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Ask The Bad Astronomer

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the but-nothing-dirty-this-time dept.

Space 412

Astronomer, author, columnist, and successful populizer of science Phil Plait, perhaps best known as The Bad Astronomer, is a regular sight on Slashdot for his unusual ability to find lucid explanations of esoteric scientific claims and controversies. Phil has graciously agreed to answer Slashdot readers' questions, so ask him below about space, science, debunking conspiracy claims, and anything else that makes sense. Asking more than one question is fine (and encouraged!), but please separate unrelated questions into separate posts, lest your questions be moderated down.

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Why did you pick such a confusing name? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821202)

Why not the "Accurate Astronomer" or at the least "Not Bad Astronomer." I know science is your thing and not English, but your use of an adjective is just confusing.

Re:Why did you pick such a confusing name? (1)

acklenx (646834) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821266)

I do not think that word means what you think that it means

Re:Why did you pick such a confusing name? (1)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821380)

Maybe because his Webpage, not a blog or twitter account was named Bad Astronomy there is a theme.

Could also be for Caveman Lawyer reasons: I may just be a bad astronomer, hollywood, but I don't think there's no noise supposed to be coming from your improperly banking and turning spacecraft in those motion pictures you put on.

Doing this for some time (4, Funny)

0racle (667029) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821236)

You've been doing The Bad Astronomer thing for a while. How come you haven't become a better astronomer by now?

Re:Doing this for some time (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821704)

The Bad Astronomer (2011)

Gambler. Thief. Junkie. Killer. Astronomer.

"A university Astronomer goes about his daily tasks of investigating extra-terrestrials, but is more interested in pursuing his vices. He has accumulated a massive debt betting on baseball, and he keeps doubling to try to recover. His bookies are beginning to get agitated. The Astronomer does copious amounts of drugs, cavorts with prostitutes, and uses his status to take advantage of teenage girls. While investigating a nun's rape, he begins to reflect on his lifestyle."

Re:Doing this for some time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37822042)

Your wife has been doing The Bad Astronomer for a while. Are you worried that she might have switched to a better astronomer by now?

Why does anything exist? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821258)

Why does matter exist? Why does energy exist?

Wouldn't it make more sense for the universe to be empty?

Misinformation. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821276)

What do you see as contributing to a seemingly large wealth of misinformation about the sciences?

Also, do you agree or disagree with Slashdot's one question per post requirements?

Will you... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821302)

Will you sign my breasts?

Guy Manly

Combating Psuedo-Science (3, Insightful)

earls (1367951) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821316)

What is the best way to combat pushers of psudeo-science like the Electric Universe?

More Bad Universe (1)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821318)

When do we get more?

History Channel's Ancient Aliens (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821326)

Have you seen this series? What do you think about its conclusions?

Re:History Channel's Ancient Aliens (1)

hexghost (444585) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821742)

lol he'll love that one...

and by the way, why is that show on so often? I swear, every other week they play it..

Re:History Channel's Ancient Aliens (3, Insightful)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821880)

Dunno about the Bad Astronomer, but *my* conclusion is that everyone would be better served if "ancient alien" and "ghost-hunting" programs were shifted off channels like History and Discovery and onto something dedicated to "off-beat" theories. I disagree with censorship, but I also disagree with mixing educational documentaries and conspiracy theorists on the same channel. You either dilute the value of the educational stuff or you give false credibility to the nutcases.

This isn't to say that I believe the channels shouldn't air unorthodox views - they should, provided it is good science. Nor am I saying that the channels should show all documentaries that fit the orthodoxy - if it's pseudoscience, it's pseudoscience no matter who it agrees with. In fact, I'd be more worried about bad science that attempts to "prove" something that is true, since that is more likely to pervert the casual viewer's ability to critically reason.

These "science" channels are a big reason why we're becoming an Idiocracy.

They should exist - and debunk it! (4, Interesting)

DG (989) | more than 2 years ago | (#37822106)

Those shows should ABSOLUTELY exist - and they should be dedicated to debunking them as completely and unassailably as possible.

