Disturbing the Universe

David L Clements, science and science fiction

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The Case of Bode versus Mundell

I know too many of the people involved in this to be less than flabbergasted. It is also a good example of theme Streisand Effect.

In the Dark

Getting ready to come in and help with today’s Undergraduate Open Day today at Cardiff University, I checked Twitter this morning and found a number of tweets about a shocking news story that I feel obliged to comment on.  The astronomy community in the United Kingdom is fairly small and relatively close-knit, which makes this case especially troubling, but it does have far wider ramifications in the University sector and beyond.

I don’t usually link to stories in the Daily Mail, but you can find the item here. The report relates to a libel action taken by Professor Mike Bode of Liverpool John Moores University against Professor Carole Mundell, a former employee of that institution who is now Head of the Astrophysics group at the University of Bath.  Carole Mundell is a highly regarded observational cosmologist who works primarily on gamma-ray bursters and their implications for cosmology. The case revolves around…

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The Possible Plumes of Europa

Nice coverage of the HST observations of Europa by Peter Coles. I’m not a disinterested party here since we are observing Europa (and Enceladus) using a different approach to look for chemistry in these plumes. More news soon I hope!

In the Dark

I was too busy yesterday to write a post about the latest hot news from the NASA Hubble Space Telescope, so here’s a quick catch-up.

It seems that Europa, the smallest of the four Galilean moons of Jupiter, may from time to time be releasing “plumes” of water vapour. It has long been speculated that there might be large quantities of liquid water under Europa’s extremely smooth icy crust. Here’s a picture of possible plumes (to the bottom left of the image) in which a high-resolution picture of the surface of Europa has been superimposed.

europa Picture Credits: NASA/ESA/W. Sparks (STScI)/USGS Astrogeology Science Center

There’s also short video explaining the possible discovery here.

It’s not obvious at first sight that features like that shown above are caused by water erupting through Europa’s surface. On the face of it they could, for example, be caused by the impact of…

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S4F A Review

I’ve clearly not been paying attention as Jacey Bedford wrote this review of Science for Fiction 2016 over a month ago and I only spotted it today thanks to an email from here.


If you weren’t there this gives a pretty good feel of the event, the kinds of things we cover, and why writers go to it. Planning for the 2017 session has yet to start, but I’m going to try to be more organised this time – promise!

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Getting that Brexit Deal

A cool headed analysis of the huge difficulties the UK faces in the #brexit negotiations.

Nog's Musings

Hi Excited Leaver,

Note: originally this was written during a discussion with a leaver (Rod, I hope you are out there and doing well) but was then turned into a more generic post.

So, you’ve won the referendum and you’re excited about that great new deal we’re going to do with the Europeans. Let’s just recap the deal you’re after:

Access to the single market basically it’s trade more or less exactly like we have now with the EU.  BUT you want to drop some of the extras:

  • No EU contribution
  • No Freedom of Movement
  • No pooled sovereignty

Seems simple enough, just a free trade deal? And of course you’ve been told we’re in a strong position, there’s that huge Trade Deficit as we buy far more than we sell so you’re confident we can drag the EU to the table and get the deal the UK deserves. “The Germans will…

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Everything is fucked: The syllabus

I’d like to attend this course, and it wouldn’t be hard to come up with a similar course in Astro.

The Hardest Science

PSY 607: Everything is Fucked
Prof. Sanjay Srivastava
Class meetings: Mondays 9:00 – 10:50 in 257 Straub
Office hours: Held on Twitter at your convenience (@hardsci)

In a much-discussed article at Slate, social psychologist Michael Inzlicht told a reporter, “Meta-analyses are fucked” (Engber, 2016). What does it mean, in science, for something to be fucked? Fucked needs to mean more than that something is complicated or must be undertaken with thought and care, as that would be trivially true of everything in science. In this class we will go a step further and say that something is fucked if it presents hard conceptual challenges to which implementable, real-world solutions for working scientists are either not available or routinely ignored in practice.

The format of this seminar is as follows: Each week we will read and discuss 1-2 papers that raise the question of whether something is fucked. Our focus…

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Back to Mauna Kea

I’m on an observing trip to Mauna Kea at the moment. This has been enlivened by the close passage of tropical storm Darby to the island not long after I arrived. All I saw of that was lots of rain and some wind, but my support scientist had a tree fall on his car which has rather cramped his style.

The side effect of the storm was to make observing conditions truly awful. We got no data last night at all, and tonight the telescope is observing targets for other programmes since the conditions are still too bad for what we want to do.

Nevertheless the skies looked pretty good when we got to the summit this evening.