Friday, December 31, 2010

Imaging Extrasolar Planets

While astronomers have identified over 500 planets around other stars, they're all too small and distant to fill even a single pixel in our most powerful telescopes. That's why science must rely on art to help us imagine these strange new worlds. From Spitzer Space Telescope.

While astronomers have identified over 500 planets around other stars, they're all too small and distant to fill even a single pixel in our most powerful telescopes. That's why science must rely on art to help us imagine these strange new worlds.

Even without pictures of these exoplanets, astronomers have learned many things that can be illustrated in artwork. For instance, measurements of the temperatures of many "Hot Jupiters," massive worlds orbiting very close to their stars, hint that their atmospheres may be as dark as soot, glowing only from their own heat.

While "Hot Jupiters" would be relatively dark in visible light, compared to their stars, their brightness is proportionally much greater in the infrared. Illustrating this dramatic contrast change helps explain why the infrared eye of NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope plays a key role in studying exoplanets.

As our understanding evolves, so must the artwork. Astronomers found a blazing hot spot on the exoplanet Upsilon Andromedae b that at first, appeared to face towards its star. More data has revealed that the hottest area is actually strangely rotated almost 90 degrees away, near the day/night terminator.

WASP 12b is as hot as the filament in a light bulb, and would be blazing bright to our eyes. Most interestingly, if it proves to have a strongly elliptical orbit, as first thought, calculations show it would be shedding some of its outer atmosphere into a gassy disk around its star.

Computer simulations of HD 80606 b, constrained by global infrared measurements, are helping astronomers to better understand the details of how its atmosphere circulates. These computations can feed back into the artwork helping us produce more plausible illustrations.

The closest known exoplanet is 10 light years away in the Epsilon Eridani system. Excess infrared light found here by Spitzer has led astronomers to conclude it also has two asteroid belts, hinting at the possibility of other small, rocky worlds.

Perhaps the strangest known planetary system orbits the pulsar PSR B1257+12, the neutron star remnant of a supernova. Astronomers have detected three planets that either survived the explosion, or formed afterwards in this region filled with spinning magnetic fields and hostile radiation.

Until the day we can explore other star systems as thoroughly as our own, exoplanet art inspired by the real science will help fill in the gaps in our imagination.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ice Volcano on Titan

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has found possible ice volcanoes on Saturn's moon Titan that are similar in shape to those on Earth that spew molten rock.

Topography and surface composition data have enabled scientists to make the best case yet in the outer solar system for an Earth-like volcano landform that erupts in ice. The results were presented today at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

"When we look at our new 3-D map of Sotra Facula on Titan, we are struck by its resemblance to volcanoes like Mt. Etna in Italy, Laki in Iceland and even some small volcanic cones and flows near my hometown of Flagstaff," said Randolph Kirk, who led the 3-D mapping work, and is a Cassini radar team member and geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Scientists have been debating for years whether ice volcanoes, also called cryovolcanoes, exist on ice-rich moons, and if they do, what their characteristics are. The working definition assumes some kind of subterranean geological activity warms the cold environment enough to melt part of the satellite's interior and sends slushy ice or other materials through an opening in the surface. Volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io and Earth spew silicate lava.

Some cryovolcanoes bear little resemblance to terrestrial volcanoes, such as the tiger stripes at Saturn's moon Enceladus, where long fissures spray jets of water and icy particles that leave little trace on the surface. At other sites, eruption of denser materials might build up volcanic peaks or finger-like flows. But when such flows were spotted on Titan in the past, theories explained them as non-volcanic processes, such as rivers depositing sediment. At Sotra, however, cryovolcanism is the best explanation for two peaks more than 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) high with deep volcanic craters and finger-like flows.

"This is the very best evidence, by far, for volcanic topography anywhere documented on an icy satellite," said Jeffrey Kargel, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, Tucson. "It's possible the mountains are tectonic in origin, but the interpretation of cryovolcano is a much simpler, more consistent explanation."

Kirk and colleagues analyzed new Cassini radar images. His USGS group created the topographic map and 3-D flyover images of Sotra Facula. Data from Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer revealed the lobed flows had a composition different from the surrounding surface. Scientists have no evidence of current activity at Sotra, but they plan to monitor the area.

"Cryovolcanoes help explain the geological forces sculpting some of these exotic places in our solar system," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "At Titan, for instance, they explain how methane can be continually replenished in the atmosphere when the sun is constantly breaking that molecule down."

Friday, August 13, 2010

Raw Food

Raw food is just another form of extremism. It takes a very good idea: increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, and can take it too far. The reasons to follow an all-raw diet are just bad logic, and can cause great harm.

The Raw Foods Website I used in the video:

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Echoes Of A Supernova

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The Hidden Universe (Episode 20): Cassiopeia A - Echoes of a Supernova A supernova flash echoing through surrounding dust clouds has given astronomers a virtual time machine for studying the light from the explosion that nobody saw.

This is the Hidden Universe of NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, exploring the mysteries of infrared astronomy with your host Dr. Robert Hurt.

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It's the 17th century supernova that nobody saw, but telescopes in space and on Earth have teamed up to look back in time and study it today!

When a massive star reaches its end of days it explodes dramatically and, for a few months, can outshine anything else in the galaxy. Earlier supernovas had been seen by many, often shining brighter than the planets. Of course with no witnesses, and no records, it's difficult to tell exactly what kind of supernova it was.

A team led by astronomer Oliver Krause has, over the last few years, made a remarkable series of infrared observations of the region. These Spitzer Space Telescope images show shifting patterns of glowing dust beyond the remnant itself. These changes are so fast that they indicate motion at the speed of light!

To get what's happening we have to remember that light moves fast, but in such a vast galaxy it still takes a while for it to get anywhere. Cassiopeia A (Cas A) itself is about 11,000 light-years away, which means today we're seeing what it looked like 11,000 years ago. But that's only part of the story.

The light from a supernova can even take hundreds of years to reach surrounding dust clouds. Following the arrows of light it's clear we'll see the supernova flash first. The light echoing off of the dust clouds will later arrive at various times, delayed by hundreds of years from the original flash.

So we're not seeing the dust move, we're seeing the light from the supernova move through the dust. Out there, the flash is about as bright as the full moon, which is enough to warm the dust slightly. Spitzer detects this brief boost in its thermal infrared glow.

Now, knowing the location of the infrared light echo, Dr. Krause and his team went searching for a far more elusive visible-light echo. Using the powerful Subaru telescope in Hawaii they succeeded in measuring the very faint light of the supernova itself reflecting off the dust. The light echo has acted like an astronomical time machine, letting us study the original supernova using instruments that were beyond imagination in the 17th century.

By matching its visible spectral signature to a wellstudied supernova in a nearby galaxy, Krause and his team have now identified it as a so-called Type IIb supernova. A Type IIb is fainter than the earlier Type Ib supernovas noted by Tycho Brahe in 1572 and Johannes Kepler in 1604. Interestingly, the Royal Astronomer Flamsteed noted a star near Cas A in August of 1680 with a brightness consistent with a Type IIb supernova at that distance. So maybe it was seen after all!

But this light echo reveals more than just the supernova. The expanding flash also lets astronomers study the three-dimensional structure of the dust, illuminating it one slice at a time. If we combine the images, assigning colors to the observation dates, the result is a prismatic display of the 3D dust structure. The nearest dust is blue, and the most distant is red, while everything that stays constant is grey. We can see that interstellar dust lies in sheets and filaments, not, for instance, big, puffy clouds.

This remarkable light echo around Cas A has led to a better understanding of both supernovas and interstellar dust, which itself is made of elements forged in previous generations of supernovas. This also marks the start of the third year of our Hidden Universe podcasts. On behalf of the staff of the Spitzer Science Center, I'd like to thank all of our viewers for making this and our other podcasts so successful. And keep watching, because there's a lot more to this hidden universe just waiting to be discovered!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Germ Theory Denialism

A deeper look into the minds of anti-vaccination activists, HIV/AIDS denialists, and the like.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mechanisms Of Evolution: How Does Variety Give Rise To New Species?

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Mechanisms of Evolution (Part 2): How does variety arise in the genomes of individuals and a group? How does variety give rise to new species?

Speciation is the evolutionary process by which new biological species arise. In order for continuing evolution there must be mechanisms to increase or create genetic variation and mechanisms to decrease it. The mechanisms of evolution are mutation, natural selection, genetic drift, recombination and gene flow.

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1. Does The Evidence Support Evolution?
2. Vitamin C And Common Ancestry
3. Are We Descended From Viruses?
4. Does The Fossil Record Support Evolution?
5. Where Are The Transitional Forms?


1. Introduction
2. Universal Common Descent
3. Good Design, Bad Design
4. Speciation And Extinction
5. How Fast Is Evolution?
6. What Can Embryos Tell Us About Evolution?
7. The Molecules Of Life
8. Molecular Evolution: Genes And Proteins
9. Retroviruses And Pseudogenes


The Importance of Evolution in Biology

"Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." -- Theodosius Dobzhansky

Evolution has been called the cornerstone of biology, and for good reasons. It is possible to do research in biology with little or no knowledge of evolution. Most biologists do. But, without evolution biology becomes a disparate set of fields. Evolutionary explanations pervade all fields in biology and brings them together under one theoretical umbrella.

We know from microevolutionary theory that natural selection should optimize the existing genetic variation in a population to maximize reproductive success. This provides a framework for interpreting a variety of biological traits and their relative importance. For example, a signal intended to attract a mate could be intercepted by predators. Natural selection has caused a trade- off between attracting mates and getting preyed upon. If you assume something other than reproductive success is optimized, many things in biology would make little sense. Without the theory of evolution, life history strategies would be poorly understood.

Macroevolutionary theory also helps explain many things about how living things work. Organisms are modified over time by cumulative natural selection. The numerous examples of jury- rigged design in nature are a direct result of this. The distribution of genetically based traits across groups is explained by splitting of lineages and the continued production of new traits by mutation. The traits are restricted to the lineages they arise in.

Details of the past also hold explanatory power in biology. Plants obtain their carbon by joining carbon dioxide gas to an organic molecule within their cells. This is called carbon fixation. The enzyme that fixes carbon is RuBP carboxlyase. Plants using C3 photosynthesis lose 1/3 to 1/2 of the carbon dioxide they originally fix. RuBP carboxlyase works well in the absence of oxygen, but poorly in its presence. This is because photosynthesis evolved when there was little gaseous oxygen present. Later, when oxygen became more abundant, the efficiency of photosynthesis decreased. Photosynthetic organisms compensated by making more of the enzyme. RuBP carboxylase is the most abundant protein on the planet partially because it is one of the least efficient.

Ecosystems, species, organisms and their genes all have long histories. A complete explanation of any biological trait must have two components. First, a proximal explanation -- how does it work? And second, an ultimate explanation -- what was it modified from? For centuries humans have asked, "Why are we here?" The answer to that question lies outside the realm of science. Biologists, however, can provide an elegant answer to the question, "How did we get here?"

Expanding Crapulence: Neal Adams and the "Expanding Earth Theory"

RHYMEMAIDEN1 explores the "expanding earth theory".

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Comets And Meteor Showers

NASA: Comets And Meteor Showers (Perseid Meteor Shower).

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Have you ever wondered what makes these cosmic fireworks? Meteor showers are just colorful debris of a passing comet or occasionally , the debris from a fragmented asteroid. When a comet nears the sun, its icy surface heats up. This causes clouds of gas, dirt and dust to be released, forming a tail of debris that can stretch for millions of miles.

As Earth passes near this dusty tail, some of the small dust particles hit our atmosphere. They burn up and create great celestial fireworks for us to enjoy.

NASA generates meteor shower forecasts to prevent potential hazards to spacecraft that are launching and orbiting Earth. NASA also monitors these showers to check the accuracy of the forecasts.

You can learn about all of NASA's missions at


Rocks and Ice in the Solar System

Our Solar System consists of the Sun, planets, and moons, but it also contains a multitude of smaller chunks of rock and ice. These objects were left over from the time when our Sun and Solar System formed.

