Typhoon Haiyan approaches the Philippines
(Japan Meteorological Agency/EUMETSAT/NASA)
Typhoon Haiyan approaches the Philippines
(Japan Meteorological Agency/EUMETSAT/NASA)
Notre Dame Analemma
This picture shows an analemma, which illustrates the path traced by the Sun in the sky over the course of a year, behind the Golden Dome of Notre Dame’s (my alma mater) Main Building. The image was taken by ND engineering professor Craig Lent. An analemma can be created by photographing, from a fixed location, the Sun in the sky, or by marking its projected image, at the same time over regular daily intervals over the course of a year. As the Earth orbits, the Sun’s daily path rises and falls in the sky due to the fact that Earth revolves at an angle relative to its orbit. Moreover, because the Earth’s orbit is elliptical, the Sun’s position at a given time (say, noon) advances and retreats relative to the time because the Earth’s orbital speed changes over the course of the year, being faster when the Earth is closer to the Sun and slower when it is farther. As a result, the relationship between the speed of the Earth’s orbit to its constant rotation changes, causing the Sun’s apparent motion through the sky to vary. Read a detailed description of the causes here.
In the case of the Soyuz, the three astronauts landed safely in Kazakhstan after spending over five months in space. After landing, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano said that, now that he was back on Earth, his first interests were “family, then espresso, pizza and everything else”, which sounds to me like a man with his priorities straight. The three also brought with them the Sochi Olympic torch which had been carried up to the ISS earlier in the week by the newest arriving members of Expedition 38.
Further south, the European Space Agency’s Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Explorer (GOCE) reentered the atmosphere after a 4+ year mission studying the Earth’s gravitation field. What was remarkable was its size, which made GOCE one of the larger manmade objects to enter Earth’s atmposphere uncontrolled in recent years. ESA reports that GOCE finally came down sonwhere in the South Atlantic near the Falkland Islands.
The last three members of Expedition 38 reached the ISS this morning after launching aboard a Soyuz capsule from Kazakhstan, bringing the station’s total population up to nine. They brought with them the Olympic torch, currently touring the world ahead of the Sochi Olympic games. Expedition 38 will officially begin after the last three members of Expedition 37 return to Earth on Sunday.
Images: Expedition 37 & 38 crews; Expedition 38 Soyuz approaches ISS for docking (NASA)
A new study from Cornell shows that complex molecules that could potentially aid in the rise of cells can be built from reactions embedded deep in clay:
“We propose that in early geological history clay hydrogel provided a confinement function for biomolecules and biochemical reactions,” said Dan Luo, professor of biological and environmental engineering and a member of the Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science.
In simulated ancient seawater, clay forms a hydrogel — a mass of microscopic spaces capable of soaking up liquids like a sponge. Over billions of years, chemicals confined in those spaces could have carried out the complex reactions that formed proteins, DNA and eventually all the machinery that makes a living cell work. Clay hydrogels could have confined and protected those chemical processes until the membrane that surrounds living cells developed.
The trouble is that reports like this are becoming all too common. I don’t think a week goes by that there’s not a new report of interesting compounds arising in the deep sea, in hydrothermal vents, in ice, on volcanoes, under lightning strikes, in tidal pools, on comets, on Mars…
But if ostensibly life-giving compounds can spring up practically anywhere, that leaves us precisely nowhere on the question of where it actually did so.
Weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) are the top candidates for dark matter, the invisible stuff that makes up about 84% of the universe’s matter. But two recent experiments designed to sniff out the elusive particles have come up empty-handed, calling previously promising results into doubt.
It has been the subject of intense study since time immemorial, and is known quite intimately by each of us, and yet the human body is still a mystery in its details. In this day and age, new discoveries about the human body are usually made at the microscopic or the physiological scale, but here’s a genuine new discovery in gross anatomy: a whole new ligament in the human knee that had previously gone unnoticed. Ligaments are bands of fibrous tissue that “tie” bones to other bones. The newly discovered anterolateral ligament was found by Belgian surgeons looking for clues as to why some patients still have particular trouble after ACL repair surgeries—and they started with speculation from 1879 about a yet-unknown ligament.
The discovery is reported in the Journal of Anatomy: Claes, S., Vereecke, E., Maes, M., Victor, J., Verdonk, P. and Bellemans, J. (2013), Anatomy of the anterolateral ligament of the knee. Journal of Anatomy, 223: 321–328. doi: 10.1111/joa.12087
India’s expanding space program launched a probe intended for Mars today. This makes India the fourth space program to launch a spacecraft for another planet (after the US, Russia, and the ESA). Today’s launch just put the orbiter into Earth orbit; a series of burns up through December 1st will put the probe on a course away from Earth and into orbit around the Sun. If everything goes as planned, the probe will finally end up at Mars in September of next year.
The most distant galaxy has been found, again. I say again because the most distant galaxy keeps getting rediscovered every few years. The cause of this abundance of discoveries is twofold: as technology and technique improve, more distant objects can be definitively uncovered; and, perhaps more importantly, there are already many, many more galaxies that are detectable than can be investigated in a reasonable amount of time—so as astronomers work through them, we can expect records to be continually broken. For example: the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field image covers an area of the sky only 2.5′ (arcminutes) across, about the size of a large grain of sand held at arm’s length (about 1 mm by 1 mm). Yet it contains over 10,000 galaxies. So it is technologically possible to see many more galaxies than we have time to thoroughly investigate so far. As a consequence, new discoveries keep coming as these objects are examined in more detail.
The newest distance-record galaxy, clerically dubbed z8-GND-5296, was detected in images from the Hubble Space Telescope’s CANDELS survey, which imaged over 100,000 galaxies over 900 hours of observing time. The galaxy lies just over 13 billion light years away—which makes sense, when you consider that the universe is 13.8 billion years old (and light travels 1 light-year in one year, of course.) So z8-GND-5296 is not only astoundingly distant, it is seen as it was when it was very young, only 700 or so million years old. To put this in perspective, z8-GND-5296, as seen through Hubble, was very roughly as far from the origin of the universe as we are merely from the origin of animal life on Earth, about 500 or so million years ago. Since Earth is 4.6 billion years old, our planet, in other words, has been around about four-and-a-half times longer than galaxy z8-GND-5296, as observed, has existed since the beginning of time.
For more, read here from UC Riverside.
Image: V. Tilvi, S.L. Finkelstein, C. Papovich, and the Hubble Heritage Team.
Today at The Catholic Thing, Robert Royal writes about his recent visit to the conference of the Catholic Medical Association. To say that Catholicism has a role to play in medicine is to say a number of things. First is the historical fact that the modern hospital system has its origin in Christendom’s Church-supported, religiously motivated charitable enterprises. Second, is that although we should be wary of reducing religion merely to charitable aid (as Pope Francis has said, we cannot think of the Church as just another NGO), it remains true that “faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:17) and that Christian charity extends not only to eternal but to temporal concerns. Therefore, it is fitting and proper that Catholics act vigorously in the field of providing healthcare to the suffering in society.
But the main point I wish to make is that Catholicism may have a particular role to play in recalling medicine to itself. As Royal notes, the Association “is a group that knows itself to be operating in a culture that is now at odds with the great tradition of medicine from … the Hippocratic Oath down to our own day.” Medicine is a powerful force; modern technology only makes it more so. Medicine has a tradition, even preceding Christianity, of attempting to temper its power and of focusing its treatment on the good of the suffering person. But when the fundamentals of medical ethics are questioned, and we see a proliferation of approaches that treat patients (born and unborn) as simply factors to be evaluated in some abstract calculus of personal or social convenience and utility, it just might be the case that an institution that a tradition of two millennia of serious thought about the questions of ethics and morals might have something substantial to bring to the table.