Astronomy Picture of the Day

Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Gas and Snow Jets from Comet Hartley 2
Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, UMDEPOXI Mission, 2010 November 23

Explanation: Unusual jets have been discovered emanating from Comet Hartley 2. The EPOXI spacecraft imaged the jets in unprecedented detail during itsflyby of the comet earlier this month. Pictured above, sun-illuminated jets shoot away from the two-kilometer long decaying iceberg that orbits the Sun between Earth and Jupiter. Comet Hartley 2 became active recently as it neared the Sun and sunlight warmed the comet. Preliminary analyses of images like that shown above indicate that the smooth regions around the middle are porous and leak frozen water vapor directly out into space. Unexpectedly, however, the rough regions at either end appear to shoot carbon dioxide jets that expel fluffy

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2010 October 19

Prometheus Rising Through Saturn’s F Ring
Credit: Cassini Imaging TeamSSIJPLESANASAColor Composite: Gordan Ugarkovic

Explanation: What is that dark streak below Prometheus? Although it may look like a shadow or a trail blazed by sweeping up material, computer simulations indicate that the dark streak is better understood as an empty path pulled away by the gravity of Saturn’s small moon. The particles don’t follow Prometheus so much as glide sideways past where Prometheus used to be. One dark streamer is created during each pass of Prometheus through the F-ring that it shepherds. The streamers were unpredicted and first discovered in 2004 on high resolution images taken by the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. Close inspection of the surface of Prometheus itself in the above image shows interesting structure and craters. The Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn in 2004 and, as it continues to function well, is now expected to continue to send back data and images from the distant ringed world until 2017.

2010 October 18 :

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It Came from the Sun
Credit: SOHO-EIT ConsortiumESANASA

Explanation: What’s that coming over the edge of the Sun? What might appear at first glance to be some sort of Sun monster is actually a solar prominence. The above prominence, captured by the Sun-orbiting SOHO satellite earlier this year during an early stage of its eruption, rapidly became one of the largest everon record. Even as pictured, the prominence is huge — the Earth would easily fit inside. A solar prominence is a thin cloud of solar gas held just above the surface by the Sun’s magnetic field. A quiescent prominence typically lasts about a month, while an eruptive prominence like the one developing above may erupt within hours into a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), expelling hot gas into the Solar System. Although very hot, prominences typically appear dark when viewed against the Sun, since they are slightly cooler than the surface. As our Sun evolves toward Solar maximum over the next three years, more large eruptive prominences are expected.

2010 October 17 :

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NGC 346 in the Small Magellanic Cloud
Credit: A. Nota (ESA/STScI) et al., ESANASA

Explanation: How and why are all these stars forming? Found among the Small Magellanic Cloud’s (SMC’s) clusters and nebulae NGC 346 is a star forming region about 200 light-years across, pictured above by the Hubble Space Telescope. A satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) is a wonder of the southern sky, a mere 210,000 light-years distant in the constellation of the Toucan (Tucana). Exploring NGC 346, astronomers have identified a population of embryonic stars strung along the dark, intersecting dust lanes visible here on the right. Still collapsing within their natal clouds, the stellar infants’light is reddened by the intervening dust. A small, irregular galaxy, the SMC itself represents a type of galaxy more common in the early Universe. But these small galaxies are thought to be a building blocks for the larger galaxies present today. Within the SMC, stellar nurseries like NGC 346 are also thought to be similar to those found in the early Universe.

2010 October 16 :

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The Large Cloud of Magellan
Credit & Copyright: John P. Gleason

Explanation: The 16th century Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan and his crew had plenty of time to study the southern sky during the first circumnavigation of planet Earth. As a result, two fuzzy cloud-like objects easily visible to southern hemisphere skygazers are known as the Clouds of Magellan, now understood to be satellite galaxies of our much larger, spiral Milky Way galaxy. About 160,000 light-years distant in the constellation Dorado, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is seen here in a remarkably deep, colorful composite image, starlight from the central bluish bar contrasting with the telltale reddish glow of ionized atomic hydrogen gas. Spanning about 15,000 light-years or so, it is the most massive of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies and is the home of theclosest supernova in modern times, SN 1987A. The prominent patch at top left is 30 Doradus, also known as the magnificent Tarantula Nebula. The giant star-forming region is about 1,000 light-years across.

2010 October 15 :

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Vista with NGC 2170
Credit & Copyright: ESO/J. Emerson/VISTAAcknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit

Explanation: Drifting through the one-horned constellation Monocerosthese dusty streamers and new born stars are part of the active Monoceros R2 star-forming region, embedded in a giant molecular cloud. The cosmic scene was recorded by the VISTA survey telescope in near-infrared light. Visible light images show dusty NGC 2170, seen here just right of center, as a complex of bluish reflection nebulae. But this penetrating near-infrared view reveals telltale signs of ongoing star formation and massive young stars otherwise hidden by the dust. Energetic winds and radiation from the hot young stars reshape the natal interstellar clouds. Close on the sky to the star-forming Orion Nebula, the Monoceros R2 region is almost twice as far away, about 2700 light-years distant. At that distance, this vista spans about 80 light-years.

