They say the foundations of science and religion are separate and incompatible domains, and must always be. Whoever or whatever our Creator, that’s a postulate of mankind, not of the universe’s making. Astrophysics is again grappling with the question: how can you create something out of nothing? Does the proposed new “No Big Bang” model mean we might again have to come to grips with the ancient theological notion of endless cycles of creation and destruction, reincarnation of the universe as it were? Our brief contemplations in … Astronomy.

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Dawn of the New Year

thumbnail, featured imageSunrise from International Space Station, NASA Image of the Day, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011. NASA caption reads, “… astronaut Ron Garan used a high definition camera to film one of the sixteen sunrises astronauts see each day. This image shows the rising sun as the station flew along a path between Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Buenos Aires, Argentina.”  Featured image in Astronomy.

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Exoplanets Are Planets Too!

My first reaction was, “Oh no, not again!” I always maintained Pluto was a “planet,” no matter how the IAU redefined it in 2006. Are we going to revive that old trope again? Defining something so that it meets a predetermined selection criteria you need it to match is an ancient malady, and it’s not confined to religion and politics. Read this short post in Astronomy.

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Iron Oxide on Mars

If Mars has all that rust, where did the oxygen come from? We call Mars the “Red Planet” because it has iron oxide – LOTS of it. Where did it come from? If the Curiosity Mars explorer landing is successful, what might it find? does a little research and we eagerly await Curiosity’s hoped-for discoveries. Article in Astronomy.

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Will Earth Perish by Fire, Ice or Black Hole?

On last night’s news, veteran PBS news anchor Gwen Ifill interviewed a prominent astronomer to solicit comment on the recent discovery of two enormous black holes hiding in the bright central bulges of the giant elliptical galaxies NGC 3842 and NGC 4889. We discuss the time and distance parameters that would be required to make these black holes any conceivable threat to us, concluding, “no can do.” Read the post in Astronomy.

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More on Interstellar Time and Distance

Maybe you’re feeling fed up with the economy, being out of work for two years, global warming, a dysfunctional congress, the UK rioting, and the current political campaign lineups. Are you thinking it’s nearly time for mankind to journey to the stars for a fresh start? It doesn’t look like we’re quite ready for prime time.

I updated my time and distance spreadsheet on my November 10, 2010 Astronomy posting “Interstellar Time and Distance.” This came about thanks to a reader question about distances and times from the Orion Nebula (M42). That calculation has enough steps that I fluffed them on my PC calculator. So I redid the spreadsheet, adding Neptune and Orion M42 to the range. For good measure, and comparison of the vast difference between interstellar and intergalactic travel distances, I also added the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). Read the new post in Astronomy.

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Interstellar Time & Distance

In this Sunday’s comic strip “Beetle Bailey”, the dumbest guy in Camp Swampy asks the smartest questions, and nobody knows the answers. Zero: “Boy! I’d like to visit one of those stars.” Sarge: “It would take you years to travel through space to get to one of them.” Exactly. But how long would that really take? Read this post in Astronomy.

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Mars Hoax 2010

The annual “Two Moons on Aug 27th” Mars e-mail is circulating again. Alas, the myth is another internet hoax, a best fit for the “liar liar pants on fire” category. Amateur astronomers already know this. This year, for the benefit of everybody else, we do our best to explain why. Article in Astronomy.

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Worlds Apart

There’s an article of interest in the December 2009 National Geographic, “Worlds Apart: Seeking new earths”. Written by stargazer Timothy Ferris, the article discusses, in lay editorial style, the mission of NASA spacecraft Kepler. Discussion and links to the National Geo article’s web version. Read our full post World Apart in Astronomy.

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I discuss my participation in Project SETI, operated by the University of California Berkeley – which analyzes data from the monster radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Read the SETI article in Astronomy.

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Fat Singularities and Skinny Infinities

In Astronomy, read Fat Singularities and Skinny Infinities.

IMAGINE that it is a really cold morning, and you have taken a REALLY hot shower. Not just the bathroom mirrors are fogged … but the entire universe. In our continuing effort to figure out how the Big Bang might work – and what the universe might look like – we try some plain-spoken, down-to-earth thought experiments about some recent theories.

“(1) We are imagining this, setting the stage for a thought experiment, and (2) I told you not to take such hot showers!”

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4 New Articles

  • How it Works – Pool Vacs
  • My Notes (posted yesterday) – Medicine has learned to look at the health of the human body holistically. Conservationists see the interconnectedness of all the elements of an ecological system. Is a pool vac only a pool vac? We discover a satisfying answer – and a lesson.

  • Driving To Phoenix
  • My Notes (posted Sunday) – $3.699 a gallon gets you a full tank, but it also gets you lost for an hour in Palm Springs.

  • More Godless Cosmology
  • Astronomy (posted yesterday) – Our observations about difference of opinion from the letters to Sky and Telescope magazine.

  • Cosmology: Causal Horizons
  • Astronomy (posted today) – We research a new term in astrophysics and cosmology which describes observable limits of the knowable universe.

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    Astronomy Article Posted

    After reinstalling the Astronomy department WordPress software, I concluded that the actual problem earlier was that I’d saved a draft article with an open quote – a sentence fragment preceded by a quotation mark and ended by nothing. The HTML software got confused and froze.

    So the article is posted this afternoon: “Where Did It All Come From?” You might be surprised that Astronomy doesn’t have to be all churchy and serious … humor, from


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    ‘Astronomy’ Revamped

    We’ve reorganized our Astronomy department and added a new article on Cassiopeia. With WordPress as the main page engine, we can write articles on the fly more easily (as we can in the 6 other departments powered by WordPress).

    For those of you who haunt the old Astronomy pages at all, they’re still there, in the familiar menu in the left-hand panel. Check it out. And, we hope even non-observers might find some fun in our new article on the constellation Cassiopeia.

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