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NASA people say the most surprising things …

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Here, for example, from Science Question of the Week from the Goddard Space Flight Center, on the position of the North Star, ever the friend of mariners:

Polaris or the North Star is nearly directly above the North Pole (it’s actually about 1 degree away from the celestial pole). You might think that with all of the stars in the sky, it shouldn’t be that unusual for a given star to rest above the pole, but really, it’s an extremely unlikely occurrence. It’s even more unlikely that our pole star would be relatively bright – second order magnitude. If you divided the night sky into squares that are one degree latitude by one degree longitude in size, there would be 41,253 square degrees in our night sky. There are approximately 2,000 stars that we can see on the clearest night, and perhaps 6,000 different stars are visible to us throughout the year, but only 50 of these are as bright or brighter than Polaris. The chances of a star like Polaris occupying a place over the pole are about slim indeed – about 1 in 1,000. Nevertheless, Polaris defies the odds and has become our guiding light.

Anybody know the odds on that?

 We are also told that Polaris will shove off in a couple of centuries, and not come back for a long time:

Polaris and the Sun are now about as close to each other as they’ll ever get. Alas,all good things must come to an end, and in a few centuries, Polaris will drift away from it’s current heralded post to a location carrying much less esteem, somewhere to the south of where it is now. If it’s any consolation, Polaris will return to the pole again but not for another 20,000 thousand years.

You read it here first: In the meantime, we will have to make do with the Global Positioning Satellite.

Maybe I should revisit Guillermo Gonzalez’s “Privileged Planet” hypothesis. No, wait! Isn’t he the one they’re trying to get rid of at Iowa State? Guy probably talks too much.

Here’s some more stuff I blogged recently:

Why do media people treat statements from scientists as gospel?

Scientists have converted the sequences in Huntington’s disease to music. Scary.

When science disowns religion, it discovers politics, according to thinker.

Did Albert Einstein accept intelligent design?

Researchers discover free will in fruit flies. (I think they have simply discovered that the flies are not mere machines, as they had thought.)

Just for fun, my 17 favourite oxymorons

Kids from religious homes behave better.

More huffing and puffing on behalf of the flatly ridiculous anti-God crusade

In the 21st century world, ideology is dead but spirituality lives.

Cardinal Schoenborn, the Pope’s anti-Darwinist point man says some pointed things on faith and science

Quantum Theory and Faith: A physicist’s thoughts

New Book! The Physics of Christianity by Frank Tipler

Lighter moment: Doubtful student receives letter from God.