Spend the first third of the show explaining the myth; spend the next 2 thirds ripping it to pieces.


Alien Life (1)

runner_one (455793) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821344)

What is your opinion on the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, and what if any, in your opinion, are the odds that we will ever make meaningful contact?

Re:Alien Life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821972)

Space travel itself seems to me to be a rather large obstacle. Gaining enough speed to get anywhere in any amount of time has its hurtles (energy requirements), and if you were to find the means reach near light speed, your craft and occupants would be perforated be even space dust and debris.

Space 'race' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821346)

Would you like to see an honest to goodness space 'race' be setup to spure inovation, interest, and investment into space exploration? I mean a real race akin to the land speed record or the race to break the sound barrier in the early age of flight. Voyager is currently our fastest man-made object but I'm pretty sure we could easily beat 11miles/sec if we actually tried. If this were to be setup, do you think it would benefit exploration more or less than having some other goal in mind like mining for resources or establishing a human outpost?

The universe (4, Interesting)

arehm (794243) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821356)

What is the universe expanding into?

Re:The universe (2)

dargaud (518470) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821720)

Into itself. It's a geometry problem, fully described by equations without the need to involve an 'out of this universe' space. Think "what is behind the north pole" ? When you ask a stupid question you get a stupid answer (like '42' or 'god').

Re:The universe (1)

pseudochaos (1014063) | more than 2 years ago | (#37822016)

When a boat appears on the horizon, only the top of it is visible. As the boat approaches the viewer more of the boat is revealed. This is the classic proof that the Earth is spherical.

When light passes something electromagnetically active, it shifts its direction of travel in a predictable way in relation to the electromagnet. google: faraday rotation
When light passes a body of mass, it shifts its direction in a predictable way. google: Einstein's relativity (not Galilean)

The progressive revealing of the sailboat (always top to bottom) proves that the Earth is spherical, but there is no such equivalent for the "fabric of the universe." Rather, light demonstrably bends around things that are electromagnetically active (all matter) since the 1800's. Because light bends in different directions, based upon where the matter is located, it is a false analogy to compare the bending of light around matter to the sailboat scenario.

Now that I've dispelled the most common justification for a spherical hyper-dimensional universe, please provide another justification for it. Just because you write it off as obvious does not make it so.

One last thing: "into itself?" Wouldn't that make it smaller as it gets bigger; in other words, stay the same size?

Star Trek or Star Wars. (4, Interesting)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821364)

Which do you find more annoying.
Star Trek which can spend a good portion of the show trying to explain how and why they break the laws of physics.
Star Wars which breaks the laws of physics but doesn't care to explain themselves.

Re:Star Trek or Star Wars. (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821418)

ST:TOS didn't do that. Which is why it's awesome.

SW 1-3 had to invent Midichlorians. Which is why it sucks.

Astrology (2)

charlieo88 (658362) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821366)

How can I make astrology buffs see the error of their ways? Barring that, what is the best way short of setting them on fire, to prevent them from entering an astronomy conversation?

Does the universe stop when I go to sleep? (1)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821386)

Does the universe stop moving when I go to sleep? Can you prove it?

I know events can be perceived to "happen" whilst I sleep- but can we be sure these are not just figments caused by the universe rebooting?

Will the universe cease to exist when I die? Again- can you prove it?

Re:Does the universe stop when I go to sleep? (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821444)

I'm pretty sure that anyone could prove that it continues to exist after you do... just not to you.

Re:Does the universe stop when I go to sleep? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821738)

You should probably save these questions for our next feature, "Ask the Bad Philosopher".

Light pollution (5, Insightful)

Frenzied Apathy (2473340) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821388)

There are a large number of light pollution [] articles to be found on the Sky and Telescope [] website. We amateur astronomers are keenly aware that light pollution isn't just about being able to see more stars from our backyard. Yet, when I mention the subject to friends, family, co-workers, etc, I often get a blank stare. "What's 'light pollution'?" What do you think can/should be done to improve widespread public awareness of light pollution and its effects?

