Archive for April, 2013

A recent Noel Carboni process of mostly mini-WASP test data (I used one scope for imaging whilst trying to set up the other two scopes).  This is Polaris the alpha star in Ursa Minor.  Although it looks like a single bright star it has two close companions and two more distant companions – it is also a Cepheid variable!  The green cross hairs at the 2 O’clock position from Polaris show the position of the celestial pole, the point which all the stars appear to rotate around.

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In 1973 when I was 19 I left home to start work at Harwell and also to take an HNC at Oxford Polytechnic (as it was then).  This was a time of great awakening for me, I had found the whole school experience to be a complete and utter waste of time and couldn’t wait for the day when I could leave.  Starting at Harwell was that day and was also the time when I discovered (for myself, no prompting from teachers) that learning could actually be a rewarding experience.  So it was in 1973 that I bought one of the many books that would transform my world-view, in a very positive way, forever.  1973 was the first publication of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmic Connection”.  Some 40 years later I have totally forgotten its contents and the original book is long gone – but I have on my desk an Anniversary issue which I am slowly re-reading, and I understand why it gave me such a buzz such a long time ago.

Today I finished reading “The Varieties of Scientific Experience” also by Carl Sagan, and Carl has done it yet again – I got the same buzz from reading this book that I got from reading the “Cosmic Connection” 40 years ago – thank you Carl 🙂

What can I say about “The Varieties of Scientific Experience”?  Firstly, I think this should be compulsory reading for GCSE schoolkids, those that have sufficient intelligence to follow the plot could go on to do good things.  Secondly, it should make an educational read for politicians and theologians alike – so maybe they wouldn’t like it very much.  Logical argument, beautifully written, and very humanistic with none of that highly annoying zealotry that we have come to associate with Richard Dawkins.  Carl – you are very sorely missed!

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Well this site is about Life, the Universe and Everything, so where better to bring this up?

I am just starting to read Carl Sagan’s “The varieties of scientific experience” and just in the first few pages it had me revisiting this old problem of mine.

Life as we know it, in all its forms is based on DNA – on this planet at least.  Life as we see it all around us has been undergoing evolution ever since it kicked off – I’m very happy with that.  What I was (and still am) very unhappy about is the apparent lack of DNA precursors.  DNA is a pretty complex molecule, are we meant to believe it just suddenly arrived, completely built and ready to go?  There is an analogy often made about this regarding a hurricane going through a metal scrap yard and creating a pocket watch – but the probabilities of course are much lower than this.  So, my initial naive way of thinking went like this, there must have been simpler DNA precursors which themselves underwent evolution to give us the DNA we see today.  Problem is, we don’t see any evidence of these precursors and we don’t see any life on this planet based on anything other than DNA.  I actually knew the answer to this one but still came up with the stupid idea anyway.  What is the answer?  The answer is, it’s DNA all the way back, right back to the beginning – the first forms of life on Earth were based on the same DNA structure, so there were no precursors, like turtles, it’s DNA all the way down.

Now I really do have a problem, but I also have a solution to the Fermi problem.  My problem is this.  What is the likelihood/probability of the DNA molecule coming together like that something like 4 billion years ago?  The observer’s answer is that is must be finite ‘cos here we are.  Finite yes, but how small a finite are we talking here?  10^-20?  10^-100?  10^ -Googol??

I have been heard to say on television (Chris Packham’s Inside Out BBC programme) that there is “life out there” – that the Universe is teeming with life.  I would like to change that one slightly in the view of this DNA business.  I don’t think there’s any life out there beyond this planet, none at all.  Nothing based on elements other than Carbon or molecules other than DNA – nothing.  There’s your answer to the Fermi problem.  We haven’t heard from them yet because there’s nobody out there calling.

This does create a rather important corollary.  We should be just a little more considerate and caring not only of each other, but all the creatures on this planet – and of course the planet itself.  Stupid boys with idiot haircuts spouting nonsense intended to upset the other people on this planet are not helping things along much.  It really is time to grow up – fast.

 

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A few weeks ago I was scrolling through the constellation Leo using “the Sky 6” planetarium program when an amazing numerical asterism flashed into view.  It looked quite unreal and I wondered if it would look as impressive in the flesh.  We haven’t exactly been blessed with much in the way of decent imaging weather lately, so impatient to see what this region of Leo looked like I downloaded the DSS data for the area.  Yep – it was every bit as impressive as it looked on the Sky 6.  So now it’s playing the waiting game, waiting for some clear sky.  Unbelievably, last night there was a 1-hour break in the clouds.  I have never moved so fast, nor been so excited about taking a deep-sky image before – I really wanted this one.  And I got it 🙂 🙂  O.K. so it’s not deep enough to show the faint fuzzies in the background, and there’s not enough subs to really clean up the background noise either – but it’s still one of my favourite images of all time 🙂 🙂

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If you read Einstein’s little book “The Meaning of Relativity” Appendix II, you will come across a most interesting remark (by Einstein).  With regard to his General Theory of Relativity he poses the following two questions:

1)  Should one admit the appearance of singularities?

2)  Should one postulate boundary conditions?

Einstein gives the following answer regarding singularities.  “As to the first question, it is my opinion that singularities must be excluded.  It does not seem reasonable to me to introduce into a continuum theory (my bold/italics) points (or lines, etc.) for which the field equations do not hold.  Moreover, the introduction of singularities is equivalent to postulating boundary conditions (which are arbitrary from the point of view of the field equations) on ‘surfaces’ which closely surround the singularities.  Without such a postulate the theory is much too vague.”

Whoops – that’s a biggy, did you see it?  Einstein says that his continuum theory (the General Theory of Relativity) shouldn’t allow the existence of Black-Holes.  Bit odd that he was to work on Black-Hole theory not too many years later, but that is by the by 🙂  What is more to the point is that, yes, his General Theory of Relativity IS a continuum theory, it is not a Quantum theory.  As such, although it gives extremely good agreement with observation, it is undoubtedly “incorrect” in the fine detail, maybe even where Black-Holes are concerned.  Interesting!

 

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See plenty of new Fractal renders on my Flickr Mathematical Structures page.

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The image of the month for April 2013 is the stunning red star Mu Cephei.  As you know, I really like the impact the bright single star images have, especially when the single star is something very special.

Mu Cephei is also known as Herschel’s Garnet star – it is a red supergiant in Cepheus and is one of the largest and most luminous stars in the whole of our galaxy!

Mu Cephei is approximately 1000 times larger than our Sun’s solar radius, and if it were placed in the Sun’s position, it would reach between the orbit of Jupiter and Saturn.

Mu Cephei’s apparent brightness varies without recognizable pattern between magnitude +3.62 and +5 in a period of 2 to 2.5 years. Mu Cephei is visually nearly 100,000 times brighter than the Sun, with an absolute visible magnitude of Mv = −7.6. Combining its absolute visible brightness, its infrared radiation, and correcting for interstellar extinction gives a luminosity of around 350,000 solar luminosities, making it one of the most luminous stars known.

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