Saturday, 10 December 2011

Scary monsters (and supermassive black holes)

A quick post this morning as I have spent a few hours plumbing in a new dishwasher (the previous one decided it would like to be like the Nile, and so flooded every so often), and have a children's party this afternoon. But, I've had a new article published on The Conversation titled Scary monsters (and supermassive black holes).

It's a review of the discovery of the most massive supermassive black holes yet. As I note in the article, the discovery itself is not such a surprise as we know that there is a well known relation, the M-sigma relation which shows that larger galaxies have larger black holes (the astronomers in the article weren't just blindly looking for black holes - they knew where to look).

Also, in the article, I touch on another article in The Conversation called Black holes might exist, but let’s stay sceptical, which was in response to a previous article I published on black holes. This article seemed to suggest that astronomers believe black holes are real, and so think that there is little point to supporting experiments to test general relativity, especially the search for gravitational waves. Here's a quote from the article;
"And, hence, you’re less likely to support gravitational wave astronomy. General relativity predicts unique patterns of the gravitational waves produced in collisions between event horizons."
As I noted in the comments, this is completely wrong.  Any perceived lack of support is purely financial, not scientific. In fact, I wrote
"There is a finite pot of money, and astronomy is big science. If you ask an optical astronomer which should I fund, the Square Kilometre Array, LIGO or the next generation of optical telescope, then the response will be "in a perfect world, with an infinite amount of cash, funding all would be excellent, but given that you have asked me to choose, I will support the one that has the direct impact on my research, the optical telescope", and I am sure you will get different answers from the radio astronomers, and, of course, the gravitational wave astronomers."
In fact, astronomers are searching for the signal of gravitational waves using pulsar timing, wanting to attempt to snatch a potential Nobel from the LIGO teams.

Finite pots of money are the source of many problems, but, after mentioning Nobel prize winners, I just want note that Brian Schmidt of the ANU, one of this years winners of the physics Nobel prizes, is donating some of his prize winnings for a primary school science program the federal government has stopped funding. What an exceedingly noble thing for a Nobel to do. Well done Brian!

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