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Space Science

Teenager Makes Discovery About Galaxy Distribution 247

Posted by samzenpus
from the all-lined-up dept.
Janek Kozicki writes "It has been long thought that dwarf galaxies orbiting Andromeda galaxy (M31), or any other galaxy for that matter, are distributed more or less randomly around the host galaxy. It seemed so obvious in fact that nobody took time to check this assumption. Until a 15-year-old student, Neil Ibata, working with his father at the astronomic observatory, wanted to check it out. It turned out that dwarf galaxies tend to be placed on a plane around M31. The finding has been published in Nature. Local press (especially in France) is ecstatic that a finding by a 15-year-old got published in Nature. However, there's another more important point: what other obvious things didn't we really bother to check?"
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Teenager Makes Discovery About Galaxy Distribution

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2013 @07:55PM (#42499301)

    Raises curiosity: how much work is done by this 15-old boy and how much is actually done by his father?

    • by slew (2918) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @08:02PM (#42499347)

      Raises curiosity: how much work is done by this 15-old boy and how much is actually done by his father?

      I imagine about the same ratio as famous professors and the grad-students working under them... Don't underestimate the ideas and work that can be done by underlings. Only in this case, the underling gets the credit, in the other case, usually not so much...

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2013 @08:07PM (#42499391)

        I imagine about the same ratio as famous professors and the grad-students working under them... Don't underestimate the ideas and work that can be done by underlings. Only in this case, the underling gets the credit, in the other case, usually not so much...

        Grad students who do the work are usually lead authors on their papers.

        • by elfprince13 (1521333) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @10:08PM (#42500083) Homepage
          That depends on the university and the lab. I've heard all sorts of horror stories.
          • by drolli (522659) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @11:59PM (#42500615) Journal

            wish i had mod points.....

            After ten years in science (i left): The position and the fact if you are mentioned on a paper as an author depends on many things. I have seen people who never ever did anything but stand in the way (intentionally, sometimes) mentioned as co-authors due to higher forces (buddying with the group leader) and i have seen how phd students who built the setup over five years somehow slipped of the authors list after they graduated and where thanked for technical help.

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward

              I've seen it go both ways. Sometimes the professor will try to grab most of the credit for a student's work, sometimes almost all the intellectual work was done by the professor and all the student did was assemble hardware and collect data, but the student still gets most of the credit. I see the second more often that the first, but both happen.

            • What you say pales against what I've seen with my own eyes.

              A researcher ... from a third world country ... discovered a really wonderful substance from a deep sea shell fish.

              That thing can really block pain, without causing any drowsiness, or any adverse side effect.

              The person reported his finding to his professor, who seized the chance to publish the finding.

              On the published article, no where the name of the original researcher was mentioned.

              The substance was later patented, and the patent is worth BILLION

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Raises curiosity: how much work is done by this 15-old boy and how much is actually done by his father?

        I imagine about the same ratio as famous professors and the grad-students working under them... Don't underestimate the ideas and work that can be done by underlings. Only in this case, the underling gets the credit, in the other case, usually not so much...

        Grad students and professors? That's a bit of a stretch. Maybe parents + science fairs would be a better comparison.

        • It's a continuum and it depends on the parties involved. I've collaborated on undergraduate research with my father (paper ended up being accepted to ISVD a couple years ago), and the work I did with him at 18/19 was definitely not beyond my abilities at 15, and was probably more creative and challenging than the work I did this summer on a DOE fellowship.
        • That seems a bit silly to me. There are so many discoveries and inventions that sat around for generations, waiting to be discovered. All that was required was that someone without preconceived ideas looked at it with a fresh mind.

          Apparently, that is just what happened here. Some kid says, "But, Dad, how can you be sure they are just random? Has no one ever looked for a pattern?" Dad says, "Well Son, if you think you're so smart, then YOU find the pattern! Some of the world's best minds have tried and

      • by iamhassi (659463)

        Raises curiosity: how much work is done by this 15-old boy and how much is actually done by his father?

        I imagine about the same ratio as famous professors and the grad-students working under them... Don't underestimate the ideas and work that can be done by underlings. Only in this case, the underling gets the credit, in the other case, usually not so much...

        15 yr old, with no college or astronomy knowledge, joins astrophysicist dad at work, and 15 yr old makes break thru scientific discovery? Seems legit

        • 15 yr old, with no ... astronomy knowledge

          I'd say that part is probably far from true. Or has he only just been reunited with his deadbeat astrophysicist dad?

    • by drdread66 (1063396) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @08:03PM (#42499355)

      The kid probably did most of the coding, but used data gathered by other observations at the observatory (or even other observatories). The idea probably came from his father. This is exactly the sort of straightforward project you would assign a bright undergrad (or high school student) to do. It's relevant, mostly easy, and might possibly generate a new result. You can't ask for much more.

      • by Jmc23 (2353706)
        Wow, modded insightful for guessing.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2013 @08:04PM (#42499367)

      Raises curiosity: how much work is done by this 15-old boy and how much is actually done by his father?

      One of 16 authors. His dad is the lead author. Not a solo effort.

      • He learned teamwork and science, more then quibbling about crediting. And who knows he might have been sitting at the dinner table and said... well u know that galaxy we looked at through our shiny telescope, are they aranged in a special way. Dad: I dunno son, maybe, people say their random. Kid: I got some assignment wanna help me.

        Fuck yeah I wish I had a family like that growing up. Fuck yeah we need more kids in america to have opportunities like this rather then be mindfucked by HBO.

      • Erds number: that's all I have to say on this issue...

    • David Stuart [wikipedia.org], a gifted Mayan scholar studied under his parents who were both Mayan scholars. By age 18 he had won the MacCarthur Fellowship... it's youngest recipient. "Like Father Like Son" is sometimes an accurate description...While it may be published under his father's name, he might have actually provided something of value. "He's only 15" can hide genius....
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Who cares? Most 15 year olds struggle to do anything more than fall out of bed and masturbate. Jealous much?

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      Most underlings do all the real work. Look at the early work in radio astronomy. Most of the discoveries were actually by the underlings. The "professor" got credit because the corrupt scum that run the "system" say that only a published professor can publish any new discoveries.

  • Not *that* ecstatic (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2013 @07:57PM (#42499319)

    Actually, since the boy has stated in interviews that he wants to leave France and go to college abroad, the press is not that ecstatic. And at least some papers have pointed out that the boy was somehow lucky (even though he most probably is a bright kid).

  • by Nutria (679911) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @07:57PM (#42499325)

    bother to check?

    Stuff that scientists don't want to be mocked by their peers for checking.

    • Like the fact that entire universe is simply a computer simulation being run by our future selves in order to look back in time and understand all of our mistakes? http://news.discovery.com/space/are-we-living-in-a-computer-simulation-2-121216.html [discovery.com]
      • Perhaps they're trying to rebuild lost people from the past, you know, once you get that whole immortality thing working correctly. Bringing back George Washington and other fan favorites to give lectures or whatever on what they did during their lives.

        Or they could be looking for something they missed: sometimes people miss out on new inventions, etc. and up in trapped in a similar way of thought; by slightly altering some values (your dad had a beard, your mom had blond hair, etc.), perhaps they are attem

        • Our own genetic weaknesses are probably far more likely to do us in as a race long before the asteroids can hit or global warming could raise the seas enough millimeters to make the planet uninhabitable. Who knows? Maybe our future generations have finally wound down to just a few thousand people living at the bottom of the ocean with a super computer and enough oxygen to live another couple of decades. Maybe they've decided to simulate the universe from conception forward in their supercomputer in order to
  • by coma_bug (830669) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @08:01PM (#42499343)

    It has been long thought that dwarf galaxies orbiting Andromeda galaxy (M31), or any other galaxy for that matter, are distributed more or less randomly around the host galaxy.

    [citation needed]

    The planets orbit the sun near the ecliptic plane, so if you were to make an assumption about the distribution of galaxies why would you assume galaxies are distributed randomly?

    • by Genda (560240) <marietNO@SPAMgot.net> on Sunday January 06, 2013 @08:44PM (#42499603) Journal
      Because the dwarf galaxies shouldn't be constrained to the galactic plane any more than globular clusters which are randomly disbursed. This suggests that there my be an unknown process that brings dwarf galaxies to the galaxy's equator... perhaps inflow of intragalactic gas or dark matter.. Makes for a interesting study.
      • by Mandrel (765308) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @10:18PM (#42500141)

        Because the dwarf galaxies shouldn't be constrained to the galactic plane any more than globular clusters which are randomly disbursed. This suggests that there my be an unknown process that brings dwarf galaxies to the galaxy's equator... perhaps inflow of intragalactic gas or dark matter.. Makes for a interesting study.

