Categories: "Science"

Photograph of Mars

So last night, after constructing a new holder for my 3x barlow lens out of cardboard I decided to have a bash imaging Mars. The rolled up bit of paper I had used for my images of Saturn and the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle, had failed.

This is the result, almost 2000 frames.


Must say I am a bit disappointed - perhaps I need to make a few modifications to my rolled up cardboard adapter, it could do with being about 5mm shorter just so I can make sure it is in focus. The only real details visible on Mars are in the southern hemisphere. I should try and take some images when some more interesting features are visible.

More nonsense from the Catholic church

So the Catholic church is on the move to try and shoot down the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which will come before parliament later this year.

Normally I wouldn't be too bothered about them up to their usual ideological agenda stuff - after all if I went after them on every single little thing they do, I'd be spending every waking minute on it. But they've stepped over the line on this.

I'm talking about this little document. This nonsense has been spread to their followers over the last couple of weeks.

Hybrids: The Bill will allow scientists to create embryos that are half human, half animal. For example, from the egg of a woman and the sperm from an animal. To do this would be a radical violation of human dignity.

Trying to conjure up images of half human half animal babies being born. Yeah right, and the world is flat.

What the scientists actually want do is quite different. For example an egg from an animal will be taken, its genetic information removed, and a human cell will be implanted, this will create embryonic stem cells, genetically identical to the person who's cell was implanted. There's no animal genes involved.

None of these may be implanted into a woman, and they must be destroyed within 14 days, or at the first signs of development of a nervous system.

Of course all of what they say is pretty meaningless, after all we are animals. May be half-human half-cow would be more appropriate, hey like my Tauren!

They go on to say this:

How Future Decisions are Made: At present, decisions are made by an unelected and unrepresentative body. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority appears to exclude people who cherish human life from conception.

Exclude people who cherish human life from conception? Wait, I know what you mean! You mean its those evil scientists doing their own thing. Once again this is the church trying to interfere in science - they even try and play the dictatorship card. You've done enough meddling in our schools as it is, why are you trying to get your fifthly hands into the science lab?

The answer is simple, to destroy science. They're upset at the progress that has been made over the last 300 years, they're upset they can't burn people alive for saying the Earth goes around the Sun any more.

What do I think? Let the scientists do the science. Science must be free of all external ideologies for it to perform to the best of its abilities. Scientists should decide what research they do, and be free to do it.

The church should not be stopping them from perusing areas of research they believe will be fruitful, neither should any other organisation - not even the government. Scientists believe it or not are human beings too, and they can make judgement on what they believe is right or wrong just like the next person.

Then they use the abortion card.

The Bill may be used as a vehicle to make abortion more common.

Abortions need to be free and easier to get. Although they like to use the pro-life slogan, and they've been banging their drums on this issue lately, trying to get the 24 weeks reduced. Ultimately this is about the rights of the woman to control what's going on in their body. I of course recognise the collection of cells has the potential to become a human being - which is why I don't think termination should be allowed up until birth, 24 weeks is a fine cut off point.

The fact they mention abortion seems to me like they're desperate to drum up support from the Catholics who are bright enough not to fall for their half-human half-animal nonsense.

One bishop commented in New Scientist:

If people are unhappy about genetically modified tomatoes, they should be made aware of proposals in the bill to allow the creation of genetically modified human embryos!

There's two reasons why people are opposed to genetically modified tomatoes, they're either new-age woo woo fans who think anything to do with science is tainted, or they're ignorant. Oh wait, that's only one reason.

We've been genetically modifying food for thousands of years. Virtually everything we eat is not in its "natural" (whatever that means) state. Using modern technology just allows us a finer level of control over it, instead of breeding different varieties and hoping some of the offspring have the traits we want.

I'm all for genetically modified human embryos if it means future generations won't have to deal with all the genetic faults we've inherited, all the diseases and the death we have to deal with. If we can create cures for Parkinson's disease and other crippling disorders science, and those people suffering shouldn't have the door slammed on them just because its against a religious ideology.

Just in the last few months science has made some amazing breakthroughs, growing organs - virtually from scratch, tailor made for whoever the organ is for to reduce the risk of rejection, using their own progenitor cells. We're quite literally in the middle of a revolution in medicine, to the point where many believe there are people alive today who will live for several hundred years.

