Chronicling the follies of religion and superstition, the virtues of skepticism, and the wonders of the real (natural) universe as revealed by science. Plus other interesting and educational stuff.

"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."

-George Carlin

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.

-Albert Einstein

“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

-Carl Sagan

The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.

-Christopher Hitchens

 

thenewenlightenmentage:

Icy Crust of Europa—Does it Reveal the Existence of a Huge Ocean Below?
The European Space Agency (ESA) also plans to launch the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer mission (JUICE) in 2022. When the spacecraft arrives at its destination, the icy moons of Jupiter, in 2030, it will fly over Europa two times to measure the thickness of its mysterious crust and explore its habitability. Scientists suspect that inside Europa, one of the icy moons of Jupiter, reservoirs of liquid water exists, the essential element for life on Earth. This theory emerged from information obtained on the Voyager and Galileo missions, which also registered fractures and `chaotic´ terrains associated to reddish materials, which contrast with the glacial white of the dominant water ice of the surface.
Water, salts and gases dissolved in the huge ocean that scientists believe could exist below Europa´s icy crust can rise to the surface generating the enigmatic geological formations associated to red-tinged materials that can be seen on this Jupiter’s satellite. This is confirmed by the experiment carried out in the laboratory with water, carbon dioxide and magnesium sulfate by researchers at Centro de Astrobiología (CAB, Spain).
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thenewenlightenmentage:

Icy Crust of Europa—Does it Reveal the Existence of a Huge Ocean Below?

The European Space Agency (ESA) also plans to launch the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer mission (JUICE) in 2022. When the spacecraft arrives at its destination, the icy moons of Jupiter, in 2030, it will fly over Europa two times to measure the thickness of its mysterious crust and explore its habitability. Scientists suspect that inside Europa, one of the icy moons of Jupiter, reservoirs of liquid water exists, the essential element for life on Earth. This theory emerged from information obtained on the Voyager and Galileo missions, which also registered fractures and `chaotic´ terrains associated to reddish materials, which contrast with the glacial white of the dominant water ice of the surface.

Water, salts and gases dissolved in the huge ocean that scientists believe could exist below Europa´s icy crust can rise to the surface generating the enigmatic geological formations associated to red-tinged materials that can be seen on this Jupiter’s satellite. This is confirmed by the experiment carried out in the laboratory with water, carbon dioxide and magnesium sulfate by researchers at Centro de Astrobiología (CAB, Spain).

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jtotheizzoe:

If the moon were only 1 pixel on your screen, how big would the rest of the solar system be?
Just click this link, I beg you, and prepare to have your mind blown.
Absolutely amazing. Fantastic work by designer Josh Worth.
For a a different look at the problem of cosmic distance, check out my video “How Big is the Solar System?”:

And for lots more fun ways to look at the scale of the universe maybe watch this one called (naturally) "The Scale of the Universe":

jtotheizzoe:

If the moon were only 1 pixel on your screen, how big would the rest of the solar system be?

Just click this link, I beg you, and prepare to have your mind blown.

Absolutely amazing. Fantastic work by designer Josh Worth.

For a a different look at the problem of cosmic distance, check out my video “How Big is the Solar System?”:

And for lots more fun ways to look at the scale of the universe maybe watch this one called (naturally) "The Scale of the Universe":

Sun Revolves Around Earth According to 1 in 4 Americans

According to The National Science Foundation, one in four Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth. The results were released from a 2012 survey whereby 2,000 people were asked various science questions. After analysis of the survey was completed, researchers concluded that 26 percent of Americans don’t know the basic rules of our solar system. Scientists describe the statistics as “frightening” and believe it emphasizes the importance of increasing funding in science programs in American schools.

These weren’t the only surprising findings, as the survey also found that 48 percent of those questioned believed that humans evolved from an earlier species of animals, relating to the evolution vs. creationism debate. Creationism and criticisms of evolution are still taught in some schools in America. It was noted that almost all public schools in America taught creationism until the late 19th century, and it is still hotly debated today on whether it should still be taught in classrooms. Another question in the survey was whether antibiotics kill viruses; 51 percent answered that no they do not. While this questions may not have to do with the knowledge of the earth revolving around the sun, it does means that half of the sample do not know the difference between viruses and bacteria or rather they simply do not know about one of the most common prescription medications used today. When questioned about how the universe began, 39 percent believed that the universe began from a massive explosion. The other 60 percent do not believe this, and while the survey did not divulge into what other answers they may have for how the universe came to be, it was estimated by a Gallop Poll that 46 percent of Americans believe in creationism. The survey also noted that less than 65 percent of Americans were aware that it is the father’s gene that determines the sex of the child – again, this is a basic biological fact that many would think most of the population should know…

