Friday, February 19, 2016

Space Archaeologist, 55 Cancri e

A headline, "TED 2016: Space archaeologist wins $1m to find hidden sites" caught my eye this week, and so did news about a very hot Super-Earth's atmosphere.
  1. Space Archaeologist!
  2. Super-Earth's Atmosphere Analyzed
Science? In a 'religious' blog?? During Lent??!

I don't see a problem with that. But as I keep saying — I think this universe is billions, not thousands, of years old; Earth isn't flat; Adam and Eve aren't German; poetry isn't science; and thinking is not a sin.


"So You Believe the Earth is Flat?"



(From Wiley Miller's Non Sequitur, via gocomics.com, used w/o permission.)

Monday's Non Sequitor comic started the 'flat Earth' gag with Danae declaring that "THE EARTH IS FLAT!!" These are Tuesday and Thursday's strips.

Humor like this works, I think, because some noisy Christians insist that God must follow a long-dead Calvinist's timetable.

I don't, but I'm a Catholic who figures that my job does not include telling the Almighty how the universe ought to work.

I once met a Christian who said our Sun must go around Earth, not the other way around, because Joshua 10:12-13 seems to say so: from a literalist's viewpoint. That was quite a few decades back now.

Oddly enough, even the most ardent Ussher fans I've encountered don't insist that Earth is flat — despite what Joshua 10:12-13 says.

I'm a Catholic, so I believe that God is making the universe: and that scientific discoveries are an invitation "to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 279, 283, 301-308)

Pope Leo XIII, more than a century back now, carefully explained that the universe makes sense: even the parts we haven't figured out yet — and so does our faith. (August 7, 2015)

If we keep looking at the facts, use our brains, and don't assume that our preconceived notions are the only possible explanation, sooner or later we'll understand:
"...God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, is also the Author of the Scriptures - and that therefore nothing can be proved either by physical science or archaeology which can really contradict the Scriptures. ... Even if the difficulty is after all not cleared up and the discrepancy seems to remain, the contest must not be abandoned; truth cannot contradict truth...."
("Providentissimus Deus,"1 Pope Leo XIII (November 18, 1893) [emphasis mine])

1. Space Archaeologist!



(From TED, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("Sarah Parcak accepted this year's TED prize"
(BBC News))
"TED 2016: Space archaeologist wins $1m to find hidden sites"
Jane Wakefield, BBC News (February 18, 2016)

"Space archaeologist Dr Sarah Parcak has become this year's winner of the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) prize.

"The $1m prize is awarded each year to an individual who is judged able to spark global change.

"Dr Parcak is using the money to set up a website to crowdsource as yet undiscovered sites around the world...."
No, scientists have not spotted the ruins of alien structures on the seafloor between Borneo and Java.

I enjoyed Andre Norton/Alice Mary Norton's Forerunner stories, and speculative fiction involving xenoarchaeology. Assertions that space aliens must have shown us how to make the Baghdad battery and Antikythera mechanism because we were 'primitive' a few millennia back — not so much. (October 16, 2015; October 6, 2013)

Granted, we've changed a bit over the millennia: although nowhere near as fast as we develop new tech. For example, descendants from my branch of the clan Campbell lost our signature wry mouth (Caimbeul) several generations back.

None of us look quite like our distant forebears that left humanity's homeland somewhere between 60,000 and 125,000 years ago. But I don't think I'm 'more human' than my Norwegian, Scots, and Irish forebears. (January 8, 2016; October 31, 2014)

And I don't feel revulsion at the knowledge that I almost certainly have some Neanderthal DNA in my genes. (September 11, 2015; February 6, 2015)

Some of those folks probably had bigger brains than we do because they were more massive than most of us. But I won't claim that we're better than they were because we've got delicate bone structure: by Neanderthal standards. (September 11, 2015; December 12, 2014; October 6, 2013)

Getting back to TED and crowdsourcing - - -

Satellite Imagery



(From TED, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("People will be asked to study satellite imagery which might not immediately make much sense to them"
(BBC News))
"...The so-called citizen scientists will also be called on to spot and report looting at existing sites.

"Dr Parcak is known as a space archaeologist because she uses satellite imagery collected above the Earth and analyses it using algorithms to identify subtle changes that could signal a hidden human-made structure.

