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Archive for the ‘astronomy’ Category

NYTimes headline: When Stars Twitter, a Ghost May Be Lurking

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on March 28, 2009

I was feeling low and out of gas when I saw the above headline in the New York Times online. My hopes were high when I clicked on it. The actual article, about celebrities whose assistants manage their Twitter accounts for them, disappointed me deeply. Here’s how I wish the article had read.


When Stars Twitter, a Ghost May be Lurking

By JENNA MCWILLIAMS
Published: March 28, 2009

For centuries, stargazers have been fascinated by the sight of celestial bodies twinkling and sparkling in the night sky. At various points in scientific history, astronomers have attributed the random blinking of stars to weaknesses of human vision or the shivering movements or dimming and brightening of the stars themselves. Since the early 18th Century, however, scientists have agreed that this phenomenon is the result of earthly atmospheric gases momentarily obscuring visibility.

Now one researcher is taking issue with this stance, arguing that a definitive link has been established between the seemingly random blinkings of stars and a complicated communication system, the details of which are still being worked out.

Andreu Matthiessen, a Finnish scientist whose previous research has focused on establishing a link between astrology and string theory, mapping visible stars to projected geographical formations of the European Union, and theorizing about the possibility of building a literal stairway to heaven, has now turned his attention to twinkling stars, formally known as stellar scintillation. Isaac Newton is credited with uncovering the true cause of twinkling stars when he argued that atmospheric turbulence caused the phenomenon. In 1704, Newton wrote:

“If the Theory of making Telescopes could at length be fully brought into Practice, yet there would be certain Bounds beyond which Telescopes could not perform. For the Air through which we look upon the Stars, is in a perpetual Tremor; as may be seen by the tremulous Motion of Shadows cast from high Towers, and by the twinkling of the fix’d Stars.”

Yet Matthiessen, with funding from the International Federation of Astrologo-Astronomers, has spent the last two decades of his career taking issue with this widely accepted analysis. He and forty to fifty graduate students have been tracking scintillation by stationing themselves around the world and keeping at least three pairs of steady eyes on the night sky at all times. Now Matthiessen believes he has uncovered a pattern: One that indicates the stars themselves are attempting to communicate with us via short bursts of information.

“Much like in Twitter,” Matthiessen, 73, said as he printed his most recent data for a reporter. “Information always comes in no more than 150 characters.” (Twitter accounts are limited, in fact, to 140 characters at a time.)

Even Matthiessen admits that the data he has collected so far is largely unintelligible; he has been unable to make sense of the information streams that get sent to him from his worldwide research network. Yet he and his lead researcher, Andrea Figuero, are convinced that once they come upon the right permutation of number-letter decoding system, the reams of research will fall into place as a long communication. Asked to speculate on what the stars may be communicating to us, both Matthiessen and Figuero were eager to volunteer their opinions.

“I don’t believe in God,” said Figuero, an American who abandoned graduate work in astrophysics at MIT in 2003 to work with Matthiessen, “but I believe the planets, the stars, everything that’s out there, makes up a single uniform body with its own level of awareness.”

“It is not what you might imagine,” Matthiessen agreed. “It does not communicate like this God and does not want to.”

It doesn’t want to direct our actions or guide humans? Then why bother trying to communicate?

“It is human, like us,” Matthiessen answered.

“Not human,” Figuero interjected. “But a body of awareness…maybe…. Well, I said I don’t believe in God, but what if God did exist once and the stars are like the ghost of what God was?”

“Like a ghost,” Matthiessen affirmed. “And when we break this code, we will know what this God was saying to his people centuries ago.”

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