Kepler’s Last Stand: Verification by Multiplicity

Lost In Transits

TNG_LaPalmaFor 3 months a year, the TNG telescope on the island of La Palma turns its high-precision spectrometer (HARPS-N) towards the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra. This is the field of view that NASA’s Kepler space telescope stared at for more than 3 years, detecting thousands of potential new exoplanets using the transit method. There the TNG scans hundreds of Kepler’s potentially planet-holding stars looking for tiny changes in their radial velocity. If detected, this signal will indicate the presence of a real planet, confirming once and for all what Kepler first hinted at many months before. This is the process that, up until now, has been used to definitively find the majority of Kepler’s 211 planets.

exoplanetdiscoverieshistogram New ‘discoveries’ in context

That appeared to change in the blink of an eye this week with the confirmation of 715 new planets using a new catch-all statistical technique. But how did…

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Why the Ukrainian crisis is not just a Ukrainian crisis. An unedited post.

It might seem easy to read on one level.

Of course, the events of the ongoing Ukrainian crisis are humanitarian at a very basic level. If you don’t care, means you don’t have a heart; that’s probably what  newspapers ( right or left depending on where you are) and indie film makers might tell you. And it’s not that I disagree at all. It’s true- I’m typing away in the comfort of my own house, hearing the relaxed, rhythmic breathing of sleeping people who know they will wake up in the morning. And somewhere, on the other side of the world, probably in Kiev or Simferopol, is someone who doesn’t know that. They have no way of being sure, and that is pathetic, scary- it puts things into perspective; whatever word you want to use for it. Of course it is. But that’s not all. And it’s been making me feel uncomfortable ever since it started.

On a side note, it does sadden me to think that the country where Everything is Illuminated is set is now being revisited by political turmoil. I wonder if things will be big enough to put into plastic bags this time.


Politically, the Ukrainian crisis represents the resurgence of imperialist, Soviet era nationalism. The proposition of a bloc of ethnically and culturally, and of course historically Russian countries as a counter balance to the EU is evidence enough. Russia, in particular, the Putin-Medvedev partnership, is seeking to rebuild itself as a European power. It is considerably evident that the Soviet era economic and cultural power that Russia had is something it wants to recapture, perhaps in the face of the Eurozone meltdown. When Sochi won the bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, well let’s just say I was amused. Even more amusing of course, were the portraits of Putin in every hotel room accorded to the athletes.

I digress. By this point, Viktor Yanukovych might have expressed more of his undying love for Ukraine from a safe house in Russia. More, I say, because I’ve already watched live feed of him stating such sentiments once in the last hour.

As I was saying, politically, the Ukrainian crisis is of course a sign that Russian imperialism is reawakening. Look at Yulia Tymoshenko’s imprisonment. Look at the fact that the Russian army is controlling the Crimean airport and has raised the Russian flag in Sevastopol as I type this sentence. Another little region where being gay is against the law? That can only be reason for celebration, can’t it? Oh,and not to mention not having the right to buy lace underwear. Well done on that October Revolution, by the way.. Things have really changed.

Secondly, still from a political point of view with a slight look at human rights, the crisis in Ukraine could have been averted. The protests started out peacefully and then let loose the seventh circle of hell, complete with shooting, only because Yanukovych refused to listen. He might as well have been straightforward and declared Ukraine a dictatorship like his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko ( who,for those of you who do not know, has been the president of Belarus since 1994). He ignored his parliament, ignored the people and ordered the armed forces and police to open fire on civilians, all from the comfort of his private sauna. There wouldn’t have been a sea of flowers laid out in Independence Square today if there had been a democratic handling of the situation.


People might have been skateboarding or walking hand in hand, enjoying a few sparse rays of the sun if Yanukovych had listened. If he hadn’t been so pro-Russia. Or if his parliament had tried harder.

Etymologically – and this is what I’m rather interested in, is why the interim government in Ukraine( consisting mainly of protesters and activists loyal to Tymoshenko) have been repeatedly referred to as ‘fascists’ by pro- Russians in Crimea and by Yannukovych himself. Countless reports have repeatedly mentioned this term, and I’m concerned it is an attempt to reignite revolutionary feelings against a certain now defunct government that was responsible for the erection and maintenance of Gulags. Sly, but deliberate.

Linguistically, Crimea is Russian dominated, but citing that as a reason for it to belong to Russia would be like pointing to the mutual intelligibility between Ukrainian and Russian as reasons for the political dissolution of the former. ( Interestingly, if countries with higher levels of mutually intelligible languages were to form political alliances, Ukraine would  go with Belarus or Poland, not Russia).

And of course, from the point of view of civil liberties, it is just plain unsettling that a democracy could dissolve into a dictatorship in the span of one day. That voicing your opinion doesn’t even really work any more. That dictatorship is still acceptable- whether in Ukraine or Russia. That nobody is implicating Putin in all of this.

It just keeps coming back to me- again and again.

When did words become not enough?

It definitely won’t make a difference that I hope it doesn’t happen, but I really do hope that by morning, Russia would not have claimed Crimea.

Peaceful sleep should be a basic human right.

All images courtesy of Google.

I’m out.