Don't Be A dick? (1, Insightful)

wbtittle (456702) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821400)

How do you make the assessment to jump over threshhold and be dick anyway?

There are times when it is necessary to ignore the rules.

Pie in the Sky (5, Interesting)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821406)

If you could give Apollo-level funding to a single NASA program, what would it be? Would you direct that money internally or involve private space companies?

Finally, what do you think of lunar-based observatories from a cost vs. performance standpoint?

Overlapping disciplines (1)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821412)

Some of the most interesting science being done now is where two traditional fields overlap. What fields combined with astronomy are making the most interesting discoveries?

Hey Phil (2)

Average_Joe_Sixpack (534373) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821414)

What date and time will Eta Carinae go hyper-nova?

So how much... (0)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821420)

So how much does "The Man" pay you to dribble out lies to debunk what we know is true.

Death Star (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821426)

Some months ago I read a short note that claimed the Death Star weapon was impossible. This claim was that current lasers are nearly powerful enough to "break down" the fabric of space and couldn't be made more powerful. What is this "Fabric of Space" and how would it break down?



Why does mass warp space? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821428)

We've all seen the the domonstration of putting a bowling ball on a rubber sheet, and showing how a marble rolls around in curves, indicating that the presence of mass warps space and creating gravity. But I've never seen an explanation of WHY mass warps space. Can you explain that?

---Selden McCabe, Carlsbad, CA

Re:Why does mass warp space? (1)

broginator (1955750) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821538)

I'm pretty sure that's why they built the LHC.

Re:Why does mass warp space? (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821546)

No one knows the answer to this "why". It's like asking why is the Universe the way it is. A silly question. Suppose you knew the answer. Well, try making an answer up and see where it leads you.

Re:Why does mass warp space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821866)

In a way, I agree with you that it is a "silly" question. But I'll bet there is an answer... maybe something like extra dimensions, or string theory, or something. And if there is an answer, and we discover it, then we might be able to warp space to our own purposes e.g. faster than light travel, or anti-gravity, etc.

Rumor mill (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821436)

Rumor has it you ride a unicorn made of bacon, Guinness, and awesomeness into work. Are you free to confirm or deny this?

Dark Flow (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821458)

What do you think is driving the motion of galaxies centered on the constellations Centaurus and Hydra?

What do you think is the bigger threat? (5, Insightful)

UberOogie (464002) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821468)

Given your unique position, I'd like to know your answer to this question:

What do you think is the currently a bigger threat to legitimate science:
- The growing wave of anti-intellectualism and anti-science that seemingly rejects science outright on certain issues
- Or the growing wave of pseudo-science that undercuts science by adopting the trappings of science but none of its procedures?

Thank you for your time.

Re:What do you think is the bigger threat? (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821662)

What makes you think the two are unrelated?

Re:What do you think is the bigger threat? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821774)

What makes you think the two are unrelated?

Different mindset. eccentric vs incompetent.

Standard /. car analogy #1 : I reject the concept of fuel injectors on religious grounds, therefore my roadster has an ancient 70s era carburetor, and I lose all the races because I'm slow, but I know god loves me.

Standard /. car analogy #2 : I R an expurt car mekanic and I will now tune up yer (fuel injected) car using dis hear can o carb cleaner spray. Umm wheres da choke linkage? Well anyway, tune in next time when I install philips head screws using my hammer, and diagnose my cd player skipping problem by sniffing the muffler exhaust.

Swirly flat pancake thing... (3, Interesting)

shic (309152) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821470)

A question that's bugged me for years.

Whenever I've been shown a picture of any galaxy, I've noted a swirly thing as flat as a pancake.

My question: Why are galaxies "flat as a pancake"? If the universe arose from random gas clouds, I'd not expect stable swirling galaxies - at least not on every occasion... I'd have expected to see a cluster of bodies tumbling chaotically. What gives?

