Q & BA Episode 1: Galaxies

By Phil Plait | February 4, 2007 7:43 pm

Introducing Q and BA!

It took all weekend, several software and hardware crashes, two PC swaps, and a lot of advice on the movie maker forum, but I finally got out Episode 1 of "Q and BA"! I received more than 75 questions to my call, and so many were on galaxies that I thought it would make a nice splashy first entry. So here you go: Episode 1, "Galaxies".

Note: YouTube’s resolution is pretty junky for the nice images I’m using, so I’m also storing hi-res versions of these videocasts on LibSyn.com, a podcasting site. My videoblog page there is http://badastronomy.libsyn.com/ (this current episode it not there yet). I’m also working on getting these uploaded to iTunes! I submitted Episode 0 (the intro) but as of this writing iTunes does not have "Q and BA" listed in their science podcasts. I’m working on it!

The images I found for the video are public domain. They are from Hubble, CFHT, Spitzer, and one I couldn’t find a pedigree for so I assume it’s free (the wide angle Milky Way shot).

For more information, there are several good places to go. Those links above are a great place to start! Also, Tom Michalik, a Physics professor at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Virginia has a really nice page with images describing our Galaxy and others. You can also try searching this blog for the words "galaxy" and "galaxies" to find lots of other entries I’ve made about them.


Comments (58)

  1. Bryan D.

    Watching that I couldn’t help but think of the Monty Python Galaxy song from Meaning of Life. :)

    “Our Galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars, its a hundred thousand light years wide side to side.” :)

  2. rahl

    That was really cool! Thanks.

    I’m already looking forward to the next Q & BA episode.

  3. BC

    Good job! Your commentary at the end reminds me of a talk I saw on the internet a while back (can’t remember the speakers name). I believe he worked in astronomy as well, and he was told by someone who interviewed him that more than any other science, astronomy makes people feel small and insignificant. I wonder to what extent people fear knowledge and science because what it says about us and our place in the universe is not reassuring to many people. I feel differently – though I only feel that way because I love new information and I think a larger universe doesn’t diminish us because we’re pretty good at looking out and understanding the universe – which seems to be a pretty rare and cool ability.

  4. Nice job, Phil. Love the high-tech prop. You’re making me feel better about the sextants we’re building tomorrow out of coroplast, pvc tubing and duct tape…

    YouTube is blocked at our school, so I’ll be investigating the other sites you mentioned. I’d like to turn you into a resource for our new locally-developed high school astronomy course, if I might. I’ll let you know if I develop some decent quiz questions to use.

    Though I think I might have to draw the line at putting up the SkepDudes calendar in my classroom… 😀

  5. That was fantastic! I really enjoyed that. I hope you continue with this idea, I’m already looking forward to the next episode!

  6. Lauren

    That was a great start to Q and BA. I’m really looking forward to more episodes. I like the model of the Milky Way with the cds and rubber ball. I think it’s a neat way of putting things in perspective. Simple but effective.

    I’ve also got to point out that I love the placing of your book in the background. Very clever.

  7. DB

    Randolph-Macon Woman’s College? My girlfriend goes there. She is studying Astronomy there as well (not majoring in it though)

    Very nice start to the Q&A videos.

  8. Is there a transcript for those of us who are bandwith-limited?

  9. Rachel

    That was great, Phil! I majored in astro and there was even a couple new things in there for me. (Specifically, a couple of the galaxy types. I probably was sleeping in lecture that day.)

    Thanks so much.

  10. Freyalyn

    Really enjoyed this. You have a very clear and simple way of explaining things. I’m looking forward to the rest, even if I’m limited as to when I can listen to them. Thanks.

  11. Hydro

    Outstanding work, and an interesting topic. The vastness of the universe is unfathomable… looking forward to next week!

  12. Grand Lunar

    Pretty cool!

    Makes sense to answer related questions at once. I wouldn’t have thought of that.

    I learned something new here too; I was unaware that it was revealed that the Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy. Guess we’re not so much like Andromeda now, huh?

    Looking forward to more ‘Q & BA’!

  13. Does our galaxy have more than 100 billion or 100 million stars?

  14. Grr, ignore my last comment — I misheard. Shows what I get for listening to anything before I get my caffeine.


  15. The barber of civility

    Excellent, Phil! These videos give others a chance to experience you in ways they did not have before. They get a chance to see your excitement about science instead of trying to interpret how you feel through your written words.

    Because of who you are and how you present yourself, your videos will likely end up in classrooms, where they can do much good!

    Congratulations! I look forward to mlre of these!

  16. The barber of civility

    Bye the way, is the background bed where Mrs. BA makes you sleep when she’s not happy with you?

  17. The barber of civility

    Hah! “…mire of these”! Sorry. Meant “more of these”!

  18. James A. Brown

    Great introduction video. You’ve got a nice relaxed tone of voice, not monotone or dull. You obviously enjoy your work and it shows.

