Thursday, January 09, 2014

Bristol Skeptics - Woo of the Week

Woo of the week

A monthly look at woo in the Bristol area which values alliteration above chronological accuracy (obviously).

I'm indebted to my French friend again for bringing an excellent resource to my attention. I am beginning to wonder about her as she seems to be a never ending source of this stuff – maybe she's channelling Marie Antoinette or perhaps she lives on a lay line - either way at one end of every lay line is Glastonbury and this is where we find William Bloom.

Mr Bloom is a man of many talents who writes, teaches and heals a lot. His strap line may be “Connected, Mindful and Compassionate”. His website says a great deal without saying anything much but one thing caught my attention rather like an exceedingly knobbly bit of Lego under a particularly sensitive bare foot.

At the outset I should make it clear that I am not a fairy but I was drawn to one of his many books is entitled “WORKING WITH ANGELS, FAIRIES AND NATURE SPIRITS” though I do suspect he may have had help with the writing from another dimension.

In it Mr Bloom reveals a world that lies behind everyday reality and shows you how to co-operate with these invisible beings of energy who are a fundamental part of every aspect of our lives.  He will help you learn:
•    How to sense angels and spirits and communicate with them
•    How to co-operate with this inner world for inspiration and guidance
•    How to work with angels for healing and spiritual growth
•    How they can help you fulfil yourself and help others
•    How they can bring you a deeper understanding of all aspects of life.

Great value at £7.99 I'm sure you'll agree but if that isn't your bag then there are many other spiritual offerings from William “... someone who separates new age nonsense from spiritual reality...” presumably because you can charge more for them separately...

For more details

Test of Faith from Faraday Institute for Science and Religion

The "Test of Faith" website has accompanying dvd, book and teacher notes and Youtube channel. Test of Faith was developed by Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge University.

The contributors to the book and dvd are suggesting that science cannot know all the answers to serious questions. There is something outside of science, something science will never discover - and that something is god, they claim.

Conversely naturalists say there is no evidence for a god. Scientism claims that there is no serious question that science will not, eventually, be able to answer.

Science and religion are non-overlapping magisteria, Peter Harrison claims.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Gravitational Lensing - project


Einstein's theory of gravity, General Relativity, made a remarkable prediction. Massive objects, such as stars, would bend the space around them such that passing light rays follow curved paths. Evidence for this revolutionary theory was first obtained by Arthur Eddington in 1919, when during a solar eclipse he observed that stars near the edge of the Sun appeared to be slightly out of position. The Sun was behaving like the lens in a magnifying glass and bending the light from the background stars!
In 1937, Fritz Zwicky realized that massive galaxies (which can contain anywhere from ten million to a hundred trillion stars) or clusters of galaxies could be used to magnify distant galaxies that conventional telescopes couldn't detect. As you can see, not unlike a conventional magnifying glass, these gravitational lenses not only magnify and focus the light of the distant background galaxies but they can, and mostly do, distort them as well.
When one of these gravitational lenses happens to sit right in front of a background galaxy, the magnification factor can be up to x10 or even more, giving us a zoomed-in view of the distant universe, just at that particular point. Lenses can help us investigate young galaxies more than halfway across the universe, as they formed stars and started to take on the familiar shapes we see nearby.
Observations of the distorted background galaxy can also give us useful information about the object that is behaving as a gravitational lens. The separation and distortion of the lensed images can tell astronomers how much mass there is in the object, and how it is arranged. It is one of the few ways we have of mapping out where the dark matter in the universe is, how clumpy it is and how dense it is near the centers of galaxies. Knowing this can provide crucial information about how galaxies evolve.


There is a lot of interesting science to be done with gravitational lenses. The problem is that they are very rare. Only about one in a thousand massive galaxies is aligned with a background object well enough to cause it to appear multiply-imaged. We currently know of about 400 objects that are behaving as gravitational lenses, largely because we have become very good at observing the night sky! Modern optical surveys cover thousands of square degrees, with images sharp and deep enough to resolve about 1 lens per square degree. There should be thousands of lenses that we can detect, but we will need to look at millions of galaxy images to find them!
The ideal solution would be to get a computer to look through all of the images, but unfortunately this is not a straightforward solution. Teaching a computer to recognize the effects of gravitational lensing is not too difficult, but they can be easily confused by galaxies that look very similar to a distorted background galaxy. Also in order for the computer to run fast enough to analyse lots of images quickly, they have to cut a lot of corners, and this makes them less effective.

See video.


Human beings have a remarkable ability to recognise patterns and detect the unusual with only minimal training. With a basic understanding of what the distorted images of galaxies that have passed through a gravitational lens look like, participants in the SpaceWarps project can help discover new examples of this amazing phenomenon, and enable our survey scientists to carry out new investigations of stars and dark matter in the universe. In the current project, we've selected galaxies, and groups of galaxies, that could potentially act as gravitational lenses, and quasars, that are very useful when gravitationally lensed, all from the VICS82 infrared imaging survey. The task is to assess whether or not gravitational lensing is actually going on in each image! There will be confusing objects around - the challenge is to come up with the most plausible explanation for what is going on, in collaboration with the rest of the Space Warps community. Do you think you can spot outer space being warped? We do!

References (accessed 8 Jan 2014)

YOU can Discover a NEW Galaxy from YOUR PC -

Stargazing Live: Brian Cox and Dara O Briain, Series 4, Episode 1. 

Using gravitational lensing on YOU can see the curvature of spacetime by mass by the 300 billion galaxies that have been observed to date. YOUR task is to find galaxies (each have 100 billion stars to 1 Trillion stars) that have NOT yet been observed (because they are obscured by observed galaxies). The aim is to observe half million images in 48 hours (within 12 hours 3M had been observed.

Follow progress on Facebook, on Twitter and on Spacewarps blog. Talk to your peers on the forum.

See in the low centre left with the blue ring to its left, looks like a lens to meby Darth_Hydrogen 
"Spacetime tells matter how to move; matter tells spacetime how to curve."John Archibald Wheeler

Spacewarps is a project of Zooniverse.

at 9am at 8th January 2014 (12 hours after programme televised) has 40,000 images taken by telescopes in Chile and Hawaii.  By the curvature of space time, light from a distant galaxy is bent all the way around to produce an Einstein ring. The light has taken 7-10 billion years to reach us.

Introducing Prof (actually a 'Reader') Tim O Brien at Jodrell Bank who demonstrates an Einstein ring which is a special case of gravitational lensing (38m).

Lensing by a black hole. Animated simulation of gravitational lensing caused by a Schwarzschild black hole going past a background galaxy.

Chris Lintott from Sky at Night explains that physicists can weigh (estimate number of stars) of newly discovered galaxies behind the observed galaxy using gravitational lensing.

References (accessed 8 Jan 2014) From 36m 20s to 41m 30s