Advance Bad Universe reviews are in

By Phil Plait | August 29, 2010 8:35 am

baduniverse_bikinigaugeTonight is the premiere of "Bad Universe"! If you’re looking for a reason to watch it, reviews are starting to come in from press folks who got advance copies. So far they’re pretty positive!

– Discovery Channel’s own Space News blog:

Bad Universe: Asteroid Apocalypse is definitely worth the watch, there’s great depth behind the science, plus a really nice Mythbusters-esque feel to the high energy experiments carried out to test Phil’s theories.

Ian O’Neill, who wrote that article, interviewed me for it as well. There are also a few clips from the show online on Discovery’s site, too.

Watch Play Read:

The show does a great job of incorporating a learning factor without making it seem lecturing to the viewer. Honestly, you don’t have to be a SCIENCE! geek to watch this show, heck sit your kids (and/or unlearned significant other) down with you and enjoy. It was entertaining, informative, and the experiments were downright cool. Phil has an excitement in his voice that when he is explaining about a topic you can’t help but listen and absorb the knowledge.

– Emily Lakdawalla at The Planetary Society Blog:

I think my favorite was the slow-mo replay of the very first explosion experiment, where he showed the visible effect of the expanding shock wave, a perfectly hemispherical distortion propagating outward in the air. For his part, my husband was surprised and educated about how we can apply what we learn in laboratory examination of meteorites to understand the composition of asteroids (Phil explained this effectively without ever using the word “spectroscopy” — awesome job).

[I’ll note Emily has some exceptions to the show – like the lack of actual imagery of asteroids taken by space probes, and the contribution of amateurs to asteroid detection – and I understand her misgivings. The vagaries of producing a TV program means compromising on what goes in and what gets taken out. We did have both of those in there, but lack of time and difficulty in getting them to fit in the narrative as it evolved meant they didn’t survive to the final cut. Making a show like this is far, far harder than I suspected, and those sorts of decisions are one of the many difficulties.]


Dr. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy fame has been a Science 2.0 favorite since the moment we came online and for almost a decade prior to that. He combines wit and no-nonsense skepticism with the kind of creative reflex that makes fundamental science concepts understandable by virtually everyone who doesn’t hate getting a little smarter.

[Note: they also include an interview I did with them.]

–’s Geek Dad:

[I]t’s Plait’s love for science that makes this show great. You can see the glee in his eyes when he’s pushing the button to set off an explosion to simulate an asteroid hitting the Earth. You can see the anticipation in his face when he’s rushing to check on the results of firing a simulated nuclear missile at a simulated asteroid. You can hear in his voice how much fun he’s having burning a hole in a grapefruit with the sun and a Fresnel lens or mixing a homemade comet. And, though Plait is the first to say that he’s not Carl Sagan, I recognized the feeling I got while watching Bad Universe, because it wasn’t very far removed from the feeling the grade-school me got watching Cosmos. It’s a feeling you can’t get from a bunch of cool pictures of space phenomena and a narrator explaining what you’re seeing in voiceover.

[Update: Geek Dad just posted an interview I did with writer Matt Blum, too.]

[Update 2: Lourdes Cahuich from interviewed me on video at SETIcon and we talked about the show.]

[Update 3: DailyKos is featuring the interview I did with DarkSyde on their front page!]

I hope y’all watch and enjoy it. And don’t forget: I’ll be live-tweeting the show when it airs using the east coast feed (so from 10 – 11:00 p.m. Sunday night EDT). Follow me on Twitter to get the inside scoop and behind-the-scenes snark!


Comments (168)

  1. Oli

    Do you have any idea when this is going to be aired in other countries?

  2. alfaniner

    “you don’t have to be a SCIENCE! geek to watch this show”

    Remember when Mythbusters used to have the “WARNING! Science ahead!” marquee when explaining something in detail? They don’t any more, and just go right into the science chalk talk. I’m sure this will be a show that just assumes people are interested in the science from the get-go.

  3. Dan I.

    Already got my DVR set up to record the whole series. I have to be up at 5:30 for work so not sure I’ll catch it live (maybe just tonight for the premier). But you can bet I’ll be watching the whole show.

  4. Does a DVR count in your ratings at all? I too get up way too early (and it’s my daughter’s first day back to school) to catch it live.

  5. Andhika N

    I’m not sure when (and if) it will be available here in Indonesia, so I’m sorry, I’m going to have to torrent it for now.

  6. Wayne on the plains

    We were a “Nielson Family” recently, and they DO count DVR shows, you write down both the original air date and when you viewed it. I rarely watch live TV anymore, so I was happy that they made it pretty easy.

  7. Counting the hours. Only hope the teacher doesn’t pick that clumsy kid to operate the projector again. He takes forever to change the reels and has no idea what the word “focus” means.

  8. Betsy

    Regarding the stuff that got cut, that’s what the web is for. All the stuff that Emily missed should be available somewhere, even if we can’t cram it into a 50-minute show.

  9. Z

    I just hope this is a new trend in television: having shows listed in TV Guide with “debunking junk science” as part of the description.

    I haven’t been looking forward to watching TV this much since BSG.

  10. I would have been happy to review it as well if I had a copy in advance…hint, hint :)

  11. There’s no mention of it in the Discovery Channel Canada listings. Is it still a Sooper Sekrit project as far as other countries are concerned?