2010 October 14 :

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Clusters, Hartley, and the Heart
Credit & Copyright: Rogelio Bernal Andreo

Explanation: An alluring Comet Hartley 2 cruised through planet Earth’s night sky on October 8, passing within about a Full Moon’s width of the famous double star cluster in Perseus. The much anticipated celestial photo-op was recorded here in a 3 frame mosaic with greenish comet and the clusters h and Chi Persei placed at the left. The well-chosen, wide field of view spans about 7 degrees. It extends across the constellation boundary into Cassiopeia, all the way to the Heart Nebula (IC 1805) at the far right. To capture the cosmic moment, a relatively short 5 minute exposure was used to freeze the moving comet in place, but a longer exposure with a narrow-band filter was included in the central and right hand frames. The narrow-band exposure brings out the fainter reddish glowof the nebula’s atomic hydrogen gas, in contrast to the cometary coma’s kryptonite green. In the past few days, comet watchers have reported that Hartley 2 has become just visible to the unaided eye for experienced observers from dark, clear sites. On October 20, the comet will make its closest approach to Earth, passing within about 17 million kilometers. On November 4, a NASA spacecraft will fly by the comet’s small nucleus estimated to be only 1.5 kilometers in diameter.

2010 October 13 :

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Science Museum Hubble
Credit: ESAHubble

Explanation: Will the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) end up in a museum? Probably not, as when it finally goes bust, current plans call for it to be de-orbited into an ocean. But this won’t stop likenesses of the famous floating observatory from appearing in science museums around the globe, sometimes paired withamazing pictures it has taken. Pictured above, in a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the launching of Hubble, a replica of the telescope was given a picturesque setting in the Italian Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti in their beautiful and historic Palazzo Loredan. The scene there appears perhaps a bitsurreal as the deep space imager appears over a terrestrial tile floor, surrounded by the busts of famous thinkers, and under arches reminiscent of Escher. If you’re lucky, it may even be possible to find an exhibition of Hubble images near you. And if no HST model appears there, you could always build your own.

2010 October 12 :

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Saturn: Light, Dark, and Strange
Credit: Cassini Imaging TeamISSJPLESANASA

Explanation: What’s creating those dark bands on Saturn? Sometimes it takes a little sleuthing to figure out the how and why of a picture taken by the Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft. Let’s see. That large orb on the left must be Saturn itself. Those arcs on the right are surely the rings. The dark band running diagonally must be the shadow of Saturn on the rings. That leaves the unusual dark bands superposed on Saturn’s disk — are they the shadows of the rings? Apunctilious detective would conclude that they are not. If one looks carefully, the rings arc from behind the planet on the lower left, around to the right, and therefore must pass on the camera side of the planet on the upper left. So the rings themselves cause the dark streaks on Saturn. These rings segments appear dark because they are in the shadow of Saturn. The night part of Saturn shows a faint glow because of sunlight reflected from other parts of the rings. Got it?Unfortunately, if it weren’t for the tile floor, tomorrow’s picture would be even harder to understand.

2010 October 11 :

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NGC 2683: Spiral Edge-On
Credit: Data: Hubble Legacy ArchiveESANASAProcessing: Nikolaus Sulzenauer

Explanation: Does spiral galaxy NGC 2683 have a bar across its center? Being so nearly like our own barred Milky Way Galaxy, one might guess it has. Being so nearly edge-on, however, it is hard to tell. Either way, this gorgeous island universe, cataloged as NGC 2683, lies a mere 20 million light-years distant in the northern constellation of the Cat (Lynx). NGC 2683 is seen nearly edge-on in this cosmic vista, with more distant galaxies scattered in the background. Blended light from a large population of old yellowish stars forms the remarkably bright galactic core. Starlight silhouettes the dust lanes along winding spiral arms, dotted with the telltale blue glow of young star clusters in this galaxy‘s star forming regions.

2010 October 10 :

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Moonquakes Surprisingly Common
Credit: Neil ArmstrongApollo 11 CrewGRINNASA

Explanation: Why are there so many moonquakes? A recent reanalysis of seismometers left on the moon by the Apollo moon landings has revealed a surprising number of moonquakes occurring within 30 kilometers of the surface. In fact, 28 moonquakes were detected in data recorded between 1972 and 1977. These moonquakes were not only strong enough to move furniture but the stiff rock of the moon continued vibrating for many minutes, significantly longer than the soft rock earthquakes on Earth. The cause of the moonquakes remains unknown, with one hypothesis holding that landslides in craters cause the vibrations. Regardless of the source, future moon buildings need to be built to withstand the frequent shakings. Pictured above in 1969, Apollo 11 astronautBuzz Aldrin stands beside a recently deployed lunar seismometer, looking back toward the lunar landing module.

2010 October 9 :

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Globular Star Cluster NGC 6934
Credit: NASAESA, Hubble Space Telescope

Explanation: Globular star clusters roam the halo of our Milky Way Galaxy. Gravitationally bound, these spherical groupings of typically several hundred thousand stars are ancient, older than the stars of the galactic disk. In fact, measurements of globular cluster ages constrain the age of the Universe (it must be older than the stars in it!) and accurate cluster distance determinations provide a rung on the astronomical distance ladder. Globular star cluster NGC 6934 itself lies about 50,000 light-years away in the constellation Delphinus. At that distance, this sharp image from Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys spans about 50 light-years. The cluster stars are estimated to be some 10 billion years old.

2010 October 8 :

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Two Planet Opposition
Credit & Copyright: Peter Knappert

Explanation: In late September, two planets were opposite the Sun in Earth’s sky, Jupiter and Uranus. Consequently closest to Earth, at a distance of only 33 light-minutes and 2.65 light-hours respectively, both were good targets for telescopic observers. Recorded on September 27, this well-planned composite of consecutive multiple exposures captured both gas giants in their remarkable celestial line-up accompanied by their brighter moons. The faint greenish disk of distant planet Uranus is near the upper left corner. Of the tilted planet’s 5 larger moons, two can be spotted just above and left of the planet’s disk. Both discovered by 18th century British astronomer Sir William Herschel and later named for characters in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oberon is farthest left, with Titania closer in. At the right side of the frame is ruling gas giant Jupiter, flanked along a line by all four of its Galilean satellites. Farthest from Jupiter is Callisto, with Europa and Io all left of the planet’s disk, while Ganymede stands alone at the right.

2010 October 7 :

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Pacman and Hartley
Credit & Copyright: Jaime Fernández

Explanation: Touring the solar system with a 6 year orbital period, small comet Hartley 2 (103/P Hartley) will make its closest approach to planet Earth on October 20 and its closest approach to the Sun on October 28. It may become a naked-eye comet, just visible in clear, dark skies. Meanwhile the comet has been a tempting telescopic target, seen here with an alluring green coma as it shares the frame with emission nebula NGC 281 and stars of the constellation Cassiopeia on October 2. The nebula’s gaping profile defined by dust clouds against the red glow suggests its more playful moniker, the Pacman Nebula. An apparent short bright streak shows the comet’s motion against the background stars during the hour of accumulated exposure time. Over the next few days Comet Hartley 2’s motion will also carry it across a field of view featuring the famous double star cluster in Perseus. On November 4 a spacecraft from planet Earth will actually fly within about 700 kilometers of the comet’s nucleus. Now dubbed EPOXI, that spacecraft was formerly known as Deep Impact.

2010 October 6 :

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Aurora Over Alaska
Credit & Copyright: Paul Alsop

Explanation: Are those green clouds or aurora? Photographed above two weeks ago, puffy green aurora help the Moon illuminate the serene Willow Lake and the snowy Wrangell and Saint Elias Mountains in eastern AlaskaUSA. Although auroras might first appear to be moonlit clouds, they only add light to the sky and do not block background stars from view. Called northern lights in the northern hemisphere, auroras are caused by collisions between charged particlesfrom the magnetosphere and air molecules high in the Earth’s atmosphere. If viewed from space, auroras can be seen to glow in X-ray and ultraviolet light as well. Predictable auroras likely occur a few days after a powerful magnetic event has been seen on the Sun.

2010 October 5 :

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Horsehead and Orion Nebulas
Credit & Copyright: Maurice ToetSteve LoughranDarren Jehan & Tim Jardine

Explanation: The dark Horsehead Nebula and the glowing Orion Nebula are contrasting cosmic vistas. Adrift 1,500 light-years away in one of the night sky’smost recognizable constellations, they appear in opposite corners of the above stunning mosaic. The familiar Horsehead nebula appears as a dark cloud, a small silhouette notched against the long red glow at the lower left. Alnitak is the easternmost star in Orion’s belt and is seen as the brightest star to the left of theHorsehead. Below Alnitak is the Flame Nebula, with clouds of bright emission and dramatic dark dust lanes. The magnificent emission region, the Orion Nebula(aka M42), lies at the upper right. Immediately to its left is a prominent bluish reflection nebula sometimes called the Running Man. Pervasive tendrils of glowing hydrogen gas are easily traced throughout the region.

2010 October 3 :

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Io in True Color
Credit: Galileo ProjectJPLNASA

Explanation: The strangest moon in the Solar System is bright yellow. This picture, an attempt to show how Io would appear in the “true colors” perceptible to the average human eye, was taken in 1999 July by the Galileo spacecraft that orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003. Io’s colors derive from sulfur and moltensilicate rock. The unusual surface of Io is kept very young by its system of active volcanoes. The intense tidal gravity of Jupiter stretches Io and damps wobbles caused by Jupiter’s other Galilean moons. The resulting friction greatly heats Io‘s interior, causing molten rock to explode through the surface. Io’s volcanoes are so active that they are effectively turning the whole moon inside out. Some of Io‘s volcanic lava is so hot it glows in the dark.

2010 October 2 :

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Hubble’s Lagoon
Credit: NASAESA, Hubble Space Telescope

Explanation: Like brush strokes on a canvas, ridges of color seem to flow across this scene. But here, the canvas is nearly 3 light-years wide and the colors map emission from ionized gas in the Lagoon Nebula, recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. Also known as M8, the nebula is a star forming region about 5,000 light-years distant in the constellation Sagittarius. Hubble’s remarkably sharp, close-up view reveals undulating shapes sculpted by the energetic light and winds from the region’s new born stars. Of course, the Lagoon nebula is a popular target for earthbound skygazers, too. It features a prominent dust lane and bright hourglass shape in small telescopes with wider fields of view.

2010 October 1 :

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Zarmina’s World
Illustration Credit & Copyright: Lynette Cook

Explanation: A mere 20 light-years away in the constellation Libra, red dwarf star Gliese 581 has received much scrutiny by astronomers in recent years. Earthbound telescopes had detected the signatures of multiple planets orbiting the cool sun, two at least close to the system’s habitable zone — the region where an Earth-like planet can have liquid water on its surface. Now a team headed by Steven Vogt (UCO Lick), and Paul Butler (DTM Carnagie Inst.) hasannounced the detection of another planet, this one squarely in the system’s habitable zone. Based on 11 years of data, their work offers a very compelling case for the first potentially habitable planet found around a very nearby star. Shown in this artist’s illustration of the inner part of the exoplanetary system, the planet is designated Gliese 581g, but Vogt’s more personal name is Zarmina’s World, after his wife. The best fit to the data indicates the planet has a circular 37 day orbit, an orbital radius of only 0.15 AU, and a mass 3.1 times the Earth’s. Modeling includes estimates of a planet radius of 1.5, and gravity at the planet’s surface of 1.1 to 1.7 in Earth unitsFinding a habitable planet so close by suggests there are many others in our Milky Way galaxy.




















Smartest Man in China Zhou Baokuan

Smartest Man in China Zhou Baokuan

Posted: 20 Nov 2010 02:09 AM PST

Smartest Man in China Zhou Baokuan – With nine educational diplomas under his belt, Zhou Baokuan can definitely claim the title of “smartest man in China.” and this man also got the title as the man with most diplomas in the world.

When it comes to education, we all want the best for our kids, but I think Zhou Baokuan’s parents might have pushed him a little to far, when he was a child. I mean, the man started studying and even though he is now 53 years old, he has no intention of stopping. Wow this man should be a genius!!.

In recognition of his incredible desire to study, an organization known as China World Records Association decided to award Zhou the title of “man with most diplomas in the world.” Over the course of 35 years of intense studying (sometimes without sleep) the man earned a total of nine diplomas, including three doctoral diplomas and two masters degrees. Zhou, a resident of Shenyang City, admits it wasn’t easy getting this many diplomas, and reckons he spent around 126,500 hours studying for them

Believe it or not, Zhou Baokuan is currently studying to get his fourth doctoral degree, atFudan University. This man from China could be a great motivation for those who want to get their diploma degree. Here’s the Smartest Man in China Zhou Baokuan pictures with his Diploma certificate.


Have we found the universe that existed before the Big Bang?

Have we found the universe that existed before the Big Bang?

Have we found the universe that existed before the Big Bang?

The current cosmological consensus is that the universe began 13.7 billion years ago with the Big Bang. But a legendary physicist says he’s found the first evidence of an eternal, cyclic cosmos.

The Big Bang model holds that everything that now comprises the universe was once concentrated in a single point of near-infinite density. Before this singularity exploded and the universe began, there was absolutely nothing – indeed, it’s not clear whether one can even use the term “before” in reference to a pre-Big-Bang cosmos, as time itself may not have existed yet. In the current model, the universe began with the Big Bang, underwent cosmic inflation for a fraction of a second, then settled into the much more gradual expansion that is still going on, and likely will end with the universe as an infinitely expanded, featureless cosmos.

Sir Roger Penrose, one of the most renowned physicists of the last fifty years, takes issue with this view. He points out that the universe was apparently born in a very low state of entropy, meaning a very high degree of order initially existed, and this is what made the complex matter we see all around us (and are composed of) possible in the first place. His objection is that the Big Bang model can’t explain why such a low entropy state existed, and he believes he has a solution – that the universe is just one of many in a cyclical chain, with each Big Bang starting up a new universe in place of the one before.

