Monday, February 27, 2017

The Edwin Smith Papyrus

Medical specialists have evaluated an 17th century medical document written on papyrus. It is called the Edwin Smith Papyrus and it was written in Egyptian hieratic script, that is the script used by royal scribes and priests of Egypt and Nubia. Both hieratic and hieroglyphic scripts were used for keeping records, managing accounts and writing letters. The hieratic script was also used by the healers of the ancient world who were also practitioners of religion.

The text consists of 48 cases dealing with wounds and trauma injuries. Each case has a description of the injury; diagnosis; prognosis; treatment; and further explanations of the case, which resemble footnotes.

The Smith Papyrus reflects a even older tradition of medical diagnosis and treatment among the ancient Nilotes. An important new translation of this ancient document has been done by James P. Allen, formerly of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in collaboration with the New York Academy of Medicine. All used high-resolution scans lent by the scroll's owner.

Donald A.B. Lindberg, MD, the Director of the New York Academy of Medicine has said, "The Smith Papyrus is extremely important because it showed for the first time that Egyptians had a scientific understanding of traumatic injuries based on observable anatomy rather than relying on magic or potions."

When the American collector Edwin Smith acquired the papyrus in Egypt in 1862, it consisted of a single scroll about 15 feet long with some loose fragments, but it was cut into 17 columns sometime in the 19th century. The leaves had to be digitally "stitched" together to recreate the original appearance of the scroll.

"The technical challenges of digitally transforming and making this scroll available on a personal computer were enormous," said George Thoma, PhD, chief of the Communications Engineering Branch at NLM's Lister Hill Center. Thoma led the Library's technical efforts and team. "The memory requirements were immense, so we had to come up with ways to manage the memory for home use. We created the illusion of rolling and unrolling by superimposing the frame by frame animation of the rolled section of the scroll on the large image of the entire papyrus."

Quiz: Do You Know These Facts About Earth?

Where have the coldest temperatures been recorded on Earth?
What is Earth's longest mountain range?
What place has the lowest elevation on Earth?

These are some of the questions you will be asked when you take this quiz.

Before you leave the quiz, let the teacher see your score!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

John Lennox is a No-nonsense Guy

John Lennox (standing) debating the late Christopher Hitchens, March 2009
John Lennox, mathematician and Christian apologist, is a no-nonsense guy. He tends to cut to the heart of a matter. To Stephen Hawking, he asks, "But how did gravity exist in the first place? Who put it there? And what was the creative force behind its birth?"

Lennox believes that the existence of a Creator is the only logical and reasonable explanation for existence of the universe. He has said, "For me, as a Christian believer, the beauty of the scientific laws only reinforces my faith in an intelligent, divine creative force at work.

In his book God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?, he writes, "Indeed, faith is a response to evidence, not a rejoicing in the absence of evidence.”

He wrote, "Faith is not a leap in the dark; it’s the exact opposite. It’s a commitment based on evidence… It is irrational to reduce all faith to blind faith and then subject it to ridicule. That provides a very anti-intellectual and convenient way of avoiding intelligent discussion.”

Dr. Lennox has defended the Christian faith in numerous debates. He has debated Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Victor Stenger, Michael Tooley, and Peter Singer.

At The Veritas Forum, Lennox discussed the limitations of science and critiqued the claim that science has buried God. Watch the video.

John Lennox earned an M.A. and PhD. degree at the University of Cambridge. He was awarded a D.Sc. degree in mathematics by the University of Cardiff for his research. Lennox also holds a D.Phil. degree from the University of Oxford, and an M.A. degree in bioethics from the University of Surrey.

Lennox is Professor of Mathematics (emeritus) at the University of Oxford and Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College, Oxford. He also is an Associate Fellow of the Said Business School, Oxford University, and teaches for the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme. Additionally, he is an Adjunct Lecturer at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, and at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, as well as a Senior Fellow of the Trinity Forum.

He has published over seventy peer-reviewed articles on mathematics and co-authored two Oxford Mathematical Monographs and has worked as a translator of Russian mathematics.

