Vital Problems

October 4, 2010

In case you hadn’t noticed there is a petition brewing – Science Is Vital. The arguments against cutting the science budget are well made, and there is a rally planned next Saturday. Volume of public protest does matter : sign up.

Amongst other things, the web site  stresses that science is not so much a fixed body of knowledge but an incomplete project. What don’t we know ? As a postgrad I was inspired by Ginzburg’s “Key Problems in Astrophysics”. I can’t promise to be that good, but here is my personal pick of Top Ten Big Problems. Probably on the obvious side. I’d love to hear your vote.

  1. Why is the Universe accelerating ?
  2. What is the dark matter ?
  3. Why did the Universe start in such a low entropy state ?
  4. Why are galaxy formation and quasar formation so closely linked ?
  5. Are Earth-like planets normal or weird ?
  6. Does the Oort cloud really exist  ?
  7. How is the solar corona heated ? (Time this one went…)
  8. Where did Life originate ?
  9. What causes gamma ray bursts ?
  10. How do relativistic jets form (Time this one went..)

Next up, some practical issues related to Astronomy

  1. Can we predict CMEs ?
  2. Can we find all the potentially dangerous NEOs ?

And some niggly worries

  1. Why are quasar metallicities the same at all redshifts ?
  2. Supernova models must surely be right, but don’t work (I hear).
  3. Quasar accretion disc models must surely be  right, but don’t work.
  4. How come the star formation radio-FIR relation is so constant ? Too good to be true.

I note that the niggling worries are closer to home for me. Probably there are lots of others I just don’t know about ….