Secrets of the Deep Sky

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Light liquidmercury mirrors which can potentially be made much larger than glass mirrors may enable astronomers to

Astronomers and optical experts have therefore sometimes toyed with an old, even bizarre technological alternative a mirror made from liquid. A liquid mirror could never sag and so conceivably could be made as large as purpose requires. Moreover, coaxing a liquid into the shape of a parabola is trivial. The pull of gravitational and centrifugal forces shapes the surface of a rotating mass of reflecting liquid, such as mercury, into a perfect parabo- ERMANNO F. BORRA has worked to develop liquid-mirror telescopes since early 1982, when he became interested in cosmology during a sabbatical at the University of Arizona. He received a physics degree in 1967 from the University of Torino in Italy and a Ph.D. in astronomy in 1972 from the University of Western Ontario. For the next two years, he served as a Carnegie postdoctoral fellow at the Hale Observatory (now the Mount Wilson, Palomar and Las Campanas observatories). Since 1975 he has been at Laval University in Quebec, where he is now...

The clockmaker who astonished the astronomers

In the summer of 1730, the clockmaker John Harrison presented himself at the Royal Observatory of Greenwich carrying a mysterious wooden box. He asked to speak to Edmund Halley, the Observatory's director. Halley, as Astronomer Royal and already celebrated for his observations on the moon and the motion of the stars, was not only the head of the Observatory but also a leading member of the Board of Longitude. Set up sixteen years previously by Queen Anne, this Board administered a conspicuous prize of 20,000 pounds (some millions of today's pounds) to be awarded to whoever solved the problem of calculating longitude. The longitude problem was of extreme importance at the time. The difficulty of accurately fixing a ship's position was the cause of innumerable accidents and shipwrecks, and finding a solution to the problem was crucial, for both military and commercial reasons. The greatest astronomers of the age had wrestled with the problem, propounding complex solutions based on the...

Big ideas and misconceptions in earth sciences and astronomy

Astronomy is the study of the stars and the universe. Humans have been trying to make sense of the stars and planets since our earliest ancestors attributed mythical shapes to them and described the constellations we still talk about today. They used the perceived movement of the stars for navigation purposes and sowed and reaped their crops in accordance with the changing position of the Sun and the phases of the Moon. Indeed our whole understanding of time and the language associated with it is directly associated with the movement of these heavenly bodies. Just as the sky appears not to change from one year to the next, so the mountains and rivers appear static to pupils. The timescales involved with the evolution of the universe and of planet Earth are difficult to comprehend.

Early Development Of Orbital Theory

The relationship between earth's orbit and climate change is among the oldest links between astronomy and geology. The development of this theory encompasses many important breakthroughs in paleo-climatology, as recounted by Imbrie and Imbrie (1979) and Berger et al. (1992). References to variability in the astronomical factors that might influence earth's climate go back at least to the ancient Greek Hip-parchus, who in 120 b.c. observed secular discrepancies in the motion of stars that were due to the shifting position of the earth known as precession. Rapid advances in celestial mechanics in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by mathematicians and astronomers, and parallel progress in geological sciences, set the stage for ideas about an astronomical-climate link (see Imbrie and Imbrie 1979). The nineteenth century French mathematician J. Adhemar is credited by Imbrie and Imbrie (1979) for proposing that changes in earth's orbital parameters led to the ice ages. Adhemar was...

Black of deep space Regarding this view of Earth Carl Sagan said

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

Prophet Without Honor

In the aftermath, FitzRoy's detractors in Parliament and in the ivory towers of British science covered themselves in a lengthy, highly detailed, and essentially unfair report about the accuracy and value of his storm warnings and weather forecasts. They were bound and determined to return meteorology to the realm of theory, like physics and astronomy, to the philosophical pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. As far as the savants were concerned, collecting data for this cloistered research was the very purpose that FitzRoy's statistics gathering had been intended to While he nominally relied on the theory of conflicting air currents proposed by Dove, FitzRoy was hard-pressed to give it very rigorous scientific form while describing his forecasting method. He wrote in The Weather Book that he found it extremely difficult to combine mathematical exactness with the results of experience obtained by practical ocular observation and much reflection. He sought to describe the intuitive...

Preface to the series

The study of environmental change is a major growth area of interdisciplinary science. Indeed, the intensity of current scientific activity in the field of environmental change may be viewed as the emergence of a new area of 'big science' alongside such recognized fields as nuclear physics, astronomy and biotechnology. The science of environmental change is fundamental science on a grand scale rather different from nuclear physics but nevertheless no less important as a field of knowledge, and probably of more significance in terms of the continuing success of human societies in their occupation of the Earth's surface.

Department of Physics and Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory University of California Berkeley CA and International Institute

The narrow width of the 100-kyr peak strongly suggests a driven oscillation of astronomical origin. In contrast to dynamical astronomy, where dissipative processes are almost nonexistent, all known resonances within the earth-atmosphere system have energy transfer mechanisms that cause loss of phase stability. Narrowness of the 41-kyr and 23-kyr cycles is not necessarily significant, since the time scale of the data was tuned by adjusting the sedimentation rate to match the expected orbital cycles. The 100-kyr peak is incoherent with these other two cycles, there is no phase relationship. The fact that an unrelated peak is sharp can be considered as an a posteriori evidence that the tuning procedure yielded a basically correct time scale, although it could be incorrect by an overall stretch factor and delay. We did not anticipate the narrowness of the 100-kyr peak, assuming, as others have done, that it was due to forcing by variations in eccentricity. However, it is not easily...

The Simulation Argument

From the human experience thus far, especially in sciences such as physics and astronomy, the cost of running large simulations may be very high, though it is still dominated by the capital cost of computer processors and human personnel, not the energy cost. However, as the hardware becomes cheaper and more powerful and the simulating tasks more complex, we may expect that at some point in future the energy cost will become dominant. Computers necessarily dissipate energy as heat, as shown in classical studies of Landauer (1961) and Brillouin (1962) with the finite minimum amount of heat dissipation required per processing of 1 bit of information.15 Since the simulation of complex human society will require processing a

Technical Progress As Knowledge Accumulation

Most economic macro-models still assume, for convenience, that knowledge growth is effectively autonomous and self-reproducing - hence exogenous - because knowledge permits the creation of more effective tools for research and discovery. The justification for this assumption is that 'knowledge begets more knowledge'. Telescopes have multiplied our knowledge of astronomy. Microscopes have vastly increased our ability to observe and understand microscopic phenomena. Computers enable us to calculate faster and retrieve archival data faster and test theories more quickly. And so on. From this perspective it is reasonable to assume, as some have done, that knowledge grows exponentially, and without limit (Adams 1918 Sorokin 1957 1937 Price 1963 Ayres 1944).

A processbased approach

This book is structured around the following thought experiment. 'For any planet with carbon-based life, which persists over geological time-scales, what is the minimum set of ecological processes that must be present ' By limiting myself to considering carbon-based life located on a planet many possible life forms are excluded. For example, the astronomer Fred Hoyle invented extraordinary intelligent interstellar clouds in his novel The Black Cloud (Hoyle, 1957). This is one of the most interesting alien life forms in science fiction as it relies on neither Earth-type biology or a planetary habitat. Writing as a scientist he also argued for carbon-based life living in comets, although many have viewed this as another aspect of Hoyle's science fiction writing (Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, (1999a) Wickramasinghe (2005) for a more accessible autobiographical account of this work). It is possible that Hoyle himself may have become less convinced by some of the more extreme versions of these...

Socioeconomic Political Development

Other as well as western societies prosper because they are open and emphasize work, knowledge, and freedom of expression. This leads not only to higher productivity but also greater inventiveness. It provides incentives to all and not just the few. While Middle Eastern cultures provided some of the most important contributions to civilization, such as the alphabet, astronomy, and basic science, only open and free Western-type society could put human knowledge to effective use and

The search for cycles

Atmosphere-ocean interactions in the North Atlantic. In more scientific studies, the first example of seeking to explain weather variations was by the astronomer William Herschel in the early nineteenth century. He proposed that the changes in the Sun's output could influence the weather. But it was the work of another astronomer that truly set in motion the subject of solar cycles in the weather. In 1844, Heinrich Schwabe discovered that the number of sunspots varied in a regular, predictable way,1 leading to scientific speculation that our weather could vary in the same pattern.

Scientist of the Decade Edward N Lorenz

Often referred to as the father of chaos theory, the meteorologist Edward N. Lorenz was born and raised in West Hartford, Connecticut. Fascinated by numbers at a young age, Lorenz experienced his first spark of scientific interest during an encounter with an astronomical atlas when he was seven years old. When a total eclipse of the Sun occurred the next summer, he was hooked. As are most people interested in astronomy, Lorenz was interested in the weather, since the condition of the night sky determined what could be seen during a night of telescopic observations. He also enjoyed stamp collecting and playing chess a game he had learned from his mother.

The Nature of Science

Biosphere Foldables

Earth science encompasses five areas of study astronomy, meteorology, geology, oceanography, and environmental science. astronomy I MAI INK Earth science encompasses five areas of study astronomy, meteorology, geology, oceanography, and environmental science. The scope of Earth science is vast. This broad field can be broken into five major areas of specialization astronomy, meteorology, geology, oceanography, and environmental science. Astronomy The study of objects beyond Earth's atmosphere is called astronomy. Prior to the invention of sophisticated instruments, such as the telescope shown in Figure 1.1, many astronomers merely described the locations of objects in space in relation to each other. Today, Earth scientists study the universe and everything in it, including galaxies, stars, planets, and other bodies they have identified. Astronomy

The Deepsea Record Of Orbital Climate Change

Testing orbital theory requires a more continuous temporal record of climate than that provided by the snapshot-like sea-level record of coral-reef tracts. The advent of deep-sea sediment coring, foraminiferal micropaleontology, and stable isotope geochemistry provided continuity of climate indicators. Continuity is a prerequisite for tests of periodicity, an inherent part of Milankovitch's theory. The fairly continuous record of ocean history afforded by micropaleonto-logical data yielded two essential ingredients a timeseries of climate history and a quantitative method to estimate ocean temperatures and serve as a proxy for climate change. Changing proportions of temperature-sensitive foraminiferal species during glacial and interglacial periods could be compared to astronomer's calculations for changes in solar insolation.

Science and revolutions

Kuhn gives the name of 'paradigm' to this result or group of results. The Linnaean classification system is indubitably a paradigm. And so too, given that they are theories which have guided research for long periods in the history of science, are Ptolemaic astronomy, Copernican astronomy, Newtonian physics and Darwinian evolutionary theory. An example of a recent and solidly founded paradigm is the Big Bang theory, or the idea that the universe originated in a specific event (a 'singularity'). Formulated in the 1940s, and considered proven by Penzias and Wilson's discovery of cosmic background radiation in 1965, this idea currently assumes the status of a paradigm. It shapes the research, experiments and observations of physicists and astronomers, providing them with a general framework into which they are able to fit even conflicting hypotheses - for example, on the evolution of the universe since the Big Bang, which they view as either uniform or an 'inflation' (i.e. an initial...

Hipparchus and the precession of the equinoxes

The axial wobble was another effect Milankovitch studied, but he was not the first person to notice it. That person was the Greek astronomer and mathematician Hipparchus (c. 190 b.c.e.-c. 120 b.c.e.). Hipparchus was the greatest of all Greek astronomers, and some of the discoveries he made and the deductions he made from them are still important today the axial wobble is one of them. He also calculated the length of the year as 365.25 days, diminishing by 0.003 day each year, and the lunar period as 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 2.5 seconds which is one second too short. At the equinoxes the Sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west. There were no reliable clocks in the time of Hipparchus, so astronomers could not determine when day and night were of equal length, but they could identify the points of the compass and so they could recognize the equinoxes and use them as a basis for the calendar. Astronomers measure the position of the Sun when it intersects the...

Countdown To Apocalypse

Astronomer Tom Gehrels is a lifelong optimist. As a youth, during the Nazi occupation of his native Holland, he did not flinch in the face of adversity. Rather, he bravely joined the Dutch resistance. In his current position at Spacewatch, he counsels we should meet impact hazards with a similar fighting spirit. In his opinion, we must

The Sporer Minimum Dalton Minimum and Maunder Minimum

Then, in 1889, Maunder read an article by another German astronomer, Friedrich Wilhelm Gustav Sporer (1822-95). Sporer was also studying sunspots and he had discovered something very interesting. Astronomers had been observing and recording sunspot activity for centuries, but Sporer found that very few had been observed between approximately 1400 and 1520. This period came to be known as the Sporer Minimum. It was a time of very cold weather. People called it a Little Ice Age. The Baltic Sea froze over completely in the winter of 1422-23. There were famines. Norse colonies in Greenland were abandoned because their crops failed and the sea froze over, preventing them from fishing. The colonists were starving and the survivors had no choice but to return to Scandinavia. What Maunder discovered, however, was a period lasting from 1645 to 1715 during which not a single sunspot was reported anywhere in the solar Northern Hemisphere and several periods lasting 10 years in which no sunspots...