  12. oldebabe

    According to today’s Los Angeles Times TV schedule, the show can be viewed at 10PM on channel 31… or the following 1AM…

  13. DVRing is cool, but note that the immediate ratings (what the networks call the “overnights”) are pretty important here. They’ll put a lot of weight on them.

  14. Tash

    For some reason I haven’t seen any ads for it yet. ): Just a million for the “last day of the dinosaurs” thing. But I’ll definitely tune in.

  15. Steve

    I’ll have to DVR it because my son goes to bed at 10. He’s been wanting to watch it since I bought him your book Death from the Skies.

  16. Keep in mind that ratings aren’t based on how many people are REALLY watching. They are based on survey results from selected homes. There is no way to know if a show is watched real time or through time-shifting unless the viewer filling out the rating form says that they “taped” it.

    In addition, MBH(my better half) and I will be recording it, but watching it real time.

  17. As before, I hope this one will be available on DVD/BlyRay…
    It wouldn’t have been the end of the world [Ugh!] if you’d said “spectroscopy” and then immediately made light of the situation [Double Ugh!] by immediately explaining that as a scientific examination of the mix of colors in light.
    [Me bad. Me Astronomy Bum after all.]

    For those of you wanting a short (really short) explanation of the science behind spectroscopy, click here.

  18. I hear Nancy Lieder already has six dvds out (at $399 a pop) debunking your program.

  19. Muller

    Now India is following in Australia’s footsteps of derp. Jenny McCarthy would be proud.


    RE: TV audience viewing ratings.

    I don’t know how such surveys are done in the U.S., but I assume it’s basically the same as in the U.K., which, according to Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB), are obtained by this method:

    How does the audience measurement process work?


    Viewing estimates are obtained from a panel of television owning households representing the viewing behaviour of the 26+ million households within the UK. The reporting panel of 5,100 homes is selected to be representative of each ITV and BBC region. The service covers viewing within private households only.

    Panel homes are selected via a multi-stage, stratified and un-clustered sample design so that the panel is representative of all television households across the whole of the UK. A range of individual and household characteristics are deployed as panel controls to ensure that the panel remains representative. As estimates for the large majority of panel controls are not available from Census data it is necessary to conduct a bespoke survey (the Establishment Survey) to obtain this information.

    The BARB Establishment Survey is carried out on a continuous basis and involves some 53,000 interviews per year. It is a random probability survey which means that every private residential household within the UK has a chance of being selected for interview. The survey ensures that any changes taking place in the population can be identified so that the panel can be updated and adjusted to ensure that it continues to reflect the television-owning population. In addition to being the prime source of television population information, such as the number of multi-channel homes, the BARB Establishment Survey also generates the potential recruits from which panel member homes are selected.

    When a household agrees to join the panel their television sets, PVRs, VCRs, etc. are electronically monitored by a meter. Each TV in a home is connected to its own meter which holds an electronic record for the set. The meter is a small box which is put close to each television set and connected to it. The meter automatically identifies and collects information about the channel that the panel member is viewing.

    All panel household residents and their guests register their presence when in a room with a television set on. Each individual does this by pressing a button allocated to them on the peoplemeter handset. The metering system monitors all registrations made by each individual for each television in the home.

    The panel member does not need to do anything else for BARB to capture the viewing in their household everyday. Throughout the day the meter system stores viewing undertaken by the entire household. Each night between 2am and 6am the data processing centre automatically downloads the data from panel homes (a process known as ‘polling’). This procedure is carried out on every panel home every day to produce live ‘overnight’ minute-by-minute television viewing data.

    VCR, DVDR, PVR playback and “catch-up” VOD services is reported if it takes place within 7 days of the original broadcast. This viewing (known as timeshift) is then added to the live data to produce the final, minute-by-minute consolidated audience, available 8 days after the original transmission date. Consolidated data is the ‘BARB Gold Standard’ that is used by the industry to report and trade on.

    Channels reported by BARB provide detailed timings of the programmes and commercials they broadcast. The records that this produces are then matched to the minute-by-minute viewing data to produce the BARB official audience estimates for programmes and commercials.


    No need to thank me for that useless information.

  21. Don’t worry Ivan we weren’t.

  22. By the time it does air in Canada, I’ll probably have a job again and have to work that night.

  23. Alex Besogonov

    Is it available online for people outside the US?

  24. OtherRob

    My DVR is set and ready to go. I’d watch it live, but my wife will be watching Mad Men live and we only have the satellite hooked up to one tv.

  25. Adam

    My cell phone alarm went off this morning. I couldn’t figure out why. I don’t do meetings or appointments on Sunday.

    I looked down at my phone… And of course. BU is on! Awesome!

  26. Bo Gardiner

    I’m so proud to see a member of the skeptics community premier a national TV show.

    Congratulations, Phil! You’ve earned it and I’m so happy for you.


    (P.S. Just remember, you didn’t get to this point by always making nice…)

  27. Daniel J. Andrews

    yeah yeah yeah…keep rubbing it in that we Canucks won’t be able to watch it as it isn’t airing up here. Sigh. I am so hyped to see this now and I can’t (yet). Double sigh.

  28. idlemind

    I can’t remember the last time I watched TV in real time, but I’ll probably watch it later tonight with my 9-year-old.

  29. Do I have to sign up for Twitter to watch the show?


    Just kidding. Looking forward to it.

  30. Elin

    It’s kinda neat that the fighting-off-asteroids premiere ep is debuting right after the Last Days of the Dinosaurs, considering how the dinos’ Last Days came to be.