John Lennox was born in Northern Ireland in 1943. His father operated a store in Armagh. He is married to Sally and the couple have three children and five grandchildren. Lennox enjoys learning languages. He speaks English, Russian, French, and German. Other hobbies include amateur astronomy and bird-watching.

Roger John Williams

Roger John Williams

Roger John Williams (1893-1988) was an American biochemist who spent his academic career at the University of Texas at Austin. He is known for concentrating and naming folic acid and for his roles in discovering pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, lipoic acid, and avidin. Other work in chemistry involved folinic acid, synthesis of vitamin B12, and pioneering work on inositol.

Roger Williams became well known for his popular works on nutrition. He was deeply concerned that many children, even in developed countries, receive poor nutrition and "are unaware that good nutrition could make a vast difference in their lives." (Dr. Roger J. Williams, The Wonderful World Within You, p. 51)

Williams was a prolific writer. He produced hundreds of scientific papers and a number of textbooks. He was especially interested in the genetic and metabolic uniqueness of the individual, and the possibility of treating health problems and alcoholism with diet. This is all the more remarkable when taking in account Roger's chronic eye problems. For most of his life he suffered from eyestrain caused by aniseikonia, a condition that was unknown until about 1930. In 1941 he began to wear special glasses to treat the condition. He was then 50 years old.

Williams was a well-rounded individual who enjoyed golf and trout-fishing. He spoke fondly of wading in clear mountain streams in Oregon, even if there were no fish to catch. He was an accomplished musician who played the violin and the piano.

Roger was born in India where his American parents served as pioneer missionaries. His parents were Robert Runnels Williams (1839 - 1916) and Alice Evelyn Mills Williams (1857 - 1921). When Roger was two years old, his family returned to the United States and Roger grew up on an 800-acre ranch in Greenwood County, Kansas (near Eureka), and later lived in Redlands, California.

The Rev and Mrs. Williams with their children in Redlands, California in 1915
From left to right: Robert, Henry, Paul, Alice [Linsley] and Roger

His father designed and supervised the building of the Baptist church and seminary in Ramapatnam, Tamil Nadu (Ramayapatnam, Andhra Pradesh) in India. It was built by his seminary students, most of whom had never seen a two-story building or an architectural plan. The photograph below was evidently pressed at some time against a book or document that partially imprinted itself onto the photo. The seminary building (shown below) is still in use today and is visible in Google Earth at coordinates 15.03827N, 80.03919E.

He attributed his early interest in chemistry to the influence of his brother Robert R. Williams, eight years his senior, also a distinguished chemist. Robert is known for the discovery and synthesis of thiamine (vitamin B1).

Roger received his bachelor's degree from the University of Redlands in 1914. He earned a teaching certificate from the University of California, Berkeley and worked as a science teacher for a year in Hollister, California. He taught chemistry, physics and general science. Roger later referred to this as “the hardest work I ever did.”

After a year of teaching, Roger began graduate work at the University of Chicago. He received his Ph.D. in 1919. While at the University of Chicago, Roger met Julius Stieglitz. Stieglitz further inspired Roger's interest in organic chemistry.

Williams taught at the University of Oregon from 1920 to 1932. There he began serious research as a chemist and discovered pantothenic acid. He taught at Oregon State College from 1932 to 1939. In 1939 he moved to the University of Texas at Austin. In 1940 he founded and became the founding director of the Biochemical Institute. With funding from Benjamin Clayton, the Institute later became known as the Clayton Foundation Biochemical Institute. Williams was the director of the Clayton Foundation from 1941 to 1963. 

In 1946, Roger Williams was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. He also served as the president of the American Chemical Society in 1957.

Roger married Hazel Elizabeth Wood on August 1, 1916. The couple had three children: Roger J Williams, Janet Wilcox, and Arnold Williams. Hazel died in 1952.

Roger remarried Mabel Phyllis Hobson and became the stepfather to her son, John W. Hobson. Roger Williams died on February 20, 1988. Mabel died in 2004.

Roger John Williams is buried in Austin Memorial Park Cemetery in Travis County, Texas. Besides his professional accomplishments, Williams left a legacy through his family, his friendships, his students, his writings, and his Christian faith.

The Trappist-1 System

TRAPPIST-1 (2MASS J23062928-0502285) is an ultra-cool dwarf star located about 40 light-years from Earth in the constellation Aquarius. With our present technology it would take about 700 years to travel there.

TRAPPIST-1 will provide scientists with data that will help them to better understand the formation of solar systems. Orbiting this star are seven rocky planets about the size of Earth. The exoplanets orbit in tight circles around their sun.

Astrophysicists believe that the levels of radiation may be low enough for organisms to exist in this system. They speculate that there might be water. However, it takes more than water for a planet to be habitable. The planet also needs a magnetic field strong enough to protect life from radiation and solar winds.

Amaury Triaud, of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge in England, told reporters on February 21, "We can expect that, within a few years, we will know a lot more about these planets, and with hope, if there is life there, [we will know] within a decade." 

The research team, led by Michaël Gillon of the University of Liège in Belgium, studied the star using the TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST), located at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. This is how TRAPPIST-1 received its name.

Watch this NASA video to learn more about TRAPPIST-1.

The Coldest Place on Planet Earth?

Vostok Station is a Russian research station in inland Princess Elizabeth Land, Antarctica. Vostok Station has an ice cap climate, with subzero cold year round. Research done there includes ice core drilling and magnetometry.

The station was founded in 1957 by the Soviet Union at the southern Pole of Cold, with the lowest reliably measured natural temperature on Earth of −89.2 °C (−128.6 °F; 184.0 K).

The Russian word Vostok means "east" and the station was named after Vostok, the lead ship of the First Russian Antarctic Expedition captained by Fabian von Bellingshausen.

It is impossible to confirm that Vostok Station is the coldest place on earth. However, it is true that this is where the coldest temperatures have been recorded.

The Binary Logic of the Biblical Worldview

Google Doodle "How George Boole invented Boolean logic"

Alice C. Linsley

The wisdom of the Law (Torah) is derived from observation of binary sets in nature. These sets are not a human invention. Rather, they present the reality of a Creator who has established hierarchies and fixed boundaries. 

A binary set refers to a universally observed pattern in nature where two entities are naturally linked and complementary. One of the entities in the set is recognized as greater in some observable way than its complement. Biblical theology hinges on this binary view of reality. The binary view is expressed in the biblical assertions that God is greater than man, and life is greater than death. Male-female and sun-moon are binary sets in the Bible.

Today we consider the hierarchy of life-death.

In Deuteronomy 30:18,19, God sets before the Israelites a choice between life and a blessed state or death and a cursed state. The Creator calls heaven and earth as witnesses and urges the people to choose life. A clear distinction is made between life and death, as in Eden a clear distinction was made between the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, the tempter seeks to blur the distinction so that our minds become confused.

A practice that blurred the distinction between life and death was the boiling of a baby goat in its mother's milk. This is forbidden in Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26, and Deuteronomy 14:21.This is not merely a dietary restriction to keep a kosher kitchen. The young creature is to be sustained by the mother's milk.

Binary sets attest to the fact that there are fixed patterns in Nature. The east-west axis of the solar arc is an example. The person of faith believes these patterns to be fixed by the Creator. They stand as a witness to the Creator's existence, divine nature, and eternal power. The Apostle Paul speaks of this in Romans 1:19, 20: "For what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse."

Monday, February 20, 2017

Tracing the Roots of Our Biblical Faith

The phonemes found in modern languages have their point of origin in the same place in Africa that genetics identifies as the birthplace of humans.

All the practices and beliefs of the ancient Hebrews have their origin in Africa. This includes circumcision, the male priesthood, animal sacrifice, divine protection through the blood, the veneration (not worship) of ancestors, and belief in a supreme Creator assisted by lesser divine powers, like angels.

