Tag: astonishing (page 1 of 2)

32517 Kaleidoscopic Humanoids

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Sheldan Nidle – November-08-2016

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Greg Giles ~ The Hidden Agenda of the Galactic Federation Show ~ Part 1

  War in Ukraine   A quick word on Conspiracies: (Thanks to threeworldwars.com) There are three ways of exposing a Conspiracy: 1. One is for any of the participants in the conspiracy to break...

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Astrophysicists Can Now Make Weather Forecasts For Distant Planets

Exoplanet day/night cycle
Cloudy mornings and scorching hot afternoons: the Kepler space telescope has provided weather forecasts for some distant exoplanets.

Excerpt from techtimes.com

A telescope observing distant planets has found evidence of weather patterns, allowing astrophysicists to "forecast" their conditions.

Analyzing data from NASA's Kepler space telescope, a team of astrophysicists at universities in Canada and Great Britain has identified signs of daily weather variations on six exoplanets.
They observed phase variations as different parts of the planets reflected light from their host stars, in much the same way that our moon cycles though different phases.

"We determined the weather on these alien worlds by measuring changes as the planets circle their host stars, and identifying the day-night cycle," said Lisa Esteves from the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto.

"We traced each of them going through a cycle of phases in which different portions of the planet are illuminated by its star, from fully lit to completely dark," added Esteves, who the led the team on the study.

The scientists have offered up "forecasts" of cloudy mornings for four of the planets, and clear but scorching hot afternoons on two others.

They based their predictions on the planets' rotations, which produce an eastward motion of their atmospheric winds. That would blow clouds that formed over the cooler side of one of the planets around to its morning side — thus producing the "cloudy" morning forecast.

"As the winds continue to transport the clouds to the day side, they heat up and dissipate, leaving the afternoon sky cloud-free," said Esteves. "These winds also push the hot air eastward from the meridian, where it is the middle of the day, resulting in higher temperatures in the afternoon."

The Kepler telescope has proven to be the ideal instrument for studying phase variations on distant exoplanets, according to the researchers.

The massive amounts of data and the extremely precise measurements that the telescope is capable of permits them to detect even tiny, subtle signals coming from the distant world, and to separate them from the almost overwhelming light coming from their host stars.

"The detection of light from these planets hundreds to thousands of light years away is on its own remarkable," said co-author Ernst de Mooij from the Astrophysics Research Centre from the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen's University, Belfast.
"But when we consider that phase cycle variations can be up to 100,000 times fainter than the host star, these detections become truly astonishing."

There may come a day when a weather report for a distant planet is a common and unremarkable event, the researchers added.
"Someday soon we hope to be talking about weather reports for alien worlds not much bigger than Earth, and to be making comparisons with our home planet," said Ray Jayawardhana of York University in England.

This study was published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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Undersea Volcano Apparently Erupts Off Oregon Coast, No Tsunami Threat

Location of the Axial Seamount off the Oregon coast. (NOAA)
Location of the Axial Seamount off the Oregon coast. (NOAA)

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — An active undersea volcano off the Oregon Coast has apparently begun a new eruption — an event which was predicted by two scientists months ago.

Based on a swarm of thousands of earthquakes and a seafloor drop of 8 feet, the eruption of the submarine volcano called Axial Seamount commenced on April 24. 

The apparent eruption was observed by scientists in real time, with the help of high-tech instruments installed by scientists at the University of Washington.

“It was an astonishing experience to see the changes taking place 300 miles away with no one anywhere nearby, and the data flowed back to land at the speed of light through the fiber-optic cable connected to Pacific City — and from there, to here on campus by the Internet, in milliseconds,” Washington oceanogoraphy professor John Delaney said in a statement.

The volcano is located along the boundary between two tectonic plates — the Pacific Plate and the Juan de Fuca plate — about 300 miles west of Oregon.

In a blog post last autumn, Bill Chadwick of Oregon State University and Scott Nooner of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington predicted that the Axial Seamount would erupt within the next 15 months based on a repeated pattern of seafloor elevation changes before, during, and after eruptions dating back to 1998.

Scientists say the activity is not strong enough to be felt on land nor is it likely strong enough to produce a tsunami.

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Hubble’s Other Telescope And The Day It Rocked Our World

The Hooker 100-inch reflecting telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory, just outside Los Angeles. Edwin Hubble's chair, on an elevating platform, is visible at left. A view from this scope first told Hubble our galaxy isn't the only one.
The Hooker 100-inch reflecting telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory, just outside Los Angeles. Edwin Hubble's chair, on an elevating platform, is visible at left. A view from this scope first told Hubble our galaxy isn't the only one.
Courtesy of The Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science Collection at the Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif.

Excerpt from hnpr.org

The Hubble Space Telescope this week celebrates 25 years in Earth's orbit. In that time the telescope has studied distant galaxies, star nurseries, planets in our solar system and planets orbiting other stars.

But, even with all that, you could argue that the astronomer for whom the telescope is named made even more important discoveries — with far less sophisticated equipment.

A young Edwin Hubble at Mount Wilson's 100-inch telescope circa 1922, ready to make history.i
A young Edwin Hubble at Mount Wilson's 100-inch telescope circa 1922, ready to make history.
Edwin Hubble Papers/Courtesy of Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif.

In the 1920s, Edwin Hubble was working with the 100-inch Hooker telescope on Mount Wilson, just outside Los Angeles. At the time, it was the largest telescope in the world.

On a chilly evening, I climb up to the dome of that telescope with operator Nik Arkimovich and ask him to show me where Hubble would sit when he was using the telescope. Arkimovich points to a platform near the top of the telescope frame.

"He's got an eyepiece with crosshairs on it," Arkimovich explains. The telescope has gears and motors that let it track a star as it moves across the sky. "He's got a paddle that allows him to make minor adjustments. And his job is to keep the star in the crosshairs for maybe eight hours."

"It's certainly much, much easier today," says John Mulchaey, acting director of the observatories at Carnegie Institution of Science. "Now we sit in control rooms. The telescopes operate brilliantly on their own, so we don't have to worry about tracking and things like this."

Today, astronomers use digital cameras to catch the light from stars and other celestial objects. In Hubble's day, Mulchaey says, they used glass plates.

"At the focus of the telescope you would put a glass plate that has an emulsion layer on it that is actually sensitive to light," he says. At the end of an observing run, the plates would be developed, much like the film in a camera.

The headquarters of the Carnegie observatories is at the foot of Mount Wilson, in the city of Pasadena. It's where Hubble worked during the day.

A century's worth of plates are stored here in the basement. Mulchaey opens a large steel door and ushers me into a room filled with dozens of file cabinets.

"Why don't we go take a look at Hubble's famous Andromeda plates," Mulchaey suggests.

The plates are famous for a reason: They completely changed our view of the universe. Mulchaey points to a plate mounted on a light stand.

"This is a rare treat for you," he says. "This plate doesn't see the light of day very often."

This glass side of a photographic plate shows where Hubble marked novas. The red VAR! in the upper right corner marks his discovery of the first Cepheid variable star — a star that told him the Andromeda galaxy isn't part of our Milky Way.i
This glass side of a photographic plate shows where Hubble marked novas. The red VAR! in the upper right corner marks his discovery of the first Cepheid variable star — a star that told him the Andromeda galaxy isn't part of our Milky Way.
Courtesy of the Carnegie Observatories 
To the untrained eye, there's nothing terribly remarkable about the plate. But Mulchaey says what it represents is the most important discovery in astronomy since Galileo.

The plate shows the spiral shape of the Andromeda galaxy. Hubble was looking for exploding stars called novas in Andromeda. Hubble marked these on the plate with the letter "N."

"The really interesting thing here," Mulchaey says, "is there's one with the N crossed out in red — and he's changed the N to VAR with an exclamation point."

Hubble had realized that what he was seeing wasn't a nova. VAR stands for a type of star known as a Cepheid variable. It's a kind of star that allows you to make an accurate determination of how far away something is. This Cepheid variable showed that the Andromeda galaxy isn't a part of our galaxy.

At the time, most people thought the Milky Way was it — the only galaxy in existence.

"And what this really shows is that the universe is much, much bigger than anybody realizes," Mulchaey says.
It was another blow to our human conceit that we are the center of the universe.

Hubble went on to use the Mount Wilson telescope to show the universe was expanding, a discovery so astonishing that Hubble had a hard time believing it himself.

If Hubble could make such important discoveries with century-old equipment, it makes you wonder what he might have turned up if he'd had a chance to use the space telescope that bears his name.

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100 Day Juice Fast in 10 Minutes – Astonishing Transformation!

Video – This is the incredible story of 32 year old Aaron and his 100 day juice fast. This 10-minute video shows his progress from 333 pounds down to 222 pounds 3 months later. In the last minute you will see his before and after pictures – the difference in his weight and color are astonishing! [...]

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Study: 70% of People on Antidepressants Don’t Have Depression

Mike Barrett, Natural SocietyIf sales for antidepressants such as Zoloft, Lexapro, or Prozac tell us anything, it’s that depression is sweeping the nation. But a new study questions the validity of most of these sales. The study has found that the majority of individuals on antidepressants – a whopping 69% – do not even meet the criteria for clinical depression. These individuals are likely just experiencing normal sadness and hardships that most of u [...]

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UV light reveals hidden colors in ancient shells

UV light revealed the way ancient shells looked millions of years ago.

Excerpt from perfscience.com

Using ultra-violet (UV) light, scientists have revealed astonishing colors of about 30 ancient seashells. According to PLOS, the seashells, which are estimated to be between 6.6 and 4.8 million years old, were looking white in regular white light. The true colors of the shells appeared in UV light.

According to the researchers, “The biology of modern Conidae (cone snails)-which includes the hyperdiverse genus Conus-has been intensively studied, but the fossil record of the clade remains poorly understood, particularly within an evolutionary framework”.

In the presence of UV light, the organic matter remaining in the shells fluoresces. With this, the shells appeared similar to what they looked when living creatures used to live in them. It is yet unclear which particular compounds in the shells are releasing the light when exposed to UV rays. With the help of the technique, the researchers were able to document the coloration patterns of 28 different cone shell species found in the Dominican Republic. Out of these 28 shells, 13 were found to be the species, which were not known earlier. And this could help know about the relationship between modern species.

San Jose State University geologist Jonathan Hendricks exposed over 350 fossil specimens to ultraviolet light. 

