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Ultima Thule sounds like a superhero or a metal rock band.  It is heroic, in a way, and it is rock.

To welcome in 2019, just after the Earthly celebrations, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by Ultima Thule. Formerly known by the very un-superhero names Kuiper Belt Object an 2014 MU69, Ultima Thule is the farthest object that any craft has ever visited. It is a tiny fragment of the early solar system.

An artistic rendering of New Horizons when it flew by Pluto Image: NASA/APL

New Horizons successfully “phoned home” at 10:28 a.m. EST, letting NASA scientists know all of its systems survived the flyby of Ultima Thule. The first real images will now slowly trickle in over the coming hours and days.

I view this as wonderful an awesome is the true wonder and awe senses of those words.

Maybe even more amazing is that New Horizons will send information back to Earth. I don’t even get a good WiFi signal when I bring my laptop upstairs to the bedroom. The New Horizons exploratory spacecraft is about four billion miles (6.6 billion km) from us. Wow.  It takes about a bit more than six hours for the signals to reach NASA’s Deep Space Network.

On New Year’s Day morning, New Horizons signaled that it had made the flyby unharmed.

Some may dismiss all this about a far-out space rock as trivial. How does it help me in my daily life? I can’t speak intelligently on the scientific data obtained and how it will be used, but I see great value in us pushing further and knowing more about what is “out there” and where it all came from. And if that doesn’t fit into your view of science and religion, I guess we’ll just have to disagree.

Updates on New Horizons at http://pluto.jhuapl.edu and NASA’s mission to Pluto
and the Kuiper Belt from The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Want to know where the name Ultima Thule comes from? Check out this post on another one of my blogs.

I was sorting through old, college books in preparation for yet another book donation as I thin out my shelves of the books I read and will likely never reread – or bought and never did or will read. A philosophy class book on Benedict de (AKA Baruch) Spinoza fits into the former category.

I flipped through the pages and saw some of my of notes and marginalia. It is hard to believe I read this and perhaps even understood it at one time.

“everything in the universe is made of a single substance”
“the universe is subject to natural laws”
“soul and body are not separate – 2 parts of same thing”

In a section that I apparently found very interesting and heavily annotated, I noted:

“God does not stand outside the universe”
“the universe IS God”

This was heavy stuff for a college freshman. Now, I don’t recall enough about Spinoza’s philosophy to even fake a decent book report, but that last margin note about God is where I seem to have arrived philosophically at this late stage of my life.

Spinoza was born in Amsterdam in 1632 to a family of Portuguese Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity by the Spanish Inquisition. The family took refuge in Amsterdam, where there was a vibrant community of Jewish merchants and intellectuals. Spinoza fit in but was excommunicated from the Jewish community for questioning the existence of miracles.

He supported himself making lenses, and in his spare time studied mathematics, philosophy, and theology.

He wrote and published three books in his lifetime, but only his first book, Principles of the Philosophy of Rene Descartes, actually carried his name because he was afraid that if he published his ideas, he would be branded a heretic by both Jews and Christians.

spinoza

“Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind,
a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.” -B. Spinoza

 

 

Dark matter bothers me. It also bothers scientists.

Galaxies don’t rotate by the same physics that we know and understand. Scientists noticed that stars at a galaxy’s edge rotate faster than expected. How can we explain that? There must be matter that is invisible to us that is there.

In 1998 and the Hubble Space Telescope observations of a very distant supernovae showed that a long time ago the universe was actually expanding more slowly than it is today. We once believed that gravity was causing the slowing expansion of the universe, but this showed that it was accelerating.

expansion of universe

A diagram reveals showing the rate of expansion since the universe’s birth 15 billion years ago. The curve changes noticeably about 7.5 billion years ago, when objects in the universe began flying apart at a faster rate. Astronomers theorize that the faster expansion rate is due to a mysterious, dark force that is pulling galaxies apart. Credit: NASA/STSci/Ann Feild

Astronomers know more about what dark matter is not than what it actually is. Roughly 68% of the universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27%. The rest is, well, everything on Earth. This “normal matter” is less than 5% of the universe. Actually, that hardly makes it qualify as the”norm.”