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

thebrainscoop:

This is StarStuff. 
The cloudy, nebulousness of this vial are nanodiamonds, carbon molecules only a thousand atoms strong, bonded together. During the formation of our solar system a cloud of dust ballooned from the collapse of a massive molecular cloud and was circling around what would be our new, baby sun. These carbon atoms were trapped within larger molecules and compounds and became inclusions, embedded within meteorites which would become evidence of the earliest solids that condensed from the cooling of protoplanetary disks.
The Field Museum has part of the oldest known meteorite - the Allende meteorite - from which these carbon nanodiamonds were extracted through chemical processes developed by Philipp Heck, our Curator of Meteoritics. We know how old the solar system is by dating these inclusions from the Allende meteorite, giving us an estimate that our solar system is 4.567 billion years old. The carbon atoms I’m holding in the above photo are, in a sense, our greatest ancestor, and ultimately became the building blocks for all life on our planet. 
TL;DR I’m holding our greatest ancestor in the palm of my hand.

thebrainscoop:

This is StarStuff. 

The cloudy, nebulousness of this vial are nanodiamonds, carbon molecules only a thousand atoms strong, bonded together. During the formation of our solar system a cloud of dust ballooned from the collapse of a massive molecular cloud and was circling around what would be our new, baby sun. These carbon atoms were trapped within larger molecules and compounds and became inclusions, embedded within meteorites which would become evidence of the earliest solids that condensed from the cooling of protoplanetary disks.

The Field Museum has part of the oldest known meteorite - the Allende meteorite - from which these carbon nanodiamonds were extracted through chemical processes developed by Philipp Heck, our Curator of Meteoritics. We know how old the solar system is by dating these inclusions from the Allende meteorite, giving us an estimate that our solar system is 4.567 billion years old. The carbon atoms I’m holding in the above photo are, in a sense, our greatest ancestor, and ultimately became the building blocks for all life on our planet. 

TL;DR I’m holding our greatest ancestor in the palm of my hand.

wildcat2030:

Alpha Centauri B may have “superhabitable” worlds
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Since Earth is the only known inhabited planet and we happen to live here, it’s only natural to regard it as the ideal place for life to exist, and to assume that another life-bearing planet would be fairly similar. However, that is not the opinion of scientists René Heller and John Armstrong who contend that there might be a planet even more suitable for life than Earth 4.3 light years away orbiting the star Alpha Centauri B. The nice thing about having a hypothetical “superhabitable” planet revolving around Alpha Centauri B, which is part of a triple star system, is that it makes it a lot easier to indulge in a bit of a thought experiment based on the arguments put forward by Heller, of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, McMaster University, Hamilton in Ontario, Canada, and Armstrong, of the Department of Physics, Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. Imagine we’re in a spaceship approaching the planet in question. The first thing we’d notice is that its sun isn’t a familiar yellow. Instead, it’s orange. That’s because where our Sun is a yellow G2 star, Alpha Centauri B is a K-type dwarf star, hence the orange tinge. (via Alpha Centauri B may have “superhabitable” worlds)

skeptv:

The Moon Battered by Impacts

Where did the moon come from? What is it made of? And what events created the distinctive pattern of light and dark on its surface? To find out, we have sent satellites out to crash onto its surface, astronauts to comb its craters and hillsides and collect rocks, and high-tech spacecraft to map its nooks and crannies.

A half-century of study has brought us closer to the answers. Many scientists now believe that the moon was born in a monumental collision between Earth and a Mars-sized body early in the history of the solar system, some 4.5 billion years ago.

From the remains of the impact, a giant ball of magma coalesced in Earth orbit. Gravity sculpted this hot mass into a sphere. In time, its surface cooled, forming a hard crust with magma just underneath.

Around 4.3 billion years ago, a giant impact battered the moon’s south pole, sending debris as far as the opposite side of the moon. The impact formed the Aitken basin. At roughly 2,500 kilometers in diameter and 13 kilometers deep, it is one of the largest known impact craters in the Solar System.

Its formation marked the beginning of a period of large-scale changes to the moon’s surface. Over several hundred million years, the lunar terrain was rocked by a succession of heavy impacts. Some formed large basins that would eventually fill in to become the dark colored patches of the moon known as maria.

These impacts punched enormous holes in the relatively thin lunar crust. Because the moon had not yet fully cooled on the inside, lava began to seep out through cracks opened up by the impacts.

