Afternoon quickies

By Phil Plait | May 13, 2009 2:00 pm

Since my Ten Things You Don’t Know About Hubble appears to be setting fire to the Hive Overmind computers, I’ll keep this short with some links to interesting news and such:

1) Atlantis has successfully grappled with thee with Hubble, and the grand old ‘scope is sitting in the Shuttle payload bay! Soon enough, the extensive servicing mission will begin in earnest. Follow my updates on my BANews Twitter feed (and you can always follow me on my regular BadAstronomer feed as well).

2) Herschel and Planck launch tomorrow!

3) My friend and most excellent skeptic Bob Carroll of the Skeptic Dictionary talks about why Oprah loves Jenny, much to the detriment of children who don’t want measles.

4) Oprah’s contributors (and no doubt O herself) clearly don’t understand what skepticism means. Hat tip to JawsforJesus.

5) Cool illusions!

Comments (40)

  1. I saw on CNN that one of the astronauts servicing Hubble is actually Tweeting from space.

  2. Clare

    Your TTYDKAH really seriously ROCKS! That’s why the Hive Overmind is on fire.

    it’s on fire with WIN!!!!!

    okay, I’m done being silly now

  3. Thanks for the illusions. I now have a really bad headache from looking at them.

  4. QUASAR

    Herschel and Planck! YAY!

    IN YOUR FACE

  5. QUASAR

    Herschel and Planck! YAY!

    IN YOUR FACE, NASA!

  6. T.E.L.

    LarianLeQuella Said:

    “I saw on CNN that one of the astronauts servicing Hubble is actually Tweeting from space.”

    Is that from the orbiter’s toilet?

  7. Duane

    Just a thought…. “Afternoon quickies” are more commonly known as “Nooners.” ;)

  8. MadScientist

    I hope everything goes well with old Hubble (and the STS crew of course) all’s OK when they set the bird loose again.

    I liked that commentary by Bob Carroll; it’s very well written. I must have defective Type 1 thinking; politicians, ads, and talk shows never cease to infuriate me.

    In the illusions, the “perception of sex” one just didn’t work for me; I saw two faces which are exactly the same but one had poorer contrast – which happens to be exactly what the artist says it is.

    Skeptic link? Oh, I get it – it’s totally devoid of skepticism, thus proving your claim that Oprah is clueless about skepticism. Bah, no Scooby Snack for me.

  9. @ Mad Scientist:

    In the illusions, the “perception of sex” one just didn’t work for me; I saw two faces which are exactly the same but one had poorer contrast – which happens to be exactly what the artist says it is.

    I picked exactly opposite what was supposed to be the norm. Male on the left, female on the right.

    Must be all that right brain thinking I don’t do. (Inside joke to anyone dumb enough to have followed the creationism threads a while back.)

  10. idlemind

    The “perception of sex” illusion worked for me when I focused on the mouth — the darker lips looked more feminine. Culturally-defined expectation on my part? Covering the mouth removed any sense of the faces being different for me.

  11. Crudely Wrott

    Hiya, Phil. I just ran across this from AP:

    Hubble and Atlantis are flying in a 350-mile-high orbit littered with space junk. The shuttle already has an ugly stretch of nicks from Monday’s launch, but the damage is considered minor and poses no safety threat. NASA continued to prep another shuttle, though, just in case Atlantis is hit by orbital debris and the crew needs to be rescued.

    After seven years of orbital solitude, Hubble looked surprisingly well. Flight controllers gasped when the telescope first came into view.

    “It’s an unbelievably beautiful sight,” reported John Grunsfeld, the telescope’s chief repairman. “Amazingly, the exterior of Hubble, an old man of 19 years in space, still looks in fantastic shape.”

    Is it just me considering large volumes of space and rapidly moving objects or is the favorable condition of Hubble indicating that the threat of collision is not great?

    I suspect that the media likes to include the element of danger, even if it is the risk of a stubbed toe. They think the news is magically made more interesting, neglecting to point out greater interests.

