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astrodaily1. I made a long solo drive yesterday, so naturally my thoughts meandered

I made a long solo drive yesterday, so naturally my thoughts meandered over all sorts of different terrain. I listened to a conversation with Daniel Kahneman (Nobel laureate in economics for work in decision making), in which he talked about the tendency for people to become less likely to change their position on a given topic with time. This claim applies to scientific theory, as well as political views. Scientists who have committed a great deal of time to investigating some natural phenomena are less likely to change their well-formulated theories, and in politics people become immersed in their ideologies and commonly refuse to even entertain other perspectives. I wanted to point out what I think is an interesting difference between scientific and political methods. Although scientists do indeed become attached to their theories, their attachment is not nearly as severe as that which we see in politics. Adjustment of hypotheses with new data is built into the scientific method, and no such mechanism is present in politics. Ideologically-driven individuals in the political realm seem to have no patience for people who do not share their view. In contrast, when two people don’t share views in science, a good scientist will patiently amass more data and articulate their position as clear as possible in an attempt to support their argument. I understand that there are also good politicians who follow similar methods, but as far as I can tell there is far less critical thinking and far more emotion-driven conflict in political conversation. I think that political systems would function much better if their conversations manifested themselves in a manner closer to those seen in the scientific community. Our world is far too complex and sensitive to have radically stubborn, feeling-driven individuals arguing back-and-forth about what is right and wrong. We will continue to see increasing political polarization in democratic countries until a more methodological and rational approach is taken towards our biggest problems. Photo credit: NASA Earth Observatory; Apollo 11 #earth #planet #politics #astronomy #science #philosophy #read #education #life #learn

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astrodaily1. With over 400 active volcanoes, Jupiter's moon Io is the most geologic

With over 400 active volcanoes, Jupiter's moon Io is the most geologically active body in our solar system. Io’s unmatched volcanism is a direct result of the moon’s extreme internal heat, which is drastically high due to a phenomenon known as “tidal heating”. Tidal heating occurs when orbital energy is dissipated as heat in the crust and interior of a planet or moon. More simply, differences in gravitational pull across a celestial object result in friction heating of its interior. Since Io is closely hosted by the most massive planet in our solar system, it experiences some of the strongest tidal forces of any moon. The side of Io that is furthest from Jupiter experiences a slightly smaller gravitational pull than the nearest side, resulting in a distortion of the moon’s shape. With a relatively eccentric orbit, Io’s distance from Jupiter changes significantly during one revolution. This change in distance is continually distorting Io’s shape, leading to intense frictional heating of its interior and crust. The volcanism on Io’s surface is a direct consequence of this friction-induced internal heating. Many of the volcanoes on Io’s surface are in a state of constant eruption, covering the surface with volcanic deposits and ejecting plumes of sulfur gas that rise hundreds of kilometers into space. It is a rather hellish moon, with most of its surface covered by vast plains of sulfur and sulfur-dioxide frost. As if Io weren’t interesting enough geologically, it is also home to several mountains larger than Mt. Everest that rose as a result of compressive stresses in its crust. My colleague @a_geologist has one of the most well-produced and educational platforms online. I highly recommend exploring his page! Photo credit: Galileo Spacecraft; NASA #Jupiter #io #planet #space #science #astronomy #physics #moon #learn #education #nasa #geology #volcano

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astrodaily1. Black holes form by a relatively simple process.
A large star (>8 sola

