Vegans, Vegetarians and Meat Reducers : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR

A new book suggests encouraging vegan meals rather than vegan identities could work to act faster at uniting meat reducers.

A new book suggests encouraging vegan meals rather than vegan identities could work to act faster at uniting meat reducers.

yulkapopkova/Getty Images

Join me for a memory exercise involving food and family: Think back to the main-course meals your grandparents served you. And, if you’re middle-aged or older, like me, your parents, too.

How many vegetarian or vegan dishes were among those main courses?

Over the weekend, I encountered this question posed by Tobias Leenaert in his book How To Create A Vegan World: A Pragmatic Approach. Immediately, my mind was filled with meat images. At my grandmother’s, it was golabki (pronounced “gawumpki”) — a dish is made of cabbage leaves rolled around beef, popular in her native Poland — and ham. At my own home, baked chicken, meat loaf, tuna casserole, beef stew, hamburgers and hot dogs, spaghetti and meatballs and, for special occasions, London broil steak.

Two vegetarian dinners also sprang to mind: macaroni and cheese; and the potato pancakes my dad occasionally made when he relieved my mom as cook. Neither dish, requiring milk and eggs to make, was vegan.

When Leenaert asks this question to groups of non-vegans, most people “come up blank,” he writes. If he were to ask the same thing in Mexico, India, Japan, China, or Lebanon, he notes, he would expect to hear a menu of options. (And, I’d add, not only in those geographic locations themselves but in homes anywhere sustained by rich, non-Western cultural traditions.)

And in that disparity can be found, he says, a message to Western vegan activists:

“With so much vegan information and so many recipes now freely available on the web, it’s tempting for vegans to think that those with no idea of where to start are obtuse or apathetic. However, we should keep in mind that in most Western industrialized countries, we’ve no tradition of vegan (nor vegetarian) cooking.”

When communicating with omnivores, Leenaert believes, vegans and vegetarians might focus on the how,how to shop for and cook with plant foods that are healthy and good-tasting, even more than the why, the ethical reasons that vegans feel are the underpinning of their choice to avoid meat and animal products.

“We vegetarians and vegans,” he writes, “are living, breathing reminders” of guilt (about animal suffering) and fear (of leaving behind food traditions and changing one’s way of life) that omnivores may feel.

As co-director of the Center for Effective Vegan Advocacy, Leenaert shares a goal with other vegans, to reduce animal suffering caused by agriculture and by society’s intense embrace of meat and animal products.

It’s just that he works toward that goal in a way that is controversial within vegan advocacy: by actively empathizing with non-vegans, by motivating them to join the growing ranks of “meat reducers,” and even by slightly broadening the definition of “vegan” to embrace people who occasionally go off the rails and here or there consume animal products.

Increasing the number of meat reducers is going to be more effective at reducing animal suffering than trying to convert omnivores to veganism, Leenaert maintains. Lower demand for meat will simultaneously drive up meat prices and accelerate a process whereby plant-based products become more readily available and delicious.

The tough part, Leenaert says, is for vegans to embrace and share a message that stops short of: Eat no animals or animal products whatsoever! Efficacy is critical, he insists — more important than pushing one’s own moral message. This appears on one page in the book:

“Am I right?” nor “Is this my truth?”

“Some vegans will actually consider it unethical to take into account where other people are and will only want to bring their message in its pure, undiluted form. This is more or less the opposite of walking in other people’s shoes. It’s the conviction that other people should walk in our shoes, whether they fit or not and whether they like them or not, because they are the only correct pair of shoes.”

I read the book as a person who frequently writes and speaks in public about farmed animals as smart and feeling creatures, and also as a reducetarian in that I eat no meat (but a fish now and then) and have cut down greatly on milk, eggs, and cheese. Leenaert’s message is incredibly welcoming to someone like me:

“Reducers are significant, too, and nothing prevents them from becoming advocates for animals or for meat reduction. Moreover, the vegan advocacy of the vegan isn’t by definition more effective than that of the reducers.”

Make no mistake, Leenaert pushes hard as he himself lives his veganism and his aim is for people to move gradually from reducetarianism to veganism. He maintains, though, that “vegan” is a descriptor better applied to meals or to products more than to people.

According to a 2016 poll (one of numerous polls or studies Leenaert cites to back up his statements), 3.4 percent of the U.S. population identifies as vegetarian or vegan, while 33 percent of us eat vegetarian or vegan meals. (Almost all of us eat at least some vegetarian meals, however. A cheese pizza fits the description, after all.)

Leenaert spells out the main point: “All the reducers together are responsible for avoiding more animals being killed than vegetarians and vegans combined.”

I asked Leenaert, by email, if he has an optimistic outlook for meat reduction in North America and Europe over the next 10 years. Here’s how he replied:

“It’s hard to predict of course, but some points:

— In surveys in Western countries, often up to half of respondents reply that they want/intend to reduce their meat consumption. If we take away the barriers (make it easier, improve alternatives, etc.), this could happen in the next decade, I think.

ProVeg international, an organization I am co-founder of, as well as other orgs like Greenpeace, have targets like reducing the production and consumption of animal products by 50 percent by 2040 or 2050.

— Clean meat (cultured meat) could be a game-changer, although I’m not sure how competitively priced it will be within the next ten years.”

Responses to the book have ranged from extremely positive to extremely angry. When asked about it, Leenaert said:

“The people who don’t like me are people who seem very concerned about veganism not being watered down in the slightest degree. They are people who try to de-platform me, consider me anti-vegan, and ‘dangerous to the vegan movement.’

