This week IPMU (Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe), in the spirit of bringing together mathematicians and physicists, is hosting the focus week Statistical Frontiers of Astrophysics. Even though I am neither an astrophysicist nor a statistician, I am attending part of the lectures. (After all, looking at the stars was a favorite pastime of mine when I was little.) Whereas in my field, we are forced to come up with theoretical models in the absence of experimental data, the problem of astrophysicists consists in extracting meaningful information from a giant data collection.
Astronomy is an observational science. Unlike in my own field, an enormous amount of data is available to the astrophysicist.
The times when astronomers pointed their telescopes at the night sky and and cataloged by hand what they saw are over. In recent years, very potent instruments to measure what’s up in the sky have become available. The one best known to the public is probably the Hubble Space Telescope. (more…)