Re:Swirly flat pancake thing... (1)

LanMan04 (790429) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821510)

Re:Swirly flat pancake thing... (1)

shic (309152) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821548)

:) I understand how the angular momentum is conserved. What I want to know is where it came from in the first place.

Re:Swirly flat pancake thing... (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821652)

Recently, if I'm not mistaken, they proved (or at least suggested) the Big Bang Singularity was spinning, and thus ... had angular momentum to start. And that explains the "left handedness" of the spin in the universe.

Re:Swirly flat pancake thing... (1)

dargaud (518470) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821754)

It's being hotly debated at the moment...

Re:Swirly flat pancake thing... (1)

xiox (66483) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821834)

The dark matter in the universe started with a random fluctuation field - see the pictures of the cosmic background radiation. The random distribution gives a tidal torque on matter, giving it angular momentum. As the dark matter collapses into smaller and smaller regions, the angular momentum is conserved. When smaller sub-units of matter collide together the momentum will also build up. See Peebles 1969 [] for one of the first papers.

Re:Swirly flat pancake thing... (3, Insightful)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821908)

Initially, a galaxy would be just an enormous cloud of hydrogen, swirling around its gravitational center in essentially random directions. However, owing to the fact that it is not ever perfectly symmetrical, the angular momentum of the matter will not perfectly cancel out and there will always be some net angular momentum in one direction (which itself may have precession). Matter will thus have a tendency to be drawn into a plane perpendicular to the axis of the galaxy's net angular momentum through the pull of gravity... and the more matter that gets pulled into the plane, the faster it pulls other matter into the plane. Within a relatively short time (in cosmological terms), you end up with a distinct accretion disk forming around the gravitational center of the hydrogen cloud. This accretion disk eventually forms individual stars (although it's possible that stars could form outside of the disk, it is unlikely because it would not generally be close enough to enough other matter to get large enough for fusion to begin). Each star, in turn, may develop its own accretion disk that becomes the planets that circle it through the exact same process.

Re:Swirly flat pancake thing... (1)

Twinbee (767046) | more than 2 years ago | (#37822104)

Great answer - thanks.

Re:Swirly flat pancake thing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821804)

The "flat pancake" galaxy that you are describing is called a Spiral Galaxy. Our galaxy, the "Milky Way", is one of these but there are several different types of galaxies. Elliptical, ring, dwarf, and then you have the transitional body galaxies that are formed when two or more galaxies interact with each other and merge into one larger galaxy. Often these are just blobs orbiting each other until they form a more stable structure.
The reason that you see spiral galaxies most often is because it is the model that we understand best since we have the most chance of observing it being as it is all around us.

Astronomy for kids in developing countries (1, Troll)

E IS mC(Square) (721736) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821492)

What's the best way to introduce astronomy to kids in developing countries? Or, to put it in a different way, how would you get kids interested in astronomy without help of latest technology (other than a decent pair of binoculars)? A related questions would be - what would make the best first impact on them? (The idea is to make that one big impression in the beginning so that they are interested in it from the go).

Re:Astronomy for kids in developing countries (2)

mcmonkey (96054) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821612)

Another question is how to introduce astronomy to kids in developed counties, in areas where light pollution prevents them from seeing stars when they look up to the night's sky.

Re:Astronomy for kids in developing countries (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821828)

I've lived in both urban and rural, and light pollution is nasty, but a bigger problem I have had is its either above 80 or below 50 or raining or snowing or ten thirsty mosquitos per cubic inch or foggy ... But for about two weeks in spring and fall I have a blast stargazing.

Re:Astronomy for kids in developing countries (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821656)

First things first - get them interested in looking up! Find a nice location with a minimum of light pollution. Teach them about the constellations and their back-stories (PG version, of course). There's a wealth of material there to engage young minds. Once they're interested in scanning the sky, chances are they'll start wondering about exactly what they're looking at. Play on a kid's natural curiosity from there.

