Thursday, March 31, 2022
12.9 billion ...
In a universe far, far away ...
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has established an extraordinary new benchmark: detecting the light of a star that existed within the first billion years after the universe’s birth in the big bang – the farthest individual star ever seen to date.
The find is a huge leap further back in time from the previous single-star record holder; detected by Hubble in 2018. That star existed when the universe was about 4 billion years old, or 30 percent of its current age, at a time that astronomers refer to as “redshift 1.5.” Scientists use the word “redshift” because as the universe expands, light from distant objects is stretched or “shifted” to longer, redder wavelengths as it travels toward us.
The newly detected star is so far away that its light has taken 12.9 billion years to reach Earth, appearing to us as it did when the universe was only 7 percent of its current age, at redshift 6.2. The smallest objects previously seen at such a great distance are clusters of stars, embedded inside early galaxies.
This detailed view highlights the star Earendel's position along a ripple in space-time (dotted line) that magnifies it and makes it possible for the star to be detected over such a great distance—nearly 13 billion light-years. Also indicated is a cluster of stars that is mirrored on either side of the line of magnification. The distortion and magnification are created by the mass of a huge galaxy cluster located in between Hubble and Earendel. The mass of the galaxy cluster is so great that it warps the fabric of space, and looking through that space is like looking through a magnifying glass—along the edge of the glass or lens, the appearance of things on the other side are warped as well as magnified.
The research team estimates that Earendel is at least 50 times the mass of our Sun and millions of times as bright, rivaling the most massive stars known. But even such a brilliant, very high-mass star would be impossible to see at such a great distance without the aid of natural magnification by a huge galaxy cluster, WHL0137-08, sitting between us and Earendel. The mass of the galaxy cluster warps the fabric of space, creating a powerful natural magnifying glass that distorts and greatly amplifies the light from distant objects behind it.
Thanks to the rare alignment with the magnifying galaxy cluster, the star Earendel appears directly on, or extremely close to, a ripple in the fabric of space. This ripple, which is defined in optics as a “caustic,” provides maximum magnification and brightening. The effect is analogous to the rippled surface of a swimming pool creating patterns of bright light on the bottom of the pool on a sunny day. The ripples on the surface act as lenses and focus sunlight to maximum brightness on the pool floor.
This caustic causes the star Earendel to pop out from the general glow of its home galaxy. Its brightness is magnified a thousandfold or more. At this point, astronomers are not able to determine if Earendel is a binary star, though most massive stars have at least one smaller companion star.
Wednesday, March 30, 2022
Conventional wisdom ...
An interesting and insightful post from Bret Stephens of the NYTimes titled What if Putin Didn't Miscalculate? makes imminent sense when you look at how this guy operates, cool, ruthless and cunning, characteristics in concert with the long game he might be playing as articulated in this excellent piece.
To whit ...
The conventional wisdom is that Vladimir Putin catastrophically miscalculated.
He thought Russian-speaking Ukrainians would welcome his troops. They didn’t. He thought he’d swiftly depose Volodymyr Zelensky’s government. He hasn’t. He thought he’d divide NATO. He’s united it. He thought he had sanction-proofed his economy. He’s wrecked it. He thought the Chinese would help him out. They’re hedging their bets. He thought his modernized military would make mincemeat of Ukrainian forces. The Ukrainians are making mincemeat of his, at least on some fronts.
Putin’s miscalculations raise questions about his strategic judgment and mental state. Who, if anyone, is advising him? Has he lost contact with reality? Is he physically unwell? Mentally? Condoleezza Rice warns: “He’s not in control of his emotions. Something is wrong.” Russia’s sieges of Mariupol and Kharkiv — two heavily Russian-speaking cities that Putin claims to be “liberating” from Ukrainian oppression — resemble what the Nazis did to Warsaw, and what Putin himself did to Grozny.
But maybe ...
The possibility is suggested in a powerful reminiscence from The Times’s Carlotta Gall of her experience covering Russia’s siege of Grozny, during the first Chechen war in the mid-1990s. In the early phases of the war, motivated Chechen fighters wiped out a Russian armored brigade, stunning Moscow. The Russians regrouped and wiped out Grozny from afar, using artillery and air power.
