Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The First Observations From ALMA

The Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array (ALMA) has just started putting out its first results. ALMA is currently the largest telescope in the world, and it is only 1/3 the way built. This telescope is a radio telescope so it looks into wavelengths other than the visible spectrum, specifically it looks at radio waves (hence it is called a radio telescope).

For many people their only introduction to radio telescopes came from the movie Contact which featured the Arecibo radio telescope (which also featured in GoldenEye) and the Very Large Array (VLA). While the radio telescopes have been used to search for extraterrestrial life, their main purpose is to look into parts of the galaxy, and other galaxies, that other telescopes cannot see.

The reason why these telescopes are so important is because they have the ability to see some of the coldest, densest gas in a galaxy. By dense I mean 100-10,000 particles per cubic centimeter (yes that's particles/cm^3). For comparison air at sea level has about 10^19 particles/cm^3 (that's 10,000,000,000,000,000,000) and water has about 10^22 particles/cm^3. So dense is a relative term, but compared to the average density of gas in the galaxy (~1 particle/cm^3), it is pretty dense.

So why are these regions so important? Basically this is where stars, and planets form. It is these dense regions where we find the newest stars, and possibly get a glimpse of the planets forming around them. This will help us learn how solar systems form and will help guide us in our search or life bearing planets beyond our own. In short, it teaches about how we got here, and where our nearest neighbors might be.


  1. QL42,

    A bit out of context, but here it is:

     Can a scientist be religious? Only at the price of inconsistency, she {Lisa Randall} argues, because scientific determinism is not compatible with belief in a deity who can willfully intervene in the world.


  2. A1: Better to stick to recent scientific articles then pop-science opinion.   See here. N'uff said.

  3. Lisa Randall will be pleased to be known as pop-scientist.  According to her, yes,  a scientist can be religious, and the price he/she pays is in consistency, or nonrepeatable results, which we are all familiar with.

  4. --Can a scientist be religious?

    I think there is adequate evidence that this is possible.

    --scientific determinism is not compatible with belief in a deity who can willfully intervene in the world.

    I can willfully intervene in the world, so it is no stretch of the imagination (or faith) to say that there might be a God that can do the same.

  5. I agree with your comments absolutely. 

    Furthermore, science is by no means wedded to determinism.  In fact, if you believe quantum mechanics and Bell's inequalities, determinism is currently considered unscientific. 

  6. QL42,

    Anything is possible when probability approaches zero.

    So, you can intervene demonstrating your "Free Will" I presume?  More appropriate choice would have been you can act with and with out rational thought.  If I recall God framework in the books correctly, the fallen angel also thought he can intervene and do better or corrupt the creation!


  7. Bill,

    First, I posted to QL42 specifically, FWIW.  But you seem to be on a jihad to defend poor QL42, who, probably is much more competent in these matters that you are.  My point is simple: religion and science do not mix.  A scientific inquiry in causes (Darwinian may be?) human engagement and thoughts on religion and god respectively would be appropriate.  Otherwise, it is arm waving. Stop.  By doing that you are hurting your faith.

    Beliefs do not make science.  Nor does surveys of ignorants, even with PhDs coming out of dark places.


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