Thursday, December 15, 2011

Exoplanets, Kepler 22b, and the speed of light

About a week ago NASA announced the discovery of yet another exoplanet (so far about two thousand has been discovered and we are discovering more every week). What was special about this exoplanet which has the name kepler 22b, was that it was the most earth like discovered to date. Its radius is 2.4 times the radius of the earth and the orbital period is about 290 days. Depending on how much atmosphere the planet has its surface temperature would be either -11C or +22C (with atmosphere similar to hours). In other words, this could potentially be a planet that we could live on, just one problem, it is 600 lights years away from us... This means that it is hard to get to... Here is my calculation.

  • 600 light years is how long light travels in 600 years
  • In one second light travels 300.000 kilometers or 7.5 times around the earth, or 3/4 of the way to the moon (384.000 kilometers)
  • In one minute light travel 60 x 300.000 kilometers = 18.000.000 kilometers, 18 million kilometers
  • In one hour light travels 60 x 60 x 300.000 kilometers = kilometers, 1 billion kilometers
  • In one day light travels 24 x 60 x 60 x 300.000 kilometers = 25.920.000.000, 26 billion kilometers
  • In one years light travels 365 x 24 x 60 x 60 x 300.000  kilometers = 9.460.800.000.000, 9.5 trillion kilometers
  • In 600 years light travels 600 x 365 x 24 x 60 x 60 x 300.000 kilometers = 5.676.480.000.000.000, 5.7 quadrillion kilometers.

Some distances to compare this to:

  • The earths circumference is 40.000 kilometers
  • The distance to the moon is 384.000 kilometers
  • The distance to Mars from earth (when it is at the nearest point) is 54.000.000 kilometers
  • The distance to the sun is one AU which is 1.500.000.000 or 1.5 billion kilometers 
  • The distance to uranus is 2.570.000.000, or 2.57 billion kilometers
  • Distance to nearest star, called Proxima centauri (which is not the sun) is 4.22 light years or 39.900.000.000.000 kilometers, or 39 trillion kilometers away

How long would it take to go to exoplanet Kepler 22b? Well, that depends on the speed of your spacecraft of course. According to wikipedia, the fastest spacecraft we have build so far is the helios probe (unmanned), which had a maximum speed of approximately 260.000 kilometers per hour or about 71 kilometers per second. If we assume that space research gets lots of money and manage to recruit clever scientists and we eventually get a spacecraft that goes more than 10 times as fast, say 1000 kilometers per second then it would take

5.676.480.000.000.000 / 1000 = 5.676.480.000.000 or 5.7 trillion seconds, which translates to 180.000 years, or about 6000 human generations. In other words, if you went not only would you have to spend the rest of your life travelling in space but your son or daughter would also have to spend their life on the spacecraft. Also your grandchild, grand grand child, grand grand grand child and grand grand grand grand grand grand grand (six thousand times), would have to live on the spacecraft. It seems likely that on the

In other words we need to find an exoplanet that is much closer and still earth-like, however, I am optimistic!

One way trip to Mars

This week the Skeptics Guide to the Universe featured a fascinating interview with Lawrence Krauss, author of "the physics of Star Trek. The interview was about space exploration and human space exploration in particular.

Lawrence argued I think convincingly that if we want to bring humans to Mars it should be a one way trip. Reason? Bringing the fuel for the home trip to mars and taking all necessary safety precautions to bring the humans back to earth alive would probably cost 10-times as much as it would cost to simply send them there and then provision them with all necessities for the rest of their life.

Would anyone do this? According to Lawrence it was more difficult to find a scientist who would not do it. We should not see it as sending people to their grave, rather, think of it as building a permanent human coloni of Mars, and it suddenly sounds quite cool.

Lawrence Krauss published most of these thoughts in an NY Times article in 2009 which can be found here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Could not have said it better myself

While browsing the web looking for blog posts and articles looking at the happiness levels of religious and atheists I found the picture below on Atheists of Utah Valley. I really could not have said it better myself, so I guess that I do have things in common with somewhat extreme christians. Who would have guessed?

I looked at the church's homepage and I got the impression that they are a small rather typical american church filled with people with good intentions. Part of being a typical American church is also to believe that  God wrote the bible, that armageddon will come and that all christians will rise again, among other things... A somewhat less charming belief is also stated on their unusually clear "What we believe page" (basically I am facing an eternal afterlife in the flames).

"WE BELIEVE... A Final Judgement Will Take Place for those who have rejected Christ. They will be judged for their sin and consigned to eternal punishment in a punishing lake of fire."

