Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.


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Another week gone, poof. And another theory of planetary formation gone, poof. Actually, theories don’t go poof very often, and when they do it’s generally because a theory that better explains the evidence comes along. In this case, the original theory of planetary formation posited that planets were formed by violent collisions between clumps of matter in the disk of dust surrounding the Sun after it formed. It was never a super strong theory, because other star systems where planets are now forming are way too far away to get a good look at. The theory was largely based on computer modelling.

Well, about 15 years ago an astronomer came up with a new theory, that the collisions that formed planets during the Solar System’s formation were gentle, not violent. Computer modelling suggested this. Until recently we had no solid evidence one way or t’other, until January 2019. That’s when the New Horizons probe flew by Arrokoth, a trans-Neptunian object in the Kuiper Belt. Arrokoth is the furthest object yet visited by a probe, it’s basically leftover junk from the formation of the Solar System. And after a year of study, some scientists say it’s clear that Arrokoth supports the gentle collision theory of planetary formation.

Granted I suspect the issue isn’t fully settled, since we’ve only examined one object like Arrokoth. Still, this is how science works, it changes as evidence and understanding evolve. It’s just annoying now how Religious Right in their anti-science crusade always uses stuff like this to claim all sorts of science is unsettled, and if scientists were wrong about this, they could be wrong about anything! As if improving our understanding of the Universe is some sort of flaw in science. It’s the opposite, that science can and does correct our understanding of the Universe is one of science’s great strengths.

Speaking of things that go poof, 75 years ago today the Allied revenge bombing of the German city of Dresden was under way. The city of Dresden wasn’t a military target, and about 25,000 civilians were killed. Though at the time much higher estimates were floating around, encouraged by German propaganda. It was the first time there was serious criticism of the war effort against Germany, I mean, the Allies were claiming to be the good guys. How does one justify such an action? In February 1945 the war was over, organized German resistance was collapsing, the bombing of Dresden didn’t bring the end of the war any closer.

I say revenge bombing because if anything it was vengeance for the Nazi bombing of Coventry early in the war. Plenty of German cities had been carpet bombed already, seriously hampering Germany’s war effort. So it wasn’t a unique event, but the timing and the fact that Dresden was mostly known for its cultural heritage made it tricky to explain. And since war is the gift that keeps on giving for generations, today’s Nazis and Hitler apologists have seized on Dresden as a cause celebre for their efforts to demonize the Allies and make out Hitler and the Nazis as victims. History may be written by the winners, but the losers often manage to rewrite it anyhow. Like a certain nineteenth century armed rebellion in the US that is still glorified in some quarters.

Lastly, no going poof, but definitely in the night. On this day in 1990 the Voyager 1 probe took the famous “pale blue dot” photograph of Earth. Earth is a single pale blue pixel in the photo. It was taken from beyond the orbit of Neptune, part of a series of photos taken of the Solar System that day, the Family Portrait photos. There was no scientific reason for these photos, they were taken after Carl Sagan proposed the idea and campaigned for it for years. I agree with him, it was a great idea to inspire wonder at our place in the Universe, and to highlight the amazing progress science has made.

In an era of growing and increasingly sophisticated science denial, looking back at the 70s is sad. I never suspected Americans would go backwards and celebrate ignorance in my lifetime. At least not without a nuclear war or some such. Yet here we are, one of the loudest voices driving us back into superstition gets the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Go figure.

Have a great weekend everyone. Shares and comments appreciated.

Copyright © 2020 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: “Dresden, partial view of the destroyed city center on the Elbe to the new town. In the center of Neumarkt and the ruins of the Frauenkirche.” Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1994-041-07 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA 3.0 This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license. You are free:

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Under the following conditions:

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Written by unitedcats

February 14, 2020 at 2:44 pm

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