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Monday, June 04, 2007

Estimates of the age of the earth vary astronomically

Recently it was my pleasure to represent Stat-Ease at a corporate sponsor’s luncheon provided by the American Society of Quality (ASQ). Their featured speaker was Storey Musgrave, who spoke about his work in 1993 to repair the Hubble space telescope. Thanks to work by Storey and other astronauts, not to mention all the scientists who built and now maintain the telescope, Hubble resolves stars such as those pictured in spiral galaxy M81 11.6 million light-years away in the constellation of Ursa Major (the Big Dipper). This image was released on May 28 by the Space Telescope Science Institute.

When you're looking that far out, you're giving people their place in the universe.
-- Storey Musgrave

Ironically, that evening at ASQ’s annual banquet I was making small talk with an aerospace engineer sitting next to me, when suddenly he asked me: “Do you believe in evolution?” Caught off guard, I made the mistake of admitting I do. That was the wrong answer! According to this fellow the Earth was created only 6,000 years ago, which differs astronomically from data supplied by the Hubble Space Telescope and other sources that lead to an estimate of 13.7 +/- 0.2 gyr (gigayears – an astronomical unit of time in billions). A display at the newly opened Creation Museum shows a T. Rex dinosaur looming over Adam and Eve – providing visual support for the Biblically-derived age of six millennium.

Opinion polls suggest that Americans are split 50/50 on one side of this issue of evolution. I do not care to debate it myself – it just interests me to see the passion of people like my dinner mate – a highly-educated technical professional. If you are a fan of history like myself, you will enjoy To the Edge of the World by Harry Thompson – a book on Darwin’s journey to South America that provides perspective on the opposing view of Creationism by his colleague Robert FitzRoy (1805–1865), who captained the Beagle on Charles Darwin's famous trip around the globe. The first to use the term "weather forecast", Fitzroy subsequently headed up the British Meteorological Office and developed an innovative network of storm warnings that undoubtedly saved the lives of many seafarers. If you are looking for good summer-time reading, pick up this book from your local library.


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