  31. idlemind

    I can’t remember the last time I watched TV in real time, but I’ll probably watch it later tonight and then again tomorrow with my 9-year-old.

  32. After a week of debate, finally convinced the better half that Les Stroud would be better viewed in rerun format. Have also notified all the kids who’ve received “Death from the Skies!” as gifts from us to tune in, and have nabbed several excited replies from said kids.

    Easy call — the programmers can expect a ratings bonanza, the advertisers a sharp increase in sales, and expect Zahi Hawass’s people contacting you later tonight about a possible collaboration (“When Sphinxes Collide”?).

    All kidding aside, break a leg!

  33. Cindy

    Spread the word. I described it as “mythbusters crossed with an Astronomy course or what it would be like if Adam Savage was your Astro prof”.

    Will be watching it live.

  34. Dr.Sid

    This looks amazing. Much more science then MythBusters .. and not less explosions !

  35. FreeSpeaker

    Massive southbound traffic jams at the northern border crossings all weekend…

  36. Jersey Joe

    DarkSyde, the science editor at Dailykos, published this review this afternoon.

  37. Richard Carnes

    Phil Plait! He’s just like Brian Cox, only without the cool accent, the boyish good looks and the rock star background! (But when it comes to science, he’s just as cool!)

    I can’t wait to watch it tonight…

  38. Science programs on TV, like most shows on TV, tend to over-value (subjective assessment) lowest-common-denominator appeal.

    Most of the better popular science shows tend to spread 10 minutes of information over 44 minutes. There’s something to be said for the “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, Tell them, and tell them what you told them” format. But this is easily overdrawn.

    Bait and switch is another source of frustration. Headlines are supposed to garner interest. But there should also be some fidelity to what is going to be presented. The science meets history meets religion shows on the Science Channel are worst about this. But it shows up often enough on Inside the Wormhole w/ Morgan Freeman and shows with Michio Kaku.

    Hopefully the Bad Universe format won’t stray too far from the Bad Astronomy vibe.

    Break a leg. (yes I have the DVR set)

  39. Kne

    Watching now. All I have to say is “You need to spend more time on TV!” The word “telegenic” doesn’t do you justice. This stuff is great!

  40. Rob Atendido

    One question: Holy holla-what? (^_^)

  41. Doug

    What is a holyachally?

  42. We can’t wait. We’re checking out your live-blogging, and I even took a nap so that it won’t mess me up to stay up that late. (I’m in California, and I get up at 6 for work.)

  43. Michelle R

    Watching right now…. It’s great thus far!

  44. Charlie in Dayton

    I want to see the BA and Adam Savage in the same place at the same time just to prove one of ’em isn’t doing a Superman thing…

  45. Skinny Dennis

    I’m half way thru the show and I love it!

    But…sound in space? Did the network make you do that?

  46. RPL

    Hey Phil, great show. I’m glad you debunked the whole nuke thing for asteroids. Too many people think it’s just that easy to stop one. Well, after the show, it looks like there is work to be done. Thanks
    Next time you come to New Mexico, I’ll take you out for some really good Mexican food.. :)

  47. Autumn

    Watchin now, very good stuff.
    One nitpick; the animation depicting the small meteorite which hit the woman in the sixties had the meteorite glowing red after it landed.

  48. Most entertaining and informative, but after all the target practice I began to feel sorry for those poor hurtling astral objects. My only very minor quibble would be that shots of science show hosts driving their cars has become a wee bit of a cliche. Great job!

  49. stephen

    show was perfect! looking forward to the next episode :) congratulations!


    Don’t Look into Beam with Remaining Eye

    I TOTALLY Wanna Make that, into My Facebook Status!


  51. DavidHW

    Just watched it in the Seattle market. Too many pros to mention. Excellent show, Dr. Plait. Riveting, entertaining, professional.

    One (actually, the only) bit of constructive criticism: “Holy Haleakala” doesn’t translate well from print to the ear. Just IMHO. :-)

  52. G.D.Bass

    Just finished watching. Holy Haleakala! What an awesome job!!! Must have been incredible being there live for the explody stuff!

  53. DavidHW

    Oh, and one other (very positive) aspect to the program: you managed to very convincingly convey the idea that those involved with the science behind asteroid detection and deflection (asteroid D&D, if you will :) are probably the most important human beings alive today. If they fail, we all fail.

  54. Thad Hatchett

    Show was great! One small nitpick though, I assume that was a fresnel lens, not a frenel lens. Well done Phil!

  55. Scott S.

    Well done Phil! that ammonium nitrate explosion made my ol’ combat engineer heart go pitter patter for the sound of loud bangs followed by the pitter-patter of falling clods, laced with the smell of burnt explosives and freshly turned earth (nor is the feel of the explosion reaching your feet through the ground before the bang gets to your ears to be forgotten 😉 )

  56. BigBadSis

    I imagine you’ll be getting more emails, tweets, texts, comments, letters, and phone calls than you can handle in these next hours. But if you see this small one, know that we here in our household, loved it and are so proud! I can’t wait to watch it a second and third time!

  57. bac

    Great show!! Finally, something cool to watch on Sunday.

  58. alfaniner

    Fantastic show, very entertaining!

    Two quibbles:

    1) I’ve seen the theory presented many times of shining a laser on an asteroid to create a gas ejection. But it is always demonstrated on Earth, with a stationary target. Aren’t most asteroids, y’know, rotating? Nothing is ever mentioned about stopping the rotation and it seems like it would be very difficult to do it enough to focus an unattached laser on a certain spot.

