Sunday, 31 August 2008

Solar System forms

[For those of you who enjoyed the Cosmic Calendar posts in December (here and here), I must apologize for the dearth of them so far this year. Not much happens before December, but I did miss announcing the formation of the Milky Way galaxy back on April 6th (10.1 billion years ago).]

Some time about 4.6 billion years ago, our solar system began forming from a large cloud of dust and gas. In the Cosmic Calendar, that corresponds to today. So ... happy Solar System Day, everybody!

Next up ... birth of the Earth.

References used:
[1] The Wikipedia article on the Formation and evolution of the Solar System reports the cloud from which it formed starting to collapse about 4.6 billion years ago. That's also where I got the pretty picture, which is a public-domain depiction courtesy of NASA.
[2] The Natural History Museum reports an age of 4.5 billion years - slightly different (two days later in the Cosmic calendar). As the formation of the solar system probably took some time, any specific moment chosen as its "formation date" (birthday?) will be somewhat arbitrary.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Test your ear for language

There's a fun game for anyone who is curious about world languages. It's the Language Quiz on Simon Ager's Omniglot blog: he posts a short recording of a language, and you get to guess which language it is.

After several months of playing , I've only once guessed the right language. Well, this recent quiz is especially intriguing, so I thought I'd share it with you. Warning: the answer has already been given in the comments, so try listening first before you read them. (It's tough, because the comments appear right below the text of the very short post.)

If, after listening, guessing, and checking your answer, you want to know why this is my favorite one so far, ask me in the comments and I'll tell you. (I'd do it here in the post itself, but I don't want to give away the answer before you try the quiz.)

Myers on meaning

At the end of a post about convergent evolution (and its misinterpretations), P.Z. Myers, author of the Pharyngula blog, gives these thoughts about meaning and purpose:
We are each our own individual engines of purpose, operating in a hostile universe where randomness can shape our fates. There is no grand scheme behind our existence, other than the same function that all our ancestors had: to order our local environment to allow each to survive and to make the world a little better for our progeny. And that's enough — that's all that is needed to make a rich, diverse, living planet, and it's all I need to live a satisfying life.
What a heartfelt summary of meaning in a naturalistic worldview. Thankyou, P.Z.!

Monday, 18 August 2008

The Downfall of Literalism

I've seen the Cake Wrecks blog a couple of times, but I have to say that being pointed to this entry by a religious blogger (Ken at C. Orthodoxy) made my day.

Thanks Ken. (Who ever said that rationalists don't have allies in the religious community?)

[Note: I am still finishing my PhD, so posts will continue to be sporadic and brief for at least a few weeks. I promise exciting things to come, so please bear with me!]