Squinting at Divine Glory #poem #poetry #solar #sun #solarsystem

Egyptian sun godHail to you, Ra,
Perfect each day!
Or so it appears
As skyward we gaze.

The sun burns too bright
For humans to bear,
As said of the gods,
It’s blindness to stare.

But sometimes through clouds,
If hazes are thick,
You’ll glimpse some strange spots
That blemish the disk.

No longer dependent
On weather to view,
Is solar observing
That daily we do.

Much more fantastic
Than imagined of old
Is the vast sphere of plasma
Today we behold.

Kate Rauner

Inspired by a recent solar cycle study reported in newsweek.com


So That’s What’s Going On! Humans watched for 1,000 years and now we understand (maybe) #solarcycle #space #science #sunspot #solar #planets

Eleven year cycle. If that means something to you, you must be an amateur radio operator, or some other student of the Sun. Here’s an older NASA video that’s still interesting.

Despite the wishes of medieval philosophers, the Sun is not a perfect disk. Sunspots are

regions of reduced surface temperature caused by concentrations of magnetic field flux that inhibit convection… may last anywhere from a few days to a few months…. [and affect] space weather, the state of the ionosphere, and hence the conditions of short-wave radio propagation or satellite communications. wikipedia

We’ve known for a long time that the frequency of sunspots roughly follows an eleven year cycle, with a lot of variation in intensities and somewhat in durations, but it’s been hard to explain why. A recent study (in Solar Physics, which looks like a real journal – you gotta be careful now-a-days) found a “high level of concordance” between the positions of three planets in their orbits and sunspot activity.

The study examined 90 cycles, which means almost 1,000 years of records. That’s a lot of history and the article I read doesn’t say how reliable ancient records are. But for the last two dozen cycles, we have pretty good data. The cycle seems to align with movements of Venus, Earth, and Jupiter in an 11.07 year cycle.


There are some problems. Sunspot cycles have varied from eight to fourteen years in length, so explaining the average by itself isn’t enough. What about the other planets? When you have a bunch to choose from, any correlation may simply be fortuitous. But I’m curious to know if adding more planets to the model will help or hurt the correlations.

By what mechanism could such a relatively small gravitational force impact our star? Perhaps plasma stability analyses can explain it? The math needs to be done.

My spouse, the ham radio operator in the family, is skeptical. There have been other attempts to explain the sunspot cycle that didn’t pan out. Of course, this hypothesis must be examined further.

But every discovery starts with an observation.

Thanks to newsweek.com for their article.


Humans Are So Hard to Study in the Wild, can we ever parse out cause and effect? #statistics #science #maths

Early cell phoneAny human activity involves a lot of complicated factors. We’re still arguing over what brought crime rates in America down so precipitously in the 1990s and keeps them down now. I love studies that bring new factors into the debate.

Increased incarceration, increased police numbers, aging population, growth in income, decreased alcohol consumption, and unemployment. They also concluded that the decrease in environmental lead exposure and crack use and the increase in abortions “possibly” had some effect. theatlantic.com

Did cell phones somehow do the trick? Or was widespread phone usage too late to offer an explanation? Always keeping in mind that correlation does not equal causation.

These are arguments based in statistics, and with so many variables, promising answers sometimes fail when “data don’t hold up across time, across cities, or across countries. The problem is analogous to something like dark energy in physics—a sort of unexplained, unseen material that confounds the calculations of different branches of the social sciences.”

But is it the general trend towards less violence over centuries that needs explaining, or the strange spike in crime during the 1990s?

Sorry if I misled anyone – the article quoted above doesn’t answer the question. What it does is ask us to open our minds to the full spectrum of parameters in human life. And if you’re curious about the possible contribution of abortion rights, check out my previous post here.


The Nine Lives Hypothesis, or Why Schrödinger’s Cat Can Never Die

“Only the living version of the cat is capable of observing itself to be alive, causing the superposition to collapse. Thus, Schrödinger’s cat can never die!” Now you’ve done it! This post will get picked up on the internet and reposted as a true science article. Within months,”everyone” will know that the Schrödinger’s cat paradox has been solved. (Of course, cats always knew.)

Planet Pailly

Today’s story was inspired by my recent Sciency Words post on Schrödinger’s cat.  I cannot emphasize enough that this story is not meant to be taken seriously.

It is often said that anyone who claims to understand quantum mechanics is either lying or delusional.  In 1935, world-renounced physicist Erin Schrödinger proposed an experiment to demonstrate the true absurdity of all things quantum.  The experiment came to be known as Schrödinger’s cat. Now today, despite the vehement protests of animal rights groups, researchers at Omni-Science Laboratories have conducted the first ever real world test of the Schrödinger’s cat experiment.

A cat is placed inside a test chamber, along with a sample of cesium-131, a radioactive isotope.  A contraption within the test chamber will either kill the cat or spare the cat’s life, depending on what that cesium isotope does.  If the cesium undergoes radioactive decay, the cat will die.  In not, the cat will live.  The conditions of…

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You Can Never Believe Your Eyes Again – fake videos #internet #FakeNews #hoax #deepfake

We all knew this was coming, and here it is.

Imagine someone creating a deepfake video of you simply by stealing your Facebook profile pic… Though computer manipulation of video has existed for decades, deepfake systems have made doctored clips not only easier to create but also harder to detect. Think of them as photo-realistic digital puppets. cnet.com

You don’t have to imagine much longer. Samsung has the technology.

A realistic fake once took big data sets of images and fancy artificial intelligence. No more. (Though, if you happen to be a celebrity, there are lots of images of you out there to make the fake even more realistic.)

Your movies, video games, and TV are about to get better, but watch out for the downside. More than ever before, if a clip pushes your buttons, if it makes your worst fears come alive, engage your BS detector.

The rapid advancement of artificial intelligence means that any time a researcher shares a breakthrough in deepfake creation, bad actors can begin scraping together their own jury-rigged tools to mimic it.




Ancient Burials? Whatever These Are, They’re Amazing #archeology #Laos #travel

The world is a much bigger place than I know. How can I have missed these fascinating remains of an ancient society in Laos? Probably because the sites are so remote, not to mention still peppered with unexploded Vietnam War bombs, that you’re not likely to find a trip arranged for tourists.

Ancient giant stone jars in Laos

Not all the jars are this big, but I can’t resist sharing this image

Carved stone jars around 2,500 years old… [perhaps] used by an Iron Age civilization to expose their dead relatives to the elements for a period of time before the bones were cleaned and buried.

Remains of elaborate human burials have been found at some of the jar sites… archaeologists aren’t sure if the jars were made for the purpose of the burials or if the burials were performed later.


Some of these stone jars are truly enormous, and since no written records have been found, local people speculate. Perhaps a race of giants used them to brew rice alcohol, or maybe they were used to store water. Some studies connect the giant jars’ locations with ancient trade routes.

Perhaps ancient burial practices are reflected in modern traditions.

In contemporary funerary practices followed by Thai, Cambodian and Laotian royalty, the corpse of the deceased is placed into an urn during the early stages of the funeral rites, at which time the soul of deceased is believed to be undergoing gradual transformation from the earthly to the spiritual world. The ritual decomposition is later followed by cremation and secondary burial. wikipedia

Archaeologists from Laos and Australia continue to discover and study more of these jar-sites. livescience.com

Beware Wishful Thinking: A Science Lesson

To not-fool yourself is why science beats all other methods of discovering the physical world – but it’s so hard! That’s why peer-review is part of science – review by someone who sees your work as objective data and not your beloved baby.

Planet Pailly

This may seem like a contradiction.Astrobiologists are actively searching for alien life.It’s their job.And yet whenever new evidence of alien life is presented, astrobiologists are the first and most vocal skeptics about it.If your job is to search for alien life, why would you be so quick to doubt any evidence that alien life actually exists?

This goes back to the famous “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” line from Carl Sagan, or the whole proof beyond a reasonable doubt thing I kept saying during my recent A to Z series on the search for alien life.  Astrobiologists very much do want to find alien life.  They’re eager to find it.  Perhaps a little too eager.

And thus, astrobiologists have to be careful.  They have to be extra skeptical, because they have to be on guard against their own wishful thinking.

And really, this is not only true in the field of astrobiology; it’s true…

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