Earth's crust; however, the high solubility of bromide ion has caused its accumulation in the oceans, and commercially the element is easily extracted from brine pools, mostly in the United States, Israel and China. About 556,000 tonnes were produced in 2007, an amount similar to the far more abundant element magnesium. Bromine is the 62nd most common element on Earth.
Read the entire article from wikipedia

Halogens in space - Chlorine

Wikipedia tells
Chlorine (from Ancient Greek: χλωρóς khlôros "pale green") is a chemical element with symbol Cl and atomic number 17. It is the second lightest halogen after fluorine. Chlorine is in the halogen group (17). The element forms diatomic molecules under standard conditions, called dichlorine. It has the highest electron affinity and the third highest electronegativity of all the elements; for this reason, chlorine is a strong oxidizing agent.

In the interstellar medium, chlorine is produced in supernovae via the r-process.

In nature, chlorine is found primarily as the chloride ion, a component of the salt that is deposited in the earth or dissolved in the oceans — about 1.9% of the mass of seawater is chloride ions. Even higher concentrations of chloride are found in the Dead Sea and in underground brine deposits.

Most chloride salts are soluble in water, thus, chloride-containing minerals are usually only found in abundance in dry climates or deep underground. In the Earth's crust, chlorine is present at average concentrations of about 126 parts per million, predominantly in such minerals as halite (sodium chloride), sylvite (potassium chloride), and carnallite (potassium magnesium chloride hexahydrate). Over 2000 naturally occurring organic chlorine compounds are known.
Read the entire article from wikipedia

Halogens in space - Fluorine

Wikipedia tells
From the perspective of cosmology, fluorine is relatively rare with 400 ppb in the universe. Within stars, any fluorine that is created is rapidly eliminated through nuclear fusion: either with hydrogen to form oxygen and helium, or with helium to make neon and hydrogen. The presence of fluorine at all—outside of temporary existence in stars—is somewhat of a mystery because of the need to escape these fluorine-destroying reactions.

Three theoretical solutions to the mystery exist. In type II supernovae, atoms of neon are hit by neutrinos during the explosion and converted to fluorine. In Wolf-Rayet stars (blue stars over 40 times heavier than the Sun), a strong solar wind blows the fluorine out of the star before hydrogen or helium can destroy it. In asymptotic giant branch (a type of red giant) stars, fusion reactions occur in pulses and convection lifts fluorine out of the inner star. Only the red giant hypothesis has supporting evidence from observations.

In space, fluorine commonly combines with hydrogen to form hydrogen fluoride. This compound has been suggested as a proxy to enable tracking reservoirs of hydrogen in the universe. HF emits radiation that is more easily detected than that of hydrogen. (Currently carbon monoxide is used as the proxy for hydrogen.)

Even though elemental fluorine, due to its chemical activity, does not exist in its elementary state on Earth, it can be found in the interstellar medium. Fluorine cations have been seen in planetary nebulae and in stars, including our Sun.
Read the entire article from wikipedia


In ancient Greece Lepiccus and Democritus suggested a model in which atoms colliding randomly in space create clumps that differ from each other even they are made of the same undivided particles and that these clumps give matter the attributes we observe such as hardness, smell, color and so on. The model they figured out simply by thinking without any possibility of experimentally studying atoms strikingly resembles the atomic theory of today and not by chance are these particles called by the name they coined. The clumps of atoms contain the idea of molecules which are combinations of atoms.

Modern atomic theory understands that atoms are not identical building blocks but contain different number of protons, neutrons and electrons in their cores which can also be divided. But perhaps we may forgive Democritus for not figuring that out. Periodic table is a classification of the known materials that consist of "clumps" in the cores. Astronomers call all elements metals that are heavier than hydrogen and helium with one and two protons in the nucleus.  

The enormous world of molecule "clumps" is way more complicated than the single atomic model thought out by these ancient Greek natural philosophers and there is nothing random about them. But the challenge of the genius of the past still remains: despite of the enormous advances in studying the building blocks God of Israel has used to build the world we still have almost know idea how atomic and molecular structures and "clumps" translate into attributes of matter.

How come that the position of an element in the periodic table also defines its state? Why is helium gas and carbon "metal" (astronomers call "metals" all elements that are heavier than helium).

Work goes on in studying matter and recently there has been particular interest in halogens
The halogens or halogen elements are a series of nonmetal elements from group 17 of the periodic table, comprising fluorine (F), chlorine (Cl), bromine (Br), iodine (I), and astatine (At). The artificially created element 117 (ununseptium), may also be a halogen. The group of halogens is the only periodic table group which contains elements in all three familiar states of matter at standard temperature and pressure.

