Links and Comments: the vastness of the universe; Hubble photos; the physics of everyday life; science books; creationists and the possibility of alien life

Vox: 11 images that capture the incredible vastness of space.

Related: Phil Plait celebrates 25 Years of Cosmic Treasures: Hubble’s 12½ Greatest Hits


Physicist Sean Carroll this week references an earlier post that spells out an important point: The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Are Completely Understood

Yes, there are super-colliders still trying to generate exotic particles that might exist in extreme conditions of pressure or energy… but if they exist, they don’t affect everyday life. Those extremes aside, we’ve figured pretty much everything out in the past century.

A hundred years ago it would have been easy to ask a basic question to which physics couldn’t provide a satisfying answer. “What keeps this table from collapsing?” “Why are there different elements?” “What kind of signal travels from the brain to your muscles?” But now we understand all that stuff. (Again, not the detailed way in which everything plays out, but the underlying principles.) Fifty years ago we more or less had it figured out, depending on how picky you want to be about the nuclear forces. But there’s no question that the human goal of figuring out the basic rules by which the easily observable world works was one that was achieved once and for all in the twentieth century.


Guardian: Steven Weinberg’s 13 best science books for the general reader

From Voltaire and Darwin to Feynman, Brian Greene, Richard Dawkins, Timothy Ferris, Lawrence Krauss… Weinberg’s latest book, To Explain the World, is on my to-read shelf.


This is fascinating: God’s Chosen Planet: Why creationists are praying we never find alien life.

Because the whole point of creationism is that Earth and humanity are so very special, and that entire vast cosmos, with seemingly infinite number of other galaxies and stars and planets, many with the potential for life, are just… decoration. It’s all about us.

The article goes on about the ironically named Discovery Institute and their contorted rationalizations (based on Scripture of course) for how no other planets that support life could possibly exist.

Mark Strauss concludes:

And that’s what really worries the missionaries of intelligent design. The discovery of extraterrestrial organisms would confront them with two unpalatable conclusions—that evolution is the driving force behind life, and that God has plans that don’t necessarily include us. For creationists, it’s far more comforting to pin their faith upon a dead universe.

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