  12. T.E.L.

    The lack of conspicuous damage to the telescope after nearly two decades speaks of the low statistical likelihood of catastrophic strikes from debris.

  13. jole

    @idlemind
    Exactly the same for me. Perhaps we are trained to expect more defined (red) lips on a female.

  14. Just reading that “Skeptic’s Book Club” article at Oprah.com…

    Sorry about that. I do believe my head just exploded.

    Seriously? The “Skeptic’s Book Club” looks upon What the Bleep do We Know with a “soft spot?”

    Huh. Who’d have thought my head could explode twice like that!

  15. Whoops. I guess it didn’t like my [BANG!]s. Pretend that last message said [BANG!] after the 1st and 3rd lines. :)

  16. I can honestly say I did not know any of those things about Hubble. And I watch the Hubblecast, you would think they might have mentioned some of that stuff.

  17. The title on the title bar of the window for Oprah’s Skeptics Book Club is Faith Based Book Clubs. Enough said.

  18. From Ten Things You Don’t Know About Hubble Phil said “some of the most fun I’ve had using Hubble”

    Now that is just one of those things I’m sure almost anybody could wish they could say. Talk about living the dream.

  19. Charles Boyer

    You stay classy, Quasar.

    The Oprah thing really made my head hurt. I’m losing respect for her by the second.

  20. I was wrong about ESA TV in an earlier comment; the Herschel-Planck launch will be available to watch live after all:

    http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/herschelplanck/SEM9V3ZVNUF_0.html

  21. Darrin

    Loved the Oprah thing, but talk about going off on a tangent. Did it REALLY have to end up as a political cheap-shot? Really? The article is about Oprah and Jenny, and yet we end up talking about Bush.

    Science damnit.

  22. BigBob

    >> Herschel and Planck launch tomorrow!

    I’d really like to see a vidcast of that. Do they intend to webcast it? Anyone have a URL?
    Bob(Big)

  23. BigBob

    Yep, got it. Go to the main ESA page, at the top of which, click on the Herschel & Planck link. There are links off there. All this and the Hubble servicing webcast too. We’re not worthy.
    Bob(Big)

  24. Charles Boyer

    ^ We’re living in a fantastic time for science — a major golden age in many disciplines. We owe our forebears for setting the stage, but the past three generations have created more knowledge than probably any other three in human history. Seriously, think about it.

    As for Herschel and Plamck, Godspeed Ariane.

  25. Cheyenne

    @Charles -
    You are so right. We live in remarkable times. We owe a lot to the titans of science that came before – but dang we are in an age of discovery that I don’t think enough people on this little third rock out realize.

    @ESA – I really don’t like the two birds on the same rocket that doesn’t exactly have a great track record. But if you all pull this off – epic, epic win! (not that anybody from ESA will actually read that….but still…).

  26. Don

    I guess I’m off on a tangent, and so to whatever extent I am, I apologise to the community. I also want to state for the record that I am a Secular Humanist, and many of my friends call me an atheist, although I think that lable isn’t precise enough. But I think that too narrow a definition of ‘skeptic’ is being referenced here. Everything I read on that link fits well within the meaning of RELIGIOUS ‘skepticism’, which commonly takes in those who question religious dogma as part of their spiritual search. Looking at the universe with a Rationalist (science- and reasoning-based) Skeptic eye is usually a facet of Religious Skepticism, but it also includes a search for religious and spiritual practice that makes sense to the individual’s private faith journey. Religious skeptics don’t ask to substitute Woo for rationale action in daily life and public policy — but they do search for the spiritual elements that make their internal spiritual life meaningful. This ‘Skeptics’ Book Club’ is, I believe, oriented toward that personal spiritual journey, not toward a rigorous search for rational action.

  27. Gary Ansorge

    Ah, religion, what a clever way make a buck,,,

    Spirituality is a search for personal meaning in ones life,ie, why do I continue living when death is so restful,,,(personally, it’s because I’m incredibly nosy and don’t want to miss out on what the grown ups are doing,,,).