On the positive side, I’m getting a lot of feedback from people who say that the book really changed the way they look at the whole vegan thing, that it opened their mind. They find it refreshing in its rationality and anti-dogmatic approach. Many people write that my writings helped turn them from an angry into a happy and friendly vegan.”

As a nonvegan, I’m not about to tell vegans whether to be angry or happy. I will say that I believe Leenaert’s approach moves us forward together, to help animals.

Barbara J. King is an anthropology professor emerita at the College of William and Mary. She often writes about the cognition, emotion and welfare of animals and about biological anthropology, human evolution and gender issues. Barbara’s new book is Personalities on the Plate: The Lives and Minds of Animals We Eat. You can keep up with what she is thinking on Twitter: @bjkingape

When More Vegan Meals Are The Goal, What Is The Strategy?

Saturn’s Moon Titan Is More Compelling Than Mars As A Long-Term Human Destination : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR

A composite image of Saturn’s moon Titan taken by the Cassini spacecraft. NASA hide caption

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NASA

A composite image of Saturn’s moon Titan taken by the Cassini spacecraft.

NASA

I am a planetary scientist and once astronaut candidate finalist (read: space nerd).

But I have something to confess: I do not want to live on Mars.

While certainly interesting scientifically (e.g., seasonally-varying polar caps; transient methane plumes; permafrost), Mars is not particularly compelling as a long-term human destination.

But there is another place in our solar system where conditions are right for a self-sustaining, long-term human settlement: Saturn’s moon Titan.

To start with, let’s make clear that Titan is a moon that, in many ways, acts more like a planet. It has a thick atmosphere, with about 1.5 times the surface pressure of Earth’s atmosphere. None of the 177 other moons in the solar system has such an atmosphere. Plus, Titan is the only place in the solar system, other than Earth, with stable surface liquids: Titan has lakes and seas on its surface. So Titan is a remarkable, and very Earth-like, world.

Titan’s thick atmosphere is beneficial, because it means that you don’t have to wear a bulky pressure suit while you’re out and about on Titan. But the main reason I like it is simple: Titan’s atmosphere will help us stay alive. Out in space, radiation is deadly. Energetic particles from the sun, and especially galactic cosmic rays (GCRs), penetrate human tissue, causing cancer and cognitive disorders. To stay within NASA’s current cancer risk limits, astronauts can travel beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for as much as 200 days; a Mars trip would likely be more like 600 days. But these damaging particles cannot make it to Titan’s surface; they’re absorbed by the atmosphere, meaning that it’s a safe environment for humans. Mars’s atmosphere is not thick enough to provide much shielding from GCRs — and Earth’s moon has little in the way of an atmosphere — so humans living in those places would probably need to live underground in order to protect themselves from radiation.

People living on Titan could walk around (or, rather, bounce around — since the gravity is 14 percent of Earth’s gravity, just a little less than at the moon) wearing suits to keep warm. It is cold on Titan (surface temperature of about -290 degrees F). And people would need to wear respirators to breathe oxygen, since the atmosphere is mostly nitrogen. The light on Titan is a little dim, like just after a sunset here on Earth, due to the haze particles in the thick atmosphere. People living on one hemisphere of Titan, the one always facing Saturn, would have beautiful views of the ringed planet.

A really fun (and potentially useful) thing is this: Thanks to the low gravity and thick atmosphere, people on Titan could easily fly under their own power if they strap wings to their arms! Future humans could also go boating on the lakes and seas, which are present primarily at higher latitudes.

Because it’s so cold on Titan, all the water is frozen — the lakes and seas are composed of liquid methane and ethane. These hydrocarbons (like natural gas here on Earth) are in abundance on Titan — not only in the lakes and seas, but covering the surface and in the atmosphere. These hydrocarbons present a ready source of materials for building things, such as habitats, out of plastics. Humans could burn methane to produce energy, perhaps using a nuclear reactor to power electrolysis of water (since Titan’s atmosphere doesn’t contain the oxygen we would need for the methane combustion). Another chemical energy option is hydrogenation of acetylene (i.e. 3H2 + C2H2); both hydrogen and acetylene are present in Titan’s atmosphere.

And we can consider using wind turbines for an alternate energy source. Titan’s air density is roughly five times that of Earth, so the potential wind power is substantial. Though there isn’t much wind at the surface of Titan (Cassini measurements indicate winds of just about 1 meter/sec; for comparison, an typical wind speed on Earth is roughly 4 meters/sec), the Huygens probe measurements showed winds of about 20 meters/sec at 40 km (about 25 miles) altitude — which means that tethered airborne wind stations could produce hundreds of megawatts of power.

Now, I realize that talking about sending humans to Titan is a pretty far-out idea. And there are a lot of obstacles to overcome, not the least of which is learning how humans will accomplish the entire reproduction process in microgravity. Also, growing food on Titan using crops as we do here on Earth will not be efficient given the lower solar flux reaching Titan’s surface — and the already low efficiency of photosynthesis here on Earth. Humans on Titan will will need biotech and nontraditional foods. Perhaps future humans on Titan can invoke some type of artificial photosynthesis; maybe eat some hybrid algal food.

And before all of this, a big barrier is inertia in our government.

The 2014 National Academies report Pathways to Exploration, which discusses rationales and approaches for a U.S. human space exploration program, points out that “in the view of many observers, the human spaceflight program conducted by the U.S. government today has no strong direction,” namely because pronouncements by several presidents about various space ventures (moon, Mars, asteroids) have not been matched to the commitment accompanying President Kennedy’s 1961 direction to go the moon. A progressive human spaceflight program (to Titan, or anywhere) funded by a budget that barely keeps pace with inflation is simply not sustainable.

