Astronomy

Category archives for Astronomy

The Bright Side of the BICEP2 Story

I’ve done yet another piece for The Conversation, this one expanding on something I’ve been saying in interviews promoting Eureka: that knowing the process of science can help people sort good science from bad. In this particular case, I take the somewhat #slatepitch-y angle that the recent high-profile unraveling of the BICEP2 experiment’s claim to…

Science Story: Impossible Conditions

(When I launched the Advent Calendar of Science Stories series back in December, I had a few things in mind, but wasn’t sure I’d get through 24 days. In the end, I had more than enough material, and in fact didn’t end up using a few of my original ideas. So I’ll do a few…

Science Stories: One-Shots

(When I launched the Advent Calendar of Science Stories series back in December, I had a few things in mind, but wasn’t sure I’d get through 24 days. In the end, I had more than enough material, and in fact didn’t end up using a few of my original ideas. So I’ll do a few…

If I Were Ted Chiang…

(That title doesn’t quite scan as is, but if you stick an “a” in there, you can sing it to the tune of a song from “Fiddler on the Roof”… You’re welcome.) The last time I taught my “Brief History of Timekeeping” seminar was in 2012, so I spent a bunch of time on the…

I’m teaching my “Brief History of Timekeeping” class again this term, and as always, I’m tweaking things a bit. This is one of our “Sophomore Research Seminar” courses, intended to introduce students to academic research, so it’s not specifically a physics class, but I’m choosing to take the statements about research outside the student’s field…

Eureka: Waldo at the Galaxy Zoo

Over at Medium, they’ve published a long excerpt from Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist, that gives a good flavor of what the book’s really like. It’s about how the process for solving hidden-object games like the classic Where’s Waldo books is comparable to the process used by Henrietta Leavitt to revolutionize our understanding of the…

Speaking of the timing of astronomical phenomena, as we were yesterday, the timing of celestial bodies was the key to the first demonstration of one of the pillars of modern physics, the fact that light travels at a finite speed. This actually pre-dates yesterday’s longitude discoveries, which I always forget, because it seems like it…

Returning to our mostly-chronological ordering after yesterday’s brief excursion, we come to one of the great problems of the 1700’s, namely determining the longitude at sea. Latitude is easy to find, based on the height of the Sun at noon– we told that story last week– but longitude is much trickier. Thanks to the rotation…

The final step of the scientific process is to share your results with others, and that’s the step where things are most prone to breaking down. Countless great discoveries have been delayed or temporarily lost because the people who made them were more concerned with protecting “their” secrets than with sharing new knowledge with the…

“More wine?” “Hmm? Oh, yes, thank you. Sorry, I was–” “Thinking about mathematics, I wager. Prime numbers was it?” “No, just distracted. It’s this blasted heat.” “It is the longest day of the year.” “Yes, but normally not so hot.” “Especially here. You think this is hot, visit me in Syene sometime. You think it…