Have we found the universe that existed before the Big Bang?

How does this help? Well, Penrose posits the end of each universe will involve a return to low entropy. This is because black holes suck in all the matter, energy, and information they encounter, which works to remove entropy from our universe. (Where that entropy might go is another question entirely.) The universe’s continued expansion into eventual nothingness causes the black holes themselves to evaporate, which ultimately leaves the universe in a highly ordered state once again, ready to contract into another singularity and set off the next Big Bang.

As alternative theories go, it’s not without its merits, but there’s no evidence to support it…until now. He says he’s found evidence for his ideas in the cosmic microwave background, the microwave radiation that permeates the universe and was thought to have formed 300,000 years after the Big Bang, providing a record of the universe at that far distant time. Penrose and his colleague Vahe Gurzadyan have discovered clear concentric circles within the data, which suggests regions of the radiation have much smaller temperature ranges than elsewhere.

So what does that mean? Penrose believes these circles are windows into the previous universe, spherical ripples left behind by the gravitational effects of colliding black holes in the previous universe. He also says these circles don’t work well at all in the current inflationary model, which holds all temperature variations in the CMB should be truly random.

Here’s where the fun begins. If the circles are really there and are really doing what Penrose says they’re doing, then he’s managed to overthrow the standard inflationary model. But there’s a long way to go between where we are now and that point, assuming it ever happens.

The inflationary model has become the consensus for a good reason – it’s the best explanation we’ve got for the universe we have now – and so cosmologists will examine any results that appear to disprove it very critically. There are also a couple key assumptions in Penrose’s theory, particularly that all particles will lose their mass towards the end of the universe. Right now, we don’t know whether that will actually happen – in particular, there’s no proof that electrons ever decay.

[via arXiv]

Shutterstock image by Kim D. French

8 Tips On Surviving Your Dysfunctional Family During The Holidays

8 Tips On Surviving Your Dysfunctional Family During The Holidays


Brian Dodd on Leadership CharacterChurch LeadershipFamilyRelationships,, 35 Comments

Is there a normal family left in America? I have reached the point where I am putting the “normal family” in my Sasquatch category – I’ve heard a lot about it but haven’t seen any documented visual evidence.  Dysfunction has become an institutionalized aspect of our society.

Dysfunction is generally an inconvenience in our lives until the holidays arrive.  We stress about the complexities of interacting with family and the drama and conflict that could result.  So how do we properly manage the conflict and not only survive the holidays, but actually enjoy them.

Here are some things that have worked for me.  By the way, when I do the opposite (which I have), well you can figure out the result.

  1. Prepare Or Repair – Determine in advance what subjects you will discuss.  Try to determine in your mind how comments you view as completely innocent will be perceived by others.  A phrase that has helped me is before I put someone in their place (which we don’t like to admit at parties but we would love to do), put myself in their place.
  2. Initial Hello – Greet every family member with a hug and “It’s great to see you!”  You never have to recover from a good start.
  3. Interests – Talked about their interests.  Ask them questions about their job, hobbies, children, etc…  Everyone’s favorite subject is themselves.
  4. Children – Whatever issues exist, it is not the fault of your nephews, nieces, and grandchildren.  Pour your life into them.  If real dysfunction does exist, they will one day remember and seek out those who loved them unconditionally.
  5. Multi-Room Activity – It helps to have people in multiple rooms with a variety of activity going on.  This provides a buffer and excellent “exit strategy” because you can say “Let me go check on the children.”
  6. Don’t Ruin A Good Time – Stay away from these type of  phrases “I’ve only seen you three times in last year.”  “I better enjoy this because it will be months before I see you again.”  This will abort any positive momentum that may be occurring.
  7. Attractiveness – Rick Warren say “You can only win friends to Christ.  You can’t reach your enemies.”  This applies to your family as well.  If you want to see positive change, that only happens when you are likeable.
  8. Value Over Lifestyle –  You can appreciate the value of a person without approving of how they are living their lives and the decisions they are making.  When it comes to value, Jesus valued your family enough that He died for them.  Case closed on the value issue!  If Jesus values them that much, so can I.

Leaders, why is this post important to you?  Leadership begins at home.  Excellent self-leadership is critical to having a positive holiday experience.  Also, what is sobering is to remember that someone is possibly worried about how to survive you!

My prayer for everyone reading this post is that this will be the best, most fulfilling holiday season you have ever had.


