Science Metaphors (cont.): Secular Evolution

This is the latest in a series in which science’s metaphors offer the explanations of and guidance for the most cryptic of life’s problems. A few weeks ago I was at a conference about galaxy evolution.  In the titles of many talks was the puzzling phrase, “secular evolution.”  Secular? as opposed to religious? so secular […]


I’ve just finished a story about gas and galaxies.  You’re bored already, aren’t  you.  After I’d sent the editor a query about it, he took months to respond and then wanted several rewrites of the query; I think he was bored too.  If gas and galaxies are so boring, why did I want so much […]

How Numbers Feel

This picture is a still shot from a movie, and the little parade of galaxies marching diagonally across it is a section of one filament in a vast network of galaxies.  Before I get to the point, let us pause a moment and reflect:  these are fucking galaxies. They’re all Milky Ways of 10 billion solar […]

Is That Guy Really, Really Smart?

A friend I run into regularly says, “Hey, Ann.  Do you know that guy from around here who won that Nobel whatever?”  He means Adam Riess, and yes, I know Riess.  I’ve interviewed him, I say hello, he says hello back.  “I have a question for you,” says my friend. “Is your Nobel guy really, […]

Paying No Attention to Bimodality

Galaxies are the universe’s basic units.  (True, they’re made of stars, but all the stars are in galaxies.) So if you understood why galaxies look the way they do and how they’ve changed with time, you’d probably understand the history of the whole damn universe.  Oh boy.  And astronomers believed they sort of did but […]

Internet Astronomy

In 2007, the Galaxy Zooites — 100,000 housewives, high school students, helicopter pilots, physicians, school teachers, truck drivers, secretaries, and a mobile home park manager from all over the world – got together on the internet under the guidance of some astronomers and classified galaxies.  Galaxies tend to be either spirals or ellipticals, computers are […]

Making a Really Big Galaxy

This is how astronomers think giant galaxies form super-massive black holes (the adjectives are the astronomers’).  Way back at the beginning, maybe a billion years after the birth of a 14 billion year old universe, enormous galaxies a hundred times bigger than the Milky Way were born, pulling themselves together out of clouds of stars […]

Newly-Evolved Hybrid

On July 28, 2010, nearly 900,000 galaxies were put into a public database, and this is Galaxy #1, or SDSS J000000.41-102225.6, and don’t tell me astronomers don’t know how to name things.   Galaxy #1 is probably an elliptical; the rest of the 900,000 are either ellipticals or spirals or something else, and were identified as […]