The coloration patterns of the ancient species were compared with existing animals and doing this, researchers found many displayed similarities. According to this finding, some modern species emerge from lineages. These lineages began in the Caribbean millions of years ago.

The newly distinguished species, Conus carlottae, was also among the newly distinguished species and it has a polka-dotted shell, which is not found in modern cone snails today. Researchers are now using UV light to emit color from porcelain white seashell fossils.

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Every Black Hole Contains a New Universe

At the center of spiral galaxy M81 is a supermassive black hole about 70 million times more massive than our sun.

Excerpt from insidescience.org
A physicist presents a solution to present-day cosmic mysteries.

Nikodem Poplawski, Inside Science Minds Guest Columnist

(ISM) -- Our universe may exist inside a black hole. This may sound strange, but it could actually be the best explanation of how the universe began, and what we observe today. It's a theory that has been explored over the past few decades by a small group of physicists including myself. 
Successful as it is, there are notable unsolved questions with the standard big bang theory, which suggests that the universe began as a seemingly impossible "singularity," an infinitely small point containing an infinitely high concentration of matter, expanding in size to what we observe today. The theory of inflation, a super-fast expansion of space proposed in recent decades, fills in many important details, such as why slight lumps in the concentration of matter in the early universe coalesced into large celestial bodies such as galaxies and clusters of galaxies.
But these theories leave major questions unresolved. For example: What started the big bang? What caused inflation to end? What is the source of the mysterious dark energy that is apparently causing the universe to speed up its expansion?
The idea that our universe is entirely contained within a black hole provides answers to these problems and many more. It eliminates the notion of physically impossible singularities in our universe. And it draws upon two central theories in physics.
Nikodem Poplawski displays a "tornado in a tube." The top bottle symbolizes a black hole, the connected necks represent a wormhole and the lower bottle symbolizes the growing universe on the just-formed other side of the wormhole. Credit: Indiana University
In this picture, spins in particles interact with spacetime and endow it with a property called "torsion." To understand torsion, imagine spacetime not as a two-dimensional canvas, but as a flexible, one-dimensional rod. Bending the rod corresponds to curving spacetime, and twisting the rod corresponds to spacetime torsion. If a rod is thin, you can bend it, but it's hard to see if it's twisted or not.

The first is general relativity, the modern theory of gravity. It describes the universe at the largest scales. Any event in the universe occurs as a point in space and time, or spacetime. A massive object such as the Sun distorts or "curves" spacetime, like a bowling ball sitting on a canvas. The Sun's gravitational dent alters the motion of Earth and the other planets orbiting it. The sun's pull of the planets appears to us as the force of gravity.

The second is quantum mechanics, which describes the universe at the smallest scales, such as the level of the atom. However, quantum mechanics and general relativity are currently separate theories; physicists have been striving to combine the two successfully into a single theory of "quantum gravity" to adequately describe important phenomena, including the behavior of subatomic particles in black holes.
A 1960s adaptation of general relativity, called the Einstein-Cartan-Sciama-Kibble theory of gravity, takes into account effects from quantum mechanics. It not only provides a step towards quantum gravity but also leads to an alternative picture of the universe. This variation of general relativity incorporates an important quantum property known as spin. Particles such as atoms and electrons possess spin, or the internal angular momentum that is analogous to a skater spinning on ice.

Spacetime torsion would only be significant, let alone noticeable, in the early universe or in black holes. In these extreme environments, spacetime torsion would manifest itself as a repulsive force that counters the attractive gravitational force coming from spacetime curvature. As in the standard version of general relativity, very massive stars end up collapsing into black holes: regions of space from which nothing, not even light, can escape.
Here is how torsion would play out in the beginning moments of our universe. Initially, the gravitational attraction from curved space would overcome torsion's repulsive forces, serving to collapse matter into smaller regions of space. But eventually torsion would become very strong and prevent matter from compressing into a point of infinite density; matter would reach a state of extremely large but finite density. As energy can be converted into mass, the immensely high gravitational energy in this extremely dense state would cause an intense production of particles, greatly increasing the mass inside the black hole.
The increasing numbers of particles with spin would result in higher levels of spacetime torsion. The repulsive torsion would stop the collapse and would create a "big bounce" like a compressed beach ball that snaps outward. The rapid recoil after such a big bounce could be what has led to our expanding universe. The result of this recoil matches observations of the universe's shape, geometry, and distribution of mass.
In turn, the torsion mechanism suggests an astonishing scenario: every black hole would produce a new, baby universe inside. If that is true, then the first matter in our universe came from somewhere else. So our own universe could be the interior of a black hole existing in another universe. Just as we cannot see what is going on inside black holes in the cosmos, any observers in the parent universe could not see what is going on in ours.
The motion of matter through the black hole's boundary, called an "event horizon," would only happen in one direction, providing a direction of time that we perceive as moving forward. The arrow of time in our universe would therefore be inherited, through torsion, from the parent universe.
Torsion could also explain the observed imbalance between matter and antimatter in the universe. Because of torsion, matter would decay into familiar electrons and quarks, and antimatter would decay into "dark matter," a mysterious invisible form of matter that appears to account for a majority of matter in the universe.
Finally, torsion could be the source of "dark energy," a mysterious form of energy that permeates all of space and increases the rate of expansion of the universe. Geometry with torsion naturally produces a "cosmological constant," a sort of added-on outward force which is the simplest way to explain dark energy. Thus, the observed accelerating expansion of the universe may end up being the strongest evidence for torsion.
Torsion therefore provides a theoretical foundation for a scenario in which the interior of every black hole becomes a new universe. It also appears as a remedy to several major problems of current theory of gravity and cosmology. Physicists still need to combine the Einstein-Cartan-Sciama-Kibble theory fully with quantum mechanics into a quantum theory of gravity. While resolving some major questions, it raises new ones of its own. For example, what do we know about the parent universe and the black hole inside which our own universe resides? How many layers of parent universes would we have? How can we test that our universe lives in a black hole?
The last question can potentially be investigated: since all stars and thus black holes rotate, our universe would have inherited the parent black hole’s axis of rotation as a "preferred direction." There is some recently reported evidence from surveys of over 15,000 galaxies that in one hemisphere of the universe more spiral galaxies are "left-handed", or rotating clockwise, while in the other hemisphere more are "right-handed", or rotating counterclockwise. In any case, I believe that including torsion in geometry of spacetime is a right step towards a successful theory of cosmology.

