Monday, November 26, 2007

Additions to the pile: Week of 26 November 2007

Since Thanksgiving was last week, it was a relatively slow week in the AGU publications department. Just two papers of interest this week.

Glassmeier, K.-H., H.-U. Auster, and U. Motschmann (2007), A feedback dynamo generating Mercury's magnetic field, GRL 34, L22201.

Podesta, J. J. (2007), Self-similar scaling of kinetic energy density in the inertial range of solar wind turbulence, JGR 112. A11104.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Congratulations, Dr. Brian May

Brian May, who took 35 years off during grad school as a rock star, has been named chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University.

(via Annals of Improbable Research)

First snow

It's snowing this morning. NWS forecasts 1-3 inches accumulation with possible sleet and freezing rain mixed in.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Additions to the pile: Week of 19 November 2007

Just two papers last week:

Kataoka, R., N. Nishitani, Y. Ebihara, K. Hosokawa, T. Ogawa, T. Kikuchi, and Y. Miyoshi (2007), Dynamic variations of a convection flow reversal in the subauroral postmidnight sector as seen by the SuperDARN Hokkaido HF radar, GRL 34, L21105.

Russell, A. T., J.-P. St.-Maurice, R. J. Sica, and J.-M. Noël (2007), Composition changes during disturbed conditions: Are mass spectrometers overestimating the concentrations of atomic oxygen?, GRL 34, L21106.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Additions to the pile: Week of 12 November 2007

It's been a while since my last trip, so the pile of papers to be read is growing. Here's the latest batch:

Winglee, R. M., and E. M. Harnett (2007), Radiation mitigation at the Moon by the terrestrial magnetosphere, GRL 34, L21103.

Bertucci, C., F. M. Neubauer, K. Szego, J.-E. Wahlund, A. J. Coates, M. K. Dougherty, D. T. Young, and W. S. Kurth (2007), Structure of Titan's mid-range magnetic tail: Cassini magnetometer observations during the T9 flyby, GRL 34, L24S02.

Szego, K., Z. Bebesi, C. Bertucci, A. J. Coates, F. J. Crary, G. Erdos, R. Hartle, E. C. Sittler, and D. T. Young (2007), Charged particle environment of Titan during the T9 flyby, GRL 34, L24S03.

Fuselier, S. A., S. M. Petrinec, K. J. Trattner, M. Fujimoto, and H. Hasegawa (2007), Simultaneous observations of fluctuating cusp aurora and low-latitude magnetopause reconnection, JGR 112, A11207.


The people who are scanning the skies for asteroids with the potential for colliding with Earth found an object 2007VN84, which they found would approach within 12,000 km of the Earth's center. Naturally, they put out an alert.

The object in question turns out to be man-made. It's the Rosetta spacecraft, swinging by Earth en route to comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Belatedly, somebody thought to check the orbital elements against the Satellite Situation Center. The Minor Planet Electronic Circular blames the mixup on the lack of a comprehensive publicly available database of man-made objects in space.

(h/t Steinn Sigurdsson)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Define the Universe. Give 10500 examples

I've just finished Lee Smolin's book The Trouble with Physics. The book covers the recent (1980-2005) history of theoretical physics, with emphasis on string theory, and discusses some of the reasons for the lack of progress in fundamental physics during that period.

The problem is not thatthere have been no advances, per se. The problem is that there has been a disconnect between theory and experiment. String theory has been the dominant approach since the mid 1980s, but during that time it has never made a prediction that was both new and testable. The currently fashionable explanation for why string theory does not make testable predictions is that our universe is just one possible universe in a landscape of 10500 universes. That's a very big number: consider that the observable universe has "only" ~1080 protons. If we were to envision each proton as a mini-universe containing that many mini-protons, and repeat this construction for six iterations, we would still be short by a factor of 100 quintillion of the number of possible universes in the landscape.

This is science?! It sounds at least as much like a sick and twisted version of the infamous apocryphal final exam question, "Define the Universe. Give three examples."

The problems Smolin identifies are not unique to physics. As he correctly notes, the peer review system is well equipped for making incremental advances in science, but it is designed in such a way that its mistakes will be conservative mistakes. The next Einstein is unlikely to hold a tenure track faculty position at the time he makes his key advances in fundamental theory. For that matter, the real Einstein did not, either: he was a patent clerk in Switzerland in 1905, when he published the three papers that shook the foundations of physics.

My own field of space physics has long been suffering from a disconnect between theory and experiment. But at least there are doable experiments that can falsify some of the theories, and one of the leading drivers of mission selection is the need to address the predictions of theorists.