Evolutionary Biology and Human Psychology: A Case For Museum Donor Walls

Visitors at the Virginia Holocaust Museum admire the museum’s Donor Wall

There are a few activities that I consider “must-dos” whenever I visit a museum, but my boyfriend (a huge trooper who has accompanied me to over 50 museums in the last four years) only has one thing that he cares to do during a visit: Check out the donor wall. In Seattle, I thought it was just to see if Jeff Bezos had given away any money yet (and his company eventually did). But Ian checks everywhere. While standing in front of the donor wall at the first 45 or so museums with him, I thought something like, “Yes, yes. The donor wall lends credibility to the museum.” But when the Bill Gates Giving Pledge was announced in August of this year, it changed the way that I think about the donor wall.

A donor wall with recognizable names does lend credibility to a museum, but research may suggest that displaying these names has a psychological effect on visitors that could likely boost fundraising capabilities. The museum’s donor wall, like the Bill Gates Giving Pledge, appeals to our human psychology and is right in line with evolutionary biology. It could just be the right tool to gradually increase long-term giving and awareness of social change needs.

While it’s not likely to make or break a museum’s fundraising efforts, let’s generally acknowledge the rather intuitive reasons why having a donor wall is a good idea. To begin with, it’s a public ‘thank you’ to donors that builds their reputations as philanthropists in the community– and we like it when donors are happy. Also (as I mention above), the donor wall lends credibility to the museum. Potential donors can say, “Wow. Recognizable-Person-XYZ donated to this organization. That person must have done their research and determined that this institution is worthy of funds. This means that the institution is worthy of my funds as well.” I think both of these reasons for the donor wall (public thanks and credibility) are valid. Here’s why they work so well and have the potential to contribute to a larger increase in societal giving:
1) Human beings follow actions of high-influence individuals.

Chimpanzees follow the lead of experienced, high-status chimps when it comes to solving a problem or adapting a new behavior, studies find.  What’s interesting is that human beings ‘ attraction to prestige is taken as a given; they are trying to learn more about the chimps. It’s safe to say that Bill Gates is a high-influence individual. And if human beings naturally take cues from high-influence individuals, then society is taking the cue from Bill Gates that those who are capable should give a majority of their wealth to charity. Much like buying the newest Prada bag or flying a private jet to Paris for a dinner reservation, Gates’s cue makes it possible to collect bets on how soon we’ll be saying, “I wish I could be on the donor wall because that’s where high-influence individuals get listed” (and not even in museum-goer circles)!  Many don’t need to give a majority of their wealth to get on the donor wall, but it doesn’t hurt to have a power-player sending social cues to make folks want to.
2) Celebrity role models are “influential teachers.
Here’s a bummer: AUniversity of Leicester study has found that celebrities like Angelina Jolie serve as more influential role-models for youngsters than famous figures from history- or even their friends and parents. Moreover, evolutionary biologists say that worshipping celebrities helps us live more successful lives because it helps facilitate social understanding. There’s fundraising potential, then, in taking a cue from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and revving up museum and nonprofit’s celebrity alignment. Enlisting celebrities with “influential teacher” impact  to draw attention to famous role models from history and their great achievements in museums? That sounds like a pretty resourceful and mission-driven marketing strategy to me. Even if these celebrities are not coming to your museum, the fact that they are publicaly supporting museums may have long term benefit for these kinds of institutions.
3) Acts of kindness are contagious.

Harvard and UC- San Diego have just proven that people who benefit from kindness really do ‘pay it forward.‘  When somebody directly experiences an act of kindness, they pass along the act to somebody who was not originally involved, which cascades into a cooperation that involves dozens in a social network. Understanding this may prove beneficial to museum fundraisers. Very basically, showing that you’ve secured several donations may influence others– but there could be a lesson here in demonstrating how those donations have helped others. Or, more specifically, how those folks on the donor wall have impacted the visitor’s own experience. This is especially important because personal relationships with issues increase donations. Museums do this by thanking donors for contributing to one item in the collection. Showing that the museum is involved in this kind of network, and aiming to fundraise based on this principle of ‘paying it forward’ may have long-term benefits.
4) We are evolving into a “Survival of the Kindest” mindset.

An article in Science Daily indicates that human beings are evolving into a species that places a significant value on kindness. We are drawn to others who demonstrate kindness and giving, and we are similarly compelled to demonstrate kindness ourselves. Moreover, as evolution takes place, we’re likely to evolve into increasingly giving and collaborative beings. We’re even attracted to mates based on their levels of kindness. The point here? Perhaps, in a way, the donor wall belongs in museums because it may come to trace the evolution of giving and of ourselves.
The direct benefits of donor walls are hard to measure, and no, they probably shouldn’t be the primary focus of a museum’s fundraising plan (or arguably, even close to it). But these walls are generally easy to maintain and may be a silent sidekick, slowly converting visitors into donors over time. Evolutionary biology and human psychology studies lead us to believe that these walls might be up to something- and if that something helps spread the mission of museums and nonprofits, then it seems like a darn good thing to keep around and up-to-date.
*Photo from the Virginia Holocaust Museum.


