We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

So far Voyager 1 has ‘left the Solar System’ by passing through the termination shock three times, the heliopause twice, and once each through the heliosheath, heliosphere, heliodrome, auroral discontinuity, Heaviside layer, trans-Neptunian panic zone, magnetogap, US Census Bureau Solar System statistical boundary, Kuiper gauntlet, Oort void, and crystal sphere holding the fixed stars.

– A rather marvellous alt-text from Randall Monroe of xkcd. Can we just give the guy the Nobel Prize for Literature right now? And possibly also the prize for Peace (assuming he has the bad taste to want it)?

11 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Laird

    Works for me.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    There comes a point where they just have to admit that they really don’t know what’s “out there”.

    Theory is no substitute for observation. A logician may, as Sherlock Holmes claimed, infer from a single drop of water “the possibility
    of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other”.

    But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be surprised when he finally saw them with his own eyes.

  • Richard Thomas

    Sounds like it needs to make its mind up.

  • Julie near Chicago


  • The difficulty is we’re inside a paper bag, trying to describe what the outside looks like. We’ve got some rudimentary ideas, based upon what we can see around other stars, but our resolution is pretty poor.

    Equally, it’s also a matter of definition. Although we may be at the primary boundary of the sun’s influence, working through the various layers of interaction between the sun and the interstellar medium, if things like the Oort cloud exist, then we are nowhere near the edge of the solar system.

    Thus far Voyager 1 has travelled 123 AU’s, but the Oort cloud is believed to be 50,000 AU’s. By the time Voyager gets there it will be long dead as with all of us (about 14,000 to 28,000 years from now).

    Voyager has been a fantastic technical and cultural achievement, we just need to accept that this is a journey of scientific discovery with surprises along the way.

    It’s great science, but not necessarily straight-forward TV and newspaper headlines.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    Or, simply, the Sun is a star, and there are lots of other stars. Between them is a lot of empty space. “Leaving the solar system” involves moving from empty space to more empty space. Various relatively insubstantial things change as you go through through that empty space, but this happens *very gradually*. That something will be substantially different today compared to yesterday (or even this year or perhaps decade compared to last year or decade) just doesn’t happen. On the other hand, the trans-Neptunian panic zone does sound scary.

    The Voyager probes are wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

  • Richard Thomas

    Michael Jennings, exactly. This is just an issue of human minds wanting to fit things into neat little boxes (or gigantic, ill-defined spheres in this case)

  • Steven

    Science writers are rarely scientists. Scientists will gladly, maybe even eagerly, tell people we don’t have much of a concept of just where the Solar System ends and interstellar space begins simply because each time we think we have a grasp on it something new is discovered. Science writers, and more importantly the scientifically-illiterate public, hear a term like “edge of the Solar System” and think of it as a hard boundary when it is anything but.

    I think the bigger question is how do we fix that scientific-illiteracy? The actual scientific work is very inaccessible to anyone not in that field simply because it is so technical. The low-hanging fruit of science has long been picked (how the seasons change, what causes the tides, why babies look like their parents) so what is left are often bizarre and confusing topics that really don’t make sense to laymen (Quantum Mechanics for example). Scientists are horrible communicators for the most part (in large part because even for PhDs there are still only 24 hours in a day and every minute spent explaining something in laymen’s terms is a minute not spent in a lab or writing grant proposals), so scientists are forced to rely on science writers (generally journalists with some science classes. There are only a handful of science writing programs at either the undergraduate or graduate levels. MIT and UC Santa Cruz I know of). But because of the limited scientific backgrounds of the writers and the technicality of the material at hand, even the science writers may get it wrong and that is before we even get to editors looking to spice up a piece by making something interesting but routine sound ominous or spectacular.

  • jdgalt

    We need a new source of awards. The Nobel committee discredited themselves when they gave awards to Gore and the climate change people — not to mention President Obama, whose main “peace legacy” will probably be the fact that he looked the other way while Iran nuked Israel.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    There is a big disconnect between the three scientific Nobel Prizes (Physics, Chemistry, and Medicine) and those in Peace, Literature, and Economics (if you count it as being a Nobel Prize at all). The scientific prizes have consistently been awarded for the right achievements (although there are occasional discussions as to whether they have been awarded to the right people) and the decisions are generally not considered to be at all political. Therefore, their prestige that comes with them is immense. The other three prizes are extremely political. I think part of the problem is that the immense prestige of the science prizes prevents the others from being quite as discredited as they sometimes should be.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Hmph. The “Peace” “Prize” was the Darkness mocking the Light long before It got it. The unspeakable Arafat, remember?