Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How Science Works, or maybe a better title is "Why" Science works!

Over on Phil Plait's Blog "Bad Astronomy" is an interesting post "New burst vaporizes cosmic distance record". The new Swift satellite has detected a Gamma Ray Burst (GRB090423A) that has traveled over 13 billion years to reach us . . . 13 BILLION! Amazing!
Now I don't discuss the Big Bang too much, mainly because as an Astrophysicist I am a great computer programmer. But more so because while there is a relationship between the start of the Universe and the start of life on Earth, when Creationists use the Big Bang to try and contradict the Theory of Evolution, all I can do is laugh at their grasping of straws. But this GRB is interesting to me, and one that might demonstrate some basic scientific methodology.

Current thinking places the age of the Universe at 14 billion years. Which means the star that exploded to create this GRB exploded only a few hundred million years after the birth of the Universe. Wow! Now the methodology I want to discuss is scientific methodology and theory modification. Here is my thinking . . . and please weigh in if I am emulating the 'night soil of a well-fed oxen'.

According to current theories we should never discover light that has been traveling for over 14 billion years, or even let's give ourselves a bumper, say 15 billion years. This would be a prediction that so far has been held to be true, since we haven't discovered anything that has traveled that long. So far so good, science predicts and experimentation supports it.

However, the theory modification comes in . . . what if we do? Suppose we do discover a GBR that has been red-shifted so far that it is older than the age of the Universe? What would happen? The whole edifice of scientific thought would come crashing down, right? Of course not! But it certainly would be shaken around a bit.

You see this is how I see science working. We learn, we hypothesis, we test, we experiment, and we keep on going! As we learn more, we change the theories, making them better and better, more inclusive and better explanations. This is how the process works! we never stop learning! So if we did discover a GBR older than our current thinking predicts, we will keep on working on it until we understand it better! We will formulate new ideas, have new theories to test, and keep on going!

This is why science is fun! This is why it drives people so hard! And this is also why when some Creationistic claims that 'science is so locked into one viewpoint they will never admit to something contradicting it' is so wrong! This is the moment scientists live for! The point where the testing and experimenting reach the limit of human knowledge and understanding and they truly live for expanding those limits. That is science!

My granddaughter was watching an animated movie the other day, "Meet the Robinsons" and there was a theme used several times in the movie, "Keep Moving Foward", an excerpt of a quote from Walt Disney:
"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
Sounds pretty scientific to me!

1 comment:

  1. This is just more confirmation that science is mean and scary. If one of these things happened nearby we'd be fried. And now we find out that these big bad gamma bursts have been happening almost since the dawn of time. The universe is a really hostile place. I'm going to go crawl into bed and whimper now...