    2)While the science presented is fascinating, I found the display of the ejecta cloud after an impact to be all wrong (I think!). The small particles wouldn’t rotate with the asteroid but continue out in a straight line from wherever it was ejected. And depending on the impact speed it would be easy for them to reach escape velocity, thus not staying too close to the rock.

    I’m going to have to send you an mp3 of all the “Holy *****!”s from the 60’s Batman TV show.

  59. Jennifer B. Phillips

    It was a wonderful program–my husband, my two kids (7 and 10) and I were riveted. We laughed out loud, we squealed (I winced a little after the 10th ejaculation of “Holy Haleakala”, but that’s just me), we enjoyed the heck out of every minute and can’t wait until the next show. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for succeeding where so many have failed at making a fun, informative, family friendly show!

    Thad @48. It’s spelled Fresnel. It’s pronounced Fre-NELL. Phil was right on the money.

  60. MoonShark

    “Look what I did!” (giant crater)


    “Holy Haleakalā!” (4th time)

    Girlfriend: “If he says that again, I wanna punch him.”

    “Holy Haleakalā!” (9th time)

    Girlfriend: “Okay, now I just think he needs help. What’s that mean anyway?” Me: “Pretty sure it’s a volcano.” (It is, in east Maui).

    Awesome show! We were both enthralled; wish it was twice as long! Seriously, the pacing was fast, and while I appreciate that you broke down the asteroid types and made sure to highlight a few genuine experts, there was of course soooo much more you could have done. Darn time constraints! Looked like a ton of work, a ton of editing, and a ton of fun too. …So when’s episode 2? 😀

  61. MoonShark

    Fresnel = Fruh-NELL or Fray-NELL… I’ve heard both. Figured it was French so the latter might be more accurate? *shrug* Yeah that’s what Wikipedia says.

    @ Jennifer (52): It wasn’t just fun, informative, and family friendly (to the extent that the potential end of humanity *can* be those things)…. it was scientifically accurate! That’s the clincher. I loved seeing real scientists, real offices, real testing grounds, mathematically proportionate models, etc.

  62. ggremlin

    Great show Phil, but one major nitpick – Major City ground zero again? I know you you can do better!

  63. Menyambal

    Saw it, loved it. Good job, Phil!

  64. Jackie

    Excellent show, Phil! My 10 year-old and 14 year-old agree. If you can get *those* two to agree, you’re doing really well.

  65. Bo Gardiner

    Yay! I’m so very happy with your show, Phil. It strikes a great balance of science and playing with cool toys to make it real and fun, done far better with much higher educational value than anything comparable I’ve seen.

    Couldn’t ask for more from your on-camera delivery — you came off as warm, smart, funny, compassionate — and passionate — about humanity, with a lovely energy. Just like in person! (Met you on the JREF Alaska cruise). The camera doesn’t lie! I like how you transitioned in the end to your serious message, drama without melodrama.

    (And as I have a television background in addition to my science one, I can assure you that you pronounced Fresnel the way we always did, since Fresnel spotlights are common in TV.)

    There was never a dull moment. While the appeal of this show should be broad, I did not feel talked down to, and stayed intrigued.

    The whispered subliminal track left me in a trance for hours, repeating after you, “Science good. Pseudoscience bad. Universe cool. Superstition bad.”

    Oops, I probably wasn’t supposed to mention that out loud, was I?

    Eileen (the bird person)

  66. SteveA

    I’m watching it now. Very cool & very funny. I love how Phil keeps referring to “The movie” rather than mentioning “Armageddon” by name. Was this for legal reasons, or does saying the name out loud cause you physical pain? :)

  67. jaranath

    I gotta say, it was better than I expected. I was keeping my expectations strategically low, but dang, this was the kind of thing I wish Discovery did more of. I had some nitpicks here and there…the fast-cut, throw-you-into-it editing was not always my cup of tea, but it worked sometimes. The contrast between blowing stuff up bigtime and lighting matches on fire with a Hercules laser (btw…I know that product…I’ve contemplated buying one…big envy!) was a bit too extreme. The laser vs. homemade comet bit seemed…not just low-budget, but didn’t really convince me that it modeled the real thing in any meaningful way (though the ping-pong ball was great.) And it felt a bit like you bounced around between topics a wee bit too much before tying it all together.

    They’d better run with this. This and Mythbusters ought to be the model for a lot of Discovery programming.

  68. RPL

    The only problem I saw with tonights show was you guys kept using Sydney as the impact point. I love Sydney. I personally think Paris would’ve been better….like in “the movie”… 😉

  69. Ian

    “DVRing is cool, but note that the immediate ratings (what the networks call the “overnights”) are pretty important here. They’ll put a lot of weight on them.”

    I’m not a Nielsen (or wtf ever it is) house. So it doesn’t matter.

    I enjoyed the show.

  70. Sunny

    Saw the show and overall thought it was great. I will, however add to the “Haleakala” commentary- you were actually mispronouncing it. It’s “HaleakaLA”, not “HaleAkala”.

    It may be a minor issue to some, and a fairly common mistake, but as someone from Hawaii this is the sort of thing that’s really jarring. And given the general importance of the Hawaiian Islands to astronomy-and the current political conflict between Native Hawaiians and the astronomy community on Mauna Kea- it’s definitely important for astronomers to get this right!

