Saturday, May 07, 2011

now the year needs to expand

or just make a new calendar (after all if we are moving into a Post-Modern version of our language, why not a PoMo calendar...)

New York TimesPublished: May 3, 2011
How long is a year? Ask most people, and they’d say 365 days and not nearly long enough. The year, of course, is the time it takes the Earth to orbit around the Sun, a rate that is slowing fractionally each century. For many reasons, scientists need a more precise definition of the year than its length in days, yet the only unit of time defined in the International System of Units is the second, which is measured in oscillations of cesium atoms.
(i'm not sure i love this word, though

Recently, a task force of geologists and chemists proposed a new unit of measure called the annus — the Latin word for year — which would use the length of time between one equinox or solstice and the same equinox or solstice a year later. Because the Earth’s orbit varies in temporal length, the annus is keyed to the year 2000, which was 31,556,925.445 seconds long.Astronomers prefer to use the Julian year — which is 31,557,600 seconds long — and they, like some scientific journals, are not likely to adopt the annus. Many working geologists are objecting to the proposed abbreviation for annus, which is “a.” To the task force, the symbol Ma means mega-annus, or million years. But to geologists, Ma means “million years ago,” and 90 Ma, for instance, means a specific point in the Cretaceous period.
However this is resolved, we are left meditating on a remark made by a pair of geologists who note that a geological date like 90 Ma, or 90 million years ago, implies “before present.” Unfortunately, these geologists write, the present “is not well defined.” We know the feeling. We also know that whatever you call it, the year gets shorter and shorter the older you get.
(do you remember when the days, and weeks, and months, and years went by so slow you couldn't stand the wait?)but then, of course, all of our years will run out. . .

Someday the Sun Will Burn Out and the World Will End (but don't tell anyone)

The New York Times By DENNIS OVERBYE
Published: February 14, 2006

I've always been proud of my irrelevance.

When I raised my hand to speak at our weekly meetings here in the science department, my colleagues could be sure they would hear something weird about time travel or adventures in the fifth dimension. Something to take them far from the daily grind. Enough to taunt the mind, but not enough to attract the attention of bloggers, editors, politicians and others who keep track of important world affairs.
(is this anything like my raising my hand to argue with my high school teachers?)
So imagine my surprise to find the origin of the universe suddenly at the white hot center of national politics. Last week my colleague Andrew Revkin reported that a 24-year-old NASA political appointee with no scientific background, George C. Deutsch, had told a designer working on a NASA Web project that the Big Bang was "not proven fact; it is opinion," and thus the word "theory" should be used with every mention of Big Bang.
It was not NASA's place, he said in an e-mail message, to make a declaration about the origin of the universe "that discounts intelligent design by a creator."
In a different example of spinning science news last month, NASA headquarters removed a reference to the future death of the sun from a press release about the discovery of comet dust around a distant star known as a white dwarf. A white dwarf, a shrunken dense cinder about the size of earth, is how our own sun is fated to spend eternity, astronomers say, about five billion
years from now, once it has burned its fuel.
"We are seeing the ghost of a star that was once a lot like our sun," said Marc Kuchner of the Goddard Space Flight Center. In a statement that was edited out of the final news release he went on to say, "I cringed when I saw the data because it probably reflects the grim but very distant future of our own planets and solar system."
An e-mail message from Erica Hupp at NASA headquarters to the authors of the original release at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said, "NASA is not in the habit of frightening the public with doom and gloom scenarios."
Never mind that the death of the sun has been a staple of astronomy textbooks for 50 years.
Personally, I can't get enough of gloom- and-doom scenarios. I'm enchanted by the recent discovery, buttressed by observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, that an antigravitational force known as dark energy might suck all galaxies out of the observable universe in a few hundred billion years and even rip apart atoms and space. But I never dreamed that I might be frightening the adults.
What's next? Will future presidential candidates debate the ontological status of Schrödinger's cat? That's the cat that, according to the uncertainty principle of quantum physics, is both alive and dead until we observe it.
Apparently science does matter.
Dreading the prospect that they too may be dragged into the culture wars, astronomers have watched from the sidelines in recent years as creationists in Kansas and Pennsylvania challenged the teaching of evolution in classrooms. Never mind that the Big Bang has been officially accepted by the Roman Catholic Church for half a century. The notion of a 14-billion-year-old cosmos doesn't fit if you believe the Bible says the world is 6,000 years old.
And indeed there have been sporadic outbreaks, as evidenced by the bumper stickers and signs you see in some parts of the country: "Big Bang? You've got to be kidding — God."
When the Kansas school board removed evolution from the science curriculum back in 1999, they also removed the Big Bang.
In a way, the critics have a point. The Big Bang is indeed only a theory, albeit a theory that covers the history of creation as seamlessly as could be expected from the first fraction of a second of time until today. To call an idea "a theory" is to accord it high status in the world of science. To pass the bar, a theory must make testable predictions — that stars eventually blow out or that your computer will boot up.
Sometimes those predictions can be, well, a little disconcerting. When you're talking about the birth or death of the universe, a little denial goes a long way.
That science news is sometimes managed as carefully as political news may not come as a
surprise to most adults. After all, the agencies that pay for most scientific research in this country have billion-dollar budgets that they have to justify to the White House and the Congress. It helps to have newspaper clippings attesting to your advancement of the president's vision.
It's enough to make you feel sorry for NASA, whose very charter mandates high visibility for both its triumphs and its flops, but which has officers recently requiring headquarters approval before consenting to interviews with the likes of me.
The recent peek behind the curtains of this bureaucracy has been both depressing and exciting. So they are paying attention after all.
They should be paying attention, but I'm not looking forward to having to include more politicians and bureaucrats in my rounds of the ever-expanding, multi-dimensional universe (or universes).
I'll do it, but, lacking the gene for street smarts, I fear being played like a two-bit banjo.
I'm even happy to go star-gazing with Dick Cheney, if duty so calls, but only if he agrees to disarm
and I can wear a helmet.

I loved going to the planeterium as a child, one of the programs showed (what they imagined to be) the solor system's birth to death. The idea that it would all die out wasn't so much frightening as incomprehensible to me.I also remember being in church and finding it so hard to contemplate a never-ending eternity (like a ring that has no beginning and no end.) It hurt my brain and i was left in the void not being able to contemplate either ending or not-ending.Luckily it looks like i'll have 7.59 years to work it out...
In the end, there won’t even be fragments.

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