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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Back from AAI Conference at Copenhagen

We are back from the AAI conference in Copenhagen. Unfortunately Marit has most of our pictures and notes, and she immediately went out on a field study, so the full reports will come in sometime the week. We were joined by Prokrastinuft and Yngve N and hung with them most of the time, with good times to be had by all.

But some highlights include:
  • PZ Myers going strong what seemed like five days in a row of staying up and hanging out with us proles. The Trophy Wife was a great sport too, competing hard for the party hard award
  • Rebecca Watson showing a video with Chris French dressed up as an old woman
  • Robin Ince reading Ann Coulter during his comedy act. Then counteracting it by reading Richard Feynmann to calm us down.
  • James Randi saying to Marit "I hate this woman." while performing magic for us. (Video coming of this, I promise!)
  • Me getting a non sequitur of a slide (about munchkins) added into Richard Wiseman's talk, probably (and hopefully) to the confusion of all the other viewers who were not me.
  • Richard Dawkins managing to teach me something about evolution and meme theory
  • Michael Nugent telling stories of the new religion they have formed ("Dermotology") to combat the new blasphemy laws in Ireland.
And of course meeting lots and lots of other fabulous people.

Shoutouts go to
  • Team Sweden (Come to Oslo in for Kritisk Masse!)
  • Team German Judge (See you at TAM!)
  • The Steins (Sorry we left you standing at the train station, a lost Wiseman wandering the streets made us take the metro instead otherwise he'd still be wandering there. Better see you at TAM so we can apologise properly in person!)
  • Ivan the Official Representative for All Danes, we got the hugs part down, next time you come to Oslo we'll do some science as well.
  • Gregory Paul for demolishing my personal hypothesis on why Scandinavia is not as religious as the rest of the world
  • R-wise for hanging out with us at the airport and showing us the magic trick that made other (professional) magicians dumbfounded and suicidal, while having lovely conversations about dog-riding monkeys that herd goats
and of course to all the speakers who all were interesting and intriguing! Loved each and every talk!

Next year this conference will be in Dublin. We're looking forward to it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My dinner with PZ Myers

As you all know by now, PZ Myers is visiting Oslo to give a talk on Creationism in America. And since I happen to be working on my masters degree at the research center that invited him, and I am the president of the Students' Skeptics League and we are taking him and his Trophy Wife to the park after the lecture, just to hang out and spend some time with one of our favorite bloggers, I was invited to the formal dinner to welcome him to Oslo.

We went to Mares, a wonderful gourmet-style seafood-restaurant. We had five courses and fantastic wine . I got to talk to PZ and the missus quite a bit, but I note that I was a little bit nervous at the start. I managed to call the gazpacho ricularly good, and in briefly presenting my master's work, I basically left out half of the good stuff. I felt a glimpse of olden days Spelling Bee glory, when I had to spell Vigelandsparken, where we will be lounging tomorrow after the lecture.

I am starting to see how PZ manages to be so prolific. By the time I got home (after a beer with the other student attendee), he had already updated his blog. We asked PZ how much time he spends blogging every day, and he claims it's not too much due to his unedited posts. He simply writes them up and puts them out there. But he also said he would cut down to about 30 minutes a day during his trip to Europe.

Today brings me an interview with him, bound for the web-based newspaper from the Norwegian Humanist Association, called Free Thought.

I have previously written about skepticism for their print edition. I started with #1 this year, and hope to keep going for a while. It's a regular column, called "Skeptiker, Så Klart!", which means Skeptic, of course!

It will also be appearing in the student journal argument: at a later time.

And then, of course, we have his talk from 15.30 to 17.00, and then a nice little trip to the park!

Feel free to join us at any time!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Norway is exciting all of a sudden

Today saw the release of the webpage and date for the Norwegian conference on science and skepticism!

The conference is called Kritisk masse (Critical mass) and is going to be held October 29th to 31st!

There is also a facebook-page and a twitter-feed.

Oh boy, am I excited!

And I love this illusion-themed teaser:

Monday, June 14, 2010

Someone out there must like me

Tomorrow, the science-blogging ass.prof., PZ Myers, will come to Oslo, to spend a few days in the lovely Norwegian sun before attending this conference in Copenhagen (that my brother and I will also be attending).

