Monday, September 10, 2012

Hubble has spotted an ancient galaxy that shouldn’t exist

From io9 courtesy of a facebook friend:

This galaxy is so large, so fully-formed, astronomers say it shouldn't exist at all. It's called a "grand-design" spiral galaxy, and unlike most galaxies of its kind, this one is old. Like, really, really old. According to a new study conducted by researchers using NASA's Hubble Telescope, it dates back roughly 10.7-billion years — and that makes it the most ancient spiral galaxy we've ever discovered.


The reason Stephen Hawking bet against the Higgs Boson is the same reason BX442 is the best kind of discovery; not only does this galaxy set a new benchmark by way of its cosmic seniority, it's also super weird — weirder than what anyone thought was possible. In science, these are the finds that help us rework our understanding of nature, the discoveries that force us to step back from what we thought we knew, re-assess our preconceived notions, and bring forth a newer, more fully formed view of our Universe.

More here.

Click through if you want to read some of the speculation as to why this galaxy exists when it shouldn't. It's fascinating. But what grabbed me about the article is that second paragraph I excerpted. It's also why I read the article in the first place.

I absolutely adore and celebrate the science attitude that has all scientists ready to completely reevaluate everything they think they know when confronted with new evidence. Actually, it's not so much an attitude as it is the underlying philosophy that has driven science forward for centuries, the scientific method: observation, hypothesis, experimentation, ad nauseam. A friend of mine has suggested that it may very well be mankind's greatest invention, and I'm inclined to agree. Now, contrast the scientific method with the lawyer's approach, one used heavily in politics, and by lots of human beings in how they simply run their lives: hypothesis comes first, followed by a gathering of every idea one encounters that supports that hypothesis. That is, scientists start with evidence from which they reach a conclusion. Lawyers and politicians, however, start with a conclusion, and then seek evidence to support it. The latter is very prone to error; the former much, much less so.

We really could learn a lot from these scientists, and I'm not just talking about DNA and cosmology. It's their intellectual methodology, more than anything else, that has made them great. Can you imagine what society would look like if we approached running it without preconceived conclusions? Probably pretty good.