The online astronomy office hours from the UofA continue apace. Every week Prof. Chris Impey answers ex tempore a mix of questions from planetary science to the fate of the universe from a thirsty audience across the globe. A large Indian contingent stays up until the wee small hours of their morning to join in. Part of the fun is pausing the video and trying to figure out the answer from basic considerations before resuming. It is fun to be right but more instructive to be wrong. I’ve been moved to send in three questions over the past couple of sessions and all have been answered.
When in relation to the Big Bang did dark matter originate?
The third video from Corning’s Museum of Glass shows that the path to science is not always smooth and that learning from mistakes is the norm. The original 200 inch pyrex disk for the Palomar primary did not go according to plan and had to be recast. The second attempt succeeded and even so, it took ten years of painstaking grinding and polishing at Caltech before it was ready for use.
I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library
— J.L. Borges
No, I haven’t read any Borges but this is one of those quotes that is very popular with my ilk. But, libraries are indeed wonderful things and I remember hanging out a lot – and later volunteering – at the old Albany (California) Public Library on Solano Avenue in the late 1970s. Don’t look for it there now, it is a youth center affiliated with the YMCA. I spent as much time at the Doe and Bancroft as any science major at Cal could. The specialty books and journals were in Hildebrand Hall but the atmosphere in the general purpose stacks was unbeatable. The Internet has obliterated what little attention span I once had so sitting down and reading a physical book is next to impossible and yet the lure, the promise, and the perfume of endless shelves of books is still strong.
“Objectivity” is one of Brady Haran‘s strongest and most addicting channels. Most of the episodes are filmed at the Royal Society‘s Library in London and feature Keith Moore, the hypnotic and wildly popular head librarian who pulls from a bottomless collection of manuscripts, paintings, sculptures, and instruments from Newton to the present. The Brits were pieces of work for several hundred years but there can be no denying that they made a few positive contributions to somewhat offset their spherical bastardy.
Visiting the Society’s collections may just be sufficient to deal with the rigors of travel in whatever a post-COVID landscape may look like as well as London’s notoriously high prices.
Enjoy the long-requested Q&A with The Man which includes a very candid answer to a probing viewer question. Be sure to check out the rest of the channel – some selections below.
But the early universe was very hot, very dense, and gravitationally very different from the comfortable-to-us 1 g we experience today on the surface of the earth. Einstein has convincingly shown that spacetime is accordingly divorced from that human experience. Clocks, for example, are affected by gravity and satnav constellations have to take this into account. Did the first three minutes flow the same way three minutes flow in the here and now? I sent that question to Chris Impey’s online office hour and he kindly answered. It is a tantalizing response and one that will require substantial further study to fully appreciate – perhaps finally diving into the guts of GR. It makes me wonder even more intensely why we anthropomorphize those intervals the way we do.
The CDC and WHO are giving us good advice on what do in this Plague Year. The Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics (RCSB) is showing us the molecule causing the havoc. Check out the structures of the various flavors of Coronavirus at The Protein Database (PDB). Click on the images, most of which will go to detailed pages including 3D models that can be spun in the browser. Knowledge will be power in dealing with this beast and let’s offer thanks to the research groups who took the lead in characterizing it which must have come at considerable risk to themselves. When it mutates, and it will, they and others will undoubtedly don their capes and do the measurements again.
It is damnably, horrifyingly beautiful in David Goodsell’s artistic rendering of it infecting a lung:
I’ve got only a superficial understanding of the revolutionary incompleteness theorems that Gödel brought forth while a preternaturally gifted young man. It will be the work of a remaining lifetime to learn it in any detail but it stimulates periodic revisits. This podcast from the BBC’s In Our Time series smacked my gob when I came across it: A very well-prepared moderator and threedistinguishedscientists discuss its impact. It starts with a punch and soars from then on. Yes, it is true that the posh accents predispose to trust but beyond that it is 40 minutes of serious yet freewheeling fluffless conversation that compels the listener to pay attention in the now and do homework afterward. The presumption on the listener to be prepared, attentive, and engaged is exhilarating. I can’t imagine such an exchange prepared for broadcast in the modern United States even by the remaining cultural outposts like NPR.
The web’s archive of older industrial films is a recurring delight. Jam Handy, Coronet, and other firms crafted these with an attention to detail, calm explanation, and rigorous science that is harder(*) to find today when most equivalents are about sales rather than fundamentals. Jeff Quitney has uploaded a wonderful 1954 cleaned-up film to his Vimeo page on color theory and practice by the Interchemical Corporation. It begins with the importance of color to society – especially in packaging goods and people – and then gives a marvelous account of the optics involved. I’ve worked in the field for years but I learned to see things (pun intended) differently thanks to it.
The second film from 2016 looks at color in packaging through its emotional impact and its influence on design and designers. ‘Color In Sight’ resembles like Hustwit’s ‘Helvetica.’ A number of prominent designers talk about how they use and think about color in order to evoke a response, surface a memory, or reveal a part of the spectrum to the color-blind. I have no idea what I’d say to a nail-polish maker but Suzi Weiss-Fischmann (8m18s in) comes off as a fun seatmate on a long plane trip. I had a similar feeling about Helvetica’s Paula Scher. Interestingly, it is produced by TeaLeaves, a Canadian company specializing in very high-end teas for hotels. Judging by their Youtube page, they must spend a fortune on short films – many of which have little outward bearing on their products. I’ve never understood the appeal of tea but the videos are well worth a look.
The mere detection of gravitational waves two years ago was cause for celebration and, for those of us skeptical of LIGO, eating of crow. Now gravitational wave detections regularly cue electromagnetic observatories on the ground and in space with tighter integration to come.
Youtuber skydivephil puts the camera on several researchers active in developing the next generation GW systems and the ever more ambitious cosmological probing that these observatories will enable.
Skydivephil and the unnamed narrator are self-effacing providing few details about themselves, not even their names in the nonexistent credits. They also have enviable access to many leading physicists and institutes, largely on the theoretical side. The style is simple: Let the speaker speak. It is a refreshing antidote to the modern space documentary which highlights the doom-and-gloom with an explosion and visual effect every fifteen seconds. Whatever one may think about string theory, loop quantum gravity, or their alternatives, it is refreshing to hear about them from the purveyors. Here’s the “Before the Big Bang” playlist with an assortment of views on modern cosmology (note that the episodes are in reverse chronological order.)