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Space Science

Ask The Bad Astronomer 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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Ask The Bad Astronomer

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  • Misinformation. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 24, 2011 @02:23PM (#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?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 24, 2011 @02:26PM (#37821326)

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

  • The universe (Score:4, Interesting)

    by arehm ( 794243 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @02:29PM (#37821356)
    What is the universe expanding into?
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @02:30PM (#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.

  • Pie in the Sky (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Colonel Korn ( 1258968 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @02:33PM (#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?

  • by shic ( 309152 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @02:37PM (#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?

  • Space junk (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dcsmith ( 137996 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @03:01PM (#37821852) Homepage
    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?
  • by gr8_phk ( 621180 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @03:06PM (#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?
  • by DG ( 989 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @03:17PM (#37822106) Homepage Journal

    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.


  • by BeardedChimp ( 1416531 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @03:28PM (#37822272)

    In science a simple misconception can lead to thousands and millions of people being skeptical and disbelieving. For example the large number of people who think that humans evolved from chimpanzees rather than sharing a common ancestor.

    In astronomy what misconception would you class as most dangerous to the general publics understanding?

  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @03:46PM (#37822636) Homepage

    Or, more in the spirit of Slashdot: "What is the best way to combat pushers of pseudo-science like deniers of anthropogenic climate change?"

    I think his response to that would engender a much stronger response here.

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @04:18PM (#37823184) Journal

    If one views UFO's as a mystery instead of as "aliens", do you think there's a legitimate case for further study, even if it may only produce psychology lessons?

    Reliable pilot and passenger witnesses have seen "flying disks" in broad daylight up close, for example. I'd like to know what triggered that perception if it's not "real".

  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @04:47PM (#37823712) Journal

    If you had to choose a major (Discovery?) class probe to look for life beyond earth which celestial body would you send it to?

    Mars (methane outgassing?)
    Europa (subsurface ocean?)
    Enceladus (water "fountains"?)
    Titan (liquid water, ammonium, hydrocarbon ocean?)

    Are you familiar with Peter Ward's book "Life but not as we know it" in which he makes a strong case for Titan? Do you agree?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @08:55AM (#37830094)

    If I stand on the north pole and look "up" with a powerful enough telescope I'll be able to see objects that are roughly 10-12 billion light-years away. If I do the same thing on the south pole and look in the opposite direction I'll also see objects that are as far. Yet these objects cannot be 20-24 billion light-years away from each other since the universe isn't old enough for them to go that far. What I am not understanding?

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!