So where are all of these small neighbors? Millions of rocky chunks called asteroids orbit in a region between the four rocky inner planets and the four outer gas giant planets. The Dawn mission is currently on its way to investigate Ceres and Vesta, two of the largest asteroids. Beyond Neptune, there is another swarm of objects made mostly of ice and dust. This is the disc-shaped region known as the Kuiper Belt, the origin of many comets. Some comets originate even farther out, from a giant shell of objects near the edge of the Solar System known as the Oort Cloud.

Our Solar System consists of the Sun, planets, and moons, but it also contains a multitude of smaller chunks of rock and ice. These objects were left over from the time when our Sun and Solar System formed.

So where are all of these small neighbors? Millions of rocky chunks called asteroids orbit in a region between the four rocky inner planets and the four outer gas giant planets. The Dawn mission is currently on its way to investigate Ceres and Vesta, two of the largest asteroids. Beyond Neptune, there is another swarm of objects made mostly of ice and dust. This is the disc-shaped region known as the Kuiper Belt, the origin of many comets. Some comets originate even farther out, from a giant shell of objects near the edge of the Solar System known as the Oort Cloud.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Science@NASA: EMS (Episode 1) - An Introduction To The Electromagnetic Spectrum

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Measuring the electromagnetic spectrum

You actually know more about it than you may think! The electromagnetic (EM) spectrum is just a name that scientists give a bunch of types of radiation when they want to talk about them as a group. Radiation is energy that travels and spreads out as it goes-- visible light that comes from a lamp in your house and radio waves that come from a radio station are two types of electromagnetic radiation. Other examples of EM radiation are microwaves, infrared and ultraviolet light, X-rays and gamma-rays. Hotter, more energetic objects and events create higher energy radiation than cool objects. Only extremely hot objects or particles moving at very high velocities can create high-energy radiation like X-rays and gamma-rays.

The different types of radiation in the EM spectrum, in order from lowest energy to highest:

Radio: Yes, this is the same kind of energy that radio stations emit into the air for your boom box to capture and turn into your favorite Mozart, Madonna, or Justin Timberlake tunes. But radio waves are also emitted by other things ... such as stars and gases in space. You may not be able to dance to what these objects emit, but you can use it to learn what they are made of.

Microwaves: They will cook your popcorn in just a few minutes! Microwaves in space are used by astronomers to learn about the structure of nearby galaxies, and our own Milky Way!

Infrared: Our skin emits infrared light, which is why we can be seen in the dark by someone using night vision goggles. In space, IR light maps the dust between stars.

Visible: Yes, this is the part that our eyes see. Visible radiation is emitted by everything from fireflies to light bulbs to stars ... also by fast-moving particles hitting other particles.

Ultraviolet: We know that the Sun is a source of ultraviolet (or UV) radiation, because it is the UV rays that cause our skin to burn! Stars and other "hot" objects in space emit UV radiation.

X-rays: Your doctor uses them to look at your bones and your dentist to look at your teeth. Hot gases in the Universe also emit X-rays .

Gamma-rays: Radioactive materials (some natural and others made by man in things like nuclear power plants) can emit gamma-rays. Big particle accelerators that scientists use to help them understand what matter is made of can sometimes generate gamma-rays. But the biggest gamma-ray generator of all is the Universe! It makes gamma radiation in all kinds of ways.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Creation "Science" 2: Frozen Mammoths

RHYMEMAIDEN1 pwns Kent Hovind.

Neil deGrasse Tyson- Is it worth it? (Today's with Matt Lauer)

A clip that should be on Youtube :P
Matt asks Neil if it is worth spending $3bn on the Cassini probe. Neil responds by pointing out that the money spent on lip balm exceeds the money spent on the mission.

WISE Surveys The Skies

Calacademy: WISE Surveys the Skies. NASA's WISE mission has just completed its first survey of the entire sky.

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WISE is a NASA-funded Explorer mission that will provide a vast storehouse of knowledge about the solar system, the Milky Way, and the Universe. Among the objects WISE will study are asteroids, the coolest and dimmest stars, and the most luminous galaxies.

WISE is an unmanned satellite carrying an infrared-sensitive telescope that will image the entire sky. Since objects around room temperature emit infrared radiation, the WISE telescope and detectors are kept very cold (below -430° F /15 Kelvins, which is only 15° Centigrade above absolute zero) by a cryostat -- like an ice chest but filled with solid hydrogen instead of ice.

Solar panels will provide WISE with the electricity it needs to operate, and will always point toward the Sun. Orbiting several hundred miles above the dividing line between night and day on Earth, the telescope will look out at right angles to the Sun and will always point away from Earth. As WISE orbits from the North pole to the equator to the South pole and then back up to the North pole, the telescope will sweep out a circle in the sky. As the Earth moves around the Sun, this circle will move around the sky, and after six months WISE will have observed the whole sky.

As WISE sweeps along the circle a small mirror scans in the opposite direction, capturing an image of the sky onto an infrared sensitive digital camera which will take a picture every 11 seconds. Each picture will cover an area of the sky 3 times larger than the full Moon. After 6 months WISE will have taken nearly 1,500,000 pictures covering the entire sky.

Each picture will have one megapixel at each of four different wavelengths that range from 5 to 35 times longer than the longest waves the human eye can see. Data taken by WISE will be downloaded by radio transmission 4 times per day to computers on the ground which will combine the many images taken by WISE into an atlas covering the entire celestial sphere and a list of all the detected objects.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Venus: Death of a Planet

From the fires of a sun's birth... twin planets emerged. Venus... and Earth. Two roads diverged in our young solar system. Nature draped one world in the greens and blues of life.

While enveloping the other in acid clouds... high heat... and volcanic flows. Why did Venus take such a disastrous turn?

For as long as we have gazed upon the stars, they have offered few signs... that somewhere out there... are worlds as rich and diverse as our own.

Recently, though, astronomers have found ways to see into the bright lights of nearby stars.

They've been discovering planets at a rapid clip... using observatories like NASA's Kepler space telescope... A French observatory known as Corot ... .And an array of ground-based instruments. The count is approaching 500... and rising.

These alien worlds run the gamut... from great gas giants many times the size of our Jupiter... to rocky, charred remnants that burned when their parent star exploded.