Emergence of the hydrologic cycle

The rise of climatology as a science is closely related to developments in meteorology and to the human capacity to obtain more and improved atmospheric observations and measurements. The earliest evidence of human interest in the atmosphere was a concern for phenomena recognized in today's world as belonging to the field of meteorology. Climate is a more abstract concept than weather, and in these early days people did not travel extensively and were less likely to observe climatic differences between places (Linacre, 1992). However, interest in climate evolved as understanding of atmospheric processes improved, and a close coupling of climatology and meteorology characterizes much of their early history. Around 3000 BC, Mesopotamian astronomers and mathematicians studied clouds and thunder and were the first to identify winds according to the direction from which they blow. At about this same time, Egyptian astronomers and mathematicians recognized the seasonal position of the Sun...

Tree rings and isotopes

Despite the lack of recognition of his discovery, E. Walter Maunder was well known and widely respected for his other achievements. He became director of the Solar Division at the Royal Observatory, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, and he was editor of the Journal of the British Astronomical Association. He and his wife, Annie Scott Dill Russell (1868-1947), whom he met in 1891, when she arrived at the observatory to work as a lady computer, collaborated in writing many popular articles on astronomy and the Sun.

Scientist of the Decade Carl Gustav Rossby

Born on December 28, 1898, in Stockholm, Sweden, the meteorologist Carl-Gustav Rossby was one of the most influential atmospheric scientists in the 20th century. After earning his filosofie kandidat (that is, bachelor's degree) at the University of Stockholm in 1918 with specializations in mathematics, mechanics, and astronomy, Rossby left Stockholm and moved to Norway to join the Bergen School. He worked with the Bjerkneses on the development of the polar front and air mass theories until 1921. After two years in Bergen, he realized he did not have the necessary mathematics and physics background to undertake the theoretical work in meteorology that he thought necessary to solve atmospheric problems.

Trade winds and Hadley cells

Southern Hemisphere Trade Winds

Edmond Halley (1656-1742), an English astronomer, was the first person to offer an explanation. In 1686 he suggested that air is heated more strongly at the equator than anywhere else. The warm equatorial air rises, cold air flows in near the surface from either side to replace it, and this in-flowing air forms the trade winds. If this were so, however, the trades on either side of the equator would flow from due north and south. In fact, they flow from the northeast and southeast.

Is even mathematics social

Bloor obviously does not deny that there exist 'other types of causes apart from social ones which will cooperate in bringing about belief', but his intention is to give greater dignity and pervasiveness to sociological explanation. Social factors like interests, political ideologies and cultural features, he maintains, should not be brought to bear solely when knowledge jumps the rails of rationality or lapses into error. This attitude - which Bloor views as characterizing most of the preconceived objections made against the sociological approach to the study of science - sees 'logic, rationality and truth' as 'their own explanation . . . it makes successful and conventional activity appear self-explanatory and self-propelling' (Bloor, 1976 6). On this view, sociological explanation should only intervene when some anomaly (which cannot but be 'social') deviates rationality and progress towards the truth from their automatic course. Sociology could thus explain - by invoking religious...

Timeline of Earth Science

Greek astronomer Eratosthenes of Cyrene (c. 275-c. 195 B.C.E.) becomes the first person to accurately measure the circumference of Earth. The Chinese astronomer royal, Zhang Heng (78-139), invents the world's first seismograph.The seismograph consisted of a case with eight bronze dragons' heads around the top. Each dragon held a bronze ball in its mouth. When an earthquake hit, the ball sitting in the opposite direction from the source of the earthquake would fall into the mouth of a bronze toad at the bottom of the case, making a loud ring. Chinese officials thus knew in which direction to go to find the area affected by the earthquake. Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy (c. 90-c. 170) defines the universe mathematically. Ptolemy uses the data that had been collected since the time of the Babylonians to create a mathematical model that accounts for the positions of the planets and predicts their future positions. Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus publishes his book, The Revolution...

The year sunspot cycle

As he worked away patiently with his examination of sunspots, Maunder found a pattern emerging. In 1843 the German astronomer Samuel Heinrich Schwabe (1789-1875) had discovered that the number of sunspots increases and decreases over a regular 11-year cycle. Maunder found that the solar latitudes in which sunspots emerge change in a regular way over the course of the sunspot cycle. The first ones appear some distance from the solar equator and later ones move gradually closer to the equator (see the sidebar). Years ago, the English astronomer William Herschel (1738-1822) had suspected there might be a link between the number of sunspots and the weather. In 1801 he attempted to link the number of sunspots each year to the price of grain. Grain prices rise when the weather is bad and the harvest poor and fall when the harvest is good.