    Having been intimately involved in the growing mythology of the GratefulDead, I can attest to the power of Myth to constructively affect ones life. It’s just so much FUN,,,and poignant,,,but organizing it into a dogma is just a most incredible waste of time and human resources. There is no one Way to find/develop substantive meaning in ones life. Every life path is unique and meaningful and what we do is far more important than what we say or believe(or think we believe).

    Oprah has done some really good things with her life as well as some really dumb things(Jenny,Jenny,Jenny).
    My, how very human of her,,,(now the question is, can she learn from her mistakes?)

    Gary 7
    PS: Coolest illusions I’ve seen in many a day.

  28. Rich

    Question about the Hubble:

    Once it’s a dead parrot, NASA plans on a controlled swan dive into the ocean, correct?

    Could they not theoretically load it into a shuttle bay and bring it home for display in the Smithsonian? Or would the added weight make landing a bit more “interesting” for the pilot than necessary? Or would it just cost too much?

    I know I personally would love to go see it.

  29. Gary Ansorge

    Ah, religion, what a clever way to make a buck,,,

    Spirituality is a search for personal meaning in ones life,ie, why do I continue living when death is so restful,,,(personally, it’s because I’m incredibly nosy and don’t want to miss out on what the grown ups are doing,,,).

    Having been intimately involved in the growing mythology of the GratefulDead, I can attest to the power of Myth to constructively affect ones life. It’s just so much FUN,,,and poignant,,,but organizing it into a dogma is just a most incredible waste of time and human resources. There is no one Way to find/develop substantive meaning in ones life. Every life path is unique and meaningful and what we do is far more important than what we say or believe(or think we believe).

    Oprah has done some really good things with her life as well as some really dumb things(Jenny,Jenny,Jenny).
    My, how very human of her,,,(now the question is, can she learn from her mistakes?)

    Gary 7
    PS: Coolest illusions I’ve seen in many a day.

  30. Gary Ansorge
  31. Astronomynut

    Phil,

    Question, the ESA website says that Herschel and Planck will orbit the L2 lagrange point. How can an object orbit a virtual point in space?

    Anyone?

  32. Jeffersonian

    Oprah’s likes Jenny for one reason:
    R A T I N G S
    It’s TV; it’s for profit.
    K.I.S.S.

  33. Gumba Masta

    What I want to know is, do they also put some rocket boosters on the Hubble Telescope so that they can blast it off into infinity on a fantastic journey when it’s final days of service come or will they just have a controlled break up on re-entry?

  34. Gumba Masta

    Oh and PS
    What are faith based book clubs?
    You place an order and hope the book gets deliverd?

  35. glued
  36. Wayne

    The masculine/feminine illusion really worked for me, but then I already knew that I’m attracted to high contrast faces (think about make-up, it’s mostly about increasing contrast). Funny how we’ve evolved to have so many varied cues for sexual attraction.

  37. Buzz Parsec

    Rich, theoretically “Yes” (I think that was the original plan when they launched it), but all the remaining shuttle flights are booked, and hopefully Hubble will still be working fine long after the last one, so in practical terms, no way.

    NASA recently announced that as of the end of this month, they are going to let the contracts lapse on long lead time shuttle parts, so unless something happens REAL SOON (such as congress passes a supplemental budget or the White House redirects some funding), it will cost a lot more and/or cause a large gap in flights to run the shuttle program past next year. At the news conference they didn’t specifically list the parts involved (they said because the companies involved haven’t told their employees yet), but there are loads of parts that need to be replaced on the shuttle after each flight, such as the tires and various engine components, and the entire external tank, complete with plumbing.

