Thursday, August 10, 2006

News summary

No, this is not about the threat to air travel (although that is something currently on my mind, as I am going to fly to Europe at the end of this month, and a couple of days in the UK were actually part of the plan); this is a physics blog, and I will leave publicly debating the current political events to people with greater expertise (and it appears I'm not alone in doing so). This post is about some science news that may have been buried among all the terror and war.

James Van Allen, a pioneer of space exploration and the discoverer of the radiation belts named after him, died yesterday. The NYT article mentions his participation in "Project Argus, the firing of three atomic bombs 300 miles aloft over the South Atlantic." I had never heard of this before, and I think it bears repeating that in spite of the threat of terrorism, the world is probably a safer place overall today than it was at the height of the Cold War, when the impending total annihilation of all life on Earth by all-out global thermonuclear warfare was a distinct possibility (I recently happened to switch on my TV when War Games was being shown, and I remember thinking "well, at least nuclear war is a very remote threat today").

The Perseids meteor shower peaks this Saturday, but the still almost full moon will probably make for less than ideal viewing conditions; still, any hobby astronomers and star-lovers out there should probably spend Saturday evening outdoors with their eyes on the sky.

Via Tommaso Dorigo, Superweak has an interesting post on Dalitz plots. Richard Dalitz, who died in January of this year, was the Ph.D. supervisor of my own Ph.D. supervisor, Ron Horgan; the world is small.