Cradle Of The Petroleum

The fertile crescent, the lands from Israel, Lebanon, and Syria to those between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, today's Iraq, became as long as 6000 years ago, the center of civilization where successive peoples such as the Sumerians, Acadians, Babylonians, Kassites, and Assyrians developed irrigation, invented the wheel for transportation, and introduced the first formal legal code. The area also gave the world the foundations of mathematics, astronomy, and great advances in architecture and literature. Similarly, the first attempts at developing large centralized administrative systems were developed here, at first to manage irrigation and water supply as well as food distribution and defense.

Growing awareness of climate change and polarisation of opinions

Annual public lecture to the memory of the seventeenth century physicist and astronomer. It was interesting that the theme of global warming had been chosen and also that the podium for my presentation was the pulpit of a big church. This was undoubtedly an interesting experience, although I really wanted to deliver a scientific assessment rather than preach to a congregation The proactive attitude created on these two occasions contrasted markedly with my experience in discussions with Dutch business people on a following day. They showed a striking reluctance to consider the issue of global climate change as a serious one, which of course was in no way a unique attitude, but nevertheless it was disappointing.

The planet that could only be seen from France

The most important advance in nineteenth-century astronomy was the discovery of a new element in the solar system. Since 1781, when Laplace had hypothesized that this new element was a planet called Uranus, astronomers had observed deviations by the planet from its predicted orbit. In the early decades of the next century, a number of scientists suspected that these deviations might be due to another, hitherto undiscovered, planet. In 1845, a student at Cambridge, John Adams, calculated the orbit of this hypothetical planet and reported his findings to the Greenwich Observatory, which was nevertheless unable to detect it by telescope. In the meantime, the director of the Astronomical Observatory of Paris, Urban Jean Le Verrier, had independently reached the same conclusions and in 1846 announced the discovery of a new planet, to which the name of Neptune was given. The discovery was hailed as a triumph by the French scientific community, which used it as a watchword in its struggle...

How Not to Look Ahead

Visions of unavoidable collapse have been in the ascendant. Diamond's Collapse (2004), a derivative, unpersuasive, and simplistically deterministic book, gained a cult following with its tales of failed societies prefiguring our approaching demise. Martin Rees, a Cambridge don and the Astronomer Royal, tipped his hand with a very unforgiving title, Our Final Hour (2003) followed by a bleak subtitle listing terror, error, and environmental disasters as the greatest threats to humankind's future. Kunstler's (2005) book is another notable contribution to the literature of catastrophes, and Lovelock (2006) sees the Earth goddess Gaia taking revenge on her human abusers. Only Posner (2004) kept his usual analytical cool while looking at catastrophic risks and our response to them.

Storm of Controversy

Although he was untrained and unpracticed in astronomy, Maury was nevertheless considered by the secretary of the navy, fellow Virginian John Y. Mason, to be the best man in the country to become superintendent of the new U.S. Naval Observatory in 1844. While Mason probably was bound to appoint a naval officer rather than a more qualified civilian scientist, there were better astronomers in the navy to choose from, and other officers with stronger scientific credentials. This appointment, along with Maury's grand ambitions for himself and the institution, brought him into growing conflict and competition with the leading American scientists of the 1850s, especially the inner circle led by Alexander Dallas Bache. Physicist Joseph Henry, Harvard's Benjamin Peirce, the leading mathematician of his day, and the great Swiss-born geologist Louis Agassiz were part of a group that called itself the Lazza-roni, a self-deprecating allusion to the beggars of Naples. They were the leaders of a...