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The Best Star Gazing Binoculars for 2015

Excerpt from space.com

Most people have two eyes. Humans evolved to use them together (not all animals do). People form a continuous, stereoscopic panorama movie of the world within in their minds. With your two eyes tilted upward on a clear night, there's nothing standing between you and the universe. The easiest way to enhance your enjoyment of the night sky is to paint your brain with two channels of stronger starlight with a pair of binoculars. Even if you live in — or near — a large, light-polluted city, you may be surprised at how much astronomical detail you'll see through the right binoculars!
Our editors have looked at the spectrum of current binocular offerings. Thanks to computer-aided design and manufacturing, there have never been more high-quality choices at reasonable prices. Sadly, there's also a bunch of junk out there masquerading as fine stargazing instrumentation. We've selected a few that we think will work for most skywatchers.
There was a lot to consider: magnification versus mass, field of view, prism type, optical quality ("sharpness"), light transmission, age of the user (to match "exit pupil" size, which changes as we grow older), shock resistance, waterproofing and more. 

The best binoculars for you

"Small" astronomy binoculars would probably be considered "medium" for bird watching, sports observation and other terrestrial purposes. This comes about as a consequence of optics (prism type and objective size, mostly). "Large" binoculars are difficult to use for terrestrial applications and have a narrow field of view. They begin to approach telescope quality in magnification, resolution and optical characteristics.

Most of our Editors' Choicesfor stargazing binoculars here are under $300. You can pay more than 10 times that for enormous binocular telescopes used by elite enthusiasts on special mounts! You'll also pay more for ruggedized ("mil spec," or military standard) binoculars, many of which suspend their prisms on shock mounts to keep the optics in precise alignment.

Also, our Editors' Choices use Porro prism optics. Compact binoculars usually employ "roof" prisms, which can be cast more cheaply, but whose quality can vary widely. [There's much more about Porro prisms in our Buyer's Guide.]
We think your needs are best served by reviewing in three categories.
  • Small, highly portable binoculars can be hand-held for viewing ease.
  • Medium binoculars offer higher powers of magnification, but still can be hand-held, if firmly braced.
  • Large binoculars have bigger "objective" lenses but must be mounted on a tripod or counterweighted arm for stability.
Here's a detailed look at our Editor's Choice selections for stargazing binoculars:

Best Small Binoculars 

Editor's Choice: Oberwerk Mariner 8x40 (Cost: $150)

Oberwerk in German means "above work." The brand does indeed perform high-level optical work, perfect for looking at objects above, as well as on the ground or water. Founder Kevin Busarow's Mariner series is not his top of the line, but it benefits greatly from engineering developed for his pricier models. The Oberwerk 8x40’s treat your eyes to an extremely wide field, at very high contrast, with razor-sharp focus; they are superb for observing the broad starscapes of the Milky Way. Just 5.5 inches (14 cm) from front to back and 6.5 inches wide (16.5 cm), the Mariners are compact and rugged enough to be your favorite "grab and go binoculars." But at 37 ounces, they may be more than a small person wants to carry for a long time.

Runner-Up: Celestron Cometron 7x50 (Cost: $30)

Yes, you read that price correctly! These Celestron lightweight, wide-field binoculars bring honest quality at a remarkably low price point. The compromise comes in the optics, particularly the prism's glass type (you might see a little more chromatic aberration around the edges of the moon, and the exit pupil isn't a nice, round circle). Optimized for "almost infinitely distant" celestial objects, these Cometrons won't focus closer than about 30 feet (9.1 meters).  But that's fine for most sports and other outdoor use. If you're gift-buying for multiple young astronomers – or you want an inexpensive second set for yourself – these binoculars could be your answer. Just maybe remind those young folks to be a little careful around water; Celestron claims only that the Cometrons are "water resistant," not waterproof. 

Honorable Mention: Swarovski Habicht 8x30 (Cost: $1,050)

From the legendary Austrian firm of Swarovski Optik, these "bins" are perfect. Really. Very sharp. Very lightweight. Very wide field. Very versatile. And very expensive! Our editors would have picked them if we could have afforded them. 