Some have wild elliptical orbits... swinging far out into space... then diving into scorching stellar winds. Still others orbit so close to their parent stars that their surfaces are likely bathed in molten rock.

Amid these hostile realms, a few bear tantalizing hints of water or ice... ingredients needed to nurture life as we know it.

The race to find other Earths has raised anew the ancient question... whether, out in the folds of our galaxy, planets like our own are abundant... and life commonplace?

Or whether Earth is a rare Garden of Eden in a barren universe?

With so little direct evidence of these other worlds to go on, we have only the stories of planets within our own solar system to gauge the chances of finding another Earth.

Consider, for example, a world that has long had the look and feel of a life-bearing planet.

Except for the moon, there's no brighter light in our night skies than the planet Venus... known as both the morning and the evening star.

The ancient Romans named it for their goddess of beauty and love. In time, the master painters transformed this classical symbol into an erotic figure.

It was a scientist, Galileo Galilei, who demystified planet Venus... charting its phases as it moved around the sun, drawing it into the ranks of the other planets.

With a similar size and weight, Venus became known as Earth's sister planet. But how Earth-like is it?

The Russian scientist Mikkhail Lomonosov caught a tantalizing hint in 1761. As Venus passed in front of the Sun, he witnessed a hair thin luminescence on its edge.

Venus, he found, has an atmosphere. Later observations revealed a thick layer of clouds. Astronomers imagined they were made of water vapor, like those on Earth. Did they obscure stormy, wet conditions below?

And did anyone, or anything, live there? The answer came aboard an unlikely messenger.... an asteroid that crashed into Earth.

That is... according to the classic sci-fi adventure, The First Spaceship on Venus. A mysterious computer disk is found among the rubble.

With anticipation rising on Earth, an international crew sets off to find out who sent it... and why. Approaching Venus, the astronauts translate the contents of the disk. The news is not good.

In a desperate attempt to prevent an interplanetary war... and save their home planet... the crew embarks on a dangerous mission.

They descend to the planet's dark surface to confront the adversaries.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

11. Climate Change - An imminent ice age debunked

In 2005 the media told us we were on the brink of another ice age. What happened?

(in chronological order)

Movie clip at the beginning from "The Day After Tomorrow"

Broeker's hypothesis that melting ice will interrupt thermohaline circulation:
"Thermohaline Circulation, the Achilles Heel of Our Climate System; Will Man-Made CO2 Upset the Current Balance?" -- Wallace S. Broeker, Science (Nov 28 1997)

Linkage of glaciation to shut down of AMOC:
"A model for Northern Hemisphere continental ice sheet variation"
-- R. G. Johnson and B. T. McClure, Quaternary Research (Sep 1976)

See also "Was the Younger Dryas Triggered by a Flood?"
Wallace S. Broecker, Science (May 26, 2006)

"Slowing of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation at 25° N"
-- Harry L. Bryden et al, Nature (Dec 1, 2005)


"Britain faces Big Freeze as Gulf Stream Loses Strength"
-- The Times (Dec 1, 2005)

"New Gulf Stream fears bring UK Ice Age warning"
-- The Evening Standard (Sep 6, 2001)

"Scientists probing a dying current bring worst climate fears to the surface."
-- The Australian, (Dec 5, 2005)

"Fears of Big Freeze as Scientists Detect Slower Gulf Stream"
-- The Independent (Dec 1, 2005)

RealClimate quote "while continued monitoring of this key climatic area is clearly warranted, the imminent chilling of the (sic) Europe is a ways off yet" at

Richard Wood saying Britain and Scandinavia should cool if Gulf Stream slowdown was real:
"Failing ocean current raises fears of mini ice age"
-- New Scientist, (Nov 30, 2005)

Gavin Schmidt saying surface temps should have dipped:
"Scientists Say Slower Atlantic Currents Could Mean a Colder Europe"
-- New York Times (Dec 1, 2005)

Robert Dickson saying much more data was needed to determine whether a slowdown was underway:

Harry Bryden saying not sure if change was temporary or signals a long-term trend:
"Failing ocean current raises fears of mini ice age"
-- New Scientist, (Nov 30, 2005)

Bryden says a variable signal, but too early to detect any trends:
"No new ice age for western Europe."
-- New Scientist, (Nov 7, 2006)

Wunch saying it's a complicated story reduced to a fairytale:

"Sea change: why global warming could leave Britain feeling the cold"
-- The Guardian (Oct 27, 2006)

"Can in situ floats and satellite altimeters detect long-term changes in Atlantic Ocean overturning?"
-- Josh K. Willis, GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS (Mar 25, 2010)

"New climate change myth: Gulf Stream is NOT slowing down"
-- Daily Mail (Mar 30, 2010)

-- Daily Mail (Dec 2, 2005)

"Global warming 'will bring cooler climate for UK'"
-- Daily Telegraph (Dec 1, 2005)

"Gulf Stream is not slowing down, scientists claim."
-- Daily Telegraph (Mar 30, 2010)

1970s ice age myth busted at "Climate Change -- Anatomy of a Myth" on Potholer54 YouTube channel

Why Common Design Common Designer = FAIL

Intelligent Design advocates claim that when we see similarities between organisms, common designs, they must be evidence of a common designer. Here I show why this catchy little phrase fails miserably.

Intelligent Design is built on two pillars: Irreducible Complexity, and Design. I have previously shown that evolution predicts the IC systems will evolve. Here I disprove the concept of design.

Is life designed? Actually, yes. But the designer is not an intelligent supernatural being, life is sculpted by the environment through natural selection. Mother Nature and Father Time are the designers of life.

To download this video copyright free please go to:

Please Note: there are some prokaryotes with what resemble simple organelles, while some eukaryotes do have genomes almost completely devoid of introns, but those are the overwhelming minority.

And remember to always, Think about it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Exoplanet Exploration: PlanetQuest Historic Timeline

Exoplanet Exploration: NASA PlanetQuest Historic Timeline

The NASA interactive multimedia timeline traces the search for extrasolar planets, from ancient philosophical speculation to modern discoveries.