"Her satellite mapping of Egypt has already suggested the existence of 17 hitherto unknown pyramids, 1,000 tombs and 3,100 settlements...."
(Jane Wakefield, BBC News)
Dr Parcak plans to use imagery from satellites: the sort of tech that's helped us map ocean floors and find misplaced cemeteries. Now that I think of it, the latter used ground-based radar, and that's another topic. (October 10, 2014; April 4, 2014)

Folks like Livy and Ouyang Xiu (歐陽脩) were interested in stuff from their past, but antiquarians didn't start becoming archaeologists until a few centuries back. I've mentioned Schliemann and the Late Bronze Age collapse before. (October 16, 2015; April 5, 2015)

There's not much left of Troy these days. Folks started calling the site Hisarlik recently, I've talked about Xanadu, Khanbaliq, Lothal, and names, before; and that's yet another topic. Topics. (November 20, 2015; March 29, 2015; March 20, 2015)

Looters, Life, and a Good Idea



(From TED, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("Dr Parcak believes it is important to engage with local communities when on digs"
(BBC News))
"...Users will be asked to fill in a checklist of what they have seen. Although they will be given imagery, they will not know the exact location of the sites they are exploring to prevent possible looting or misuse of information.

" 'If 50 people say that they have seen a tomb, then we will think that it is worth a look,' she explained.

" 'Archaeology is currently at a tipping point,' she told the TED audience on accepting her prize.

" 'Isil is blowing up and looting temples in Iraq and Syria. If we don't do something, these sites will be gone.'

"'Losing the battle'

"The volunteers will also be called on to spot evidence of sites being raided and treasures stolen by locals who are desperate for money.

"Dr Parcak's team has spent the last six months looking for looting pits in Egypt, which are distinctive and relatively easy to identify...."
(Jane Wakefield, BBC News)
The good news, as I see it, is that it's getting easier to tell archaeologists from looters. I hope we're getting close to a point where serious researchers won't have to physically remove artifacts and human remains.

I've discussed respect for the dead, reasonable and otherwise, before. (August 28, 2015; October 16, 2015)

One of these days I may revisit imaging technology, quantum mechanics, and getting a grip. Then again, maybe not. (March 27, 2015; September 26, 2014)

Then there's Kennewick Man, who doesn't quite look like folks living near his home when Europeans arrived, or Euro-Americans — some of whom get conniptions when other immigrants arrive.

Me? My forebears lost 'normal' human skin tone while living in western Eurasia, some of my cousins are descended from the Lakota nation, I think Americans should worry if folks stop trying to move here, and that's yet again more topics. (January 8, 2016; November 17, 2015; July 6, 2014)

Where was I? Satellite imagery, Ouyang Xiu, Xanadu. Right.

ISIL/ISIS/Daesh/whatever wasn't the first lot of iconoclastic vandals.

We had picturesque ruins in places like Tintern and Glastonbury because Henry VIII's enforcers systematically looted monastic institutions, occasionally killing abbots in the process. We lost Hugh Cook Faringdon, Richard Whiting, Adam Sedbar, and others that way.

Interestingly, I haven't heard that Egypt's current rulers want the obelisk in St. Peter's Square returned.

Imperātor Caesar Dīvī Fīlius1 Augustus had it moved to Alexandriathe Alexandria, the city founded just shy of two dozen centuries back by Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας, Aléxandros ho Mégas, Alexander III of Macedon, Alexander the Great.

Folks like him don't come around every millennium, and that's still another topic.

Anyway: some pharaoh, we don't know who, had this obelisk set up in Heliopolis, Augustus moved it to Julian Forum of Alexandria, Caligula — colorful chap, that — had the Alexandrian forum demolished and moved the obelisk to the Circus of Nero's spina.

A team headed by Domenico Fontana and Ignazio Danti moved it to St. Peter's Square about 15 centuries later. They were working for Pope Sixtus V, and I've wandered a bit off-topic.

In 2001, the Taliban said the Buddhas of Bamiyan were idols, and destroyed them. A New York Times article says their destruction was in protest of international aid going to the site's maintenance, instead of folks who needed the money in Afghanistan.

The last I heard, folks in Afghanistan are still recovering from the Taliban's rule: and some are sorting through tons of debris, with a view to rebuilding the statues.

I've talked about statues, idolatry, faith, and CERN's Large Hadron Collider, before. (November 8, 2015; April 10, 2015)

Bottom line, I think Dr Parcak has a good idea.


2. Super-Earth's Atmosphere Analyzed



(From ESA/Hubble/M Kornmesser, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("The planet, shown here in an artist's impression, has a tight 18-hour orbit around its star"
(BBC News))
"Atmosphere analysed on distant 'super-Earth' "
Jonathan Webb, BBC News (February 16, 2016)

"For the first time, astronomers have managed a direct measurement of the gases present on a 'super-Earth' planet orbiting an alien star.

"They found evidence for hydrogen and helium in its atmosphere, but no water.

"Called 55 Cancri e, the world is twice the size of Earth and eight times the mass - but orbits unusually close to its host star, with an 18-hour year and surface temperatures above 2,000C.

"The UK team published their findings in the Astrophysical Journal...."
This article's ninth paragraph starts with an uncharacteristic howler: "As with all extrasolar planets, or 'exoplanets', the evidence for its existence comes from tell-tale, regular dips in the brightness of its host sun."

Some exoplanets pass between their star and Earth during their orbit, so transit photometry accounts for some expolanet discoveries.

But some are found by doppler spectroscopy or astrometry, detecting the host star's 'wobble;' Still others by Pulsar timing, gravitational microlensing, or other techniques.

Researchers have analyzed an exoplanet's atmosphere before, and made a very low-resolution map of Kepler-7b's clouds, but those weren't particularly Earth-like. (August 21, 2015; October 3, 2014; October 4, 2013)

The 55 Cancri System: Briefly


55 Cancri e is one of five known planets in the 55 Cancri system: Galileo, Brahe, Lippershey, Janssen and Harriot.

55 Cancri is a double star roughly 41 light-years away, in the general direction of Asellus Borealis and the Beehive Cluster. 55 Cancri is a double star: a red dwarf and G8V main-sequence sun a tad cooler and (probably) older than ours.

55 Cancri f, Harriot (I am not making up that name), is in its sun's habitable zone; but the planet's mass is roughly half Saturn's.

It's most likely a gas giant, with no solid surface: maybe a Sudarsky Class II world, with clouds made of water vapor: in an atmosphere that's a warm version of Jupiter's or Saturn's. It's not a likely place to find life: but if there's a rocky moon orbiting it, that's another matter. (November 28, 2014)

55 Cancri e is a Super-Earth; roughly twice Earth's diameter, with about 8.63 times our home's mass. It whips around its star once every 18 hours, pretty close, which keeps its hydrogen and helium atmosphere very hot: the surface, too, of course.

There's what may be a trace of hydrogen cyanide in 55 Cancri e's atmosphere, too. If there is hydrogen cyanide there, it's in quantities that KU Leuven's Olivia Venot said indicate "a very high ratio of carbon to oxygen:"
It might be a carbon planet, a hypothetical type with more carbon and less oxygen than the inner Solar planets. Earth, for example, is mostly silicon–oxygen compounds surrounding a metal core.

There's a good chance it has a good many volcanoes, too, and that's — another topic.

More of my take on life, the universe, and everything:

1 My knowledge of Latin is quite limited, but I think a reasonable translation of Imperātor Caesar Dīvī Fīlius is "Emperor Caesar Divine Son." Augustus, Rome's first emperor, set up the basics of Rome's Imperial cult. Julius Caesar, by the way, was a Roman dictator, not an emperor. A dictator, magistratus extraordinarius, was an official with full executive authority during a limited term. We do pretty much the same thing today, when a nation's leadership declares martial law.

I gather that most folks under Roman rule didn't have a problem with adding one more god to their list. Christians were another matter. Between refusals to worship the emperor, and alleged "outrageous crimes," "wickedness," and "evil deeds," we occasionally got opportunities to experience martyrdom. Can't say that I miss those 'good old days.'

More of my take on this sort of thing:

2 comments:

Brigid said...

Ah so: "55 Cancri is double star roughly 41 light-years away"

There's also quite a lot of space between the bullet points in the last list of the post.

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...

Ah! Articles, indefinite and definite: so hard to remember. Thanking you muchly.

Space between bullet points: yes. Space there is, much space; but code is sound. Blogger new format, not my favorite it is. Thanking you also for this.

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

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.