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Caturday felid trifecta: Cat weather vanes; cat runs for rector at Scottish university; cats review a laser toy

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 7:30am

To introduce today’s trifecta, here’s a cartoon contributed by reader Blue:

Make everyday a Caturday! #cats #catsrule

— The Purrington Post (@purringtonpost) February 16, 2018

Reader Kevin called my attention to West Coast Weathervanes, which sells the eponymous product in custom designs. What’s nice about the place is that many of its weathervanes are shaped like cats, and they also have a page of cats who live in the shop or who have visited the shop. The page is called “Shop cats and friends“. Here are two screenshots of the page; they even had a visiting bobcat!


And they make the loveliest copper “Cats and kittens weathervanes“, which you can see at the link. If you’re in the market, how can you pass up one of these? (There are several others, including a bobcat.)


There’s a big kerfuffle in Scotland, as the students at Aberdeen University have seriously nominated a white cat, Buttons, to be the University’s rector. But they won’t allow him because of speciesism. Since the rector, I’m told, doesn’t have any real duties except to preside over meetings, it seems to me a cat could do the job well.  The Herald of Scotland has the story (click on the screenshot):

Some of the story:

HUNDREDS are protesting a ban over a cat becoming a candidate in a new University of Aberdeen Rector election.

A group of sixty students signed a rectorial nomination form supporting Buttons the campus moggie’s bid to become the new Rector in the wake of disillusionment with the election process.

The bid has already been officially rejected by the election co-ordinator because the cat was not human.

Now hundreds have supported an online campaign to have Buttons reinstated as a runner in the race to become Rector.

Here’s a poster for Buttons:

More news (my emphasis):

It comes just two months after the University was at the centre of an “abuse of power” row as it ratified a decision to scrap the Rector election over allegations of “dirty tricks” by the campaign for Maggie Chapman, the co-convenor of the Scottish Greens.

. . . The nomination explains that Buttons is a white cat who lives on campus and that campaigners decided that he is the “right individual to represent the interests of the student body”.

They said the reasons to vote for Buttons were that he lived locally, engages with the student daily, is a political and “is fluffy and friendly”.

“Buttons is a chance for the student population to truly stand up and have their say after such an unfortunate election last year. Buttons stands for change,” says the campaign group.

“Vote for Cats not Bureaucrats!”

But Phil Hannaford, the election returning officer has ruled that Buttons does not meet the requirements under the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator Guidelines to being a charity trustee.

Election co-ordinator Nicholas Edwards told the campaigners: “Both the returning officer and I appreciate Buttons’ interest in the role and wish him well in his future endeavours.”

What a patronizing answer! It’s time to stop this prejudice against felines holding positions for which they’re perfectly qualified.

Here’s the petition for his nomination. I think we readers can put it over the top—only 101 to go! Professor Ceiling Cat would be so pleased if it exceeded 500! (Of course this is just for the record; the University will not bend to their ridiculous stipulation that the Rector be a human). Click on the screenshot to sign (I have):


Finally cats and their staff review a laser toy—unfavorably. I’m told you shouldn’t use lasers as toys since the cats never get the satisfaction of a capture.

h/t: Kevin, Beckie, Grania

Categories: Science

Readers’ wildlife photos

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 6:15am

Today we have some herp photos sent by a new contributor. Let’s have a warm welcome for—Peter Uimonen! His notes are attached:

Here are two photos I took in Big Bend National Park in the summer of 2014. The first is of a Trans-Pecos Rat Snake (Bogertophis subocularis). They are not often seen because they are nocturnal. However, I came across this one out and about on a warm summer night.

The second is of a Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus). They are diurnal and quite common in the lowland desert of Big Bend, particularly along the Mule Ears Spring trail (one of my favorite hikes down there). This beautiful male specimen is in an aggressive posture.

Here are two photos from the Osa Peninsula [Costa Rica]; my wife and I are going back down there in June. The first is the helmeted iguana (Corytophanes cristatus). This was a lucky shot in two ways. First, it’s a gorgeous specimen (see the yellow and blue scaling along with the green). Second, they’re cryptic and hard to spot. I was the lucky one to spot it. As I recall even our local guide was impressed.

The second is of two green and black poison dart frogs (Dendrobates auratus) along with a Golfo Dulce poison dart frog (Phyllobates vittatus) below the root buttress. All three were competing for territory along this buttress.