So if we want humans to go farther than Low Earth Orbit, that’s a big hurdle to jump. In addition, there’s the issue of getting humans to Titan in a timely manner. It took the Cassini spacecraft seven years to reach Saturn; if a human journey to Titan took seven years, the astronauts would likely succumb to radiation- and microgravity-related health issues (not to mention psychological problems). Thus, at the top of the technology needs list for our Titan settlement is propulsion — we need a way to get humans to Titan in under a year.

There are policy, budgetary and technological challenges to overcome in moving humans out of LEO. That said, the Pathways to Exploration report further points out that NASA’s “horizon goal” is a human surface landingon Mars. And, while a worthy goal, I wonder: What then? After landing humans on Mars, what will be our next goal — living underground on Mars?

Here’s an idea: Let’s make our “horizon goal” the establishment of a self-sustaining human settlement on Titan, with a human surface landing on Mars a milestone on the path to our long-term destination.

Another confession: I’m a bit of an optimist.

Amanda Hendrix is a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute and co-author of Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets, with Charles Wohlforth.

Confession Of A Planetary Scientist: ‘I Do Not Want To Live On Mars’

Carl Sagan: Cosmos, Pale Blue Dot & Famous Quotes

Called “America’s most effective salesman of science” by Time magazine, astronomer Carl Sagan spent much of his career translating technical scientific explanations into something easily digestible by the general public. As a natural teacher, Sagan educated people not only through classroom lectures but also through interviews and television shows. His 13-part TV series, “Cosmos,” has been seen by over 600 million people in more than 60 countries. The show was so popular that it returned to television in 2005. [See also our overview of Famous Astronomers and great scientists from many fields who have worked in astronomy.]

Life on the pale blue dot

Carl Edward Sagan was born on Nov. 9, 1934, in Brooklyn, New York. He attended college at the University of Chicago, where he earned his Ph.D. in astronomy and astrophysics in 1960, at the age of 26.

After completing postdoctoral work, he taught at Harvard University. When that school declined to grant Sagan tenure status in 1968, he took a position with Cornell University in New York, serving as the director for the Laboratory for Planetary Studies and the associate director of the Center for Radio Physics and Space Research.

Diagnosed with the rare bone-marrow disease myelodysplasia, Sagan underwent three bone-marrow transplants over the course of his life. Due to complications from the disease, he contracted pneumonia, which led to his death on Dec. 20, 1996, at age 62.

Making science interesting

Although Sagan was most widely known for his scientific communication with the general public, he made many significant scientific contributions as well.

When Sagan was in graduate school, many scientists thought the planet Venus was similar to Earth. As part of his doctorate research, Sagan computed the first greenhouse model for Venus’ atmosphere, which revealed a higher temperature than previously suspected. Later, he suggested that dust storms on Mars caused the seasonal changes observed on that planet, and he also wrote a series of papers on the organic chemistry of Jupiter’s atmosphere.

As an advisor to NASA, Sagan helped design and manage the Mariner 2 mission to Venus, the Mariner 9 and Viking trips to Mars, the Voyager system to the outer solar system, and the Galileo mission to Jupiter. He also helped brief astronauts prior to their trips to the moon.

Sagan helped lay the groundwork for two new scientific disciplines: planetary science and exobiology, or the study of potential life on other planets. He co-founded and served as the first president of The Planetary Society, an organization dedicated to inspiring and involving the public in space exploration. And he promoted the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, where he served as a trustee.

But Sagan was far more visible as a scientific educator than as a researcher. He was gifted at breaking down scientific concepts into explanations that the public could readily understand, while avoiding talking down to them. He authored hundreds of popular articles and more than two dozen books, and he frequently appeared in Time magazine — landing the cover on Oct. 20, 1980.

“Carl kept feet firmly planted in both the planetary research community and in the greater worlds of science communication and science policy,” astronomers Yervant Terzian and Virginia Trimble wrote in the American Astronomical Society’s obituary for Sagan.

Sagan’s books and TV episodes

In 1977, Sagan began work on the television series “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage,” serving as writer and presenter. The first show aired on the Public Broadcasting Service in October of 1980. Between new episodes and reruns, the show was the most widely watched series on U.S. public television for nearly a decade. The show won an Emmy and a Peabody award and was broadcast around the world. Sagan’s book of the same name (Random House, 2013) stayed on The New York Times best-seller list for 70 weeks and was the best-selling science book ever published in the English language at the time.

In addition to “Cosmos,” Sagan also appeared as a guest on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” 26 times, calling it “the biggest classroom in history.”

At Sagan’s request, NASA commanded its Voyager 1 spacecraft to turn its camera on Earth, creating an image that came to be known as the “Pale Blue Dot,” one of the most famous pictures of Earth from space ever taken. Sagan used that name as the title of another book. The sequel to “Cosmos,” Sagan’s “The Pale Blue Dot” (Random House, 1994) toured the solar system and the galaxy, arguing for the necessity of planetary science and the exploration of Earth’s closest neighbors. This book, too, was widely well-received by the general public.

An earlier nonfiction book by Sagan, “The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence,” (Random House, 1977) received the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.

Although the majority of Sagan’s work was nonfiction, he used fiction to present scientific principles in his 1985 novel “Contact” (Simon & Schuster, 1985). The story revolved around interactions between the human race and an advanced civilization of extraterrestrials. The novel sold over a million copies in its first two years of publication, and in 1997, it was released as a major motion picture starring Jodi Foster as main character Ellie Arroway (who was inspired by real-life SETI astronomer Jill Tarter).

In 2015, the Los Angeles Times announced that Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. was working with Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, on a film about the scientist’s life. The production company hasn’t released any details about the movie since the initial announcement.

In Sagan’s New York Times obituary, then-President of the National Academy of Sciences Bruce Alberts said, “Carl Sagan, more than any contemporary scientist I can think of, knew what it takes to stir passion within the public when it comes to the wonder and importance of science.”

Notable Carl Sagan quotes and excerpts from his books:

“Advances in medicine and agriculture have saved vastly more lives than have been lost in all the wars in history.”
— “The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark” (Ballantine Books, 1997)

“The significance of a finding that there are other beings who share this universe with us would be absolutely phenomenal. It would be an epochal event in human history.”
— Quoted in CNN obituary, December 20, 1996

“At the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes — an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive they may be, and the most ruthless skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense.”
— “The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark” (Ballantine Books, 1997)

“Every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist, and then we beat it out of them. A few trickle through the system with their wonder and enthusiasm for science intact.”
— Interview in the magazine Psychology Today (January 1996)

“For myself, I like a universe that includes much that is unknown and, at the same time, much that is knowable. A universe in which everything is known would be static and dull, as boring as the heaven of some weak-minded theologians. A universe that is unknowable is no fit place for a thinking being. The ideal universe for us is one very much like the universe we inhabit. And I would guess that this is not really much of a coincidence.”
— “Can We Know the Universe?” in M. Gardner (ed.), “The Sacred Beetle and Other Great Essays in Science” (Plume, 1986)

“In a lot of scientists, the ratio of wonder to skepticism declines in time. That may be connected with the fact that in some fields — mathematics, physics, some others — the great discoveries are almost entirely made by youngsters.”
— Interview in the magazine Psychology Today (January 1996).

“It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works — that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.”
— “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space” (Ballantine Books, 1997)

“It is the responsibility of scientists never to suppress knowledge, no matter how awkward that knowledge is, no matter how it may bother those in power; we are not smart enough to decide which pieces of knowledge are permissible and which are not.”
— Quoted in Lily Splane’s “Quantum Consciousness” (Anaphase II Publishing, 2004)

“It is the tension between creativity and skepticism that has produced the stunning and unexpected findings of science.”
— “Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science” (Ballantine Books, 1986)

“Our passion for learning … is our tool for survival.”
— “Cosmos” (Random House, 1985)

“The cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas.”
— “The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark” (Ballantine Books, 1997)

“The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”
— “Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science” (Ballantine Books, 1986)

“If the dinosaurs had had a space program, they would not be extinct.”
— Quoted by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin in a NASA press release

“The job is by no means done. We will look for the boundary between the solar system and the interstellar medium, and then we’ll voyage on forever in the dark between the stars.”

— Quoted in CNN obituary, December 20, 1996

Further reading:

The Answer To Life, The Universe — And Everything? It’s 63. : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR

This view of a stellar nursery taken by the Very Large Telescope on May 23, 2013, also shows a group of thick clouds of dust known as the Thackeray globules silhouetted against the pale pink glowing gas of the nebula. ESO hide caption

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ESO

This view of a stellar nursery taken by the Very Large Telescope on May 23, 2013, also shows a group of thick clouds of dust known as the Thackeray globules silhouetted against the pale pink glowing gas of the nebula.

ESO

Often, as we go through the world, the key is to ask the right question.

When it comes to figuring out the nature of physical reality, part of that process starts at the absolute edge of the observable universe — the cosmic horizon, a distant layer from which light has only just, in this very instant, managed to reach us after more than 13 billion years of racing through space.

This intangible boundary between the knowable and the unknowable is, at present, roughly a thousand, trillion, trillion meters across — should you possess the means to measure it.

At the other end, in the deepest innards of every single speck of cosmos, is a scale of a hundred billion, trillion, trillionths of a meter. It represents the last meaningful physical scale within our present understanding of physics, a place where space-time itself gets choppy, uncertain, and decidedly problematic.

These two extremes span a jaw-dropping 63 orders of magnitude. To be fair, though, this isn’t an immutable constant of nature. Turn the clock back more than 13 billion years and you’d be able to find a moment when this number was merely 1. Over time, the expansion of the cosmos and the passage of light has unlocked all of those other scales, each one a new opportunity for novelty and complexity.

It wasn’t until the cosmic horizon spanned a colossal 10-15 meters that the possibility of a coherent, causally connected atomic nucleus even existed, had the universe been cool enough. It was another nail-biting wait before the observable universe covered 10-10 meters so that a whole atom could, in principle, exist as we know it.

A self-respecting universe couldn’t have a hope of ever producing a bacterium if it hadn’t opened up to a scale of at least half a micrometer. And, in truth, for anything like a microorganism to exist, the casually connected universe had to become much, much larger. Sizeable enough for its innards to begin to feel their mutual gravitational attractions across a mammoth range of distances, from 109 meters to at least 1021 meters. Enough for it to have a chance of brewing the stars and elements — ingredients that would, in turn, feed their novelty back to a microscopic scale, unleashing a blizzard of chemistry and complexification that would eventually build something akin to a single-celled living thing.

In other words, the real question is: How big a universe is needed to allow you to be sitting here reading these words?

Actually, 63 orders of magnitude might be a little more than is absolutely necessary. After all, the cosmos has been churning out stars and planets since well before our solar system came along, back to a time when we might drop a couple powers of ten in the scale of the cosmic horizon. But we don’t yet know whether anything quite like us has happened before, so the only thing we can say with certainty is that — in our very specific case — 63 is, and will always be, the magic number.

