Saturday 31 May 2014

Theory vs. Observations, by Jean-Claude Pecker

A cartoon by the famous French astronomer Jean-Claude Pecker (published in the Proceedings of the 3rd European Solar Meeting, "Solar activity, April 13-15 1981, Oxford", ed. C. Jordan; a non-ADS volume).

No matter how much we pushed the frontier of the science and how much our theoretical machinery, diagnostic tools and large and expensive gadgets evolve, this is still in a way very actual. It is important not to forget that even the most sophisticated realistic 3D models of the sun are still mammals, pardon, models. On the other hand, the results of the observations should not be consider  as the real "elephant" either. They are pictures of the elephant made with imperfect instruments!

Sunday 18 May 2014

Eddington on Icarus

From the Presidential Address of Professor Arthur Eddington to Section A of the British Association in Cardiff, August, 24th, 1920 (1920Obs....43..341E, also in the book Stars & Atoms,

"In ancient days two aviators procured to themselves wings. Daedalus flew safely through the middle air and was duly honoured on his landing. Icarus soared upwards to the sun till the wax melted which bound his wings and his flight ended in fiasco. The classical authorities tell us, of course, that he was only doing a stunt; but I prefer to think of him as the man who brought to light a serious constructional defect in the flying-machines of his day. So, too, in science. Cautious Daedalus will apply his theories where he feels confident they will safely go; but by his excess of caution their hidden weaknesses remain undiscovered. Icarus will strain his theories to the breaking-point till the weak joints gape. For the mere adventure? Perhaps partly, this is human nature. But if he is destined not yet to reach the sun and solve finally the riddle of its construction, we may at least hope to learn from his journey some hints to build a better machine."

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique).