Obama and the last scattering surface

What a fine day. I saw Obama’s inauguration and attended a colloquium by Rashid Sunyaev.

The three hour East-West time difference was just right. I was able to catch the inauguration speech on TV and still get in to work before coffee. It was a beautifully crafted and well delivered speech. Emotional but not mawkish. Had just enough content to avoid being vacuous, but not so much that his freedom of action is blocked once real world compromises are needed. And very promising from a rationalist point of view .. he said “we will restore science to its rightful place”, mentioned “curiosity” as one of the “values on which our success depends”, and even mentioning “nonbelievers” is very unnusual in America. You can see Andrew Jaffe’s take here, and read the speech here.

Sunyaev’s talk was fascinating. He is of course just a tad well known for things like inventing the “alpha disk” paradigm for accretion disks, and predicting the Sunyaev-Zeldovich effect; but in 1970 he also predicted acoustic oscillations in the CMB power spectrum. I didn’t know this. Its in this paper, published in Russian in 1970, and in translation in 1972.  He said that Zeldovich almost stopped him stating that such observations could measure Omega, because obviously these fluctuations could never be measured ! So now he has a new wacky prediction : seeing beyond the surface of last scattering by looking for the imprint of emission lines produced during the preceding recombination phase. These should produce tiny wiggles in the high frequency end of the CMB spectrum; measuring them could for example tell us the pre-stellar abundance of Helium. Sunyaev said that expert opinion is divided on whether these wiggles can be measured, but the twinkle in his eye let us know the right answer…

4 Responses to Obama and the last scattering surface

  1. Tom says:

    I caught the inauguration at 7am local time and watched the speech – I don’t know about you proper academics and all that – in time for coffee? Hrmph.

    Anyway, the things that caught your attention certainly caught mine as well, it was a an interesting speech although the nonbelievers bit seemed to me a bit of a last second add-on, but I haven’t watched the speech again and that was my very early morning caffeine-free impression. Still, it’s good to have someone with intelligence back in charge of the US, and even if he can’t fix the all the crises, his speeches will be something to look forward to for at least the next four years. He definitely has a knack there.

    The oath was somewhat embarrasing to watch though. I hope that doesn’t become a symbol of this presidency. Apparently it was Roberts that got the wording wrong, but I think he was thrown by Obama just beforehand and then he threw Obama into a moment of blankness. I can’t even begin to imagine the pressure of giving a speech to two million people there and billions of others around the world and they both managed to recover.

    All the news here, of course, is Obama giving a “shaka” to the marching band from his old school. That was actually fun to watch!

  2. telescoper says:

    It reminded me a bit of the wedding of Charles and Diana way back when. I’m sure Diana said “All thy goods with thee I share”.

  3. Tom says:

    According to one or two news sources here the presidential oath was redone in the White House today, just to make it all official like.

  4. Martin E. says:

    Anyone know if this was the first time the word ‘science’ has been spoken in an Inaugural? I’d bet it is.

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