        The paper found that the plane of dwarf galaxies around Andromeda wasn't aligned to Andromeda's equator, but (intriguingly) was approximately the plane formed by the line between Andromeda and the Milky Way and the axis of rotation of the Milky Way.

        • This sounds like a tidal effect from the Milky Way. I will be interested to hear how the analysis & modeling progresses in the future.

          • by Mandrel (765308)

            This sounds like a tidal effect from the Milky Way. I will be interested to hear how the analysis & modeling progresses in the future.

            Yeah, could be. I wonder if people are now doing simulations to see if they reproduce the creation of an aligned plane from a uniform halo. It's possible simulations of the Milky Way's interaction with Andromeda hasn't before included orbiting dwarf galaxies.

      • The gravitational forces of objects orbitting a central object will pull those objects into a plane. Imagine two satellites orbiting a planet. One is in an orbit tilted to, say, 2 and 8 on a clock face(/), and the other at 4 and 10 (\). When both satellites are on the same side of the planet, say at 2 and 4, they will pull each other towards 3. Over time they will become coplanar.
  • Physics.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by JWSmythe (446288)

        Who woulda thunk, matter in and around a galaxy tends to end up in the accretion disk. Mindblowing.

    • Re:Physics.. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Genda (560240) <marietNO@SPAMgot.net> on Sunday January 06, 2013 @08:49PM (#42499631) Journal

      This actually still up in the air, we still don't understand the galactic halo, distribution of dark matter and why the rotational velocity of the outer galaxy is so fast. So Where the visible matter in a galaxy is, is far less important that where all that other matter is, and what's causing the dwarf galaxies to do what they do has virtually nothing to do with the galactic disk.

    • Re:Physics.. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by aNonnyMouseCowered (2693969) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @09:15PM (#42499783)

      Yes, a truly dizzying fact that in space ithings have this uncanny tendency to spin. So you might have a satellite spining around its axis, then the satellite spinning around host planet, the planet spinning around a star, the star around the galactic core or a local cluster of stars, and the galaxy itelf spinning around a bigger galaxy or local cluster of galaxies, and so forth. I remember one "scientist" postulate that the only thing that doesn't spin is the universe itself because nobody has found any evidence to indicate a "universal" spin.

      • I remember one "scientist" postulate that the only thing that doesn't spin is the universe itself because nobody has found any evidence to indicate a "universal" spin.

        I'd have called that "scientist" a moron. Conservation of angular momentum is why planets spin round their star, and why stars spin, and why galaxies rotate... It seems to me that if the Universe itself hadn't "spun" in at least a small way then things would have been much different than they are... Indeed, sit on your swivel chair and spin, now put your arms out and you spin more slowly, but notice the forces applied to your arms: They're being pulled outwards by centrifugal force. From your arm's persp

        • Now, dark energy is a force we can't yet explain. It's accelerating everything away from the center of the Universe -- Why it's almost like the Universe is in a centrifuge, and though the relative motion of everything seems not to be spinning, there's this strange force accelerating things outwards. If everything inside the water is wet, then the water itself is wet. If everything inside the Universe is spinning, then the Universe itself is spinning...

          No, there is no center of the universe. Space is expanding in all directions equally as far as we can tell. There is no radial component to this acceleration and has nothing to do with conservation of angular momentum as there is no angular component. You are jumping to false conclusions because you do not understand yet insist on calling other people morons.

    • Yikes - you got modded insightful for that ?!?! Funny perhaps but not insightful

      The term is accretion disc and galaxies do not have them - an accretion disc forms around stellar and quasi-stellar objects ie stars, black holes, quasers, etc .. by their very nature these dwarf galaxies appear to orbit M31 but are not accreted

      Assuming you meant galactic halo, the dwarf galaxies do not form part of the M31 galactic halo either - they are there own entities so that logic does have to hold.

      Mindblowing - no ... in

  • by Kergan (780543) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @08:08PM (#42499395)

    According to the French press (who actually interviewed the kid, rather than reported second hand information), he worked as an interm in his father's lab. His father assigned him stuff so as to give him the opportunity to learn how to code.

    By the kid's own admittance in those interviews, his primary interest was to learn to code; and he actually puts forward that he did. It's only later that his father and the latter's colleagues highlighted the importance of his program's findings, and they put his name forward in their article (rightly so) for having programmed the tool needed to show their hunch.

    Anyway, not discounting how bright the kid might be (because he seems to be, even though he admittedly found it necessary to ask his math teacher for information on vectors), but can we please keep a cool head with respect to what actually happened? As in, a kiddo got an internship through his father and coded stuff requested by his father, and landed his name in a scientific article courtesy of his father for having written said article?

