Friday, April 5, 2013

Studying the Builder's Craft

(from (April 3, 2013), used w/o permission)
Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) on the International Space Station. (July 12, 2011)

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder's craft."
(Psalms 19:2)
More than 20 centuries have passed since that was written.

I don't think learning more about this astonishing creation changes what Psalms 19:2 says, for reasons given in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 35, 159, and 2104. (April 2, 2013)

This week's news includes what folks would have called "relevant" several decades back. Instead, I decided to focus on what we're learning about Earth's past and facets of creation that we only recently discovered.
  1. North America's Geologic History: New Maps
  2. Dark Matter Research: Background
  3. Particle Physics and Workplace Routines

1. North America's Geologic History: New Maps

(Karin Sigloch, via LiveScience, used w/o permission)
"Under the west coast of North America, seafloor from the Pacific Basin sinks back into the earth's mantle. The subducted seafloor remains visible to seismic tomography, a geophysical imaging method that uses earthquakes as signal sources. This 3-D image renders the mountainous topography of the western U.S., and the ancient oceanic plate from the surface down to 1500 km depth (colour changes in depth increments of 200 km)...."
"Geologic History of North America Gets Overturned"
Becky Oskin, OurAmazingPlanet, via LiveScience (April 3, 2013)

"It's time to redraw the map of the world during the reign of the dinosaurs, two scientists say.

"Picture the U.S. West Coast as a tortured tectonic boundary, similar to Australia and Southeast Asia today. Erase the giant subduction zone researchers have long nestled against western North America. Drop a vast archipelago into the ancient Panthalassa Ocean, usually drawn as an empty void, the kind on which medieval mapmakers would have depicted fantastical beasts.

" 'Now it fits together,' said Karin Sigloch, a seismologist at Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich, and lead study author. 'We've come up with a pretty different solution that I think will hold up.'..."
Seismic tomography works on the same basic principle we use when tapping a wall to find the studs. It's part of new imaging technology using computers, like the now-familiar CAT scans.

Good News, Bad News, and Science

Karin Sigloch and Mitch Mihalynuk's new analysis of Earth's geologic history may very well be correct. It explains what's being found deep within this planet: and why we're not finding features that existing models say should be there. That's the good news.

The bad news is that there's about four decades of publications and other intellectual investments which make other sssumptions:
"...Mihalynuk said the new model will make waves, as it overturns 40 years of accepted wisdom about the evolution of western North America. 'It will take a while to turn people around. That intellectual ship has a lot of inertia,' he said. But for Mihalynuk, 'this is one of those eureka moments.'"
(Becky Oskin, OurAmazingPlanet, via LiveScience)
I remember the situation back in the 'good old days,' when evidence for continental drift was separating geologists into those who followed evidence: and those who didn't. I had one from the latter camp as a professor, and that's another topic.

'Resistance' to accepting the new geologic history is a good idea, as long as it's not of the 'we won't publish your work because we don't like it' variety. Then there's the sort of exert who seems read nothing but his own books. More topics.

Science relies on examining, verifying, and discussing, ideas: new and old. I'm looking forward to watching that process, as geologists sort out new data: and new explanations for old data.

(Karin Sigloch, via LiveScience, used w/o permission)
Detail from a series of maps showing Karin Sigloch and Mitch Mihalynuk's geologic history of western North America since the Jurassic.

2. Dark Matter Research: Background

"How Will Scientists Confirm Dark Matter Discovery?"
Tia Ghose, LiveScience, via (April 3, 2013)

"Physicists announced today (April 3) that a particle detector on the International Space Station has possibly detected signals of dark matter.

"Though exciting, the new results are still uncertain, and scientists can't be sure they actually indicate dark matter, as opposed to some more mundane cosmic phenomenon.

"To definitively expose dark matter, physicists must look deep beneath the Earth to directly detect particles that make up dark matter, called WIMPs (or Weakly Interacting Massive Particles), several experts said. Finding direct evidence of dark matter on Earth would help reinforce the space-station experiment's discovery by showing independent evidence that dark matter particles exist...."
I recommend reading the article. It's a pretty good overview of why cosmologists and physicists started looking for dark matter.

On the other hand, it's not 'practical' information. There's nothing there about how to find bargains at the grocery, or whether the Chicago Cubs will win the World Series this year.

3. Particle Physics and Workplace Routines

"Dark Matter Possibly Found by $2 Billion Space Station Experiment"
Tia Ghose, (April 3, 2013)

"A massive particle detector mounted on the International Space Station may have detected elusive dark matter at last, scientists announced today (April 3).

"The detector, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), measures cosmic-ray particles in space. After detecting billions of these particles over a year and a half, the experiment recorded a signal that may be the result of dark matter, the hidden substance that makes up more than 80 percent of all matter in the universe.

"AMS found about 400,000 positrons, the antimatter partner particles of electrons. The energies of these positrons suggest they might have been created when particles of dark matter collided and destroyed each other. ..."
I watched the news conference NASA arranged for announcing what's been found so far. Some quite familiar questions came up, which don't have much to do with dark matter, positrons, or magnetic spectroscopy. The scientists and technicians did a pretty good job of answering them, I think.

Some come up so often that I think they're worth addressing in this post. These are my take on the questions:

Why don't scientists know for sure what data from the AMS means?

Situations where someone says something like 'Captain, sensors show an approaching cloud of atomic frisbees' happen in stories. In real life, not so much. What researchers have from the AMS is data, not analysis.

How can NASA defend spending so much money?

This is closer to being a legitimate point. As I said before, what we're learning from the AMS has almost nothing to do with the World Series. Practical applications, if any, are years away: or decades; maybe centuries.

On the other hand, although $2,000,000,000 is a lot more money than I'll ever see: I'm not the only person paying for this research. Population of the United States is very roughly 316,000,000.

If that expense was spread evenly in this country, each of us would pay about $6.33. That's a little less than what a pound of USDA Choice sirloin steak cost last year. (Bureau of Labor Statistics) It's more than my household will spend on meat: but it's not exorbitant, in my opinion.

If the AMS module's budget came from the entire world, the cost would be about 29 cents a head: which, in some places, may still be quite a lot of money.

As it is, the AMS project gets support from organizations in only 16 countries: China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United States. (from (April 3, 2013))

Moving along.

Department of Energy?!

"The AMS-02 experiment is a state-of-the-art particle physics detector that is constructed, tested and operated by an international team composed of 56 institutes from 16 countries and organized under United States Department of Energy (DOE) sponsorship. The JSC AMS project office oversaw the overall payload integration activities and ensured that the payload is safe and ready for launch on the Space Shuttle and and continues to be safe since its deployment onto the ISS. The AMS Experiment uses the unique environment of space to advance knowledge of the universe and lead to the understanding of the universe's origin. AMS was launched on Space Shuttle Endeavour on May 16, 2011. Operations on the ISS began three days later, and AMS continues operations onboard the ISS today."
(Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer homepage,
Department of Energy (DOE) sponsorship puzzled me for a bit. Yes, the AMS detects high energy particles: but it's hardly a power source.

I finally realized that the DOE may be counting on practical applications that may, and probably will, come from the 'pure research' going on today. The odds seem pretty good that new "knowledge of the universe and ... understanding of the universe's origin" will help us find better ways to generate or collect energy. My opinion.

'Just Another Day at Work'

(from (April 3, 2013), used w/o permission)
Astronaut working on the AMS. (May 26, 2011)

(from (April 3, 2013), used w/o permission)
A closer look at the 'astronaut working' photo. (May 26, 2011)

Photos like this aren't 'news,' except for a few folks like me who like to keep up with developments in science and technology.

I think it says a lot about how far we've come in the last few decades, that routines at a space station are just that: routines. As I said in my personal blog, I'm "living in 'the future:' and loving it."
(April 2, 2013)

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.