Thursday, June 29, 2006

No thanks

Stephen Hawking is best known for thinking about time, space, and those teratoid trash mashers known as black holes. But in a recent talk in Hong Kong, the famous physicist digressed from his usual subject matter to tell the audience that they'd better get off the island, and he didn't mean Kowloon. Instead, the Cambridge don was urging the crowd to get off the whole, gosh-darn planet. Hawking was hawking space colonization.

I don't even know where to start criticizing this article. First, the idea that population pressures will force us to colonize space. Second the theory that a round planet is an inefficient use of surface area. Third, the challenges of space travel. Fourth, the challenges of living on another planet.

I'll stick to my main objection: Maybe I'm too cynical, but I find all this talk of colonizing space to be a collosal waste of brain power. Even if you could find a way to travel quickly enough, it's just too dangerous at our current technological level. And, if you believe scientists at all, global warming is a much more pressing issue. My answer to people who want to live on Mars is, let's try setting up a human colony at the bottom of the ocean first. If we can figure out how to live safely in a place that's only a few miles away, then maybe we can move on to more dangerous environments.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Mooning for moons

I'm suffering under the indignity of living on the only planet in our solar system with one lousy moon. Yes, I know that Venus and Mercury have no moons, but all the planets that have moons have more than us. I'm always struck with a stab of envy when I see science fiction movies depicting worlds with lots of moons. How cool would that be? (Unless it's that multi-moon planet in "Pitch Black." That wasn't so cool.)

Also, I think it's time we came up with a better name for our moon than, "The Moon." Now that Pluto's satellites have official names ("Nix" and "Hydra"), not only do the mooned planets have more moons than us, but their moons have better names. For a world that used to think it was the center of the universe, this situation is shockingly negligent. Although I suppose that calling it "THE Moon" actually betrays a certain geocentricity of thought.

Of course, it's hard to think of a good name that isn't particular to one's own culture. Which means "Elvis" is right out. Based on the current naming system, though, it seems common to reach back to old mythology from defunct cultures. And since Irish mythology seems underrepresented in moon-naming, I propose the name "Luchta." It even sounds a little like Luna (an unofficial name for the Moon).

I wonder who I should see about my revolutionary proposal...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Galileo's middle finger

One of the highlights of our trip to Italy was visiting the History of Science Museum in Firenze (Florence) where they have a couple of Galileo's telescopes.(Maybe these are the only ones in existence, actually.)

It's a fascinating museum, and makes an especially nice change if you've made your feet sore for a week looking at liturgical art in churches. Although the display with Galileo's finger did remind us uncomfortably of the many holy relics we saw at the Medici chapel and elsewhere—splinter of the "true cross," anyone? The Medicis were clearly a gullible bunch, but that's another story. They're also largely responsible for this museum.

The collection is massive—room after room of beautifully preserved instruments, sometimes dozens of versions of the same thing. It's not just astronomical objects, but all science: mechanics, optics, barometry, fluid dynamics, medicine. Instruments for measuring as well as didactic devices to demonstrate physical laws and properties.

My only complaint is that you really needed an item-by-item guide in English to appreciate what you were looking at. I've just discovered that such a thing is available on their website, but of course that didn't help at the time. Still, now I can learn more about some of my favorites: the Jovilabe, the Lady's Telescope (complete with beauty cream), the Astronomical Compendium, and Galileo's inclined plane, which one of the docents kindly demonstrated for us.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Back in the saddle

After a well-deserved vacation (plus an extra week to decompress), I'm back. Since sales have dropped off at Stargazer Tees, I'm starting off by putting in a plug for the shop.

Summer is here and it's time to start hitting those star parties. And there's no better conversation starter than a funny or eye-catching shirt. Stargazer Tees carries original designs you won't find anywhere else. Our best sellers are:

Check 'em out and tell me what you think!