Mar 30, 2012

Planet Starship: Runaway Planets Zoom at a Fraction of Light-Speed

Seven years ago, astronomers boggled when they found the first runaway star flying out of our Galaxy at a speed of 1.5 million miles per hour. The discovery intrigued theorists, who wondered: If a star can get tossed outward at such an extreme velocity, could the same thing happen to planets?

New research shows that the answer is yes. Not only do runaway planets exist, but some of them zoom through space at a few percent of the speed of light - up to 30 million miles per hour.

"These warp-speed planets would be some of the fastest objects in our Galaxy. If you lived on one of them, you'd be in for a wild ride from the center of the galaxy to the Universe at large," said astrophysicist Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

"Other than subatomic particles, I don't know of anything leaving our galaxy as fast as these runaway planets," added lead author Idan Ginsburg of Dartmouth College.

Such speedy worlds, called hypervelocity planets, are produced in the same way as hypervelocity stars. A double-star system wanders too close to the supermassive black hole at the galactic center. Strong gravitational forces rip the stars from each other, sending one away at high speed while the other is captured into orbit around the black hole.

For this study, the researchers simulated what would happen if each star had a planet or two orbiting nearby. They found that the star ejected outward could carry its planets along for the ride. The second star, as it's captured by the black hole, could have its planets torn away and flung into the icy blackness of interstellar space at tremendous speeds.

A typical hypervelocity planet would slingshot outward at 7 to 10 million miles per hour. However, a small fraction of them could gain much higher speeds under ideal conditions.

Current instruments can't detect a lone hypervelocity planet since they are dim, distant, and very rare. However, astronomers could spot a planet orbiting a hypervelocity star by watching for the star to dim slightly when the planet crosses its face in a transit.

For a hypervelocity star to carry a planet with it, that planet would have to be in a tight orbit. Therefore, the chances of seeing a transit would be relatively high, around 50 percent.

"With one-in-two odds of seeing a transit, if a hypervelocity star had a planet, it makes a lot of sense to watch for them," said Ginsburg.

Eventually, such worlds will escape the Milky Way and travel through the intergalactic void.

"Travel agencies advertising journeys on hypervelocity planets might appeal to particularly adventurous individuals," added Loeb.

The research will be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, in a paper authored by Idan Ginsburg, Avi Loeb, and Gary Wegner (Dartmouth College).

Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.

Mar 26, 2012

Bertrand Russell's Ten Commandments

by Bertrand Russell

  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

  2. Do not think it worthwhile to produce belief by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

  3. Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.

  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it is from your family, endeavour to overcome it with argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do, the opinions will suppress you.

  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

  9. Be scrupulously truthful even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

  10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool's paradise, for only a fool will think that is happiness.

Mar 25, 2012

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson – The Most Astounding Fact About The Universe

Astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ph.D. was asked the following question in a 2008 TIME Magazine interview:

“What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?”

This was his answer:
The most astounding fact…
The most astounding fact, is the knowledge, that the atoms that comprise life on Earth, the atoms that make up the human body, are traceable to the crucibles that cooked light elements into heavy elements in their core, under extreme temperatures and pressures.
These stars, the high mass ones among them, went unstable in their later years. They collapsed and then exploded scattering their enriched guts across the galaxy. Guts made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and all the fundamental ingredients of life itself.
These ingredients become part of gas cloud that condense, collapse, form the next generation of solar systems, stars with orbiting planets, and those planets now have the ingredients for life itself.
So that when I look up at the night sky and I know that yes, we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts, is that the Universe is in us.
When I reflect on that fact, I look up. Many people feel small because they’re small and the Universe is big, but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars.
There’s a level of connectivity.
That’s really what you want in life, you want to feel connected you want to feel relevant.
You want to feel like you’re a participant in the goings on of activities and events around you.
That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive…
The video editor, Max Schlickenmeyer, concluded that Neil DeGrasse Tyson went on to say:
For me, that is the most profound revelation of 20th century astrophysics and I look forward to what the 21st century will bring us, given the frontiers that are now unfolding.
Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ph.D. (born October 5, 1958) is an American astrophysicist. He is currently the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space science, and a Research Associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Credit: Video Edited by Max Schlickenmeyer


Mar 24, 2012

A Florida student was Tased and taken to hospital after issuing death threats during a foul-mouthed rant in the middle of a class on evolution.

Jonatha Carr repeatedly asked her professor, 'How does evolution kill black people?', and was unsatisfied by his response that evolution does not 'kill' people.

She then apparently lost her temper, screaming obscenities and assaulting other students and staff, before being dragged out and taken away by police.

The outburst was caught on camera by a number of students, who posted the footage online on sites such as YouTube and Facebook.

Scroll down for video (WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT)

Rant: Jonatha Carr screamed at classmates and staff during a profanity-laden outburst in an evolution class
Rant: Jonatha Carr screamed at classmates and staff during a profanity-laden outburst in an evolution class

FAU classroom outburst
FAU classroom outburst
Footage: Video of the bizarre outburst was posted online by several students who were in the class

The extraordinary incident took place during a class at Florida Atlantic University taught by Stephen Kajiura.
He had been telling students about how peacocks' feathers aid natural selection, when Carr - sitting in the front row - asked her bizarre question about evolution killing black people.

When Mr Kajiura could not give a satisfactory response, the student exploded in rage, and started shouting and threatening the rest of the class in racially charged language.

She screamed 'I will kill the f*** out of you', and claimed to 'hate' evolution.

Carr told the professor, 'You are f****** sick' and 'You better shut the f*** up before I f****** kill you.'

FAU classroom outburst
FAU classroom outburst
Violence: The encounter turned physical when Carr lashed out at the people trying to calm her down

She then stomped around the classroom and struck a male student in the head, daring him to hit her back.
At that point two members of the university staff intervened, managing to immobilise Carr after she had lashed out at them.

Police arrived at the scene after being called by other students, and took her into a squad car, subduing her with a Taser, according to WSVN.

Carr, 24, has now been expelled from the school and is being held in hospital, according to university authorities.

Professor: Stephen Kajiura was shocked by the violence that kicked off without warning in his classroom
Professor: Stephen Kajiura was shocked by the violence that kicked off without warning in his classroom

Rachel Bustamante, a student who posted video of the incident on the internet, described the outburst as the 'craziest thing I've ever seen'.

Mr Kajiura told the University Press, FAU's student newspaper, that he did not know Carr, but had previously had a civil discussion with her via email.

He described her bizarre behaviour in his class, saying: 'She became increasingly belligerent.
'It was at this point, a highly emotionally charged individual who was no longer capable of responding rationally. She was threatening to kill both me and the students in the class.'

After the outburst, he added, 'Everyone gave up and started texting.'

Read more:

An Atheist Billboard goes up in Brooklyn

American Atheists have unveiled a billboard directed at Williamsburg, Brooklyn's extremely devout Hasidic Jewish community with the provocative statement, "You know it's a myth. And you have a choice."
Reason TV correspondent Kennedy braved the 'Burg to ask the locals how they feel about atheists prosthelytizing from signs in the sky. Later, Kennedy had a feisty conversation in an active junkyard with American Atheists President Dave Silverman, mere steps away from the controversial billboard.
American Atheists will be holding their Reason Rally (no relation to Reason) on March 24th, 2012 at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Mar 9, 2012

Carl Sagan shirts for the Reason Rally.

The Reason rally is coming up and I've been getting a few requests for new designs or modifications to old ones.  I thought I'd post a few of the more popular Carl Sagan themed ones for you all so you can attend the rally in style, and who could be more stylish at a rally for reason than the late Carl Sagan?