The Biblical worldview and religious practices of the ancient Hebrew (Habiru) reflect those of the common ancestors of the Hebrew, the Khoisan, the San, the Ngunis and the Bantu. All emerge from the same Mt-DNA genetic root, Haplogroup L. 

L is the DNA macro-haplogroup that is at the root of the human phylogenetic tree. It traces humans from the so-called Mitochondrial Eve (not the same as Biblical Eve). Mitochondrial Eve lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago.

Abraham's ancestors listed in Genesis 4, 5, 10 and 11 are in Haplogroup R1b, which emerged out of macro-haplogroup L.

The highest density of R1b in Africa is in
Noah's homeland in the region of Lake Chad.

So how old is the Biblical worldview? It is the oldest worldview. This is supported genetics, linguistics and archaeology.

Here is an important principle in cultural anthropology: The more widespread the culture trait the older it is.

One of the oldest known practices is red ocher burials. Red ochre or hematite was mined in the Lebombo Mountains of southern Africa many thousands of years ago. It represents blood covering or divine protection. (The study of blood is called hematology.)

H.B.S. Cooke’s team discovered the 70,000 year grave of a small boy, buried with a seashell pendant and covered in red ochre in the Lebombo Mountains of southern Africa. This is the location of the oldest known mining operations in which thousands of mining tools have been found in tunnel mines. The custom of red ochre burial in the archaic world was widespread and therefore, it is recognized as an extremely old custom. Consider these archaeological discoveries:

A man buried 45,000 years ago at La Chapelle-aux-Saints in southern France, was packed in red ochre. 

“The Red Lady of Paviland” in Wales was buried in red ochre about 20,000 years ago. Her skeletal remains and burial artifacts are encrusted with the red ore.

P.L. Kirk reports that prehistoric Australian aboriginal burials reveal pink staining of the soil around the skeleton, indicating that red ochre had been sprinkled over the body. The remains of an adult male found at Lake Mungo in southeastern Australia were copiously sprinkled with red ochre. The Aborigines have priest who are called "red ochre men."

The ‘Fox Lady’ of Doini Vestonice, Czechoslovakia (near Russia) who was burial 23,000 years ago, was also covered in red ochre.

A 20,000 year old burial site in Bavaria reveals a thirty-year-old man entirely surrounded by a pile of mammoth tusks and nearly submerged in a mass of red ochre.

In the La Braña-Arintero cave in the Cantabrian Mountains of Spain, 7000 year old skeletons were discovered in 2006. The bodies were covered with red ochre.

Two flexed burials were found in Mehrgarh, Pakistan with a covering of red ochre on the bodies. These date from about 5000 BC.

Native Americans used red ochre for ceremonies and burials.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Robot or Animal?

Last semester students plotted the arrangement of Polaris to the Little Dipper using connecting lines and stars in the Word Drawing Tools tab.

The DrawingTools tab as seen in Word.

Create a Word document and play with the connectors and shapes. Create an animal or a robot. Add color. The more details, the higher your grade!

Turn in your sketch on or before Friday, February 17th. Be sure to save what you have done on your USB drive.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How Planets Are Formed

Credit: RIKEN

Astrophysicists have been studying a newborn star system called L1527 which is about 450 light-years away from Earth, in the constellation Taurus. This is one of the closest newborn star systems. It has only 0.18 times the mass of the sun but the surrounding envelope of gas stretches to more than 1,000 astronomical units (AU). 

An AU is the average sun-Earth distance: about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers).

The proto-planetary disk extends about 90 AU from the star and is surrounded by an envelope of gas. The disk is pulling in space dust and particles. Scientists think this is a model for how planets are made.

The researchers used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile to pick up radio waves emitted from specific gases making up the envelope and part of the disk. These measurements revealed that the material experienced a shock wave before reaching the slowed-down planetary disk.

Researchers think the collapsing gas cloud forming the new star system L1527 might look like the image above. Note the flattened envelope of gas transitioning to an inner protoplanetary disk. Data from ALMA suggests that the material experiences a slow-down at the spot where its angular momentum overpowers the star's pull inward.

