M Thomas Apple Author Page

Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

“Don’t worry,” they said, “the size of a truck,” they said…

January 26, 2023
MThomas

An asteroid is on its way to Earth, but don’t worry – the end is here Not here. The asteroid, named 2023 BU, is about the size of a van and is expected to miss our planet during Thursday’s flyby. However, according to a NASA scientist, it will be “one of the closest approaches of a known near-Earth object ever recorded.”

https://newsbeezer.com/germanyeng/a-truck-sized-asteroid-will-come-extraordinarily-close-to-earth-tomorrow/

This thing is coming closer than even some satellites, but it’s still small enough for most of it to burn up in the atmosphere.

Most of it.

Yikes.

Confirmed: We’re all here thanks to asteroids

January 26, 2023
MThomas

Since the Hayabusa2 returned with the sample from the Ryugu asteroid in December 2020, several important discoveries have been made – most notably analyzes confirming the presence of substances thought to be the building blocks of life on the asteroid, such as liquid water and organics fabrics.

https://newsbeezer.com/germanyeng/ryugu-asteroid-helps-unravel-the-origin-of-life-on-earth/

Hayabusa-2 took several years to land on Ryugu (literally “Dragon Palace”), pound out just over 5 grams of asteroid material, and bring it back to Earth (landing in Australia in late 2020).

NASA scientists have confirmed not just frozen water but liquid — inside crystals called pyrrhotites. JAXA scientists (pictured above with Prof Tsuchiyama of Ritsumeikan University, my main employer!) continue to check the density of the samples.

The water is similar to the carbon dioxide-laden water of hot springs. The research teams have already discovered over 20 amino acids, the basic protein building blocks of carbon-based life.

Another theory called “panspermia” proposes that a key mineral (boron) missing on early Earth came in an asteroid from Mars. ☄️ Hmm. Did Mars produce asteroids? Or more like asteroids hit Mars and broke off lots of tiny fragments? That somehow survived the journey to Earth?

Seems a little unlikely. But there is now evidence that at least some proteins came from space rocks.

So, sorry, Ridley. This isn’t how it happened. Cool movie, though.

Turn off the lights, and you’ll be seeing stars!

January 25, 2023
MThomas

A new study that analyzes data from more than 50,000 amateur stargazers finds that artificial lighting is making the night sky about 10% brighter each year.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/twinkle-twinkle-fading-stars-hiding-brighter-skies-rcna66692

Each spring in my Current Events and Global Issues class, I have students read about environmental issues.

Pollution is obviously related. But they almost never guess the “seven types of pollution” (yes, I know some people country eight, or ten, or even twelve…it all depends on how you categorize them).

They never consider Light Pollution.

Maybe it’s because most of my students (to the order of 90%) come from medium and large cities. To me, having grown up in a mostly rural area (in elementary school, my town had about 400 residents and in junior and senior high I lived in a “queen village” that had — gasp — an incredible 4,000 residents) — well, being surrounded by darkness was no big deal.

We could see stars from our backyard. Lots of stars. We learned all the major constellations (of the Northern Hemisphere, anyway, since that’s what we could see).

And more importantly we could see lightning bugs (or “fireflies” or “glowworms” or “candle bugs” etc). Decreasing water quality is thought to contribute to their declining numbers, but it’s far more likely that our insistence on lighting up the skies all the time are preventing them from finding a mate (hence the reason they “flicker” at night).

Turn off the lights!

What are you afraid of?

ChatGPT: Is this really the “death of the essay”?

December 17, 2022
MThomas

I’ve been testing ChatGPT over the last couple of days. (If you don’t know what this chatbot is, here’s a good NYT article about ChatGPT and others currently in development.)

The avowed purpose of ChatGPT is to create an AI that can create believable dialogues. It does this by scouring the web for data it uses to respond to simple prompts.

By “simple,” I mean sometimes “horribly complicated,” of course. And sometimes a little ridiculous.

Somehow, I doubt that people in the US said “livin’ the dream” in the ’50s…

As has been pointed out, chatbots only generate texts based on what they have been fed, i.e., “garbage in / garbage out.” So if you push the programs hard enough, they will generate racist, sexist, homophobic etc awful stuff — because unfortunately that kind of sick and twisted garbage is still out there, somewhere online in a troll’s paradise.

So far, I have asked the program to:

  1. Write a haiku about winter without using the word “winter”
  2. Write a limerick about an Irish baseball player
  3. Write a dialogue between God and Nietzsche (I just had to…)
  4. Imagine what Jean-Paul Sartre and Immanuel Kant would say to each other (see above) but using US ’50 slang
  5. Have Thomas Aquinas and John Locke argue about the existence of God (that one was fun)
  6. Write a 300 word cause-effect essay about climate change
  7. Write a 300 word compare and contrast essay about the US and Japan
  8. Write a 1000 word short science fiction story based on Mars
  9. Write a 1500 word short science fiction about robots in the style of Philip K Dick

OK, and the verdict is:

Continue Reading

Super Flower Blood Moon coming soon

May 15, 2022
MThomas

I love the “illustrative diagram” note for people who might complain this is not scientifically accurate due to scale.

…if you are lucky enough to live Western Europe, parts of northwestern Africa, and some of the Americans…

As for why the Moon appears red…

“You’ll actually be seeing every sunrise and every sunset occurring around the Earth at once. All of that light will be projected on to the Moon.” (Dr Gregory Brown, Royal Observatory

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-61423765

And if you happened to be standing on the Moon at the time, you’d see a blood ring encircling the Earth in front of you (ah, assuming you were not on the other side of the Moon).

