Tuesday is the 40th anniversary of the launch of Voyager 1, which, paradoxically, was shot into space two weeks after its partner spacecraft, Voyager 2. With all of the turbulent terrestrial news of late, it may seem like humanity is stuck in the past, dominated by religious wars and racial violence. But pondering the journey of these two small space explorers reminds us of just how far humanity has traveled in just a few decades.
In 2012, Voyager 1 left the sheltered cocoon we call the heliosphere, a bubble in space in which the pressure from the sun’s wind of particles and its magnetic field overcome the outside pressure from the rarefied gas that permeates the rest of our galaxy.… Seguir leyendo »
With presidential primaries in full steam, with the country wrapped up in concern about the economy, immigration and terrorism, one might wonder why we should care about the news of a minuscule jiggle produced by an event in a far corner of the universe.
The answer is simple. While the political displays we have been treated to over the past weeks may reflect some of the worst about what it means to be human, this jiggle, discovered in an exotic physics experiment, reflects the best. Scientists overcame almost insurmountable odds to open a vast new window on the cosmos. And if history is any guide, every time we have built new eyes to observe the universe, our understanding of ourselves and our place in it has been forever altered.… Seguir leyendo »
President Obama recently called on Russia to join with the United States in negotiating a mutual reduction in strategic nuclear warheads that would leave each country with slightly more than 1,000. The number would be up to one-third less than what both countries agreed to deploy in the New Start treaty, reached in the president’s first term.
His speech was met with skepticism in both Congress and the Kremlin, but not for the right reasons. Critics and doubters in both countries argued that there were substantial political roadblocks to achieving this goal. In the Kremlin, America’s Europe-based missile defense system, which Russia has fiercely opposed, seems to be a stumbling block.… Seguir leyendo »
No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish.
Last week the Vatican announced that a meeting of cardinals and bishops had ruled that the late Pope John Paul II was responsible for a second miracle, and thus the way was cleared for sainthood.
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints decided he had cured a woman from Costa Rica in 2011 after a panel of doctors apparently ruled that her recovery was otherwise inexplicable.
There's the rub, of course.… Seguir leyendo »
To our great peril, the scientific community has had little success in recent years influencing policy on global security. Perhaps this is because the best scientists today are not directly responsible for the very weapons that threaten our safety, and are therefore no longer the high priests of destruction, to be consulted as oracles as they were after World War II.
The problems scientists confront today are actually much harder than they were at the dawn of the nuclear age, and their successes more heartily earned. This is why it is so distressing that even Stephen Hawking, perhaps the world’s most famous living scientist, gets more attention for his views on space aliens than his views on nuclear weapons.Scientists’… Seguir leyendo »
The illusion of purpose and design is perhaps the most pervasive illusion about nature that science has to confront on a daily basis. Everywhere we look, it appears that the world was designed so that we could flourish.
The position of the Earth around the sun, the presence of organic materials and water and a warm climate — all make life on our planet possible. Yet, with perhaps 100 billion solar systems in our galaxy alone, with ubiquitous water, carbon and hydrogen, it isn't surprising that these conditions would arise somewhere. And as to the diversity of life on Earth — as Darwin described more than 150 years ago and experiments ever since have validated — natural selection in evolving life forms can establish both diversity and order without any governing plan.… Seguir leyendo »
Findings that showed faster-than-light travel were released to the public too soon.
What do you do as a scientist when you know a research result that is almost certainly wrong is about to become a media sensation? That is the quandary I found myself in last month as I awaited the announcement from CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, about particles called neutrinos supposedly traveling faster than the speed of light. I had already been informed about the experiment, whose findings, if true, would require an overhaul of physics: Our current understanding — based on Einstein's theory of relativity and consistent with every known physical theory and experiment — is that nothing can travel through space faster than the speed of light.… Seguir leyendo »
Now that the hype surrounding the 40th anniversary of the Moon landings has come and gone, we are faced with the grim reality that if we want to send humans back to the Moon the investment is likely to run in excess of $150 billion. The cost to get to Mars could easily be two to four times that, if it is possible at all.
This is the issue being wrestled with by a NASA panel, convened this year and led by Norman Augustine, a former chief executive of Lockheed Martin, that will in the coming weeks present President Obama with options for the near-term future of human spaceflight.… Seguir leyendo »