    One question. If we are in the middle of the Milky Way galaxy (and If I’ve read right, we are actually somewhere between two major arms) and if we can look in one direction and see the middle of the galaxy with its inner arms and bulge, why can’t we look in the opposite direction and see the outer arms? It seems as though we are actually on the rim, with nothing but dark empty space behind us as we gaze toward the center.

    Looking forward to the next one!

  19. spacewriter

    Nice work, Phil! I also like your setting; very relaxed! 😉

    About that unpedigreed photo — never safe to assume anything is free, even without obvious pedigree. The standard rule of thumb is (and copyright law bears this out), unless it says it’s free (like HST, etc.) then assume it’s copyrighted.

    Admittedly, it’s tough when the pix just show up unpedigreed… in the past, we’ve had to pass on some really nice images for some of our productions because we couldn’t locate a copyright holder and didn’t want to take the chance (either financially or with our reputation).

    I’ve been working on some short productions for my blog, but a nasty cold and some other work have intervened. Will let you know when they’re up.

  20. Damon B.

    Phil, you need theme music. For the intros and outros. Something catchy, with a beat you can dance to.

  21. Capt. Action

    Well done, Phil.

    Really interesting and just the right amount of detail.



  22. John Kingman

    Good job, Phil.

    I second Damon B. and suggest the Monty Python tune.

  23. Nigel Depledge

    I, too, will chime in: that was very well done.

    John Kingman, you must mean John Philip Sousa’s “The Liberty Bell” march.

    Bryan D, I too was thinking of Eric Idle’s “Galaxy” song: It bulges in the middle, 16,000 light years thick / But out by us it’s just 3000 light years wide …

    Hmmm, Phil, you seem to share many fans with Monty Python. What does this say about your audience, I wonder?

  24. Excellent explanation in easy to understand terms, thanks! can’t wait until the next episode.

  25. JackC

    Bryan D. said

    “Watching that I couldn’t help but think of the Monty Python Galaxy song from Meaning of Life. ”

    I have often wondered why, when this work is referenced, folks seem to convieniently forget the last lines. I even heard the piece at the Boston Museum of Science in what amounted to a “Child’s introduction to the unibverse” – I suppose it sounded cute.

    They didn’t even try to modify the last bit:

    “And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space,
    ‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.”


  26. MichaelS

    I have been browsing this site for quite some time and this is the first post i have made. I have to say your Q&BA was very cool. I love every aspect of astronomy and your site is entertaining and educational. Keep up the awsome work.

  27. Phobos

    Great job Phil! Yes, more of this please!

    If you use the M.P. tune, then leave out the disemboweling scene from the movie.

  28. Wendy

    Great job! I’ve sent the link to your page to my grandson; he’s twelve and interested in tech and astronomy.
    I, too, noticed the copy of Bad Astronomy in the background.

  29. EX-cellent! i really enjoyed this. your manner and delivery are just right! i once took classes in astronomy at the old Hayden Planetarium (just for fun) and had one teacher who was so enthusiastic, i took his course twice! you remind me of him. looking forward to more.

  30. Bryan D.

    JackC Said:

    They didn’t even try to modify the last bit:

    “And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space,
    ‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.”

    Love that line. :)

    I always consider the real last line tho as…

    “Kind of make you feel a bit insignificant.”

    “Yeah…so, can I have your liver?”

  31. Alyssa

    Very nice first entry in the Q&BA series!
    I had an astronomy course last fall (first semester of college) and I wish this video would’ve been around for my prof to use then! I eagerly await more.

  32. John Powell

    Well on your way to being the next Bill Nye!

  33. Ausrick

    Scientists are model builders… and I really liked yours! One of the best teaching tools is a visual aid. You are also really good at teaching science and it shows! I will have to hit you up with some questions and see if I can get on the show! :)

  34. ioresult

    I second Lab Lemming: will you post a transcript? Please?

  35. DrFlimmer

    That’s really amazing what you did, Phil! And I cannot wait to the next chapter in about a week! Very very good job!

  36. Nicely done, Phil.

    How long has it been known that The Milky Way is a barred sprial galaxy? I didn’t know that until I saw Q&BA! I confess my only Astro class at Michigan was 101 (Solar System/Planets), but I dig astronomy and feel like I missed a memo.

    Also, your talk of how the universe is filled with galaxies reminds me of my all-time favorite Hubble image. You know the story better than I do, but I recall that the director had a relatively huge portion of time to use at his own discretion. So he pointed Hubble into a void. Into the blackness where no light source was known to exist. But he exposed the image for something like 10 days. And it came back as a frame packed edge-to-edge with galaxies of all shapes, colors, and sizes.

    Grooviest. Image. Ever.

    The image and the story: perhaps material for a future Q&BA?

  37. Trebuchet

    Phil, I’m sure the video is great. As are the many others you’ve linked to lately. But as things are stand I’ll never know.

    We’re on dial-up at home. And the vacation house. No prospect of broadband until we get down to just one.

    Work frowns severely on downloading videos.

