Posts Tagged 'Astronomy'

I’m Elated to Be an Atheist

There were a couple of threads on Reddit a little while back about how atheists should talk more about how great it is to become an atheist after being stuck in religious thought for so long. This is something that I think atheists should really advertise, because too often it seems that people who self-identify as atheists are perceived as always just living and thinking in opposition of something. Although it’s true that atheism is purely the rejection of theism, it also, at least in my experience, opens up a whole new world of discovery and possibilities.

As a theist I always had this sense that my thoughts were constantly being monitored, and that my actions were always being judged by big brother up there in the sky. It’s not fun to worry all the time about pissing god off. If I thought a bad thought about somebody I would immediately have this feeling of guilt and dread, and I would pray for forgiveness. I wasn’t actually sure if my religion taught that your thoughts are being policed, but at one point I scoured the Bible to try to find something that said that your bad thoughts don’t count against you, but just in case I made sure that I asked for forgiveness about anything that could count against me. I was scared of hell, y’all, you understand.

Aside from worrying about my own eternal damnation, I was also concerned about my friends and family going to hell. How could I guarantee that they all did the right things so that they could get into heaven with me? Did my grampa accept Jesus as his personal lord and saviour? Did my gay brother guarantee a ticket to hell just for being himself? In highschool a boy on my swim team died by suicide – I must have prayed every night for a year that he wouldn’t be punished for taking his life.

I also feel like I had less of a sense of wonder about the world as a theist. When I would see something like a photo of a beautiful nebula or a video of a coral reef, I would thing “wow, what an imagination that god has.” And the curiosity for how those things got there just didn’t exist. When I believed that god could just magic anything into existence, there just wasn’t that much mystery about the world.

For these reasons and more, the moment I realized that I no longer believed in my God or any other gods was one of the most freeing feelings I had ever experienced. Seriously! For that first few months I would get choked up reading about evolution or listening to podcasts about astronomy. There was this whole world of science out there that I had never allowed myself to absorb. The universe became a giant mystery and my mind was no longer being monitored so I had the freedom to explore questions like “what is the frickin big bang anyways?” and “how did single-celled organisms turn into that beautiful coral reef?” and “what is gravity anyways?” People, gravity is amazing!

I love being able to think whatever I want now. I don’t have to worry about offending sky-daddy with my thoughts, and I can entertain any ideas without worrying about consequences. I also no longer waste time with prayers. People often say that prayer is a nice way to look back on the day and get a nice fuzzy feeling even if it doesn’t work, and that was true for some of my praying, but truthfully I had a lot of anxieties about praying. At my Bible study they would pray so formally, but I tended to just pray as if I was talking to a friend – was I doing it wrong? Was I offending God? I also worried that I would forget to pray for somebody, so my blessings would go on and on until I would just say “and anyone else I may have forgotten” – what a silly exercise! I would also be really careful about what I prayed for, because I worried that if I prayed for something and it didn’t come true that it meant that I wasn’t faithful, or wasn’t a True Christian (TM). No joke – in order to counter this worry that my prayers wouldn’t come true, I would build an out into my prayers. For example, “dear God, please let so-and-so get better, and if he/she doesn’t please be with his/her family in this difficult time, in Jesus name, amen.” I’m so happy that prayer is no longer a part of my life.

There are so many fun things about being an atheist that I just couldn’t experience as a Christian. It’s not that I lost my moral code and I’m just going to run wild now and start trampling over people who get in the way of my fun. I still know what right and wrong is, that had nothing to do with my god-belief. But now I can break all those ridiculous little rules that religion imposes on you that have no reason behind them other than “because god wouldn’t like that.” For example, swearing! Swearing is a wonderful thing. When you stub your toe, screaming “ffuuucckkkkk” is the best pain relief I can think of. Religion gives so much power to these completely harmless groupings of letters, and it’s not just the four-letter-word kind of swearing that I can enjoy now. I can also say “I swear to god” or “oh my god” now. I used to think that those were the worst things I could say, and I’m pretty sure it’s an unforgiveable sin to take the lord’s name in vain. I used to be so careful about not doing that, so it’s so fun to me now to be able to use those words without those silly worries. To give an example of how silly it got with me, my favourite band (The Tragically Hip) has this awesome song called New Orleans is Sinking, and there’s one part that goes “She says Gordie baby I know exactly what you mean She said, she said I swear to God she said” but when I sang along I used to go “She says Gordie baby I know exactly what you mean She said, she said hmm hmm hmm hmmm she said.” Come on, how ridiculous is that? As an atheist I even get to enjoy my favourite songs more!

It’s fantastic being an atheist, and no amount of badgering from a religious person is going to convince me that I’m not a hundred times happier now than I was as a god-believer. That’s why I think all atheist logos should look like this one:

Enlightning Bolts – January 17, 2010

Church sign logic fail.

