Planetarium Explains Earth’s Ancient Age

“Many independent lines of scientific evidence show that the Earth and universe are billions of years old. Current measurements yield an age of about 4.6 billion years for the Earth and about 14 billion years for the universe,” reads a statement released by the International Planetarium Society, which also explains how these ages are determined (through diverse research, often from different measurements of different physical principles, and by competing research teams). “These measurements of age,” the statements goes on, “are accepted by nearly all astronomers, including both research astronomers and planetarium educators. These astronomers come from nations and cultures around the world and from a very wide spectrum of religious beliefs.”

Digitized DNA (Stephen Colbert’s!) Off to Space

Next month, video game designer Richard Garriott (son of astronaut Owen Garriott) will travel to the International Space Station aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and he’ll be taking with him a time capsule of sorts—a backup of humanity meant to protect us from extinction if disaster strikes and everyone on Earth is wiped out. Stored at the ISS, this “Immortality Drive” will “save a history of humanity’s greatest achievements, digitized human DNA, and personal messages from people all over the world,” according to the Operation Immortality Web site. Stephen Colbert recently agreed to have his digitized DNA sent into space, as did Digg founder Kevin Rose, singer-songwriter Joe Ely, Olympic gymnast Scott Johnson, and American Gladiator Matt Morgan, among a handful of others. “In the unlikely event that Earth and humanity are destroyed, mankind can be resurrected with Stephen Colbert’s DNA,” Garriott said in a statement. “Is there a better person for us to turn to for this high-level responsibility?” —Heather Wax

The Large Hadron Collider Is Fired Up

The switch was flipped and the first beam of protons has been fired around the Large Hadron Collider, the biggest particle physics experiment in history. (And we didn’t get devoured by a black hole.)
The LHC is a circular particle accelerator with a circumference of 17 miles—or about 300 football fields—buried deep underground at the French-Swiss border outside Geneva. Built at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, the collider will smash protons into each other at nearly the speed of light, hoping to produce data that will let scientists see the conditions of the cosmos a fraction of a second after the big bang. Researchers hope it will also find evidence of the hypothesized (but never observed) Higgs boson, nicknamed the “God particle,” which would help physicists explain how particles get their mass and give them a deeper, unified understanding of the universe.
Before long, there’ll be proton smashing, but for now, and for the next month or so, scientists will circulate protons in one direction only. Then, they’ll circulate them in the opposite direction. And finally, they’ll crash the protons into each other, analyzing the collisions.
Follow along with the LHC live Web cast, play the online game Epsilon to see what it’s like to be a particle physicist, and be sure to check out the explanatory rap video (above). —Heather Wax

Believers Say Aliens Won’t Cause Crisis of Faith

According to a new study released by the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, most religious believers would welcome meeting and interacting with extraterrestrials. The “Peters ETI Religious Crisis Survey of 2008,” led by systematic theologian Ted Peters, was designed to test the idea that the discovery of an extraterrestrial civilization of intelligent beings would lead to a crisis of faith for religious believers and possibly a collapse of religious traditions altogether.
Yet more than 80 percent of Catholics, mainline Protestants, evangelical Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Mormons, Jews, and Buddhists said they didn’t think the discovery of aliens on another planet would cause a crisis of personal belief. (Click on image for larger view.)

Notably, nonreligious respondents were more likely to predict a crisis for religious belief systems as a whole than were religious respondents themselves.

Also interesting is that only about 25 percent of those who identify as nonreligious said they expect aliens to have no religion and to rely exclusively on scientific knowledge.

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