Science Sees Further

By Phil Plait | December 19, 2010 7:12 am

On November 30, The Royal Society — the oldest fellowship of scientists in the world — celebrated their 350th anniversary. To commemorate the event, they created a project called Science Sees Further, a series of articles and interviews about the current cutting edge of scientific exploration. It’s pretty interesting, with lots of eminent scientists pontificating on where their field is right now; for example you can find Frank Drake and Paul Davies talking about extraterrestrial life, and climate scientists discussing greenhouse gases. There are essays on biology, medicine, and lots of other disciplines as well. If you’re looking for some diverting reading about science, this is an excellent place to start.


Comments (13)

  1. Thanks! I know what I am doing the rest of the day!

  2. Can somebody explain this to me please?

    From the ET Life link:

    “The year 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of the first search for radio signals originating from other civilizations and up to now all “Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence” (SETI) experiments have provided a negative result. However these have probed only up to about 200 light-years distant, whereas the centre of the Milky Way is 25,000 light-years away from us.”

    If we’ve only been sending radio signals for 50 years how can we have probed out to 200 light years?

    It seems to me that the max we can have probed is the number of years we’ve been probing.

  3. TheoWhite

    @Cafeen: A light year is a measurement of distance, not of time. An earth year is the time it takes for the sun to complete its revolution around the sun. A light year is the time light (moving at 187,000 miles/second) can travel in one earth year. A light year is obviously moving faster than the earth!

  4. @CafeenMan, it has to do with the specifically targeted stars and the sensitivity of our equipment. A civilization could have sent the signal 10,000 years ago, and if they are 10,000 light years away, it would be getting here now. However, if our equipment isn’t sensitive enough to pick it up, or we’re not looking in the right spot, we’ll miss it.

    Incoming traffic isn’t bound by how long we’ve been looking out.

    Hope that helps.

    Over at the JREF, there is a great thread that talks about the limitations we have in searching for an extra-terrestrial signal. That inverse square law is a pain. And no one really has a reason to send a focused signal to us yet. A lot of folks talk about the expanding sphere of radio noise we are making, but in reality, even given an Areceibo sized receiver, our civilization would be virtually undetectable outside our Oort cloud.

    Here is a table from that JREF thread:

  5. MarkHB

    I’ve done a lot of 3D book recreations over the years. Over the last decade, I’ve become the De Facto World Authority, in fact, on taking ancient manuscripts and doing high-realism 3D re-creations so people can “turn the pages” of these books on touchscreen displays.

    It was the *ABSOLUTE* high-point of that to re-create one of Robert Hooke’s notebooks from when he was Secretary of the Royal Society, for said Soc. An absolute first was what they actually let me handle the (mouse-gnawed) folios of this tome that had been kind of sort of lost for over a hundred years.

    Hooke, Newton – and honourarily, Benjamin Franklin. Really good crowd, that. Anything that helps keep The Enlightenment alive I’m all for – so it’s great to see this.

  6. Sili

    Are they gonna induct M**ney as well?

  7. MadScientist

    I like this from the bit on CO2:

    “However, evidence from atmospheric measurements show emissions of many industrial greenhouse gases tend to be greater than reported – disagreeing with reported ‘bottom-up’ emission measurements by factors of two or more.”

    In the past I’ve poo-pooed government publications on CO2 (from Australia and the EU) because the publications are obviously driven by politics and not good science and try to claim reductions when in fact CO2 emissions have been soaring. I didn’t imagine that the numbers would be out by a “factor of two or more” though and I wonder where the discrepancy arises. I suspect it’s not all to do with fiddling numbers; after all natural events can make a substantial contribution and are not necessarily well quantified. For example, the fires in Australia about 2 years ago would have essentially been on the order of Australia’s reported CO2 emissions for 2005.

  8. The Royal Society — the oldest fellowship of scientists in the world…

    The Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina is older!

  9. Monkey

    It always comes back to M**ney, eh?

    But while were on that track…lets hope not. Piss in the wine is not necessary.

  10. Tribeca Mike

    Thanks for the link, Messr. Phil. We’re living in a time of superbly written science writing aimed at the general audience, and the audience is most definitely there. The bookstores are overflowing with the stuff, and we the public are the lucky recipients.

  11. #10 Tribeca Mike:
    I wish I could say the same in my country! The UK’s biggest chain of bookshops no longer even has a section in its stores for science books! And if you could see some of the drivel they do sell, “dumbed down” doesn’t say the half of it.
    The last time I looked, my local branch had a grand total of two popular science books in stock – namely the latest works of Hawking and Dawkins.

  12. Nullius in Verba

    From the Royal Society link on greenhouse gases:

    “It was the French physicist Edme Mariotte who suggested in the 17th century that, unlike heat from other sources, sunlight can pass through glass.”

    What does that mean?

  13. mike burkhart

    I have loved science since I was a kid .Astronomy has been my favorte mainly because of my love of scifi and the fact that my mom gave me a book on astronomy ,but also I want to know about the universe even thro many others don’t .I think that thats what sets scientists appart from others we ask the questions and seek the answers.Also as I’ve said I’m Catholic ,I feel that religon and science don’t have to be enemys and one can chose both.I know many may disagree but there are entitled to there oppions.


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