Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How not to title your paper

Albert Einstein's paradigm-shifting paper on special relativity was titled "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies."

The paper by Max Planck that started the quantum revolution was titled "Entropy and Temperature of Radiant Heat."

Fritz Zwicky's article introducing supernovae and neutron stars to the world was called "On Super-novae."

Now we get stuff like this. Do you think anyone outside of the authors' immediate sphere of interest has a clue what this paper is about?

I'm sorry to say that more and more titles like this appear in physics journals every year. Not all great scientific articles of the past are eloquently and economically titled, but it's doubtful that anyone doing significant work in the early part of the previous century ever bestowed such a monstrous title on their work. Part of the problem is that the e-print service doesn't translate LaTeX code to HTML (I get around that by only using words and numerals in my titles), but even if the math symbols looked how they're supposed to look, that title still wouldn't compel anyone to read your paper. And it makes you the subject of mockery on an obscure gun blog.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

So easy a kid could do it

It looked lame to have a Christmas post at the top now that we're well into January, so I'm posting some mildly interesting astronomy news. Ten-year-old Kid Discovers Supernova:
Kathryn Aurora Gray of Fredericton, New Brunswick in Canada discovered the supernova explosion in a galaxy, called UGC 3378, within the faint constellation of Camelopardalis. The galaxy is approximately 240 million light-years away.

"I'm really excited. It feels really good," Gray told the Toronto Star.

Gray made the discovery on Jan. 2 using images that were taken of galaxy UGC 3378 on New Year's Eve. The supernova was then verified by Illinois-based amateur Brian Tieman and Arizona-based amateur astronomer Jack Newton, who then reported it to the International Astronomical Union's Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams.
This is one reason I like astronomy so much; any amateur with the right equipment, the time, and a little luck, can make discoveries like this.
Despite being the discoverer of this one, Gray didn't get to bestow a name on the object, which is known simply as Supernova 2010lt.
Astronomers rarely get to name their discoveries. Usually it's a catalog designation (e.g. NGC 1068) or celestial coordinates (e.g. SDSS J024240.70-000047.9). Objects that are sometimes named after/by their discoverers are comets, asteroids, planets, and nebulae -- though they often also have official IAU designations more like the ones mentioned. Supernovae are designated according to the year and order in which they are discovered. The first supernova discovered in 2011 will be Supernova 2011a or SN 2011a. They were already up to 'lt' by the time Gray made her discovery, which indicates how many of these objects are observed annually.

Fun fact: Supernovae are expected to go off at a rate of about one per century per galaxy. We observe a lot of them (with telescopes) because there are a lot of galaxies. However, the last supernova to go off in the Milky Way was SN 1604, which was so bright that it could be seen during the day. Four centuries without a supernova -- pretty weird!