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Exoplanet Exploration: Planet Quest Key Milestones

• 450 B.C.: Greeks ponder the existence of other worlds
• 1750: Wright describes the Milky Way as a massive disk of stars
• 1992: Woszczan and Frail discover rocky planets
• 1995: Mayor and Queloz find a planet at 51 Pegasi
• 1999: First transiting exoplanet observed
• 2005: Spitzer observed direct light from an exoplanet
• 2008: First visible-light exoplanet images released


Are we alone? Searching for Earthlike Worlds

For centuries, human beings have pondered this question. Medieval scholars speculated that other worlds must exist and that some would harbor other forms of life. In our time, advances in science and technology have brought us to the threshold of finding an answer to this timeless question.

The recent discovery of numerous planets around stars other than the sun confirms that our solar system is not unique. Indeed, these "exoplanets" appear to be common in our galactic neighborhood.

The exoplanets we have discovered so far are giants, like Jupiter and Saturn. They are unlikely to support life as we know it. But some of these planetary systems might also contain smaller, terrestrial planets like Mars and Earth.

Over the next 15 years, NASA is embarking on a bold series of missions to find and characterize new worlds. These will be the most sensitive instruments ever built, capable of reaching beyond the bounds of our own solar system.

The Keck Interferometer combines the light of the world's largest optical telescopes, extending our vision to new distances. Using a technique known as interferometry, the Keck will study dust clouds around stars where Earthlike planets may be forming.

NASA's Kepler Mission, scheduled to launch in 2009, will survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to detect and characterize hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets. It will tell us whether planets like Earth are common or rare in our galaxy.

SIM PlanetQuest, to follow Kepler, will measure the distances and positions of stars with unprecedented accuracy. SIM's precision will allow us to locate planets in the habitable zones around nearby stars.

Finally, the Terrestrial Planet Finder will build upon the legacy of all that have gone before it. With an imaging power 100 times greater than the Hubble Space Telescope, the Terrestrial Planet Finder observatories will provide the first photographs of nearby planetary systems.

We will analyze the atmospheres of these distant worlds, looking for carbon dioxide, water and ozone. The substantial presence of all three gasses would suggest that life is present. Such a discovery would at last provide convincing evidence that we are not alone. We will have found another Earth.

Follow the history of planet hunting from science fiction to science fact with NASA's PlanetQuest Historic Timeline at

The interactive PlanetQuest web feature, developed by JPL, conveys the story of exoplanet exploration through a rich tapestry of words and images spanning thousands of years, beginning with the musings of ancient philosophers and continuing through the current era of space-based observations by NASA's Spitzer and Kepler missions. The timeline highlights milestones in culture, technology and science, and includes a planet counter that tracks the pace of exoplanet discoveries over time.

• More information about exoplanets and NASA's planet-finding program:
• 3D New Worlds Atlas - A visual guide to exoplanets:


Related videos:

NASA/Spitzer Hidden Universe (Episode 4): Night And Day On An Alien World

NASA/Spitzer Hidden Universe (Episode 16): The X-Planets

Hubblecast 12: An Extrasolar Planet's Atmosphere

Hubblecast 14: Organic Molecules On Extrasolar Planets

ESOcast 11: Exoplanets Galore - 32 New Extrasolar Planets Found

ESOcast 18: Exoplanet Caught On The Move

The Webb Space Telescope (JWST): Finding Earth-like Planets

Hubble's Universe Unfiltered (Episode 7): Eye Spy A Planet - Extrasolar Planets

Friday, June 18, 2010

Jupiter's New Spot

Jupiter's New Spot - an amateur astronomer discovers a new, mysterious spot on Jupiter.

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New black spot - Possible New Impact on Jupiter

Amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley from Canberra, Australia captured an image of Jupiter on July 19 showing a possible new impact site. Anthony's image shows a new dark spot in the South Polar Region of Jupiter, at approximately 216° longitude in System 2. It looks very similar to the impact marks made on Jupiter when comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed into the gas giant in 1994.

It has been confirmed this is an impact on Jupiter. Mike Salway shared the news Glenn Orton from JPL has imaged the Jupiter black spot with the NASA Infrared Telescope and he has confirmed it's an impact.

On his observing blog, Anthony Wesley said he began observing Jupiter at approximately 11pm local time (1300UTC), using a 14.5" Newtonian telescope. "I'd noticed a dark spot rotating into view in Jupiter's south polar region and was starting to get curious," he wrote. "When first seen close to the limb (and in poor conditions) it was only a vaguely dark spot, I thought likely to be just a normal dark polar storm. However as it rotated further into view, and the conditions also improved, I suddenly realized that it wasn't just dark, it was black in all channels, meaning it was truly a black spot."

First he thought it might be a dark moon (like Callisto) or a moon shadow, but it was in the wrong place and the wrong size. "Also I'd noticed it was moving too slow to be a moon or shadow. As far as I could see it was rotating in sync with a nearby white oval storm that I was very familiar with -- this could only mean that the back feature was at the cloud level and not a projected shadow from a moon. I started to get excited."


Calacademy's Science in Action strives to make science accessible for everyone and discuss its relevance in our everyday lives. We bring you science news through media screens and live chats on the museum floor, this Science Today website, podcasts, and monthly Nightlife programming. We gather and disseminate content through our partners, local programs, other media and Academy staff. And you.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The X-Planets

The Hidden Universe of the Spitzer Space Telescope (Episode 16): The X-Planets (Showcase).

These two extreme planets have set the records for the hottest and windiest known worlds anywhere.

This is the Hidden Universe of the Spitzer Space Telescope, exploring the mysteries of infrared astronomy with your host Dr. Robert Hurt.

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'The Hidden Universe' video series showcases some of the most exciting discoveries in infrared astronomy from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Looking beyond the visible spectrum of light, Spitzer can see a whole new universe of dust and stars hidden from our Earth-bound eyes.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Science Bytes - Episode 19

In this episode, we continue our exploration into logical fallacies. Music by Kevin MacLeod. Please send any and all submissions to

Herschel's First Year In Space

ESA Space Science & Technology: Herschel One Year After Launch.

The European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory (formerly called Far Infrared and Sub-millimetre Telescope or FIRST) has the largest single mirror ever built for a space telescope. At 3.5-metres in diameter the mirror will collect long-wavelength radiation from some of the coldest and most distant objects in the Universe. In addition, Herschel will be the only space observatory to cover a spectral range from the far infrared to sub-millimetre.

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The Herschel Space Observatory is the largest infrared space observatory launched to date. Equipped with a 3.5 metre diameter reflecting telescope and instruments cooled to close to absolute zero, Herschel will observe at wavelengths that have never previously been explored. After a roughly 60-day journey from Earth, Herschel will spend a nominal mission lifetime of three years in orbit around the second Lagrange point of the Sun-Earth system (L2).

Infrared astronomy is a young and exciting science. In recent decades infrared astronomers have unveiled tens of thousands of new galaxies, and have made surprising discoveries such as the huge amounts of water vapour that fill our Galaxy. Yet scientists know there is still much more to discover. Objects such as other planetary systems, or processes like the birth of galaxies in the early Universe, can best be studied with infrared telescopes situated in space and therefore freed from the restrictions imposed by the Earth's atmosphere. This is the reason ESA is constructing the Herschel observatory.

The Herschel spacecraft is approximately 7.5 metres high and 4 × 4 metres in overall cross section, with a launch mass of around 3.4 tonnes. The spacecraft comprises a service module, which houses systems for power conditioning, attitude control, data handling and communications, together with the warm parts of the scientific instruments, and a payload module. The payload module consists of the telescope, the optical bench, with the parts of the instruments that need to be cooled, i.e. the sensitive detector units and cooling systems. The payload module is fitted with a sunshield, which protects the telescope and cryostat from solar visible and infrared radiation and also prevents Earth straylight from entering the telescope. The sunshield also carries solar cells for the electric power generation.

LAUNCH DATE: 14-May-2009 13:12 UT
MISSION END: 2012 (extended mission)
LAUNCH MASS: 3400 kg


* Study the formation of galaxies in the early universe and their subsequent evolution
* Investigate the creation of stars and their interaction with the interstellar medium
* Observe the chemical composition of the atmospheres and surfaces of comets, planets and satellites
* Examine the molecular chemistry of the universe


* HIFI (Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared), a very high resolution heterodyne spectrometer
* PACS (Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer) - an imaging photometer and medium resolution grating spectrometer
* SPIRE (Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver) - an imaging photometer and an imaging Fourier transform spectrometer

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Coke Zero & Mentos Rocket Car

About The Coke Zero & Mentos Rocket Car

After years of work, the Coke & Mentos guys have harnessed the explosive power of these geysers and achieved human propulsion! 108 bottles of Coke Zero and 648 Mentos mints combine to propel EepyBird into the annals of unusual records.

The music is an original track by BT, written just for this video. Check out

How Does This Work?

This is one not to try at home.

The Coke Zero & Mentos Rocket Car uses a piston mechanism: a six-foot long rod sits inside a six-foot long tube attached to each bottle of Coke Zero. When the Mentos drop into the soda, the pressure tries to push the rod out of the tube. With 108 rods all pushing at once, that gives us a lot of power.

All that power is pushing against a wall braced with 3,600 pounds of cement blocks. So all the force is directed into moving the Coke Zero & Mentos Rocket Car forward. We get one big push for six feet, and then it's all coasting from there.

Want to know what makes the soda fly out of the bottle? Will you explode if you drink Coke and eat Mentos? Click here to find out:

Don't Try This at Home!

Seriously, don't try this at home. There is a huge amount of power involved, and we don't want you to get hurt.

What you can (and should) try at home is the Coke & Mentos geyser: you can get your own Coke & Mentos Kit at that includes nozzles just like the ones we use in our geyser videos, or you can click here to learn how you can make Coke & Mentos geysers with stuff from around your house:


The Coke Zero & Mentos Rocket Car by EepyBird: Fritz Grobe (the short one) and Stephen Voltz (the tall one). Directed by Rob Cohen. Music by BT. Produced by Dooma Wendschuh & sekretagent. Filmed in Tustin, California. Thanks to the incomparable EepyBird pit crew: Mike Miclon, Big Dave Tardy, Matt Tardy, and Casey Turner.

The Coke Zero & Mentos Rocket Car was welded together from an odd assortment of parts by Nick Salvati with light-saber-wielding assistance from Mike Miclon. Special thanks to the experimental research team from the Oddfellow Theater, including Mike Miclon, Matt Tardy, Jason Tardy, Dave Tardy, Casey Turner, Sid Edwards, and Brian Miclon.

And thanks to Stafford Green, Craig Cuchra, and all the folks at Coke Zero and Mentos for helping make this possible!

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Inside Natures Giants Season 1 Episode 4 The Giraffe Part 5/5 HD

All 5 Parts

Please subscribe to youtube channel WhyEvolutionIsTrue for more evolution programs.

WARNING - contains EXPLICIT scenes of animal dissections.

Season 1 Episode 4 : The Giraffe

Inside Nature's Giants dissects the largest animals on the planet to uncover their evolutionary secrets. Most wildlife documentaries tell you how an animal behaves, but by dissecting the animal and studying its anatomy we can we can see how an animal works. Experts in comparative anatomy, evolution and behaviour will put some of the most popular and enigmatic large animals under the knife. Veterinary scientist, Mark Evans, will interpret their findings, biologist Simon Watts tests the animals' physiology in the field and Richard Dawkins traces back the animals' place on the tree of life.

Experts in anatomy, evolution and behaviour examine a giraffe. For Professor Richard Dawkins, the evolution of the world's tallest animal provides some of the best evidence in favour of Darwinian natural selection.

Inside Natures Giants Season 2 Episode 1 Great White Shark Part 1/5 HD

Please subscribe to Youtube channel WhyEvolutionIsTrue for more evolution programs.

WARNING contains EXPLICIT scenes of animal dissections.