Categories: Science

Yesterday’s optical allusion: the hearts are the same color!

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 5:15am

On yesterday’s Hili Dialogue, I posted this tweet, an optical illusion provided by Matthew:

There appear to be greenish hearts and bluish ones, though they are the same color.

— Akiyoshi Kitaoka (@AkiyoshiKitaoka) February 16, 2018

The hearts are said to be the same color, with the illusion of their being different colors due to the different-colored stripes running through them. The was lots of argument among the readers, and, as far as I can remember, no consensus.

I put this question to Matthew (why do you readers make me do these things?), and he responded by checking. Here’s his response and his image. The conclusion is that the hearts are both the same color: a blue-tinted green.

They are the same colour. I have been in and checked the image, see here. The left half, with the orange, is from the ‘green’ heart. The right half, with the pink, is from the ‘blue’ heart.

Another response showing the color identity:

They are on my phone..

— Kiva (@Safanver) February 17, 2018

I think this settles it: if Matthew’s satisfied, so am I. However, if you can prove to Matthew’s satisfaction that they are really of different colors, you will win an autographed copy of his latest (and terrific) book: Life’s Greatest Secret, about the cracking of the genetic code. The first one to disprove color identity of the hearts will get the book. You can email me or put your “proof” in the comments.

Matthew sets out the rules:

People need to download the original large image (attached) and then enlarge it to show they are differerent colours. They won’t be able to do it.
Categories: Science

Saturday: Hili dialogue

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 4:45am

It’s the weekend: Saturday, February 17, 2018, and the temperature in Chicago has dropped to well below freezing. It’s National “Drink Wine” Day (why the scare quotes?), and I’ll oblige at dinner. In Catholicism, it’s the Feast Day of Bernadette Soubirous, the girl who thought she saw the Virgin Mary at Lourdes. Sadly, the rest is history.

Not much happened on this day with respect to either births or history. I guess people don’t copulate in June (which is mysterious), and they don’t do much either, accounting for the absence of historical events—at least in the Northern Hemisphere.

On February 17, 1600, the philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned alive for heresy in Rome. And on this day in 1801, an electoral tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr was resolved in this way (from Wikipedia):

In 1800, the Democratic-Republican Party again nominated Jefferson for president and also nominated Aaron Burr for vice president. After the election, Jefferson and Burr both obtained a majority of electoral votes, but tied one another with 73 votes each. Since ballots did not distinguish between votes for president and votes for vice president, every ballot cast for Burr technically counted as a vote for him to become president, despite Jefferson clearly being his party’s first choice. Lacking a clear winner by constitutional standards, the election had to be decided by the House of Representatives pursuant to the Constitution’s contingency election provision.

Having already lost the presidential contest, Federalist Party representatives in the lame duck House session seized upon the opportunity to embarrass their opposition by attempting to elect Burr over Jefferson. The House deadlocked for 35 ballots as neither candidate received the necessary majority vote of the state delegations in the House (the votes of nine states were needed for a conclusive election). Jefferson achieved electoral victory on the 36th ballot, but only after Federalist Party leader Alexander Hamilton—who disfavored Burr’s personal character more than Jefferson’s policies—had made known his preference for Jefferson.

Of course a little more than three years later, Burr shot and killed Hamilton in a duel.

On this day in 1867, the first ship passed through the Suez Canal. On February 17, 1904, Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly” premiered at La Scala in Milan.  And in 1980, Krzysztof Wielicki and Leszek Cichy, two Polish mountaineers, made the first winter ascent of Mount Everest. Finally, on this day in 1996, world chess champion Garry Kasparov beat the “Deep Blue” supercomputer in a match. However, the computer won one game and there were two ties, so the final score was 4-2.

Those born on February 17 include geneticist and statistician Ronald Fisher (1890), Duane “Galloping” Gish (1921), Chaim Potok (1929), Gene Pitney (1940), Huey P. Newton (1942), and Michael Jordon (1963; he’s 55 today). Those who expired on this day include Giordano Bruno (1600; see above), Jan Swammerdam (1680), Heinrich Heine (1856), Geronimo (1909), Thelonius Monk (1982), and Mindy MCready (2013).

Here’s Gene Pitney singing my favorite of his songs, “Only Love Can Break a Heart”, written by Burt Bachrach and Hal David. Pitney made it a hit in 1962, but this more recent performance (the only live one I could find) is still pretty good. The original version starts at 2:28, so you get two for one. (A live medley of his hits, sung when he was young, is here.)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has found place to rest, but it’s in Andrzej’s chair:

Hili: You are sitting on me. A: You can find another place. Hili: No way.

In Polish:

Hili: Siedzisz na mnie.
Ja: Nadal możesz poszukać sobie innego miejsca.
Hili: Mowy nie ma.

Purely by chance, all of today’s tweets (save one) involve cats. Here’s one showing a woman’s crazy moggies:

This rescue cat is super protective of her toys and acts like a tough guy, but she's hardly the craziest cat in her family

Categories: Science

Americans would welcome alien life rather than fear it

Science News Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 2:00pm
Americans would probably take the discovery of extraterrestrial microbes pretty well.
Categories: Science

Another Olympic-watching kitten

Why Evolution is True Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 12:30pm

This morning we saw a cat trying to catch televised snowboarders from the Olympics. Now we have a reader’s cat, Minnie, who does the same thing, except to skiers.  Staff member Alexandra reports:

My grandkitty enjoying the Olympics. Minnie is a rescue, about 5 months old, living happily with my  nearby daughter and several Great Danes. She watched for quite a long time, with that delicate little paw interaction.

Here’s Minnie and her Great Dane housemate:

Categories: Science

Astrophotographer Captures Musk’s Tesla Roadster Moving Through Space

Universe Today Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 11:58am

An astrophotographer in California has captured images of Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster on its journey around our Sun. In the early morning of February 9th, Rogelio Bernal Andreo captured images of the Roadster as it appeared just above the horizon. To get the images, Andreo made use of an impressive arsenal of technological tools.

Andreo knew that photographing the Roadster would be a challenge, since it was over a million miles away at the time. But he has the experience and equipment to pull it off. The first task was to determine where the Tesla would be in the sky. Luckily, NASA’s JPL creates lists of coordinates for objects in the sky, called ephemerides. Andreo found the ephemeris for Starman and the Roadster, and it showed that the pair would be in the Hydra constellation, and that they would be only about 20 degrees above the horizon. That’s a challenge, because it means photographing through more atmospheric density.

The Tesla Roadster and its pilot “Starman” leaving Earth behind. Image: SpaceX

However, the Roadster and its driver would be bright enough to do it. As Andreo says in his blog, “The ephemeris from the JPL also indicated that the Roadster’s brightness would be at magnitude 17.5, and I knew that’s perfectly achievable.” So he gathered his gear, hopped in his vehicle, and went for it.

Andreo’s destination was the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve, a controlled-access area for which he has a night-time use permit. This area is kind of close to the San Francisco Bay Area, so the sky is a little bright for astrophotography, but since the Roadster has a magnitude of 17.5, he thought it was doable. Plus, it’s a short drive from his home.

Once he arrived there, he set up his impressive array of gear: dual telescopes and cameras, along with a tracking telescope and computers running specialized software. Andreo explains it best:

“Let me give you a brief description of my gear – also the one I use for most of my deep-sky images. I have a dual telescope system: two identical telescopes and cameras in parallel, shooting simultaneously at the very same area of the sky – same FOV, save a few pixels. The telescopes are Takahashi FSQ106EDX. Their aperture is 106mm (about 4″) and they give you a native 530mm focal length at f/5. The cameras are SBIG STL11k monochrome CCD cameras, one of the most legendary full-frame CCD cameras for astronomy (not the best one today, mind you, but still pretty decent). All this gear sits on a Takahashi EM-400 mount, the beast that will move it at hair-thin precision during the long exposures. I brought the temperature of the CCD sensors to -20C degrees (-4F) using the CCD’s internal cooling system.”

CCD’s with internal cooling systems. Very impressive!

The Takahashi FSQ106. Two of these beasts are at the heart of Andreo’s astrophotography system. Image: Takahashi Telescopes

Andreo uses a specialized focusing system to get his images. He uses focusers from Robofocus and precision focusing software called FocusMax. He also uses a third, smaller telescope called an autoguider. It focuses on a single star in the Field of View and follows it religiously. When that star moves, the whole rig moves. As Andreo says on his blog, “Autoguiding provides a much better mount movement than tracking, which is leaving up to the mount to blindly “follow” the sky. By actually “following” a star, we can make sure there’ll be no trails whether our exposures are 2 or 30 minutes long.”