Halogen bonding (XB) is the non-covalent interaction that occurs between a halogen atom (Lewis acid) and a Lewis base. Although halogens are involved in other types of bonding (e.g. covalent), halogen bonding specifically refers to when the halogen acts as an electrophilic species.
Top research on molecular bonding
State of Finland supports outstanding scientists by appointing them to four year post of an Academy Professor. Kari Rissanen Ph.D. FRSC from Jyväskylä University Department of Chemistry was recently chosen for a rare consecutive second term. What is particularly interesting in his work is the central role halogen bonding has in advancing science.We see also from this work that understanding how structure and bonding affect the properties of matter is not all that simple.
Kari Rissanen has been Academy Professor in 2008–2012 at the University of Jyväskylä and has now been re-appointed for a second term. His research field is supramolecular chemistry, nanochemistry and X-ray crystallography. Within supramolecular chemistry, Rissanen is a well-renowned expert, both in structural research and synthetics. The focus of his research is on weak intermolecular interactions in solid state materials, solutions and gaseous phases. Special attention is paid to hydrogen and halogen bonds and the coordination chemistry of transition metals. The novel nano- and supramolecular systems that Rissanen has constructed are built on weak intermolecular interactions. Halogen bonding is a relatively new concept, and Rissanen’s contribution has been crucial to understanding its mechanisms and potential to use it.

Rissanen’s aim is to construct novel encapsulated supramolecules by applying metal coordination or halogen bonding and new halogen-bonded and organic two- or three-dimensional frameworks. These new lines of inquiry are expected to result in major advances and breakthroughs in supramolecular chemistry and nanochemistry.
Finnish Academy
In 2010 the work of the international team to which Rissanen belongs and which is led by professor Virgil Percec from Pennsylvania University was chosen as one of the scientific break-throughs in Chemistry : Self-Assembly of Janus Dendrimers into Uniform Dendrimersomes and Other Complex Architectures (Science)

Hopefully, research in halogen bonding will help humanity some day to understand how the structures of atoms and molecules determine their chemical and other characteristics. We can catalogue the attributes associated with structures and explain their functioning but where is the binding between the two, why bromium smells so bad?

Halogens and Theology?
You may, of course, ask what Theology has to do with all this? Well, to put it shortly, neither Victor nor Kari invented halogens, they are researching it and how it can be used and produced - but it is God of Israel who has created everything, including halogens, and His wisdom is so obvious in the making of these elements that we humans are really hard pressed in trying to catch up with that thinking. Theology reminds us of the Biblical truth and invites all of us to praise the One, who created these rather strange elements.

Tobit 12:7: It is honourable to reveal and confess the works of God.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Cotham Grammar School, a Teacher and Peter Higgs

News on Higgs boson
July 4 2012 Fabiola Gianotti and Joseph Incandela presented latest results from the experiments in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN and told the world that there is high enough statistical probability in experimental data to prove that Higgs boson exists. (Telegraph news)

In 1993 this elusive elementary particle assumed to exist by Standard Model theorists was nicknamed the God particle by Leon Lederman despite of opposition from Peter Higgs himself who as an Atheist was worried that such a term might offend religious people. (I think Lederman's first term, "the goddamn particle", would be more offending!).

Scholars getting their paper rejected by a respectable journal can take comfort from the following story how a little revising may improve the work
Higgs's original article presenting the model was rejected by Physics LettersWhen revising the article before resubmitting it to Physical Review Letters he added a sentence at the end, mentioning that it implies the existence of one or more new, massive scalar bosons, which do not form complete representations of the symmetry group; these are the Higgs bosons.
Nice intro to what is Higgs field/boson by Fermilab scientist Don Lincoln (youTube 3:27)

What has a Grammar School to do with particle physics?
Cotham School, Bristol, England
Art Anorak
Research of particle physics would have advanced anyway without young Peter Higgs going to a specific school. In the real world it happened so that Peter was sent to the Cotham Grammar School in Bristol, England (from 2001 Cotham School). His mother's simple decision had momentous consequences to the entire world.

Peter Higgs was born 29 May 1929 in Wallsend, North Tyneside, England. His father worked as a sound engineer for the BBC, and as a result of childhood asthma, together with the family moving around because of his father's job, and later the Second World War, Higgs missed some early schooling and was taught at home.

When his father relocated to Bedford, Higgs stayed behind with his mother in Bristol, and was largely raised there. He attended that city's Cotham Grammar School, where he was inspired by the work of one of the school's alumni, Paul Dirac, a founder of the field of quantum mechanics.

We see how significant for the entire world were the decisions by Peter's mother to stay in Bristol and to send her son to the eminent Secondary school. We can speculate what would have happened if all the family would have moved with the father to Bedford or if Peter was sent to Ashton Park School in Blackmoors Lane. But they stayed in Bristol and the boy was sent to Cotham Grammar School.

Not "just a teacher"
There probably is no such thing as "just a teacher". Every teacher has tremendous opportunity to affect the future of the pupils under his or her care. A teacher may miss that opportunity for various reasons but in general, so I believe, most secondary school teachers are aware of their importance.

In the case of Peter Higgs we can see a chain reactions where people are the catalysts.

God gives the baby to the parents -> parents raise Peter -> mother decides to put him in a respected secondary school -> the school has hired Paul Dirac as a teacher -> Peter gets interested in quantum theory.... -> ... -> at Edinburgh University Higgs gets interested in mass.

