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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Why we need a (safe) asteroid hit!

Duck! Posted by Hello

Humanity doesn't really seem to get going and prepare for disasters until the prospect of catastrophe is imminent or, less happily, after the actual experience of a similar event. What we really need, therefore, in order to be better prepared for a major impact is a smaller scale regional devastation from an asteroid that lands in the middle of a huge uninhabited area. This is not ours to command of course but bearing in mind the relative complacency of international governments in the face of an ongoing threat it might be the only thing that saves us from extinction in the longer term.

The NEO (Near Earth Object) asteroid 2004 MN4 will definitely not hit in 2029. Phew! But hang on. Glancing by at a mere 25,600 kilometres (16000 miles), with a diameter of 300 metres and a potential impact velocity of 12.6 kilometres (7.88 miles) per SECOND it's not the sort of object that leaves much room for manoeuvre. Statistics - NASA Moreover, its close shave with earth in 2029 will gravitationally alter its orbit ever so slightly but with a few metres deflection this could easily give a hit the next time round in 2035 or 2036. The truth is that we just won't know what the likelihood of that is until 2029 ... which leaves us just 6 years to try and do something about it.

An impact from 2004 MN4 would leave massive regional devastation but it is not a planet (or even a continent) killer. The best case scenario in the worst case event would be an impact is a deserted corner of the earth (not at sea as this would cause a tsunami). With an eastern hemisphere impact projection that narrows it down to central Australia and Siberia. Any land fall nearer any urban centre is certainly bad news.

With a ground zero, say, in Sydney imagine a crater 6.4 km (4 miles) wide and 500 metres (1625 feet) deep. 5 km (3 miles) out, please take cover from the 10 metres (30 feet) boulders raining down continuously. Expect total hearing loss, (the least of your problems). You won't escape metre sized ejecta until you flee to a distance of 20 km (12 miles). Even 80 km (50 miles) away, glass windows will be blown out. You get the picture. Basically, there would be nothing left of Sydney. Of a population of 4 million people, maybe only a million or even much fewer would survive; severely injured of course and taxing all efforts to locate and treat.

So, with the governments still not taking the dangers of asteroid impacts seriously enough perhaps the kindest thing to happen to humanity would be a hit in 2035 but not in an inhabited area. Perhaps then we might wake up and put more money into Near Earth Object detection and impact prevention.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

What Price Respect?

You can't be serious! Posted by Hello

My "other job" is that of a High School teacher (State School, 11-16). I used to teach full time when St. Aidan's started but as the Church has grown I have been able to step down my teaching commitments and now I do only agency work as and when I can and need to (financially).

Although I enjoy teaching, I can honestly say in that in my ten years since qualification as a mature entrant, the amount of teaching and learning I have achieved falls far short of what I initially envisaged. When I started teaching I fondly imagined that a teacher might teach most of the time. How wrong I was. The time spent on form filling, bureaucracy, pointless meetings; also in being a surrogate parent (teaching children things parents should be teaching them) and dealing with the disruptive behaviour of a minority of sociopathic youngsters who should not be in mainstream education has left me wondering whether I have imparted anything useful to the young in my care. I am sure I have but far less than I had hoped.

If asked to identify the single most draining and injurious factor in the compromise of education as a practitioner, I would identify the deterioration of student behaviour. In my opinion and experience this has been a discernible trend in ten years' practice. Of course, I could just be a poor teacher. Others would have to judge that. However, I do not base my observation on personal experience alone. It has long been acknowledged that student discipline is a serious concern in British Education today. Consider for example the fact that practical experimentation in Science has been abandoned in a growing number of schools for safety reasons. Juggling test tubes, bunsen burners and noxious substances isn't exactly easy when Johnny is running amok in the lab because he hasn't had his Ritalin today. Read this BBC Report.

The Government is mindful of this parlous state of affairs of course. Post election, Tony Blair's "respect" agenda has placed education fairly near the top of a long list of priorities to bring civility back to our national life. Read here. How precisely he intends to do this through that blunt instrument of parliament only he knows but he does not convince.

"Respect," it is oft times said is "earned, not mandated." That is only partly true. Respect of persons and the common good is not up for negotiation but, rather, it is the bed rock of any society. It is a "given." What poor behaviour in schools and loutish or violent behaviour on our streets proves, if anything, therefore, is that our society is increasingly dysfunctional. This simple observation begs huge questions that politicians do not always care to face, let alone answer.

The erosion of community life and common moral values is a spiritual issue and well beyond the reach of Westminster. The solution to our various social ills lies with us and God. Now there's a platform no secularist will stand on. The road back to "rude health" in education and on our streets will be a long hard battle against "principalities and powers." Knowing this, the churches must become much less mealy-mouthed about what is now needful to avoid losing yet another generation to neglect and hedonistic despair.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Cosmic Web

Cosmic Web Posted by Hello

The Cosmic Web that is our Universe has now been realised visually in a simulation styled "Millennium" ... a project in which Britain has played no small part (Hurrah!), sustained by the Virgo Consortium. Oodles and doodles of computer power have gone into this simulation ... or rather, these simulations. Visualising the growth and development of awe inspiring galactic immensities through cosmic time is quite beyond this lowly ape but not beyond his tools. The data and coherence of vision will keep astrophysicists and cosmologists busy for at least 5 years; until, that is, a future simulation improves on this.

We can now see clearly the Universe of a truly grand scale. The galaxy super clusters, containing at least 100 billion galaxies in total, are strung out in the Hubble volume as cosmic filaments, a web of such colossal creative power, it humbles the mind.

As a believer I am confirmed in my faith for such humility cannot be fruitful simply as a sense of being cowed before such immensities as an ant might feel before a mountain, (if only he could look up!"). Rather, my humility is before my Creator who has endowed the Cosmos ITSELF with such creative potential. Faith gives the perspective. Add knowledge and we have wisdom.

Perhaps this is the future of Europe ... to look up, not inward. She knew that once.

Max Planck Institute Pictures and Movies

(Shame on you Durham though for not updating your web site. If you want more science graduates get a better public profile!)

The Future of Europe?

The Future of Europe? Posted by Hello

So, the Dutch have voted a resounding "No!" to the new European Constitution. What is clear both from this and the French vote is that this is not simply about the Constitution nor is it (conveniently for some) a stick with which to beat unpopular national governments.

The "no" voters have talked in terms of national and cultural perspectives; in other words, what kind of a Europe is desirable rather than undesirable. Although the smell of fear and suspicion is clearly in the air, (the French nervous about a Anglo-Saxon Blairite capitalist agenda, the Dutch living with "liberal" unrease about Islam and possible Turkish membership), the failure of the neo-federalist project reveals just how undemocratic and out of touch Brussels is with both the mood and cultural diversity of the Continent. Some EU apparatchiks clearly have difficulty with the people exercising their democratic rights when the result displeases them. In this they are a little better than Mugabe or any old style Soviet party hack. The people have spoken, "causa finita est."

A gaping hole has now opened up under the floor of the Brussels plutocracy and the foundations of a closer (undemocratic) political union are just not there any more. So, what kind of a Europe do Europeans really want to see? A Europe in peace most certainly; a Europe without trade barriers and internal border rigidity of course. Is, or should there be, anything more to Europe than this though bearing in mind the cultural and linguistic diversity that exists on the Continent?

These questions are difficult to answer in the long term, but in the short term, probably not. History shows that political unity is either an organic process or one forged in and through the convulsions of conquest. The former route is usually secure, the latter unstable. Who knows what Europe's future is .... particularly in the light of the new ascendancies in the Far East. For now though, "No" means No. Deal with it.

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