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Trouble in Cosmologyland

Underneath the veneer of certainty portrayed by TV documentaries about the universe are deep questions and controversies. Some of these briefly appear on publicly-available news stories, only to be covered by new coats of certainty. Are the new veneers fixing the problems or, instead, whitewashing serious weaknesses in current cosmological understanding? Here are some quick looks under the veneer.

Where Do Gems and Precious Metals Come From?

Gold, diamonds, and other precious metals and gems... they are found close to the surface of the earth where humans can mine them and make jewelry. But they shouldn’t be there. Heavy elements should have sunk deep into the core of the Earth soon after it was formed. Wait till you hear some of the latest ideas about how precious metals and gems arrived near the surface. Maybe they shot up from the mantle. Maybe they came from outer space.

Science Without an Object: Astrobiology, Alien Science

Can science exist without an observable object? In recent years we have seen serious scientists ponder alternate universes and parallel universes, dark matter, dark energy and other imponderable entities. String theory has yet to rest on observable data, and physicists at CERN are getting worried about not finding the hypothetical Higgs boson. Sooner or later, these theories need to detect their subjects or lose credibility in the science club. Perhaps nowhere else has the disconnect between hype and observation reached the absurd limits of astrobiology and alien science.

Freakish Star Stuns Astronomers

Astronomers have detected a star that should not exist. Current theory cannot explain the composition of a star in the constellation Leo. This “freakish star,” moreover, is probably not unique. What is it, exactly, that modern star formation theory does explain?

Lucky in the Sky with Diamonds

There are treasures all around us we do not perceive. Sometimes we speak figuratively about sparkling gems that are, if we realized it, literally real, right there under our noses. Children sing, “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are, up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky” without knowing that there really are diamond stars up there, with diamond planets, so magnificent and huge they are unfathomable in value. These are actual discoveries that have been announced by scientists this week.

8.7 Million Species Is Not a Scientific Fact

Human beings love to classify things. We pigeonhole items into bins of our own making, for whatever the reason, to give us a feeling of having things organized and understood. Do our pigeonholes reflect categories that are “out there” in nature, or are they constructs of our own minds? Science reporters are announcing in bold print that there are “8.7 million species on Earth,” but a look at the fine print shows the error bars to be so enormous, there is more error than data. What does this imply about the scientific validity of human classification schemes?

SETI Blurs Line with Hollywood

Down again, up again; the SETI Institute got a reprieve for its Allen Telescope Array from actress Jodie Foster, star of the Sagan SETI saga Contact. And just in time; NASA needs contact to protect earth from aliens who might invade to punish us for global warming.

Playing Fast and Loose with Evolution

The word evolution gets used and misused often. Strictly speaking, neo-Darwinian evolution demands that mutations and natural selection operate with no foresight or oversight, no purpose or direction, no impetus toward a desired outcome. In actual practice, scientists and reporters play fast and loose with the term, making it into a designer substitute.

Is a Multiverse Detectable?

The idea of a multiverse (an ensemble of universes like our own visible one) has been criticized as unscientific because it would be unobservable, even in principle. Now, however, some theoretical physicists are claiming that bubble universes beyond ours could be detected in the cosmic microwave background radiation – provided they collide with our universe. Does this bring multiverse theory back into the realm of science?

Pagan Gods Launched into Space

The latest Jupiter probe from NASA is named Juno, after the name of the wife of Jupiter, Roman chief of the gods. Launched today (August 5), the Juno spacecraft will use Earth for gravity assist in a complex path, to arrive at Jupiter in 2016, where it will study the largest planet from a polar orbit. As “part of a joint outreach and educational program developed as part of the partnership between NASA and the LEGO Group to inspire children to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” according to a press release from the Jet Propulsion Lab, the spacecraft carries 1.5-inch likeness of three figures: Galileo Galileo, who discovered Jupiter’s moons, the Roman god Jupiter, and his wife Juno.

Another Crash in Lunar Tunes

Our moon has two faces. One is the familiar man-in-the-moon side that always faces Earth. The other side is mountainous and heavily cratered, possessing a thicker crust with almost none of the large impact basins we see as dark maria on the Earth-facing side. The giant impact theory for the origin of the moon – that a Mars-size object hit the Earth and the debris coalesced into our planetary companion – has been controversial since it was first proposed. Will adding another impact help? It all depends on what one means by “scientific progress.”

Earth Uniqueness Up; SETI Down

Our earth seems special – maybe because it is. Some astronomers are seriously considering that life might be rare or unique on our rare (or unique) planet. If so, hopes for finding sentient aliens on the celestial radio dial drop accordingly. The 50th anniversary of the first SETI search came, unfortunately for search enthusiasts, came at a time when funding is harder to get.

Planetary Eruptions

Eruptions can come in two types: literal and figurative. Some planetary bodies are literally erupting. Others are causing figurative eruptions in theories. Here are some recent news stories about planets, moons, comets and other objects circling our sun and other stars. There hasn’t been much news from Mercury or Venus this month, so we’ll start on the home planet and work outward.

Water, Water Everywhere in Space

The largest mass of water has been found surrounding a black hole in a quasar 12 billion light-years away. Space.com says the cloud harbors “140 trillion times more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined.” The discovery not only that “water has been prevalent in the universe for nearly its entire existence,” but that it “was present only some 1.6 billion years after the beginning of the universe.” Alberto Bolatto, of the University of Maryland, said, "This discovery pushes the detection of water one billion years closer to the Big Bang than any previous find.” In other cosmology news:

OOLs for Evolution

Soviet communists may or may not have needed Rules for Revolution, but Darwinists, without doubt, need OOLs for Evolution: i.e., origin-of-life scenarios. Obviously, Darwinian evolution won’t get past square one without a self-replicating system complex enough to call “life” in place. Whether or not a given evolutionist is a Marxist materialist or a theistic Darwinist, OOL is a key link in the naturalistic dream of an unbroken chain of natural causes from big bang to man. It’s proving a tough link to find.
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