Matt Jones

Link Notes 23 April 2020

Cat watching television
Cat watching television Credit: Andreas Solberg · CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

NASA’s Plan to Turn the ISS Into a Quantum Laser Lab

I once heard a great analogy along the lines of ‘humans having a full understanding of how the Universe works is like a cat having a full understanding of how television works’. I like this analogy because it demonstrates how something can be beyond comprehension but still objectively exist and be described without the need to invoke supernatural explanations.

In some way humans are still like that cat when it comes to comprehending the true nature of the Universe and quantum mechanics. However this hasn’t stopped us harnessing the mysterious phenomenon of quantum entanglement, and physicists are currently using it to transmit large amounts of encrypted data over large distances - for example, from the a lunar orbiter to the Earth - at speeds faster than home broadband.

The Dangerous Rise of COVID-19 Influencers and Armchair Epidemiologists

When news broke about the Coronavirus outbreak in China I thought about tweeting a vlog I first published in 2009 about the Swine Flu pandemic. In it I said ‘don’t worry about the news, you’ll be fine, Swine Flu is just like Seasonal Flu’. Before the Covid-19 lockdown I wrote tweets along similar lines. In short, I admit I have been that ‘armchair epidemiologist’.

I’m in absolutely no position to make informed comment on the nature of either pandemic and all evidence that I can see shows COVID-19 and its impact is very different to that of the H1N1 virus. For me, perhaps publishing uninformed - yet optimistic - comments was a way to cope with the anxiety caused by the threat of a global pandemic.

Astrophotographer Zdenek Bardon recently tried to image Comet Atlas using a method of ‘stacking’ multiple camera exposures, which is a standard imaging technique especially when the object is low magnitude and light pollution is obscuring the view. He ended up capturing multiple light trails of the Starlink satellites, which somewhat ruined the picture - like a super-high-tech photobomb.

I feel we’re a little too enamoured by Elon Musk’s space colonialism projects. When there are tens of thousands of these things orbiting above us, not just belonging to Space X but also from competing companies, I think we’re going to be less impressed by them, and more oppressed by them.

Margaret Burbidge

I don’t think it should take an obituary in the Guardian for me to learn about an important scientist for the first time.

Margaret Burbidge established that the Earth’s chemical elements, including the elements that make up us and all living things, formed inside stars.

This fundamental discovery about cosmic evolution is as important as Charles Darwin’s discovery about the evolution of species via natural selection.

Charles Darwin is synonymous with the evolution of life, why isn’t Margaret Burbidge synonymous with a discovery that arguably has wider implications for the possibility of life elsewhere in the Universe.