Most of the universe is made up of dark energy, and that mysterious force drives the accelerating expansion of the universe. The next largest ingredient is dark matter, and that only interacts with the rest of the universe through its gravity.

At one time, the theory was that MACHOs (Massive Compact Halo Objects) was the cause.  A MACHO, such as a brown dwarf, would be so massive that it would bend light around them. We know they exist, and we know they are out there, even though they are too dark for us to see. But this theory fell out of favor because there are not enough of them to make the galaxy-rotation math work.

Astrophysicists next came up with the WIMP (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles – the scientists do have a sense of humor). Maybe the universe is full of very small things we can’t see.

And maybe dark matter is made up of a different object we have never observed. One candidate is the neutralino.

We keep looking. The Large Hadron Collider, one of the most expensive science experiments ever built, is looking, but hasn’t found them.

But we do know that the universe is “heavier” than what we can see.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
– Hamlet (1.5.167-8)

Dark matter doesn’t keep me up at night. But it did bother Alvy in the film Annie Hall.

This past Memorial Day Weekend, we had some clear skies and some rainy ones. On one clear evening in Paradelle I was able to see a very bright “star” near the moon. It looks like a star, but it is Jupiter.

Venus sets in the west not too long after the sun sets, and the Moon and Jupiter were the two brightest objects in the sky.

I knew to look for a fainter true star. It is fainter but still one of the brightest stars, even in the moon’s glare. This is Spica. It is the brightest star in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. I’m not very knowledgeable about the zodiac, but I know it is a key star in that study.

Spica is a first-magnitude star, but it appears much fainter than Jupiter. That is because Jupiter is relatively close (or at least nearer)to Earth. This is what draws me to gazing at the night sky is my semi-knowledgeable way: the idea that Spica is about 262 light-years away, and I am looking at its light.

The universe makes me think about the original meanings of words like WONDERful and AWEsome.

Spica is the easiest star to spot in Virgo. There is a saying to find Spica you can “follow the arc of the Big Dipper to Arcturus and speed on to Spica.” But that probably doesn’t make it any easier for the average Earthling to find because most people know very little about the night sky.

Besides Spica, other bright stars in Virgo include many I had never heard of: β Virginis (Zavijava), γ Virginis (Porrima), δ Virginis (Auva) and ε Virginis (Vindemiatrix). Other fainter stars that were also given names are ζ Virginis (Heze), η Virginis (Zaniah), ι Virginis (Syrma) and μ Virginis (Rijl al Awwa).

Again, the wonder and awe of all this is discovering that one of the stars, 70 Virginis, has one of the first known extrasolar planetary systems and it contains a confirmed planet 7.5 times the mass of Jupiter. I can’t even really grasp the size of my own Earth. And the star Chi Virginis has one of the most massive planets ever detected, at a mass of 11.1 times that of Jupiter. And there are 35 verified exoplanets orbiting 29 stars in Virgo.

All this makes me feel like such a small part of the universe. But i also makes me feel part of the universe.

 

This first appeared on One-Page Schoolhouse

Science and atheism usually sit at the same table. They are friendly. Sometimes they sit at the agnostics table, and it’s not that they are never friendly to the believers, but they have their usual place.

One time, over drinks, one of the believers said to science, “Well, I know you believe in one miracle.”

“Oh, what’s that?” said science, laughing.

“The Big Bang. Everything from nothing. That’s a pretty big miracle.”

Which brings us to infinity. It’s a topic so vast and unimaginable for most of us to wrap our brains around.

Infinity? Forever? Wait, what came before that big bang?

Physicists have a hard enough time figuring what happened at the very first moment of the big bang. But what about before that? Did time or anything exist before it?

Theories are out there. Maybe there was a series of bangs and they keep happening.  What about that whole string theory thing?

