Friday, May 28, 2010
Not everyone agreed with the designation May 28 as the birthday of
science. It marks the day that Thales of Miletus is alleged to have
predicted a solar eclipse. One reader thought the discovery of fire would
be a better choice, but of course we don't know when that happened or who
did it. Cause and effect on the other hand applies to all science. We can
begin with any phenomenon and in principle trace its cause and the cause of
its cause backward through time to the merger of all such tracks at the Big
Bang, beyond which presumably no tracks remain. We are trying to re-create
the last footprints with the LHC. We need a beginning that applies to all
of science. Causality does that.
The President went on television yesterday to assure everyone that he's in
charge. At this point no one is contesting him for the honor. After top
kill failed, BP tried "junk shot", the last arrow in their quiver. Same
result. BP then resumed "top kill." It looks better to be seen doing
something, even if it doesn't work.
Three new NRC reports draw on published studies that came out too late for
inclusion in the last IPCC report. The conclusions reached seem roughly in
line with the emission reduction targets proposed by the Obama
administration. How will the BP catastrophe affect these conclusions?
Dumping oil into the ocean is not exactly the carbon sequestration program
the NRC had in mind. Oil reaching the coastline from the catastrophe will
devastate the environment for the lifetime of everyone reading this, but
the effect of oil settling on thousands of square miles of ocean bottom is
In the Wall Street Journal this morning, Jennifer Levitz wrote, "The coming
Atlantic hurricane season could be the busiest on record, with the
possibility of the next six months bringing nearly as many hurricanes as in
2005, when Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast, federal forecasters
said Thursday." Or maybe not; without some sort of probability assessment
no information is conveyed.
Lots of anti-particles are seen in cosmic rays and in particle
accelerators, but what about anti-atoms? A CERN collaboration named Athena
announced this week that it has created perhaps 50,000 antihydrogen atoms,
but it's pretty hard to build up an inventory. Antimatter is a staple in
the science fiction world where it is often used to power spaceships. Its
production in the laboratory is a major scientific milestone. Athena beat
a CERN collaboration known as Atrap to the goal. Why there is so little
antimatter in the universe remains a great mystery. Theory requires that
matter be created as particle-antiparticle pairs. Scientists will be
looking for any symmetry-breaking difference with ordinary hydrogen.