The sooner we get religion stripped out of science and all public affairs the better, you only need to look to Africa to see the damage religious propaganda has on things like the spread of HIV.

Mystery image of 'life on Mars'

That's a headline of a recent article on BBC News covering this early image from the Spirit rover.

Spirit photo of Mars

An image of a mysterious shape on the surface of Mars, taken by Nasa spacecraft Spirit, has reignited the debate about life on the Red Planet.

A magnified version of the picture, posted on the internet, appears to some to show what resembles a human form among a crop of rocks.

It goes on to say...

When the robotic rover set down on 24 January 2004, its images disappointed space-watchers hoping for signs of extraterrestrial life.

Now they appear convinced that this image provides the evidence they have been trawling Nasa's photo files for.

The blown-up image seems to resemble a figure striding among the Martian rocks.

The internet has been abuzz with postings offering theories.

One said it was a garden gnome, another that it was the Virgin Mary.

A third suggested Bigfoot, the hairy bipedal mountain beast that appears in various guises in a number of legends around the world.

But the consensus seemed to be that it bore a striking resemblance to the Little Mermaid statue in the Danish capital, Copenhagen.

Now I know this is being treated as a fluff piece, but come on this is the BBC, not the Sun. No sane person in the world expected either rovers to photograph life walking around on the Martian surface.

This is an example of pareidolia and nothing more. When we see the human-shape in context with the rest of the image. We can clearly see it is only about a metre from the rover, making it much smaller than what the images thrown around in the media imply. Also we should keep in mind that these photographs are taken through different filters and then merged to create a final image, this photo would be composed from at least three different photographs across perhaps as much as a minute in time, and in that time as we clearly see the object has not been walking around.

The best evidence of ancient life, or any life for that matter, on Mars is in this image, taken under high magnification it shows a bacteria-like structure in a meteorite from Mars.

The BBC should try reporting real science.

An image of a mysterious shape on the surface of Mars, taken by Nasa spacecraft Spirit, has reignited the debate about life on the Red Planet.

Debate, what debate? The real debate is on if the bacteria-like structure in meteorite fragment ALH84001 is actually evidence for Martian life or not. Not if one of the early photos from Spirit showing a rock a couple of inches tall that looks like it has a head and an arm is life or not, there's no debate there at all, every rational person knows exactly what it is, a rock and too much pattern recognition going on in our brains.

Against the anti-nuclear bandwagon

The left has taken a very anti-nuclear stance on how to develop Britain's electricity supply going forward.

A lot of this comes from misconceptions about nuclear power. Typically when one mentions you're in favour of a new generation of nuclear power stations you're instantly met with some nonsense about 500,000 deaths thanks to Chernobyl.

Firstly that argument is a complete non-sequitur. Modern reactors, and even Britain's existing nuclear reactors cannot fail in such a manner as one of the reactors at Chernobyl did in 1986. 85% of France's electricity is generated by way of nuclear power, and they've had no major incidents, proving that it is a reliable and safe means of power.

Secondly, the statement is factually incorrect, the number of deaths directly resulting from the meltdown stands at 56. Mostly workers at the plant, clean-up personal and firefighters, although 9 of which were children who died from thyroid cancer. More people die on Britain's roads every week.

Statistically one would expect from the dosage of radiation that out of the 600,000 people around the fallout areas an additional 4,000 people, and 5,000 from the 6 million people in the nearby areas would have a reduced life expectency. About how many die on Britain's roads in 3 years.

The next thing they talk about is the nuclear waste being a health hazard for millions of years to come. This also is no longer relevant, in old power stations it is true that a by-product was nuclear materials with an extremely long half-life however these materials were deliberately produced to use in nuclear weapons. Modern reactors can re-process a lot more nuclear waste leaving much less unused, and what little is unused has a much shorter half-life.

Wind power is the big alternative in Britain, after all we do have a lot of breezy days. However to get realistic we would have to cover a colossal amount of space with wind turbines to be able to reliably make a significant contribution to the country's energy supply. The environment impact I would argue would be far greater than building a new generation of nuclear power stations.

We also need to look long-term, we may only need to use fission reactors for a few more decades to come, progress with fusion is steady but forthcoming and with additional funding faster progress could be made, is it worth digging up half the country and building wind turbines to power us for a few decades? When we could just build nuclear power stations on existing sites, and replace them with fusion reactors when the time comes.

