I promised myself I would write a blog entry about each of the HEF weekly open meetings I went to, and with this week’s meeting approaching fast I thought I would do a quick report on the last one, as much to share the discussion with you as to reflect on the talk myself.
I missed the HEF open meeting on the 15th as it was on civic planning and the environment and I had to help my in-laws set up their new TV/home cinema system and talk them through how to use the remote… Ideas for blog entries are also piling up now that I’m starting to get my fingers in lots of skeptical Norwegian pies – as in societies and events that centre on scepticism, not Norwegian meat-filled pastries that are of a curious bent.
On the 8th the open meeting was a talk on the Sun. The meeting was actually more like a school lecture than a typical open meeting or talk that I’m used to from Skeptics in the Pub, in the sense that it wasn’t about why people think that the Sun is actually at the centre of the universe, or that it is a god, or its existence is some lefty government conspiracy. Instead, Olav Kjeldseth-Moe, a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Oslo, just talked about how bloody amazing the Sun is and how the cool science and technology used to study it is.
The talk was organised ‘inner to outer’, covering the basics of nuclear fusion, the different strata that constitute the sun and their different properties, the life cycle of stars and the eventual fate of our solar system as the Sun runs out of energy and ‘dies’.
Prof Kjeldseth-Moe also showed film clips and images of the sun’s surface captured by the Swedish Solar Telescope, the largest optical solar telescope in Europe and the second in the world, after the McMath-Pierce telescope in Arizona, USA, which can see details as small as 70 km on the solar surface. Think about that for a second. We’ve managed to create a machine that can produce eye-meltingly detailed images like the ones below of something that is 93,000,000 miles away.
More solar-porn can be found here: a gallery of high-res images of the sun from various different telescopes and observatories.
You can read more facts about the Sun on the Wikipedia page, but I want to share one of the coolest things I learned: it ‘rains’ on the sun! This video, captured by the NASA's new Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), shows the ‘rainfall’, which is actually the debris from billions of tons of magnetised plasma that has been blasted into space, falling back to the Sun’s surface.
And I’m hoping something wasn’t lost in translation, but if I heard right, the Sun produces 1 kW of energy per square metre, which is actually less than the energy released by the normal metabolism of a human body! It’s just the Sun’s massive size that gives it its life-giving quantities of energies. I heard it from Prof Kjeldseth-Moe, but someone please correct me if that’s a myth.
After the talk and before the Q&A there was a chance to grab a fresh Norwegian waffle and some coffee and chat with one of the organisers about how the Human-Etisk Forbund works (but that’s for another blog post). I didn’t stick around for the whole Q&A session as most of it was lost on me. I’m fine with following a speaker in Norwegian, because they have the tendency to speak a little slower and enunciate their words, but members of the public ramble-mumbling into a mic in a variety of accents and dialects is just too much after a long day at work.
It was refreshing to attend a talk that was just about the science, and not about the controversies and partisan debates. I take the Sun for granted and admit to barely giving its working a second thought, so it was nice to think and learn about a star that, whilst unexceptional in the grand scheme of the universe, is vital to our existence.
This coming Wednesday it’s back to the controversy as Pål Hartwig discuss "The risk of violence in schizophrenia and related psychoses"and the tendency to unjustifiably conflate mental illness and violence.