Two Science News writers had the opportunity to answer questions posed by the social media site Reddit Science community on December 2, 2015. The Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) on general relativity’s 100th anniversary was Society for Science & the Public’s third AMA.
Christopher Crockett and Andrew Grant cover physics, astronomy and more for Science News, which is published by the Society and recently produced a special issue focused on Einstein’s general theory of relativity and its 100th anniversary. Most recently, Grant covered the idea to expand general relativity’s scope to involve black holes, wormholes, holograms and quantum entanglement. Crockett’s recent article explores how scientists use phenomena predicted by the theory of general relativity to study the universe.
Redditors (Reddit users) upvoted, the site’s version of liking or favoriting, Science News’ AMA over 880 times. At the conclusion of the AMA, there were 127 questions. Crockett and Grant answered 27 in an hour.
AMAs allow people to ask hosts of the Q&A session anything. Questions can stay on topic or go off on interesting tangents. Questions ranged from why Einstein didn’t receive a Nobel Prize for his work on relativity to explaining general relativity to a child. Some questioners said they were physics or astronomy students.
Answsering one question, Crockett said if general relativity didn’t exist, neither would global positioning systems (GPS). “Without relativity, we’d be stuck using maps and asking for directions,” he wrote.
“If you don’t account for the relativistic effects felt by the satellites, GPS simply doesn’t work. Clocks onboard the satellites run faster than clocks on the ground by about 38 microseconds per day. That doesn’t sound like much, but it leads to position errors building up to around 10 kilometers (6 miles) by the end of that day. At that point, turning down the wrong street would be the least of your problems. You would have turned into the wrong town instead.”
– Christopher Crockett
Other questions asked why some science news is sensationalized and how to become a science writer. Crockett was involved in exoplanet research for a while — and “got really good at not finding them,” he said. The tediousness of research was difficult and he enjoyed finding out new discoveries, so he applied for a science writing fellowship through AAAS. After 10 weeks of writing for Scientific American, Crockett said he was hooked. Grant majored in physics, but was terrified of becoming a physicist. He combines his passions of science and journalism at Science News.
The Reddit AMA ended, but you can still view the Q&A.