Honorable Mention: Nikon Aculon 7x50 (Cost: $110) 

Nikon's legendary optical quality and the large, 7mm exit pupil diameter make these appropriate as a gift for younger skywatchers. 

Best Medium Binoculars

Editor's Choice: Celestron SkyMaster 8x56 (Cost: $210)

A solid, chunky-feeling set of quality prisms and lenses makes these binoculars a pleasant, 38oz. handful. A medium wide 5.8 degrees filed of view and large 7mm exit pupil brings you gently into a sweet sky of bright, though perhaps not totally brilliant, stars. Fully dressed in a rubber wetsuit, these SkyMasters are waterproof. Feel free to take them boating or birding on a moist morning. Their optical tubes were blown out with dry nitrogen at the factory, then sealed. So you can expect them not to fog up, at least not from the inside. Celestron's strap-mounting points on the Skymaster 8x56 are recessed, so they don't bother your thumbs, but that location makes them hard to fasten. 

Runner-Up: Oberwerk Ultra 15x70 (Cost: $380)

The most rugged pair we evaluated, these 15x70s are optically outstanding. Seen through the Ultra's exquisitely multi-coated glass, you may find yourself falling in love with the sky all over again. Oberwerk's method of suspending their BAK4 glass Porro prisms offers greater shock-resistance than most competitors’ designs. While more costly than some comparable binoculars, they deliver superior value. Our only complaint is with their mass: At 5.5 lbs., these guys are heavy!  You can hand-hold them for a short while, if you’re lying down. But they are best placed on a tripod, or on a counterweighted arm, unless you like shaky squiggles where your point-source stars are supposed to be. Like most truly big binoculars, the eyepieces focus independently; there’s no center focus wheel. These "binos" are for true astronomers. 

Honorable Mention: Vixen Ascot 10x50 (Cost:$165)

These quirky binoculars present you with an extremely wide field. But they are not crash-worthy – don't drop them in the dark – nor are they waterproof, and the focus knob is not conveniently located. So care is needed if you opt for these Vixen optics. 

Best Large Binoculars

Don't even think about hand-holding this 156-ounce beast! The SkyMaster 25x100 is really a pair of side-by-side 100mm short-tube refractor telescopes. Factor the cost of a sturdy tripod into your purchase decision, if you want to go this big.  The monster Celestron comes with a sturdy support spar for mounting. Its properly multi-coated optics will haul in surprising detail from the sky.  Just make sure your skies are dark; with this much magnification, light pollution can render your images dingy. As with many in the giant and super-giant class of binoculars, the oculars (non-removable eyepieces) focus separately, each rotating through an unusually long 450 degrees.  Getting to critical focus can be challenging, but the view is worth it. You can resolve a bit of detail on face of the new moon (lit by "Earthshine") and pick out cloud bands on Jupiter; tha's pretty astonishing for binoculars. 

Runner-Up: Orion Astronomy 20x80 (Cost: $150)

These big Orions distinguish themselves by price point; they're an excellent value. You could pay 10 times more for the comparably sized Steiners Military Observer 20x80 binoculars! Yes, the Orions are more delicate, a bit less bright and not quite as sharp. But they do offer amazingly high contrast; you'll catch significant detail in galaxies, comets and other "fuzzies." Unusually among such big rigs, the Astronomy 20x80 uses a center focus ring and one "diopter" (rather than independently focusing oculars); if you’re graduating from smaller binoculars, which commonly use that approach, this may be a comfort. These binoculars are almost lightweight enough to hold them by hand. But don't do that, at least not for long periods. And don't drop them. They will go out of alignment if handled roughly. 

Honorable Mention: Barska Cosmos 25x100 (Cost: $230)

They are not pretty, but you're in the dark, right? Built around a tripod-mountable truss tube, these Barskas equilibrate to temperature quickly and give you decent viewing at rational cost. They make for a cheaper version of our Editors' Choice Celestron SkyMasters. 

Honorable Mention: Steiner Observer 20x80 (Cost: $1,500)

Not at all a practical cost choice for a beginning stargazer, but you can dream, can't you? These Steiner binoculars are essentially military optics "plowshared" for peaceful celestial observing. 

Why we chose NOT to review certain types

Image stabilized?

Binoculars with active internal image stabilization are a growing breed. Most use battery-powered gyroscope/accelerometer-driven dynamic optical elements. We have left this type out of our evaluation because they are highly specialized and pricey ($1,250 and up). But if you are considering active stabilization, you can apply the same judgment methods detailed in our Buyer's Guide.

Comes with a camera?

A few binoculars are sold with built-in cameras. That seems like a good idea. But it isn't, at least not for skywatching. Other than Earth's moon, objects in the night sky are stingy with their photons. It takes a lengthy, rock-steady time exposure to collect enough light for a respectable image. By all means, consider these binocular-camera combos for snapping Facebook shots of little Jenny on the soccer field. But stay away from them for astronomy.

Mega monster-sized?

Take your new binoculars out under the night sky on clear nights, and you will fall in love with the universe. You will crave more ancient light from those distant suns. That may translate into a strong desire for bigger stereo-light buckets.