Our own horizon of ignorance has crept gradually outwards and inwards from a place surprisingly close to the logarithmic midway point of this cosmic range. That touchstone sits at about a tenth of a millimeter, like the very tip of your sharpened pencil, or the thickness of an eyelash. Barely a century ago, we hadn’t appreciated the real size of the universe that surrounds our sun and our galaxy. And while the nature of the tiny atomic and subatomic realm was rapidly becoming apparent, that inner gulf hadn’t revealed its true depths. It’s unarguable that, since then, we have made pretty spectacular progress.

But we don’t step back very often to take a look at the whole thing, our map of existence as it stands today, from end-to-end. I got to do this recently while writing, and wrestling with, a book —The Zoomable Universe. This project started out with a modest idea: revisiting the themes of several illustrated classics, from Robert Hooke’s Micrographia to Charles and Ray Eames’s famous Powers of Ten. It quickly evolved into a genre-bending, mind-twisting exploration of all we know and, more critically, an exposé of all that we don’t know.

Some of the most obvious gaps in our knowledge of the physical universe occur in what also appear to be the most boring pieces of existence: the spaces between luminous matter on a cosmic scale, and the more-than-million-trillion-fold span between the size of a proton and the Planck scale.

On the large scales, it’s the puzzle of unseen gravitating matter and unseen cosmic pressure, the dark stuff — matter and energy. On the small scales, it’s the decidedly bizarre nature of the subatomic, or at least the bizarre implications of our current physical models for the subatomic. Virtual quarks swarm around inside protons and neutrons, making these nuclear specks themselves composites of fields and their quanta, with perhaps little or no structure in the usual sense of the word. That peculiar condition seems to persist across some 20 orders of magnitude in scale.

These are great mysteries. Except I think that the mysteries with the biggest impact on how we perceive reality are those happening in plain sight, across that cluttered midway point in scale, and our realm of the senses.

It’s on our biological scales that the universe does something very, very funky. Billions of years of elemental and chemical brewing have produced structures capable of awareness, and capable of trying to decode the very thing out of which they’ve come. It’s the ultimate bootstrap, going from a near featureless primordial reality to something that deduces its own existence.

That’s what exploring 63 orders of magnitude leads us to. The nature of us.

So, I’m hoping that somewhere among the pages of The Zoomable Universe, filled with galaxies, planets, moons, mountains, wildlife, molecules, and quanta, someone will find the inspiration they need to figure out the next big question — and maybe find the answer, too.

Caleb Scharf is director of astrobiology at Columbia University and author of Gravity’s Engines, The Copernicus Complex and The Zoomable Universe (Scientific American/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, October 2017). Follow him on Twitter @caleb_scharf.

The Answer To Life, The Universe — And Everything? It’s 63

Have Dark Forces Been Messing With the Cosmos? – The New York Times

Quasars arise from supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies; they are the brightest objects in nature, and can be seen clear across the universe. As standard candles, quasars aren’t ideal because their masses vary widely. Nevertheless, the researchers identified some regularities in the emissions from quasars, allowing the history of the cosmos to be traced back nearly 12 billion years. The team found that the rate of cosmic expansion deviated from expectations over that time span.

One interpretation of the results is that dark energy is not constant after all, but is changing, growing denser and thus stronger over cosmic time. It so happens that this increase in dark energy also would be just enough to resolve the discrepancy in measurements of the Hubble constant.

The bad news is that, if this model is right, dark energy may be in a particularly virulent and — most physicists say — implausible form called phantom energy. Its existence would imply that things can lose energy by speeding up, for instance. Robert Caldwell, a Dartmouth physicist, has referred to it as “bad news stuff.”

As the universe expands, the push from phantom energy would grow without bounds, eventually overcoming gravity and tearing apart first Earth, then atoms.

The Hubble-constant community responded to the new report with caution. “If it holds up, this is a very interesting result,” said Dr. Freedman.

Astronomers have been trying to take the measure of this dark energy for two decades. Two space missions — the European Space Agency’s Euclid and NASA’s Wfirst — have been designed to study dark energy and hopefully deliver definitive answers in the coming decade. The fate of the universe is at stake.

In the meantime, everything, including phantom energy, is up for consideration, according to Dr. Riess.

“In a list of possible solutions to the tension via new physics, mentioning weird dark energy like this would seem appropriate,” he wrote in an email. “Heck, at least their dark energy goes in the right direction to solve the tension. It could have gone the other way and made it worse!”

Ufologist Tom Conwell on Cosmos Connection Radio Show 1-20-18

Theresa J Morris, Janet Kira Lessin, and Amad Painter will be joined by Tom Conwell Ufologist and Author of the Book They Are Here. Show begins 6-8 Eastern on http://revolution.radio – Please Join us to learn about Ufology.

TOM CONWELL – UFOLOGIST

His Story – Source: Mufon.com

I was asked by my wife to go out back and look up. There were two unusual lights coming over the house. I went out back to look and I saw a bright orange ball going behind the clouds. This ball was moving roughly northwest to southwest from my perspective. And in my very brief view of this, I did not see any running aviation lights. Then there were two more. I watched until everything was behind clouds. Still I saw nothing that would even closely remind me of an airplane – only of a burning ball. I realized that my wife must have been seeing much more than me. I went to the front of the house where I saw a single “burning ball” come over the house and begin to go behind the clouds.
It was this point when I realized that these balls of light were accelerating and increasing altitude as I watched them disappear behind the cloud deck. There were scattered clouds in the direction of the initial sightings and at no time did the lights appear to be obscured as they approached – only when roughly overhead and to the South. Each subsequent set of orange balls seemed to originate more toward the East or closer to me. Our house is on one of the landing approaches to Albany International Airport and we see planes very frequently. Also during the evening especially in the Winter months, we will see planes at very high altitude flying West to East and East to West. Even at very high altitudes there is no doubt that we are seeing commercial aircraft. The lights cannot be misunderstood.

