Sunday, 29 November 2009

Rocket Lab NZ

Congratulations to Rocket Lab for launching New Zealand's first locally-designed space rocket. I hope it's the start of great things.

My single criticism would be to pay more attention to your Twitter feed. It's not a good look to promise live updates and then leave all your subscribers wondering what happened.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Horava Theory

Those of you with any interest in astrophysics will be acquainted with the quantum mechanics/general relativity problem. It basically means that Einstein's theories and quantum mechanics don't fit with each other. In other words, while both sets of theories seem to make sense on their own, when you put them together there's a problem. This is sometimes referred to as the search for the "Theory of Everything", i.e. the theory that ties all the other theories together. Personally I hate the term "Theory of Everything" but that's another story.

Petr Hořava, a physicist at the University of California, thinks he may have the answer. Of course so do lots of physicists and even more armchair scientists, but sadly few of their theories have any merit. That's why the scientific community is wary of radical new theories. It's also why I took a bit more notice of Hořava - he announced his theory back in January (2009) and instead of being steadily debunked like most of them, his theory seems to be gaining traction. That's rare.

In essence he's proposing that at very high energies, time and space become separate instead of being part of the same fabric (as stated by Einstein). The details can be found at

But perhaps my favourite part of the theory is that is offers alternate explanations for dark energy and dark matter. I've never liked them and I feel they stink of the fudge-factor. I know that actual scientists (as opposed to the amateur armchair variety such as myself) feel quite comfortable with dark energy and matter, but I want to go on record now as predicting their demise. In my opinion some other explanation will emerge that removes any need for these fudges. Maybe it will be Hořava's, maybe not, but whatever it is I look forward to it.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Galileo's Finger

I'm afraid this is something that I wouldn't want in my collection despite its value and historical significance. Two fingers and a tooth that were removed from Galileo's body nearly 300 years ago and went missing about 100 years ago have recently resurfaced. They were purchased at auction by an astute buyer who recognized them and brought them to the Museum of the History of Science in Florence.

Removing body parts from saints and other revered people was common practice in Europe hundreds of years ago. These items were thought to have special significance and sacred power. It's ironic that Galileo should be treated this way, given his history with the Catholic Church who declared him a heretic and sentenced him to life-long house arrest.

In this day and age I think it's time to put an end to displaying body parts like this. Although I'm a rationalist I find it unsettling and somewhat disrespectful. I like to think that Galileo is giving us one last gesture telling us what he thinks of it too...

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Meteor Over Utah

Some great footage of a meteor lighting up the night sky over western states of the USA: