Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fortean / Oddball News - 9/18/2010

Pope's Astronomer: "I'd Love to Baptize ET"

dailymail - Intelligent aliens may be living among the stars and are likely to have souls, a senior Vatican scientist said yesterday.

The Pope's astronomer, Guy Consolmagno, said he would be happy to 'baptise an al ien' - but admitted that the chances of communicating with life outside the Earth were low.

Speaking at the British Science Festival in Birmingham, Dr Consolmagno also dismissed Creationism and claimed that the revival of 'intelligent design' - the controversial theory that only God can explain gaps in the theory of evolution - was 'bad theology'.

Dr Consolmagno, one of a team of 12 astronomers working for the Vatican, said the Catholic Church had been supporting and funding science for centuries.

A self-confessed science fiction fan, he said he was 'comfortable' with the idea of alien life.

Asked if he would baptise an alien, he replied: 'Only if they asked.'

He added: 'I'd be delighted if we found life elsewhere and delighted if we found intelligent life elsewhere.

'But the odds of us finding it, of it being intelligent and us being able to communicate with it - when you add them up it's probably not a practical question.

'God is bigger than just humanity. God is also the god of angels.'

In the middle ages, the definition of a soul was to have intelligence, free will, freedom to love and freedom to make decisions, he said.

Those characteristics may not be unique to humans.

'Any entity - no matter how many tentacles it has - has a soul,' he added.

In practice, machines were unlikely to be smart or human enough to have souls.

Dr Consolmagno, 57, the curator of the Pope's meteorite collection, is a trained astronomer and planetary scientist at the Vatican's observatory.

On 'intelligent design', which claims that Darwin's theory of evolution cannot explain the complexity of life, he said: 'The word has been hijacked by a narrow group of Creationist fundamentalists in America to mean something it didn't originally mean at all.

'It's another form of the God of the gaps.

'It's bad theology in that it turns God once again into the pagan god of thunder and lightning.'

The phrase 'intelligent design' was centuries old and described the idea that God could be discovered in the laws of space and time and the existence of human reason.


World's Smallest Full-Grown Cow

metro - Swallow the cow, who hails from Rishworth, West Yorkshire, measures a titchy 0.8m (33inches) from hind to foot eanring her a place in the new book of Guinness World Records 2011.

Swallow's delighted owner, Caroline Ryder, said: 'Celebrity does not sit that well on Swallow's shoulders. She'll spend the day where she's happiest, in the middle of the herd grazing, or in the cowshed listening to Radio 2, her station of choice.'

Let's hope Radio 2 aren't planning to play The Wonder Stuff's 'The Size of a Cow', because that could just get very confusing indeed.

Swallow is just one of the British entrants in the new Guinness book - with others UK-based record breakers including Stephen Parkes of Nottingham, who scooped the record for the largest collection of Smurf memorabilia in the world; Stephen Buttler of the West Midlands, who broke the record for the Most Push Ups with Claps in One Minute by completed 73 push ups with a clap sixty seconds; and Scot Patrick Rielly, who claimed the record for Most Football Management Rejection Letters, having been turned down for the manager's role at 46 different professional football clubs.


Clothing in a Spray Can

reuters - Tight-fitting t-shirts and hipster jeans could get even more snug if you could just spray them on. That idea just got a little less far-fetched. A liquid mixture developed by the Imperial College London and a company called Fabrican lets you spray clothes directly onto your body using aerosol technology. After the spray dries, it creates a thin layer of fabric that it can be peeled off, washed and re-worn.

“When I first began this project I really wanted to make a futuristic, seamless, quick and comfortable material,” says Manel Torres, a Spanish fashion designer and academic visitor at Imperial College in a statement. Torres worked with Paul Luckham, a professor of particle technology at the Imperial College to create the material. “In my quest to produce this kind of fabric, I ended up returning to the principles of the earliest textiles such as felt, which were also produced by taking fibers and finding a way of binding them together without having to weave or stitch them,” says Torres.

The spray-on fabric consists of short fibres that are combined with polymers to bind them together and a solvent that delivers the fabric in liquid form. The mixture evaporates when the spray touches the surface. The fabric is formed by the cross-linking of fibres, which cling to one another to create the garment, says Fabrican. The spray-on fabric can be pretty versatile. It can be created in many colors and and can use different types of fibres ranging from natural to the synthetic, says the company.

The spray can be applied using a high pressure spray gun or an aerosol can. The texture of the fabric changes according to the type of material such as wool, linen or acrylic and how the spray is layered on the body. Fabrican says the technology is not just for fashion but can have some innovative use in medicine to layer bandages on the skin without disturbing the wound. The technology is still in prototype stage and some kinks still need to be worked out, such as the strong smell of solvent around the fabric. The researchers estimate that it will be at least a few years before it can be ready for commercial use.

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May 2011: Science Researchers Predict Discovery of Earth 2.0

dailygalaxy - The first Earth-like planet orbiting another star will be announced in May next year, if the discovery of extrasolar planets continues at its present rate, say researchers Samuel Arbesman from Harvard Medical School in Boston and Gregory Laughlin at the University of California, Santa Cruz. They point out that astronomers have been discovering extrasolar planets at an increasing rate since 1995. The rate of scientific progress, they point out, is often hard to measure, but in certain circumstances, the data is unambiguous and easy to measure, creating a trend.

The discoveries of exo-palnets now follow a well understood pattern, the first extrasolar planets being necessarily massive, many times the size of Jupiter, and so easier to spot. As techniques have improved with the Kepler Space Telescope, for example, astronomers have found smaller planets, some just a few times more massive than Earth.

"It's only a matter of time before more Kepler observations lead to smaller planets with longer period orbits, coming closer and closer to the discovery of the first Earth-analog," says John Morse, head of the astrophysics division at NASA headquarters in Washington.

Astronomers to date have found superhot gas giants and snowball-like Neptunes, with the trend toward the discovery of a planet in the habitable zone. There's no real dispute among astronomers that the discovery of an Earth-like planet is on the cards.

Arbesman and Laughlin have taken this data and projected it forward to predict when an Earth-like planet is likely to crop up. The results have a heavy-tailed distribution in which there is a 66 per cent probability of finding the other Earth by 2013, a 75 percent probability by 2020 but a 95 percent probability by 2264.

However, they say the median date of discovery is in early May 2011, which for various reasons is the date they emphasis in their paper.

The first data from Kepler space telescope which was launched in March last year specifically to find extrasolar planets was released in June and is currently being analysed. The first set of candidate planets are due to be announced in February next year.

Many astronomers expect the first Kepler data matrix to include a habitable Earth-like planet. But according to Arbesman and Laughlin, they'll have to wait a little longer. "Because," they say, "of the limited time base line of the mission to date, the Kepler planet candidates to published in February 2011 may be too hot to support significant values for H [their habitability metric]."

But the race is heating up: several new techniques have made Earth-bound telescopes almost as sensitive as Kepler and certainly on the verge of finding Earth 2.0.

The idea of Earth 2.0 orbiting another star, reports the MIT Technology Review, could have a major impact on the global psyche and provide the focus for an international effort to characterize this place. And all this to happen in early May 2011, at least according to Arbesman and Laughlin.


Monster 18m Wave Recorded off Tasmania

lithgomercury - Victorian beaches can expect "fairly large swells" over the weekend, but nothing will match the monsters that reared off Tasmania's coast yesterday.

The Apple Isle is now the home of Australia's biggest recorded wave - 18.4 metres high - after wild weather lashed the state yesterday.

The freakishly big wave was recorded yesterday morning by a wave-rider buoy device off Cape Sorell on Tasmania's west coast.

It was the largest wave that the Bureau of Meteorology has recorded with the device since its installation in 1998.

The Bureau of Meteorology's Richard Carlyon said there would be some "pretty large waves" off the west coast of Victoria this weekend,

"At the moment in western Bass Strait we're forecasting wave heights of seven metres ... But waves of that height won't be seen along the Surf Coast.

"Tasmania and King Island get in way of waves reaching the surf coast. The magnitudes are somewhat reduced."

Dr Carlyon said the largest waves to strike the Victorian coastline on the weekend would be west of Cape Otway to the South Australian border.

Victorian surfers scoping a weekend of big-wave riding should keep their eye on local conditions, he said.

"We're still forecasting waves of around three to four metres in the Surf Coast region, but surfers should keep in mind our forecasts are for offshore," Dr Carlyon said.

"It can be hard for us to forecast surf heights at particular beaches," Dr Carlyon said.

‘‘We’ve had fairly deep low pressure systems moving south of Tasmania and they’re throwing up these waves.

‘‘We’ve had a very stationary type of weather pattern. We’ve been stuck in these south-westerly winds blowing off the Antarctic peninsula up towards Tasmania and it’s been like that for a number of days.

‘‘It’s been a slow-moving pattern that has allowed those wave patterns to continually build along the west coast of Tasmania.’’

Dale Sumner, general manager of the Lakes Entrance Fishermen’s Co-operative, said most of the 40-boat local fleet had chosen to stay at home to avoid the conditions.

Fortean / Oddball News - 9/18/2010
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