    • because he seems to be, even though he admittedly found it necessary to ask his math teacher for information on vectors

      "even though"? Are you somehow under the impression most smart people personally rederive the entire field of mathematics from scratch without any outside instruction?

      • by Kergan (780543)

        because he seems to be, even though he admittedly found it necessary to ask his math teacher for information on vectors

        "even though"? Are you somehow under the impression most smart people personally rederive the entire field of mathematics from scratch without any outside instruction?

        Not. But fwiw, at his age, the brightest kids in a the class are frequently looking into what's coming next, as in what's taught a year or two later. On a more personal note, I never felt like an exception in doing so -- the brighter kids in some other classes did as much, and we had the nerdiest of conversations when we shared and discussed our findings. At any rate, at his age, many kids have a rather precise idea of what a vector is, or a matrix for matter. Some actually know enough of the latter to neve

      • by arth1 (260657)

        "even though"? Are you somehow under the impression most smart people personally rederive the entire field of mathematics from scratch without any outside instruction?

        Well, yes. Smart people peruse books and other sources, and find out without instructions. Average people need instructions.
        A smart person will treat knowledgeable people as information sources, or someone to provide feedback and ideas, but won't need instructions. That's why we consider them smart.

    • exactly. he was co-author together with 15 other people He hardly "made" the discovery but still props up to the kid.
      Having authored and co-authored a couple of papers, who gets his name on the publication is often function of their networking skills rather than their input in the research, except for those actively doing said research.
      I usually had 3 extra people on my papers, that had no real input.
      • by Jmc23 (2353706)
        The discovery was made by looking at his model. He was probably the first to see it. Whether he understood what he was seeing...
    • by jamesh (87723)

      found it necessary to ask his math teacher for information on vectors

      That obviously impressed me more than it did you. Instead of being like most 15yo's (me included) in maths classes muttering "year right... when are we ever going to use this stuff", this kids is thinking "hmmm... I don't know enough stuff to solve this problem yet".

      • by qwak23 (1862090)

        Related anecdote:

        I spent a bit of last year working in my organizations training department, this included updating many of our internal training materials and occasionally giving said training. The use of Mathematics is fairly commonplace where I work, even if it generally does not go beyond a high school level (most positions do not require a college degree). Seeing that many of my coworkers Math skills were fairly weak and being a Math major, I decided to put some together a brief refresher on High Sch

        • "Crap, my teacher in high school told us we would never EVER use this stuff!"

          And for most people, he was probably right. Of course, to tell everyone that they were never going to use it is another matter.

          • by qwak23 (1862090)

            "Crap, my teacher in high school told us we would never EVER use this stuff!"

            And for most people, he was probably right. Of course, to tell everyone that they were never going to use it is another matter.

            Which to me is apalling. For a teacher to state something like that just reinforces any disinterest students may already have for the topic, especially considering at that age most people have no idea what field(s) they will end up working in.

    • by manu0601 (2221348)

      they put his name forward in their article (rightly so) for having programmed the tool needed to show their hunch.

      Another way to tell the story is that labs have a huge lack of engineers capable to writing code

    • by argStyopa (232550)

      Not to mention father, who had a mildly cool idea proved true, now has this obscure idea/paper discussed everywhere because a 15 year old's name is on it.

      Well played, sir. Well played.

  • by xigxag (167441) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @08:11PM (#42499417)

    However, there's another more important point: what other obvious things we didn't really bother to check?

    Oh how I hate those pointless debate-starter questions. They come off as so amateur.

    The story stands on its own. There's no real possibility that on a Slashdot thread someone's going to come up with an obvious unchecked thing that in any way compares with this discovery. It's not a "point" anyway, it's a query.

    Not to mention the summary being incorrect anyway. It states in the article abstract that "t has previously been suspected that dwarf galaxies may not be isotropically distributed around our Galaxy, because several are correlated with streams of Hi emission, and may form coplanar groups. These suspicions are supported by recent analyses." So it's already been known about the Milky Way, this is just further analysis regarding M31, not some kind of revolutionary insight. And it only involves about half of the dwarf satellites, not all of them. Whatever. Carry on.

    • by Tom (822)

      Oh how I hate those pointless debate-starter questions. They come off as so amateur.

      Thank you !

      When I read online articles, the point where the author says "what do you think? post in the comments below" is usually the point where I stop reading because I just realized that the whole article is only there to get the author exposure, clicks, views, comments or whatever other metric he uses to measure "success" (and sell advertisement).

      It's the Wikipedia mistake all over again - everyones opinion is equally relevant. Is it? When it comes to politics, religion, fashion or some other "soft!" t

  • I think you left the stove on.

  • by Okian Warrior (537106) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @08:31PM (#42499535) Homepage Journal

    ...what other obvious things we didn't really bother to check?

    Well, let's see here:

    Economics:

    1) Sovereign debt is not like ordinary debt, so it's OK for the US to have a large deficit
    2) A little inflation is good (but we can't tell you what the best value actually is)

    Medicine:

    1) Depression is a disease, and not a consequence of another disorder (as "fever" is)
    2) Depression meds actually work
    3) Obesity can be fixed by a) diet, b) exercise, or c) eating less
    4) Every medical study that hasn't been replicated at least once [slashdot.org]

    Psychology:

    1) Seeing a psychiatrist has more benefit than not seeing one
    2) Every study which hasn't been replicated at least once [nature.com] (More info [nature.com])

    Social sciences:

    1) Every study which hasn't been replicated at least once

    Physics, Chemistry, other "hard" sciences:

    Nothing, really. Most everything of note has been replicated and confirmed by independent experimenters.

    • 3) Obesity can be fixed by a) diet, b) exercise, or c) eating less

      What? Proper diet, exercise and eating less will make you lose fat. Its not really hard to understand. Some people may burn calories more efficiently than others but that doesnt change anything. Thats like saying you can not eat, and you wont lose weight or die.

      • by Kergan (780543)

        What? Proper diet, exercise and eating less will make you lose fat. Its not really hard to understand.

        Actually, you're incorrect -- things are not so simple [youtube.com].

    • I know we like repeatable experiments as evidence, but much of the evidence in Origin of Species wasn't done experimentally. He took a number of observations, wrapped an effective explanation around it, and then looked for more evidence, altered his explanation, rinse, repeat etc. This happens to be good science, and after a lifetime of work, put forward a very compelling model, with few gaps.

      Some studies can't be reproduced. That doesn't mean it's bad science.

    • by rdnetto (955205)

      2) Depression meds actually work

      That depends. In my experience, there are two kinds of depression: the kind caused by a chemical imbalance, and the kind caused by one lifestyle/environment/perspective. Meds can only really help the first - the second is more related to the reality and how one perceives it / thinks about it, the latter of which generally benefits more from things like cognitive behaviour therapy.

  • However, there's another more important point: what other obvious things didn't we really bother to check?

    It occurs to me that we have a similar meme: Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow, however it can be surprising how long a nasty bugs can survive in code that many people look at [lwn.net] (unfortunately). Checking is not as exciting as looking for (or writing) something new.

  • Slashdot hypes article as "bright teenage coder does something TEH AWESOMEZ!!1", coders who like to think they were bright teenagers lap it up, ad impressions ensue.

  • I guess sales are down where Apple has managed to get a ban on Samsung devices.with its patent lawsuits

  • Who made the assumption that isotropic is obvious? Gravitation in rotation has always tended toward a common plane. So this would have been my assumption.

  • "Until a 15 year old student, Neil Ibata, working with his father at the astronomic observatory wanted to check it out."

    From TFA, "Neil Ibata said he completed work experience with his father’s team to learn about the computer programming language Python.

    He told the newspaper Le Monde his father asked him to help out with the coding, and they completed the remarkable modelling within the space of a weekend in September."

    My guess is "Boy, aren't you learning Python? C'mere and help me write this

    • by BenBoy (615230)
      Q: How many slashdotters does it take to change a light-bulb? A: One hundred. One to actually change the light-bulb, and ninety-nine to stand around saying "I could have done that."
  • by Jaktar (975138)

    Does this mean Pluto is a planet again? Someone check that data!

  • by asmkm22 (1902712)

    At first, I thought it was cool. Some classic story of a young kid defying odds in his back yard, or whatever.

    Then I realized he's a kid with access to a lot of resources and an observatory... not nearly as impressive.

  • Reminds me of the old fable. Sometimes all it takes is someone who isn't deeply immersed in a subject to come along and point out what has been under your nose all along (see also "wood for the trees") Of course when someone does it to you and you're supposed to the "expert" a lot of people get all huffy and defensive as if it's a personal insult. Which it isn't.

    This is why it's also sometimes best to have a troublesome problem looked at by "a second pair of eyes" as they might spot the "elephant inf the

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