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A Whole Bunch of Stars are Born (LSP #194)

A Whole Bunch of Stars are Born (LSP #194) May 31, 2021

Hi and welcome back! I was looking at a video recently of a new simulation called STARFORGE. (Yes, it’s in all caps like that!) STARFORGE offers researchers valuable new insights into the formation of stellar bodies — like stars. It’s just mind-blowing to imagine the distances and time involved in this kind of simulation. And it’s just another example of why it must suck to be a Creationist nowadays. Today, Lord Snow Presides over the wonders of the universe — and how much humans can learn about it when we struggle free of false beliefs.

a bunch of stars is born
A screenshot of STARFORGE showing star formation from a gas cloud. (Source.) Purple is tranquil gases. Orange is faster-moving gas, like the jets newborn stars give off. White of course is baby stars coming together.

A Fascinating Simulation of the Birth of Stars.

Not long ago, Science News tells us here, a bunch of astronomers published quite a fascinating paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. They’d just written a simulation program called STARFORGE. The name stands for “STAR FORmation in Gaseous Environments.” It’s a 3-dimensional program that takes into account a dozens of facts, formulae, and variables known about the formation of stars, then allows researchers to create a fake universe in which to watch stars doing starstuff over millions of simulated years.

So it’s kinda like Kerbal Space Program (KSP) on the grand scale.

Geez, STARFORGE really makes those first-gen video games seem extra primitive, doesn’t it?

earthworld -- I hates it, hates it forever
A screen from EarthQuest, an Atari game from the early 1980s. That purple bit is supposed to be an opulent cavern or something. The green strip contains the inventory of the character in the middle.

And our progress since then seems even more amazing in light of where we started! Now, here’s STARFORGE:


Uploaded by Science News on May 20, 2021.

Remember, that’s a simulation. It’s an extremely meticulous and complete simulation, but still, it’s a created universe within computer code. Seriously, check out their paper to see all of them. Here’s a snippet from its creators, saying they accounted for:

stellar feedback, including jets, radiative heating and momentum, stellar winds, and supernovae. We use the GIZMO code with the MFM mesh-free Lagrangian MHD method, augmented with new algorithms for gravity, timestepping, sink particle formation and accretion, stellar dynamics, and feedback coupling. [. . .] Modules for mass-injecting feedback (winds, SNe, and jets) inject new gas elements on-the-fly, eliminating the lack of resolution in diffuse feedback cavities otherwise inherent in Lagrangian methods

Holy cow. I don’t even know what three-quarters of their simulation elements even are.

As you can guess, though, this simulation is enthralling to me even so. It’s one helluva accomplishment.

Of Simulations and Stars and Sweet Orange Kittens.

Besides making some exceedingly cool videos, these simulations are invaluable to those working in a bunch of science-related fields. Nature noted a few years ago that simulated labs are starting to take off bigtime in research.

Such simulated environments have been around for ages, of course. I remember when I was in college (late 80s/early 90s), our Genetics Department had biology students fiddling around with a program called Catlab. Catlab still exists, though as you’d expect it looks a LOT different now than it did 35 years ago.

catlab splash screen showing cute kittens
Also, it’s for Macs now. Will wonders never cease! (Source.)

Back then, Catlab’s graphics weren’t a whole lot better than EarthQuest. (I’ve got a copy of that first version kicking around somewhere here on a 5.25″ floppy — if it hasn’t disintegrated by now, anyway. Ohh, I wish I could find it. It was so much fun to play with.)

No longer simply the province of students and education, though, simulations are proving useful to researchers as well. One doctor says that some research must be done through simulation. A Stanford site tells us that simulations have become “indispensable” in a number of research fields. Even the philosophy of science has to account for simulations nowadays, Stanford tells us:

What is the structure of the epistemology of computer simulation? What is the relationship between computer simulation and experiment? Does computer simulation raise issues for the philosophy of science that are not fully covered by recent work on models more generally? What does computer simulation teach us about emergence? About the structure of scientific theories? About the role (if any) of fictions in scientific modeling?

These are questions with answers, and I’ve no doubt we’ve already found some. The questions and answers alike probably sound a lot like the questions about research done in meatspace, really.

When “Were You There” Starts Sounding Extra Silly: Stars Edition.

Creationists like to ask “Were you there?” We can see an example of this gloating attempt at a zinger here, at this Creationist propaganda manufacturer’s site. They think it stops their tribal enemies cold to ask it whenever scientists talk about the origins of the universe and of humanity.

Creationists think this is a trump-card zinger question because obviously, no modern people were around at those times. Of course, they also think that their god was there, and therefore they were too kinda, in a weird way, because he totally told them what happened and he never lies, and they know this because the book selling his religion never lies, and…

As per normal.

(Basically, don’t ask Creationists for consistency. Consistency is obvs a tool of the postmodern leftist elite.)

Over the years, we’ve seen some interesting responses to that question from actual scientists and educators. “Dear Emma B,” from PZ Myers, is a very good one that’s become a classic.

Some of these responses are kinda snarky, claiming that why yes, we really were there: prove us wrong, MUAhaha! Others, like the Emma letter, try to teach someone how we can kinda be in the past in a virtual way through the tests and observational techniques we’ve developed and double-and-triple-checked along the way. Myers tries to teach Emma to ask, instead of a smug zinger that doesn’t work anyway from a guy who knows literally less than nothing about science and hates it anyway, a real and honest question that’ll stand her in good stead her entire life:

“How do you know that?”

Being There, With the Stars.

And well, simulations are giving us a whole new way to know stuff about topics like stars. They’re giving us new ways to be “there,” wherever “there” might be, so we can observe and learn stuff that’s exceedingly hard to see and engage with in the real world.

The more we learn about how stars work, the more elements we can put into our simulations of them, and the more we learn from those simulations in turn. If we don’t blow ourselves up or destroy our “pale blue dot” of a home somehow, there’ll come a day when humans will know pretty much everything there is to know about stars.

And I wonder where Creationists will be when that day arrives, if their religion hasn’t already died out like so many once-dominant religions before it.

We’ll Be Over Here: Learning.

This still blows my mind.

The above video talks about the supercluster Laniakea, which is our cosmic home. The tiny red dot is our little galaxy. I wrote about it here.

You’ll find nothing of this grandeur in the picayune power-fantasies of religious zealots. There’s no room in them for this kind of genuine wonderment. If any of them have true curiosity, the non-answers of religion will stop satisfying them at some point.

And then they’ll approach the real thing — and be there with us, marveling at the stars.

Today, Lord Snow Presides over the places we’ll “go.”

NEXT UP: Why Hell succeeds so well as a Christian threat. See you tomorrow!


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About Lord Snow Presides (LSP)

Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. Lord Snow was my very sweet white cat. He actually knew quite a bit. Though he’s passed on, he now presides over a suggested topic for the day. Of course, please feel free to chime in with anything on your mind: there’s no official topic on these days. We especially welcome pet pictures!

About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.
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