    The ultimate option would be to take the laptop to my parents home where they have broadband for my niece who lives with them. But for no apparent reason the sound has decided not to work.

    So your recent trend toward video in the blog is a total bust for me.

  38. Look at that proud smile at the beginning :)

    Very very well done, i’m looking forward to the next episode!

  39. Michelle

    Really great start, very interesting! Can’t wait to see more of ’em! I love video blogs!

  40. RAF

    …and those of us with dial-up are once again left behind…sigh…

  41. Phil…awesome stuff! Can’t wait to see the next episode.

    As a solution to both the quality issue and the iTunes listing, I’d recommend blip.tv for hosting. Those guys are awesome…they respect your IP (whereas you may not realize what you’ve signed away to YouTube), they accept high-quality videos, generate the Flash automatically while still making the high-quality version available, and also have a push-button “publish to iTunes” option. Totally free…they have a ad-bases revenue sharing model, but you’re not required to use it.

    Definitely recommended.

  42. CR

    Awesome first ep, Phil! This should be shown in schools!

  43. Nancy A

    OK, am I a dork or what? I can never get You Tube videos to play in their entirety. Can somebody please help me? I’ve never even seen the entire Skepdudes video (much to my dismay). And unlike Trebuchet I have high speed. Help!

  44. Nice one, Phil! Looking forward to the next.

    As for the resolution, have you considered trying Google Video instead of YouTube? YouTube videos are at 320×240, while Google Video goes up to 640×480.

  45. Joshua C.

    Wow. That was great! Not only did you answer my question, you tied in all of the other questions for one cohesive block of information. That was a great Q&A session and I am really looking forward to the next one!

  46. Troy

    Phil, That rocked. Thanks!

  47. Phil, you did a great job — lots of useful, well-presented information in a short space of time. Not too much detail for beginners to understand and enough detail for the more knowledgeable to appreciate the “refresher”. Marvellous!

  48. Buzz Parsec

    James A. Brown asked if we look in the opposite direction (away from the center), why can’t we see the outer arms (of the Milky Way)? (I hope I summarized your question correctly – when ever I try to cut and paste let alone italicize, etc., I get it all messed up …)

    The answer is “We do!” The Milky Way forms a complete circle around the sky, 360 degrees. It’s kind hard to see from the surface of the Earth, since we can only see 1/2 the sky at any given minute, but an astronaut a million or so miles from the earth would have a great view, except in the direction of the Sun. The part of the Milky Way away from the center of the galaxy is a little dimmer and narrower than the part towards the center, but not a lot different. The reason is we really can’t see very far (in visible light), too much dust and gas. It’s kind of foggy. towards the center (Sagitarius), we see the arms between us and the center, but except for a couple of chance clear spots, we mostly see the arm closest to us. In the opposite direction, we see (mostly) the next arm out. At right angles (but in the plane of the Milky Way), we see some of each. Perpendicular to the plane, we don’t see much, except for zillions of other galaxies, but they’re all too faint to see without a moderate-sized telescope.

  49. Very nice. I love the sophisticated props! :)

  50. OtherRob

    Wow, I didn’t know that the Milky Way was a barred spiral galaxy. You’ve changed my universe a little, Phil. Thanks. :-)

  51. Phil:

    Great work. I wonder if you could pitch it to a studio or something…

    Nancy A:

    The best solutions I’ve found to YouTube issues are to a) get the absolute latest Flash plugin and b) get a computer that can handle it. Frankly I don’t like YouTube at all because of the Flash requirement (I can manage a) but not b) ), but it’s the go-to site for this sort of thing.

  52. Jackie

    This was wonderful. :) Thanks!

    I’m connected through dialup and it played fine. The second time. Just turn the sound off so you don’t get bits of dialog, open another tab and do something else while it plays through once.

  53. Here’s a transcript: s94958815.onlinehome.us/astronomy/Q&BA1-Galaxies.doc

  54. Great job! I look forward to more of these.

  55. nfdouglas

    Great description of our Galaxy.

    I am looking forward to more.

    As a possible topic how about talking about what will happen when we traverse the Galactic plane in the near future.

  56. So cool! I’m starting to regret having chosen graphic design instead of astronomer. I told my dad that when I was a kid that I wanted to be astronomer, bad idea. He asked me how I was going to make a living as an astronomer.

    Anyway, I can always use a telescope. Marvellous device! Every time I see the night sky, I really really feel something very special. Sometimes, as if something is calling me. And I bet I am not the only one :)

  57. andy

    Nice explanations. But you forgot lenticular galaxies!

  58. Trogdor

    Carl Sagan reborn! Rather close anyway. You da man!

    One thing I’ve wondered: we can see the Milky Way, yes, but it’s really very faint, as compared to the beautiful images we see from, say, Hubble. Ditto other galaxies.

    So here’s my question: are galaxies really as bright & pretty as they look in most pictures we see, or is this chiefly due to the long exposure time for the image, and the real thing, if we were out ther looking at it, is actually really dark?

    Just the curiosity of some random 28-year old webmaster.


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