  71. Just Syd

    @ RPL (68): Being named Sydney, I was uncomfortable the entire show. Why does Phil want an asteroid to hit me?

  72. Buzz Parsec

    I haven’t read the post or comments yet 😉 but HAY! You were in Cambridge and didn’t join us for our SitP, just a ten minute walk from the HCO/SAO/CfA, downhill, with the wind, both ways!?! How lazy can you get?

    Oh and I still can’t pronounce Haleakallelelelallea.

  73. astronomer24

    It felt too dumbed down and I don’t think does the book justice but still good and funny too. I love the, “Yeah, smells like mass extinction.”

  74. 24601

    Well, everyone now knows Phil’s favorite shock-phrase. You *really* need to add some variety there. Otherwise, great 1st episode. I hope they carry it on beyond the however-many you’ve already filmed.

  75. Phil,
    Having done TV weather and science for 30 years, I know how hard it is to balance good science and entertainment. Being your real self and letting your own enthusiasm for the subject come through is the answer.

    You certainly made the grade with your first show. Congrats! Very enjoyable!
    (and BADLY needed!)

    Dan Satterfield
    Chief Metr.
    Huntsville AL

  76. e thorn

    Saw the show, which was nice because I didn’t know it was actually going to air, as I don’t normally get Discovery (had been following from skeptics podcast). Two minor points

    1) if a kinetic energy vehicle could change the direction of the object, why would a nuclear explosion not also alter the trajectory of a heavy metal object? I understand why nuclear warheads could cause problems by fragmenting rock, but you made it seem like it would be a near-complete failure to use them in all cases. Could they not be used as an over-blown way of changing the trajectory enough to avoid collision?

    2) if I hear another faux “holy *****” I think I’ll cry. If you’re going to curse, do it.

  77. The Doctor

    Hi Phil,

    I am a big fan of your books, your knowledge, and your dedication to science.
    I greatly enjoyed the premier of your new show today.

    What I really liked about it was the graphical comic book interaction, especially the way the scientists were introduced, and I liked the enthusiasm about the science that you conveyed.

    I also liked the opening graphics and your on-screen personality.

    As a fellow scientist, there is much to like about the show!

    The only concern I have is how today’s topic will influence the general public.

    To be more specific, the title sequence of the show suggests that you are the guy to talk about science and separate the fact from the fiction related to space related issues, while also be entertaining in the process. This is a great goal, but when I take a step back, I am left feeling a bit concerned about the message left at the end for the general public, which seems to be that there will not be alien invasions, but we are all doomed by a meteor or a comet in less than 20 years.

    The reason I think many people will leave with this message is that you bring credibility to the show, and you showed great concern, and people have heard of various fictional disasters like the one in 2012. It only seems too easy for people to watch the first episode of your show and feel that their scenarios of doom were based on some form of reality. People may leave the show believing that maybe 2012 is fiction, but the message seems to have shifted to that people will cease to exist in 2019, or five years later, which does little to reduce the problem.

    To further emphasize the seemingly positive chance of likely doom, the episode kept showing visions of total destruction hitting the earth, with you appearing to suggest we may have to worry.

    I understand the need for TV to create an entertaining theme, but I hope that scientists who are on TV do not become viewed the same as the entertainment based media companies who look for ways to make science more entertaining by playing to the drama and unlikely aspects to get people to remain interested.

    I know it took a great deal of work for you to get to TV and I am glad you are there. I hate to mention anything, but to be honest; I really feel I had to bring this to your attention.

    In your books, you seemed to have established a good way to express that talking about doom is fun and is always theoretically possible, but for people to fear that in their lifetime, the end of the world will come, should have no reason to place a great deal of time being concerned about this, as the odds of everyday life offer more danger than the odds of the next 50 years leading to an earth disaster.

    If I were to make a change to your first show, what I would do differently would be to have at the last 1 minute of the show, the following monologue:

    “While doom and destruction is popular and fun to think about, I want to assure everyone that I am not up all night worried about the earth exploding. We always want to use all the available resources to prevent any chance of possible disasters, and I am glad we are doing this, but to dwell on impending doom is not the message I want this show to send. Just remember, that the real risks of today’s episode are much less likely than the simple risks we all take just from driving our cars.”

    Without a way to provide a bit of a public debriefing as suggested above, it will not be too difficult to see why people will come away with unnecessary anxiety about the future, as this is already the case now with the way the media exaggerates and distorts information.

    Again, I am not suggesting that you intentionally had any goal except to entertain and to inform, but I was a bit uneasy about how the episode was left, the constant footage of the surface of the earth being destroyed with what seemed like 50/50 odds of the earth being wiped out in the next 20 years.

    Thanks for your time and your great work.

    The Doctor

  78. teridann

    Cool, it started at my alma mater. I knew it as soon as I saw the bone yard, some of that stuff was there in the 80’s. I was a student there when the first Soviet tank showed up. I’m hooked.

  79. Thomas

    Just watched the show and I have to be honest here Phil. You’re a standup guy and I like your blog but I found this unwatchable. All the flashy editing and oh-so-dramatic music obscured the subject for me. I’m not some ADHD-kid who needs his attention kept up by cutting every two seconds. And the whole show was like that! You’ll give someone an epileptic fit if you keep this up. It reminds me of why I don’t watch the mythbusters anymore, as it nowadays suffers the same syndrome (though not as badly). More science, less noise!

