Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?
Science Technology

The Key To Astronomy Has Often Been Serendipity 51

Ars Technica has a great look at just how often serendipity plays a part in major astronomy advances. From Galileo to the accidental discovery of cosmic microwaves, it seems that it is still better to be lucky than good. "But what's stunning is a catalog of just how common this sort of event has been. Herschell was looking for faint stars when he happened across the planet Uranus, while Piazi was simply creating a star catalog when he observed the object that turned out to be the first asteroid to ever be described, Ceres I."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Key To Astronomy Has Often Been Serendipity

Comments Filter:
  • This is surprising? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Friday January 01, 2010 @01:16PM (#30614832)
    Luck has always and probably always will play a strong role in science. The fact that the first blood transfusion happened to work was mostly luck, had it not worked out well it would've probably been quite some time before somebody tried again. Watson and Crick getting to the double helix first required a bit of luck as they probably wouldn't've gotten there first if they weren't lucky enough to be able to get x-ray crystallography from a different research institution.
  • by panthroman ( 1415081 ) on Friday January 01, 2010 @01:34PM (#30614932) Homepage

    Maybe important findings get publicity and "breakthrough!" status only if they're somewhat surprising? If folks chip away at a problem for 20 years, even if the result is the same as waiting 19 years and then having a eureka discovery, is it still called a breakthrough?

  • Meh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Futile Rhetoric ( 1105323 ) on Friday January 01, 2010 @01:52PM (#30615022)

    There are so many things going on out there that you are likely to stumble upon something that in hindsight appears serendipitous. You may have won a lottery, but since you have tickets to million different ones, it's not that amazing really.

  • Re:The Sky is Big (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PPH ( 736903 ) on Friday January 01, 2010 @10:05PM (#30618566)

    Look at vulcanized rubber for example, it was a complete accident. Goodyear had the basics in place, but it wasn't until he accidentally dropped some of it on the iron stove he was using to boil it in sulphur, and bingo!

    But that discovery was limited in that it could only find things involving a hot stove and a piece of rubber. Astronomers have to search everywhere for evidence to support their research.

    Imagine what might have been growing in the refrigerator that your Goodyear scientist missed by not looking there as well.

Nothing is finished until the paperwork is done.