Re:Astronomy for kids in developing countries (1)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821960)

What's the best way to introduce astronomy to kids in developing countries? Or, to put it in a different way, how would you get kids interested in astronomy without help of latest technology (other than a decent pair of binoculars)? A related questions would be - what would make the best first impact on them? (The idea is to make that one big impression in the beginning so that they are interested in it from the go).

Get to a dark sky and point out constellations. Have kids draw the bright objects in the sky. Wait a couple hours and have them draw the sky again. Wait a week and then do drawings at the same time of night. Repeat for a month.

Talk about the various motions you've observed together. You'll see the Earth's rotation, the Moon's orbit and lack of rotation relative to Earth, the Moon's orientation changing with respect to the Sun (phases), the Moon falling behind the stars as each week passes, planets changing location, and if you bring binoculars (you should) you can do a parallel project in a single night to see Jupiter's brightest satellites changing position in just a few hours.

A lot of kids like to do things rather than hear about them. This gets them doing real observational experiments and lets them make the interpretive translation of data to an understanding of behavior.

Theories (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821496)

It's always been a pet peeve of mine as to why people so adamantly believe and support something so ludicrous as "The Big Bang" theory? Aside from the stupid name, the idea that all the universe began from a single huge explosion doesn't match the current thought that the universe is infinite. How can it be infinite if it started from somewhere. Is it possible for one to believe the universe and stars have always been there and always will, ever-changing and always moving in any number of directions and that we haven't observed enough of our area to realize it?

Re:Theories (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821968)

Actually, last I checked, the current thought was that the universe is not infinite.

Even then, the Big Bang theory doesn't actually claim that there was a "single huge explosion", as that would require time and space existing before they existed.

sh1t (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821506)

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Gravity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821524)

Dear The Bad Astronomer,

I am wondering what causes gravity to be possible. I pondered for several months that gravity comes to be through the transference of minute or massive energy between its surrounding masses. If you can, please explain.

Thank you.

Gerard K. O'Neill and Space Exploitation (1)

Banichi (1255242) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821526)

Was his plan for the Human Colonization and Exploitation of Space [] a realistic one, given the new things we've learned in various fields of research over the last 50 years?

Has anyone come up with a better long term plan for either Colonization or Exploitation?

Superconductors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821532)

Will a room temperature superconductor ever be discovered? What makes a material able to be a superconductor?

Electromagnetic waves (1)

Pouic (1051024) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821534)

do have a transmission medium (aether, ether, ), just like sound waves do propagate in air, don't they? D. Brisset [] was onto something big in 1911 (ToE inside, in French).

Oh me! Pick me! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821540)

Do you find joy in anything that goes against the mainstream? I get the impression you're the kind of person who would pick up a SF novel, discover it mentions "faster than light travel" and write an angry letter to the author enumerating how he's wrong and a bad person to boot.

Funding for small, interdisciplanary projects (2)

LeDopore (898286) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821552)

I've noticed a disturbing trend that as funding levels drop, agencies are receding more to their core areas of study and leaving interdisciplinary scientists high and dry. Furthermore, it seems that there's an inverse relationship between the fund-ability of a project and its efficiency: if a (say) particle physics project is so inefficient it requires 1000 scientists 10 years to get 1 bit of data (like the Top quark discovery) then they're guaranteed to have well-coordinated funding and lobbying effort, whereas projects that deliver results on only a shoestring budget might not have enough people working on them to get any funding at all.

I'm working at the interface between neuroscience and algorithm theory, and I've already made some very interesting discoveries using borrowed time/funding, but I have trouble shopping my ideas to either pure neuroscience/medical funding agencies (who don't understand the math) or to computer science funding agencies (who don't appreciate the biology). Both sides seem generally excited and encouraging, but neither is willing to fund my future research, since (despite a promising track record) I'm out of the expertise of anyone out there.

My question is, are we doomed to a future dominated by big science projects working in entrenched specialties on the least-efficient, longest-term, too-big-to-fail science investigations out there? If not, how do we promote efficient, small-scale, interdisciplinary project funding?