  80. Crab

    I missed the first 15-20 minutes or so but thoroughly enjoyed what I did see. I think your show has potential to be a great success in the same vein as Mythbusters. Hopefully the ratings are good enough and you get to make more beyond whatever you have already done.

  81. Bob Harmount

    Great show Phil!! Very very Cool.

    (Now I want to go out in by back yard & explode stuff! – just kidding)


  82. Phil, according to this NASA page,, there’s very little chance of Apophis impacting the Earth in 2029 or 2036. Could you comment on this?

    Other than that, it was a great first show, and its a good thing we didn’t try to create a drinking game. We would have been hospitalized after the 10th “Holy Haleakala.”

  83. Grand Lunar

    Absolutely loved it, Phil!

    While I expected some items, there were a few things I didn’t know.
    Also loved the various tests with the stand-ins for different asteroids.
    I also had no idea that a kinetic impactor that generates a lot of ejecta could be used for deflection, though I have to wonder how a rubble pile would respond to that. Glad to see the graviational tractor get a spot too; that idea needs to come out more, given that the public may still think that nukes are the answer.

    Can hardly wait for the next episode!

  84. BigBadSis

    In contrast to Jaranath’s comment about the homemade comet being low-budget; that was just the kind of thing that brought my kids in. Seeing something so cool made from everyday items they could find in their kitchen — plus a little dry ice, made them pay attention. Now we can actually retain what a comet is made of, and even make one ourselves! Very cool. I cannot speak scientifically as to whether it modeled the real thing accurately, but it got the point across to us. The other really helpful effect, was the skyscraper of rocks. What a visual!!

  85. Overall, a very promising start. Two comments:

    1) The show gave the impression that Apophis was going to whack us in 2029 unless we did something, and even then might still go though the keyhole and come back later.

    2) The show works as a drinking game — every time Phil says “Holy Haleakala” you have to take a shot.

  86. Scottynuke

    This was extremely welcome counterprogramming to all the “death from the skies” crap-ola on SciFi. Well done Phil! :-)

  87. Overall, an enjoyable show. My main critiques: as others have already pointed out, you may want to consider cutting back on the “Holy Haleakala”s.

    Also, the image for the asteroid field. Aren’t you the one who has told us that it is not particularly crowded and that the typical movie depictions are very misleading?

    The demonstration with the model comet was good. I’m wondering about the feasibility of some of the things that you mentioned could work, like the giant fresnel lens in the sky…or, well, space.

  88. Dawn

    My husband and I watched it and enjoyed it very much. Can’t wait to watch the others. Since others have given the critiques, I won’t leave any! :)

    My husband enjoyed the show so much, he has asked to read my copy of Death from the Skies.

  89. a month or so ago during the talk after the showing of a current documentary on nuclear disarmament, an audience member took the mic and worried that if we got rid of ALL the nukes, we wouldn’t have anything to blow up the dangerous asteroids with.

    I’m not one to speak in public, but I just HAD to get up and debunk that. (Also took on his concern that the movie might “teach the terrorists how to make nuclear weapons.”)

    I hope that guy was watching this tonight.

  90. Oh, and you were in MA and didn’t say hi to your droogs here?

  91. Gary

    Pretty good show. Fast paced, filled with real content, and not padded with replayed shots and teasers like many such shows. A little dorky with the cartoonization effects. Enough with the holy hikahookaleakalackias, already. Be cool.

  92. Greg B

    Even though I have to get up at 4:30 am to meet my carpool and get to work, I stayed up to watch it and I’m glad I did. I think the production values will really appeal to the Discovery Channel audience. The comic book style is great. I love the presentation of real scientist as comic book heroes.

    Of all the things in the show I think I was surprised and enlightened most by the comet build. When it was done I actually said out loud “Wow, it really is a ‘dirty snowball'”. I’ve heard that term so many times but it was a real learning moment to see how it came together.

  93. Damn. I really wish I could watch it. But alas, me being a puny European, it’s likely that I’ll never see the light of BU. :-/

  94. Tom K.

    Sorry, started to watch it but there are, as in many shows, too much frame flashing of scenes. Hurts the old eyes, so after 15 minutes I left. Good thing is, I don’t watch much TV anymore, bad thing is I miss great ones’ like yours.

  95. Now, if you can get Jamie and Adam to say “holy haleakala” – you guys would get a major movement going!

    I enjoyed the show a lot. In fact, I didn’t even realize it was over until the credits started to run. I wanted to see more explosions, big cannons, guns and lasers! One can never have enough of that if I say so myself.

    When I was younger I watched some workers blast into some rock to build a bridge. The detonation was under water but still feeling air and ground move a bit is frightening and awesome!

    Look forward to the next one.

  96. RPJ

    Saw the show last night and loved it =D

    One thing though – “Holy Haleakala” (or holy —) gets tiresome to hear around the half-dozenth time on the same show. (Or maybe it’s just me).

  97. Kimpatsu

    Phil, what have you got against Sydney?
    Great job, though. Next, please destroy London.

  98. jaranath


    Wow, that’s an excellent point (and anecdote!) I hadn’t thought of that angle. I was focusing more on how it didn’t seem as clear a demonstration, which most of the show did SO well. But yeah, homemade comets are cool, and it did at least make the basic point.

