Friday, October 19, 2012

Alpha Centauri, Freedom, and Me

This post is not about the World Series. Baseball is very much in the news, though:

Science, Religion, and a Hairball

I think this comic strip is funny. Your experience may vary:


(Wiley Miller's Non Sequitur, used w/o permission(October 15, 2012))

I haven't run into anyone who believes that the universe is a divine hairball. I have, however, encountered folks who seem convinced that:
  • Religion
    • Depends on
      • Ignorance
      • Superstition
      • Credulity
    • Opposes
      • Science
      • Reason
  • Science
    • Depends on
      • Lies
      • Immorality
    • Opposes
      • Religion
      • Morality
Remarkably, quite a few painfully religious folks seem dedicated to convincing the rest of us that Christianity really is threatened by what's been learned since about 1850.

Deliberately ignoring what's being discovered about creation seems silly to me, and a strange way of showing devotion to God.

More of my take on science, religion, and all that:

Issues and an Election

About two and a half weeks from now, November 6, Americans have an opportunity to vote.

This election is particularly important, since the incumbent American administration seems reluctant to let people act as if God matters. There's also the matter of allowing people to live, even if they're not healthy and mature:

This Week's News: My Take

  1. Alpha Centauri, Planets, and Life
  2. Life, Liberty, and Elections

1. Alpha Centauri, Planets, and Life

"Earth-Size Planet Closest to Our Solar System: By The Numbers"
Tariq Malik, SPACE.com (October 17, 2012)

"An alien planet discovered around a star in the Alpha Centauri system, the nearest to our own sun, has astronomers buzzing, and not just because it's the closest exoplanet to Earth ever seen.

"The newfound extrasolar planet Alpha Centauri Bb, it turns out, is not only the nearest alien world to Earth, it's also extremely Earthlike in size and mass. The planet is much too hot and too close to its parent star to support life, but its existence suggests the tantalizing possibility that there may be more planets waiting to be found in our neighboring star system.

"Here's a look at the numbers behind the newfound alien planet Alpha Centauri Bb:...

"3.6 million: The distance, in miles, at which the planet orbits its parent star Alpha Centauri B. This is much closer to the star than Mercury is to our sun. Earth is 93 million miles (150 million km) from the sun...."
The list of known exoplanets, planets around a star other than ours, is in the hundreds and growing: rapidly. Alpha Centauri Bb is special because it's so close, and very nearly the same mass as Earth.

"Close" is a comparative term. Alpha Centauri A, B, and C are a 'nearby' trio of stars on a galactic scale. Light only takes about four and a quarter years to travel from there to here.

Compared to the size of our home galaxy, that's almost in our back yard. Even a star 20 light years away, like Gliese 581, is 'nearby.' (August 3, 2012)


(from Department of Physics, University of Oregon, used w/o permission)

On this scale, each pixel is well over 100 light years across. Sun and Gliese 581 are in the same pixel.

Life and Assumptions

Saying that Alpha Centuari Bb "is much too hot and too close to its parent star to support life" is accurate, provided that we're talking about "life as we know it:" the sort of nucleic acid/protein (O) in water variety here on Earth. That's the only sort of physical life we know about: and may be the only kind anywhere.

On the other hand, it's remotely possible that "life" doesn't necessarily need the chemical structures we're familiar with. A nearly-red-hot planet might be a very comfortable place for life using fluorosilicone in fluorosilicone instead of our organic mix. Or we may find critters made of lipid in hydrogen living in the borderlands of our own planetary system. (Drifting at the Edge of Time and Space (April 12, 2010)

Detected, Yes: Seen, No

It's been a long time since astronomers relied entirely on being able to pick out objects by looking up at the sky: with or without a telescope. Many exoplanets are discovered by looking for stars that wobble back and forth - very slightly - as their planets swing around them. That's how astronomers found Alpha Centauri Bb.
"Discovery! Earth-Size Alien Planet at Alpha Centauri Is Closest Ever Seen"
Mike Wall, SPACE.com (October 16, 2012)

"The star system closest to our own sun hosts a planet with roughly Earth's mass and may harbor other alien worlds as well, a new study reports.

"Astronomers detected the alien planet around the sunlike star Alpha Centauri B, which is part of a three-star system just 4.3 light-years away from us. The newfound world is about as massive as Earth, but it's no Earth twin; its heat-blasted surface may be covered with molten rock, researchers said....

"...Alpha Centauri Bb zips around its star every 3.2 days, orbiting at a distance of just 3.6 million miles (6 million kilometers). For comparison, Earth orbits about 93 million miles, or 150 million km, from the sun....

"...The research team, led by Xavier Dumusque of Geneva Observatory and the University of Porto in Portugal, spotted Alpha Centauri Bb using an instrument called the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher, or HARPS...."
Some announcements of exoplanets are disputed, and occasionally turn out to be a misinterpretation of noise in the data. This time, it looks like Alpha Centauri Bb is very real: but time will tell.

2. Life, Liberty, and Elections

"Archbishop Lori says attacks on life, liberty directly linked"
Michelle Bauman, CNA/EWTN News (October 15, 2012)

"There is an inherent connection between the right to life and liberty, said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, and the faithful must be vigilant in defending against secularist attacks on both.

"We must recognize 'that a culture of life is also a culture of freedom and that a culture of death is a culture of oppression, indeed a dictatorship of relativism,' he stated....

"...'Indeed, wisdom tells us that the decisions facing us these days are not just economic,' said the archbishop. 'Instead, they go right to the heart of who we are, and they go right to the heart of our freedom to put into practice what we know to be true.'..."
Americans have an election next month. On of the very important issues at stake is whether or not all Americans have a right to stay alive: or whether we'll continue reserving that privilege for folks who are sufficiently mature and healthy to be considered 'real' people.

Viewing all Americans as people, and having laws that reflect that idea, may sound radical. I think all human beings are people, but recognize that not everyone shares my view.

Thinking that a human being is a person, no matter what some ruler says, is my personal opinion. More to the point, it's what the Catholic Church says.

Since I'm a practicing Catholic, I pay attention to what the Church teaches. Among other things, we're told to:
  • Respect human life
    • Because life is sacred
      (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2258)
  • Support religious freedom
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2104-2109)
    • For everybody
      (Catechism, 2106)
  • Take an active part in public life
    (Catechism, 1915)
  • Contribute to the good of society
    • In a spirit of
      • Truth
      • Justice
      • Solidarity
      • Freedom
    (Catechism, 2239)
  • Submit to legitimate authorities
    • Refuse obedience to civil authorities
      • When their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience
      (Catechism, 2242)
    (Catechism, 2239)
    (June 1, 2012)
I realize that there are issues other than whether or not it's okay to kill innocent people. But I think the 'right to life' is important: because after a person is dead, other rights don't matter all that much.

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