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Hontas FarmerRSS Feed of this column.

Currently I am an adjunct professor at the College of DuPage. My research focuses on astrophysics from massive star formation to astroparticle physics. Born and raised in Chicagoland I have lived... Read More »

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Katherine Johnson, a Mathematician doing a job known as being a “computer” for NASA in the movie “Hidden Figures” died today at the age of 101.  She started out at a time where being such a human computer was looked about as lowly clerical work fit for women.  It was one of the few outlets for a woman of intelligence.  Computer programming and computer science for the up coming digital computers which she also worked on were looked at the same way.

Waves of geometry in four-dimensional space-time, that is what gravitational waves are.  The very definition of distance between points in space-time changes as these waves pass.   The objects in the space do not move but space itself changes momentarily.  The scale at which these changes can be measured right now are on the order of a few dozen widths of a proton.  Smaller than the average distance between the electron and proton in a hydrogen atom.   Yet, with laser light shining through interferometers, we can measure these changes.  From these we can learn about the fundamental nature of the universe.  Not by studying the matter and energy content of it but by studying the space that connects it

The number one pitfall of reporting on science is to take a single work, or single report and treat it as if it is proven as fact already.  In truth, real science knowledge is that which has stood the test of time.  That is not really exciting for reporting.  If a reporter wishes to discuss the latest developments, they must qualify it with the fact that it is a new study.  Even if it is peer reviewed, that is not even enough yet.   Until something is shown through consensus built by years if not decades of results to be either a “law” of nature or a “theory” of science, it should not be reported as fact.

A burst of gravitational waves followed closely by neutrinos and then the light.  While light's speed, in vacuum, is constant in all inertial reference frames, it does vary depending on the medium.  The same is not necessarily true of all waves which share this quality with light.  Neutrinos and gravitational waves would reach us well before the light did.   This is why the widely reported news of LIGO detecting a burst of gravitational waves is so intriguing to astrophysicists.   Here is what else the astrophysical community will be looking for and why.

 

There is dark energy as sure as there is light in the world. It just may not be a simple scalar multiplier in our equations as we had hoped it would be. Dark energy is what the scientific consensus says that over 95% of the mass-energy of the universe is comprised of.  This is backed by many studies and a new study to be published in the Astrophysical Journal (1)  which also pairs with earlier research that showed the dark matter may not be the same in every direction (2).    This indicates to my theorizing mind that the dark energy will turn out to be a scalar.  I have more than speculation to back this up (3).

Transgender women of color who have an advanced degree, MS or PhD, in Physics, and who have made, or make some part of their living by doing physics are rare.  So far as I know I am the only one.