With the winter holidays behind us, one of the issues many Americans are dealing with is what to do with the extra mass they have accumulated by consuming figgy pudding and sugar Santa cookies and fruitcake made by monks.
Think of that problem as tangentially related to a considerably broader -- perhaps even eternal -- question of the mass of our galaxy (pictured here), which, as you know, is named after a candy bar, the Milky Way. You go naming galaxies after candy bars and right away they're encouraged to pay precious little attention to their ultimate mass. (If it had been up to me, I'd have named our galaxy Snickers, given that it's a much better treat than the rather dull Milky Way bar, but let that go.)
So ever since the Big Bang, when God said, "Let there be the Milky Way and other stuff," scientists have been trying to figure out the mass of our galaxy. I don't know why they need to know this, but the rule in science is that if something can be known it should be known. Which is why we know square roots and pi and why stuff dropped from the roof falls down and not up.
So now an astrophysicist from McMaster University in Canada has refined her previous work on figuring out the mass of the galaxy and is, this news release says, getting closer to being able to determine what that mass really is.
You can look at the figures in the release to see if you can grasp what they mean, but just know that they show the mass of the galaxy is 400 billion to 580 billion times more than the mass of our sun. Finally, there's a legitimate use for a Donald Trump "h-u-u-u-u-g-e" remark.
Way back in the time of Isaac Newton and other early scientists of the (sort of) modern era, it was understood that when scientists were examining the world, they were trying to figure out in some detail what God had created.
More recently, science has pretty much jettisoned that explanation for what it does and concentrated instead just on finding the facts, leaving the theological interpretations to preachers, gurus and Meryl Streep.
So the Canadian mass finders do not pretend that their work is helping to understand the divine spark behind creation. But they do get into something called hierarchical Bayesian analysis, and I figure that if God wanted me to know about whatever that is I'd have learned about it way before now.
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TEACHING CHILDREN THE WAY OF NONVIOLENCE
A Muslim man has written a letter to his sons in the form of a new book that urges them not to adopt the violent extremism that some radicals are preaching in the name of Islam. The story about this to which I've linked you is an interview with the author, and in it he makes this point about members of ISIS: Many of them are "just incredibly foolishly idealistic. I have no sympathy for them, but I can say that I understand where it's coming from."