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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Cassini, & ways of doing science [20090219|16:03]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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[with a hint of |Prince - When Doves Cry]

Attention! Here is another chance to participate in SCIENCE, or at least, a science-related popularity contest.

The Cassini team would like you to vote on your favourite image of Saturn and its moons here. There are a dizzying array (okay, 15) to choose from. I found it difficult, but had to go with Saturn's Polar Aurora in the end because, hey, magnetospheric-ionospheric interaction. The skeet shoot of Enceladus' tiger stripes came a close second, though.

~*~


My flatmate (the one who doesn't have an LJ) loaned me Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics, which is all about the development of string theory and why it's still so contentious. Most of it interests me in a rather abstract way, but I ran across a paragraph today that I wish I'd read ten years ago.
As I reflect on the scientific careers of the people I have known these last thirty years, it seems to me more and more that these career decisions hinge on character. Some people will happily jump on the next big thing, give it all they've got, and in this way make important contributions to fast-moving fields. Others just don't have the temperament to do this. Some people need to think through everything very carefully, and this takes time, as they get easily confused. It's not hard to feel superior to such people, until you remember that Einstein was one of them. In my experience, the truly shocking new ideas and innovations tend to come from such people. Still others - and I belong to this third group - just have to go their own way, and will flee fields for no better reason than that it offends them that some people are joining in because it feels good to be on the winning side. So I no longer get bothered when I disagree with what other people are doing, because I see that temperament pretty much determines what kind of science they will do. Luckily for science, the contributions of the whole range of types are needed. Those who do good science, I've come to think, do so because they choose problems that are suited to them.

I think I might have suffered less from Impostor Syndrome if this had made clear to me when I started grad school.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: impix
2009-02-19 16:20 (UTC)
is so many to choose from. i did science, i voted. on a few....
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-02-20 09:50 (UTC)
It was difficult, I know. I hope you enjoyed looking at the pictures anyway. Also, lulz at your icon. Kusanagi's boobs say hi!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-02-20 09:51 (UTC)
Yes. It's truly amazing how bitchy scientists can be.
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[User Picture]From: wurlitzerprized
2009-02-19 16:43 (UTC)
i heart this book!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-02-20 09:51 (UTC)
He also references Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, another favourite of mine.

Edited at 2009-02-20 09:52 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: sanat
2009-02-19 16:44 (UTC)
I like the tectonic evidence of Enceladus, myself. It's like the little rivulets in the sand on the beach from my childhood.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-02-20 09:58 (UTC)
I love showing those pictures to students. They get all excited about them.
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[User Picture]From: swerve
2009-02-19 17:19 (UTC)
I ended up voting for the moons, but it wasn't an easy choice. I'm just blown away by these images.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-02-20 09:55 (UTC)
They are wonderful, no? Once Cassini is gone, there won't be more for a long time because it's looking like the next mission will be to Jupiter, so a return to Saturn (and Titan and Enceladus) will have to wait for another 30 years.
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[User Picture]From: danaid_luv
2009-02-19 20:00 (UTC)
I voted. And love the paragraph; it's temperament, baby, so back the he*ll off. Awesome.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-02-20 09:57 (UTC)
Thank you for participating in SCIENCE.
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[User Picture]From: senusert
2009-02-19 20:14 (UTC)
I voted for moons on the move. All the images are amazing, but this seemed to capture my imagination most. I love it that we can take these images.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-02-20 09:56 (UTC)
Hopefully we'll be taking them for a while longer. Fingers crossed the XXM really lasts til 2017...
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-02-20 09:53 (UTC)
The stinkiest little moon in the solar system?
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[User Picture]From: wurlitzerprized
2009-02-20 00:35 (UTC)

COMPLETELY OFF TOPIC: question from a luddite...

would you know of a way to explain mercer's theorem in simplest english?
inquiring luddites need to know.

(yes, i'm assuming *all* scientists know *all* quantum mechanical theories well enough to generalize. you all look the same to me, anyway.)
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-02-20 09:48 (UTC)
Er, I think the answer is probably no. There are some things you have to understand the underlying mathematics to explain properly.

I think it might be possible, though, to describe what it's for in simple English. It's rather like what we use in signal processing to describe a square wave. To represent a square wave completely accurately would require infinite bandwidth, something we just can't do. So we use an approximation, consisting of a Fourier series of sine waves. Sine waves are much easier for us to work with, as they have very narrow bandwidths and can be combined in all sorts of way to create the waveform we want. I think the purpose of Mercer's theorem is similar, in that you're taking a really complicated space and breaking it down into functions that are much easier to play with.

I caution you that I have vastly oversimplified everything here.
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[User Picture]From: wurlitzerprized
2009-02-20 14:34 (UTC)
i understand (that you oversimplified it).
but believe it or not, this helps me tackle the large picture.
thank you!
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[User Picture]From: dizzykj
2009-02-20 13:20 (UTC)
Had to go for Moons on the Move - just can't get my head around the fact that this is REAL science, and not just a picture for the title intro to a sci-fi show made by creative types!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-02-23 18:24 (UTC)
Remind me to show you a flyby movie of Enceladus at some point. They're quite spectacular - and based on real trajectory data.
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