Uranus (2)

TheDawgLives (546565) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821554)

How do you pronounce the name of the seventh planet from the Sun? I'm in favor of Futurama's solution: rename it to Urrectum.

Re:Uranus (1)

rickett81 (987309) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821806)

In 8th grade, I asked my science teacher: "Mr Williams, is Uranus [your-anus] a gas giant?"

Re:Uranus (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821886)

I support the Greek pronunciation to solve that problem: U (well, upsilon, really) is always 'ooh' as in 'food', and A (again, alpha really) is 'ah' as in 'ramen'. So you get something like 'ooh-rah-noose'.

Re:Uranus (1)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 2 years ago | (#37822008)

Use the same emphasis and timing you'd use to say Maximus or Tacitus and say the words "urine us."

Energy Catalyzer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821600)

What are your thoughts on the buzz surrounding the "Energy Catalyzer" ( Have you avoided it because you suspect it's another inevitable energy sham and don't want to give it any press, bad or otherwise? Or have I just been a bad follower and missed a number of posts you've already made on the subject?

Schumann Resonance (2)

Natales (182136) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821602)

With all the resurgence of hysteria due to 2012 as well as recent major earthquakes, pseudo-scientific explanations to otherwise natural phenomena are becoming the norm of the day.

One of the ones I've seen more lately are two:

1) The Schumman Resonance [] , commonly distorted to explain the upcoming "elevation of frequency" or the Earth entering into an "electromagnetic null zone" whatever that means.

2) The HAARP [] as a weapon to produce and trigger earthquakes.

If you could give us a set of precise and concise good shot answers that could help debunk those myths for the layman, it would greatly help to try to make people think more critically for a change... Thanks!

Re:Schumann Resonance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37822060)

Check out the conspiracy theory section of the BAUT Forums. These have been discussed quite a bit, and despite the doomsday loonies acting, well, loony, the discussions are quite fun, informative, and pretty easy to follow.

Trends in misconceptions (3, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821604)

Do you see long term trends in various misconceptions?

It seems subjectively to me that the "vernal equinox egg" deal was WAY more popular in the 80s. Its a random variable on the timescale of a couple years.

Other misconceptions, like "the far side of the moon is always dark" or "the moon always rises at sunset and sets at sunrise" has a relatively constant rate of mis-belief over time.

Another type of misconception is the flash in the pan like the "face on mars" which gets intense media attention for awhile and then fades (permanently?) into obscurity.

Do you see any general trends in the distribution of the three types of misconceptions over time, like one getting more or less popular or ... maybe due to social media or something?

Bad celebrity science (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821622)

Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw recently tried to answer questions on the big bang and other curios of modern cosmology in The Guardian newspaper. It's hard to tell if they were dumbing down the science for the readers, but the general consensus was that their explanations were neither helpful nor informative. This isn't an indictment of their abilities, as there have been countless celebrity scientists in the media who have made a pig's ear of explaining things. Now, science SHOULD be explained, but clearly the level of the explanations needs work.

Assuming the objective is to reduce misunderstandings, what would be the right level to pitch the more complex aspects of astronomy and cosmology?

2012 Hysteria Waning or Waxing? (2)

Bonker (243350) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821630)


I was recently reading through some of the '2012 hysteria' on your site and your affiliates... mostly responses to uneducated or superstitious people who've bought into the 'The End is Nigh' madness.

Since I grew up in a similar environment, I've also been watching the apocalyptic religious fervor surrounding people like Harold Camping with some horror.

My understanding is that this kind of thing tends to peak near century markers... 'End of the Century == End of the World', so theoretically, the silliness should be tapering off. Right?

What is your experience on this? Are we seeing a slowdown to the 'End of World' craziness, or is it going to get worse?

