A stunning new photograph from the Hubble Space Telescope of The Coma Cluster. For more information, check out the full story on Wired.
All text © 2009 Gary William Murning
Estimated to be no more than three times Jupiter’s mass, the planet, called Fomalhaut b, orbits the bright southern star Fomalhaut, located 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Austrinus (the Southern Fish).
Fomalhaut has been a candidate for planet hunting ever since an excess of dust was discovered around the star in the early 1980s by the US- UK-Dutch Infrared Astronomy Satellite (IRAS).
A truly amazing discovery. 25 light years! Wow. For once I am uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
There are many beautiful things in this universe of ours (if you don’t believe me, you could start by looking at my new picture on the About page… well, maybe not!), but the Lagoon Nebula has to be up there — literally — with the best of them.
In the constellation of Sagittarius, this classic deep-sky object is also known as Messier 8 or M8 for short. Named after the French astronomer and comet hunter Charles Messier it is a stellar nursery approximately 4,100 light-years away from Earth. And it’s beautiful.
“Both the LHC, and the space program, are vital if the human race is not to stultify, and eventually die out. Together they cost less than one tenth of a percent of world GDP. If the human race cannot afford that, it doesn’t deserve the epithet, human.”
I wasn’t going to write or post anything else on this subject as, frankly, all the doomsayers, conspiracy theorists and end of world prophets are beginning to get up my nose somewhat. I appreciate the hits they’re giving me, but I’d rather they were reading my novel samples instead! LOL
However, I today read this piece on BBC News’ LHC introduction and felt I had to quote at least part of it. The piece in question is an interview with Professor Brian Cox — the physicist, I believe, responsible for the Atlas experiment, a significant part of the work that will be done at the LHC. He pretty much says, with far more knowledge and authority than I, what I’ve been repeatedly trying to say over the past week or so.
“Q: Safety Concerns
Cern have been confident in the prediction that there are no major risks associated with the LHC’s operation. How robust is this prediction? In particular, how reliant is it upon unsupported theoretical assumptions? (Chris)
Okay, so how do we know this thing won’t make planet Earth implode then? (Stephen)
A: Let me answer all of these at once.
The LHC has absolutely no chance of destroying anything bigger than a few protons, let alone the Earth. This is not based on theoretical assumptions.
It is, of course, essential that all scientific research at the frontiers of knowledge, from genetics to particle physics, is subjected to the most rigorous scrutiny to ensure that our voyages into the unknown do not result in unforeseen, perhaps dangerous outcomes.
Cern, and indeed all research establishments, do this routinely and to the satisfaction of their host governments. In the case of the LHC, a report in plain English is available here:
For the record, the LHC collides particles together at energies far below those naturally occurring in many places in the Universe, including the upper atmosphere of our planet every second of every day.
If the LHC can produce micro black holes, for example, then nature is doing it right now by smashing ultra-high energy cosmic ray particles into the Earth directly above our heads with no discernable consequences.
The overwhelmingly most likely explanation for our continued existence in the face of this potentially prolific production of black holes is that they aren’t produced at all because there are either no extra dimensions in the Universe, or they aren’t set up right for us to see them.
If black holes are being produced, then next on the list of explanations for our continued existence is the broad theoretical consensus that sub-atomic black holes should fizzle back into the Universe very quickly, billionths of a second after they are created in a little flash of particles via a process known as Hawking radiation.
In other words, they evaporate away very quickly indeed. This process, which is perhaps Steven Hawking’s greatest contribution to theoretical physics, is on significantly firmer theoretical ground than the extra dimensions theories required to create the little black holes in the first place.
Even if Hawking is wrong, and therefore much of our understanding of modern physics is also wrong, the little black holes would be so tiny that they would rarely come close enough to a particle of matter in the Earth to eat it and grow.