NASA solves the mystery of the giant ribbon at the edge of the solar system: “We believe the ribbon is a reflection,” says Jacob Heerikhuisen, a NASA Heliophysics Guest Investigator from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. “It is where solar wind particles heading out into interstellar space are reflected back into the solar system by a galactic magnetic field.” Wicked!

College Humour is brilliant: The Tetris God (YouTube).

Meryl Dorey, Australian anti-vaxxer, doesn’t want any part of her donation going to immunizing Haitians, in spite of this:

Diarrhoeal diseases would flourish as survivors struggled to find clean water and safe food, Dr Kirsch said. Measles outbreaks, which sometimes follow natural disasters, may spread in neighbourhoods of tightly packed courtyards where thousands of homeless residents are gathering.

Half of the children in Haiti are unvaccinated and just 40 per cent of the population had access to basic health care before the crisis, according to the WHO.

They need vaccines.

I gave a list of options for your Haiti donation the other day, now here’s one more (set up by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science): Non-believers Giving Aid is an attempt to quell the myth that atheists aren’t charitable as believers, but it also makes sure that 100% of your donation is given to the secular charities they are supporting (Int’l Red Cross & Doctors Without Borders). Richard Dawkins will personally cover any fees associated with making a donation, so you know that your full contribution will go straight to the people who need it.

Blue Moon & Eclipse – Beautiful End to 2009

I  just have to share this beautiful Astronomy Picture of the Day (for January 2, 2010):

Isn’t that gorgeous? If you know me, you know I love the moon. I’ve tripped more than once staring up at it while walking, it’s beautiful, so peaceful, and it amazes me to think that the light shining off of it is sunlight. SUNLIGHT! Reflecting off of the moon! How cool is that? It’s the simple things in life…

I digress…not only is this just a beautiful picture, but it’s also unique because it’s a Blue Moon, which means there were 13 full moons this year (as opposed to 12), and this one just happened to fall on New Year’s Eve. What also makes this special is that it’s a partial lunar eclipse, you can see the Earth’s shadow on the right.

The Earth’s shadow during a full moon! I love it.

Water on the Moon – Confirmed!

lcross moonOn October 9th of this year, NASA crasheed a rocket into the surface of the moon. The impact sent a (somewhat anti-climactic) plume of debris into the LCROSS satellite so that it could read it for evidence of water.

And guess what? They found it!

There is water on the Moon, scientists stated unequivocally on Friday, and considerable amounts of it.
“Indeed yes, we found water,” Anthony Colaprete, the principal investigator for NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, said in a news conference.

The confirmation of scientists’ suspicions is welcome news both to future explorers who might set up home on the lunar surface and to scientists who hope that the water, in the form of ice accumulated over billions of years, could hold a record of the solar system’s history.

Science!

Saturn’s Largest Ring Discovered

A new ring was discovered around Saturn by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope:

The new belt lies at the far reaches of the Saturnian system, with an orbit tilted 27 degrees from the main ring plane. The bulk of its material starts about six million kilometers (3.7 million miles) away from the planet and extends outward roughly another 12 million kilometers (7.4 million miles). It would take about one billion Earths stacked together to fill the voluminous ring. One of Saturn’s farthest moons, Phoebe, circles within the newfound ring, and is likely the source of its material.

Saturn's Largest Ring

It’s massive! The discover of this ring helps explain why one of Saturn’s moons, Iapetus, is darker on one side: it’s plowing through the dust in this ring.

When I hear about a story like this I’m always astounded at how much we don’t already know about our solar system. It really makes me appreciate the enormous scale of the universe when within the gravitational pull of our little star in one of the arms of our galaxy, which is just another of the billions of galaxies in the observable universe, we are constantly making new and surprising discoveries.

Milky Way Galaxy Sun

Water on the Moon

The big space news in the last couple of days has been the discovery of water on the surface of the moon, which I think is pretty freaking cool:

NASA scientists have discovered water molecules in the polar regions of the Moon. Instruments aboard three separate spacecraft revealed water molecules in amounts that are greater than predicted, but still relatively small. Hydroxyl, a molecule consisting of one oxygen atom and one hydrogen atom, also was found in the lunar soil. The findings were published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Science.

water on moon

People are saying that this makes colonizing the Moon more of a possibility because we would be able to mine the water, but it doesn’t seem to me that there’s all that much of it:

“The data from Cassini’s VIMS instrument and M3 closely agree,” said Roger Clark, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist in Denver and member of both the VIMS and M3 teams. “We see both water and hydroxyl. While the abundances are not precisely known, as much as 1,000 water molecule parts-per-million could be in the lunar soil. To put that into perspective, if you harvested one ton of the top layer of the Moon’s surface, you could get as much as 32 ounces of water.”