Lately, I seem to be in the right place all the time. Can I thank the heavens? Myself? Or my fascination with a certain gorilla? This time, I'm gonna get to have dinner with PZ himself and the hosts for the occasion, the research center where I'm currently in the middle of my MSc in Biology.

I'm sure he'll be jetlagged, and I'm sure he'll be delightful.

Then, on Wednesday, he's giving a talk at Litteraturhuset about creationism, before I get to take him to the park! We're gonna show him what the Norwegian summer is all about, with sunshine, some food, and lounging in the park.

Feel free to join in at any time on Wednesday. I'll be taking responsibility for my own happiness now that the foundation of fun has been laid, and you should too! Join us!

Oh, and I'll try to work up the courage to tell him what our blog is called, and why.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse!

No, not the movie. The star.

Betelgeuse is a star not too far away from us, astronomically speaking. (600 light years) It's also frickin' huge, compared to our own Sun (In size, about 1000 times our Sun). Soon, it's going to explode in a massive, awesome supernova.

When a star is about to go supernova, it starts shrinking rapidly, as its core processes can no longer counteract the force of gravity. Betelgeuse has shrunk about 15% in the last 15 years. That's very fast. It could go boom any time now.

Got your attention yet?

Several different emails and forum posts around the internet have been to this extent. Unfortunately, the rumours of Betelgeuse's impending death is most likely greatly exaggerated.

Some background: Betelgeuse is a young star, only about 8.5 million years old. Large stars have much shorter lives than smaller stars, as they burn their fuel much faster, because they have much greater gravity to speed it up. Compare this to our own Sun which is about 5 billion years old, and estimated to be able to live for another 5 billion before it dies.

A star burns by fusing one fuel into another. Most of their lifetime is spent fusing hydrogen into helium. Our own Sun is at that stage still, and will be for another couple billion years. Once hydrogen runs out, it starts fusing the helium into carbon and then nitrogen and oxygen and neon and so basically continuing up the periodic table until it hits iron. Each of these reactions go faster and faster, and the time spent on say, neon, can be only a couple of thousand years compared to the millions or billions of years spent on hydrogen. Once it reaches iron it is no longer able to fuse that to a heavier element, gravity overwhelms the nuclear processes and contracts it really tight together... at which point the nuclear processes kick in one final time and explode in what is known as a supernova. The star ceases to be and becomes an ex-star.

(Table from Wikipedia)

Betelgeuse is approximately 20 solar masses, just as this table uses in its example. And it appears to have started fusing Helium into Carbon. It could go on for a while or it could complete really really quickly.

Betelgeuse is fairly far along in its cycle. It is going to explode "soon". BUT, this is "soon" on an astronomical scale. Those who say Betelgeuse is going to go supernova this summer, they're underestimating astronomical timescales a bit. Expert money says it's going to go within the next 5-10,000 years. Of course it could happen within our lifetimes, but it's very unlikely. Astronomically so. Unfortunately.

The distance keeps us safe. For a supernova to be actually dangerous to Earth or its inhabitants, it'd have to be within 25 light years approximately. Betelgeuse is 600ish. Way outside of what is dangerous.

Whatever Betelgeuse can fling at us will totally be dwarfed compared to what the Sun already does. The main force of the explosion will not be aimed at us (Angular momentum says that most of it will be ejected through the poles) but even if it were we'd not notice it because it's so far away and by that time it'll be too little to notice.

When it finally goes it will be spectacular, though. It will be visible in daylight. It'll be as bright as a full moon on the night sky. (It'll still only be pinhead-sized, so you won't see two suns or anything funky like that) It'll last for a couple of weeks before Orion suddenly loses his shoulder.

A lot of telescopes are being pointed at Betelgeuse these days, and you can be sure that if something really happens, you'll notice it. I wouldn't clear my schedule for it though.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Thanks, Jupiter!

I think we all owe Jupiter a big thanks for once again saving our planet from obliteration. Jupiter, as you know, is the largest planet in our solar system and during our history has collected a lot of meteorites and asteroides running all around the solar system, thereby preventing them from staying in orbit and possibly hitting us.

Today, newsreports have been coming in about a large impact on Jupiter from an unknown object. There are even videos of the impact, where you can see the glow from the explosion.

Go check out the updates at Bad Astronomy, and check out the video (which actually made the headlines in one of Norways biggest papers; Go Science-reporters!) here.