I had a comment regarding quantum mechanics. Something occurred to me while listening to Dr. Paul Davies give a talk. Quantum mechanics needs observers to work (at least according to the leading interpretation). And materialism can't give us observers, because there is no inherent difference between observers and non-observers. geoffrobinson
For anyone continuing to follow this discussion, it is possible to use the southern stars to find the South Pole: http://www.dibonsmith.com/downunder.htm It is not as obvious, as you will see. It is done in several steps. But then the stars around the south pole are bright, and the ones around the north pole much less so. There IS a southern pole star, more or less, but it is comparatively faint among so many bright ones. I agree with the person who said that navigation greatly aided science. Most science discoveries in the last few centuries have depended on technical advances, but these advances in turn depended on initial help from strikingly favourable facts of nature. The north star is one of them, because its location encouraged people in the northern hemisphere to take the risks of navigation in the first place - and so many discoveries were contingent on that. O'Leary
Crandaddy: "Seriously, I no longer pay any attention whatsoever to anything a scientist says which diverges at all from his area of expertise." I couldn't agree more. I get my truth in information from Hollywood stars. :) Webwanderer
"altitude" should read "latitude" Atom
I'm not arguing the case that this feature of the night sky was specifically design to be as it was... But... It is a fact that the North Star acted as a navigation aid. This helped men navigate the seas. Sea-faring navigation was what led to the perfection of the spring watch. (They were trying to calculate both altitude and longitude; astrolabes provided one measurement, non-pendulum based clocks the other, when combined with velocity readings.) The development of spring watches and more accurate time pieces in general were unarguably a great help in Western Science. So I'll stick by my original statement that 1) A North Star is good (helps us get our bearings) and 2) It helped Western Science along, even if in an indirect way. Atom
"Having a North Star is good and helped science and astronomy develop." Okay, I'd like to know precisely how this is so, I'm not saying it didn't, but the case is far from proved, especially as the "nearness" is time-sensitive. SCheesman
W: No offense taken actually, but apology accepted. I suspect they actually toss letters such as yours over at PT for being too MILD! I think it is a tribute to the civilized manner in which discussions unfold on this site that we apologize for saying something is "silly". I am humbled. You are most kind. SCheesman
So where’s the “South Star?”
Why is that relevant to the question of design? Having a North Star is good and helped science and astronomy develop. So what if there is no corresponding South Star? It doesn't take away from the "designy" aspects of the star we do have. There is a "Southern Cross" though... Atom
Hmm. silly eh? I’m hurt. I apologize for that. I know that awful feeling when you read a nasty response to an honestly made argument. I was just writing the other day about how people shouldn't be heavy-handed in their posts. I believe my objections to your argument were right, but my tone was very wrong, and I'm sorry. -w Wittgenstein
That should of course be "Goldbergian" above! SCheesman
And anyway, having Both a North Star and a South Star would have been too obvious; I expect God would be a little more subtle in his "signs and techno-aids" (except for maybe the self-replicating Rube-Golderbergian world of the cell, but it's funny how some things that seem to "scream" design make less of an impression than others). But I'll go with your reasoning...except you can turn the "Does God just not like those people argument" in so many directions. It's too easy a put-down, considering the state of the world in general. That's getting into theology. Maybe optimization? SCheesman
Hmm. silly eh? I'm hurt. Actually, I wasn't arguing for or against, just thinking about how it might be framed if you really wanted to present the case. As you can see by my second comment, or my very first one, I'm not that attached to the whole idea in the first place :). SCheesman
The fact that there is no “South Star” actually helps the case… That is so silly that it took me about half the rest of your post to recognize that you weren't being sarcastic. Unless you could give some reason why there shouldn't be a south star, it doesn't really lend any support does it? The southern hemisphere is--nowadays, at least--less populated. It's far from empty. Does God just not like those people? Did he not want his universe designed to help those people along? Wittgenstein
Actually, if the chance of having a star like Polaris near the north celestial pole reduces to 1 in 40, then the chance of having a pole star at either pole reduces to 1 in 20. Another argument against the general thesis is that by the time the Polaris got "near" to the pole, the sky as a whole had been mapped well enough that its use as a navigational guide was pretty well redundant. And then there's the compass... SCheesman
The fact that there is no "South Star" actually helps the case... the thesis of "Privileged Planet" is that human scientific and technological achievement was helped along by a universe designed "just right". The majority of the human population resides in the northern hemisphere, where a pole star would do the most good, and indeed the vast majority of sea-faring peoples have been European or Chinese, located well above the equator with excellent views of the north celestial pole. The question is, how much of the advance in exploration is due to the north star; can you make the case for it to be another aspect of the Privileged Planet case? SCheesman
So where's the "South Star?" Wittgenstein
If you are considering square degrees, and Polaris is about 1 degree away from the pole, then it is actually in the ring of 9 square degrees (ignoring the spherical distortion) surrounding the square centered on Polaris. In addition, there are over 50 stars no less than about half as luminous as Polaris (magnitudes 2-2.8), so if you are considering "like" stars, the number to choose from is more like 100. Using these two values drops the odds down to about 1 in 40-50. That's still good, but not quite so impressive. SCheesman
To me the "amazing" thing about Polaris isn't just that it sits above our North Pole, but that it can be found due to the pointer (Ursa Major) that accompanies it. IOW to find Polaris in the midst of all the stars just find the "big dipper" (easy to spot) and follow the outside edge of its pot to Polaris. Joseph
Thuban (α Draconis) was the northern pole star around 2700 BC. Something to think about. mike1962
crandaddy: "I no longer pay any attention whatsoever to anything a scientist says which diverges at all from his area of expertise." I trust you ignore all statements on scientific matters made by "those stupid faith-heads" then :) Phevans
The chances of a star like Polaris occupying a place over the pole are about slim indeed - about 1 in 1,000.
Equally impressive to me is that one of the most prominent and identifiable constellations in the night sky, Ursa Major (aka the big dipper) points right to Polaris, which makes a trivial matter of locating it. The edge of the dipper, directly opposite its handle, points directly at Polaris. Apollos
Why do media people treat statements from scientists as gospel?
Because they're the priesthood of secular society--the intelligent freethinkers who know so much better than those stupid faith-heads. :P Seriously, I no longer pay any attention whatsoever to anything a scientist says which diverges at all from his area of expertise. crandaddy
Actually, as I understand the sky is constantly shifting. I believe that the Polaris has only become the North Star since the time of Christ. WinstonEwert

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