Once he was all set up, there was time pressure. The Roadster would only be above the horizon for a short time and the Moon was coming up and threatening to wash out the sky. Andreo got going, but his first shots showed nothing.

Where the Roadster should be, Andreo’s photos showed nothing. But he wasn’t deterred. Image: Rogelio Bernal Andreo, ( (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Andreo felt that once he got home and could process the images properly, the Tesla Roadster and its driver would be somewhere in his images. He kept taking pictures until about 5 AM. Cold and tired, he finally packed up his gear and went home.

“…no matter what I did, I could not find the Roadster.” Astrophotographer Rogelio Bernal Andreo

After some sleep, he began working with his images. “After a few hours of sleep, I started playing with the data and no matter what I did, I could not find the Roadster. I kept checking the coordinates, nothing made sense. So I decided to try again. The only difference would be that this time the Moon would rise around 3:30am, so I could try star imaging at 2:30am and get one hour of Moon-free skies, maybe that would help.”

Rogelio Bernal Andreo is a very accomplished astrophotographer. His images have been chosen as NASA’s Astronomy Photo of the Day over 50 times. This close-up of the Orion Nebula was chosen as APOD on June 4, 2017. The three bright stars are Orion’s belt. Image: Rogelio Bernal Andreo ( (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

So Andreo set out to capture the Roadster again. The next night, at the same location, he set up his gear again. But this time, some clouds rolled in, and Andreo got discouraged. He stayed to wait for the sky to improve, but it didn’t. By about 4 AM he packed up and headed home.

After a nap, he went over his photos, but still couldn’t find the Roadster. It was a puzzle, because he knew the Roadster’s coordinates. Andreo is no rookie, his photos have been published many times in Astronomy Magazine, Sky and Telescope, National Geographic, and other places. His work has also been chosen as NASA’s APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day) more than 50 times. So when he can’t find something in his images that should be there, it’s puzzling.

Then he had an A-HA! moment:

“Then it hit me!! When I created the ephemeris from the JPL’s website, I did not enter my coordinates!! I went with the default, whatever that might be! Since the Roadster is still fairly close to us, parallax is significant, meaning, different locations on Earth will see Starman at slightly different coordinates. I quickly recalculate, get the new coordinates, go to my images and thanks to the wide field captured by my telescopes… boom!! There it was!! Impossible to miss!! It had been right there all along, I just never noticed!”

Andreo is clearly a dedicated astrophotographer, and this is a neat victory for him. He deserves a tip of the hat from space fans. Why not check out his website—his gallery is amazing!—and share a comment with him.

Rogelio Bernal Andreo’s website:
His gallery:
Also, check out his Flickr page:

Andreo explained how he got the Roadster images in this post on his blog: Capturing Starman from 1 Million Miles

The post Astrophotographer Captures Musk’s Tesla Roadster Moving Through Space appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

Pinker on the science “wars”, identity politics, and his new book

Why Evolution is True Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 11:30am

Steve is doing a full-court press publicizing his new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, which has now risen to #10 on Amazon.  And this publicity is exactly what I’d be doing if I had his renown and intellectual chops. At any rate, I’ll call your attention to three news items that are based on the book, including two excerpts or rewrites.

The first is from The Chronicle of Higher Education, and you can see it by clicking on the screenshot below.  It’s fairly similar to Steve’s 2013 piece in The New Republic, “Science is not your enemy“, in that it calls for an infusion of science into some areas of the humanities while still extolling those areas of the humanities, like literary interpretation, that have little to do with science.  That piece drew an intemperate response from literary editor Leon Wieseltier in the same magazine, “Crimes against humanities” (Subtitle: Now science wants to invade the liberal arts. Don’t let it happen.”)

Nevertheless, check out the comments after the Chronicle piece to see the humanities scholars fighting for their turf. There’s no need to, really. Their endeavors are a vital part of a liberal education, and I, for one, would have had a much poorer life were it not for my English, fine arts, philosophy, and ancient history courses in college. By suggesting that some areas of the humanities could benefit from a more quantitative and empirical (i.e., scientific) approach, Steve has been criticized as “scientistic”, and I expected this misguided kvetching will get even louder when people read the book.