Should Pluto Be a Planet After All? Experts Weigh In

Should Pluto Be a Planet After All? Experts Weigh In

The solar system.  (ThinkStock)

Mike Wall Senior Writer
– Mon Nov 22, 1:45 pm ET

Now that Pluto may have regained its status as the largest object in the outer solar system, should astronomers consider giving it back another former title — that of full-fledged planet?

Pluto was demoted to a newly created category, “dwarf planet,” in 2006, partly because of the discovery a year earlier of Eris, another icy body from Pluto’s neighborhood. Eris was thought to be bigger than Pluto until Nov. 6, when astronomers got a chance to recalculate Eris’ size.

Now it appears that Pluto reigns — though only by the slimmest of margins (the numbers are so close as to be nearly indistinguishable, when uncertainties are taken into account).

The new finding brings renewed attention to Pluto, and to the controversial decision to strip the frigid world of its planet status. Should Pluto be a planet? Should Eris, and many other objects circling the sun beyond Neptune’s orbit? Or is the current system, which recognizes just eight relatively large planets, the way to go? [POLL: Should Pluto’s Planet Status Be Revisited?] asked some experts to weigh in on this debate, which affects how astronomers view the solar system, as well as how complicated schoolchildren’s planet-memorizing mnemonics must be:

The background: Pluto’s demotion

Eris is about 9 billion miles (15 billion kilometers) from the sun at its farthest orbital point, making it about twice as distant as Pluto. Its discovery in 2005 ultimately led astronomers — uncomfortable with the prospect of finding many more planets in the frigid outer reaches of the solar system — to reconsider Pluto’s status.

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union came up with the following official definition of “planet:” A body that circles the sun without being some other object’s satellite, is large enough to be rounded by its own gravity (but not so big that it begins to undergo nuclear fusion, like a star) and has “cleared its neighborhood” of most other orbiting bodies.

Since Pluto shares orbital space with lots of other objects out in the Kuiper Belt — the ring of icy bodies beyond Neptune — it didn’t make the cut. Instead, the IAU rebranded Pluto, and Eris, as “dwarf planets.”

Dwarf planets are not officially full-fledged planets, so Pluto was stripped of the status it had held since its discovery in 1930. Eight planets officially remain: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

The case against Pluto

The scientist who discovered Eris, Caltech astronomer Mike Brown, thinks Pluto’s demotion was the right move. Pluto, Eris and the many other Kuiper Belt objects are far too different to be lumped in with the eight official planets, he said. [Mike Brown: Q & A With the Man Who Killed Pluto]

For one thing, they’re much smaller. Pluto is about 1,455 miles (2,342 km) wide. The smallest official planet, Mercury, is more than twice as big at 3,032 miles (4,880 km) across.

The dwarfs’ orbits tend to be very different, too — much more elliptical and more inclined, relative to the plane of the solar system. And they’re made of different stuff, with ices comprising more of their mass.

“It just makes no sense from a classification standpoint to take these objects that clearly belong together and pick one — or two, or a dozen — and say, ‘Oh, these belong with the very different, large, planet-like things,” Brown said.

The only reason Pluto was ever deemed a planet, Brown added, is because it was first detected so long ago, before people realized that it was just one of a vast flotilla of objects beyond Neptune’s orbit.

The Kuiper Belt — which is now known to host more than 1,000 icy bodies, with many more likely to be discovered — wasn’t even discovered until 1992.

“It’s just a funny historical accident that we found Pluto so early, and that it was the only thing known out there for so long,” Brown told “No one in their right mind would not have called it a planet back then, because we didn’t know any better.”

Astronomers have a much better sense of what Pluto is now, according to Brown.

“We have progressed so much further in our understanding of what the solar system is that it’s pretty obvious,” he said. “We can go back and reassess the mistakes of our ancestors.”

So Pluto should take its rightful place alongside other Kuiper Belt objects rather than consort with the “real” planets, some astronomers say.

“I group Pluto with the other icy bodies in the Kuiper Belt,” said Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of New York City’s Hayden Planetarium. “I think it’s happier there, actually. Pluto has family in the outer solar system.”

Tyson was one of the first to push for Pluto’s demotion. A decade ago, when he and the Hayden staff redesigned the planetarium’s exhibits, they lumped Pluto with the Kuiper Belt objects rather than with the eight official planets.

The case for Pluto

Yet some astronomers still bristle at the reorganization of the solar system, and not because Pluto’s demotion spoiled the popular “My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” planet-memorizing aid.

Rather, the IAU’s planet definition is fundamentally flawed, some astronomers say.

They take particular issue with the “clearing your neighborhood” requirement, for several reasons.

“If you take the IAU’s definition strictly, no object in the solar system is a planet,” said Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. “No object in the solar system has entirely cleared its zone.”

The definition also sets different standards for planethood at different distances from the sun, according to Stern, who is principal investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission, which is sending a spacecraft to Pluto.

The farther away a planet is from the sun, the bigger it needs to be in order to clear its zone. If Earth circled the sun in Uranus’ orbit, it wouldn’t be able to clean out its neighborhood and would thus not qualify as a planet, Stern said.

“It’s literally laughable,” he told

In Stern’s view, a planet is anything that meets the IAU definition’s first two criteria — the bits about orbiting the sun and having enough mass to be roughly spherical, without the “clearing your neighborhood” requirement.

So Pluto should be a planet, as should Eris and the dwarf planet Ceres (the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter), as well as many other objects.

Such a definition would greatly expand the list of planets in the solar system.

Many astronomers were uncomfortable with this prospect, according to Stern, and that discomfort was a big factor in the decision to demote Pluto. It stemmed from an unscientific desire to keep the numbers low.

“Many people think it’s special to be a planet,” Stern said.

But adding a bunch of names to the list wouldn’t cheapen the ones that had been there forever, he added. It would simply reflect astronomers’ increasing understanding of the solar system. In that understanding, small, icy planets far outnumber big gassy or rocky ones.

“There are a large number of planets, and most of them are small,” Stern said. “It’s the Earth-like planets and the giant planets that are freakish.”

For what it’s worth, Stern doesn’t object to branding Pluto a “dwarf planet” — he said he coined the term — as long as dwarfs are still considered planets.

What’s in a name?

The battle over Pluto’s planethood may be more semantic than anything else. But words do matter, because they shape how people classify and understand reality.

“You have to be able to sort,” Stern said.

Tyson said he tries not to use the word “planet” in its traditional, generic sense too much, because it doesn’t convey very much meaningful information. It’s more revealing to group objects that are similar in size, composition and other properties.

“The word ‘planet’ has far outlived its usefulness,” Tyson told “It doesn’t celebrate the scientific richness of the solar system.”

So Tyson thinks in categories such as gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) and terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) as well as asteroids and Kuiper Belt objects (Pluto, Eris and many others).

For his part, Brown thinks stripping Pluto of its planethood doesn’t make the icy body any less interesting or important.

“I think that Pluto as an example of a large Kuiper Belt object is so much more interesting than Pluto as this very weird planet at the outer edge of the solar system unlike anything else,” Brown said. “We are going to learn so much more about the solar system with our new understanding of what Pluto is.”

Maybe Stern and other scientists fighting for Pluto’s planethood would agree. Or maybe not.

At least 378 die in stampede at Cambodian festival

Updated news

At least 378 die in stampede at Cambodian festival

By SOPHENG CHEANG, Associated Press – 3 mins ago

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Rescuers on Tuesday trawled a muddy river for more bodies and Cambodia prepared for a day of mourning in wake of a stampede by thousands of festival goers which left at least 378 dead and hundreds of injured.

The prime minister called it the country’s biggest tragedy since the murderous 1970s reign of the Khmer Rouge.

A panic-stricken crowd — celebrating the end of the rainy season on an island in a river — tried to flee over a narrow bridge in the capital Phnom Penh late Monday and many people were crushed underfoot or fell over its sides into the water. Disoriented victims struggled to find an escape hatch through the human mass, pushing their way in every direction. After the stampede, bodies were stacked upon bodies on the bridge as rescuers swarmed the area.

The search for bodies in and along the Bassac River continued Tuesday as state television showed horrific footage of twisted and writhing bodies — both alive and dead — piled on each other. Some desperately reached out with their hands, screaming for help and grasping for hands of rescuers who struggled to pull limp bodies from the pile as if they were trapped in sand or snow.

It remained unclear what sparked the stampede. Police and witnesses pointed to the narrow bridge as providing inadequate access to and from the island. Two Singaporean businessmen who organized a sound-and-light show for the festival, said authorities had closed another bridge earlier in the day, forcing tens of thousands of people to use a single span.

A government spokesman, Phay Siphan, said total casualties reached over 1,000 with 378 people killed and 755 injured. But this, he said, was not the final count. Authorities said there were no foreigners among the dead or injured.

Women cry after their relative was confirmed ...

Women cry after their relative was confirmed dead in Monday’s stampede, at Preah Kossamak Hospital in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010. Thousands

Victims of Monday's stampede are laid at Preah ...

Victims of Monday’s stampede are laid at Preah Kossamak Hospital in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010.

A Cambodian man reacts after his relative was ...

A Cambodian man reacts after his relative was confirmed dead in Monday’s stampede, at Preah Kossamak Hospital in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Nov. 23,

A survivor of a Phnom Penh water festival stampede ...

A survivor of a Phnom Penh water festival stampede (2nd, L) is helped home by her family at Preah Kossamak Hospital in Phnom Penh November 23, 2010.

Almost 350 perish in Cambodia festival stampede

Cambodian police officials examine belongings left by victims on a bridge in Phnom Penh on November 23, 2010