Feeds

An afternoon with Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer

Former NASA man talks education, astronomy, and lots and lots of photons

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

The utilitarian view

EL REG: It is always hard to justify astronomy from a purely utilitarian view …

PLAIT: Not always hard!

EL REG: ...frequently hard, but we get scientists, not just astronomers, out of it. We can get scientists from kids who look through a telescope.

PLAIT: Politicians tend to not be able to take two steps away from an idea. What I mean by that is – if you start “I want to fund astronomy because astronomy inspires kids, and then those kids grow up to be scientists and engineers, and our economy is economy is anywhere between 50 to 75 percent reliant on tech and science...”

We're recording this on some digital thing, and you've got your laptop, and people are going to read this online and everybody's texting and Skyping and Facebooking … these billion-dollar industries are all based on science and engineering.

But the problem is, it's not a direct relationship funding astronomy. There are steps away.

It's just important to inspire people. We don't live on bread and water. We need art and beauty, and we need to think about things bigger than us.

Science is all about the bigger picture. You don't think that astronomy and biology would have anything in common, but they do – besides just the scientific method and the periodic table of the elements. There's a lot of chemistry in astronomy, the calcium in your bones and the iron in the blood was created in a supernova.

And there's also the search for life on other planets, which is an intimate overlap between astronomy, engineering, chemistry, physics, biology. And the other thing is that science is a way of understanding what's real. And all of these different fields are trying to understand some real aspect of the universe.

If one of them fails – if one of them is relying on the laws of physics that they're all relying on, then they all fail.

They're all woven together. That's what's amazing: they all work, and they all work because they're right.

EL REG: First, I'll let you tear me down on the utilitarian view. Then we can look at the question of “rightness”...

PLAIT: There was one other thing I was going to add to that. In fact – astronomy can kill us.

We have asteroids, as we learned in February in Russia. Asteroids hit us. You can ask a dinosaur that, but of course you can't because they're gone. That's an important thing. Plus the Sun has magnetic storms, and those can knock out our power grid, can knock out our satellites, our GPS.

Society is critically dependent on that. So we have to understand the Sun: spending a billion dollars, or ten or twenty billion dollars in total, for NASA, is pocket change compared to the change that would be done if that system goes down. Then you're talking trillions of dollars.

It's critical that we understand this stuff – so in that sense, funding astronomy is keeping your stuff alive.

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
TRIANGULAR orbits will help Rosetta to get up close with Comet 67P
Probe will be just 10km from Space Duck in October
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
Why your mum was WRONG about whiffy tattooed people
They're a future source of RENEWABLE ENERGY
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.