Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Comet Hyakutake Passes the Earth

Explanation: In 1996, an unexpectedly bright comet passed by planet Earth. Discovered less than two months before, Comet C/1996 B2 Hyakutake came within only 1/10th of the Earth-Sun distance from the Earth in late March. At that time, Comet Hyakutake, dubbed the Great Comet of 1996, became the brightest comet to grace the skies of Earth in 20 years. During its previous visit, Comet Hyakutake may well have been seen by the stone age Magdalenian culture, who 17,000 years ago were possibly among the first humans to live in tents as well as caves. Pictured above near closest approach as it appeared on 1996 March 26, the long ion and dust tails of Comet Hyakutake are visible flowing off to the left in front of a distant star field that includes both the Big and Little Dippers. On the far left, the blue ion tail appears to have recently undergone a magnetic disconnection event. On the far right, the comet's green-tinted coma obscures a dense nucleus of melting dirty ice estimated to be about 5 kilometers across. A few months later, Comet Hyakutake began its long trek back to the outer Solar System. Because of being gravitationally deflected by massive planets, Comet Hyakutake is not expected back for about 100,000 years.

Mojave Desert Fireball

Explanation: Monstrously bright, this fireball meteor lit up the Mojave Desert sky Monday morning, part of this year's impressive Geminid meteor shower. Seen toward the southwest over rock formations near Victorville, California, a more familiar celestial background was momentarily washed out by the meteor's flash. The background includes bright star Sirius at the left, and Aldebaran and the Pleaides star cluster at the right side of the image. The meteor itself blazes through the constellation Orion. Its greenish trail begins just left of a yellow-tinted Betelgeuse and points back to the shower's radiant in Gemini, just off the top of the frame. A rewarding catch for photographer Wally Pacholka, the spectacular image is one of over 1500 frames that he reports captured 48, mostly faint, Geminid meteors.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stars Over Easter Island

click on image to enlargeCredit & Copyright: St├ęphane Guisard (Los Cielos de Chile), TWAN

Explanation: Why were the statues on Easter Island built? No one is sure. What is sure is that over 800 large stone statues exist there. The Easter Island statues, stand, on the average, over twice as tall as a person and have over 200 times as much mass. Few specifics are known about the history or meaning of the unusual statues, but many believe that they were created about 500 years ago in the images of local leaders of a lost civilization. Pictured above, a large stone statue appears to ponder the distant Large Magellanic Cloud before a cloudy sky that features the bright stars Canopus and Sirius.

Mystery spiral lights over Norway is failed Russian missile launch -- pretty though!

Interesting how some people want to see the supernatural or superstitious in unusual phenomena instead of seeking answers to the question of "what was that?" This shows human's immediate reaction to make up their own answers about how things came to be instead of seeking true answers based on evidence. And if no explanation was immediately given that this was a failed Russian missile launch, you can bet that god believers of all varieties would be saying that it was the return of their messiah, or some kind of sign from one of their gods, etc.

Atheists at Christmas

An article on atheists at Christmastime? Things are really beginning to change for us. People are finally starting to recognize that we atheists exist!

This story from Minneapolis was posted at Yahoo News via the Associated Press:

Atheists at Christmas: Eat, drink and be wary

MINNEAPOLIS – Angie O’Neill recently moved into a new apartment complex for seniors and she’s trying to make new friends. But Christmas is a tough time of year for an atheist.

“All the planned activities at this time of year revolve around the church,” said O’Neill, a retiree and an atheist for decades.

O’Neill sought an escape this week, joining a group of her fellow nonbelievers for a weekly “Atheist Happy Hour” at a suburban Mexican restaurant. The group, Atheists for Human Rights, is active year-round but takes it up a notch this time of year with a Winter Solstice party, a charity drive and good attendance for the weekly gathering at Ol’ Mexico.

For one thing, it’s a chance to share coping techniques during this most religious time of year. They range from the simple, like warning about certain stores that blare religious Christmas songs, to tougher tasks like how to avoid certain topics with certain family members. These atheists describe adjusting some customs to make them their own, like Nancy Ruhland, a pharmacist who sends out Christmas cards to friends and loved ones — but makes sure to find ones without a Christian message or subtext.

Even as they chafe at the omnipresence of Christmas, many of the atheists here are quick to stress their belief in the pagan roots of a yearly celebration near the winter solstice. Before Christianity and other organized religions, many cultures would mark the point where days started getting longer again with a “festival of light” that included parties, gift exchanges, even placing trees in homes. Some of those rituals were religious, but usually in a polytheistic way.

“What we’re celebrating this year is the promise of the sun returning. That’s S-U-N, not S-O-N,” said Bill Weir, a retired marketing executive from Plymouth.

“Then the Christians stole it,” added Marie Alena Castle of Minneapolis, the 82-year-old founder of Atheists for Human Rights and an atheist activist for two decades.

While I have not been a fan of joining any support groups for atheists, or atheist “churches” or any of that kind of stuff, on the other hand it is a good sign that atheists are coming together instead of keeping to themselves and silently enduring these holidays that have been hijacked by Christian Mythology.

Obama defends U.S. wars as he accepts Nobel prize for peace

Just wondering what you all think about this.

Obama defends US wars as he accepts peace prize

Just nine days after ordering 30,000 more U.S. troops into battle in Afghanistan, Obama delivered a Nobel acceptance speech that he saw as a treatise on war’s use and prevention. He crafted much of the address himself and the scholarly remarks — at about 4,000 words — were nearly twice as long as his inaugural address.

In them, Obama refused to renounce war for his nation or under his leadership, saying defiantly that “I face the world as it is” and that he is obliged to protect and defend the United States.

