Fire In The Sky

Fire In The Sky

Bolides are like lotteries – the chances of you winning the big prize are small, but the chances that someone, somewhere will win are pretty good. So if you missed last night's fireball, you will wait a long time before seeing another one. 

The Sand Reckoner

The Sand Reckoner

Just as scientists can explain the flocking of birds, we can also model the "flocking" of cars, exploring how patterns in traffic arise and dissipate.

What the Spacecraft Saw In The Night...

What the Spacecraft Saw In The Night...

The next batch of Planck data was released yesterday (very early in the morning here in New Zealand), and this time the big news is that Planck has accurately measured how long it took for the first stars to light up after the Big Bang. The headline story is that the dark ages – the time before stars – lasted roughly 550 million years, 100 million years longer than Planck's previous estimate. (This is a long time, but a fraction of the 13.8 billion years since the Big Bang itself.)

Done and Dusted?

Done and Dusted?

When the news started to unravel, it struck me that the cosmology community was in the same position as someone waking up in an unfamiliar Las Vegas hotel room with a throbbing headache, hazy memories of the night before, and a fresh tattoo reading "r=0.2".

Friends Don't Let Friends Do H

Friends Don't Let Friends Do H

So my resolution for 2015 is this: I am going to go h-free, wherever possible. I won't use it in recommendations I write, I won't cite my own h-index in my annual performance appraisals, and I will discourage comparisons of h-indices when considering candidates for promotions, appointments and prizes.

Measurer, Measure Yourself.

Measurer, Measure Yourself.

The great Russian physicist, Lev Landau used to rank physicists on a scale from 0 to 5. The better you were, the smaller your number. Newton alone was a 0, Einstein scraped in at 0.5, and founders of quantum mechanics like Bohr and Planck were 1s. Landau rated himself a 2.5 which he bumped up to a 2 after winning the Nobel Prize.

No Rose Without a Thorn

No Rose Without a Thorn

I am still a huge fan of open science, despite the barrage of pay-to-play spam, and would love to live in a world where all scholarly publications were freely available to anyone who wants to see them. But I am beginning to think we need peer review for journals, as much as we need it for the articles within them.

Winning Bronze

Winning Bronze

Sir Robert "Bob" Jones is New Zealand's answer to Donald Trump; a wealthy property investor with a sideline as an internet and old-media troll, albeit with a better barber than The Donald. In yesterday's Herald Jones shares his opinions on which New Zealanders merit a bronze statue, and the list is very short. By Jones's reckoning, the only truly great New Zealander is Sir Edmund Hillary, who conquered Everest, crossed the Antarctic and then devoted his later life to building schools and hospitals in Nepal.

The Quintessence of Dust?

The Quintessence of Dust?

Unfortunately, once the initial excitement died away, a number of voices asked whether BICEP2's signal had a more humble origin -- dust in our own galaxy. Dust can mimic a gravitational wave signal if it interacts with the galaxy's magnetic field. From a cosmic perspective, anything inside our galaxy is a "foreground" – dirt on the window through which we peer at the microwave background, the fossil light from the big bang coming to us from the furthest reaches of space.

Reaction Shot

Reaction Shot

As Mark Twain apparently didn't say, a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is still putting its boots on. And when that lie is powered by a breakthrough, NASA-approved space drive technology it can get to infinity and beyond, even if the truth is in hot pursuit.

Dust to Dust

Dust to Dust

The equation-filled blackboard is one of the most reliable props of academia, not just in cartoons and movies, but in real life. You know a scientific discussion is taking a turn for the serious when the protagonists head to the board. Walking into a colleague's office, a glance at the scrawled notes on their board gives you a taste of their current research preoccupations and teaching commitments; wobbly chalk drawings along the bottom edge are a pretty good sign that the office's owner has a small child in their life.