    And I still want that laser! :)

  99. Scott

    Very good first show, wish it was on earlier. I know lots of middle school age kids would really get a kick out of it. Great Science introduction for them…

  100. I DVRed Bad Universe to make sure I didn’t miss any of it (either forgetting it was on that night or having a kid wake up & need my attention right when Phil was deflecting a giant asteroid). As it was, I watched it all, though my attention wavered between Bad Universe and the Twitter party of Bad Universe fans tweeting away.

    That’s ok, though, because it just means I need to watch it again and again and again. Plus, I can try to convince my wife (who’s a teacher by trade) to watch it with me. (She was too tired last night to watch comets smacking into the Earth.)

  101. @Kimpatsu,

    On Twitter, Phil explained that Sydney was chosen because they wanted an iconic major city that hadn’t been blown up 50 times by asteroids in the movies already.

    If he continues with asteroids/comets in the next one (which I’m doubting), I’d like to see them model what would happen if it struck water. I think too many people would think “Oh, it’ll land in the ocean. No harm done, then. We’re safe.” In reality, we’d probably be spared the initial impact only to have giant tsunamis strike across the globe.

  102. Gonçalo Aguiar

    @ 77

    “2) The show works as a drinking game — every time Phil says “Holy Haleakala” you have to take a shot.”

    I was just thinking that.

  103. JMW

    Sadly,’s FAQ has this to say:

    We look to offer Canadian viewers an opportunity to watch the best Discovery US programs as soon they are available.

    As Discovery Channel Canada is separate and apart from Discovery Channel in the U.S., airdates in Canada and the U.S. may vary, due to rights clearances and delivery of the shows.

    Bah. Darned lawyers ruin everything.

  104. Regarding the “vagaries of producing a TV program means compromising on what goes in and what gets taken out” – I can relate. I work on planetarium shows (at a planetarium Phil is familiar with, even), and the necessity of making the science that’s included fit the narrative and formatting requirements is a never-ending, and necessary, struggle. Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of making the best product with the fewest/minimally impactful compromises. In my judgment, Bad Universe did a marvelous job. I thought that it was accessible for the lay public while being essentially accurate and educational. That’s not always an easy balance to strike. Kudos!

  105. Carter

    I got a whole bunch of friends over to my college house’s common room to watch the show last night. For the most part it was a very positive experience. I understand it takes a lot of compromising to create a science-based TV show, and I think my fellow college-educated viewers would agree that it’s below much of the lay person’s understanding. Some comments included “Isn’t this something we learned in 3rd grade?” “He’s trying too hard to be funny.” “If he says … what was it? Holy Haleakala? one more time…”

    But for the average American TV viewer or younger interested audience member, the show was a good blend of fun animations, an excited Phil Plait, and scientific experiment that involved blowing shtuff up. What I’d like to see is a college- or graduate-level program with as much enthusiasm and experimentation that could be screened as an additional course material!

  106. DGKnipfer

    Sorry but I only saw the first half of the show, Phil. Looked good, and I can’t wait to catch it next time, but I have to ask a question? Why the focus on Apophis passing the Earth in 2029? I know Apophis isn’t going to hit the Earth in 2029 and so do you. I do know that it comes back around by the Earth in 2036 and that there’s still a chance for an impact then. Since I didn’t get to see the end of the show I don’t know if you went over that in the show, but reviews I’m seeing elsewhere don’t mention that point. They’re asking why the show needed to sensationalize the Apophis passage in 2029 too.

  107. DavidHW:

    One (actually, the only) bit of constructive criticism: “Holy Haleakala” doesn’t translate well from print to the ear. Just IMHO. :-)

    Gotta agree with you here. The first time he said it, it took me a moment to figure out what he said. I just didn’t sound like it reads. (My English-speaking brain “pronounced” it differently when I read it.) Still sounded weird every time he said it.

    And my 11-year-old daughter stayed up way past her bedtime to watch it. “It’s on the DVR” apparently wasn’t good enough. :-)

  108. BGgeek

    Good show. My one problem with it was that you concluded nukes weren’t a good idea to use against asteroids by simulating them with a kinetic energy projectile. Then, later concluded that using a kinetic energy projectile was the way to go by… well… by testing a kinetic energy projectile. Hmmm. Which is it?

    Maybe if an asteroid is too big to break apart then a nuke would be a good way to shove it aside. Similarly, if an asteroid is small enough to shatter from a nuke, maybe a kinetic energy projectile isn’t such a good idea either.

    Or, maybe there’s a relationship between asteroid size and composition versus maximum energy that can be safely delivered without making the situation worse. And it doesn’t so much matter how you deliver that energy (nuke or kinetic energy), as long as you don’t deliver too much of it?

  109. JohnG

    Do asteroids look like that in space? They had that kind of rounded look I would expect after passage through the atmosphere.

    I enjoyed the comparisons of the different types and compositions of asteroids. The visuals were very nice overall. Enough commentary has been made on the “Holy Haleakala”, but I would have appreciated it if Phil could have worked in phrases like “embiggenate” somehow. Another popular theme of his.

    Can’t wait for the next one! Makes me want to go back and re-read “Death From the Skies!”

  110. jaranath

    Hm. I thought the Apophis bit was a great move. It may have implied the risk was greater than we think it is, but it made everything Phil was discussing far more real. It tied everything together in a real object: We’ve spotted it, we know it will get very close, we know it well enough that we can make models you can hold in your hand, and we can actually talk about how to mitigate it (if we have to) right now. It’s just more compelling if it’s not some hypothetical asteroid, but a real one with a name…even if it’s maybe just a stand-in for another rock with a greater certainty of hitting us. And it gave an opportunity to show off the cool science that’s been done on Apophis.

