Saturday, July 11, 2009

JPEG Science

Spineto Abbey; the building once populated with some of the world's most religious individuals was this hot Tuesday afternoon, populated by some of the world's most eminent astrophysicists.

I sat in the far corner of the room, listening as one of the leaders in my field stepped up to the podium to discuss the properties of young galaxies.

"As you can see," the speaker began, gesturing to the slide behind her. "this galaxy is a strong Lyman-alpha absorber, where the spectral line has been redshifted about 300 km/s. Despite the high signal to noise, we see a large fraction of highly ionised gas in the galactic outflows suggesting the presence of low metallicity Wolf-Rayet stars. The trends in the composite spectra imply..."

Well, anyway, I was a theorist. A galaxy was involved. It was a long way away and was spewing hot gas everywhere. Got it. However, at this point an interruption came in the form of a question. Most likely, this was a probing, hard hitting point that would throw into doubt the very nature of the Universe itself.

"What does it look like?" the petulant cry went out to be greeted with murmured agreement and nods.

"I'm sorry!" the speaker turned to her audience with an expression of a mother telling a favoured child it cannot have ice cream that day. "We don't have Hubble Space Telescope data yet. I can show you an HI image though?" she offered as a compromise.

There were grumbles has people resigned themselves to looking at graphs.

JPEG science; tried here first, given to the BBC news after we've all ogled.

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