Paul Dirac
Art Anorak
We can assume that the impact of teacher Paul Dirac on the future of Peter Higgs - and the entire world with him - was decisive. He was not "just a teacher" and probably the lessons he gave to the pupils at Cotham Grammar School were not "just another lesson". In fact, he may have been a bit strange teacher in the way some geniuses are strange.

Graham Farmelo, “The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius” (Faber and Faber 2009)

Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac, OM, FRS. 8 August 1902 – 20 October 1984) was an English theoretical physicist who made fundamental contributions to the early development of both quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics. He held the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, was a member of the Center for Theoretical Studies, University of Miami, and spent the last decade of his life at Florida State University.
Among other discoveries, he formulated the Dirac equation, which describes the behaviour of fermions, and predicted the existence of antimatter.
Dirac shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1933 with Erwin Schrödinger, "for the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory."

Definitely not just another teacher - if there even is such a thing.

Update 30.12. 2012
Humility of a great scientist

another Space Theology bookmark Higgs honored

Monday, July 2, 2012

We are moving fast...

Kawasaki ZX-14 Ninja

On Saturday 30 June, 2012 Jorma Karjalainen broke the European speed record by riding a modified Kawasaki  ZX-14 motorcycle at the speed of 420 km/h on the tarmac of Joensuu airport, Finland (youTube).

For us regular mortals it is so nice just to sit and watch when a daring human risks his life for such a record or when someone speeds on a truly deadly nitro bike. But we only think that we are sitting still on the bench as sensory systems tell us when we are, in fact, moving very fast indeed.

Humanity has until very recently assumed that Earth is still while Sun and Moon and Stars move on the firmament above it as also the Bible tells us. Our senses gracefully hide from us that actually we are flying at dizzying speed in the space. In daily life we do not really need that knowledge and need for basic orientation that (false) feeling of sitting or standing still in one place.

Scientists have been using special instruments and making calculations to figure out what the light from space can tell us also about our absolute movements and speeds in the Universe.

Earth rotates around its axis giving us our familiar 24 hour Day. This corresponds to equatorial speed of 1,674.4 km/h.
- So while we are standing still  and all is calm we are still moving at the whopping speed of over one thousand and six hundred kilometres in an hour.

But this is not all. The fast rotating Earth has another movement and travels on its orbit around the Sun giving us our familiar 12 months Year. It has been calculated that this corresponds to the speed of 107,300 km/h.
- So while we are standing still and all is calm we are still flying around the Sun at the whopping speed of one hundred thousand kilometres in an hour.

But this is not all. Our Solar system is located in one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way. The entire galaxy is spinning around its centre once in 225 million years giving us the not so familiar galactic year.  Calculations suggest that the galaxy - and our Solar system in it - are spinning at the speed of 792,000 km/h.
- So while we are standing still and all is calm we are still moving around the centre of Milky Way at the whopping speed of seven hundred and ninety two kilometres in an hour.

But this is not all. Milky Way and the Local group to which it belongs is also moving in the space. Astronomers have estimated from the Cosmic Background Radiation CBR that our galaxy is flying away from the point of origins (Big Bang) at the speed of 2.1 million km/h.
- So while we are standing still and all is calm we are still flying in the space at the whopping speed of two million one hundred thousand kilometres in hour.And that speed is accelerating.

There is that cosmic speed limit, though - the speed of light 10 trillion km/hr

The problem is, as Albert Einstein explained, that when an object approaches that speed time itself changes. So it is an entirely new ball game at those limits depending who and where is measuring the speed.

Zoom Into The Center of Milkyway

An amazing European Southern Observatorio (ESO) video gives us a glimpse deep inside Milky Way. The center is in the direction of Sagittarius as shown in the screenshot above.
This zoom sequence stars with a view of the Milky Way. We zoom in towards the crowded central region, in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer). By shifting to an infrared red view we see through the dusty clouds in this direction and get a close up view of the objects orbiting the supermassive black hole that lies at the centre of the Milky Way. The final views show the motion of a newly-discovered gas cloud that is falling rapidly towards the central black hole.
Credit:  ESO/MPE/Nick Risinger

Andromeda Galaxy M31 in Celestia

Hubble photo of Andromeda M31
See "The most amazing Universe pictures" webpage

For Your Information, if you have not noticed it yet, the Celestia software package contains a truly spectacular 3D model of Andromeda Galaxy Messier 31.

There are so many excellent photos of our "near" neighbour in the Local Group like the unrivalled Hubble image above.  Celestia does not give you quite the photo realism in it but something else - the program lets you approach the hazy cloud of billions of stars to understand the distance and location of it and to rotate the view in 3D space for better understanding of the structure of this magnificent celestial object.

All you need to do to see it is to download the program, run it, navigate to Andromeda with a click or two and start admiring the model of the Galaxy. Space travel was never so easy or cheap - for the wonderful Celestia program is free and it takes you Andromeda in considerably less time than the 2.5 million ly it takes light to travel from there to Earth.