Archive | January 2015

Love Letters to Richard Dawkins

Here is a great rant from one of the most reasonable men on the planet…
One of my all-time favorite science authors Richard Dawkins, who changed many lives (including my own) with such writings as “The God Delusion” and “The Selfish Gene”, reads some “fan mail” (but they are all haters and religious fanatics who simply insult him using bad grammer and vulgar profanity). Read by Dawkins in his typical British flare, even the swearing sounds regal – I especially enjoyed his struggle with the work “bee-atch”. Enjoy (but cover your children’s ears)…
-Darren H
Published on Jan 21, 2015

April 11th, 2014 – In a candid moment, filmmaker Eric Preston, founder and producer at Fusion Films, rolls his camera as Dr. Richard Dawkins – Author, Professor and Evolutionary Biologist – again reads “fan mail” he has received from some of his not-so-great admirers. (Parental Discretion is Advised!)

Copyright 2015 Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science


Yesterday’s spectacular eruption of Volcán de Colima in Mexico

Wow… volcanic eruption caught on video in Mexico.

Why Evolution Is True

Reader Stephen Q. Muth (Butter‘s staff) sent me a link to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s video and report of a big eruption of the Colima volcano (Volcán de Colima) in southwest Mexico. It’s erupted several times in the last year, and the Spanish title of the video notes that this eruption happened yesterday. The ABC’s notes:

The active but isolated volcano is located approximately 500 kilometres west of the capital Mexico City and has erupted at least 30 times since 1585.

The vision was recorded on a permanent fixed webcam operated by Webcams De Mexico, which had placed a series of cameras in the area since the volcano’s last major eruptions in 2013 and 2014.

Colima experienced several significant eruptions in the late 1990s and scientific monitoring of the site began two decades ago.

Ash fell on towns up to 25 kilometres away from the volcano, but no lives or…

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My Book Review: “The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet” by Neil deGrasse Tyson,


Neil DeGrasse Tyson is becoming one of my favorite popular science authors – I enjoy his Teaching Company courses, and he was perfect in the COSMOS reboot. His delivery of intriguing topics blends interesting facts with passionate excitement and fervor that is contagious, and all too rare in the scientific education community.

I found this book to be an interesting recount of the historical rise and fall of our ninth “planet” (it’s size is actually less than 0.24 percent that of Earth!), from it’s discovery in 1930 (same year as the birth of the Disney canine character of the same name, by the way), to it’s 2006 demotion to “dwarf planet” and the subsequent media frenzy that ensued. Since there are several other celestial Kuiper belt objects discovered that are slightly smaller than Pluto (now named “plutinos”), the International Astronomical Union’s choice was to either update the solar system map to include these “extras” as planets, or demote Pluto. The largest societal impact: our planet order mnemonic changes from “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” to “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos”. Fascinating how many were vehemently opposed to this demotion despite the obvious validity of the decision.


Been Waiting for Hi-Res OSIRIS Images of Rosetta’s Comet? Here They Are!

The boulder-strewn, smooth Hapi region in Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s neck, with the Hathor cliff face to the right. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDAThe boulder-strewn, smooth Hapi region in Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s neck, with the Hathor cliff face to the right. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Many of the images we have been seeing of Rosetta’s comet – 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, or 67P for short – have been captured with the spacecraft’s NavCam instrument. And while they have been amazingly beautiful in their own right, NavCam isn’t Rosetta’s best camera; that distinction goes to OSIRIS, the Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System experiment that captures both wide- and narrow-angle high resolution images for scientific study.

Now OSIRIS images of 67P have been few and far between since Rosetta arrived, mostly because the instrument is not run by ESA but rather by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany and a rather large international consortium of research groups, and they have first access to the data and decide when images will become publicly…

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A Curiosity “Selfie” From Sol 868

Some selfie’s are out of this world…

Mosaic of Curiosity images acquired on Jan. 14, 2015 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Jason Major)Mosaic of Curiosity images acquired on Jan. 14, 2015 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Jason Major)

Here’s a “selfie” of NASA’s Curiosity rover, made from about 20 images acquired by its MAHLI instrument on mission sol 868 (January 14, 2015). I used Photoshop to stitch the raw images together and then enhanced the contrast and detail with a bit of HDR effect. (There’s one spot behind the rover’s RTG where an image wasn’t available.)

Curiosity is currently in the “Pahrump Hills” region of Gale Crater, approaching the foothills of Mt. Sharp (Aeolis Mons).

Click here for a super high-res version.