Caution: The next level up is a quantum jump of at least one financial order of magnitude. But if you have the disposable income and frequent access to dark skies, you may want to go REALLY big. Binocular telescopes in this class can feature interchangeable matching eyepieces, individually focusing oculars, more than 30x magnification and sturdy special-purpose tripods. Amateurs using these elite-level stereoscopes have discovered several prominent comets.

Enjoy your universe

If you are new to lens-assisted stargazing, you'll find excellent enhanced views among the binocular choices above. To get in deeper and to understand how we picked the ones we did, jump to our Buyer's Guide: How to Choose Binoculars for Sky Watching.

You have just taken the first step to lighting up your brain with star fire. May the photons be with you. Always. 

Skywatching Events 2015

Once you have your new binoculars, it's time to take them for a spin. This year intrepid stargazers will have plenty of good opportunities to use new gear.

On March 20, for example, the sun will go through a total solar eclipse. You can check out the celestial sight using the right sun-blocking filters for binoculars, but NEVER look at the sun directly, even during a solar eclipse. It's important to find the proper filters in order to observe the rare cosmic show. 

Observers can also take a look at the craggy face of the moon during a lunar eclipse on April 4. Stargazers using binoculars should be able to pick out some details not usually seen by the naked eye when looking at Earth's natural satellite.

Skywatchers should also peek out from behind the binoculars for a chance to see a series of annual meteor showers throughout the year.

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The Future of Technology in 2015?

Excerpt from

The year gone by brought us more robots, worries about artificial intelligence, and difficult lessons on space travel. The big question: where's it all taking us?

Every year, we capture a little bit more of the future -- and yet the future insists on staying ever out of reach.
Consider space travel. Humans have been traveling beyond the atmosphere for more than 50 years now -- but aside from a few overnights on the moon four decades ago, we have yet to venture beyond low Earth orbit.
Or robots. They help build our cars and clean our kitchen floors, but no one would mistake a Kuka or a Roomba for the replicants in "Blade Runner." Siri, Cortana and Alexa, meanwhile, are bringing some personality to the gadgets in our pockets and our houses. Still, that's a long way from HAL or that lad David from the movie "A.I. Artificial Intelligence."
Self-driving cars? Still in low gear, and carrying some bureaucratic baggage that prevents them from ditching certain technology of yesteryear, like steering wheels.
And even when these sci-fi things arrive, will we embrace them? A Pew study earlier this year found that Americans are decidedly undecided. Among the poll respondents, 48 percent said they would like to take a ride in a driverless car, but 50 percent would not. And only 3 percent said they would like to own one.
"Despite their general optimism about the long-term impact of technological change," Aaron Smith of the Pew Research Center wrote in the report, "Americans express significant reservations about some of these potentially short-term developments" such as US airspace being opened to personal drones, robot caregivers for the elderly or wearable or implantable computing devices that would feed them information.
Let's take a look at how much of the future we grasped in 2014 and what we could gain in 2015.

Space travel: 'Space flight is hard'

In 2014, earthlings scored an unprecedented achievement in space exploration when the European Space Agency landed a spacecraft on a speeding comet, with the potential to learn more about the origins of life. No, Bruce Willis wasn't aboard. Nobody was. But when the 220-pound Philae lander, carried to its destination by the Rosetta orbiter, touched down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12, some 300 million miles from Earth, the celebration was well-earned.
A shadow quickly fell on the jubilation, however. Philae could not stick its first landing, bouncing into a darker corner of the comet where its solar panels would not receive enough sunlight to charge the lander's batteries. After two days and just a handful of initial readings sent home, it shut down. For good? Backers have allowed for a ray of hope as the comet passes closer to the sun in 2015. "I think within the team there is no doubt that [Philae] will wake up," lead lander scientist Jean-Pierre Bibring said in December. "And the question is OK, in what shape? My suspicion is we'll be in good shape."
The trip for NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has been much longer: 3 billion miles, all the way to Pluto and the edge of the solar system. Almost nine years after it left Earth, New Horizons in early December came out of hibernation to begin its mission: to explore "a new class of planets we've never seen, in a place we've never been before," said project scientist Hal Weaver. In January, it will begin taking photos and readings of Pluto, and by mid-July, when it swoops closest to Pluto, it will have sent back detailed information about the dwarf planet and its moon, en route to even deeper space.

