Always good to be reminded of how little I know

I know something about a few things. I know nothing about an absolute mountain of stuff.

Here’s one such item of which I knew nothing till reading about Arthur Eddington, in a BBC online article – The man who made Einstein world-famous.

Here are a couple of sources where you can learn more about Arthur Eddington.


Women scientists who should’ve won a Nobel Prize #2: Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Yesterday I wrote about Rosalind Franklin, and how her untimely early death was a factor in her not sharing the Nobel Prize for discovery of the structure of DNA. There are other outstanding female scientists who should’ve been awarded a Nobel Prize.

Here’s another one. It’s Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who, in 1967, discovered the radio pulsars. Described in a BBC Scotland articleon her becoming the first female president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, as

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell is an astrophysicist credited with one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th Century.

She was a doctoral student at Cambridge University when she discovered the first pulsars. The rapidly spinning neutron stars are formed in supernova explosions. The cosmic sources of radio signals are so regular that some people had thought they might come from extra-terrestrials.

The discovery won a Nobel Prize in 1974 – not for Dame Jocelyn, but for two male superiors.

Notice how, even in 2014, many years after the Nobel Prize for Physics, her ommission from the prize remains an issue.

Reading about her contribution to the discovery of pulsars, it’s hard to understand her ommission from the prize. Undoubtedly misogyny, again, must be a factor. When one reads the article in The New Yorker of December 30th 2017, The Astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell Looks Back on Her Cosmic Legacy, is to understand just how important to astrophysics is the discovery of pulsars.

The text in Bell Burnell’s Wikipedia entry neatly sums up her determination to resolve a scientific anomaly.

That Bell did not receive recognition in the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics has been a point of controversy ever since. She helped build the four-acre radio telescope over two years and initially noticed the anomaly, sometimes reviewing as much as 96 feet of paper data per night. Bell later claimed that she had to be persistent in reporting the anomaly in the face of scepticism from Hewish, who was initially insistent that it was due to interference and man-made. She spoke of meetings held by Hewish and Ryle to which she was not invited.

So often in science it’s the characteristic of determination, also called grit, that helps uncover the truth. An observation – both Franklin and Bell Burnell exhibited humility and lacked any sense of disappointment in not winning the Nobel Prize. Two titans of science.

If you thought black holes were weird, well, they’re even weirder

I’m not afraid to tell you that I find it difficult to comprehend the existence of black holes in in the universe. I’ve said before how I’ve struggled to understand Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher by physicist Richard Feynman.

This is a way of introducing you to a magazine called Discover. A recent issue included an article Black Hole’s Behavior Defies the Rule of Astrophysics.

Having read it, I’m none the wiser. I agree with the first comment on the article, which ended amusingly, thus,

“Astrophysics. The study of the mind-bogglingly huge, to discover the mind-bogglingly weird. It’s so mind-bogglingly mind-boggling that it boggles its own mind.”