Through The Wave That Runs Forever

There seems to have been an accounting error involving the number of stars in the sky.

Previously, Science Men had figured there were about 100 sextillion stars in the universe. But this month a piece in Nature contends that this number is off by a factor of three: there are actually 300 sextillion stars up there in the great wide open.

According to the AP, this new estimate is exuding a “stink.”

The study ques-tions a key assumption that astronomers often use: that most galaxies have the same properties as our Milky Way. And that’s creating a bit of a stink among astronomers who want a more orderly cosmos.

It’s one of two studies being published online Wednesday in the journal Nature that focus on red dwarf stars, the most common stars in the universe. The study that offers the new estimate on stars is led by a Yale University astronomer. He calculates that there are far more red dwarfs than previously thought, and that inflates the total star count.

As is often the case, the Mistake was Made because of the sorta charming, but pretty exasperating, penchant of human beings for presuming that everything everywhere is Just Like Them.

Guess what: it’s not.

Sayeth AP:

When scientists had estimated previously how many stars there were in the universe, they assumed that all galaxies had the same ratio of dwarf stars as in our galaxy, which is spiral-shaped. Much of our understanding of the universe is based on observations inside our Milky Way and then extrapolated to other galaxies.

But about one-third of the galaxies in the universe are not spiral, but elliptical, and [Yale astronomer Pieter] van Dokkum found they aren’t really made up the same way as ours.

Using the Keck telescope in Hawaii, van Dokkum and a colleague gazed into eight other distant, but elliptical, galaxies and looked at their hard-to-differentiate light signatures. The scientists calculated that elliptical galaxies have more of those dwarf stars. A lot more.

“We’re seeing 10 or 20 times more stars than we expected,” van Dokkum said. By his calculations, that triples the number of estimated stars from 100 sextillion to 300 sextillion.

Science Men who want Normal are not at all happy with the van Dokkum discovery.

For the past month, astronomers have been buzzing about van Dokkum’s findings, and many aren’t too happy about it, said astronomer Richard Ellis of the California Institute of Technology.

Van Dokkum’s paper challenges the assumption of “a more orderly universe” and gives credence to “the idea that the universe is more complicated than we think,” Ellis said. “It’s a little alarmist.”

Stuff more complicated than previously thought? Imagine my surprise.

Dudes, we already know it’s a butterfly world, when the soft flap of a tiny wing can contribute to a hurricane thousands of miles away. I’d wager that out there are a few more surprises waiting for you, other than that your estimate of the stars in the sky was off by some 200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 lightbringers.

The tripling of the number of stars in the sky also means that the estimate of the number of planets out there must naturally rise, too.

Previously it was assumed there were millions of billions of planets in the universe; now, I suppose, we should figure on billions of billions. And as Science Men are discovering that water is pretty much ubiquitous among the orbs of our solar system, using the if-it’s-there-it-must-be-like-here principle, this means there are billions of billions of places out there that may host Life As We Know It.

Then again, right here on terra Science Men recently unearthed in California’s Mono Lake a “new” form of life that is not at all like Life As We Know It, because it gets off on arsenic. But it’s life nonetheless.

Life doesn’t have to like stuff just because you and I do. In the same AP piece that describes the new star-sextillions, there is a blood-curdling description of what is portrayed as a Horror World, festering out there some 42 light years from home.

The planet lives up to the word alien.

The[] paper reports that this giant planet’s atmosphere is either dense with sizzling water vapor like a souped-up steam bath, or it’s full of hazy, choking hydrogen and helium clouds with a slightly blue tint . . . .

And while this planet is nowhere near livable—it’s about 440 degrees—characterizing its atmosphere is a big step toward understanding potentially habitable planets outside our solar system, said study chief author Jacob Bean at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

“You wouldn’t want to be there. It would be unpleasant,” said study co-author Eliza Kempton of the University of California Santa Clara.

But other people might think that “steam bath” just heavenly. Different strokes, for different star-folks. We’ll find this to be true, I reckon, eventually. Maybe even soon.

I take comfort in the thought of so much life in so many elsewheres. Because this means odds are there are worlds where no one has ever heard of such things as radio ads, gangrene, or Sarah Palin.

Of course, as I observed during the Christmas season last year, every new world also requires a visit from Jesus Christ, there required to go through it all, in some world-appropriate form, all over again.

So. “[M]ore [planets] than stars in our galaxy” . . . and presumably some form of life on every one. This, again, brings new meaning to the phrase “Jesus wept.” For if Jesus’ father made this world, he surely made all those other worlds, too. And as nothing in the Big Guy’s makeup or history indicates that he would have done a better job of it anywhere else, this means Jesus will be needed to clean up the mess on every one of those worlds—worlds without end, amen. Truly: his is a job that will never, ever end.

Next time you’re having a bad day, think about that one: eternally recurring crucifixion.