As I was looking toward the North West, Mars was immediately behind me and very bright in the sky. The glowing fireballs were at least 10-12X brighter than Mars and did not deviate from this brightness.

The cloud deck was approximately 4 thousand feet at the point above my head. I retrieved a set of binoculars and got a decent look at the next set of two from behind the trees/horizon (not obscured) to a point above me. At no time did this thing remind me of an airplane, there were never running/blinking lights, never a hint of noise and never was I able to correlate these things with anything that I have ever witnessed.  What I saw was an orange ball or (this) simply reminded me of a ball of flame. These things were almost circular to slightly oval and reminded me greatly of seeing a hot air balloon from below if you could forget about seeing the basket portion. Also when a balloon is powered, it will have a roaring flamed gas jet whooshing sound pumping air into the balloon and would also have been extremely loud. It took approximately 20-30 seconds to traverse a point that was near the horizon from my view to a point nearly overhead. While looking at the fireballs in the binoculars, I got the distinct impression that I was looking at a digital flame, one that is utilized during action TV shows during explosions. Simply put, it looked fake not like an actual flame. The lights moved at approximately the same speed as a landing aircraft for reference. As for the hot air balloon reference, balloons (9 in all were seen) would not likely be flying over a city at night having to deal with incredible amounts of overhead high tension wires. I also highly doubt that balloons would be able to travel 150 to 250 knots as these lights were doing.

The other possibility that I considered was Chinese lanterns. The speed necessary to accomplish what I saw would have been unattainable by paper or any other container. Also their relative brightness would have been about 50X dimmer than what I saw in the air unless the Chinese lantern had a roaring bonfire within the upper container.

As the fourth group of lights went by, I looked immediately in the direction of the source of the lights. I would not allow myself to blink for fear I would miss something. At this point I still held the belief that these must be Chinese Lanterns, they just can’t be UFO’s I told myself. I stared at the point in the sky where they seemed to be originating and I wasn’t disappointed. Lights popped on one after the other above the City of Troy, New York in the sky area where fireworks are launched in the Summer on July 4. This area was known to me. These were intensely bright balls of flame.  The fireballs traveled horizontally until nearly directly West of where I was standing, angled upward at approximately 30 degrees then disappeared behind the clouds to my South West. The closest point to me was approximately 1 mile straight line distance. It was at this point that I became absolutely convinced that these were not airplanes, rockets, balloons, Chinese lanterns or anything else made on this Earth. They certainly weren’t meteors because the trajectory and speed was completely wrong. In the absence of any logical explanation, I concluded they were UFO’s.

The lights that I saw were a solid orange (flame colored) but I saw no actual flames only fake with no burning residue or smoke left as a trail. The speed and ever increasing altitude indicated that these things were under intelligent control. There were no blinking lights so I ruled out commercial craft. They were not meteors because they
would have likely varied in intensity, moved at 100-400X the speed as that witnessed and would have traveled in a downward direction not upward. There were 9 of these things, spaced roughly about 2 minutes apart in a configuration of 2-2-1-2-2 as seen overhead. The first group of two were moving alongside each other closely similar to how a wing man would accompany another plane. The remaining groups followed at a slightly greater distance but still together. As I was going into the house to get my binoculars, I could have missed two of these things go overhead but I’m still unsure at this point. There was never a good enough view to see these that a picture/photograph could have demonstrated relevant information. The only thing remaining was military aircraft flying over commercial airspace without running lights and glowing an intense orange or something truly unidentified or unidentifiable.

It remains unidentified to me!”

MAY 12, 2014

Time: 9:30 to 10:45 p.m.

Day/Date: May 12, 2014

Tom Conwell – Ufologist, Extreme Paranormal Encounter Response Team (Expert) Currently

Troy, NY – Within the city limits but at the southern boundary. We live directly on the glide path for jets landing at Albany, NY and there is traffic overhead on most evenings. The city lies north of our location and we cannot see city lights because we live on top of a hill with a tree line and hill intervening.

Weather: scattered clouds to my north and northwest at approximately 4,000 feet. The area directly to my west was clear and there was a heavier cloud bank to my southwest.

Tom Conwell, Author of They Are Here

UFOlogist, Tom Conwell, has been an Electronic Technician with the US Navy and Honeywell, Inc. for 42 years, a Honeywell Temperature Control, Fire Alarm and Security Software Specialist, Biomedical Engineer, is Fire Alarm Level II Certified, a Metrologist and HVAC Engineering resource. Tom has a wide-ranging expertise with a keen awareness of physics, computer and internet software and a broad knowledge of electronics and how it intersects with the paranormal world and UFO’s. Tom remains a vital scientific resource on Extreme Paranormal Encounter Response Team and embraces the wealth of information and theories that embody the title of UFOlogist. Over the past three years, Tom has written an extensive collection of blogs based on aspects of UFOlogy, has studied and researched UFO sighting reports from the entire US East Coast and can talk about any or all of these subjects.

A Telescope 100x Stronger Than Hubble Will Unveil Parts Of The Cosmos We’ve Never Seen | Physics-Astronomy

JWST will ultimately provide unprecedented resolution and amazing sensitivity from the long-wavelength visible light through the mid-infrared range.

 

John C. Mather, senior project scientist for the Webb telescope and senior astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland spoke out about the telescope in a news release: “I’m thrilled to see the list of astronomer’s most fascinating targets for the Webb telescope and extremely eager to see the results. We fully expect to be surprised by what we find.”