  38. Ann

    In defense of woo-woo ( I think this is the technical name) medicine. I’ve taken herbs for years. I don’t see doctors often because I just don’t need to. The herbs I take are ayurvedic, not terribly expensive and when I had to have a physical recently the doctor presiding over it she asked me what medications I take and I told her none she looked at me as if to say, how can that be? I told that I take herbs and she literally wrote down the name of the herbs and the company that I get them from so as to see if they couldn’t be helpful to a friend of hers who was in bad shape. I have terrible lifestyle habits and I eat processed crap. I see herbs as a form of supplemental nutrition as our modern diets can often be processed crap. Much as I love processed crap, you need a bit more to stay healthy. The point is that modern medicine and science tend to focus on a small part of a person while ignoring overall health. Like science dividing all of the natural world into “specialties” , break it down into its smaller parts in order to understand it. But the world doesn’t really work that way and sometimes by taking this approach they do it at the expense of understanding how all the various parts fit together. That is what woo-woo medicine and Dr. Oz are responding too. As to vaccinations of children, that is a public health issue so I think that limits the reasonable options of parents. But I can’t see why whatever the concerns are cannot be addressed and acted on so as to allay fears rather than acting as if you are outing Uri Geller. All you do is alienate those you say you want to help. Or is it just that you want us to admire your magnificent cortex or something. By the way, does not string theory posit that at its core, everything really is energy. Vibrating strings of energy no less. Sounds fantastical. Sounds magical. And so it is. Of course there is no Evidence for string theory as yet. So it is only a theory. Does that make it untrue. Or unproven. There is a distinction. The studies you cite only prove that Jenny McCarthy can’t prove that the shots her child got caused his autism. The only way you can really PROVE that she is wrong is to find the actual cause of autism. Make it so!

  39. @Ann

    One must look at herbs with a skeptical eye. Why? Because no reliable studies have been done to show that a) they actually do what the marketers claim they can do, b) they are actually safe in the amounts sold, c) that the products that are sold are pure and actually contain the amounts claimed on the labels and d) that they do not adversely interact with other medicines or each other. It’s already been shown that certain herbs (e.g., St. John’s Wort) decrease the efficacy of some medicines. There are no regulations in place requiring herbal manufacturers to prove either safety or efficacy, either, so it’s ultimately buyer beware, an area ripe for fleecing the gullible.

    That’s not to say that herbs do not have health benefits. Some likely do, and when the studies are done to investigate their effects, then they can legitimately become part of the medical arsenal and move from the world of “alternative medicine” to real medicine. Unfortunately, anecdotes such as yours don’t matter much when it comes to the science. I’ll not dispute your experience, but it is not evidence that herbs work. I eat pretty crappy, too, yet I’m in pretty good health. Nothing wrong with me. No chronic illnesses. No medications. No herbs, either. In the anecdote game, my story’s worth just as much as yours. In science, my story, like yours, also counts for nothing, without proper controls to figure out just what factors are influencing my health.

    Vibrating strings of energy no less. Sounds fantastical. Sounds magical. And so it is. Of course there is no Evidence for string theory as yet. So it is only a theory.

    No, it’s an hypothesis, not a theory.

    Does that make it untrue. Or unproven. There is a distinction.

    Agreed that there is a distinction. It is currently unproven. Until it is proven, if ever, it should not be the basis for decision-making. Same with medical choices, without proof (or at least an abundance of evidence), it is unwise to pursue untested treatments. More often than not, it’ll have no real effect. At worst, it can have serious negative health consequences that are unforeseen due to the lack of proper investigation.

    The studies you cite only prove that Jenny McCarthy can’t prove that the shots her child got caused his autism. The only way you can really PROVE that she is wrong is to find the actual cause of autism. Make it so!

    Already being done. There are several studies that have found certain genetic components that are involved. Congenital rubella syndrome is also a risk factor. Another study suggests that insufficient amounts of vitamin D may also play a role. These areas all need further inquiry before we come to any kind of definitive answer, but the work is being done. All McCarthy and her like do is distract from the real work by calling for more and more studies into a “cause” for which there is zero evidence. It’s like asking people to keep looking for the invisible pink unicorn in my garage that keeps making the gas in my car disappear, all the while ignoring the people pointing at my kid as he takes my car for a joy ride on a nightly basis.

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