Black holes form by a relatively simple process. A large star (>8 solar masses) will remain in stellar equilibrium—meaning that the energy generated by fusion reactions is sufficient to counter the force of gravity—until it reaches the fusion of iron. The fusion of iron produces no net energy output, so no further fusion can take place. The equilibrium of energy output and gravity is no longer, and the star collapses in on itself at speeds up to 23% that of light. The crushing weight of infalling matter compresses the star into a point of zero volume and infinite density called the singularity. During this compression, the temperature and pressure become so high that a cataclysmic explosion blows most of the remaining stellar material into space (Type II supernova). Left in the nebulous aftermath of this titanic explosion lies the singularity. A black hole is born. According to Einstein’s mathematics of general relativity, the infinite gravity at the singularity results in the breaking down of space and time as we know them, and the current laws of physics can no longer be applied. The mass and energy that approach the singularity lose dimensionality entirely. Since we cannot obtain data from beyond the event horizon, the gravitational singularity is completely theoretical and arises purely out of the mathematics of GR. Its mathematical existence may even prove a flaw in Einstein’s most brilliant theory and call for a united theory of quantum gravity. Quantum effects (physics at the smallest scale) likely become very important at the center of a black hole and general relatively is not compatible with quantum mechanics. A unified theory of quantum gravity may give us different answers to what actually lies behind the curtain of the event horizon, and it could be far stranger than we currently know. Take home message: we don’t understand the universe. Although we have brilliant theories, they are inherently flawed and require adjustment and/or replacement as we advance intellectually and technologically. More scientists and critical thinkers are needed to unravel the universe’s secrets. If these topics interest you, consider studying one.

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astrodaily1. “Only when armed with a full understanding of each step in the analyti

“Only when armed with a full understanding of each step in the analytical process will researchers have a full appreciation of the strengths and limitations of their data”. This quote from Dr. George Gehrels, geologist and geochronologist, serves as a good reminder to obtain a thorough understanding of how something works before you begin using it to solve problems. Although his quote is referring to a specific analytical technique within the geosciences, the primary message can be extrapolated to essentially everything in life. With specific regard to technical application and data acquisition, there are many reasons why a deep understanding of your techniques must be obtained. I think one of the most important reasons is to avoid misinterpreting bad/corrupt data. If one does not understand the ways by which data can become corrupted, one cannot recognize it in the results. This would obviously have huge negative implications on interpretations of a given data set. Expanding our scope, we will think about general problem solving in everyday life. In analogy to Dr. Gehrels’ quote, here we think of the “analytical process” as life’s happenings and “data” to be the current state of our problem. When attempting to solve a problem, we all know that quickly jumping to conclusions without thinking through the possible mechanisms by which it arose is approximately the worst strategy one can take. If we do not consider how a problem in life has arisen, how are we to approach solving it? It seems to me that one must “arm themselves” first with an understanding of how their current problem manifested itself, then begin the process of interpreting it in context of your current life and ultimately tackling it. Just as we cannot recognize corrupt data in scientific results without an understanding of how they can arise, I don’t think we can recognize why we face our current problems without an acknowledgement of their root causes. The lessons that the scientific method teaches us go far beyond those of the laboratory. Photo Credit: NASA/ESO, ISS #geology #astronomy #science #learn #space #philosophy #education #study #earth #planet #read #rocks

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astrodaily1. Time.  A great deal of angst arises in human life because of this conc

Time. A great deal of angst arises in human life because of this concept of time. Rumination on past times leads some to depression and uncertainty regarding future times manifests into anxiety. We have discussed in the past how taking an astrophysical/general relativistic view on time can help mitigate feelings of time-related angst. That is, time is not absolute (it varies relative to the strength of an observer’s gravitational field). Not only is time dependent on external variables, but our human descriptions of time are arbitrarily named and arise as a direct consequence of natural phenomena that are out of our control. For example, we assign the word “day” to the time it takes for our host planet to make one rotation about its axis. We break this “24-hour” period into “day” and “night” based off when the sun dips beneath and rises above the horizon. Our descriptions of time are specialized to the planet we live on. Our essentially meaningless time classifications become apparent when we ponder them from a galactic or cosmic scale. There is no “day” in space, no “month”, no “year”. They are words specialized to our miniscule place in space. How does coming to this realization help mitigate feelings of angst? Think about how often you worry about something that is going to happen in “a few days”. Or consider how many times you have concerned yourself with occurrences that happened days, months, or years prior. I think recognizing that these are simply words we have created can make it easier to let go of them. Not only that, it helps further the understanding that those past and future moments do not actually exist. They are concepts, ideas, and thoughts. When “tomorrow” arrives, it will be the present, and only then does it exist. Photo credit: GOES-16, ESO #earth #philosophy #science #space #astronomy #learn #read #think #present #consciousness #selfhelp #motivation