Read more here.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Blaise Pascal: Christian Mathematician

The French mathematicians Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) and Pierre de Fermat (1601-1665) are credited with the development of probability theory.

At the age of sixteen, Pascal wrote on the subject of projective geometry, now known as Pascal's Theorem. The theorem states that, if a hexagon is inscribed in a circle, then the three intersection points of opposite sides lie on a single line, called the Pascal line.

He is also known for Pascal’s Triangle, a convenient tabular presentation of binomial co-efficients, where each number is the sum of the two numbers directly above it.

Pascal's parents were Étienne Pascal (1588 – 1651), a magistrate who collected taxes, and Antoinette Bégon Pascal (1596-1626), the daughter of a merchant. As a young man, Pascal built a calculating machine that performed additions and subtractions, to help his father with his tax calculations.

Pascal was an inventor, a writer, a mathematician and a philosopher. In 1631, His father sold his government post as a tax collector and moved his family to Paris. There he conducted scientific experiments and pursued mathematics. He also taught his children. Pascal’s exceptional intellectual gifts, Étienne designed a curriculum to meet his son's exceptional intellectual gifts.

Pascal showed great ability in math and his father gave him a copy of Euclid's Elements. Reading the book, Pascal realized that he already had discovered several of Euclid's proposition for himself. He had proved on his own that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles. Pascal quickly mastered Euclidean geometry.

At the age of fourteen Pascal was admitted to Marin Mersenne's weekly scientific discussions. The French Academy of Sciences developed out of Mersenne's discussions.

As a man of the Enlightenment, Pascal recognized the value of reason. He also understood that not everything is understood or apprehended by reason. When it comes to the spiritual life, human reason is often inadequate. Pascal wrote, "Reason's last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it."

Pascal's most famous book is Pensées. A central argument of the book is that Christianity is reasonable, though not provable by reason. About Christianity, he wrote, "Other religions, as the pagan, are more popular, for they consist in externals. But they are not for educated people. A purely intellectual religion would be more suited to the learned, but it would be of no use to the common people. The Christian religion alone is adapted to all, being composed of externals and internals. It raises the common people to the internal, and humbles the proud to the external; it is not perfect without the two, for the people must understand the spirit of the letter, and the learned must submit their spirit to the letter." (Pensées, 251)

On November 23, 1654, Pascal experienced a vision of the crucifixion that transformed his life. This is how he described that experience: "From about half-past ten in the evening until about half-past twelve … FIRE … God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, and not of the philosophers and savants. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace."

Such mystical experiences are not uncommon among intelligent people. Other Christians who had similar experiences include John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, Bernard of Clairvaux, John van Ruysbroeck, Francis of Assisi, and Thomas Aquinas... all exceptional figures of history. This fact did not stop some European intellectuals from attacking Pascal for his morbid religion. Pascal was viewed as a cheerless, brooding ascetic. Voltaire was especially critical of Pascal's pessimistic philosophy of man's depravity. Pascal believed that without God, humanity is destined to misery.

In the field of philosophy, Pascal is known for his so-called "Wager" on the existence of God. Pascal’s Wager poses belief in Christianity as self-serving because if the claims of Jesus Christ are true, we have everything to gain by believing in Him. On the other hand, if the claims are false, we have nothing to lose by believing in Him. 

Here Pascal echoes the reasoning of the Apostle Paul, who wrote:
"...for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied." (1 Corinthians 15:15-19)

Pascal died at the age of 39, having suffered from various illnesses most of his life.

Language Families of the World

Here is a list of the language families identified by linguistic studies. English is in the Indo-European family and is from the Germanic branch.

All of the people groups mentioned in Genesis 4, 5, 10 and 11 are in the Afro-Asiatic language family. This is the oldest known group of related languages.

Territories where some Afro-Asiatic languages are spoken.

Most languages of northern Africa and the Near East are descended from a common ancestor known as proto-Afro-Asiatic. According to linguists this proto-language was spoken no earlier than about 10,000 years ago. That is about 6000 years before the time of Abraham.