Come on. Somebody has got to figure out how to get a picture of that.

Getting Yourself to Write

December 14, 2021
MThomas

Writing can be a struggle for writers of all levels, from beginning to professional. The struggle has a dreaded name: writer’s block. Writer’s block …

Getting Yourself to Write

I’ve never really experienced the so-called “writer’s block.” Not that I’m bragging…but I often just don’t find I have enough time to write.

By which I mean, writing seriously. It’s easy, however, to find time here and there just to jot down some random thoughts.

(Aside note: if you type really quickly on the WordPress smartphone app, it autocorrect “random” to “radon,” which would put you in an entirely different frame of mind.)

Continue Reading

Tales of a 6th-Grade Nothing (Apologies to Judy Blume)

November 26, 2021
MThomas

I started writing stories when I was in 5th grade. Our teacher gave us a list of vocabulary each week — about 10 to 12 words, I think — and said we had two choices: 1) write down all their definitions along with a sample sentence, or 2) work them into a short story to show that we understood the meaning of the words.

I chose the 2nd option. In fact, I was the only one who did out of a class of about 25.

The thing is, the teacher wanted us to read them at the front of the room.

Man, that was not something I was looking forward to. But somehow I managed.

I wrote nothing but detective stories, all in the first person. At some point, I borrowed my mother’s old manual typewriter (originally my grandfather’s, from the 1950s) and typed them all out. I still have most of them.

But my peak as an elementary school age creative writer came part-way 6th grade, when I attempted to write my first horror story.

Continue Reading

Light from behind a black hole

July 31, 2021
MThomas

…while light cannot escape a black hole, its extreme gravity warps space around it, which allows light to “echo,” bending around the back of the object. Thanks to this strange phenomenon, astronomers have, for the first time, observed the light from behind a black hole.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/einstein-right-researchers-see-light-echo-black-hole-rcna1553

Einstein has been proven right. Again.

No, Leonardo has no “descendants”

July 18, 2021
MThomas

The news spread quickly last week.

Fourteen people alive today in Italy can claim that they are descendants of Leonardo da Vinci, according to a study of the Renaissance genius’ family tree.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/fourteen-living-descendants-leonardo-da-vinci-are-identified-rcna1402

I won’t bother posting the other two to three dozen “news” about it, since they all pretty much copy each other without doing much (or any) actual journalistic research.

Nor do they use common sense.

In the paragraph following the one quoted above, this sentence appears:

Researchers traced da Vinci’s genealogy over nearly 700 years and 21 generations, from 1331 to the present day, beginning with da Vinci’s great-great-great grandfather Michele.

OK. So this is family genealogy, not just Leonardo, right?

That would explain why so many people were found. But they’re his relatives, not descendants.

Da Vinci, best known for painting “The Last Supper” and “The Mona Lisa,” had no children, but his blood relatives include 22 half siblings.

If he had no children (which is true), then he has no descendants.

Simple.

Yet another case of media happily exaggerating studies they don’t understand but are eager to exploit.

Also, Leonardo always signed his name “Leonardo di Ser Piero” or “di Piero.” Vinci is a small town near where he was born. (People at that time period in Europe didn’t have surnames in the modern sense.) So saying the research is about the “da Vinci family” makes little sense. Nor does the idea that “genius” runs in families. The famous Edison dictum applies here.

I’m also fairly certain Leonardo had 12, and not “22,” half-siblings. Ser Piero was a bit indiscrete but not that indiscrete. He was a notary, not a king.

mRNA and nanotech? Stay skeptical and use the Baloney Detection Kit!

June 25, 2021
MThomas

It’s becoming increasingly common to see social media posts claiming that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, which include those made by Pfizer and Moderna, could alter a person’s DNA. Some posts even suggest that nano-machines are being injected into the body.

https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/covid/technically-no-longer-human-can-mrna-covid-19-vaccines-meld-with-your-dna/

Yeah, I’ve seen some of these posts. Talked to a neighbor who was convinced Bill Gates was trying to inject us all with a chip to control our minds.

Is there any truth to these rumours? Could an mRNA vaccine be modifying your DNA?

No.

(Read the linked Cosmos article for more details!)

Actually, all you need to do is use logic and reasoning, apply some critical thinking, and demand lots of science-based evidence.

It’s called the Baloney Detection Kit and was introduced in a Cornell University undergraduate course about critical thinking and the scientific method by astrophysicist Carl Sagan.

In his book The Demon-haunted World, he lays out nine steps to bust BS and call out unscientific baloney. I use it with my second year undergrad students in a current news and global issues course.

The link above to the kit also outlines some of the most important logical fallacies to avoid, with number 8 and 9 being the most difficult to explain and convince people about (because they involve education about basic statistics).

So will this convince anti-vaxxers who make outlandish claims online?

Probably not. Unless it goes viral 😉.

Blog at WordPress.com.
Broken Angel

Love is in the words

cassidyslangscam

A debunking of Daniel Cassidy's theories about the influence of the Irish language on English slang.

Sofhaallow

Science and Technology Blog.

Andrea, Children’s Book Illustrator

Children's book illustrator

Jared Michael Kubokawa

Teacher, Writer, Musician, Father

ART WORLD BLOG

This is an Art Blog covering many topics to do with art, how to draw and paint tutorials, style, as well as creativity in general. We blog about art, photography, recommend related products and give our best SEO tips for artists and bloggers. We'd love to hear from you so get in touch if you want to start up a conversation or a collaboration!

%d bloggers like this: