Meteorites, dark matter and statistics - December issue preview

What are the chances of a deadly meteor strike? It's a question that has concerned humanity for millennia - and one that we set out to answer in the December issue of Significance. It forms part of a special astrostatistics section, featuring ten articles exploring how the disciplines of astronomy and statistics are coming together to solve some of the biggest mysteries in modern science.

I have been fascinated with astronomy and cosmology since the age 14 when, on a week-long school trip, our science teacher snuck us out of the house we were staying in for some midnight stargazing. Out in the countryside, away from the light pollution of the city, we were able to catch a partial glimpse of the thick band of stars that make up the Milky Way.

The beauty and enormity of what I saw sparked a lifelong interest in all things space-related. To this day, I hungrily devour books on the subject, as well as popular science articles highlighting the latest discoveries. But I suspect my enthusiasm for space will always be tinged with the disappointment that I possess neither the skills nor the requisite knowledge to advance humanity’s understanding of the cosmos.

The same cannot be said for statisticians, who are finding themselves as valued partners to astronomers and cosmologists in helping sort and make sense of the mass of data being collected by space probes, telescopes and satellite arrays.

Across 28 pages this issue, we have a stellar line-up of astronomers, astrophysicists and statisticians explaining the workings of the universe and the part statistics plays in helping unravel the endless mysteries of space.

Our astrostatistics special is thanks in no small part to Joseph Hilbe, who dedicated himself tirelessly and enthusiastically to recruiting a fantastic collection of contributors for Significance readers to enjoy, and for that I am hugely grateful.

Back on Earth, Maimuna Majumder explores the challenges facing epidemiologists as they try to model and contain the spread of West Africa’s Ebola outbreak. Tim Harford takes 'big data' advocates to task for ignoring the statistical lessons of the past. And Nisha Owen introduces an algorithm to help conservationists prioritise which animals to save from extinction, based on measures of evolutionary distinctiveness.

This being the festive season, we could not let it pass without a suitably themed article, so you'll also find the statistician’s guide to organising a cracking good Christmas party

The full contents list for December's magazine can be found here. Print copies are incoming, but if you are a Royal Statistical Society or American Statistical Association member, log in to your respective members' areas to access the digital edition today. Non-member subscribers can access the digital edition here.