Sounds in spacecraft (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821674)

So everyone knows how post WWII era fictional spaceships sound like P-51 engines, 80s era fictional spaceships all sound like F-16s, and I was curious if there are any recent trends in "fictional spacecraft sounds" that I'm missing that you know about. Do you think that Star Trek 15 or whatever will have the Enterprise sound like the iphone unlock sound? I was thinking with the popularity of military UAVs we might be in for an era of model airplane sounds and flexing radio control servos. Donno. What do you think?

Man V Robot (2)

rish87 (2460742) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821686)

In your opinion, what is more important during the next 50 years and why: sending humans or sending robots on 'exploration' type missions?

What do you think of the flat earth society ? (1)

dargaud (518470) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821688)

Do they have a leg to stand on ? []

Re:What do you think of the flat earth society ? (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 2 years ago | (#37822114)

The real myth is that there *is* a flat earth society. Anyone can put up a website. What you are seeing is the results of a debating society, the "members" don't have to really believe that crap. It's the same way you can hire a lawyer to defend you no matter how guilty you are.

Bad Universe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821700)

Thought Bad U was awesome and hoped it would be ongoing, but I've only seen two episodes aired ... any chance for more?

Tidally Locked Lunar Enlightenment (2)

Bastian227 (107667) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821730)

If our moon weren't tidally locked, would early cultures have entertained sooner the idea the Earth is round?

jupiter's orbital"responsible" for sunspot-rythm?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821746)

what to is think about the theory of Mr. Heeke, that the sunspots-rythm (11 years) is caused by rotation of the planets around the sun - jupiter has the highest mass, and it's orbital period is also about 11 years (!) it's gravitational forces on the sun provoke some kind of "shaker-effects" inside the sun - this would also "explain" the big red dot of jupiter!!! (see )

The Santa Claus Effect (1)

Lev13than (581686) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821788)

When you were a child there were undoubtedly some science fictions that you believed to be facts (e.g., sound in space, dinosaurs and men, cats and dogs living together). Are there any examples of how realizing the truth was a particularly cathartic act? How did these revelations shape your decision to become a scientist?

What is your take on Dyson Spheres? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821792)

I have read elsewhere that Dyson Spheres could be how aliens could be generating the energy they need. I am wondering what technology we need to develop on this earth to make our Sun a Dyson Sphere.


How will humanity end? (1)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821810)

Meteor collision, alien invasion, dying Sol, or heat death of universe?

Spin this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821812)

Is there any relevance to the direction of spin of planets, etc., in the universe?

Is the past is viewable in one direction or all? (1)

Cragen (697038) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821832)

1. Astronomers view light that was created in the past. Is the past is viewable in all directions or just one? (If my laymans' view of the "view of the past via light" is way off, please tell me how that works.) If the past is viewable in all directions, the stuff you are looking at is on the rim of the expansion which seems backwards to what I would have guessed. 2. Here on earth, things speed up or accelerate either due to a force from the initial event or an external force (like gravity, energy addition, etc.). Is the accelerating expansion of our universe due to the initial event? If so, how? (Maybe that is where all the "missing anti-gravity" is. lol) Thanks.

Re:Is the past is viewable in one direction or all (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#37822100)

1. Astronomers view light that was created in the past. Is the past is viewable in all directions or just one?

I'm predicting you're about to get hit with the classic "inflating balloon" analogy. That is boring, because its the only analogy I've heard for the past 30 years. Does anyone have an analogy other than ye olde inflating balloon? I'm not interested in extremely close analogies (like the effect on tattoos of silicone enlargement of sorta spherical parts, or how the stamped manufacturers info changes when inflating a kickball).

Don't be a Dick (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37821850)

Just saw the "don't be a dick" lecture for the first time about a week ago, and your description of the moment when that Young Creationist began to see you as a fellow human being rather than an ideological enemy was the most beautiful thing I've heard in a long time. If I'm not wrong, you were kinda choked up, and so was I.

How do you think the web can be made into a better vehicle for human interaction and exchange of ideas? Seems the Internet now allows us to interact with people from all over the world instantaneously, and we've used this formidable power for questionable activities like anonymous chat board trolling (being dicks) and porn/cybersex (being obsessed with our dicks).