Don't get me wrong, I think wind is a great idea for maybe 20-30% of the country's total energy supply, but I don't think it can be used as the base of the country's energy supply, a modern economy requires a rock solid electricity grid, with enough energy to meet demands, and that is not achievable with wind power. If anything the government should be accelerating its timetable for building new nuclear power stations.

Crysis - ruined by bad science

So I've been playing through Crysis which is a fantastic game. But yesterday I noticed something, something BAD.

WHAT THE HELL IS THAT? The Moon!!!!! Ahhh Jesus.

For us to see the Earth facing side of the Moon completely illuminated, it must be opposite the Sun in the sky. In daytime like this picture shows it is impossible to have the Moon fully illuminated.

In reality the Full Moon will be rising just as the Sun is setting and vice versa - opposite positions in the sky.

So here's the Moon a little later on, and if we look at the compass in the bottom-left of the display we see the Moon hasn't moved a sodding inch in the sky. Despite the fact the Sun has now clearly moved below the horizon.

Next thing I look for is an accurate sky, I was expecting the stars to be thrown randomly into the sky if they couldn't be bothered simulating the Moon properly, I must say I was pleasantly surprised. Here's Cassiopeia, Perseus a quick look around the sky and everything else seems to be in order.

Well until I realised that Polaris is directly overhead. *bangs head on desk*

Now I'm led to believe by this game that I'm on an island in the South China Sea. I would expect Polaris to hang around near the horizon. Polaris being directly overhead means this island, this lush tropical island is set at the North Pole. Then of course if you're at the North Pole why is the sun even setting in the summer? It should remain above the horizon the entire day doing a lap around the sky, and vice versa in the winter.

I was looking forward to seeing some of the southern skies I never get to see in real life, now the stars I see is what I'm stuck with, being at the North Pole means they'll never rise, nor set, that and this big ball called the Moon which hovers over the same spot of the Earth will seemingly always annoy me.

How are they going to explain this? The aliens have teleported this island to the North Pole, yet somehow my funky GPS map thing shows me as being where I'm supposed to be, that the aliens have altered the climate of this island and that they've attached the Moon to the top of a really tall tower on the Earth and put a light bulb inside of it so it!

Yeah right!!!

I have a suggestion for Crytek or EA, I recommend you employ me as your astronomy and/or science advisor on your future projects. Technically speaking it wouldn't take a lot of work to correct this.

You'd need to attach the sky and the Moon to the same thing which makes the Sun move, and move the Moon opposite the Sun, or change its phase to a more accurate one. I would settle for that.

However this wouldn't be accurate for very long (using the in-game binoculars you could spot that the Moon isn't moving properly against the background stars in an hour or two game time). Unless of course you model the Moon's orbit around the Earth properly, which wouldn't take much, and if you're going to do that you might as well model the Earth's motion around the Sun too, that will allow the background stars to move against the Sun as they should do too over the course of a year.

Flight Simulator has been doing this stuff correctly for as long as I can remember. I expect Crysis, one of the best games ever to do the same, this totally ruined the game for me! :-(

In addition to my review on Gamercast I have to add: If you're buying Crysis to use as a sky simulator or an astronomy program I have to strongly recommend against this, there are other freeware applications out there which do a far better job.

Sceptics needed - Yeovil Psychic Society stumbled upon

Incredible, just tonight I stumbled upon the Yeovil Psychic Society's website. These people claim they are "Challenging the Accepted". Apparently these guys have been around for 30 years now. I wish they came upon my radar sooner.

I say we get some rational people together and found a Yeovil Sceptic Society, we can claim we're "Challenging the Bullshit".

Just a few things they've got wrong as I quickly went through their latest newsletter.

Earth is the only planet not named after a pagan God.

You forget Earth's other name, its Latin name, like all the other planets have. Terra, the Roman goddess of farmland, pregnancy and earthquakes.

Venus is the only planet that rotates clockwise.

...[From the North poles]. So does Uranus.

It's filled with astrology nonsense, and worse still (from a population health standpoint) pseudo-medical mumbo jumbo like the already well debunked slight of hand magic tricks, psychic surgery. The Turin Shroud makes an appearance too. Jeez, can't these people get something new, something that wasn't already shown to be a forgery?

Come on give us something fresh! Saying that though, that's the trouble with people who are closed minded to the possibility of being wrong.

So why not come along to our next meeting, you are guaranteed a warm welcome!

I doubt that.

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