Sunday, January 2, 2011

Many more stars than we thought, new studies suggest

From MSNBC we learn that a new study suggests that the universe has 300 sextillion red dwarfs:
A study suggests the universe could have triple the number of stars scientists previously calculated. For those of you counting at home, the new estimate is 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. That's 300 sextillion.

The study questions a key assumption that astronomers often use: that most galaxies have the same properties as our Milky Way. And that's creating a bit of a stink among astronomers who want a more orderly cosmos.

[ ... ]

A second study led by a Harvard University scientist focuses on a distant "super-Earth" planet and sees clues to the content of its atmosphere — the first of this kind of data for this size planet. It orbits a red dwarf.

Red dwarf stars — about a fifth the size of our sun — burn slowly and last much longer than the bigger, brighter stars, such as the sun in the center of our solar system, said Yale astronomer Pieter van Dokkum.

- Seth Borenstein, “Starry starry starry night: Star count may triple” (12/1/2010, updated)
The finding is thought of as “alarmist,” if not stinky, and as challenging the idea of a “more orderly universe”.

The issue here is that a traditional dictum of cosmology (not a law, just an assumption) is that the universe looks about the same anywhere we look.

That’s one use of the expression “Copernican principle,” sometimes expressed as “Why should we be any different?”

Actually, there is no particular reason for thinking that we are not different - or that we don’t occupy an unusual position, unless an accepted philosophy like materialist atheism requires it as an article of faith. Otherwise, on the materialist view, all is chaos. Hence the “alarm” noted when the basic assumption doesn’t pan out.

By the way, the Copernican Principle has nothing whatever to do with Copernicus and his sun-centred solar system. It is, rather, a way of linking his “sainted” name to a value-laden materialist assumption he would never have endorsed. He was in fact a Platonist, I am told.

Photo: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScl)