Mountain Views News     Logo: MVNews     Saturday, December 19, 2015

MVNews this week:  Page 13



Mountain Views-News Saturday, December 19, 2015 


A long time ago in a galaxy half the universe 
away, a flood of high-energy gamma rays began 
its journey to Earth. When they arrived in April, 
NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope caught 
the outburst, which helped two ground-based 
gamma-ray observatories detect some of the 
highest-energy light ever seen from a galaxy so 
distant. The observations provide a surprising look 
into the environment near a super-massive black 
hole at the galaxy’s center, and offer a glimpse into 
the state of the cosmos 7 billion years ago.

 “When we looked at all the data from this 
event, from gamma rays to radio, we realized the 
measurements told us something we didn’t expect 
about how the black hole produced this energy,” 
said Jonathan Biteau at the Nuclear Physics 
Institute of Orsay, France. He led the study of 
results from the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging 
Telescope Array System (VERITAS), a gamma-ray 
telescope in Arizona.

 Astronomers had assumed that light at different 
energies came from regions at different distances 
from the black hole. Gamma rays, the highest-
energy form of light, were thought to be produced 
closest to the black hole.

 “Instead, the multi-wavelength picture suggests 
that light at all wavelengths came from a single 
region located far away from the power source,” 
Biteau explained. The observations place the area 
roughly five light-years from the black hole, which 
is greater than the distance between our Sun and 
the nearest star.

 The gamma rays came from a galaxy known 
as PKS 1441+25, a type of active galaxy called a 
blazar. Located toward the constellation Boötes, 
the galaxy is so far away its light takes 7.6 billion 
years to reach us. At its heart lies a monster black 
hole with a mass estimated at 70 million times the 

 As material in the disk falls toward the black 
hole, some of it forms dual particle jets that blast 
out of the disk in opposite directions at nearly the 
speed of light. Blazars are so bright in gamma rays 
because one jet points almost directly toward us, 
giving astronomers a view straight into the black 
hole’s dynamic and poorly understood realm.

 In April, PKS 1441+25 underwent a major 
eruption. Luigi Pacciani at the Italian National 
Institute for Astrophysics in Rome was leading a 
project to catch blazar flares in their earliest stages 
in collaboration with the Major Atmospheric 
Gamma-ray Imaging Cerenkov experiment 
(MAGIC), located on La Palma in the Canary 
Islands. Using public Fermi data, Pacciani 
discovered the outburst and immediately alerted 
the astronomical community. Fermi’s Large Area 
Telescope revealed gamma rays up to 33 billion 
electron volts (GeV), reaching into the highest-
energy part of the instrument’s detection range. 
For comparison, visible light has energies between 
about 2 and 3 electron volts.

 Following up on the Fermi alert, the MAGIC 
team turned to the blazar and detected gamma 
rays with energies ranging from 40 to 250 GeV. 
“Because this galaxy is so far away, we didn’t have 
a strong expectation of detecting gamma rays with 
energies this high,” said Josefa Becerra Gonzalez, a 
researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center 
in Greenbelt, Maryland. “There are fewer and 
fewer gamma rays at progressively higher energies, 
and fewer still from very distant sources.”

 The reason distance matters for gamma rays is 
that they convert into particles when they collide 
with lower-energy light. When a gamma ray 
encounters starlight, it transforms into an electron 
and a positron and is lost to astronomers. The 
farther away the blazar is, the less likely its highest-
energy gamma rays will survive to be detected.

 You can contact Bob Eklund at: b.eklund@





Washington, DC – Today, Congressman 
Adam Schiff (D-Burbank, CA) announced that 
Congress has included $8.2 million in the FY 2016 
funding bill specifically designated for a West 
Coast Earthquake Early Warning System. The 
$8.2 million is a substantial increase over what 
the President requested in his budget and is a 
great victory for California and the West Coast. 
Congress included funds allocated for the system 
in a spending bill for the first time last year at $5 

 The Earthquake Early Warning System is 
currently being developed by Caltech, UC-
Berkeley, the University of Washington, and the 
University of Oregon in conjunction with the 
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). It can provide 
users with seconds to even a minute or more of 
warning before shaking hits, depending on the 
distance to the epicenter. A limited system already 
been deployed for test users has proved that the 
early warning technology is sound. It will cost an 
estimated $38.2 million to build out a full system 
for the west coast, with annual operating and 
maintenance costs of $16.1 million. 

 “By increasing the funding for the West Coast 
Earthquake Early Warning System, Congress is 
sending a message to the western states that it 
supports this life saving system. But the federal 
government cannot do it alone and will need 
local stakeholders, both public and private, to 
get behind the effort with their own resources,” 
said Rep. Adam Schiff. “This year, Congress 
allocated an additional eight million dollars, a 
very substantial sum in these budget constrained 
times, and I thank Chairman Calvert for his 
support. The Early Warning System will give us 
critical time for trains to be slowed and surgeries 
to be stopped before shaking hits – saving lives 
and protecting infrastructure. This Early Warning 
System is an investment we need to make now, not 
after the ‘big one’ hits.”

 Earlier this year, Schiff led a group of 35 
Members of Congress – primarily from California, 
Washington, and Oregon – to request that the 
Appropriations Committee fund an Earthquake 
Early Warning System for the West Coast. The 
final FY16 budget funds the Early Warning System 
at a higher level than the $5 million originally 
included in the Interior and Environment 
Appropriations bill. The funding level in the FY16 
budget also exceeds the President’s $5 million 
budget request earlier this year. Senator Feinstein, 
Rep. Schiff and 35 other Members of Congress 
sent a letter to the President last October, asking 
him to include funding for the West Coast Early 
Warning System for FY2016.

 In December 2014, Congress passed a funding 
bill for FY2015 which included an additional $5 
million specifically for the Earthquake Early 
Warning System, bringing the total funding for 
the system for FY2015 to $6.5 million. This was 
the first time Congress included funds specifically 
allocated for the system in a spending bill. That 
$5 million in funding allowed those developing 
the statewide system to begin purchasing and 
installing additional sensors, build new stations, 
speed up the ShakeAlert system, and come closer 
to deploying comprehensive early earthquake 
warning coverage throughout earthquake prone 
regions of the West Coast.

 The explanatory language for the funding bill 

 Natural Hazards.-Funding for the Natural 
Hazards program includes $60,503,000 for 
earthquake hazards, of which $8,200,000 
is provided to transition the earthquake 
early warning demonstration project into an 
operational capability for the West Coast. 

[Nyerges is the author of 
A Personal Christmas 
Odyssey, and is the author 
of numerous books. For information about his books 
and classes, contact School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, 
Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.ChristopherNyerges.
com. . He participates in sharing the meanings of 
our Holidays at WTI’s local events – see www.wtinc.
info. ]

 Overhearing conversations at Bean Town and 
on Baldwin, I’ve heard much about the Scrooge of 
“political correctness” descending upon the Spirit 
of Christmas. There is also animated conversation 
about those who see great danger to our republic 
by the singing of “Merry Christmas” want to 
remove even the “Christ” from “Christmas” lest 
the church become irretrievably intertwined with 
the state. 

 I have even heard from the deeply-religious 
Christians of Sierra Madre, wringing their hands 
about the assaults on religious freedom from judges 
and school administrators. They argue that the 
separation of church and state was primarily intended 
to keep the government out of religious. Nowhere 
in our Constitution does it forbid us from publicly 
proclaiming our religious views – whatever they may 

 So how should we regard these most recent 
politically-correct assaults against Christmas?

 When I was in my early teens, I became aware of 
a fact that I was not taught in Catholic school. Jesus 
– in whose honor all this furor supposedly revolves 
– was a Jewish rabbi who lectured in the Synagogue 
and kept the traditional Jewish Holy Days of his time. 
We know the date of Jesus’ birthday is not known to 
historians, and was certainly not December 25. 

 Using ordinary encyclopedias and the library, I 
began to uncover a side of Christmas that I never knew 
existed. To my amazement, in Jesus’ day, as he was 
celebrating the Jewish Holy Days, the known world 
was commemorating nearly every Holy Day that 
Christianity celebrates today, but under a different 
name. Holy Days of Christmas, Easter, Halloween, 
Saint Valentine’s Day, Candlemas, and more, were all 
being commemorated in the Roman empire. Though 
they were commemorated under different names, the 
customs associated with each are still with us.

 By the Third Century as Christianity was becoming 
a religious and political force, Constantine made a 
political choice to cement his Christian empire. Since 
there was resistance to dropping the old so-called 
pagan customs, Constantine “Christianized” the 
entire gamut of pre-Christian Holy Days and changed 
their names. (This is, obviously, the very short 25-
cent version – you can read the long version in your 

 By the way, “pagan” in its origin had no religious 
overtones. It merely meant a country-dweller, from 
the Latin “pagus.” The complaint that the pagans 
in their observation of their Holy Days were riotous 
and drunken was only partly right. History clearly 
demonstrates that among the “pagani” there was no 
more or less drunken revelry than there was among 
those now calling themselves Christians.

 As it was in the past, so it is today.

 So when I hear about the sound and fury that we 
must keep Christ in Christmas, I have to remember 
how Christ got into Christmas in the first place. 
Though December 25 is not the winter solstice, it is 
the day when someone observing the sunrises notes 
that the sun begins again its northern ascent back 
from that southernmost point of the horizon that it 
reached on the winter solstice. It is the birth of the 
sun that that pagans celebrated, which Constantine 
made the birth of the Son.

 My first childhood reaction to learning of 
this “pagan history” of Christmas led to my 
disenchantment and depression. A few years later 
when I became a Buddhist, I was surprised to learn 
that my Buddhist friends celebrated Christmas. “It’s a 
social and secular holiday too,” they told me. “It’s part 
of the popular culture,” as they all had their warm 
parties and exchanged gifts in their eagerness to be 
a part of American culture. That opened my eyes to 
another side of this.

 Gradually, with this and other experiences, I came 
to grips with the reality of this time, and the ancient 
symbols surrounding it. 

 The season and its myriad symbols are ancient, yet 
it is still up to each of us to use these symbols, and 
this time, for a spiritual leap-forward, and not as an 
excuse to grovel in materialism. Gifting, for example, 
can be a mindless act, or it can be a true communion 
between two beings. And gifting doesn’t have to be a 
physical object. It can be a service, some act of love, or 
even walking someone’s dog or cooking a meal when 
they have the need. That’s the sort of gifting that I love 
to do with my closest friends.

 The evergreens, the trees, the wreaths, the lights, 
all good symbols of spiritual renewal and eternal 
spiritual life. That’s what they’re there to remind us of.

 Santa Claus is a latter day addition to the winter 
solstice time. Saint Nicholas was a real Catholic 
Bishop from Asia Minor who gave gifts to newlyweds 
around the Christmas season. The bland comic-book 
appearance of the modern “Santa Claus” has made 
him acceptable to today’s PCers as the “big man” of 
the winter solstice.

 The Christmas season’s ancient symbols are 
intended to remind us that even at our darkest 
moment, there is hope for us finding the light again. 
That is why solstices were commemorated in the first 
place. So in the Christian tradition, it was Jesus born 
in Bethlehem, who we barely understand, whose life 
demonstrated that there is a way to live, a way that 
each of us should follow, that can lead us out of our 
spiritual darkness. That is why we commemorate the 
birth of Jesus at this time.

 Could it be that the secular PC scrooges are 
really concerned that Christmas has, in fact, simply 
descended into a shopfest and drinkfest, where we’re 
all so crowded into the malls and onto the freeways 
that there’s no opportunity to think about the 
real, inner meaning of Christmas? Each year, the 
newscasters report whether or not we had a good 
sales in the Christmas season. Is that the point of 

 If, in fact, Christmas for the majority has simply 
become a festival of spending, then what harm is 
there in removing “Christ” from all this shameless 
materialism? If, on the other hand, we want to renew 
and rejuvenate our own flagging spiritual selves at 
this time, then keeping the “Christ” in Christmas is 
something worth fighting for.

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