The Top Ten Astronomy Pictures of 2007

December 27, 2007 on 11:08 pm | In science | 6 Comments

Perhaps the most perpetually compelling blog I read is Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy. He’s an astronomer, author, and skeptic who I discovered during an interview on The Rational Response Squad radio show. I’ve had a lot of work lately and not been able to write as much as I’d like, but I can’t resist sharing one of Phil’s recent posts with you. The Top Ten Astronomy Pictures of 2007 is beautiful glimpse of what human exploration of the universe has uncovered recently. I’m moved enough that I’m contemplating the purchase of a good reflector telescope. I can’t stand knowing how much beauty there is up there above my head each night, if only I could escape the city lights and zoom in. I think a stellar-observation road trip to somewhere with less light pollution may be a good plan for sometime in the next 2-3 months (once I’ve purchased the telescope). Who wants to come with?

For those whose astronomical appetites were not sated by the top ten this year, get a load of the runners up.

And just because I know some of you might not check it out unless I show some skin:

IC 342 Spiral Galaxy

Michael Vick’s Sob Story

December 15, 2007 on 1:47 am | In culture, ethics | 3 Comments

I just read these letters written by Michael Vick and a few of his supporters (including his mother, Hank Aaron, George Foreman, and Shirley Franklin – the goddamn mayor of Atlanta) to the judge in his dogfighting trial.  They’re pleading for a lenient sentence in light of all the “good things” Vick has done, and how he’s genuinely remorseful.  First of all, I can’t understand why anyone is willing to gloss over Vick’s vicious, cruel, deliberate, and premeditated actions just because he maintained a good public image — let alone people with reputations, and no personal connection to the case.  How can anyone perceive dogfighting as anything short of shockingly cruel?  And how could they claim that his entrepeneurship and operation of Bad Newz Kennelz for six years was a temporary lapse in judement, a one-time mistake?  Their shoddy arguments are all the same in principle: that an already wealthy athlete’s canicidal cruelty to dogs for his own profit is morally insignificant compared to his history of visiting poor kids in the hospital.  The prevailing sentiment seems to be that compassion is for humans, and if we throw any scraps of it to the dogs, they’re lucky.

The main point is: fuck Michael Vick.  His letter reeks of hyopcrisy; he even has the audacity to portray himself as an animal lover who never learned that dogfighting was a serious crime.  Perhaps he loves women too—so much so that he’d start raping them and taking their money if they ever knocked that statute down to a misdemeanor?  I also bristled at the part where he emphasizes that his dogs were in “good health” and he always “made sure of the continuous upkeep of the dogs.”  I suppose if you counted running the fighting dogs on treadmills as keeping them in “good health,” he might have had a point – if only his other method hadn’t been drowning, hanging, and electrocuting the dogs who weren’t in such “good health.”  It’s also morbidly amusing that he says he’ll work with PETA to fight animal cruelty — PETA is responsible for far more unnecessary animal deaths than he is, especially in North Carolina, not far from Vick’s hometown of Newport News!  I hope the judge has enough ethical sense to give Vick the maximum sentence.  Maybe in prison, when Vick gets his ass kicked by other inmates, he’ll realize that Cajun Rules aren’t really fair.

And shame on Hank Aaron, Warrick Dunn, George Foreman, and Mayor Franklin.  They’ve exemplified the worst kind of anthropocentrism and do not deserve the respect and recognition they’ve traditionally enjoyed.

Lastly, to those of you who are still clinging to some fantasy of Vick’s righteousness, get real.  He led a double life, and he was a brute who hurt living, feeling beings for his own perverse enjoyment and profit.  No matter how remorseful he claims to be (while pleading for leniency), he wouldn’t have ruthlessly engaged in this blood sport for six years unless he were, face it, a bad man.

Space shuttle delayed

December 10, 2007 on 11:15 am | In science | No Comments

STS-122, the space shuttle mission that was planned to launch this past weekend, was delayed for at least several weeks due to engine cutoff sensors malfunctioning. The soonest we can expect to see another launch attempt is the first week of January. This mission is especially important because the Europeans will finally get their $2 billion Columbus lab installed on the International Space Station. That’s a pretty sharp piece of equipment, and they’ve been waiting years to get it up into space. It will do a lot of cool zero-gravity experiments, as well as help boost the ISS into higher orbit from time to time. (Because the ISS is in low-Earth orbit, a minor amount of atmospheric drag gradually slows it down and causes it to lose altitude).

I expect to make another more in-depth post, either later today or tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Simian on Simians

December 4, 2007 on 11:56 am | In science | 2 Comments

Would it surprise you to learn that chimpanzees may be smarter than college kids? I’ve always been a bit suspicious. And Kyoto University cognitive scientist (yay, Jon!) Tetsuro Matsuzawa may have confirmed that suspicion, it seems. The smartest of the chimps in the experiment, Ayumu, consistently trounced the college students in a test of numerical recollection (he was trained to recognize the arabic numerals 1-9 in sequence). His study is published in the Dec. 4 issue of Current Biology.¹ Now, between this and being the first mammal in space, I am beginning to think that Pan troglodytes may be on its’ way to the rank of dominant species on earth. We humans had better step up to the plate; we’re falling behind in all the things that we had previously thought made us so special among species.

And if you think that the chimps are not a threat, think again… “the chimps chewed off most of Davis’ face, tore off his foot and attacked his limbs and genitals.” I won’t even go into how much more accurate they are when throwing their poop than humans.

¹ Current Biology Volume 17, Issue 23, 4 December 2007, Pages R1004-R1005.

Dinosaur flesh!

December 3, 2007 on 11:08 am | In science | No Comments

I’ll withold comments until scientific findings are published, so for now just enjoy this (COOL) paleo-tastic news!

Scientists Get Rare Look at Dinosaur Soft Tissue
Fossil May Shed New Light on the Creatures
By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 3, 2007; Page A01

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