Sumerian, Babylonian and Hittite have similar roots and phonemes. This suggests that these languages developed from a proto-Afro-Asiatic. Hittite has been linked to Sanskrit and suggest a connection between the proto-Afro-Asiatic languages and the proto-Indo-European languages.

These languages were spoken across a vast Afro-Asiatic Dominion that extended from Central Africa to the Indus River Valley  and Turkey around 10,000 years ago. Consider the linguistic correspondence between these words:

The Semitic word "wadi" = river corresponds to the Sanskrit "nadi" = river.

The Semitic root “mgn” = to give, is the same as the Sanskrit “mgn” = to give.

The Semitic “svam” or “Sam-yim” = sky or heaven corresponds to the Sanskrit “svah” = sky or heaven. Both are likely dreived from the Proto-Dravidian word "van" = heaven.

The Sanskrit “Sakti” = harvest moon celebration, is the linguistic equivalent of the Falasha word “Sarki” = harvest moon festival.

The Semitic "yasuah" = salvation, corresponds to the Sanskrit words “asvah”, “asuah” or “yasuah” = salvation.

The Semitic root "thr" = to be pure, corresponds to the Hausa/Hahm "toro" = clean, and to the Tamil "tiru" = holy. All are related to the proto-Dravidian "tor" = blood.

Sarki live in Orissa, India and as ‘Haruwa’ in the Tarai region of Nepal. The word "haruwa" is equivalent to the ancient Egyptian word ‘har-wa”, meaning priest. In Nigeria the sarki are called "Kano Kings."

Monday, February 6, 2017

Technology-STEM Discovery for Fall 2017

Technology-STEM Discovery for Grade 7

Students discover 12 fields of science and explore the correlation between the data of the sciences and the data of the Bible. Students research topics related to the natural world and discover volcanism, the tides, space, geologic rifting, gemstones of the Bible, and time devices used throughout history.

The elective involves online research, how to assess the reliability of information, and how to cite sources. Students learn about digital citizenship, and social media etiquette and security.

Projects include digital drawings, blog design, Google Slide and Power Point presentations, and detailing the life and accomplishments of Christians in STEM using Google Docs or Word Documents.

Students receive individualized attention and have plenty of time to complete projects. The class works on Google Chrome Books.

Technology-STEM Discovery for Grade 8

Students discover 12 fields of science and explore the correlation between the data of the sciences and the data of the Bible. Students select topics from an approved list and prepare videos, or Google Slide presentations, or write articles on the topics that interest them.

Students receive individualized attention, and have between 6-8 weeks to complete major projects involving mineral and hydrologic technologies, architecture, medicine, linguistics and genetics.

Projects include SketchUp 3D modeling, digital storytelling, self-discovery profile using Google Slides, and detailing the life and accomplishments of Christians in STEM using Google Docs or Word Documents. Some students publish their articles on Christians in STEM at the class website.

How Fast is the Universe is Expanding?

Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity is one of the greatest achievements of 20th-century physics. Published in 1916, it explains that what we perceive as the force of gravity arises from the curvature of space and time. The theory predicted that the universe must either expand or contract, but Einstein thought the universe was static, so around 1917, he introduced the idea of a force that counteracts gravity on a cosmic scale so that the universe neither shrinks nor expands. This is known as Einstein's cosmological constant, an idea that he later rejected.

Alexander Friedmann, a Russian mathematician, and the Belgian Catholic priest Georges Lemaître proposed an expanding universe model. This is called the Big Bang theory. In 1927, Lemaître proposed an expanding model for the universe to explain the observed redshifts of spiral nebulae, and calculated the Hubble law. He based his theory on the work of Einstein and De Sitter, and independently derived Friedmann's equations for an expanding universe.

Credit: NASA

Edwin Hubble's 1929 observations of nearby galaxies finally confirmed that the universe is expanding. However, the universe seems to be expanding faster that scientists thought. Using quasars, scientists have found variations in the calculations and wonder what might be causing the discrepancy. One theory involves dark matter and the possibility that dark energy has been growing stronger.