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astrodaily1. We are fortunate to live on the only planet in our solar system known

We are fortunate to live on the only planet in our solar system known to have active plate tectonics. The lithosphere (crust) of Earth is broken into several different “plates”, each of which has the ability to move as a result of their higher mechanical strength relative to the asthenosphere and mantle beneath them. As lithospheric plates of oceanic and continental crust interact (usually in a convergent manner), mountains are built. The convergence of a dense oceanic plate with a less dense continental plate commonly leads to subduction, in which the oceanic plate is thrust underneath the continent and is eventually consumed by the mantle. An example of this type of convergence would be the west coast of South America, where the Nazca Plate is subducting beneath South America and creating the Andes. The abundant Andean volcanism is also a direct result of this subduction. The compilation of images above shows the fantastic result of a different type of convergence; that is continent-continent collision. These images show the mighty Himalaya—the most impressive mountain range on Earth. Since India’s collision with southern Asia approx. 55 million years ago, the Himalaya have grown into the highest and most exposed mountain range on Earth. 55 million years has not been adequate time to stop the northward migration of the Indian subcontinent. As a result, the Himalaya are an example of an active collisional mountain belt (one that is still rising). Also a direct result of this collision is the massive Tibetan Plateau, which with an average elevation of nearly 5,000 meters is the highest and largest plateau on Earth. This “roof of the world” is arguably the most interesting area geologically on our planet and it is possible that its uplift led to a change in global climate. The study of mountains is immensely interesting and fulfilling. We are a lucky generation—the ones who are fortunate enough to live at this time on this planet with the problems of its mountains. Photo credit: NASA/ISS #geology #earth #mountains #space #science #himalaya #learn #education #astronomy #philosophy #think

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astrodaily1. I am very curious as to how our species is able to press on considerin

I am very curious as to how our species is able to press on considering how little we know about our existence. We are somehow able to rise each morning with virtually all of life’s biggest questions unanswered. Wouldn’t it be reasonable for our staggering ignorance to push us all into a pit of nihilism? I guess there are many possible explanations. One is that people simply don’t think about it—either they have more pressing concerns or do not find it necessary to ponder. I have painfully come to learn that not all people share my enthusiasm towards existential philosophy. Maybe it is because we are not intelligent enough to actually comprehend how little we know, or possibly it is because deep within our evolutionary roots lies a burning desire to uncover the truth. I think that our willingness to face the uncertainty of the universe is a direct result of the evolutionary process. To survive throughout history, our species has faced threat and uncertainty, adapted to it, and moved forward. The entire mechanism of evolution is a learning experience. It has led us to a point in time where most of us no longer have to constantly worry about staying alive. As a result, we have expanded our problem-solving abilities to bigger problems outside of ourselves. Our desire to uncover the secrets of the universe is built into the very mechanism that created us. Lastly, even if there is no “grand scheme” to the universe, no afterlife, or no supreme meaning, there is no reason to give up on solving the problems that surround us. Even if this brief moment of our existence is bounded on either side by infinite nonexistence, there are still very real problems that are waiting to be solved. Do you really have anything better to do than attempt to solve them? In a potentially meaningless universe, there is still meaning to be found. Go find it. Photo credit: NASA, Juno; Reddit #life #philosophy #meaning #astronomy #jupiter #think #space #science #learn #planet #education #read

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astrodaily1. The more I read about it, the more convinced I am that the creation of

The more I read about it, the more convinced I am that the creation of a general artificial intelligence should be recognized by all educated citizens as a potentially devastating step in human evolution. I think one of the main reasons that people do not consider AI a significant threat is due to only a surficial knowledge of what an AI actually is. Due to the way that AI has been popularized and portrayed in science fiction, people asked to consider an AI commonly think of robots. In reality, the fields of AI and robotics are usually mutually exclusive. A majority of the current research in artificial intelligence does not consider robotics in the slightest, and when a general or superintelligent AI is created, it will likely not inhabit any human-like form. Although it may seem relieving that a potential superintelligence will not occupy a robotic framework, I don’t think should be. AI will likely not be limited by the mechanisms by which we humans have to navigate the physical world. A superintelligence would likely exploit the internet, vastly improve it (beyond our wildest dreams), and be able to infiltrate every nook and cranny of our digital infrastructure. In other words, I think that an AI will be capable of being everywhere at once, and there is no reason to think that we will be able to outsmart a superintelligence and simply shut it down if its goals do not align with ours. Lastly, the risk inherent in the creation of an AI is not necessarily that an AI will want to “destroy” Homo sapiens (as seen in “The Terminator”). More likely, we would be destroyed by an AI’s indifference towards us as it fulfilled its goals. Consider the amount of thought we give to destroying ants as we build a new home or a Wal-Mart. Virtually none. It is plausible that our level of consciousness and intelligence will be to an AI what an ants is to us. People need to start thinking deeply about the future of AI in science, politics, and medicine. The existential risk that it presents is palpable. Photo credit: NASA, HST; iRobot; Terminator #science #philosophy #ai #technology #future #risk #learn #education #space #astronomy #robot

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astrodaily1. A glowing, expanding shell of ionized gas ejected from a star creates

A glowing, expanding shell of ionized gas ejected from a star creates what is known as a 'planetary nebula'. These beautiful astrophysical phenomena form during the demise of a medium-sized star. After essentially running out of fuel, these stars eject their outer gaseous layers and expand to a red giant. The outer layers of the star largely dissipate and leave behind shells of nebulous gas, which are subsequently ionized by a hot, luminous core. Although this final stage in stellar evolution may seem relatively peaceful, it is not (haha, keep reading). The Cat's Eye Nebula is a bright planetary nebula in the constellation Draco, about 3,300 ly away. Velocity of the stellar wind ejecting into space is approx. 1900 km/s, and spectroscopic analysis shows that the center star loses an average of twenty trillion tons of mass per second. The temperature of the rotating neutron star (pulsar) at the center is about 80,000 K, and is 10,000 times more luminous than our Sun. I encourage you to reread the previous two sentences. Doesn’t it blow your mind that we share the universe with phenomena such as these? I find it rather comical that we worry about what others think about us when we live in a universe with exploding stars and insatiably hungry supermassive black holes. Photo credit: HST, NASA/ESA #astronomy #astrophysics #space #star #nebula #nasa #learn #science #philosophy #life #read #education #nebula

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astrodaily1. Someone recently reached out to me and recommended that I write about

Someone recently reached out to me and recommended that I write about the future of humanity. Simply put, where are we going? It’s a huge question that cannot be fully addressed in 350 words. However, Dr. Nick Bostrom (Oxford) developed four broad scenarios for the future of our species that I will address here. Our potential futures include posthumanity, plateau, recurrent collapse, and extinction. • Arguably the most optimistic future would be posthumanity—essentially consisting of the elimination of suffering, boundless population growth, and transcendence of biology (immortality). Also with posthumanity would likely come the expansion of our species to other planets, star-systems, and ultimately other galaxies. • The plateau hypothesis implies that we are currently close to the pinnacle of our evolution and/or technological advancement. Some argue that this might occur as a result of the development of a very stable political system—one that has ultimate control over the governed population. Another conceptual possibility is that soon our technological advances will be limited by the laws of nature. Maybe our computing power/efficiency will plateau when the laws of nature do not allow us to make processors any smaller. • The recurrent collapse scenario would consist of an unending pattern of collapse and regeneration. Possible causes of civilization collapse could be nuclear holocaust, climate change, starvation, etc. These are events that have the potential to but may not cause wholesale extinction. Rather they could cause near extinction and send us back hundreds/thousands of years technologically. Subsequent regeneration of an inherently unstable civilization would then collapse in the same fashion. • Finally, we arrive at extinction—the total disappearance of Homo sapiens from the universe. This could happen as a result of our evolving into a new species or life form, or simply dying out and non-continuation. Our species faces many existential threats (superintelligence for example) that we rarely discuss. I think that needs to change. Which of these futures do you think is most plausible, if any? Photo credit: NASA/HST, SpaceX

