Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wake up! Time for science!

In case you haven't noticed, this blog doesn't have much in the way of a focus. Sure, I could only write about soccer, science, journalism, anime, living abroad or random events in my life, but why hamstring myself when my interests go farther than just one topic? While I appreciate the fact that my yodeling on soccer brings in the most hits (and many thanks to whomever is Tweeting my posts), I'd rather my little corner of cyberspace be a compendium of my thoughts on what is important to me or things I find interesting.

And what could be more interesting than kicking it in a space hotel?
Russian company Orbital Technologies has announced its plants to build a commercial space station (to be named the commercial space station, if you can believe that), which would also serve as a “space-hotel” for visiting tourists. The company claims the venture will launch in 2016.
... The station will be able to host up to seven passengers in its homey capsule, free of extraneous scientific instruments and pesky astronauts and cosmonauts. It will be built by RSC Energia, the same company that builds the Soyuz passenger capsules and the Progress cargo ships used by the Russian space agency. It will follow the same orbit as the International Space Station, and will be able to dock with shuttles from around the world.
... The developers say this orbital nest will host space tourists, scientists from other countries and private industry who want to perform experiments in space, and overflow from the International Space Station during maintenance or emergencies. There’s no word yet on how much a single room at the orbital hotel would cost, but it’s a safe bet that every room would have a stellar view.
Puns aside, this is fantastic news. It's the latest step in private industry taking over the transportation aspect of space flight and allowing NASA and its counterparts to focus on exploration. Make sure to check out the slide show and video at the Discovery News link, too.

Then again, why settle for a better view of Earth when you could spring for a whole new home planet?

WASHINGTON – Astronomers say they have for the first time spotted a planet beyond our own in what is sometimes called the Goldilocks zone for life: Not too hot, not too cold. Juuuust right.
Not too far from its star, not too close. So it could contain liquid water. The planet itself is neither too big nor too small for the proper surface, gravity and atmosphere.
It's just right. Just like Earth.
"This really is the first Goldilocks planet," said co-discoverer R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
The new planet sits smack in the middle of what astronomers refer to as the habitable zone, unlike any of the nearly 500 other planets astronomers have found outside our solar system. And it is in our galactic neighborhood, suggesting that plenty of Earth-like planets circle other stars.
Finding a planet that could potentially support life is a major step toward answering the timeless question: Are we alone?
Go ahead and call it an M-class planet. You know you want to.

Forget humanoids or animals. Even if there's just bacteria, it's a game-changer -- another blast of air let out of the already deflated balloon of humanity's supposedly privileged place in the universe. Now we just need someone to soup up a shuttle fast enough to get us there.

More after the break.

Even if you only pay cursory attention to the news, you've probably heard about Pew Forum's survey on Americans' knowledge of religion.
Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.
On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.
Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.
Not surprisingly, this doesn't sit well with some religious folk. One Los Angeles-based professor goes as far as to channel Jim Mora. "Playoffs?" "You think you know, but you don't know. And you never will."

The Pew Forum surveyed Americans on their knowledge of religion, and discovered that the group most generally knowledgeable about world religions was…those unshriven hellbound godless folk. This does not sit well with many believers, who have long preferred to relegate atheists to a hell of total unawareness of the gods, smugly assuming that if only we knew what they knew, we'd be True Believers in god in general and their specific, narrow sect in particular. That we might actually know what they believe and not only choose to not believe, but also to regard their superstitions as ridiculous, is unthinkable.
You will have a difficult time finding someone more offended by reality than John Mark Reynolds, professor of Catholic rationalization at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. He's got an excuse: atheists are trivia kings but bad thinkers. We'd do well on the home Bible version of Jeopardy, but you see, we really don't understand the facts, and we lack the wisdom to hear the secret music of theology.
The inimitable PZ Meyers gives an excellent retort to Reynolds, though I will take issue with his assertion that "Elmo is Satan!" I always figured the devil was that big, purple dinosaur.

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