Monday, July 25, 2016

Media Mindlessness

     As the Juno spacecraft was nearing its objective on 4 July after a five-year flight, the USA Today online headline was, “Humanity’s First Look at Jupiter and its moons.”

     As is so sadly common in the shallow media these days, that headline was wildly inaccurate.  There have been many missions to Jupiter before this.  Galileo orbited the huge gas giant from 1995 through 2003, for example.  Pioneer 10 and 11 flew by in 1973 and 1974, as did Voyagers 1 and 2 in 1979.  Ulysses took a look in 1992.  New Horizons probed its long “magnetotail” in 2007.  We have of course analyzed the behemoth and its moons in some detail with powerful scopes like Hubble and Chandra.  So we already have a huge library of Jupiter photos, video, and data.

     Juno does own some firsts, however.  It’s the fastest thing man has ever sent into space, doing 165,000 mph as it approached, and requiring a 30-minute main engine burn to slow down to orbit velocity.  It’s the first to take up a polar 107-day orbit where it will see spectacular auroras in detail, and it’s the first to build a global map of the planet’s gigantic gravitational and magnetic fields.  Its trio of 29-foot-long solar arrays that provide electrical power for its nine different instruments are the first to be used in such a way so far from our star, where sunlight is only four percent as bright as on Earth.  It’s built to withstand the intense radiation of a magnetosphere thousands of times more powerful than ours for as long as possible—an environment so harsh the visible light camera onboard is expected to fail within only eight orbits, and its radiometer will be fried within 11 orbits.  Juno will look for water and liquid metallic hydrogen, and study its fierce winds and the distribution of its mass and its high-energy hydrogen, helium, oxygen, and sulphur.

     Fifth planet from the sun at 484 million miles out (we’re 94 million miles out), this one was named after the god Jupiter, king of the Roman pantheon, a notorious seducer of mortal mistresses, who often cloaked himself in clouds to hide his indiscretions from his wife, Juno.

     But now Juno will have her way.  At the end of her 20-month mission of intense scrutiny, she will dive deep into his raging storms, crushing pressures, and furious temperatures, seeking to detect the true heart of this by far most muscular planet in our solar system, and perhaps even learn how he came to be.


Monday, July 11, 2016

The new Noah’s Ark

     A $100 million replica of Noah’s Ark (510’ long x 85’ wide x 51’ high) is the centerpiece of a new Kentucky religious theme park.  It’s sure to please creationists who insist the earth is no more than 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs co-existed with mankind, despite an overwhelming mountain of hard, irrefutable evidence to the contrary.

     I have a few questions for those folks:

     Where did all the water to coat the entire earth more than five miles deep come from?  More to the point, where did all that incredible mass of water go?  Weren’t the normal oceans already full?

     It took huge cranes and flatbed trucks, modern saws and other tools, and a numerous work force to cut the tall trees and mill the huge beams and transport them from the forests and lift them into place and sheath them for this replica ark.  How could Noah have done the same job alone with only comparatively primitive tools?  How long would it have taken him to cut down and dress and transport even a single tree to his work site, let alone the thousands he would have needed?

     There are some 5,400 species of mammals, 8,200 species of reptiles, and 10,000 species of birds (most of these land based) on our planet.  How could Noah have cataloged and caught and transported a pair of each of these animal species from all over the globe?  Most of them were wild and many were lethally dangerous--lions, tigers, hippos, poisonous snakes--not to mention about 950,000 species of insects that would have gone extinct if not given a ride on the ark.

     Presumably the holy rain was fresh water (rain, having been condensed from vapor, is fresh).  How, then, could the many thousands of salt-water species have survived the flood?

     An elephant eats 300 pounds of food a day.  So just the two elephants would have needed 45 tons of fresh food for the 150 days the ark is supposed to have been afloat on an endless ocean, according to the Bible.  The total tonnage of special foods for all species would have been astronomical.  How was this accomplished?  How could all the various foods have been kept from spoiling?  Were thousands upon thousands of live prey animals kept aboard to feed the carnivores?

     In those 150 days of the voyage, every crop, every tree, every blade of grass--some 300,000 species of vital carbon dioxide-absorbing, oxygen-producing plants--would have been wiped out worldwide.  So what were the herbivores supposed to eat when they were finally released from the ark?  What were the carnivores supposed to eat?  Each other?  How could all of the individual species have been transported back to their natural climates and habitats?

     During the voyage, how could Noah and his family have fed and watered the thousands upon thousands of species aboard the ark, and mucked out their waste, and keep them from attacking one another, and kept them all healthy?  Would that not have been a virtually impossible task?

     Finally--and to me by far most importantly--what about those many thousands upon thousands of humans—including pregnant women, the elderly, absolutely innocent infants and toddlers—who had no boat ride?   They would have drowned most horribly, scrabbling for higher ground as the waters rose, crying out in bewildered despair, trying to stay afloat, watching helplessly as their families and friends died choking in God’s holy ocean.  What about them?  Would that not have been an atrocity on an unimaginable scale?  Would that horrific act have been perpetrated by a benevolent, forgiving God?  By the infallible deity Himself who supposedly created all these creatures?  Or could this darkest of all deeds only have been committed by some kind of monster?

     Two million people are expected to visit the ark attraction in the first year alone. 


Monday, July 4, 2016

The costs of independence

Just since last October, more than 1,200 people have been killed and many hundreds more wounded outside Iraq and Syria in more than a dozen countries around the planet in attacks orchestrated or inspired by the Islamic State. The atrocities in Orlando, Bangladesh, and Baghdad are only the most recent in an ongoing determined slaughter in the effort of one religious group to dominate the world.  ISIS is just one of the groups wreaking havoc.  There are also Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and a dozen other splinter organizations dedicated to the subjugation of others--especially women—the suppression of science, and the stifling of freedom everywhere.

Enjoy this Independence Day celebration, but maybe give a thought to all those who have won and preserved it for us over the decades, often at the cost of their lives, and for those in many countries who are continuing that battle today.