 

The telescope will facilitate a wide scope of research to be conducted, such as solar observations, to some of the most distant galaxies currently on record. All four of the instruments of the JWST will be utilized and its incredible abilities will be thoroughly demonstrated. Surprise and beauty is expected. 

 


 

Obviously, physicists and astronomers are excited and looking forward to use the JWST and rightly so. The level of thrill is so high that the STScI received eight times higher the average amount of requests for subscription to the Early Release period than it could facilitate. “It is a highly competitive field,” Neill Reid of the STScI revealed to Futurism.

 

 
Niell Reid also went on to say: “Webb is a six-and-a-half meters. There’s orders of magnitude increase in sensitivity with that, so there’s really an enormous area of discovery space. You can do bright objects much much faster. You can do much fainter objects than you could have ever done before with any telescope.”

 

 
Deputy senior project scientist for the JSWT also added onto the conversation: “In order to see things fainter, we need a larger telescope to collect more light.”

 

 

 

According to Gardner, the JWST possess several advantages over the Hubble Telescope, especially with its major strength being able to see back in time, allowing scientists to observe and analyze remote, dull galaxies in their early formations. Another reason for JWST’s growing popularity is its operation time is limited– to miss the chance of potentially operating is upsetting, to say the least. 

 

Reid spoke out on the reason as to why the time frame exists, saying that: “the limiting factor for Webb is basically fuel. Because it’s working in infrared, all of the instruments need to be kept really cold. The way that that’s done is not by using liquid nitrogen or anything like that– there’s a giant Sun shade that unfolds, basically puts the telescope into the shade.”

 

 

 


Properly operating the sunshade and moving between different objects demands the adjustment of the telescope’s orbit which uses rocket fuel. This means that the JWST is to operate for at least five years, but the team remains hopeful that the telescope will prevail for at least 10 years of operation.

 

Despite the short period of operation, the JWST is expected to deliver new, innovating information regarding exoplanets. 
 

The reason as to why this belief is in place is due to the several spectrographs operating at infrared and near-infrared wavelengths which enables researchers to probe regions that previously deemed the title “unaccessible” in the scavenge for relatively small exoplanets.

 

 
According to Neill Reid, researchers are now gifted the power to study the planet’s atmospheres with an amount of precision that hasn’t existed before. Gardner also praised the telescope, telling Futurism about a program chosen to be part of the Early Release period that will utilize the coronagraphy process. Coronagraphy allows scientists to observe the characteristics of the planet’s atmospheres as they travel in front of their stars.

 

 
“One of the most exciting things, I think, is that as the planets is transiting the star, the light from the star actually goes through the atmosphere of the planet and reaches our telescope. When we subtract that out, we can get a direct spectrum of the atmosphere and determine its constituents.”

 

 
Do expect more– these are only the earliest plans for the JWST and after taking into consideration the fact that the telescope is hypothesized to operate for at least a decade, JWST could provide a much more universal amount of information and insights to the scientific community before its final days. 

 

Obviously, physicists and astronomers are excited and looking forward to use the JWST and rightly so. The level of thrill is so high that the STScI received eight times higher the average amount of requests for subscription to the Early Release period than it could facilitate. “It is a highly competitive field,” Neill Reid of the STScI revealed to Futurism.

 

Niell Reid also went on to say: “Webb is a six-and-a-half meters. There’s orders of magnitude increase in sensitivity with that, so there’s really an enormous area of discovery space. You can do bright objects much much faster. You can do much fainter objects than you could have ever done before with any telescope.”

 

Deputy senior project scientist for the JSWT also added onto the conversation: “In order to see things fainter, we need a larger telescope to collect more light.”

 

According to Gardner, the JWST possess several advantages over the Hubble Telescope, especially with its major strength being able to see back in time, allowing scientists to observe and analyze remote, dull galaxies in their early formations. Another reason for JWST’s growing popularity is its operation time is limited– to miss the chance of potentially operating is upsetting, to say the least. 

 

Reid spoke out on the reason as to why the time frame exists, saying that: “the limiting factor for Webb is basically fuel. Because it’s working in infrared, all of the instruments need to be kept really cold. The way that that’s done is not by using liquid nitrogen or anything like that– there’s a giant Sun shade that unfolds, basically puts the telescope into the shade.”

 

Despite the short period of operation, the JWST is expected to deliver new, innovating information regarding exoplanets. 
The reason as to why this belief is in place is due to the several spectrographs operating at infrared and near-infrared wavelengths which enables researchers to probe regions that previously deemed the title “unaccessible” in the scavenge for relatively small exoplanets.

 

According to Neill Reid, researchers are now gifted the power to study the planet’s atmospheres with an amount of precision that hasn’t existed before. Gardner also praised the telescope, telling Futurism about a program chosen to be part of the Early Release period that will utilize the coronagraphy process. Coronagraphy allows scientists to observe the characteristics of the planet’s atmospheres as they travel in front of their stars.

 

“One of the most exciting things, I think, is that as the planets is transiting the star, the light from the star actually goes through the atmosphere of the planet and reaches our telescope. When we subtract that out, we can get a direct spectrum of the atmosphere and determine its constituents.”

 

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Bringing balance to the universe: New theory could explain missing 95 percent of the cosmos

Scientists at the University of Oxford may have solved one of the biggest questions in modern physics, with a new paper unifying dark matter and dark energy into a single phenomenon: a fluid which possesses ‘negative mass.” If you were to push a negative mass, it would accelerate towards you. This astonishing new theory may also prove right a prediction that Einstein made 100 years ago.

Our current, widely recognised model of the Universe, called LambdaCDM, tells us nothing about what dark and dark are like physically. We only know about them because of the gravitational effects they have on other, observable matter.