This week Pinker also gave an interview on NPR’s program 1A (I’ve listened only to the first bit).  It’s still up, and you can hear the 35-minute show, in which Pinker discusses his new book, by clicking on the screenshot below. From the part I’ve heard, he shows his usual eloquence, speaking in full paragraphs that, if written out, would also be excellent prose.

Finally, there’s this, which I quite like. I’ve thought a lot about identity politics but never as clearly or succinctly as Pinker. This is from The Weekly Standard, a venue I never go to.

This is clearly connected with the new book, and is an interview with Adam Rubenstein. I’ll give just one or two excerpts (I especially like the last paragraph of this first excerpt):

Steven Pinker: Identity politics is the syndrome in which people’s beliefs and interests are assumed to be determined by their membership in groups, particularly their sex, race, sexual orientation, and disability status. Its signature is the tic of preceding a statement with “As a,” as if that bore on the cogency of what was to follow. Identity politics originated with the fact that members of certain groups really were disadvantaged by their group membership, which forged them into a coalition with common interests: Jews really did have a reason to form the Anti-Defamation League.

But when it spreads beyond the target of combatting discrimination and oppression, it is an enemy of reason and Enlightenment values, including, ironically, the pursuit of justice for oppressed groups. For one thing, reason depends on there being an objective reality and universal standards of logic. As Chekhov said, there is no national multiplication table, and there is no racial or LGBT one either.

This isn’t just a matter of keeping our science and politics in touch with reality; it gives force to the very movements for moral improvement that originally inspired identity politics. The slave trade and the Holocaust are not group-bonding myths; they objectively happened, and their evil is something that all people, regardless of their race, gender, or sexual orientation, must acknowledge and work to prevent in the future.

Even the aspect of identity politics with a grain of justification—that a man cannot truly experience what it is like to be a woman, or a white person an African American—can subvert the cause of equality and harmony if it is taken too far, because it undermines one of the greatest epiphanies of the Enlightenment: that people are equipped with a capacity for sympathetic imagination, which allows them to appreciate the suffering of sentient beings unlike them. In this regard nothing could be more asinine than outrage against “cultural appropriation”—as if it’s a bad thing, rather than a good thing, for a white writer to try to convey the experiences of a black person, or vice versa.

My one beef with this is that there still is very real oppression of non-binary people, women, and gays in the U.S. and other parts of the world—that is not a “multiplication table” or a myth. It is an objective reality, even if, at least in America, such oppression is not “institutionalized” in law.  But I agree with him that cries of “cultural appropriation” are almost always risible, and will hinder rather than improve the world.

Oh hell, one more—a defense of free speech:

AR: There is, as you recognize a “liberal tilt” in academia. And you write about it: “Non-leftist speakers are frequently disinvited after protests or drowned out by jeering mobs,” and “anyone who disagrees with the assumption that racism is the cause of all problems is called a racist.” How high are the stakes in universities? Should we worry?

SP: Yes, for three reasons. One is that scholars can’t hope to understand the world (particularly the social world) if some hypotheses are given a free pass and others are unmentionable. As John Stuart Mill noted, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.” In The Blank Slate I argued that leftist politics had distorted the study of human nature, including sex, violence, gender, childrearing, personality, and intelligence. The second is that people who suddenly discover forbidden facts outside the crucible of reasoned debate (which is what universities should be) can take them to dangerous conclusions, such as that differences between the sexes imply that we should discriminate against women (this kind of fallacy has fueled the alt-right movement). The third problem is that illiberal antics of the hard left are discrediting the rest of academia, including the large swaths of moderates and open-minded scholars who keep their politics out of their research. (Despite the highly publicized follies of academia, it’s still a more disinterested forum than alternatives like the Twittersphere, Congress, or ideologically branded think tanks.) In particular, many right-wingers tell each other that the near-consensus among scientists on human-caused climate change is a conspiracy among politically correct academics who are committed to a government takeover of the economy. This is sheer nonsense, but it can gain traction when the noisiest voices in the academy are the repressive fanatics.

This, using words like “repressive fantatics” (I agree!) is about as explicit as he gets about the foibles of the Left. And you can be sure that the usual suspects will be going after Steve, calling him an “alt-righter”, a misogynist, or even a racist for sentiments like these.

The last question posed to Pinker is this: “What should the president be reading? And why?” I’ll let you read the answer for yourself (hint: it doesn’t involve Pinker’s books).