In 2011, three astronomers, Paul Perlmutter, Adam Riess and Brian Schmidt, shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery that the Universe was expanding at an accelerating rate. The discovery led to the widespread acceptance of the idea that our Universe is dominated by a mysterious force called dark energy.

The theory of dark energy had been circulating since the 1990s when observations made with the Hubble Space Telescope made astronomers aware that the expansion of the universe is accelerating and dark energy was hypothesized as a factor.

Using gravitational lensing, astronomers have imaged distant quasars with the Hubble Space Telescope. Gravitational lensing works because light around a massive object, such as a black hole, is bent, causing it to act as a lens for the things that lie behind it. Astronomers routinely use this method to study stars and galaxies behind massive objects. They used the imagery to determine that the Universe is expanding quicker that previously thought.

Astronomers have made calculations of the universe's expansion rate based on the Hubble constant, at about 44.7 miles (71.9 kilometers) per second per megaparsec. A single megaparsec is about 3.26 million light-years. The new rate is higher than the rate estimated in 2015 by the European Space Agency's Planck satellite mission — about 41.6 miles (66.9 km) per second per megaparsec.

Observations made in the 1920s showed that the more distant a galaxy was, the faster it was receding from us. In theory, the Universe of our distant past was smaller, with objects closer together, denser and hotter. As the Universe expands the fabric of space stretches and cools. The distant galaxies move away at ever faster rates.

Now astrophysicists are working with a larger and more sophisticated dataset to measure expansion rates. Subir Sarkar, (University of Oxford) reports that his research team "analysed the latest catalogue of 740 Type Ia supernovae - over 10 times bigger than the original samples on which the discovery claim was based - and found that the evidence for accelerated expansion is, at most, what physicists call '3 sigma'." In other words, Sarkar and his team concluded that the Universe is expanding at a constant rate. If that is true, there is no necessity to hypothesize dark energy. 

Clearly, astrophysicists are struggling with a paradox. How it is possible for the collective gravity from all the matter initially expelled into the Universe to slow everything down, and also to lead to accelerating expansion of the Universe? 

Will you be the scientist who resolves this difficult question?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Time Devices

Egyptian clepsydra

The water-clock or clepsydra had been used for thousands of years by the Nilotic priest astronomers to measure the passage of time. The word clepsydra is a compound of the Greek words kleptein, "to steal" and hydor, "water."

An ancient Egyptian water-clock dates to the reign of Amenhotep III (BC 1417-1379). It was used in the Temple of Amun-Ra at Karnak. The bowl-shaped outflow is the simplest form of a water-clock and is known to have existed in Babylon and in Egypt as early as 1600 BC.

The clepsydra was used by the Chinese, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Romans. Early clepsydras were brass bowls with a small hole at the bottom. The bowl was placed inside a larger bowl of water which flowed through the opening at a rate dependent upon the size of the hole. When the bowl sank, that marked the end of the time to be measured.

Water-clocks often had marks of the sun's motion on the first container. As water dripped from it into another basin, the drop in water level showed the passage of up to eight hours. The second container was not always used. Some water-clocks allowed the water to drip on the ground.

In ancient Greece, the clepsydra was used to limit the time a lawyer or judge could speak in court. In Philostratus's Life of Apollonius of Tyana we read: "And how long will your pleading last by the water-clock's reckoning?" (Part IV)

According to Aeschines, the political opponent of Demosthenes, "The first [clepsydra] water was given to the accuser, the second to the accused, and the third to the judges." The guardian of the clepsydra stopped the flow of water during the reading of documents in evidence so that the reading time was not charged to the speaker.

The ancient clepsydra remained the most accurate clock ever constructed until the Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens built a working prototype of a pendulum clock in 1656.

The clepsammia or sand-glass is an interval timer that depends on the particle flow of sand. Its older counterpart was the clepsydra which measured by the flow of water. According to the American Institute of New York, the clepsammia was invented at Alexandria about 150 BC. However, the Greeks were using the sand clock as early as 300 BC.