Season 2 Episode 1 : The Great White Shark

Inside Nature's Giants dissects the largest animals on the planet to uncover their evolutionary secrets. Most wildlife documentaries tell you how an animal behaves, but by dissecting the animal and studying its anatomy we can we can see how an animal works. Experts in comparative anatomy, evolution and behaviour will put some of the most popular and enigmatic large animals under the knife. Veterinary scientist, Mark Evans, will interpret their findings, biologist Simon Watts tests the animals' physiology in the field and Richard Dawkins traces back the animals' place on the tree of life.

The experts travel to South Africa to dissect a 900kg, 15-foot-long great white shark.
Comparative anatomist Joy Reidenberg uncovers the shark's incredible array of senses, including the ability to detect the electro-magnetic field given off by other creatures.
Veterinary scientist Mark Evans investigates the origins of the shark's infamous killing bite and, out at sea, a bite force test on a live great white shows just how powerful those jaws really are.
Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins explains how sharks' teeth and jaws evolved from their outer skin and gill arches.
And the programme asks whether the animal's reputation as a man killer is really deserved.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


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A Super Jupiter Makes its Mark

This ESOCast video shows how astronomers, for the first time, were able to directly follow the motion of an exoplanet as it moves from one side of its host star to the other. The planet has the smallest orbit so far of all directly imaged exoplanets, lying almost as close to its parent star as Saturn is to the Sun. Scientists believe that it may have formed in a similar way to the giant planets in the Solar System. Because the star is so young, this discovery proves that gas giant planets can form within discs in only a few million years, a short time in cosmic terms.

Only 12 million years old, or less than three-thousandths of the age of the Sun, Beta Pictoris is 75% more massive than our parent star. It is located about 60 light-years away towards the constellation of Pictor (the Painter) and is one of the best-known examples of a star surrounded by a dusty debris disc [1].

Earlier observations showed a warp of the disc, a secondary inclined disc and comets falling onto the star. "Those were indirect, but tell-tale signs that strongly suggested the presence of a massive planet, and our new observations now definitively prove this," says team leader Anne-Marie Lagrange. "Because the star is so young, our results prove that giant planets can form in discs in time-spans as short as a few million years." Recent observations have shown that discs around young stars disperse within a few million years, and that giant planet formation must occur faster than previously thought. Beta Pictoris is now clear proof that this is indeed possible.

The team used the NAOS-CONICA instrument (or NACO [2]), mounted on one of the 8.2-meter Unit Telescopes of ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), to study the immediate surroundings of Beta Pictoris in 2003, 2008 and 2009. In 2003 a faint source inside the disc was seen (eso0842), but it was not possible to exclude the remote possibility that it was a background star. In new images taken in 2008 and spring 2009 the source had disappeared!

The most recent observations, taken during autumn 2009, revealed the object on the other side of the disc after a period of hiding either behind or in front of the star (in which case it is hidden in the glare of the star). This confirmed that the source indeed was an exoplanet and that it was orbiting its host star. It also provided insights into the size of its orbit around the star.

The planet has a mass of about nine Jupiter masses and the right mass and location to explain the observed warp in the inner parts of the disc. "Together with the planets found around the young, massive stars Fomalhaut and HR8799, the existence of Beta Pictoris b suggests that super-Jupiters could be frequent byproducts of planet formation around more massive stars," explains Gael Chauvin, a member of the team.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Physics For Future Presidents

This piece discusses UC Berkeley professor Richard Muller's aptly named the Physics for Future Presidents course. Designed to illuminate and educate the leaders of our future, whomever and wherever they may be, it teaches basic physics to non-science majors.

Richard A. Muller is professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and a past winner of the MacArthur Fellowship. He is the author of "Nemesis" (Weidenfeld & Nicholson) and "Physics for Future Presidents" (Norton).

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Physics and Technology for Future Presidents: What every world leader needs to know. An Introduction to the Essential Physics Every World Leader Needs to Know.

The course is dramatically different from the traditional "Physics for Poets" approach. Many people who have tried it have discovered that it is much more fun for both the students and the professor. Nothing excites a student more than the discovery that he/she is learning something important.

"Physics and Technology for Future Presidents" contains the essential physics that students need in order to understand today's core science and technology issues, and to become the next generation of world leaders. From the physics of energy to climate change, and from spy technology to quantum computers, this is the only textbook to focus on the modern physics affecting the decisions of political leaders and CEOs and, consequently, the lives of every citizen.

How practical are alternative energy sources? Can satellites really read license plates from space? What is the quantum physics behind iPods and supermarket scanners? And how much should we fear a terrorist nuke? This lively book empowers students possessing any level of scientific background with the tools they need to make informed decisions and to argue their views persuasively with anyone -- expert or otherwise.

Based on Richard Muller's renowned course at Berkeley, the book explores critical physics topics: energy and power, atoms and heat, gravity and space, nuclei and radioactivity, chain reactions and atomic bombs, electricity and magnetism, waves, light, invisible light, climate change, quantum physics, and relativity.

Muller engages readers through many intriguing examples, helpful facts to remember, a fun-to-read text, and an emphasis on real-world problems rather than mathematical computation. He includes chapter summaries, essay and discussion questions, Internet research topics, and handy tips for instructors to make the classroom experience more rewarding.

Accessible and entertaining, "Physics and Technology for Future Presidents" gives students the scientific fluency they need to become well-rounded leaders in a world driven by science and technology.


The California Academy of Sciences is a world-class scientific and cultural institution based in San Francisco. The Academy recently opened a new facility in Golden Gate Park, a 400,000 square foot structure that houses an aquarium, a planetarium a natural history museum and a 4-story rainforest all under one roof.

The mission of the California Academy of Sciences is to explore, explain and protect the natural world.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Constructing The World's Largest Observatory

ESOcast 17: Constructing ALMA — The World's Largest Observatory.

High in the Chilean Andes, the first antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/ submillimeter Array, or ALMA for short, move in unison.

Work progresses at a frantic pace in this ambitious project, which, in a few years from now, will consist of 66 antennas, working together at an altitude of 5000 metres. Once completed, ALMA will enable astronomers to study the cold Universe in unprecedented detail.

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In this episode we are going to visit the ALMA observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Here, ESO, together with its international partners, is building what will become the world´s largest astronomical facility. ALMA will observe the Universe in millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths. This will allow astronomers to study both very cold objects as well as very distant objects in the early Universe.

