Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Many scientists in the United States and worldwide are furious that the space agency NASA has apparently allowed a small body of Kepler scientists to sit on data that may confirm if another Earth-like planet lies within 'lens' reach of our solar system. (That's anywhere light years away.) But could the leaking of the discovery made by the Kepler scientists be due to a simple glitch in the machine?

It has been argued that more time was needed for Kepler scientists to confirm the discovery of over 140 Earth-like exoplanets. Apparently the 'yearly' transits of these planets needed to be confirmed by additional research, an investigation that would, under Earth-like circumstances, take three years.

Apparently it takes our planet one whole year to go around the sun and back again.

It takes three such years then to confirm the findings?

Not so. Dimitar Sasselov, an investigator with the Kepler group itself - accidentally on purpose? - released some of the findings to a special audience at Oxford, England. It was Sassilov that suggested that over 140 Earth-like 'candidates' had been detected by the Kepler Telescope - which even before all the science is done is pretty Earth shattering.

And so the scientific community went supernova.

Sasselov and his team estimate that there are over 100 million planets that are 'Earth-like'.

We are not alone.

We are not so special after all.

But could the 'Sasselov gaff' really conceal a hidden agenda on a tiny pale dot?

The Kepler mission's ultimate goal is (i) to find Earth-size planets, (ii) at the right distances from their parent stars - which does not mean the same distance as Earth is from its star by the way - and, iii) at a distance where liquid water makes them a potential abode for life as Jim knows it.

But does that mean that we will have to wait three years to confirm the three transits of a planet in order for it to be considered Earth-like?

Well no...

'Earth-like planets' simply lie inside the habitable zones of their parent star. The habitable zone is the area where liquid water will be present - which just happens to be the distance where we are in relation to our sun. Please note though that other worlds do not have to be the same distance from their suns as planet Earth is from its sun. Most, if not all of these planets, will probably circle their stars in months and not years... and so the reason for the wait is that damned glitch.

The task of confirming these 'candidates' has been made extremely difficult due to faulty light detectors on the telescope. The problem was made known prior to the launch. And that's the real reason why the Kepler announcement on the planets' discovery was pushed back to February 2011. Not to give scientists a chance to study and publish: but to tweak. And the real reason why Dr Sasselov was allowed to speak about some of the discoveries is that the Kepler Team will be best placed to pip other scientists to the post by drip-feeding news of each batch of Earth-like 'candidates' as and when each glitch in the telescope is fixed. QED.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Professor Joan Ginther: Do the numbers add up?

A Texan aged 63 has won at scratch-off card games every two years since 2006. In 1993 she also won a lottery bringing her total winnings to over $20m. Which is amazingly coincidental. But what if a seemingly ordinary person somehow managed to narrow the odds and beat the system, goddamnit? An American newspaper might say slim pickin's. TheBigRetort says...

Joan Rae Ginther’s luck began in 1993, when she won $5.4 million dollars on a game known as “Lotto Texas“.

Another win thirteen years later in 2006 netted her $2m.

Curiously, every two years since that date, she has won at scratch off games, two cards having been bought at her local store.

In 1993 she won $5.4 million; the odds: 1 in 15.8 million; in 2006 she won $2 million in a scratch off game; the odds: 1 in 1,028,338; in 2008 she won $3 million in a scratch off; odds: 1 in 909,000.

Her latest win in 2010, also a scratch off, was for $10 million; odds of winning: 1 in 1,200,000.

In fact experts contend that the odds of winning four lottery jackpots are about 200 million to one.

Only, what if she was a person good with numbers? What if a person good with numbers targeted a specific store to purchase a scratch card? What if... an investigation by TheBigRetort revealed that Joan "Rae" Ginther was a professor of maths - a former job she has not declared.

Ginther, a maths professor (something she has kept unduly quiet about) visited the store that sold an average of 1,000 tickets a day...

What would a math's professor visiting a store (in another state where her dad had died) want to know? How many tickets had been purchased? How many winning tickets? How big were the wins? What were the winning numbers over the, err, past 22 months say? Once the professor had all of the answers, which may take two years of doing the maths, then it's scratch off time. And another big win for Joan.
TheBigRetort pips Associated Press to the post on this one. [View link above, and compare the dates.]