Russia’s operating from the same playbook today. When Western military analysts argue that Putin can’t win militarily in Ukraine, what they really mean is that he can’t win clean. Since when has Putin ever played clean?
But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong? What if the West is only playing into Putin’s hands once again?
Suppose for a moment that Putin never intended to conquer all of Ukraine: that, from the beginning, his real targets were the energy riches of Ukraine’s east, which contain Europe’s second-largest known reserves of natural gas (after Norway’s).
Combine that with Russia’s previous territorial seizures in Crimea (which has huge offshore energy fields) and the eastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk (which contain part of an enormous shale-gas field), as well as Putin’s bid to control most or all of Ukraine’s coastline, and the shape of Putin’s ambitions become clear. He’s less interested in reuniting the Russian-speaking world than he is in securing Russia’s energy dominance.
Tuesday, March 29, 2022
Time seemed to have stopped ...
Monday, March 28, 2022
In love of the weird ...
Sunday, March 27, 2022
Soft power of a different kind ...
Yours truly actually remembers this scene when Gramps bought a very early RCA color tv during the halcyon mid 50s when the government was in the black and America was the hegemon of the world. Separated by two oceans, the US created a unique pop culture other countries gravitated to while at the same time, the lack of knowledge on the part of the US regarding other countries remains even today, both astounding and disturbing without question.
In the mid-1990s, an American college student named Max Perelman was traveling through Sichuan, China, more than 1,500 miles from Beijing. While holed up in the southwestern province during the winter months, he encountered a group of Tibetan travelers heading to their capital, Lhasa. The group embraced the young American, sharing food from their rucksacks, perhaps over a fire or in a hostel. The Tibetans had apparently never traveled far from their village before nor had they seen technology like Perelman’s camera. Yet at some point in the conversation, one of the Tibetans turned to Perelman and asked: How is Michael Jordan doing?
That these Tibetan travelers in rural China not only knew about an American sports league but also followed one of its stars and his team—the “Red Oxen,” as the Chicago Bulls are known in Asia—reveals a defining feature of the contemporary international order: The rest of the world is glued to the United States. Foreigners follow American news stories like their own, listen to American pop music, and watch copious amounts of American television and film (in 2016, the six largest Hollywood studios alone accounted for more than half of global box office sales). Sometimes the attention cast toward American culture comes at the expense of foreigners knowing about their own countries. Canadians, a 2008 study found, tend to know more about American history than about their own national history.
Exporting culture equates to soft power of a different kind.
The story of how the U.S. came to dominate global culture—the French called it “coca-colonization”—is one that has been told before. The focus of A Righteous Smokescreen is broader. It is a study of both sides of the globalization ledger: As the U.S. exported its culture in astonishing amounts, it imported very little. In other words, just as the U.S. took command as the planetary superpower, it remained surprisingly cut off from the rest of the world. A parochial empire, but with a global reach.
Lebovic picks apart the lofty rhetoric of reciprocity—especially the ambiguity-addled “free flow of information”—by focusing on what he calls “quotidian world-ordering.” Examples include visa regulations, civil aviation treaties, and educational exchanges, all of which constituted the very processes that laid and limited the transnational paths that information and culture traveled along. Although Lebovic’s claim that most scholars of this period study more seemingly grandiose geopolitical problems is a bit hyperbolic—consider Daniel Immerwahr’s work on the international battle over screw-thread standards or Arissa Oh’s research on the origins of international adoption in the early Cold War—his approach is wildly innovative and helps us dramatically rethink the postwar U.S. and the limits to the world order it helped construct. Containment, Lebovic shows, wasn’t just a territorial strategy committed to holding back Soviet expansion into Europe and Asia. Rather, it began at the American border and it involved policing the flow of people and ideas that were potentially inimical to the American status quo (this form of containment caught a much wider array of ideologies than just Soviet communism in its net). An Iron Curtain, to rejig Churchill’s famous speech about Soviet policies in Eastern Europe, had descended around the U.S.
When the dust settled after World War II, the United States stood as the world’s unquestionably pre-eminent military and economic power. In the decades that followed, the country exerted its dominant force in less visible but equally powerful ways, too, spreading its trade protocols, its media, and—perhaps most importantly—its alleged values.