Solstice is finally over, astronomer sues university

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Now that the solstice is finally over, even though it's still winter we can begin to watch the days grow longer bit by bit. After the solstice this site becomes a point of reference for me as even knowing that tomorrow we'll receive just two more seconds of sunlight than today is somehow comforting. This year it was noteworthy that we had the full moon right at solstice, so the Moon at its brightest at the darkest part of the year. Of course, in terms of total illumination there is no contest:

full moon - 0.27 lux
overcast day - 1000 lux
2 extra seconds of sunlight (even on an overcast day) = 2 hours of extra moonlight

So by the 26th here in Seoul the extra amount of sunlight we receive in a day is greater than any full moon during its entire time in the sky, but the relatively feeble light of the Moon is still quite nice to have at night around now.

Astronomer sues university: what's this about? The story is found here and here, and involves a court case brought up by an astronomer Martin Gaskell who alleges that the University of Kentucky was just about on the verge of hiring him (one member quoted him as being "breathtakingly above the other applicants") until members of the university after a bit of searching found out that he was a Christian and might be "potentially evangelical" based on some lectures he had previously given, and he was eventually turned down for the position. The case is due to go to court in February and so we will see then whether the university actually was about to hire him and then refused to do so mostly on unfounded fears that he would bring religion into the science classroom, or whether they had good reason to fear this / he wasn't actually about to be hired by them in the first place.

I have to admit that I'm also a bit fascinated by the resurgence of conflict theory and the ever more public debate between the evangelical religious and the evangelical anti-religious (in the sense that one can't not sneak a look at a car crash as one drives by), but if it turns out that we're beginning to enter a stage where the next Georges Lemaître may be denied the ability to conduct the research we so desperately need to become a true spacefaring race due to unfounded fears about his ability to do proper research, then things may have become a bit worrisome. I wouldn't have wanted to see the steady state theory be given precedence either for any longer than necessary simply because its greatest proponent at the time was non-religious.

In the meantime it seems that Prof. Gaskell has taken a job in Chile, pretty much the best place in the world to conduct astronomy, so no problem there.

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