Thursday Throughput

Thursday Throughput

This is the inaugural post in a planned bi-weekly series called Thursday Throughput. It will be similar to Oscar Gordon’s Tech Tuesday posts but whereas he focused on technology and innovation, I will be focusing more on scientific research.

[ThTh1] The Hubble Space Telescope has been in operation for 28 years and its last servicing was nine years ago. The equipment is aging, especially the six gyros that control the orientation of the spacecraft. Earlier this month, it went into safe when one of its four remaining gyros failed and the backup refused to come online. It now looks like the gyro will behave after all, breathing a few more years of life into the mission. How did they fix it? They basically shook it back and forth.

[ThTh2] Want to know what I do for a living? Here you go.

Thursday Throughput

A mosaic image of the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory made from images taken by the telescope.

[ThTh3] One of the big sociological mysteries of our age is why violent crime levels shot up through the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and then crashed back down to their 1950’s levels. Everyone has their favorite hypothesis — gun control, lack of gun control, abortion, lizard people. But there is more evidence accumulating that lead may be a big factor.

[ThTh4] I really like this tweet from fellow astrophysicist and Twitter samurai Katie Mack about whether anyone — including the President — has an “instinct” for science:

[ThTh5] Speaking of Twitter, I walked through here how to not get fooled by clickbait social science headlines. I’ll summarize: don’t click the bait. Google the headline words and see if you can find a link to the actual paper. In this case, the headline is that a quarter of millennials experienced PTSD because of the election. The actual research, however, shows that an IES test was administered to intro psychology students 2-3 months after the election. After being asked to think about how the election affected them, about a quarter shows clinically significant signs on the IES. IES does not actually diagnose PTSD, however. It is useful for identifying people experiencing significant stress but PTSD is a diagnosis that would require much more extensive evaluation (as the authors themselves have made clear). Finally, it’s debatable if college students are “millennials”. If you draw the line between millennial and Generation Z in the mid-90s, today’s college students are Generation Z. And even if you count them as millennials, they’re the tail end of a two-decade generation. So generalizing their feelings to people in their 30s is silly. In sum: no, a quarter of millennials are not experiencing PTSD because of the election. A few months after the election, college students were still a bit stressed when asked about it. Which makes them like everyone else. The rest is the Science News Cycle.

[ThTh6] This is a couple of years old but it’s a wonderful demonstration of how gravitational waves work. LIGO will be firing up again next year and we’re already working hard to build on the success of the last run.

Visualising gravitational waves

[ThTh7] A couple of my colleagues may have just broken physics or, more accurately, broken the standard model of particle physics. They found two particles detected by Antarctic experiments that the standard model does not predict. Everyone’s being a bit cautious and more work is needed. But it’s a good reminder that even well-established science can be upended without warning.

Thursday Throughput

The ANITA 4 balloon born mission prior to launch. It has detected particles that may break physics.

[ThTh8] On a personal note, the last two weeks have been, if I may summon all the narrative power of my liberal arts education and writing career … not fun. Two weeks ago, my back started hurting. It turned out the the chicken pox virus had reactivated itself in my nervous system, i.e., I had shingles. For me, it’s painful. For seniors, it can be very bad. There are two vaccines out there but the more effective — Shingrix — is in shortage because of high demand. Hopefully, production can be ramped up. Because a shot that can spare people from this kind of pain is absolutely worth it.


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Michael Siegel is an astronomer living in Pennsylvania. He is on Twitter, blogs at his own site, and has written a novel.

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16 thoughts on “Thursday Throughput

  1. Muscling in on my territory, eh? Well welcome, FSM knows there is more Science & Tech news happening these days than any one person can keep track of, much less write about as a hobby.

    So is Swift your baby, or are you doing analysis of the data?

    ThTh4: Instinct? No, most certainly not. However, I think people can find the process… comforting, easy to grok? I was drawn to science as early as the age of 6, when I found my parents Time-Life series on The Elements and I watched Cosmos for the first time on PBS.

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  2. ThTh8 – Shingles. Depending on where you get them, they can either be crazy worse than you’d imagine, or crazy worse than that. They can also act up in unexpected ways, leading to misdiagnosis. The virus lives in the spinal cord, and when it flares up, it affects the nerves in whatever part of the body is connected to the particular portion of the spinal cord. If/when you get the cluster of blisters, it’s easy to diagnose. Before that, it’s sheer luck.

    It’s all so unpredictable. Best of luck.

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  3. Mine is a very classic case. Blisters starting at the spine and wrapping around the trunk following the exact path of the T5 nerve. When the doctor says, “Boy I wish my student was here so he could see this”, you know you’re a textbook case.

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  4. ThTh4 – Oh god yes!

    ThTh8 – I feel your pain. I was diagnosed with something in the last few months that has been life changing and quite awful. I haven’t been in a place to write about it, as I am still sorting out the implications and feelings. So, best of luck with everything!

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  5. ThTh5: I’ll have to see if I can find it, but I was reading the other day that college students who have requested absentee ballots are not voting because they can’t be bothered to figure out where to buy stamps. Part me is skeptical because this sounds like another “College kids is teh dumb”, but college kids can also be lazy and clueless, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility. That said, you can print postage or order stamps from the USPS website. Just takes a bit of forethought.

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      • Varies from state to state. In WA, you had to put a stamp on your ballot. In AZ, postage is paid by the Sec of State. I can certainly see states requiring stamps for absentee ballots.

        Personally, I’d be fine with ballot postage being paid with tax money, but a stamp is such a minor thing I don’t sweat it.

        I do, however, expect college students to have become proficient enough at adulting to be able to figure out how to get a stamp. Or rather, if they can’t figure out how to acquire postage (or are just too lazy to do so), I’m pretty sure I don’t want them voting.

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    • Since I no longer even pretend to follow physics, would a super symmetry replacement for the current Standard Model and quantum mechanics have impacts in the real world? In the sense of new energy sources, or new devices, or new processes, or something? Even hypothetical things, as in “If this version of super symmetry is correct, it might lead to X eventually?”

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