A Machine Astronomer Could Help Us Find the Unknowns in the UniverseWhat have…

A Machine Astronomer Could Help Us Find the Unknowns in the Universe

What have pulsars, quasars, dark matter and dark energy got in common? Answer: each of them took the discoverer by surprise. While much of science advances carefully and methodically, the majority of truly spectacular discoveries in astronomy are unexpected.

Many of our telescopes are built to discover the known unknowns: the things we know we don’t know, such as identifying the stuff that makes up dark matter.

But the real breakthroughs are the unknown unknowns. These are the things we don’t even suspect are out there until we accidentally find them.

For example, of the ten greatest discoveries by the Hubble space telescope, only one featured in the proposal used to justify its construction and launch. That one, measuring the rate of expansion of the universe, is a known unknown.

In other words, we had a question about something that we knew about, and we thought Hubble could answer the question. Most of the other discoveries are unknown unknowns: we didn’t know what they were until we stumbled across them.

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