Maybe it’s enough, obviously I don’t know much about what the needs of a moon base would be, but I think this discovery is really awesome even if it makes the return of people to the moon just that much more within reach.

My Galileoscope

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it on my blog, but I finally got my Galileoscope in the mail! I actually got it almost 2 months ago, and I still haven’t had a chance to use it very much…the woes of living in the city!

Galileoscope

The instructions that came in the box were terrible, but they have much better instructions posted here (pdf).

I have a difficult  time focusing it, so I plan on getting a tripod for it because my hands aren’t nearly steady enough. But once you have it focused it’s fantastic.

I’ve been able to look at the moon, and it’s just beautiful. I’ve never looked at anything through a telescope before, and there’s nothing like seeing the features of the moon clearly with your own eyes. I hope to have the opportunity soon to get out of the city and try to spot Jupiter or Saturn.

I definitely recommend the Galileoscope for anyone with an interest in astronomy. If you’re American it only costs $15, so it’s quite a bargain. I’m Canadian and in total, with shipping and the conversion to Canadian dollars it cost me less than $40.

Perseid Meteor Shower Coming Up!

From the NASA website:

July 31, 2009: Earth is entering a stream of dusty debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, the source of the annual Perseid meteor shower. Although the shower won’t peak until August 11th and 12th, the show is already getting underway.

“Earth passes through the densest part of the debris stream sometime on August 12th. Then, you could see dozens of meteors per hour.”

For sky watchers in North America, the watch begins after nightfall on August 11th and continues until sunrise on the 12th. Veteran observers suggest the following strategy: Unfold a blanket on a flat patch of ground. (Note: The middle of your street is not a good choice.) Lie down and look up. Perseids can appear in any part of the sky, their tails all pointing back to the shower’s radiant in the constellation Perseus. Get away from city lights if you can.

I know I’ll be heading out of the city  for this!

Perseid Meteor Shower

Here’s a little background on the Perseids, which have been observed for over 2000 years:

The Perseids are a prolific meteor shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle. The Perseids are so called because the point they appear to come from, called the radiant, lies in the constellation Perseus. Meteor showers occur when Earth moves through a meteor stream. The stream in this case is called the Perseid cloud and it stretches along the orbit of the Comet Swift-Tuttle. The cloud consists of particles ejected by the comet as it passed by the Sun. Most of the dust in the cloud today is approximately a thousand years old. However, there is also a relatively young filament of dust in the stream that boiled off the comet in 1862. The rate of meteors originating from this filament is much higher than for the older part of the stream.

Forty Years Ago Man Was on the Moon

It’s been forty years since one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments: putting a human on another world. How freaking cool was that?! I wish I was around to see it live, and as you can tell by reading this list, I hope I’m around to see it happen again.

My eyes welled up when I read NASA’s take on the 40th anniversary, so I’m just going to quote them:

Forty years ago, Apollo astronauts set out on a daring adventure to explore the Moon. They ended up discovering their own planet.

It was Christmas Eve, 1968, the close of one of the most turbulent, fractured years in U.S. and world history. The picture offered a much needed new perspective on “home.”For the first time in history, humankind looked at Earth and saw not a jigsaw puzzle of states and countries on an uninspiring flat map – but rather a whole planet, a fragile sphere of dazzling beauty floating alone in a dangerous void. There was a home worthy of careful stewardship.

The late nature photographer Galen Rowell described this photo as “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”

In a fitting tribute to the 40th anniversary of the moon missions, the LRO has sent back some pictures of the moon landing site. Head over to this site to have a look, they’re really cool to see. You can see the LM and it’s shadow, and even the paths taken by the astronauts across the surface.

Things I Want to See Before I Die (Part 1)

For some reason I’ve been thinking about my mortality a lot lately, maybe because I recently celebrated a birthday. Since I abandoned my wishful thinking of an afterlife I’ve become more okay with death.  I don’t have irrational fears of hell, I can just shut my eyes and that will be the end.

But the thought that the end is truly the end is also a really sad thought, because we live a time of so much innovation, and I would like to be around to witness it.

I decided that I’m going to make a list of discoveries and advancements that I’d like to see in my lifetime. I hope I can check some of them off soon, and I’ll try to update the list as I think of things…which is why I’m calling this post Part 1.

Here’s the list so far:

  1. The discovery of the Higgs-Boson particle
  2. Humans back to the Moon
  3. Discovery of alien life, hopefully intelligent but bacteria would be cool too!
  4. Figuring out what the heck dark matter is
  5. Space tourism
  6. Nuclear power to replace coal
  7. AIDS vaccine

I’ll start off with 7, that’s a pretty ambitious list! Unfortunately I won’t be taking part in discovering or implementing any of these things, but I will idolize the scientists who do so. And I do hope to take part in some space tourism in my lifetime, how awesome would that be?!

What would be on your list?


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