The sand-glass appears to have come into wide use after much of the ancient world became drier. Earlier, the clepsydra or water-clock was much more common, but there were difficulties with the water flow in the colder climates. Caesar was much aggrieved when he invaded Gaul and found that the water in his clepsydra had frozen.

There are difficulties with the sand-glass also. If moisture penetrated the seal on the glass, the sand clumps. To prevent this, powdered eggshell or lead dust were sometimes added. The problem of moisture was largely overcome by the nineteenth century when glassblowers fused the two bulbs together at the joint, making them airtight.

Sand-glasses generally were used to measure an hour. They were called horologes, from the Greek words hōra, "hour" and legein, "to gather."

In ancient philosophy the term horos referred to the boundaries of an area, or a landmark, or a term. It is likely a reference to Horus who was said to be the fixer of time, current, tides, winds and boundaries. The English words hour, horizon and horoscope share this root. Today the word horoscope connotes astrology, but the original meaning was "observer" [skopos] of the hour. The Indo-European root for year is yeHr-, another reference to Horus. The association of Horus with the horizon is seen in the word Har-ma-khet, meaning "Horus of the Horizon."

The sand-filled hourglass became popular as a personal time device for European nobility in the thirteenth century. Charlemagne (742-814) possessed a 12-hour sand-glass. These timers were used in the kitchens of wealthy households to judge cooking times. Thomas de Stetsham, a ship clerk in the service of King Edward III (1312-1377) ordered 16 sand-filled hourglasses. The sand-glass was used to time the length of the watches on ships.

The hourglass served to time the length of sermons in churches. The device installed in the Royal Chapel in London measured a period of eighteen minutes, the time ordered by Queen Victoria, who apparently did not appreciate long-winded clerics.

Doubtless the hourglass resting near the pulpit served as a congregational reminder of the passage of time and our mortality. Wisdom begins with this humbling truth, as Psalm 90:12 reminds us: "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."

Related reading: Theories of Time

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

This Teen Won a Major Science Prize

Deepika Kurup at the 2013 White House Science Fair

Deepika Kurup has been determined to solve the global water crisis since she was 14 years old, after she saw kids outside her grandparents' house in India drinking water that looked too dirty even to touch. Her research began in her family kitchen — and eventually led to a major science prize. Hear how this teenage scientist developed a cost-effective, eco-friendly way to purify water.

Listen to this TED Talk.

Priests of the Ancient World Studied Astronomy

In the ancient world, priests were the wise men of learning. Young men of the ruling class studied under them at the famous shrines and temples. These were the "universities of the archaic world.

The priestly lines known as Horite Hebrew served rulers and were dispersed very widely. Some were serving rulers in the area of Lake Chad, some in Mesopotamia and some in India, Anatolia, and beyond. Some served rulers along the Nile. Plato recounts how the Nilotic priests had been keeping astronomical records for 10,000 years. He studied for 13 years in Memphis under a priest named Sechnuphis. Many Greek philosophers studied at Egyptian temple schools. 

Iamblichus wrote that Thales of Miletus insisted that Pythagoras had to go to Memphis to study because the Egyptian priests were a veritable source of knowledge and wisdom, especially when it came to the natural sciences, medicine and astronomy. 

This recently recovered fragment of a circular star calendar from the library of King Ashurbanipal (668-627 BC) is an example of the relationship between the priest-astronomers and the King. This Babylonian star calendar was found in an underground library in Nineveh, Iraq.

Read more about the Babylonian star calendar here.

Einstein's General Theory of Relativity

Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity is one of the greatest achievements of 20th-century physics. Published in 1916, it explains that what we perceive as the force of gravity arises from the curvature of space and time. The theory predicted that the universe must either expand or contract, but Einstein thought the universe was static, so around 1917, he introduced the idea of a force that counteracts gravity on a comic scale so that the universe neither shrinks nor expands. This is known as Einstein's cosmological constant.