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Ultra-orthodox Jewish newspaper doctors photos of Charlie Hebdo rally to remove women

Ok, this is just sad…

Why Evolution Is True

The Charlie Hebdo affair gave extremist Islam a bad image, and it’s ironic that it also gave rise to something that also erodes the image (which is already pretty bad) of extremist Jews, i.e. the ultra-Orthodox believers.  I’ve discussed recently the extreme misogyny of ultra-Orthodox Jews, which in that case took the ludicrous form of Jews on planes refusing to sit next to women lest they get polluted with female cooties. They even offered other passengers money to switch seats so they wouldn’t have to sit next to someone with one X chromosome more than they had. This nonsense, which has happened three times in the last six months, delayed the planes.

The latest episode, which makes no sense to me at all, involves an ultra-Orthodox Jewish newspaper, The Announcer, editing a photo of the Charlie Hebdo “Solidarity March” in Paris to remove two female participants! As Mediaite reports:


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Half-kilometer Asteroid to Pass Closely By on January 26

Remember to duck on Jan 26…

Animation of 2004 BL86's close pass on Jan. 26, 2015. (NASA/JPL)Animation of 2004 BL86’s close pass on Jan. 26, 2015. (NASA/JPL)

Just under two weeks from now, on Monday, Jan. 26, the 1/3-mile (0.5-km) -wide potentially hazardous asteroid 357439 (2004 BL86) will pass by Earth at 3.1 lunar distances, or 739,680 miles (1,190,400 km). While this may sound like a long way off, in the grand scheme of things it’s still a close pass… especially for an object as wide as the Burj Khalifa is high!

Don’t worry though – there’s no risk of an impact from 2004 BL86. It will go sailing by harmlessly at a relative 15.6 km/s velocity (that is, 34,900 mph) back out into the Solar System, just another rocky reminder that Earth is definitely not alone out here.

And, thankfully, astronomers will be watching.

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Remembering Huygens’ Titan Landing, Ten Years Later

This is way cool.

First color image from the surface of Titan, Jan. 14, 2005 (ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

This incredible image was captured ten years ago today, on January 14, 2005. It shows the murky surface of Saturn’s moon Titan as seen by the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe after it made its historic descent through the moon’s thick haze and clouds and landed in a frozen plain of crusty methane mud and icy pebbles. During the descent and after landing Huygens returned data for several hours before communication was lost. The groundbreaking images and information it sent back has proved invaluable to scientists studying this unique and mysterious moon, which is at the same time extremely alien and surprisingly Earth-like.

“It was eerie…we saw bright hills above a dark plain, a weird combination of light and dark. It was like seeing a landscape out of Dante.”

– Jonathan Lunine, Cassini-Huygens mission scientist

Learn more about the Huygens landing…

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Books I read in 2014

Goodreads | Darren Hancock’s bookshelf: all (showing 1-30 of 44) (sorted by: date read) (cover view).


Title Author
Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries Neil deGrasse Tyson
Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution Nick Lane
There’s Probably No God: the Atheists’ Guide to Christmas Ariane Sherine
Alan Turing: The Enigma Andrew Hodges
Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation Bill  Nye
Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion Sam Harris
The Quantum Moment: How Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg Taught Us to Love Uncertainty Robert P Crease
Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus Richard Carrier
Natural Selections: Selfish Altruists, Honest Liars, and Other Realities of Evolution David P. Barash
The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives Leonard Mlodinow
Secrets of Sleep Science: From Dreams to Disorders H. Craig Heller
Skepticism 101 How to Think like a Scientist Michael Shermer
The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind Michio Kaku
13 Things That Don’t Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time Michael Brooks
The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood James Gleick
Isaac Newton James Gleick
The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice Christopher Hitchens
Freedom Evolves (Audiobook) Daniel C. Dennett
Letters to a Young Contrarian Christopher Hitchens
The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology Robert Wright
The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution Sean B. Carroll
Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom Sean B. Carroll
Relativity Albert Einstein
The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics: A Math-Free Exploration of the Science That Made Our World James Kakalios
Heisenberg Probably Slept Here: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Physicists of the 20th Century Richard P. Brennan
How We Decide Jonah Lehrer
The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature Steven Pinker
50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True Guy P. Harrison
The Day We Found The Universe Marcia Bartusiak
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon Daniel C. Dennett
The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature Matt Ridley
Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist’s Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature Steven Weinberg
The Singularity is Near Ray Kurzweil
The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning Daniel Bor
How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed Ray Kurzweil
For the Love of Physics: From the End of the Rainbow to the Edge of Time—A Journey Through the Wonders of Physics Walter Lewin
Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking Daniel C. Dennett
Kinds of Minds: Towards an Understanding of Consciousness Daniel C. Dennett
My Brief History Stephen Hawking
God, No! Penn Jillette
A Manual for Creating Atheists Peter Boghossian
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything Christopher Hitchens
The Art of Thinking Clearly Rolf Dobelli
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal Mary Roach