Category Archives: Science

Meteor Observed Over Ireland

A multi-coloredOrionid meteor
Image via Wikipedia

Did you see a bright flash in the sky about 12:30am Sunday night?

According to the BBC, a meteor entered the atmosphere over Ireland. Classed as a fireball, (i.e. brighter than Venus in the night sky), it was visible from Donegal to Cork.

As there have only been two meteorites found in Ireland in the 20th century, it would be pretty cool to find this one.

To help find where it may have landed, Astronomy Ireland are looking for witness reports. If you saw this fireball, head over their and fill in their Fireball Report Form.

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The Meaning of Life on Mars

I stumbled across this article from the Boston Globe about what it would mean if life was discovered on Mars. The author argues that because we have no objective evidence that there is other life in the Universe, that there is a Great Filter that prevents the rise of civilisations technologically advanced enough to colonise the stars.

Based on the theory of this Great Filter, he goes on to argue that it either lies in our past or our future. His argument that if it is in our past, the probabilities are that we are the only self-aware civilisation in the Universe.

The opposite argument that this Great Filter lies in the future, and that at some point in our future the human race will become extinct before it develops the technology to colonise space.

Moving on to life on Mars, the author then argues that if we do find life on the red planet, this means that it is less likely that the Filter lies in our past and that it then lies in our future. If so, all we have to look forward to is the extinction of the human race.

I think the author makes one very naive assumption here. If life was found on Mars, no matter how biologically advanced it once was, that would suggest, to me anyway, that this Great Filter occurred at that point in the evolution of life on Mars – and on Mars only.

If you take the theory of a Great Filter as being true, you are still left with the fact that you are basing your results on the evolution of life on one planet, i.e. Mars. In fact, as long as any life found on Mars was less complex than that found on Earth, we have an example of a data set that contradicts the theory – we have our evolution on Earth. (Unless of course there is a more technologically advanced civilisation hiding deep under the Martian surface).

Based on this theory, we can then argue that if all live on Mars died out when life was less biologically complex than it is currently on Earth, that it is more likely that the Great Filter lies in our past, because we managed to pass that level of complexity a long time ago. (Though we do have to allow for the fact that I am also basing that result on a data set of 1.)

As for the fact that we have yet to find evidence of a technologically advanced civilisation outside of our solar system, all I can say is space is a big place. A very big place. While scientists have found exo-planets, the methods used, and the equipment they have at their disposal at this point in time, means that these planets are usually very large and very close to their stars, which is not where you’d expect to find recognisable life. (I say recognisable, because no-one is entirely sure what other forms of life are possible.)

No matter how much I think about, I can’t see that the finding life on Mars in any form, or complexity, means that we should be pessimistic about the future survival of the human race. In fact, it should be the opposite: life on Mars would show us that life can begin in more inhospitable places than Earth. If it can happen on a much smaller, colder planet than Earth, the chances of sentient life elsewhere in the galaxy will go up. If complex life did develop on Mars, then those odds go way up.

Pi Day

Today is Pi Day – a celebration of all things Ï€. It also happens to be Albert Einstein’s birthday.

To celebrate, here’s a few Pi facts:

  • Pi occurs in hundreds of equations in many sciences including those describing the DNA double helix, a rainbow, ripples spreading from where a raindrop fell into water, superstrings, general relativity, normal distribution, distribution of primes, geometry problems, waves, navigation.
  • If one were to find the circumference of a circle the size of the known universe, requiring that the circumference be accurate to within the radius of one proton only 39 decimal places of Pi would be necessary.
  • Write the letters of the English alphabet, in capitals, clockwise around a circle, and cross-out the letters that have right-left symmetry, A, H, I, M, etc. The letters that remain group themselves in sets of 3, 1, 4, 1, 6.
  • Pi has its own domain name –
  • Today I’m 9.93 Pi years old – my tenth Pi birthday will be on the 6th June this year – a cause for celebration if there ever was one!

Happy Pi Day!

Just a Thought

We’ve all heard about how carbon dioxide is causing climate change. The number of articles about reducing our “carbon footprint” or touting low carbon alternatives grows every day.

Why do all these articles talk about reducing carbon output? What about removing carbon dioxide?

If excess CO2 is such a problem, why aren’t we doing more to remove the excess from the atmosphere?

Like I said, just a thought.

Hubble Successor Revealed

The Hubble Space Telescope has provided scientists with an extra-ordinary insight into our universe. When NASA announced recently that there were to be no more missions to maintain the aging telescope, there was an outcry. Now NASA have revealed the successor to Hubble – The James Webb Space Telescope.

With a mirror 6.5 meters across and a sun-shield the size of a tennis court, it promises to bring us pictures of the furthest reaches of the Universe and help answer questions about the Bing Bang and planetary formation.

The James Webb Telescope will be launched in 2013, until which time, Hubble will continue it’s mission.