I’ll be starting Enlightenment Now this weekend. It’s a big ‘un, and will take a while, but stay tuned for my take.

h/t: Michael, Thomas

Categories: Science

Why we have yet to find extraterrestrial life

Space and time from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 11:27am
Are we alone in the universe? Few questions have captured the public imagination more than this. Yet to date we know of just one sample of life, that which exists here on Earth.
Categories: Science

Major discovery in controlling quantum states of single atoms

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 11:27am
The scientists identified which mechanisms destroy the quantum properties of individual insulator. Using a Scanning Tunneling Microscope, which utilizes an atomically sharp metal tip, they were able to precisely image individual iron atoms and measure and control the time that the iron atom can maintain its quantum behavior.
Categories: Science

Major discovery in controlling quantum states of single atoms

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 11:27am
The scientists identified which mechanisms destroy the quantum properties of individual insulator. Using a Scanning Tunneling Microscope, which utilizes an atomically sharp metal tip, they were able to precisely image individual iron atoms and measure and control the time that the iron atom can maintain its quantum behavior.
Categories: Science

Humans will actually react pretty well to news of alien life

Space and time from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 11:27am
Hollywood has it wrong. Humans would actually react positively to news of alien life -- intelligent or microbial.
Categories: Science

Lab-grown human cerebellar cells yield clues to autism

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 11:26am
Increasing evidence has linked autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with dysfunction of the brain's cerebellum, but the details have been unclear. In a new study, researchers used stem cell technology to create cerebellar cells known as Purkinje cells from patients with tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), a genetic syndrome that often includes ASD-like features.
Categories: Science

Drug transfer tested using placenta-on-a-chip

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 11:26am
Researchers have demonstrated the feasibility of their 'organ-on-a-chip' platform in studying how drugs are transported across the human placental barrier.
Categories: Science

Promising method for improving quantum information processing

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 11:26am
A team of researchers has demonstrated a new method for splitting light beams into their frequency modes, work that could spur advancements in quantum information processing and distributed quantum computing.
Categories: Science

No testosterone changes found in esports gamers

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 11:26am
Players of the competitive esports video game League of Legends showed no change in testosterone during game play, researchers have found.
Categories: Science

Ants practice combat triage and nurse their injured

Science News Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 11:14am
Termite-hunting ants have their own version of combat medicine for injured nest mates.
Categories: Science

Oh, yeah, Black Panther

Pharyngula Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 11:06am

It wasn’t bad — not quite a great movie, the premises were too silly for that, but very entertaining and lovely to watch. OK, spectacular to watch. The whole esthetic was gorgeous and stimulating.

It was also good because it was one of Marvel’s more constrained, focused efforts, with nothing about a build-up to their upcoming blockbuster, Infinity War. I very much liked the fact that it’s about the people of this one African country struggling with decisions about their place in the world. It was a big but still manageable set of conflicts.

That it wasn’t just a set-piece to lead to a bigger movie also allowed the ensemble cast to shine. This isn’t just a movie about one super guy in a fancy costume. I left the theater wanting to see a heck of a lot more about Okoye and M’Baku (let’s see a movie wrapped around the Dora Milaje!), and all of the characters were interesting. Even the villain had realistic conflicts.

One thing that annoyed me: why is an enlightened, progressive country like Wakanda ruled by a hereditary monarchy? Why is kingship settled by a trial by combat? One minute I’m thinking this looks like an awesome, wonderful place, and the next I’m wondering what other ugly flaws are lurking to wreck this utopia.

Other than that you don’t want to cross the Dora Milaje. Or is that a good thing?

Categories: Science

Interstellar Asteroid ‘Oumuamua Had a Violent Past

Universe Today Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 10:34am

On October 19th, 2017, the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System-1 (Pan-STARRS-1) telescope in Hawaii announced the first-ever detection of an interstellar asteroid – I/2017 U1 (aka. ‘Oumuamua). Originally mistaken for a comet, follow-up observations conducted by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and others confirmed that ‘Oumuamua was actually a rocky body that had originated outside of our Solar System.

Since that time, multiple investigations have been conducted to determine ‘Oumuamua’s structure, composition, and just how common such visitors are. At the same time, a considerable amount of attention has been dedicated to determining the asteroid’s origins. According to a new study by a team of international researchers, this asteroid had a chaotic past that causes it to tumble around chaotically.