“We’re supposed to believe that Christ has gone on to reign in glory,” Lucas said.

“No,” said Herzog. “Jesus Christ suffers from now until the end. On the cross. He goes on suffering. Until the death of the last human being.”

Here, there, everywhere. Hell of a task.

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11 Responses to “Through The Wave That Runs Forever”


  1. 1 possum December 13, 2010 at 6:46 am

    But of course astronomers are concerned. “It’s a little alarmist.” We humans need order and regularity. We are hardwired to see differences and to react to those differences. Our survival instincts require our being able to see unusual or different in our world. Tough to get over all that stuff we inherited.

    Too bad we use our natural instincts to foster fear. The step for an astronomer from being disconcerted to being fearful is a giant one but small enough to be taken by many of our fellow beings.

    What if there is life on other planets? Why should we humans think we are either alone or supreme? We can tell ourselves all we wish that we reign over all else but saying a thing does not make it a truth.

    We need more, not fewer, facts to manage our lives. Good for the science types who question and find new answers. Progress is only made by seeking and making some sense of whatever is found.

    • 2 bluenred December 13, 2010 at 9:03 am

      Hi possum. Long time no see. Of course, I didn’t write much there for awhile. : (

      I hope you don’t mind that I kind of poke gentle fun at Science Men now and again. I really do appreciate their work, sometimes I just find it kind of . . . endearing, that they so often work off the principle of “it must be everywhere like us.”

      That they’ll identify life elsewhere is to me a certainty. I’m just hoping it will happen in our lifetime. I’m expecting that it will. Things are moving very quickly. Wasn’t so long ago they hadn’t identified a single exo-planet. Now they’ve identified them in the hundreds, and theorized them in the billions. It’s coming . . . .

  2. 3 possum December 13, 2010 at 9:10 am

    Life has been pretty busy in Possum Valley. Not on the computer on weekends and lots of house guests for a bit. Not neglecting you, just busy as heck. Glad to be back and to see you are still doing fine work.

    Science people tend to be too serious for their own good. They begin to believe they “know.” Then the real trouble sets in. Inquiring and open minds are best.

    Life outside our planet may be discovered most any day now. That has been a dream of mine since the teen years. I can hardly wait. There are so many possibilities in that scenario. Maybe an alien species will even be able to bring civilization to us humans. At least a guy can hope…

  3. 5 possum December 13, 2010 at 9:42 am

    Hey, now!!! Possums are not that bad. :)

    • 6 bluenred December 13, 2010 at 10:08 am

      No-no, it was meant as a compliment, possum. I was trying to say that you are a more evolved being sent to try to “bring civilization to us humans.”

      I’m not sure that it’s working, though. : (

  4. 7 possum December 13, 2010 at 10:16 am

    “a more evolved being sent to try to “bring civilization to us humans.”” Don’t I wish. :)

    Thanks for the kind words. I will continue to do my best to change the world one person at a time.

    • 8 bluenred December 13, 2010 at 10:30 am

      Good on you.

      While we’re on the subject of stars, did you see this piece, about the woman in Spain who has declared that she now owns the sun?

      A woman from Spain’s soggy region of Galicia said Friday she had registered the star at a local notary public as being her property.

      Angeles Duran, 49, told the online edition of daily El Mundo she took the step in September after reading about an American man who had registered himself as the owner of the moon and most planets in our solar system.

      There is an international agreement which states that no country may claim ownership of a planet or star, but it says nothing about individuals, she added.

      “There was no snag, I backed my claim legally, I am not stupid, I know the law. I did it but anyone else could have done it, it simply occurred to me first.”

      The document issued by the notary public declares Duran to be the “owner of the Sun, a star of spectral type G2, located in the centre of the solar system, located at an average distance from Earth of about 149,600,000 kilometers.”

      Duran, who lives in the town of Salvaterra do Mino, said she now wants to slap a fee on everyone who uses the sun and give half of the proceeds to the Spanish government and 20 percent to the nation’s pension fund.

      She would dedicate another 10 percent to research, another 10 percent to ending world hunger—and would keep the remaining 10 percent herself.

      Does this mean that people can now sue this woman when they contract skin cancer from the rays emanated by her property, or when their crops fail because of too much or not enough light from her possession? I see a whole new field of law opening up here . . . .

  5. 9 possum December 13, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Great fodder for a young lawyer I’d have to say. In our litigious world that woman is crazy enough to deserve all she gets along the way.

    I will be laughing for days at the very thought anyone thinks they could own the sun. But once upon a time Native Americans thought no one could own the land, too. Who knows? Maybe she needs a good attorney to enforce her rights of ownership.

  6. 10 Nanette December 14, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Hi bluenred,

    I just wanted to let you know that I am your newest, bestest fan. I was pointed here by someone – well, actually pointed to some writing of yours somewhere else, which led me to here – but anyway, I got here and will likely visit often.


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