Tell me about the future I plead

In the early days of astronomy before the advent of Newton's f ma, planetary events were predicted on Ptolemy's model of nested circular orbits-wheels within wheels. Because the central premise upon which Ptolemy's theory was founded (that all heavenly bodies orbited the Earth) was wrong, his model needed mending every time new astronomical observations delivered more exact data for a planet's motions. But wheels-within-wheels was a model amazingly robust to amendments. Each time better data arrived, another layer of wheels inside wheels inside wheels was added to adjust the model. For all its serious faults, this baroque simulation worked and learned. Ptolemy's simple-minded scheme served well enough to regulate the calendar and make practical celestial predictions for 1400 years

Edward Walter Maunder And The Unreliable

In 1873 a young man called Edward Walter Maunder (1851-1928) left his job at a London bank and started work at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, to the east of London. He had no formal qualification as an astronomer, but his new post was as a photographic and spectroscopic assistant. The Royal Observatory was a state institution, and its staff belonged to the civil service, admission to which was by public examination. Maunder passed the examination, so he was accepted into the service and posted to Greenwich. He was given the task of photographing sunspots, then using the photographs to measure their sizes and plot their positions. Maunder was a keen observer and very meticulous. He calculated that the sunspots must be very large and that distant objects, although visible, must contain much fine detail that is invisible from Earth. He used this insight to suggest that the canals that many astronomers claimed to have seen on Mars were an optical illusion a view that was unpopular at...

Chasing the Wind

The study of weather has always been measured, invariably to its detriment, by the standards of astronomy, its older and more respected sister science. Through thousands of years of kingdoms advised by astronomers, there was never a Meteorologist Royal. Knowledge of the heavens was far advanced by the time the investigation of weather was deemed worthy of a serious man's preoccupation. In the middle of the eighteenth century, astronomy was preeminent and meteorology was hardly a science at all. Some things were respectably knowable about the physical world and some were not. Two hundred fifty years ago, astronomers could predict the occasions of lunar eclipses precisely as to date and time of day, and they could explain their cause and effects that the moon's orbit passes periodically out of the brightness of the sun's light and into the darkness of the celestial shadow cast by Earth. By such divinely predictable events the clockwork universe was affirmed. About the intervening...


MICHEL FICH University of Waterloo AND GERALD MORIARTY-SCHIEVEN Joint Astronomy Center,Hawaii Observing the star-forming region NGC 2264 at millimeter wavelengths,astronomers see two lobes of molecular gas moving at tens of kilometers per second. Red indicates the Fastest velocities,violet the slowest.


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Biomass and Gaia

In the context of the Earth a plausible answer to this question is that Earth systems do appear to have regulated conditions within a life-friendly range over geological time however, this is accidental, with no reason to expect the same to happen on any other planet with life. Several people raised this possibility in the context of Gaia theory at the end of the 1990s (Lenton, 1998 Watson, 1999 Wilkinson, 1999a) however, it is Andy Watson who has taken these arguments most seriously (Watson, 1999, 2004). The basic idea is easily explained and has much in common with the anthropic principle in astronomy, where the presence of astronomers clearly implies aspects of the nature of the Universe (Carr and Rees, 1979 Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, 1999b). As I have previously written, 'Any planet which is home to organisms as complex as James Lovelock

A final caution

If someone wrote a novel about an asteroid strike destroying modern civilization, then someone might criticize that novel as extreme, dystopian, apocalyptic symptomatic of the author's naive inability to deal with a complex technological society. We should recognize this as a literary criticism, not a scientific one it is about good or bad novels, not good or bad hypotheses. To quantify the annual probability of an asteroid strike in real life, one must study astronomy and the historical record no amount of literary criticism can put a number on it. Garreau (2005) seems to hold that a scenario of a mind slowly increasing in capability, is more mature and sophisticated than a scenario of extremely rapid intelligence increase. But that's a technical question, not a matter of taste no amount of psychologizing can tell you the exact slope of that curve.

Fate of the Earth

Although sending the Earth into exile would save the planet from eventual evaporation, the biosphere would still be destroyed. The oceans would freeze within a few million years and the only pockets of liquid water left would be those deep underground. The Earth contains an internal energy source - the power produced by the radioactive decay of unstable nuclei. This power is about 10,000 times smaller than the power that Earth intercepts from the present-day Sun, so it has little effect on the current operation of the surface biosphere. If Earth were scattered out of the solar system, then this internal power source would be the only one remaining. This power is sufficient to keep the interior of the planet hot enough for water to exist in liquid form, but only at depths 14 km below the surface. This finding, in turn, has implications for present-day astronomy the most common liquid water environments may be those deep within frozen planets, that is, those that have frozen water on...

Beautiful Evidence

Science and art, according to Tufte, have in common intense seeing, the wide-eyed observing that generates empirical information. This book is about how that seeing turns into showing. Tufte, professor emeritus at Yale University and author of three previous widely praised books on visual evidence, displays outstanding examples of the genre. One of the most arresting is Galileo's series of hand-drawn images of sunspots. A colleague of Galileo, the author tells us, said that the astronomer's drawings delight both by the wonder of the spectacle and the accuracy of expression. That, Tufte says, is beautiful evidence.

