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The Way Back Machine

Science Department:
Japanese scientists have found a galaxy that is 12.88 billion light years away. This means they are looking 12.88 billion years into the past. Or, to put it another way, they are seeing the light emitted by the galaxy 12.88 billion years ago. (Weirdly, they spotted George Burns.)

Telescopes are time machines. We're now capable of looking back nearly to the dawn of time, or at least to the moments when the universe became transparent, which has something to do with ionizing neutral hydrogen. It took a while for the schmutz to clear out so that we could actually see what's going on. The universe itself is believed to be 13.66 billion years old (roughly!).

From the press release:

"...the discovery signals that astronomers are now excavating light from the "Dark Ages" of the universe. This is the epoch when the first generations of stars and galaxies came into existence, and an epoch which astronomers have not been able to observe until now."

I hope they keep going and somehow get a glimpse of the Big Bang itself and then whatever happened BEFORE the Big Bang, so that we can finally know why there's something rather than nothing.

History Department:
A certain Jeff Broadwater has a book out on George Mason, the Founding Father that no one paid attention to until his basketball team went to the Final Four last spring. Richard Brookhiser gave the book a positive review yesterday in the WSJ (subscription required). Mason, as you know, wrote in the Virginia Declaration of Rights the following immortal words:

"That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."

So then Jefferson comes along, steals the lines, edits out a couple of unnecessary words (with help from Ben Franklin), pops them into the Declaration of Independence, and eventually chisels them on the wall of the Jefferson Memorial. Even the best know how to cut and paste.

Religion Department:
The president says we are having a Third Great Awakening, though perhaps it is actually the Fourth or Fifth. Blogworld is all abuzz about it.

I am hoping that when the Third Great Awakening officially starts I will be permitted to go back to sleep.

Here are a few things we didn't know when Jonathan Edwards & Co. ushered in the First Great Awakening:

1. The world is billions of years old.
2. There are hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy and at least tens of billions of galaxies and the whole shebang is expanding at an accelerating rate and there may even be other universes outside our own.
3. Life evolves and all living things come from a common ancestor.
4. Continents drift.
5. Complicated stuff involving Relativity.
6. Really complicated stuff involving Quantum Mechanics.
7. Stuff so complicated it cannot even be alluded to.

Maybe the real awakening will come when, after staring into a telescope at a galaxy 12.88 billion light years away, and studying the world around us, we finally grasp our humble place in the universe and our good luck in having evolved in a place that has remained habitable for something like four billion years. And then we'll decide to take better care of it.

In any case, it's always a good time to read that famous laff riot "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

By Joel Achenbach  |  September 14, 2006; 8:06 AM ET
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