Friday, 17 August 2012

What a year for science!

Artist's conception of the Higgs Boson, from National Geographic
First the discovery of the Higgs Boson on July 4th.  Sean Carroll is a theoretical cosmologist who blogs at Cosmic Variance, one of my favourite science sites.  I understand anywhere from 5% to a touch more of it, depending on the topic.
He live blogged on the announcement of the Higgs Boson and one comment he made really struck home:
"If that’s how nature works, the Higgs is literally a portal from our world to another. This isn’t the end of the show, it’s merely an act break (as we say in the movie biz)....." [end para 5, my emphasis].
Wow!!  Like, wow!  An alternative world!  From a mainstream particle physicist, not some loony on the History Channel.
(That was, by the way, one of the relatively few bits of that blog post that I actually understood.... at least, I think I do.... But then, what does "another world" mean, for example?
(Another by the way: I have on my Kindle one of Carroll's latest books, From Eternity to Here, which I also find a bit of a tough read....  Of course, the Multiverse is now pretty well a mainstream concept, as one of the theories that helps fill out the Standard Model, and is consistent with it.)

Then, just a month later on 6th August, the Curiosity arrives safely on Mars, touches down like a feather after half a billion miles.
For those kill-joys, kill-curiosity types, who say why don't we spend the money on earth, well, there's Michael Benson's "Exploring the Planet Enriches us at Home" (NYT, Aug 10).  Snip:
But let’s set aside the glories of discovery for the moment and look at space exploration’s realpolitik. What do we get out of it, in concrete terms?
To begin with, the money spent to achieve the exploration of the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn is money spent on Earth, not anywhere else. It powers innovative companies and develops technologies that inevitably — and demonstrably — benefit our economy and our national prospects.  
Read more....