What do you see as the barriers to making the Internet a medium to reach more folks like that Young Creationist, to build understanding rather than take potshots at each other?

Space junk (4, Interesting)

dcsmith (137996) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821852)

How serious is the amount of 'space junk' orbiting Earth? Will it have a substantial impact on the future of space flight, manned or otherwise? What are some of the best (or at least most innovative) ideas you've heard about for deorbiting big junk or cleaning up smaller bits of debris?

newtrino's (1)

Kerstyun (832278) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821854)

Nothing can travell faster then light but yet these newtrino's can travell faster than light so does that prove once and foreall that God exist's because only He can do the impassable?

How long do we put up with dark matter (3, Interesting)

gr8_phk (621180) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821934)

How long do we have to put up with the notion of "Dark Matter"? Whenever I research this, I come back to the "galactic rotation problem" as the most solid evidence. This discrepancy between prediction and observation is clearly rooted in the prediction being wrong. Keplers Laws do not apply to stars in galaxies. Hand waving and incorrect use of Gauss's Law have been going on for decades and we need it to stop. Why do people keep looking for "new physics" when they don't fully understand the physics we have?

light speed and causality (1)

bzipitidoo (647217) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821942)

I read that it is impossible to travel or even send information faster than light. But the explanations are bad. If you are in a car traveling at 50% of light speed (0.5c) and you turn on the headlights, for you the light will move away from you at lightspeed because your time is slowed. To stationary (relatively speaking) observers, you will be traveling at 0.5c and the light from your headlights will look like it is traveling at c from their point of view, instead of 1.5c, because time is moving faster for them.

A simple extrapolation has your time moving backward if you should somehow be able to move faster than the light from your own headlights, so that it will still look to you as if that light is moving away from you at lightspeed. Then we detour into all sorts of causality problems, and this often gets held up as the explanation, when it seems more like a consequence. Common sense suggests FTL signals should be possible without violating causality, without it being necessary to run time backwards. Of course something else would have to give. Perhaps vacuum is not the fastest medium, and signals can travel faster when in a special conduit.

How would you explain the cosmic speed limit?

Predictions? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#37821980)

Here's a good one:

Make us some predictions about bad astronomy in the future.

I'm guessing the 2012 crowd will be pretty disappointed in 2013 and looking for something new. What do you think will be the new hotness in flakiness? Do you think its even possible to predict?

My theory is flakiness reflects societal concerns. So the rednecks were "worried" about gay people getting civil rights, next thing you know we're deluged with UFO's doing probing of bubbas rearward areas. Following that line of thinking, now that the UK is spy camera crazy, and the sickness is spreading to the US and elsewhere, I'm predicting, some bad science will be orbiting alien space telescopes spying on us in 2013. You heard it first here on /. ...

astronomy of Game of Thrones (1)

fmobus (831767) | more than 2 years ago | (#37822028)

For those who are not reading/watching it, a huge aspect of that world is that seasons are quite irregular and unpredictable, with winters or summer having sometimes three years, other times lasting up to six or seven years. Apparently, sometimes there are even longer winters, but those are quite rare.

So, my question is: is it possible for a planet to have Game of Thrones-esque seasons? My guess is that it would require some really weird orbit around a binary start system, but I'd guess such orbits can't possible be stable. Any ideas?

asteroid belt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37822066)

In sci-fi series and films we often see asteroid belts where the asteroids are so densely clustered that ships can barely pass through them (star trek, star wars). and while this is highly inaccurate, how does that compare to something like the rings of Saturn (or other planetary rings). are they more like the asteroid belts on TV or a sandstorm etc?

Holographic Storage (1)

ElBorba (221626) | more than 2 years ago | (#37822094)

What is holographic storage and how does it work?

I've been fascinated by holograms for decades and read a couple of pseudo-scientific books on the subject but that was many years ago. Is there a future for holography or have we moved beyond the umbrella concept into more application-specific development?

Thank you Dr. Bad (or BA?)

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