This , published today in Astronomy and Astrophysics, by Dr. Jamie Farnes from the Oxford e-Research Centre, Department of Engineering Science, offers a new explanation. Dr. Farnes says: “We now think that both dark matter and dark energy can be unified into a fluid which possesses a type of ‘negative gravity,” repelling all other material around them. Although this matter is peculiar to us, it suggests that our cosmos is symmetrical in both positive and negative qualities.”

The existence of negative matter had previously been ruled out as it was thought this material would become less dense as the Universe expands, which runs contrary to our observations that show dark energy does not thin out over time. However, Dr. Farnes’ research applies a ‘creation tensor,” which allows for negative masses to be continuously created. It demonstrates that when more and more negative masses are continually bursting into existence, this negative mass fluid does not dilute during the expansion of the cosmos. In fact, the fluid appears to be identical to dark energy.

Dr. Farnes’s theory also provides the first correct predictions of the behaviour of dark matter halos. Most galaxies are rotating so rapidly they should be tearing themselves apart, which suggests that an invisible ‘halo’ of dark matter must be holding them together. The new research published today features a computer simulation of the properties of negative mass, which predicts the formation of dark matter halos just like the ones inferred by observations using modern radio telescopes.

Albert Einstein provided the first hint of the dark universe exactly 100 years ago, when he discovered a parameter in his equations known as the ‘cosmological constant,” which we now know to be synonymous with dark energy. Einstein famously called the cosmological constant his ‘biggest blunder,” although modern astrophysical observations prove that it is a real phenomenon. In notes dating back to 1918, Einstein described his cosmological constant, writing that ‘a modification of the theory is required such that “empty space” takes the role of gravitating negative masses which are distributed all over the interstellar space.” It is therefore possible that Einstein himself predicted a negative-mass-filled universe.

Dr. Farnes says: “Previous approaches to combining dark energy and dark matter have attempted to modify Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which has turned out to be incredibly challenging. This new approach takes two old ideas that are known to be compatible with Einstein’s theory—negative masses and matter creation—and combines them together.

“The outcome seems rather beautiful: dark energy and dark matter can be unified into a single substance, with both effects being simply explainable as positive mass matter surfing on a sea of negative masses.”

Proof of Dr. Farnes’s will come from tests performed with a cutting-edge radio telescope known as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), an international endeavour to build the world’s largest telescope in which the University of Oxford is collaborating.

Dr. Farnes adds: “There are still many theoretical issues and computational simulations to work through, and LambdaCDM has a nearly 30 year head start, but I’m looking forward to seeing whether this new extended version of LambdaCDM can accurately match other observational evidence of our cosmology. If real, it would suggest that the missing 95% of the cosmos had an aesthetic solution: we had forgotten to include a simple minus sign.”

Explore further: Dark matter clusters could reveal nature of dark energy

More information: J. S. Farnes. A unifying theory of dark energy and dark matter: Negative masses and matter creation within a modified LambdaCDM framework, Astronomy & Astrophysics (2018). DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/201832898 , https://arxiv.org/abs/1712.07962

Giant collisions shake the cosmos – CNN

Two L-shaped detectors in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatories (LIGO) in Louisiana and Washington worked together in the first-ever observation of a gravitational wave. As the wave passed, each arm of the L-shaped detector, which measures 2.5 miles long, lengthened and shortened by a distance of about one thousandth the diameter of a proton. To give a sense of scale, that’s the equivalent to measuring the distance from here to the next star system Alpha Centauri with a precision of the width of a human hair.
Now, with the help of another facility in Italy called Virgo, scientists are studying the general properties of these black hole collisions and where they are taking place. Gravitational waves travel at the speed of light and so, as they pass through the Earth, there is a small delay between when each detector notes their passage. That delay is used to help determine the location in the sky where the collision occurred. The technique is similar to the way geologists use the arrival times of earthquakes at different seismographs to locate the earthquake’s origin.
With the LIGO and Virgo detectors, scientists can better understand what happens when very heavy astronomical bodies collide. The collision of neutron stars, which are husks of stars slightly smaller than black holes, can also set off gravitational waves detected on Earth. And, of course, a black hole could also merge with a neutron star.
In a recently released paper, gravitational wave astronomers detailed 11 of these collisions — four of which had never been announced before — since the detectors started operating in 2015. Taking into account downtime when the equipment was not operational, that works out to about one detection every 15 days. In the most impressive example, two massive black holes merged to create one that is about 80 times the mass of the sun, making it the heaviest stellar-sized black hole ever observed.
For a split second, the collision released more energy than all than of the light released from every star in the entire visible universe. This was a huge thing. And it all happened in a galaxy located 9 billion light years away.
Prior to LIGO’s first observation, scientists didn’t think that stars could form black holes with masses greater than about 15 or 20 times heavier than the sun. So, with just 11 observations, scientists have already been forced to reconsider their theories.
While the announcement of a super-massive black hole makes for a good headline, this recent paper has a less-breathtaking but more scientifically meaningful impact. The observation of a single thing may be a curiosity. But several occurrences later, scientists can begin to draw some conclusions.
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By combining the known performance capabilities of the detector with the locations observed and the rate at which they are detected, astronomers can begin to say how often they occur. While scientists are working with a small sample size, they now estimate that in a sphere of space somewhere between half a billion and a billion light years across, we can expect to see one black hole merger per year .
And the story isn’t finished. The detectors are offline at the moment, undergoing upgrades that will allow them to peer twice as far away from Earth. This will allow them to investigate a volume eight times bigger than before. The days of gravitational wave astronomy is just in its infancy and there are no doubt huge surprises ahead.