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astrodaily1. Are you having a rough day?  I have found that I can almost totally mi

Are you having a rough day? I have found that I can almost totally mitigate feelings of self-pity and sorrow by considering the fact that there is a 100% chance there are people going through much worse than I currently am. No matter what you are currently going through, someone else has it worse than you. Simply the fact that you have access to this post is a direct consequence of you being miraculously fortunate. There are people around the world who could not conjure up your current lifestyle in their wildest dreams. And even if you are truly struggling at the current moment (which I’m not denying), think about how much worse it could be. Today, all around the world, people will be diagnosed with terminal cancer, families will be torn apart by drugs and alcohol, bombs will dismember and kill innocent civilians, people will lose their children and parents in vehicular accidents. The list goes on, exhaustively. Even acknowledging these horrors brings me close to sickness at my keyboard. I give such vivid and disturbing examples only in an attempt to make my proposition more powerful. At the surface, meditating on the misfortune of others may seem sadistic and backwards. However, not only does this technique help eliminate personal feelings of distress, it promotes a deeper sensitivity and sympathy for those who truly find themselves on the wrong side of fortune. It can help to lift one out of depression and may even encourage some to take action on fixing what is broken and to face the atrocities of the world. I wanted to take this opportunity to remind you that you are truly fortunate. I understand that this is entirely unrelated to the natural sciences, but one of my goals here is to help people develop a philosophy of everyday life that pushes the world towards what is good. I use this platform to promote what I believe are the most important aspects of our existence. One of these aspects is an intellectually honest recognition of what is truly important. Our individual perception of the world and our place in it forms the foundation for our progression into the future. Photo credit: NASA Earth Observatory; Apollo 8

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astrodaily1. There are many planetary phenomena that take one’s breath away, but fe

There are many planetary phenomena that take one’s breath away, but few are as impressive as the sprawling rings that surround the gas giant Saturn. Staggeringly thin, Saturn’s rings are on average 10 meters (30 ft) in thickness and extend 280,000 kilometers (175,000 mi) from the planet’s surface. This is proportionate to 1/9,000 the thickness of an 8.5”x11” sheet of paper (i.e. Saturn’s rings are proportionately ~9,000 times thinner than a piece of paper). Composed primarily of small chunks of ice and rock, the rings are believed to consist of comets, asteroids, and potential moons that were torn apart by Saturn’s strong gravity early in the solar system’s formation (or more recently, according to new investigations). Rather than being a continuous disk, the rings contain many gaps, the largest of which have been opened by moons of Saturn that have cleared their orbital neighborhood. Many of the smaller gaps remain unexplained and are an active front of celestial dynamic research. I find it truly fascinating that this massive planet is always out there, sharing our star. I occasionally find myself thinking about how incredible it is that regardless of the complex events taking place on Earth, the gas giants are still just orbiting the Sun with their violent storms, hosted moons, and planetary rings. Simply existing in accordance with nature. It serves as a humbling reminder not to take things too seriously. That being said, Homo sapiens have developed self-awareness and a certain amount of intelligence, and consequently we face serious geopolitical issues and existential problems. Recalling that the rest of nature is simply operating according to the laws of physics reminds me that our current problems, although important, have been entirely created by us. The laws of the universe do not care about us, and they will not protect us from ourselves. It is up to us and subsequent generations to address and fix our current problems and problems of the future. Help is not on the way from elsewhere. Photo credit: NASA, Cassini #astronomy #philosophy #saturn #learn #education #space #science #think #read #planet #write

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