APOF XLII

Gliese 581g may be the first exoplanet discovered in a Goldilocks zone, but it’s tidally locked (as our moon is with us) so the only possible habitat would be on the border between perpetual darkness and light.  Preliminary results, more observation required.

Also discovered:  two Earth-sized planets… extra crispy recipe, baked by their bloated red giant star – Kepler 20.  Astronomers think the two planets might have played a role in the star’s own death by stripping away its outer layers of diffuse gas.

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(gallery below the jump, right-click and open in new tab/window for full descriptions)

Another “discovery” much in the news lately has been The Higgs boson, a.k.a. “The God Particle,” a.k.a. “A particle of faith.”

This fun analogy to former prime minister Margaret Thatcher actually serves as a nice/simple/accessible explanation.

This explains how the Higgs fits into the Standard Model, which itself is “…rather ugly.  The various subatomic particles look like they have been slapped together haphazardly. It is a theory that only a mother could love, and even its creators have admitted that it is only a piece of the true, final theory…”

Which is a nice segue into what I found to be the best piece on the topic, by Alister McGrath, here in The Telegraph.

The observations themselves didn’t prove the existence of the Higgs boson. Rather, the idea of the Higgs boson explained observations so well that those in the know came to believe it really existed. One day, technology might be good enough to allow it to be actually observed. But we don’t need to wait until then before we start believing in it.

Some tell us that science is about what can be proved. The wise tell us it is really about offering the best explanations of what we see, realising that these explanations often cannot be proved, and may sometimes lie beyond proof. Science often proposes the existence of invisible (and often undetectable) entities – such as dark matter – to explain what can be seen. The reason why the Higgs boson is taken so seriously in science is not because its existence has been proved, but because it makes so much sense of observations that its existence seems assured. In other words, its power to explain is seen as an indicator of its truth.

There’s an obvious and important parallel with the way religious believers think about God. While some demand proof that God exists, most see this as unrealistic. Believers argue that the existence of God gives the best framework for making sense of the world. God is like a lens, which brings things into clearer focus. As the Harvard psychologist William James pointed out years ago, religious faith is about inferring “the existence of an unseen order” in which the “riddles of the natural order” can be explained.

There’s more to God than making sense of things. But for religious believers, it’s a great start.

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