Thursday, February 01, 2007

Philosophia Naturalis #6

What I like most about putting together an edition of a blog carnival like this is the opportunity to look carefully at a lot of good science blogging. But one thing I don't especially enjoy is trying to think up some creative "theme" around which to structure the damned thing. There have been some very creative and entertaining themes both in this carnival and in many others. But me, I'd rather just enjoy the articles themselves, and not try to dazzle everyone with some wacky theme, like maybe "Pirates of the Caribbean" or whatever. (I just picked that out of the air; apologies to anyone who's actually used that as a carnival theme.) Anyhow, let's just get down to business.

January, inevitably, is astronomy-astrophysics month, because it starts out with the big meeting of the American Astronomical Society. This year, the 209th meeting was held January 5-10 in Seattle. If (like me) you couldn't attend, there are podcasts available of some of the main plenary sessions.

If you are satisfied just to see brief reviews of some of the highlights, there are a number of those scattered around the relevant science blogs. Phil Plait at the Bad Astronomy Blog wrote up some of the better accounts. Such as this one on dark matter and large-scale structure, and this on things that go boom. See also the live blogging done at the conference by the folks from Nature Newsblog. (I'll try to highlight other meeting reports in a separate blog post.)

However, I can't leave out mention of one of the most important findings reported at the meeting – the spectacular work of the COSMOS project regarding dark matter. Two of the better reports on this come from Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance and Rob Knop at Galactic Interactions.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, a few, um, "alternative science" proponents managed to sneak into the meeting and exhibit their theories. I'll let Rob Knop fill you in on the gory details.

Ranging a little further afield, in the celestial realms but away from the conference, we have this book review of Paul Davies' Cosmic Jackpot, offered by Alejandro Satz at Reality Conditions. The book deals with the "anthropic principle", which is somewhat controversial...

We're currently in a golden age of observational astrophysics and cosmology, thanks in large part to the many magnificient new instruments that have been deployed in recent years, both on the ground and in space. And it's only going to keep getting better, at least for awhile, due to new instuments which will come on line in the next few years. One of the most exciting of these is the James Webb Space Telescope. (Named for the NASA administrator who guided the Apollo Project, not the newly elected Senator from Virginia.) Centauri Dreams writes about the JWST here and here.

It has recently been discovered that the ancient Greeks possessed much more sophisticated astronomical instruments than had previously been supposed. Lorne Ipsum of Geek Counterpoint tells us about the Antikythera Mechanism of the ancient geeks in a podcast.

Most people, lay watchers of the night skies as well as astronomers and other scientists, find inspiration in the firmament beyond our little planet. A smaller – but very fortunate – number find inspiration in physics too. Sabine Hossenfelder of Backreaction writes eloquently about this here, guest blogging at Asymptotia. Thinking of such things while the Sun is above the horizon can lead to daydreams, and Sabine writes about some recent research in that area too, with a good explanation of fMRI, the latest toy of neuroscientists.

Meanwhile, Asymptotia's host, Clifford Johnson, explains one of the basic concepts of relativity – light cones.

In fact, it's been a big month for physicists explaining some of the basic principles of their science. Jennifer Ouellette of Cocktail Party Physics leads off with concise explanations of ten basic concepts. Jennifer is followed by Chad Orzel at Uncertain Principles, who tells us all about forces, fields, and energy.

And for more advanced physics buffs who don't quail at quantum theory, Matthew Leifer at Quantum Quandries answers the perennial question, What can decoherence do for us?

Of course, physicists these days have quite a lot of explaining to do. Like, for instance, where the heck is that Higgs boson anyhow? John Conway, writing at Cosmic Variance, tells us he's been looking for it for 20 years, and fills us in on many of the details here and here.

Physicists aren't the only scientists with a lot of explaining to do. Mathematicians, normally a reclusive lot, have quite a bit to do as well, and much of it is crucial in physics as well as science in general. Fortunately, we have Adam Gurri at Sophistpundit to tell us about Bayes' Theorem – an important tool of statistical inference in all sciences.

Next up is Arunn Narasimhan of Nonoscience, who gives us a quick introduction to Fourier series – truly a transforming experience. Finally, for the fearless mathophile, Mark Chu-Carroll at Good Math, Bad Math, tells us about fiber bundles, one of the main tools of modern mathematical physics.

Time to kick back and relax. Fractals is a mathematical topic that can be enjoyed purely on an aesthetic level. I wrote a little essay at this blog on fractal art, and then went on with some musings about the nature of art in general.

One last thing before I bid you adieu. I'll leave you with the question, posed at Memoirs of a Postgrad by Paul Baxter – What does cognitive robotics mean?

And please remember to tune in again next month, on March 1, when Lorne Ipsum at Geek Counterpoint will host Philosophia Naturalis #7. Watch his blog and the PN blog for the announcement and further details of how you can have your blog article about physical sciences and/or technology featured in the next edition of PN.

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