Death by Daring

LeRoy Meisinger was born in 1895 in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, and he grew up in the state, mostly in Lincoln. He graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1917 with a degree in astronomy. He was a remarkably talented, hardworking, and clean-living son of the Middle West. In addition to the sciences, his university interests ranged through music and art and literature, although not so far into the social realm as fraternity membership, which attracted most Cornhuskers. Nobody said he wasn't friendly, and certainly he was active but he always seemed more serious than most students around him. He composed music for a drama club and played French horn in the military band. He was a staff artist for the yearbook and a second lieutenant in the university's Reserve Officer Training Corps. Preparing to leave the Signal Corps in July 1919, six months after the armistice, Meisinger had three interesting career choices. He could do graduate work in astronomy at the University of California he...

Sunspot Cycles

During the seventeenth century, an astronomer named Edward Maunder noticed that there were much fewer sunspots at the time than usual. The Maunder minimum is the name given to the period roughly from 1645 to 1715 when very few sunspots were recorded and coinciding with a decrease in solar intensity and significantly colder temperatures on earth. Climate records from that time suggest that the sun was 0.15-0.3 percent less bright than the present day. Some scientists attribute this period of colder temperature known today as the little ice age to the reduced solar output.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The learned seers at Harvard University (rationalists, empiricists, scientists) are 'baffled' by the developing astronomy, geology and historical biology. They puzzled over the clockwork heavens, the rock strata, the fossil record. Asa Gray was filling his herbarium with strange plants from around the world. Science was upsetting old world-views but an attuned heart throb understands. The sciences cannot teach us all we need to know about nature indeed they cannot teach what we need most to know how to value it. The wise person needs to 'transcend' this cold, mechanistic universe, known by reason and observation in its causal sequences, and to realize deeper truths.

Calculating Chaos

Free and flush, impressed with Numerical Weather Prediction and infected with the optimistic spirit of the era, weather scientists in the 1960s greeted the new day with soaring expectations. Some allowed themselves to dream of a time when forecasting would finally attain the precisional heights of astronomy, its older and more venerated sister science. As in astronomy, the laws of Isaac Newton had finally taken their rightful place in meteorology, and now what remained for weather science was to achieve the same degree of exactitude. Like astronomers calculating the distant return of a comet, meteorologists could see themselves wielding powers of prediction farther and farther into the future. Chaos eventually would become the business of physicians studying the irregular beats of the heart, of biologists trying to understand sudden spikes or collapses of animal populations, and of physicists, astronomers, chemists, and geologists reexamining unpredictable behavior in their fields.

Kahlid Shaukat

Dr Khalid Shaukat was born in India in 1943, migrated to Pakistan with his parents in 1956, and continued his college education in Karachi, Pakistan. He has bachelor's degrees in physics and civil engineering from the University of Karachi. He obtained his graduate degree in civil engineering from Georgia Tech in 1970. Since migrating to the US in 1969, he has been involved in scientific and engineering research, especially in physics, mathematics and astronomy. Over the last three decades he has published articles in various journals and publications on earthquake engineering, seismic design of structures, pump seals, scientific aspects of moon-sighting (a scientific as well as religious global issue) and the global Islamic calendar. He has given over 90 lectures on various subject of his expertise in many countries of the world, including at the American Muslims Social Scientists (AMSS) Convention, the Climate Stabilization Conference (Washington DC), Islam in America Conventions,...

Civilian Casualty

The first civilian chief of the new U.S. Weather Bureau was a scientist with a national reputation for excellence who was in a good position to take the agency to important new heights in the study of meteorology. After 20 years of military control, there was reason to suppose that the advent of civilian authority would mean an important shift in the approach to the weather agency's pursuit of its young science. The New York Tribune advised President Benjamin Harrison to select a competent scientist and to ensure that the position was not political. The general spirit which pervades the administration of this bureau at the outset will probably be perpetuated for years, it said. In every respect, professor Mark Walrod Harrington of the University of Michigan, astronomer and meteorologist, was eminently qualified for the position of leadership in the new agency of the Department of Agriculture. By all accounts in 1891, Secretary of Agriculture Jeremiah M. Rusk had made an excellent...

