The Living Cosmos

An email written on July 8, 2008:


Read a recently published (Dec. 2007)  called "The Living Cosmos: Our Search for Life in the Universe" by U. of Arizona Professor Chris Impey (an astronomer/physicist, 52 years old).
The author seems to indicate that this book is about "astrobiology" but it seems more than that.  He does talk a great deal about biology (from H, He…C to amino acid, DNA, protein, gene, microbe …).   The central problem is whether we’re alone in the universe.  It taught me that most "living species" (on this Earth) have gone extinct … so one criteria for companionship (ie. life somewhere far away from us at about the same time) requires that living organisms don’t go extinct too quickly …
The author obviously is against any non-scientific stuff such as UFO, religion…. But he’s very gentleman about it.  He mentions a couple times about intelligent design but he doesn’t show any hatred or anything like that.  
I’m not sure that I like this book.  Chris Impey seems to have received best teacher/professor awards 10 times or so … but this book doesn’t seem to show that.  At times, I feel that he just goes around and around … Since almost everything has big uncertainty and the subjects are so involved and complicated, I don’t think it’d dissuade anybody from religion.  It looks to me that ordinary people would just choose religion than all these fine-tunings in the scientific theories (as it’d seem from reading this book). 
This just reminds me that the world is very competitive.  Science is losing out to things like movie entertainment etc.  Chris has a plot of NASA mission expense vs Hollywood movie budget in which the former is dropping whereas the latter is rising and now the former is below the latter.  Chris does have one interesting suggestion or observation.  Maybe, in the future, funding for space exploration  can come from "entertainment" by sending more and more people to the space (when the price tag is not 20 millions each).   I think, this is probably a realistic suggestion — everything at the end is about economy, what’s more worthwhile or not is not determined by the small no. of scientists but by the majority of the people in the world.
The author also reveals that USA is also no longer dominating in the subjects of space exploration, astronomy etc.  Half of the papers now come from Europe.  And just like in HEP, the NASA funding is also going downhill relative to ESA (European Space Agency). Another evidence in another subject that everywhere else is catching up and surpassing USA ..
The book discusses a lot about microbes which can live in all kinds of extreme conditions.  I thus have the tendency to feel that human beings are so frail that if human can’t deal with global warming, it doesn’t sadden me to see human to go extinct as this is the natural selection … Not to mention all sorts of things to care for the stupid, poor, weak … — I have no sympathy. Only the most adaptable should and can stay alive.
By the way, I’m also allured into an international project/collaboration called LSST (Large Synotic Survey Telescope).  It’s not fully funded yet by DOE and NASA though a recent DOE review board says that LSST should be funded under any funding scenarios.  Many HEP physicists are attracted into astrophysics, partially because of the interconnection between particle physics and astrophysics in dark matter, dark energy etc.and partially because there aren’t much to do in HEP as it used to be.   
The HEP colleague who talked me into taking a look at this LSST told me that  astrophysicists and astronomers don’t have simulation which would simulate the telescope.  In HEP, eg. you’d have Herwig which would generate all sorts of Higgs (Standard Model, Supersymmetric etc.) and then you’d have the famous "GEANT" which would simulate the actual detector (particles passing thru’ all sorts of materials) so that particles Higgs, tops etc. from Herwig would go thru’ GEANT, and therefore the simulation data looks like the real data.  In astrophysics, it seems simulation typically takes care of some cosmological models but the realistic telescope detective effects are not really modelled to some sophisticated way … I’m a little curious (though I haven’t done anything yet and I’m not sure that I have time and whether I’m committed) …


About kinyip

An experimental particle physicist ...
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