Wednesday, January 6, 2010

AAS Cosmology Update

Just a few things I found interesting from the AAS meeting:
  1. It looks like cosmologists are going to be able to determine the mass matrix for neutrinos in some ways better than particle physicists will.  Specifically they will be able to determine the standard versus the inverted hierarchy in the next several years.  For those who don't know, this is a big deal.
  2. The Planck Satellite is operating superbly and has so far scanned 85% of the sky.  In fact, the the official report released on monday from their engineering team used the word flawless, a word seldom heard from such picky people.
  3. The first Planck papers will come out this year but the main cosmological results won't be released until 2012.  :)  (In case you are wondering, the papers will be on technical details on how the thing is operating, analyzing data, etc...)
  4. CMBPol, the next generation CMB satellite, will be amazing.  It will have 3500 times the sensitivity of Planck.
  5. CMBPol has a goal to begin in 2015 and will last 4 years. (This is the most optimistic forecast.  Remember how the LHC's goal was to doing science runs by 2007 and now it's 2010 we are still waiting!!!)
  6. Non-Gaussianity, near and dear to my heart (see my papers), not only allows us to probe inflation, but may give standard General Relativity a real failure.
  7. Someone announced a 6-sigma detection of non-Gaussianty, but it was unclear how solid the result was. (It might be solid by the way, just new and not well understood.)
  8. The Kepler and Hubble announcements were interesting, but there is enough normal press covering that so I'll let you go there for more information.
  9. I was shocked how many people came to the meeting.  In never thought there were so many astronomers.  And to think many that exist in the world didn't come!
  10. I saw a bunch of old BYU people there.
Now for some comic relief.  The NASA administrator's talk was very interesting with some choice(Politically incorrect?) quotes I will paraphrase:
  • "The sad reality is public schools are bad at math and science.  One reason is many elementary school teachers are scared of math and science which is why the become elementary teachers."
  • "If you researchers in this room aren't willing to spend time teaching snotty nosed kids, you need to pat yourself on the back for what you have done so far then get out of the field now."
  • "I will never allow human space flight to be funded from the hide of basic science."
  • "If you told me, back in the 80s, that we wouldn't have been back to the moon, I would have said you are smoking dope. No seriously, smoking some really bad dope."


    1. Nice, Joseph.

      Who are the cosmologists you mentioned working on the neutrino mass matrix?

      The NASA admin's comments are indeed politically incorrect, which somehow endears him to me almost as much as his truthful statements themselves.

    2. Ben,

      It was David Spergel, the head or "PI" of the WMAP team, as well as a CMBPol guy later whose name I can't remember. What's funny is the plots, and verbal credit, they both showed which illustrates how close cosmologists are to distinguishing between the standard and inverted hierarchies was made by my thesis advisor Asantha Cooray.

      I turned to my advisor and said "I had know idea you are working on that!". The truth is, he is doing so much nobody in his group can keep track of everything. (Think 100+ papers in the last 5 years. He is an official member of Hershel, CIBER, CMBpol and a several other projects that NASA and the NSF are funding.)

    3. Oh yeah, one other comment to add to the NASA administrator talk:'

      "The only reason we are not back on the moon is we are no longer willing to be a nation who takes risks. We are so safety conscious we can't get anything done anymore."

    4. Thanks.

      On your advisor: wow. The man is really involved!

    5. There must be something about NASA administrators and political tact that are mutually exclusive because I heard the previous head of NASA under Bush, Michael Griffen, talk and he too said a number of things I simply cannot imagine a politician ever saying. If memory serves, he compared the Congressional appropriation process to trying to get a class of 25 kindergartners to color a single picture with only one 8 pack of crayons. Again if I remember correctly, he used words like "whining", "temper-tantrum", and "bullying" in referencing Congress - the people that give his agency money and effectively sign his paycheck.

      I should add that these are rough paraphrases of his words, but I think I've captured the spirit of what he was trying to say.


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