Saturday, February 16, 2013

What an exciting day

Well that was quite a coincidence.  Though we should consider this, if coincidences never occurred, that in itself would be a coincidence. 

At 3:30 UT yesterday (9:30 local time) we had the Russian meteor (top two photos).  And 16 hours later at 19:30 UT, we had the asteroid flyby (diagramme). The two events were each historic and entirely unrelated. The first was unexpected, the second accurately predicted. I'll start with three links for the Russian meteor:

     UT = Universal Time, the same as Greenwich Mean Time  

The asteroid flyby

I recommend this NASA broadcast which includes an interview with scientist Paul Chados explaining the similarities and differences between the two events.  He's from NASA’s Near Earth Object Program Office. “What an exciting day” he enthuses, “it's like a shooting gallery here, we have two rare events of Near Earth Objects approaching the Earth on the same day …”

Asteroid 2012 DA14 came nearer to the Earth yesterday than many communications satellites, which inhabit the geosynchronous ring shown in the diagramme above. (That's the orbit communications satellites use in order to appear stationary with respect to the Earth.)   At 45 metres wide, the space rock is the biggest ever observed object to swoop this close to Earth. Had it collided with the planet, it would have caused devastation akin to the 1908 Tunguska event that flattened 2000 square kilometres of trees in Siberia (photo bottom right).

Astronomers discovered DA14 a year ago and it's on an orbit round the Sun very close to the Earth’s. What's spooky to me is that for all we know it has been on this orbit since forever without anyone knowing until last year.

More about the Russian meteor

Russian officials put the number of people injured at almost 1,200, but seemingly only around 40 were taken to hospital (?), mostly as a result of flying glass shattered by the sonic boom created by the meteorite's descent, as people were drawn to their windows by the sound of explosions as the meteorite plunged to Earth in a series of fireballs just after sunrise. "There was a big explosion and then a series of little explosions. My first thought was that it was a plane crash" said one witness. There were no reported deaths.

The meteorite is thought to be 15m (about 48 feet) across, that’s one third the size of DA14. It entered the atmosphere travelling at a speed of at least 33,000 mph and broke up into chunks between 18 and 32 miles above the ground.

The event caused panic in Chelyabinsk, a city of more than 1 million people to the south of Russia's Ural mountains, as mobile phone networks swiftly became jammed by the volume of calls. The vapour trail was visible for hundreds of miles around.

Amateur video footage from the area showed the chunks of meteorite glowing more brightly as they approached the moment of impact.

Sources for Russian meteor: Guardian website yesterday, Russian Academy of Sciences (reported by Guardian) and Paul Chados of NASA.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Was the big march against Blair’s war in vain?

10 years today. The smudgy pink thing is my ticket to the biggest march in British history. I was bus monitor for bus no 19 from York. Or it might have been bus 17. I know it was a prime number. We sent 21 buses in all. Did we waste our time? Most people, even those who went, will tell you yes, but Peace News is trying to get us to think differently.

Peace News has dubbed 11 March 2003 Wobbly Tuesday, one of the great secrets of the Iraq war, kept secret not by state censorship and repression, but by media and academic self-censorship.  They say it’s time for the British anti-war movement to finally shake off the lie that the astonishing anti-war mobilisation of early 2003 had no effect whatsoever on the British government.

Though we all thought we had marched entirely in vain, the truth is that on Wobbly Tuesday the Blair government panicked. The Sunday Telegraph later reported that "Mr Hoon’s department [the ministry of defence] was frantically preparing contingency plans to 'disconnect' British troops entirely from the military invasion of Iraq, demoting their role to subsequent phases of the campaign and peacekeeping." (Sunday Telegraph, 16 March)

This is taken from a website set up by peace activist Milan Rai.

In the publicity for Ian Sinclair's The march that shook Blair: An oral history of 15 February 2003, to be launched later today, Peace News suggests that “on this evidence, the big march was shock and awe from the bottom up; it came within a hair’s breadth of derailing the warmongers and still shapes our politics today.”

Sadly when it comes to war a hair’s breadth is the difference between life an death.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Is Benedict resignation the Catholic Church's Obama moment?

Benedict XVI’s surprise resignation on Monday has rekindled a worldwide Catholic conversation that effectively stopped when he was elected Pope 8 years ago, according to NPR journalist Liz Halloran in a piece headed Pope's Resignation Redefines Papacy, Spurs Talk Of 'Global South' Successor.

Celibacy, female ordination, same-sex marriage, the handling of clergy sexual abuse revelations, are all up for discussion, in the view of some optimists.  Contraception too I wonder though this isn't included in the list.  All this is unexpected to me, as the college of cardinals has been stuffed with hand-picked conservatives ever since John Paul II's succession in 1978. But the commentators quoted by NPR know what they’re talking about, so we’ll see.

Left, John Paul II in 1997 (pope 1978-2005). Centre, white smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel announces the election on April 19, 2005 of Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI (right, photographed on Monday)
David Gibson, who has covered the Vatican since the 1980’s and is author of The Rule of Benedict: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle with the Modern World is quoted as saying "It's the Catholic Church's Obama moment".

Dennis Coday, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, welcomes the prospect of change and more open discussions with a new pope: "The next pope needs to address these issues, which aren't just American issues". He says under Benedict XVI all discussion has been shut down, but "We're saying that it cannot be a closed discussion anymore — and it's not just our paper saying that."

Change without changing

All religious institutions have to change with the world, but if their declared mission is to proclaim the unchanging word of God, how do they fulfil this and still adapt? It's a tough row to hoe, one that was started with Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s, but was soon abandoned. There may be hope for Fr Flannery yet.

Benedict's resignation takes effect at the end of this month. The conclave to elect his successor will certainly be before 15th March, perhaps earlier.