“A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaida’s leaders to lay down their arms,” Obama said. “To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism, it is a recognition of history.”

The president laid out the circumstances where war is justified — in self-defense, to come to the aid of an invaded nation and on humanitarian grounds, such as when civilians are slaughtered by their own government or a civil war threatens to engulf an entire region.

“The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it,” he said.

His winning the peace prize while at the same time ordering more troops to Afghanistan has riled anti-war activists:

The president’s motorcade arrived at Oslo’s high-rise government complex for Obama’s meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg as a few dozen anti-war protesters gathered behind wire fences nearby. Dressed in black hoods and waving banners, the demonstrators banged drums and chanted anti-war slogans. “The Afghan people are paying the price,” some shouted.

Greenpeace and anti-war activists planned larger demonstrations later that were expected to draw several thousand people. Protesters have plastered posters around the city, featuring an Obama campaign poster altered with skepticism to say, “Change?”

The debate at home over his Afghanistan decision also followed the president here. He told reporters that that the July 2011 date he set for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan to begin will not slip — but that the pace of the full drawdown will be gradual and conditions-based.

I don’t like to see more of our young men go to war. But at the same time we must not sit back and let terrorists build their forces and plot and plan to murder mass numbers of innocent people either. War is sometimes necessary for peace.

Friday, December 04, 2009

All-Sky Milky Way Panorama

Credit & Copyright: Axel Mellinger (Central Mich. U)

Explanation: If you could go far away from the Earth and look around the entire sky -- what would you see? Such was the goal of the All-Sky Milky Way Panorama 2.0 project of Axel Mellinger. Presented above is the result: a digital compilation of over 3,000 images comprising the highest resolution digital panorama of the entire night sky yet created. An interactive zoom version, featuring over 500 million pixels, can be found here. Every fixed astronomical object visible to the unaided eye has been imaged, including every constellation, every nebula, and every star cluster. Moreover, millions of individual stars are also visible, all in our Milky Way Galaxy, and many a thousand times fainter than a human can see. Dark filaments of dust lace the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy, visible across the image center. The satellite galaxies Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are visible on the lower right. This was not the first time Dr. Mellinger has embarked on such a project: the results of his first All-Sky Milky Way Panorama Project, taken using photographic film, are visible here.

M78 Wide Field

Credit & Copyright: Thomas V. Davis (tvdavisastropix.com)

Explanation: Interstellar dust clouds and glowing nebulae abound in the fertile constellation of Orion. One of the brightest, M78, is centered in this colorful, wide field view, covering an area north of Orion's belt. At a distance of about 1,500 light-years, the bluish reflection nebula is around 5 light-years across. Its tint is due to dust preferentially reflecting the blue light of hot, young stars. Reflection nebula NGC 2071 is just to the left of M78. To the right of M78 and much more compact in appearance, the intriguing McNeil's Nebula is a recently recognized variable nebula associated with the formation of a sun-like star. The remarkably deep exposure also brings out the region's faint but pervasive reddish glow of atomic hydrogen gas

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Movement to Ban Divorce in California?

Many Bible literalists aren’t so keen on banning divorce as they are in favor of banning gay marriage. However, it appears that many devout Christians both Protestant and Catholic DO want divorce banned, so John Marcotte’s satirical efforts to make a statement about Proposition 8 and the gay marriage ban in California may backfire in a big way.

The effort is meant to be a satirical statement after California voters outlawed gay marriage in 2008, largely on the argument that a ban is needed to protect the sanctity of traditional marriage.

However, it seems as if the movement has gone past the joke phase and many people are seriously supporting this proposal.

“Since California has decided to protect traditional marriage, I think it would be hypocritical of us not to sacrifice some of our own rights to protect traditional marriage even more,” the 38-year-old married father of two said.

Marcotte said he has collected dozens of signatures, including one from his wife of seven years. The initiative’s Facebook fans have swelled to more than 11,000. Volunteers that include gay activists and members of a local comedy troupe have signed on to help.

Marcotte is looking into whether he can gather signatures online, as proponents are doing for another proposed 2010 initiative to repeal the gay marriage ban. But the odds are stacked against a campaign funded primarily by the sale of $12 T-shirts featuring bride and groom stick figures chained at the wrists.

Marcotte needs 694,354 valid signatures by March 22, a high hurdle in a state where the typical petition drive costs millions of dollars. Even if his proposed constitutional amendment made next year’s ballot, it’s not clear how voters would react.

Nationwide, about half of all marriages end in divorce.

2010 California Marriage Protection Act: http://www.rescuemarriage.org

One commenter, Jenn has expressed my same thoughts about this movement:

I read about this site in a story that referred to it as SATIRE. A response to the prop 8 debacle last year. When i first read about it I thought it was hilarious and that i would have to back it just to go along with the joke. However, the more comments I read the more I believe it may have moved past the joke phase. Unless the vast majority of the comments and discussions on this site are osted as sarcasm, jokes, satire, or any other statement supposed to show the hypocrosy and blind sheep-like mentality of the supporters of prop 8, the joke has fizzled.

As another person has commented, strong Christians will not see this as funny and vote for it. The joke may backfire in a bad way for the citizens of California.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

150th Anniversary of Publication of Darwin's "Origin of Species"

CNN’s Connecter of the Day: Richard Dawkins (11-24-09)

“Speaking to CNN on the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s seminal work “On the Origin of Species,” Dawkins said the evidence to support the theory that life on earth came about through natural selection, and not design by God, was “now massively buttressed by molecular evidence.”

And referring to U.S.-based evangelist Ray Comfort, who argues that the universe and life is the result of an intelligent creator, Dawkins said: “There is no refutation of Darwinian evolution in existence. If a refutation ever were to come about, it would come from a scientist, and not an idiot.”