My Google Listen list - Good podcasts

I have previously listed my favorite podcasts, however since that post I have found quite a few new podcasts that I really enjoy listening to. I thought I would simply give you my whole list of podcasts that I listen to. If I had to single out just a few podcasts that I look forward to a little more than the others it would be

Podcasts in English

Podcasts in Swedish
  • P3 Dokumentär - Great documentaries, mostly about significant events in modern Swedish history - Swedish
  • Humanistpodden - Official podcast of Humanisterna
  • Godmorgon världen (P1) - Best weekly news summary in Sweden, by far - Swedish
  • Konflikt (P1) -  Swedish radio program focused on cultural and military conflicts
  • Fysiopodden - Podcast that talks about training, fitness and health in general  - Swedish
  • Medierna i P1 - Good swedish radio program about the media and its problems
  • Plånboken (P1) - Good program that talks mostly about private economy and consumer rights
  • Skeptikerpodden - The #1 swedish skeptical podcast, well produced with interesting conversations and interesting interviews

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Backyard brains

The Nature neuroscience podcast, also known as the neuropod had this an interesting clip about a company called "Backyard Brains". Backyard brains is a company who tries to bring neuroscience to the amateurs. In other words they try to make neuroscience instruments cheap. Cheap here means that they sell you a "spiker box" for 99 USD. What can a spike box do? A spiker box will let you record action potentials from live cells. Further increasing the "coolness" of their product is that they have iphone/android applications that will let you display the spikes in your smartphone. As soon as I get a little bit richer I will buy one and then publish recordings from whatever I can find right here on this blog. This is seriously cool (and a little nerdy) stuff. Go buy!

Backyard Brains hope that their endeavor will lead to amateurs going into neuroscience and expand the field just like amateur astronomers have made very important contributions to the study of astronomy.

To conclude, although I have never tried the spikerbox I just cannot conceive a scenario where I would not love this thing. I you are still skeptical, check out their video below, it will blow you away!

Monday, December 5, 2011

New Teaching Company Neuroscience series with Sam Wang

Good news for everyone interested in hearing interesting and engaging neuroscience lectures. Sam Wang, who is in fact a big name in my own field (Cerebellum) has recently recorded a lecture series together with The Teaching Company. The lecture series is called Neuroscience in every day life and in the lecture series it seems (I have only read the titles of the lectures) that Wang touches upon basic neuroscience principles as well as the more sexy parts of Neuroscience (emotions, sex differences, happiness etc etc).

Although I have not listened to it myself I can testify that Sam Wang is a very good teacher. If you also take into account the fantastic quality of all productions from The Teaching Company I am sure no one will be disappointed.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Awesome TED lectures

Just wanted to recommend two terrific TED lectures that I stumbled upon. First, the always fantastic lecturer Paul Bloom, from Yale University discusses what makes things valuable. Learn how much people would pay for George Clooney's sweat-shirt - and how much the price drops if it is "thoroughly washed" before you get it. I challenge anyone to listen to this lecture and tell me that you did not enjoy it.


The second video is also absolutely fascinating. Richard Resnick describes how genomic sequencing is speeding up and describes what this will do for you and your healthcare. Enjoy!


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Catholic priests raping nuns...

Ok, I know that all people can make mistakes and that there are many atheists who have done bad things, however, I must say that the priests belonging to the catholic church manages to make my jaw drop again and again. It was not too long ago that we heard about catholic priests (who are supposed to be celibate) abusing boys sexually. I personally don't mind that priests have sex as long as it is consensual (even though it strongly contradict their own moral teachings), but the way in which a large number of catholic priests have systematically abused boys in an inferior position, I think, is appalling. The fact that church leaders don't report such abuse to the authorities (e.g. the police) who are supposed to deal with it is likewise disgusting.

Now as if this was not enough, I just heard on one of my favorite podcasts, Reasonable Doubts, that catholic priests (primarily in Africa) have been raping nuns more or less systematically. The vatican has been receiving reports and of course, as usual, don't tell the authorities. In this article in the independent, you can find a description of one nun who was raped by a priest. The nun got pregnant, however, the "father" convinced (or forced?) her to have an abortion. You would think that is where it ends but its not. The nun actually dies during the surgery to remove the fetus, and guess which priest takes care of the funeral - yes you guessed it - the rapist.

This case may be particularly nasty but there are apparently many reports of nuns who have been convinced by fathers to take contraceptive pills. Again, personally I'am not against contraceptives but according to the catholic church the pill is a big no no. How these priests can live with themselves I do not understand...

Friday, January 7, 2011


Just wanted to give a quick mention of Professor Richard Wiseman. If you are not already familiar with him I suggest that you go check out his stuff right now. He is always informative and entertaining at the same time.

If you have kids or just want to impress at a party I can highly recommend his top 10 quirky science tricks for parties and also ten more science tricks for christmas, both of which can be found on you tube.

If you like small puzzles and optical illusions then you should also check out his blog (a little teaser can be found below).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Why we should not base ethics on the bible...

I am always amazed when christians question where an atheist can get his morals from. They always seem to explicitly or implicitly suggest that you need the bible to tell you right and wrong. The picture below is one example out of many where you would not want to follow your bible...

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (King James Version)

28If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;

29Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

Difficult words:

Damsel = Young woman

Betrothed = Engaged