Setting the Stage

Elias loomis's groundbreaking display of contemporaneous measurements from several points across the country made plain to the small scientific community toward the middle of the nineteenth century the crucial importance of a widespread network of observers. Cooperative, coordinated, far-flung observations and a central organization are uniquely indispensable to the science of meteorology. Without a large field of vision the science of storms is nearly blind. As James P. Espy put it The astronomer is, in some measure, independent of his fellow astronomer he can wait in his observatory till the star he wishes to observe comes to his meridian but the meteorologist has his observation bounded by a very limited horizon, and can do little without the aid of numerous observers furnishing him contemporaneous observations over a wide-extended area. Without observations from an area at least as large as the event they intended to study, investigators had good reason to wonder whether the...

Big Bang

Baffled by the expansion of the universe You're not alone. Even astronomers frequently get it wrong i The key to avoiding the misunderstandings is not to take the term big bang too literally. The big bang was not a bomb that went off in the center of the universe and hurled matter outward into a preexisting void. Rather it was an explosion of space itself that happened everywhere, similar to the way the expansion of the surface of a balloon happens everywhere on the surface. i This difference between the expansion of space and the expansion in space may seem subtle but has important consequences for the size of the universe, the rate at which galaxies move apart, the type of observations astronomers can make, and the nature of the accelerating expansion that the universe now seems to be undergoing. i Strictly speaking, the big bang model has very little to say about the big bang itself. It describes what happened afterward. Renowned physicists, authors of astronomy textbooks and...

Adhemar and Croll

His calculations aroused little interest, but the idea of a link between astronomy and climate persisted, and in 1864 James Croll (1821-90) published another interpretation. Croll, a self-educated Scottish climatologist and geologist, argued that the onset of ice ages is triggered by the coincidence of maximum eccentricity and the precession of the equinoxes. He worked at the Edinburgh office of the Geological Survey of Scotland and developed his climatological theory in his spare time, but after he retired he was able to devote much more time to it. In 1885 he published his last book on the subject, Discussions on Climate and Cosmology.


It has been said that man is a pattern-making animal. More accurately, some of us are good at pattern-recognition. The discovery of regularities in the observed motions of the stars and planets by the Babylonians was certainly the first step towards developing the science of astronomy. Copernicus was the first to provide a theory of sorts to explain the observable patterns, while retaining the notion that Earth was the center of the universe. His theory of cycles and hyper-cycles was soon overturned by Kepler and Galileo, who realized that the earth and planets revolve around the sun in elliptical orbits. Newton asked himself what sort of force law would account for an elliptical orbit, and concluded that such a force would have to be inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the point of attraction. From this kind of reasoning came Newton's laws of motion and the law of gravity. Newton's theory of gravitational attraction was accepted for 250 years. But some small but...

Chapter overview

This chapter deals with the big ideas in earth science and astronomy the origin of the universe and solar system the relationship between the Sun, the Earth and the Moon using the phases of the Moon as an example and the formation and cycling of rocks - an area that is often tackled superficially owing to its seemingly 'dry' nature. We follow a teaching sequence on the 'rock cycle' and explore the origins of the words we use. The potentially difficult ideas here emanate from the fact that the content either presents itself as an illusion of the real thing (e.g. phases of the Moon) or is explored from our short human time frame (e.g. the rock cycle).

Shy Genius

If there was a true intellectual giant among the meteorologists of the nineteenth century, a man who was both able and inclined to devote scientific genius to the problems of the atmosphere, a man who could define the behavior of the air in such a way as to set the science on a whole new plane, a Newton or a Kepler of meteorologists, it was a certain American country boy who learned his physics with a pitchfork while carving geometric diagrams in the soft poplar of a barn. That boy would be William Ferrel. Although great astronomers and physicists had taken up problems of the atmosphere from time to time, adding insight and advancement here and there before turning back to their principal endeavors, Ferrel's was the first really powerful intellect to focus sustained attention on meteorology. atmosphere appeared first as An Essay on the Winds and the Currents of the Ocean and then, with more mathematical development, as The Motions of Fluids and Solids Relative to the Earth's Surface,...

How science works

For example, Einstein's theory of general relativity says that gravity should bend the path of a beam of light, just as it bends the path of a ball thrown into the air. The astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington saw that this part of the theory could be tested by observing the position of a group of stars when their location, as viewed from Earth, lies very close to the edge of the Sun. If light traveling from a star to the Earth bends as it passes through the Sun's strong gravitational field, then

Telescopes Mastery

Telescopes Mastery

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