April Fools - UFOs and the Humorous New Frontiers of Science

"And now for something completely different..."
Today I have posted my first April Fools arXiv paper: Detection Rates of Unidentified Moving Objects in Next Generation Time Domain Surveys. It semi-seriously explores the possibility for LSST to place real limits on the visitation rate of UFOs to our world. This is an idea I'd been kicking around for a few years - it's silly, but not altogether absurd. I'd love to know what you think!

Like many astronomers, I read the astronomy section of the arXiv (astro-ph) daily over coffee. It is a repository where researchers post manuscripts for rapid (and free) dissemination and archival.

Link of interest: When to post to arXiv? (via AstroBetter)

I became aware of April Fools paper on the arXiv a few years ago, which range from silly inside-jokes between friends to the more subtle. My favorite is when you only realize the paper is a joke after you've started reading it! These are in short supply, but every year one or two come along.

More seriously, I love that the arXiv provides a reasonably legitimate forum to publish things that are more complex than a blog post, but perhaps less rigorous than a paper. Especially given how expensive it is to publish (page charges are routinely more than $125/page for authors), the arXiv gives scientists a valuable alternative.

There is value in the absurd. 
Especially in astronomy, we must entertain the totally bizarre and fringe (at least to a point). In this age where astrophysics is becoming truly hard, less funded, and driven by massive collaborations, I have heard it said that astronomers risk becoming less creative. If you only do science that's a "sure thing", if you're not willing to speculate a little, if you haven't the guts to try something new or engage in a bit of academic creativity, then our majestic enterprise will surely fail.

So perhaps April Fools can also be a day where we shamelessly trot out some fun ideas, some semi serious or even speculative notions. We could create a Journal of Speculative Astrophysics specifically for ideas whose time may not have come just yet, one edition per annum (Fritz Zwicky could be the editor in perpetuity).

Or maybe I'll be unemployed on Tuesday! Either way, I want to believe...

A short list of other past April Fools papers...
If you know of any other real gems, drop them in the comments below or shoot me a line!!

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