Lava spread throughout the craters, gradually filling them in and cooling. Because of the high iron content of this lava, the mare regions reflect less light and therefore appear darker than the surrounding highlands. Around one billion years ago, volcanic activity ended on the near side of the moon as the last of the large impacts made their mark on the surface. The impacts did not cease, although they were much smaller than the ones that formed the largest basins.

Some of the largest and best-known impacts from this period formed the Tycho, Copernicus, and Aristarchus craters. They feature distinctive “rays” that stretch out from the crater sites, formed by material blasted out at the moment of impact.

Finally, after billions of years of relative quiet, we arrive at the moon we see today. Though its surface continues to be affected by impacts, the bombardment has slowed dramatically.

The features we now see on the Moon’s surface are a permanent record of its early history. Within them, too, we are finding clues to the evolution of Earth itself.

via Space Rip.


thenewenlightenmentage:

"The Unexplored Planet" —NASA’s Fastest Spaceship on Approach to Pluto
One of the fastest spacecraft ever built — NASA’s New Horizons — is hurtling through the void at nearly one million miles per day. Launched in 2006, it has been in flight longer than some missions last, and it is nearing its destination: Pluto.
“There is a real possibility that New Horizons will discover new moons and rings as well,” says Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute and the mission’s principal investigator. Already, Pluto has five known moons: Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. Numerical simulations show that meteoroids striking those satellites could send debris into orbit, forming a ring system that waxes and wanes over time in response to changes in bombardment. “We’re flying into the unknown,” says Stern, “and there is no telling what we might find. The encounter begins next January,” adds Stern. “We’re less than a year away.”
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thenewenlightenmentage:

"The Unexplored Planet" —NASA’s Fastest Spaceship on Approach to Pluto

One of the fastest spacecraft ever built — NASA’s New Horizons — is hurtling through the void at nearly one million miles per day. Launched in 2006, it has been in flight longer than some missions last, and it is nearing its destination: Pluto.

“There is a real possibility that New Horizons will discover new moons and rings as well,” says Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute and the mission’s principal investigator. Already, Pluto has five known moons: Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. Numerical simulations show that meteoroids striking those satellites could send debris into orbit, forming a ring system that waxes and wanes over time in response to changes in bombardment. “We’re flying into the unknown,” says Stern, “and there is no telling what we might find. The encounter begins next January,” adds Stern. “We’re less than a year away.”

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sagansense:

Titan’s Chemical Cocktail

Dive into Titan’s thick atmosphere and find out what a strange place it is, adapted from NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio. With its clouds, rain cycle, and giant lakes, Saturn’s large moon Titan is a surprisingly Earthlike place. But unlike on Earth, Titan’s surface is far too cold for liquid water - instead, Titan’s clouds, rain, and lakes consist of liquid hydrocarbons like methane and ethane (which exist as gases here on Earth). When these hydrocarbons evaporate and encounter ultraviolet radiation in Titan’s upper atmosphere, some of the molecules are broken apart and reassembled into longer hydrocarbons like ethylene and propane.

NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft first revealed the presence of several species of atmospheric hydrocarbons when it flew by Titan in 1980, but one molecule was curiously missing - propylene, the main ingredient in plastic number 5. Now, thanks to NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, scientists have detected propylene on Titan for the first time, solving a long-standing mystery about the solar system’s most Earthlike moon.

Source: SpaceRip; NASA GSFC

spaceplasma:

Saturn Moon Has Thin Atmosphere

Saturn's icy moon Dione has an atmosphere, albeit a thin one, astronomers have discovered.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft revealed Dione’s atmosphere during a close flyby of the Saturnian satellite. Cassini’s data showed that Dione leaves behind “fingerprints” as it sweeps through Saturn’s huge magnetic field.
The moon is about 1.5 times as dense as liquid water, leading scientists to surmise that it’s made mostly of water ice with a rocky core.
However, Dione isn’t massive enough to hold on to a substantial atmosphere in the same way Earth does. Earth and other large bodies boast strong gravitational fields, which prevent atmospheric particles from escaping into space. Dione’s atmosphere lacks this gravitational aid—the moon’s thin layer of air exists only because it’s constantly being recharged.
Saturn is surrounded by a belt of highly energetic particles, akin to the Van Allen belts around Earth. Dione is located in this belt, and the reason it possesses an atmosphere is that these hot and very fast particles continuously splatter on the moon’s surface. When the particles hit Dione, they cause the moon’s surface ice to break apart chemically, releasing molecules that become the moon’s atmosphere.
Full Article

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

spaceplasma:

Saturn Moon Has Thin Atmosphere

Saturn's icy moon Dione has an atmosphere, albeit a thin one, astronomers have discovered.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft revealed Dione’s atmosphere during a close flyby of the Saturnian satellite. Cassini’s data showed that Dione leaves behind “fingerprints” as it sweeps through Saturn’s huge magnetic field.