The study, titled “The tumbling rotational state of 1I/‘Oumuamua“, recently appeared in the scientific journal Nature Astronomy. The study was led by Wesley C. Fraser, a research fellow at the University of Queens Belfast’s Astrophysics Research Center, and included members from the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, the The Open University and the University of Belgrade.

As they indicate, the discovery of ‘Oumuamua has provided scientists with the first opportunity to study a planetesimal born in another planetary system. In much the same way that research into Near-Earth Asteroids, Main Belt Asteroids, or Jupiter’s Trojans can teach astronomers about the history and evolution of our Solar System, the study of a ‘Oumuamua would provide hints as to what was going on when and where it formed.

For the sake of their study, Dr. Fraser and his international team of colleagues have been measuring ‘Oumuamua brightness since it was first discovered. What they found was that ‘Oumuamua wasn’t spinning periodically (like most small asteroids and planetesimals in our Solar System), but chaotically. What this means is that the asteroid has likely been tumbling through space for billions of years, an indication of a violent past.

While it is unclear why this is, Dr. Fraser and his colleagues suspect that it might be due to an impact. In other words, when ‘Oumuamua was thrown from its own system and into interstellar space, it is possible it collided violently with another rock. As Dr. Fraser explained in a Queen’s University Belfast press release:

“Our modelling of this body suggests the tumbling will last for many billions of years to hundreds of billions of years before internal stresses cause it to rotate normally again. While we don’t know the cause of the tumbling, we predict that it was most likely sent tumbling by an impact with another planetesimal in its system, before it was ejected into interstellar space.”

These latest findings mirror what other studies have been able to determine about ‘Oumuamua based on its object changes in its brightness. For example, brightness measurements conducted by the Institute for Astronomy in Hawaii – and using data from the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) – confirmed that the asteroid was indeed interstellar in origin, and that its shape is highly elongated (i.e. very long and thin).

However, measurements of its color have produced little up until now other than confusion. This was due to the fact that the color appeared to vary between measurements. When the long face of the object is facing telescopes on Earth, it appears largely red, while the rest of the body has appeared neutral in color (like dirty snow). Based on their analysis, Dr. Fraser and his team resolved this mystery by indicating that the surface is “spotty”.

In essence, most of the surface reflects neutrally, but one of its long faces has a large red region – indicating the presence of tholins on its long surface. A common feature of bodies in the outer Solar System, tholins are organic compounds (i.e. methane and ethane) that have turned a deep shade of reddish-brown thanks to their exposure to ultra-violet radiation.

What this indicates, according to Dr. Fraser, is broad compositional variations on ‘Oumuamua, which is unusual for such a small body:

“We now know that beyond its unusual elongated shape, this space cucumber had origins around another star, has had a violent past, and tumbles chaotically because of it. Our results are really helping to paint a more complete picture of this strange interstellar interloper. It is quite unusual compared to most asteroids and comets we see in our own solar system,” comments Dr Fraser.

Oumuamua as it appeared using the William Herschel Telescope on the night of October 29. Queen’s University Belfast/William Herschel Telescope

To break it down succinctly, ‘Oumuamua may have originated closer to its parent star (hence its rocky composition) and was booted out by strong resonances. In the course of leaving its system, it collided with another asteroid, which sent it tumbling towards interstellar space. It’s current chaotic spin and its unusual color are both testaments to this turbulent past, and indicate that its home system and the Solar System have a few things in common.

Since its arrival in our system, ‘Oumuamua has set off a flurry of scientific research. All over the world, astronomers are hoping to get a glimpse of it before it leaves our Solar System, and there are even those who hope to mount a robotic mission to rendezvous with it before its beyond our reach (Project Lyra). In any event, we can expect that this interstellar visitor will be the basis of scientific revelations for years to come!

This study is the third to be published by their team, which has been monitoring ‘Oumuamua since it was first observed in October. All studies were conducted with support provided by the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

Further Reading: Queen’s University Belfast

The post Interstellar Asteroid ‘Oumuamua Had a Violent Past appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

Sweet Ceiling Cat: Not another shooting!

Why Evolution is True Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 10:28am

It’s been just a few days since the Florida shooting occurred, and now this breaking news (click on screenshot):

There are no reports save that the school is locked down and the police are setting up a perimeter.

Let’s hope it’s a false report, or that nobody was hurt if it was a real attack, but I’m not optimistic.

Categories: Science


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