And because such observations are disturbed by water vapour in the atmosphere, ALMA's being built on one of the driest places on Earth, the Chajnantor plateau at an altitude of 5000 metres, which also makes it one of the highest astronomy sites in the world. ALMA will be operated at two distinct sites: First, there's the Array Operations Site up on the plateau where the antenna are actually located and then further down there's the Operations Support Facility.

Constructing the ALMA observatory in the arid Atacama desert and at such high altitude is no easy undertaking. Before the antennas are brought to the high site they must be assembled at the Operations Support Facility or OSF.
Located at 2900 metres altitude, the OSF also serves as the control centre for the antenna array, which is located at the high site.

With majestic volcanoes looming in the distance, engineers are busy integrating and verifying the various parts of the antennas and by now, many antennas at various assembly stages can be found at the OSF. Each new antenna must meet very strict requirements. The surface of each dish is accurate to much less than the thickness of a sheet of paper, and the antennas can be pointed precisely enough to pick out a golf ball at a distance of 15 km.

In many ways the OSF has become the heart of the ALMA project. This is where the staff lives during their shifts and where much of the daily routine is going on. There are lots of meetings between various groups of scientists and engineers and there are even scientific conferences that are being held at this remote location. The OSF also houses the two transporters that are used to move the antennas. So with the scientists and engineers assembling and testing the antennas and conducting the operations at the high site, the OSF has become a rather busy and vibrant place.

Scientists and engineers test the ultimate performance of the complex system. Pointing and holography tests are performed round the clock and the experts make sure that only antennas fulfilling the tough ALMA specifications get the green light.

After an antenna has successfully passed all tests at the OSF, the time has come to move it up to the Array Operations Site, which lies at an altitude of 5000 metres. This was successfully done for the first time in September 2009. A giant custom-designed transporter is used to bring up the antenna. As each antenna weighs about 100 tons this is a delicate task that requires the utmost attention. Two transporters are available and they are also used to move the antennas to different positions to reconfigure the ALMA array.

The Array Operations Site is a place of extremes. Strong winds, low temperatures and a thin atmosphere. However, because of its extreme dryness and altitude, the site offers excellent conditions for observing the submillimetre radio waves for which ALMA was designed. In addition, Chajnantor offers plenty of space. And that's needed because, in its most extended configuration, the array of antennas measures 16 kilometres across. Despite the harsh conditions, work is ongoing to prepare the plateau for the antennas.

There is also the technical building, which will eventually be used to receive the data from the antennas to further process and then to transmit them to the OSF. Now as the number of antennas at the high site is constantly increasing, the project is moving into a new and important phase: that of Commissioning and Science Verification.

ALMA is rapidly moving forward and it holds a bright future for many areas of astronomy. For example, it will provide us with some unique insight into how stars and planets form, and it will be one of the premier tools to study the first stars and galaxies in the early and distant Universe. And so, many of us astronomers simply can't wait to get their hands on to this fantastic science machine!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Life On Mars

ESA Podcast: Why go to Mars?

Millions of years ago, the primitive environments of Mars and Earth were probably similar, so since life exists on Earth, then we can legitimately consider the hypothesis that it could also have developed on Mars.

Signatures of life

Where there's water, there could be life. "Meteorites from Mars that have landed on Earth show clear evidence that conditions appropriate to life did exist on the planet, including in the recent past," said Colin Pillinger, Consortium Leader for the Beagle 2 lander at the Open University, Milton Keynes, UK. "However, features in the meteorites which have been described as nanofossils are highly controversial. Unfortunately, we cannot be sure that organic matter found in the meteorites is the remnant of organisms that lived on Mars and not due to contamination on Earth. We need to repeat the experiments on rocks that never left the Red Planet."

The Beagle 2 lander would have looked for signatures of life on Mars, whether long-dead or still-living, by measuring the ratio of two different types of carbon in the rock. Biological processes on Earth favour the lighter isotope of carbon, carbon-12, over the heavier carbon-13. Hence, a high carbon-12 to carbon-13 ratio is taken as evidence of life and has been found in rocks up to 4000 million years old, even where geological processing has occurred.

On Earth, some life that is still active produces another signature - methane. The simplest biological sources, such as those associated with peat bogs, rice fields and ruminant animals, continuously supply fresh gas to replace that destroyed by oxidation.

Methane also has a very short lifetime on Mars because of the oxidising nature of the atmosphere, so its presence would indicate a replenishing source, which may be life, even if it is buried beneath the surface. If this methane exists, the Mars Express orbiter's PFS intrument will be able to detect this gas in the atmosphere.

The only previous landers to look directly for evidence of life on Mars were NASA's Vikings in 1976. However, Mars's harsh, oxidising atmosphere would almost certainly have destroyed any such evidence on the surface.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Science Bytes - Episode 18

In this episode, we explore in-depth the various logical fallacies in the first of a three-part arc. Music by Kevin MacLeod of

Send any and all pictures/submissions to! Be in the videos! Thanks for watching and best wishes to you all!

Next Time: Logical Fallacies, Part II

Hidden Universe: Trilogy Of Terror

The Hidden Universe of the Spitzer Space Telescope (Episode 3): The Trilogy of Terror.

A trilogy of spooky star-forming regions tell a haunting tale of the lives and deaths of stars.

This is the Hidden Universe of the Spitzer Space Telescope, exploring the mysteries of infrared astronomy with your host Dr. Robert Hurt.
The Hidden Universe' video series showcases some of the most exciting discoveries in infrared astronomy from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Looking beyond the visible spectrum of light, Spitzer can see a whole new universe of dust and stars hidden from our Earth-bound eyes.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

'The Evolution of Confusion' by Dan Dennett, AAI 2009

Dan Dennett talks about purposely-confusing theology and how it's used. He also describes his new project interviewing clergyman who secretly don't believe anymore, and introduces a new term: "Deepity."

Dan Dennett is the author of many excellent books, including "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon" and "Darwin's Dangerous Idea". He is also featured in the video "The Four Horsemen" along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens.

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Watch "The Four Horsemen" in HD on YouTube:

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