Also in December, NASA made a first test spaceflight of its Orion capsule on a quick morning jaunt out and back, to just over 3,600 miles above Earth (or approximately 15 times higher than the International Space Station). The distance was trivial compared to those those traveled by Rosetta and New Horizons, and crewed missions won't begin till 2021, but the ambitions are great -- in the 2030s, Orion is expected to carry humans to Mars.
In late March 2015, two humans will head to the ISS to take up residence for a full year, in what would be a record sleepover in orbit. "If a mission to Mars is going to take a three-year round trip," said NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who will be joined in the effort by Russia's Mikhail Kornienko, "we need to know better how our body and our physiology performs over durations longer than what we've previously on the space station investigated, which is six months."
There were more sobering moments, too, in 2014. In October, Virgin Galactic's sleek, experimental SpaceShipTwo, designed to carry deep-pocketed tourists into space, crashed in the Mojave Desert during a test flight, killing one test pilot and injuring the other. Virgin founder Richard Branson had hoped his vessel would make its first commercial flight by the end of this year or in early 2015, and what comes next remains to be seen. Branson, though, expressed optimism: "Space flight is hard -- but worth it," he said in a blog post shortly after the crash, and in a press conference, he vowed "We'll learn from this, and move forward together." Virgin Galactic could begin testing its next spaceship as soon as early 2015.
The crash of SpaceShipTwo came just a few days after the explosion of an Orbital Sciences rocket lofting an unmanned spacecraft with supplies bound for the International Space Station. And in July, Elon Musk's SpaceX had suffered the loss of one of its Falcon 9 rockets during a test flight. Musk intoned, via Twitter, that "rockets are tricky..."
Still, it was on the whole a good year for SpaceX. In May, it unveiled its first manned spacecraft, the Dragon V2, intended for trips to and from the space station, and in September, it won a $2.6 billion contract from NASA to become one of the first private companies (the other being Boeing) to ferry astronauts to the ISS, beginning as early as 2017. Oh, and SpaceX also has plans to launch microsatellites to establish low-cost Internet service around the globe, saying in November to expect an announcement about that in two to three months -- that is, early in 2015.
One more thing to watch for next year: another launch of the super-secret X-37B space place to do whatever it does during its marathon trips into orbit. The third spaceflight of an X-37B -- a robotic vehicle that, at 29 feet in length, looks like a miniature space shuttle -- ended in October after an astonishing 22 months circling the Earth, conducting "on-orbit experiments."

Self-driving cars: Asleep at what wheel?

Spacecraft aren't the only vehicles capable of autonomous travel -- increasingly, cars are, too. Automakers are toiling toward self-driving cars, and Elon Musk -- whose name comes up again and again when we talk about the near horizon for sci-fi tech -- says we're less than a decade away from capturing that aspect of the future. In October, speaking in his guise as founder of Tesla Motors, Musk said: "Like maybe five or six years from now I think we'll be able to achieve true autonomous driving where you could literally get in the car, go to sleep and wake up at your destination." (He also allowed that we should tack on a few years after that before government regulators give that technology their blessing.)
Prototype, unbound: Google's ride of the future, as it looks today Google
That comment came as Musk unveiled a new autopilot feature -- characterizing it as a sort of super cruise control, rather than actual autonomy -- for Tesla's existing line of electric cars. Every Model S manufactured since late September includes new sensor hardware to enable those autopilot capabilities (such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and automated parking), to be followed by an over-the-air software update to enable those features.
Google has long been working on its own robo-cars, and until this year, that meant taking existing models -- a Prius here, a Lexus there -- and buckling on extraneous gear. Then in May, the tech titan took the wraps off a completely new prototype that it had built from scratch. (In December, it showed off the first fully functional prototype.) It looked rather like a cartoon car, but the real news was that there was no steering wheel, gas pedal or brake pedal -- no need for human controls when software and sensors are there to do the work.
Or not so fast. In August, California's Department of Motor Vehicles declared that Google's test vehicles will need those manual controls after all -- for safety's sake. The company agreed to comply with the state's rules, which went into effect in September, when it began testing the cars on private roads in October.
Regardless of who's making your future robo-car, the vehicle is going to have to be not just smart, but actually thoughtful. It's not enough for the car to know how far it is from nearby cars or what the road conditions are. The machine may well have to make no-win decisions, just as human drivers sometimes do in instantaneous, life-and-death emergencies. "The car is calculating a lot of consequences of its actions," Chris Gerdes, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, said at the Web Summit conference in Dublin, Ireland, in November. "Should it hit the person without a helmet? The larger car or the smaller car?"

Robots: Legging it out

So when do the robots finally become our overlords? Probably not in 2015, but there's sure to be more hand-wringing about both the machines and the artificial intelligence that could -- someday -- make them a match for homo sapiens. At the moment, the threat seems more mundane: when do we lose our jobs to a robot?
The inquisitive folks at Pew took that very topic to nearly 1,900 experts, including Vint Cerf, vice president at Google; Web guru Tim Bray; Justin Reich of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society; and Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher at Microsoft. According to the resulting report, published in August, the group was almost evenly split -- 48 percent thought it likely that, by 2025, robots and digital agents will have displaced significant numbers of blue- and white-collar workers, perhaps even to the point of breakdowns in the social order, while 52 percent "have faith that human ingenuity will create new jobs, industries, and ways to make a living, just as it has been doing since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution."

Still, for all of the startling skills that robots have acquired so far, they're often not all there yet. Here's some of what we saw from the robot world in 2014:
Teamwork: Researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale De Lausanne in May showed off their "Roombots," cog-like robotic balls that can join forces to, say, help a table move across a room or change its height.
A sense of balance: We don't know if Boston Dynamics' humanoid Atlas is ready to trim bonsai trees, but it has learned this much from "The Karate Kid" (the original from the 1980s) -- it can stand on cinder blocks and hold its balance in a crane stance while moving its arms up and down.
Catlike jumps: MIT's cheetah-bot gets higher marks for locomotion. Fed a new algorithm, it can run across a lawn and bound like a cat. And quietly, too. "Our robot can be silent and as efficient as animals. The only things you hear are the feet hitting the ground," MIT's Sangbae Kim, a professor of mechanical engineering, told MIT News. "This is kind of a new paradigm where we're controlling force in a highly dynamic situation. Any legged robot should be able to do this in the future."
Sign language: Toshiba's humanoid Aiko Chihira communicated in Japanese sign language at the CEATEC show in October. Her rudimentary skills, limited for the moment to simple messages such as signed greetings, are expected to blossom by 2020 into areas such as speech synthesis and speech recognition.
Dance skills: Robotic pole dancers? Tobit Software brought a pair, controllable by an Android smartphone, to the Cebit trade show in Germany in March. More lifelike was the animatronic sculpture at a gallery in New York that same month -- but what was up with that witch mask?
Emotional ambition: Eventually, we'll all have humanoid companions -- at least, that's always been one school of thought on our robotic future. One early candidate for that honor could be Pepper, from Softbank and Aldebaran Robotics, which say the 4-foot-tall Pepper is the first robot to read emotions. This emo-bot is expected to go on sale in Japan in February.

Ray guns: Ship shape

Damn the photon torpedoes, and full speed ahead. That could be the motto for the US Navy, which in 2014 deployed a prototype laser weapon -- just one -- aboard a vessel in the Persian Gulf. Through some three months of testing, the device "locked on and destroyed the targets we designated with near-instantaneous lethality," Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, chief of naval research, said in a statement. Those targets were rather modest -- small objects mounted aboard a speeding small boat, a diminutive Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle, and so on -- but the point was made: the laser weapon, operated by a controller like those used for video games, held up well, even in adverse conditions.

Artificial intelligence: Danger, Will Robinson?

What happens when robots and other smart machines can not only do, but also think? Will they appreciate us for all our quirky human high and low points, and learn to live with us? Or do they take a hard look at a species that's run its course and either turn us into natural resources, "Matrix"-style, or rain down destruction?
When the machines take over, will they be packing laser weapons like this one the US Navy just tried out? John F. Williams/US Navy
As we look ahead to the reboot of the "Terminator" film franchise in 2015, we can't help but recall some of the dire thoughts about artificial intelligence from two people high in the tech pantheon, the very busy Musk and the theoretically inclined Stephen Hawking.
Musk himself more than once in 2014 invoked the likes of the "Terminator" movies and the "scary outcomes" that make them such thrilling popcorn fare. Except that he sees a potentially scary reality evolving. In an interview with CNBC in June, he spoke of his investment in AI-minded companies like Vicarious and Deep Mind, saying: "I like to just keep an eye on what's going on with artificial intelligence. I think there is potentially a dangerous outcome."
He has put his anxieties into some particularly colorful phrases. In August, for instance, Musk tweeted that AI is "potentially more dangerous than nukes." And in October, he said this at a symposium at MIT: "With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon. ... You know all those stories where there's the guy with the pentagram and the holy water and he's like... yeah, he's sure he can control the demon, [but] it doesn't work out."
Musk has a kindred spirit in Stephen Hawking. The physicist allowed in May that AI could be the "biggest event in human history," and not necessarily in a good way. A month later, he was telling John Oliver, on HBO's "Last Week Tonight," that "artificial intelligence could be a real danger in the not too distant future." How so? "It could design improvements to itself and outsmart us all."
But Google's Eric Schmidt, is having none of that pessimism. At a summit on innovation in December, the executive chairman of the far-thinking tech titan -- which in October teamed up with Oxford University to speed up research on artificial intelligence -- said that while our worries may be natural, "they're also misguided."

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Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God

Excerpt from  wsj.com
By Eric Metaxas

The odds of life existing on another planet grow ever longer. Intelligent design, anyone?

In 1966 Time magazine ran a cover story asking: Is God Dead? Many have accepted the cultural narrative that he’s obsolete—that as science progresses, there is less need for a “God” to explain the universe. Yet it turns out that the rumors of God’s death were premature. More amazing is that the relatively recent case for his existence comes from a surprising place—science itself.
Here’s the story: The same year Time featured the now-famous headline, the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 27 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets capable of supporting life.
With such spectacular odds, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, a large, expensive collection of private and publicly funded projects launched in the 1960s, was sure to turn up something soon. Scientists listened with a vast radio telescopic network for signals that resembled coded intelligence and were not merely random. But as years passed, the silence from the rest of the universe was deafening. Congress defunded SETI in 1993, but the search continues with private funds. As of 2014, researches have discovered precisely bubkis—0 followed by nothing.
What happened? As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting.
Even SETI proponents acknowledged the problem. Peter Schenkel wrote in a 2006 piece for Skeptical Inquirer magazine: “In light of new findings and insights, it seems appropriate to put excessive euphoria to rest . . . . We should quietly admit that the early estimates . . . may no longer be tenable.”
As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets hit zero, and kept going. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here.
Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.
Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?
There’s more. The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.
Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row. Really?
Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term “big bang,” said that his atheism was “greatly shaken” at these developments. He later wrote that “a common-sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology . . . . The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”
Theoretical physicist Paul Davies has said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming” and Oxford professor Dr. John Lennox has said “the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator . . . gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.”
The greatest miracle of all time, without any close seconds, is the universe. It is the miracle of all miracles, one that ineluctably points with the combined brightness of every star to something—or Someone—beyond itself.

Mr. Metaxas is the author, most recently, of “Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life” ( Dutton Adult, 2014).

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