Cluster Map

Friday, January 21, 2011

Welcome to the world of Pollyanna

  Hi everyone,
this is the week of Tu B'Shvat, the Jewish holiday of nature.  In Israel it is a day for tree planting and going out to enjoy nature with which no one can argue.  In the Talmud it is mentioned as the New Year of fruit tithes.  The idea was that a date in the winter serves as a way of separating the fruits of last year from the fruits of the coming year.  |In medieval times, the Kabbalists devised a seder of fruits and wine associated with the spheres of heaven and earth and the types of people who inhabit them.  I have participated many times in such a seder as conducted by our former Rabbi.  In the 20th century it was  adopted by the Zionist movement and the JNF as a tree and nature day and now it is the central holiday of the Green Movement.  So enjoy the great outdoors and the sweet fruits which which our land is blessed.

This week also marks the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. which is celebrated throughout the US.  It coincides more or less with the reading in synagogue of the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery.  I once spoke in synagogue on the fact that he is not only analogous to Moses, but also to the Hebrew midwives, Shifra and Pu'a who disobeyed the racist orders of Pharaoh and did not kill the male infants.  Civil disobedience at great risk when standing up for moral principles is a great virtue.  Dante wrote that there is a special place in hell for those who remain silent during times of moral crisis.  King wrote that the evil of the bad is less distressing than the indifference of the good.  His legacy is worthy of our attention today.

This week there is an event in Prague honoring Sir Nicholas Winton now aged 101 who rescued hundreds of Jewish children in 1938,   He truely deserves to be considered among the righteous of the nations of the Earth.  So let us praise these great people who set an example for all of us.

Round and Round They Go  The fact that stars appear to be fixed in their positions in the night sky is partly the result of our relatively short life spans. All stars are in motion, most of them imperceptibly, but over time and with increasingly sophisticated observational tools it has become possible to map just where and how fast the stars are moving. Dutch astronomer Jacobus Kapteyn, born 160 years ago this week, devoted considerable effort to measuring the proper motion of stars, and he found that most were not traveling randomly, as had been thought, but were heading in one of two opposing directions. Kapteyn’s analysis provided some of the earliest evidence for the rotation of our galaxy. Seen here is NGC 2903, a rotating barred spiral galaxy slightly smaller than our own, 30 million light-years away.
Image credit: R. Jay GaBany /

In the spirit of marking birthdays and holidays, I am including a link to the calendar blog, The Year in Space  that contains many interesting events and anniversaries, such as the above picture in memory of Jacobus Kapteyn.  If you like it  or not, please comment.  If you like it, I will include it every week.  I am sure the bloggers will not mind.

Walking down memory lane  is something that we all like to do.  It is of interest that the walk is enhanced by the ongoing birth of new neurons in our brains.  This is encouraging for those of us who are getting on in years and would like our minds to stay with us as long as possible.  Contrary to what my daughter Zohar says, I have not given up on my mind yet.  She said this in the context of the fact that my late wife was a psychologist and my partner now is a physician, i.e. now that I have given up on my mind I now have a doctor around to look after what is left.  Some of you may agree with her, but I am still trying.

A supercluster of galaxies as it appears in Planck data (l) and in XMM data (r). Such structures contain hundreds of billions of suns
The Planck Space Telescope is revolutionizing our view of the universe.  I would like to share some of these mind-boggling discoveries with you.   It has found dozens of huge clusters of galaxies, the largest structures ever found in the universe. Its findings in the microwave spectrum where it sees the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) are confirmed by the X-ray observations of the Newton satellite shown on the right of the figure. The CMB is the radiation left over from the Big Bang that created our universe. I could go on about this forever, but instead will refer you to a BBC science report that contains links to other sources. 
Here is a nice shot of the universe gathered by Planck  over a year of observing.
Planck's view of the entire sky: Ultimately, scientists must remove all the foreground "noise" (blue) to get a clear view of the CMB (magenta and yellow)
 It is of interest to look back in time at the Big Bang and indeed what has been found is that there must be more out there than we can see, the so-called dark matter and dark energy, needed to account for the expansion of the universe.  I refer you to an interesting article in the New York Times science section.
Thanks to Richard for pointing it out.

In Israel we  are looking to desalinization to resolve our water crisis.  Now doubts have been raised about how eco-friendly the process is and what might be the hidden costs.  Not only is the energy involved considerable, it can have ecological effects, such as harming marine life.  If it focuses on brackish ground water, then there may be seismological problems.  For a review of this complex issue I recommend this article in Slate magazine.

 Congratulations to  the author IanMcEwan
on the occasion of his winning the Jerusalem prize.  I enjoyed both Atonement and Amsterdam and consider it a good choice.

Really great music to be taken away from us

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