Sunday, October 16, 2016

You don't always need a justification for a test ...

I was just listening to a Neil Degrasse Tyson lecture whilst out in my garden stargazing, and he had this amazing story I knew needed to be added here.



As you can imagine - there's huge competition for time on the space-based Hubble telescope.  Not just anyone can use time on it - and typically you need to put forward a business case for it, something like,

  • We want to observe the following nebula, to look for any stars which might be in the process of forming
  • We want to look at this star over the following days to look for exoplanets
  • We want to get a better view of the following supernova remnant


Obviously the director in charge has to queue up these requests as best they can, but they're also allowed a small about of time, that they can allocate for any whimsical reason they want.

So the director tried something radical - they'd pick an area of the sky and stare at it for 10 days.  And for something even more daring, they're try to point away from the spiral of the Milky Way (our galaxy), away from any star clusters, or galactic clusters.

They'd try to find the most boring part of the sky, and just see what's there.

The area they looked at represents the amount of sky you can see through a narrow eyehole in a needle ... at arms length.

And what did they find?  Galaxies ... thousands of them ...


This went on to become known as the Hubble deep field, and for some is considered one of the most important discoveries in the lifetime of the telescope.  It confirmed and made real what we'd suspected about the sheer size of the cosmos in which we live in.  Every one of those points of light is a galaxy, comparable to our own of hundreds of billions of stars.  So many thousands of galaxies, all seen through the eye of a far away needle.

And this discovery wasn't one that you could have been able to justify the business case for.  It was whimsical, but NASA allowed it, because they know sometimes you find amazing things, just giving some time for curiosity.

It reminds me of something James Bach told me earlier in the year, you don't always need a justification for a test.  Indeed sometimes if you're about to try something and someone says "what problems are you expecting", it's easy to talk yourself out of it.  But it's important to give ourselves a little bit of time to try things out.

As long as it's not an unmanageable portion of your day, there's always time for a "I just wonder if..." experiment.


Now Playing: "The Universal", Blur

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