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  1. Thought we needed a thread for science stuff, given the weirdness this week. "What weirdness," I hear you ask. Well, two main items: The rumour mill is going overboard at the moment with people suggesting that the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) team have, finally, found evidence for gravitational waves. If they have, this is a Big Deal. http://www.nature.com/news/gravitational-wave-rumours-in-overdrive-1.19161 http://www.wired.com/2016/01/astrophysicists-may-have-found-gravitational-waves-or-not/ And then there's more on that weird star, KIC 8462852. The "it's comets" theory has been shredded after a study of historical data found that the star has been undergoing what's described as a secular (i.e. non-periodic) decline in brightness since at least 1890. Basically, something around the star is blocking its light in "unprecedented" fashion. Whatever it is, it can block more than 20% of the star's light. A planet like Jupiter would only block about 1% and if a planet was big enough to do this, it would be a star, not a planet. http://arxiv.org/pdf/1601.03256v1.pdf The inference, which I hasten to add is not stated in the original paper, is that an alien civilization is building a shell around the star to collect its energy, using something known as a Dyson Swarm. Colleagues of the team responsible for the discovery are clearly aware of this inference though, as they've also released another paper estimating how long constructing such a swarm would take. http://beta.briefideas.org/ideas/424bb64cf38eb9d7db0dae57dec3d28d
  2. Last week I was at the Hammersmith Odeon (now calling itself the Eventim Apollo, but we'll ignore that) to see Robin Ince and Professor Brian Cox present their Christmas Compendium of Reason. It was one of the best shows I've ever seen at the venue, and I've been there a lot. We got Professor Chris Lintott (from The Sky At Night) describing KIC 8462852 as "really fucking weird". We got Andy Hamilton describing how he was hailed as "all right, Satan?" whilst standing next to two members of the Nation of Islam. We got the Festival of the Spoken Nerd transmitting an audio signal *through* the front row of the audience. We got Commander Chris Hadfield explaining what was in store for Tim Peake. And Brian Cox got to play keyboards for New Order. These shows have been going for a few years now and they are a quite extraordinary celebration of all sorts of stuff WGBers love. You never know who is going to turn up each night because the acts are a very well-kept secret. Last year The Cure were the house band! The night before I went, Alison Moyet sang and Dara O'Briain cracked jokes. When I went, Charlotte Church sang. Jon Culshaw pretended to be Sir Patrick Moore. There was a chemist (Andrea Sella) making things explode, very loudly. There was even an epidemiologist (Ben Goldacre) doing an on-the-fly statistical analysis for trends in NHS prescriptions, and it doesn't get more rock and roll than that. Robin said last week that they'd run out of favours to call in so they'd be skipping a year, but someone has changed his mind and there will be one show in 2016, which was announced a couple of hours ago. I've already got my ticket. You can book yours here.
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