Do you know your ABCs?

Do you know your ABCs? March 7, 2018


inexplicable big bang
I do have some philosophical reservations about the ultimate coherence of his position, but . . .
(Wikimedia Commons; beware of contraction.)


I’m told that I find real scientists threatening and satanic.  But the truth is that, besides often finding their work very interesting, I also occasionally find them funny.  Here are a couple of specimens offered by Chris Impey, University Distinguished Professor and Deputy Head of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Arizona, in his book How It Began: A Time-Traveler’s Guide to the Universe (New York and London: W. W. Norton and Company, 2012):


In the late 1940s, [the famous Russo-American physicist George] Gamow started work with his student Ralph Alpher on predictions that would distinguish the big bang from its rival theory, the steady state.  They wrote a paper showing how the universe could have produced the observed abundance of helium and other light elements when it was as hot as the center of a star.  Gamow added Cornell physicist Hans Bethe’s name to the paper [a German name, of course, that is properly pronounced roughly like beta], even though he’d done no work on it, so the author order Alpher, Bethe, Gamow would be a riff on the first three letters of the Greek alphabet.  A separate paper included a prediction that the afterglow of the big bang should have cooled down after billions of years to a temperature of just 5 degrees above absolute zero.  (249)


The second involves the work of mapping the universe via the “Cosmic Background Explorer satellite,” or COBE, that was launched in November of 1989:


The popular media enthusiastically picked up the story and there were breathless quotes about finding the “fingerprints of God.”  Professional accolades followed and, in 1996, the lead investigators of the mapping and spectroscopy experiments, George Smoot and John Mather, won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work.  (Smoot has another claim to fame as the million-dollar-prize winner on the Fox TV show “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”  It’s reassuring that he in fact is.)  The Nobel Prize committee said the pair of scientists had ushered in the era of “cosmology as a precision science.”  (257-259)




In current astronomical news, here’s a curious phenomenon:


“Red giant brings its companion star back to life:  Winds emitted by a red giant revived a nearby neutron star’s dead core.”




If you don’t have many worries, perhaps you should read this:


“Volcanologists warn world is unprepared for next major eruption: A big blast could hobble global trade, communications and financial systems.”




But it’s not all despair.  There remain things to hope for:


“Archaeologists Closer to Finding Lost Viking Settlement”



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