Maybe the universe isn’t infinite. Maybe it is just really big. Sounds like a joke, but cosmologist Janna Levin uses that kind of questioning in one of her books. And she is looking at a group of Big Questions –  black holes, the big bang, extra dimensions, and dark energy – questions so big we have to sometimes laugh.

That hit me hard in the funny part of the brain in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. The idea that the universe is expanding is scary.

In Janna Levin’s How the Universe Got Its Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space we can follow her through the the paradoxes of finitude. Those hot and cold spots left over from the Big Bang have a pattern that may eventually reveal the true size and shape of the cosmos.

“For a long time I believed the universe was infinite. Which is to say, I just never questioned this assumption that the universe was infinite. But if I had given the question more attention, maybe I would have realized sooner. The universe is the three-dimensional space we live in and the time we watch pass on our clocks. It is our north and south, our east and west, our up and down. Our past and future. As far as the eye can see there appears to be no bound to our three spatial dimensions and we have no expectation for an end to time. The universe is inhabited by giant clusters of galaxies, each galaxy a conglomerate of a billion or a trillion stars. The Milky Way, our galaxy, has an unfathomably dense core of millions of stars with beautiful arms, a skeleton of stars, spiraling out from this core. The earth lives out in the sparsely populated arms orbiting the sun, an ordinary star, with our planetary companions. Our humble solar system. Here we are. A small planet, an ordinary star, a huge cosmos. But we’re alive and we’re sentient. Pooling our efforts and passing our secrets from generation to generation, we’ve lifted ourselves off this blue and green water-soaked rock to throw our vision far beyond the limitations of our eyes.”

The universe is big, but if you’re feeling crowded for space luckily there are probably many universes  scattered through time and space.

I have read that it might be that every time I make a choice a new universe opens. In one of these worlds, I am writing this; in another, I am climbing Mt. Fuji.

This certainly is the stuff of science-fiction, but physicists think the multiverse could be real.

We do love those“what if” questions. What if I had made the other choice? Better, worse, or just different? What if  the road not taken was taken? What if you actually took both roads, but one was in another universe?

Before you leave this post and head into one of those multiple universes, let me alert you to some of the theories. Try searching on “the quilted multiverse,” “the inflationary universe” and “the ultimate multiverse.”

This is not such a new idea.

“The idea of multiple universes is about 2,500 years old,” says Mary-Jane Rubenstein, a professor of religion and philosophy at Wesleyan University. Before people with advanced degrees were theorizing, the Atomist philosophers, of ancient Greece were considering it 2500 years ago. “The Atomists believed that it was not the case that some anthropomorphic god or gods made the universe so it was perfect, but that our world was one of an infinite number of other worlds. Worlds were the product of accident, of particles colliding with one another, and an infinite amount of space to play in.”

Leucippus and his pupil Democritus proposed that all matter was composed of small indivisible particles called atoms. That was their way of reconciling two conflicting schools of thought on the nature of reality. On one side was Heraclitus, who believed that the nature of all existence is change. On the other side was Parmenides, who believed instead that all change is illusion.

If you think multiverses are confusing, then consider good old Parmenides. He rejected sensory experience as the path to an understanding of the universe in favor of purely abstract reasoning. He believed there is no such thing as “void” and therefore “if the void is, then it is not nothing; therefore it is not the void.”

In an interview, Rubenstein reminds us that even when Copernicus knocked us out of the center of the solar system, and Darwin knocked us out of Eden, we were still sure we were running the show on Time and other big things in this universe.

Oh, and this definitely leads to theological problems. Not that scientists care. Rubenstein brings up that in a Christian framework, you would have to wonder about those inhabitants of those other universes. Did they also Fall? Did Christ redeem them? Is He moving from universe to universe to get incarnated, teach for 30 years, and then die?

I’m just wondering what I’ll be doing in this universe this year. It hurts my brain to wonder what I will be up to in parallel Paradelles.

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