Geminids on 12/13/14

The number sequence only works in the stupid US date format, though. Anywhere sane it’s 2014-12-13.

Here on the Mid-Atlantic Coast of the USA, the Geminid meteor shower should start to be visible just after dark, and best viewing will be between about 10:00pm and moonrise which will be around midnight, when up to 120 an hour may be visible. The Geminids are bright, often producing fireballs, and while 65% are white, about 25% are yellow, and about 10% are blue, red, or green.

Hawking radiation precludes singularity formation?

Laura Mersini-Houghton at the University of North Carolina and Harald Pfeiffer of the University of Toronto have published a paper suggesting that as a collapsing star emits Hawking radiation, it must also shed mass at a rate that would necessarily prevent it from achieving the density necessary to form a singularity. This doesn’t mean they are claiming black holes don’t exist, they’re saying that if Hawking radiation is real (and so far it’s entirely theoretical) a black hole singularity cannot be formed by the implosion of a star.

Of course if a mass is high enough to create an information paradox, would we ever be able to tell if that mass is a point singularity or not? I don’t know, but the non-mathematical parts of the paper are surprisingly readable.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson as a sacred cow?

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry wrote an article about the way most modern people have debased science into a caricature of pre-renaissance religious dogmatism, simply substituting white lab coats for black cassocks.

…let me explain what science actually is. Science is the process through which we derive reliable predictive rules through controlled experimentation. That’s the science that gives us airplanes and flu vaccines and the Internet. But what almost everyone means when he or she says “science” is something different.

To most people, capital-S Science is the pursuit of capital-T Truth. It is a thing engaged in by people wearing lab coats and/or doing fancy math that nobody else understands. The reason capital-S Science gives us airplanes and flu vaccines is not because it is an incremental engineering process but because scientists are really smart people.

In other words — and this is the key thing — when people say “science”, what they really mean is magic or truth.

The Intarnets are up in arms. Criticize capital-S science, or the inanity of assuming that science and religion are conflicting methods of solving the same problems? Oh please. Richard Feynman brilliantly plowed that furrow in 1956, and nobody’s really changed their opinion on the subject then or since. What’s important here is that somebody criticised Neil DeGrasse Tyson! Quelle horreur!

1970s scientific spacecraft rebooted

ISEE-3, the International Sun/Earth Explorer 3, has been responding to signals. Thanks to crowdfunding and NASA, a group of space enthusiasts led by Dennis Wingo and Keith Cowingare are going to try to kick it back into Earth orbit, where it will resume its original mission after taking off into the outer system to chase comets decades ago.

Technicians are now racing to maneuver the spacecraft, which currently appears to be on a collision course with the Moon. It is unclear at this point whether they will be able to redirect the spacecraft in time.

Click here for current ISEE-3 Reboot Project status reports!

No Gamma Ray Burst in M31

Despite so much chatter in Twitter that even I’ve heard about it, there is no evidence of a world-destroying event in the Andromeda galaxy. Phil Evans from the SWIFT team explains:

…it’s tough. We have limited data, limited time and need to say something quick, while the object is still bright. People with access to large telescopes need to make a rapid decision, do they sink some of their limited observing time into this object? This is the challenge that we, as time-domain astronomers, face on a daily basis. Most of this is normally hidden from the world at large because of course we only publish and announce the final results from the cases where the correct decisions were made. In this case, thanks to the power of social media, one of those cases where what proved to be the wrong decision has been brought into the public eye. You’ve been given a brief insight into the decisions and challenges we have to face daily. So while it’s a bit embarrassing to have to show you one of the times where we got it wrong, it’s also good to show you the reality of science. For every exciting news-worthy discovery, there’s a lot of hard slog, effort, false alarms, mistakes, excitement and disappointment. It’s what we live off. It’s science.

New theories needed for star formation

“When zooming in on the young star clusters of NGC 2024 (in the center of the Flame Nebula) and the Orion Nebula Cluster, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory teamed up with infrared telescopes to take a census of star ages. Conventional thinking suggests that stars closest to the center of a given star cluster should be the oldest and the youngest stars can be found around the edges.

However, to their surprise, astronomers have discovered that the opposite is true.

‘Our findings are counterintuitive,’ said Konstantin Getman of Penn State University, lead scientist of this new study. ‘It means we need to think harder and come up with more ideas of how stars like our sun are formed.'”