And even if you don’t buy any of this, then you can still relax in the knowledge that we have no evidence anywhere in the Universe of a little black hole eating anything – not just Earth but the Sun and planets and every star we can see in the sky, including the immensely dense neutron stars and white dwarfs, remnants of ancient Suns that populate the sky in their millions and which because of their density would make great black hole food.
So – the only theoretical bit is in the proposition that you can make little black holes in the first place. From then on, observation tells us that these things either (a) don’t exist – the most likely explanation; or (b) exist, but do not eat neutron stars and are therefore harmless, probably because they evaporate away very quickly indeed!
I am in fact immensely irritated by the conspiracy theorists who spread this nonsense around and try to scare people. This non-story is symptomatic of a larger mistrust in science, particularly in the US, which includes intelligent design amongst other things.
The only serious issue is why so many people who don’t have the time or inclination to discover for themselves why this stuff is total crap have to be exposed to the opinions of these half-wits. (BC) “
I especially like that final paragraph! Well said, Brian.
The full interview can be seen here, with an interactive introduction to the LHC here.
Well, it seems that my post from last month, Tenth of September 2008 — The End of the World?, is currently the Hawt post on WordPress (well, it was… briefly!) I think this means it’s the top post, or one of them, something like that. 🙂 I’m sitting here watching my stats with my mouth open. The hysteria that seems to have prompted the number of hits that this post is getting is, frankly… well, words actually fail me. I’ve been discussing this for days, watching the cyber-panic grow and grow, and it’s starting to get rather exhausting LOL. Consequently, I’ve closed comments on the post in question and will only be letting a limited few through on related posts. I don’t like doing this, but I haven’t time to moderate it as much as I like to and I think most points have been covered adequately.
Now, can someone please tell me something to take my mind off the subject! I’ve got colliding particles coming out of my ears (not literally, of course… that really would be something!)
Given some of the discussions I’ve been having recently relating to this and this, I thought I’d share this story with you that I found here. I don’t know the name of the guy who originally told the story, but he goes by the nickname of The Human Neutrino. It perfectly sums up current attitudes to science (among some people), in my opinion, and is well worth thinking about.
About 6-7 years ago, I was in a philosophy class at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (good science/engineering school) and the teaching assistant was explaining Descartes. He was trying to show how things don’t always happen the way we think they will and explained that, while a pen always falls when you drop it on Earth, it would just float away if you let go of it on the Moon.
My jaw dropped a little. I blurted “What?!” Looking around the room, I saw that only my friend Mark and one other student looked confused by the TA’s statement. The other 17 people just looked at me like “What’s your problem?”
“But a pen would fall if you dropped it on the Moon, just more slowly.” I protested. “No it wouldn’t.” the TA explained calmly, “because you’re too far away from the Earth’s gravity.”
Think. Think. Aha! “You saw the APOLLO astronauts walking around on the Moon, didn’t you?” I countered, “why didn’t they float away?” “Because they were wearing heavy boots.” he responded, as if this made perfect sense (remember, this is a Philosophy TA who’s had plenty of logic classes).
By then I realized that we were each living in totally different worlds, and did not speak each others language, so I gave up. As we left the room, my friend Mark was raging. “My God! How can all those people be so stupid?”
I tried to be understanding. “Mark, they knew this stuff at one time, but it’s not part of their basic view of the world, so they’ve forgotten it. Most people could probably make the same mistake.” To prove my point, we went back to our dorm room and began randomly selecting names from the campus phone book. We called about 30 people and asked each this question:
1. If you’re standing on the Moon holding a pen, and you let go, will it a) float away, b) float where it is, or c) fall to the ground? About 47 percent got this question correct. Of the ones who got it wrong, we asked the obvious follow-up question:
2. You’ve seen films of the APOLLO astronauts walking around on the Moon, why didn’t they fall off?
About 20 percent of the people changed their answer to the first question when they heard this one! But the most amazing part was that about half of them confidently answered, “Because they were wearing heavy boots.”