The moon is about 1.5 times as dense as liquid water, leading scientists to surmise that it’s made mostly of water ice with a rocky core.

However, Dione isn’t massive enough to hold on to a substantial atmosphere in the same way Earth does. Earth and other large bodies boast strong gravitational fields, which prevent atmospheric particles from escaping into space. Dione’s atmosphere lacks this gravitational aid—the moon’s thin layer of air exists only because it’s constantly being recharged.

Saturn is surrounded by a belt of highly energetic particles, akin to the Van Allen belts around Earth. Dione is located in this belt, and the reason it possesses an atmosphere is that these hot and very fast particles continuously splatter on the moon’s surface. When the particles hit Dione, they cause the moon’s surface ice to break apart chemically, releasing molecules that become the moon’s atmosphere.

Full Article

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Voyager Has Still Not Left the Solar System, Is Pretty Far Out There, Though

Today was a big milestone in mankind’s quest to chuck objects really far out into the universe to see what happens. The Voyager 1 space probe, launched in 1977, has officially become the first manmade object to enter insterstellar space (unless there are men on other planets and they’ve done the same thing — it’s possible!). It’s currently floating about 12 billion miles away.

Because space is weird, there is a lot of confusion today, as always, about where exactly Voyager 1 is now. Many headlines have claimed that it has “left the solar system.”

But according to NASA, Voyager 1 is still in the solar system and will continue to be in the solar system for the next 30,000 years or so. Get ready for some NASAsplaining:

So, would the team say Voyager 1 has left the solar system? Not exactly - and that’s part of the confusion. Since the 1960s, most scientists have defined our solar system as going out to the Oort Cloud, where the comets that swing by our sun on long timescales originate. That area is where the gravity of other stars begins to dominate that of the sun. It will take about 300 years for Voyager 1 to reach the inner edge of the Oort Cloud and possibly about 30,000 years to fly beyond it. Informally, of course, “solar system” typically means the planetary neighborhood around our sun. Because of this ambiguity, the Voyager team has lately favored talking about interstellar space, which is specifically the space between each star’s realm of plasma influence.

In other words, this is a semantic debate. The important part is that Voyager 1 is really far away from Earth right now, collecting data in a place where we’ve never done that before. It’s a pretty big achievement for a species that can barely agree on what sports to play in the Olympics.

(Source: New York Magazine)

“Hidden Flux” of Material May Help Explain Earth’s Origins

Scientists at MIT have discovered a “hidden flux” of material deep in the Earth’s mantle that would make the planet’s overall composition more similar to that of meteorites, supporting the theory that Earth arose from the collision of asteroids.

It’s widely thought that the Earth arose from violent origins: Some 4.5 billion years ago, a maelstrom of gas and dust circled in a massive disc around the sun, gathering in rocky clumps to form asteroids. These asteroids, gaining momentum, whirled around a fledgling solar system, repeatedly smashing into each other to create larger bodies of rubble — the largest of which eventually cooled to form the planets.

Countless theories, simulations and geologic observations support such a scenario. But there remains one lingering mystery: If the Earth arose from the collision of asteroids, its composition should resemble that of meteoroids, the small particles that break off from asteroids.

But to date, scientists have found that, quite literally, something doesn’t add up: Namely, the Earth’s mantle — the layer between the planet’s crust and core — is missing an amount of lead found in meteorites whose composition has been analyzed following impact with the Earth.

Much of the Earth is composed of rocks with a high ratio of uranium to lead (uranium naturally decays to lead over time). However, according to standard theories of planetary evolution, the Earth should harbor a reservoir of mantle somewhere in its interior that has a low ratio of uranium to lead, to match the composition of meteorites. But such a reservoir has yet to be discovered — a detail that leaves Earth’s origins hazy.

Now researchers in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences have identified a “hidden flux” of material in the Earth’s mantle that would make the planet’s overall composition much more similar to that of meteorites. This reservoir likely takes the form of extremely dense, lead-laden rocks that crystallize beneath island arcs, strings of volcanoes that rise up at the boundary of tectonic plates….

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