Sunday, April 27, 2014

We can afford a fully-funded NASA

The group Space Advocates, which I support with a few dollars monthly, has produced this cute video highlighting the broad talking points of how sad the state of funding for NASA is, and how little it would cost us to fix it. Check it out!

Here are a few ways to bring this conversation into the spotlight:
  1. Share this video!
  2. When space comes up in conversation, mention how pathetic it is that we spend many times more money subsidizing the already-booming oil industry than we do maintaining our slipping hold on leadership in space exploration.
  3. Point out that NASA's budget is 40 times smaller than the military's budget. Build rockets, not bombs!
  4. Mention that we will very soon (after 2017) have ZERO functioning spacecraft exploring the outer planets, some of which have moons that could potentially harbor life. The reason? These planets are far away and more costly to reach. That's like hearing there might be treasure buried in your backyard and complaining about how far it is from the couch.
  5. "We should solve our problems here on Earth before we go mucking around in space." Sigh... You are bound to hear this. It's pretty easy to just point out that we already spend 100 times more on social programs to solve problems down here, and that we spend about as much per year on the military (which the kind of person using this excuse might say is spending money on making problems) as we have on all NASA programs in history combined.
There are a lot of other things you can do, but the best thing is to just take a moment to think about how big of an impact we can make if we just turn this into an issue that people care about. Once you've thought about how this matters for a few minutes, then it's a good idea to check out the Space Advocates "Get Involved" page. They'll give you an easy way to write to Congress.

Don't stop there, though! Ask about candidates' positions on the state of funding for space exploration when they're on the campaign trail. If you can get someone to comment on it publicly, their opponents may be forced to join in. Don't give up. It's hard to get the Leviathan moving, but once it's gained momentum we can do great things: See Apollo Program, ISS, Hubble, Cassini, Voyager, Curiosity, and on and on.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Cosmos "The Clean Room": Nitpicks, Nods, and News

The beauty of crystalline solids on the atomic scale. (
The Bible is hilariously wrong about the age of the Earth, Christmas is just a pagan holiday repurposed by the young Church to attract more converts, and the global warming "debate" is the result of a smokescreen operation on par with those put forward by the lead and tobacco companies to selfishly risk the public health to avoid a hit to their profit margins. For conservatives, truth bombs abound in this episode. Are we still watching FOX? This honest, pull-no-punches approach is all too rare in today's climate of "You believe what you want as long as I don't have to hear about it." Science is founded on questions first and foremost, so it's easy to be laissez-faire with people's deeply-held opinions, but science is also in the business of knowledge and when we work something out to a practical certainty we shouldn't mince words to shelter others from the truth.

So if you're ready to learn more, but especially if you're not, click on through...

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cosmos "Deeper, Deeper, and Deeper Still": Nitpicks, Nods, and News

This week takes us from the farthest we can see in the universe to the tiny heart of an atom. (
This week's episode took us from the unfathomably enormous to the unimaginably tiny, with stops along the way at the mind-bendingly complex. We learn immediately that there are more atoms in the tip of your little finger than there are stars in the observable universe, so you know that atoms must be small. Then later in the episode we learn that if an atom were scaled up to the size of a cathedral, the nucleus would be no bigger than a mote of dust. One thing that could have been mentioned here is that the nucleus contains essentially all of the mass of an atom, which makes it incredibly dense. If you could somehow fill a teaspoon with matter as dense as an atomic nucleus, it would weigh 2 billion tons, or about 330 Great Pyramids of Giza. It would be so massive that from about 3.7 meters away (12 feet) it would have the same gravitational pull on you as does the entire Earth. Luckily, these super-dense objects are safely cocooned and separated from one another inside their diffuse electron clouds, which also happen to do all of the chemical bonding work necessary to build complex molecules like DNA and ethanol.

If you thought that was cool, come deeper still and let's get down to nitpicks.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Going Deeper: "Is it wrong to talk people out of their faith?"

Hey everyone. I've noticed a few interesting points in the flood of comments on my article at RDFRS that I'd like to respond to. I'll keep updating this post as I find interesting points to comment on, so keep checking in.

About that headline...

"Take away someone's faith" and "Talk someone out of their faith" are the ways that it is commonly phrased by the defensive believer. Obviously it would be wrong to dogmatically assert that their religion is wrong, as it would be wrong to deceive someone into being convinced by bad reasoning and faulty logic to abandon their faith. That's not what I advocate, and it's why I explain how the wording of this dodge is meant to change the subject and make you seem like the bad guy. What I am doing when I have a conversation with a believer is (hopefully) having a plain and open discussion of the evidence and reasons for their belief. The goal is to get them to evaluate that evidence for themselves (as you should constantly do for yourself!). If you're both honest about it then you should together reach the correct conclusion (which I am currently convinced is non-religion and the abandonment of faith). You and they are learning to be better at reasoning!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Cosmos: "Hiding in the Light" Nitpicks, Nods, and News

Pink Floyd's major contribution to popular science knowledge. (
It seems that this episode was a bit polarizing. Based on the opinions of those I've spoken with, some people saw one of the more disjointed, rambling, incoherent installments in the series, while I thought it was one of the most engaging and explanatory (Luckily I'm not alone). I really enjoyed the entire story of light, from discovering that it travels in straight lines to finding Fraunhofer's lines in the spectra of distant stars and planets, proving that everything we see in the cosmos is made of the same "human stuff" (chuckles to self).

We'll get to the power of science stuff shortly, but the other thread in this episode was pointing out early steps towards a modern scientific method, the only approach to knowledge that doubts even itself while still leading us to all the mind-warping conclusions that we've been hearing about for the past few weeks. One of the main themes of the show is the fragility of free thought. We've seen fantastic ideas and questions silenced by authorities selfishly preserving their own power from doubt and inquiry, and this week we saw how an act of kindness and the gift of an education lead to huge technological leaps for a different-minded king.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Cosmos "A Sky Full of Ghosts". Nitpicks, Nods, and News.

Hubble's view of the Antennae Galaxies made it on TV! (
This week, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Cosmos showed us a little bit of how incredibly strange the Universe can be when you just consider that light travels at a finite speed. The jaw-dropping scene above (discovered by William Herschel!) shows two colliding galaxies as they were 45 million years ago because it has taken the light from this titanic gravitational maelstrom that long to reach us. Given that the lifetimes of the largest and brightest blue stars can be as short as a million years or so, much of the light recorded here comes from long-dead starshence the title of this episode.

It's even weirder when you think about travelling at close to the speed of light. Einstein's theory of special relativity basically boils down to "Everyone measures the same speed of light". Then, for emphasis, it adds: "No, I mean it. No matter what absolute nonsense has to be true for that to happen, that's what happens." Note here that "what absolute nonsense has to occur" includes things like time passing more slowly the faster you travel relative to someone else, light shifting wavelengths so that you could see radio waves or gamma rays with your eyes, objects behaving as though they have more mass at high speeds, and on and on. Then, once you add in the principle that gravity is equivalent to acceleration, you get massive objects bending light travelling past them, clocks running slower the closer you are to a massive object, and those ridiculous objects that are so massive not even light can escape their gravity: black holes.

Oh, and maybe there is an infinite hierarchy of other universes in each black hole.

Let's get started!