  111. I watched it more or less live last night. The DVR started the recording, but after about 15 minutes I jumped in and started from the beginning. I am so used to not watching appointment-based TV that I can’t sit through commercials anymore.

    I enjoyed the show a great deal. You managed to pack a lot of content into a short time, and did so clearly. I didn’t mind the pace all that much, as I know it’ll keep some people’s interest more than others. I try to show things like Cosmos and Wonders of the Solar System to my girlfriend, and they can only keep her attention for half of the show, despite her interest in the subject. She’s rather sadly been training her viewing habits with network TV for the last couple of years.

    I didn’t mind the “Holy Haleakekjfdoifoi” at all, because it’s YOUR THING. I don’t begrudge Superman his “Great Scott,” or Wonder Woman her “Suffering Sappho,” nor yet Captain Marvel his “Holy Moley,” so you get a pass. :)

    All in all, Congrats on a job well done :)

  112. Steeev

    Perhaps for the reruns (which hopefully will go on for a long time) you could bleep out the “Haleakalas” and just let people wonder what you were saying. Try watching the Jerry Springer show with closed captioning on to see just how funny this can be.

  113. I enjoyed the show greatly (wish it had been on earlier so my kids could have watched with me… if he wasn’t already behind on his Chemistry and History work my 13yo could have stayed up and he would have LOVED it)… You did a great job of combining the ‘excitement about what you’re doing’ factor that Adam has on Mythbusters, with the scientific knowledge that Neil Tyson brings to his work.

    I look forward to more episodes.

  114. Merle

    I quite enjoyed the show – I think they had a bit too much fun with the graphics, but that just made it better to watch!

    Can’t wait for the next episode!

  115. Matt

    Phil, great show! I especially enjoyed the high speed captures of the impact shock wave (waaaay cool) and the simulated asteroid impactor at the end. Keep ’em coming! :)

    And I don’t know what the people of Sydney might have done to you (other than possibly the AVN), but remind me never to get you mad at me or my home town! 😉

  116. XPT

    Good show, although I think criticism is useful, so I’ll say that I felt you were trying too hard. I know it’s your attitude (or character), but you don’t have to make funny faces or yell “holy haleakala” all the time. Maybe it’s just the editing.

  117. Tom

    I loved the show. It was very fast moving, the animations were great, explosions stunning, knowledge learned priceless, and Holy Haleakala – are there more episodes coming?

    Thank y0u!

    Tom -Science geek

  118. Don’t lose the Holy Haleakala. That’s your thing!

    @jaranath, BigBadSis, and others interested in the model comet, a recipe is available (pdf only for now):

    Adult supervision and good thick gloves *highly* recommended! There are many ways of doing it, and that seemed to work for our group of kids.

    Phil, did you have an adult supervise? 😉

  119. alfaniner

    There was one image at the beginning of the Earth missing a substantial part of its mass that literally took my breath away. Usually those are repeated somewhere in the show. Could it be from an upcoming episode? I hope so, it was stunning.

    I realize that the “Holy H”s were probably said months apart, and just happened to be the right expression for the right times.

    The show had probably the only legitimate use of Comic Sans font outside of comic books.

  120. jaranath

    Oh yeah…that’s something else I forgot to mention:

    When the footage of the big ANFO boom was shown, you could see the pressure wave in the air in one of the shots. I thought, “oooh, neat! Wish they’d show that more…” And then it cuts right to a beautiful, slow-mo, closeup shot of the wave, complete with arrow pointing it out, and Phil explaining what it is and how it ties into the dangers of an impact and te Bikini disks you’d placed earlier. And then you went to look at them.

    This kind of thing happened several times in the show…you/they showed exactly the sorts of things I wanted to see, and followed up on the things that I’d want followed up. Very well done, that.

  121. Well done Phil! I think a good metric for TV success is how quickly a show gets onto torrent sites. ( not that I condone such behaviour of course ) Bad Universe was on EzTv and PirateBay within hours of airing! A sure winner :-)

  122. Saw it, liked it, congratulations on an auspicious debut!

    In the constructive (really!) criticism department, I had some of the same misgivings as The Doctor @77 and a few commenters like Thomas @79. I thought the doom was a bit relentless and could be misconstrued by viewers not as familiar with your dark sense of humor as your regular readers. I think you said the right words to put the odds in perspective, but am not sure you considered how powerful images are by comparison. People may hear “1 in 500,000” or “every xx million years” but what they’ll remember is the image of vaporized cities. I thought the cumulative effect was a bit “2012-ish.”

    I know you’re making television for the 21st century; I’m sure you had many discussions with producers weighing the balance between science, entertainment, and holding/losing attention. For my taste, it was pretty frenetic. Some bits seemed intended to provide cool pictures more than pertinent demonstrations. I kept hoping for a sense of the slow clockwork majesty, unimaginably long time frames, and vast empty distances involved; instead, the universe came off as chaotic, crowded, violent and imminently dangerous. Lotsa ‘splosions! I wanted moments to draw a breath and reflect. But I guess the days of “Cosmos” and “Connections” are gone and that’s not your fault or responsibility to fix, nor maybe what you’d care to aim for in the first place.

    These are nits, and more about form than content. In the big picture, it’s terrific to see someone serious about science and skepticism on television at all, and full credit to Discovery for giving you the forum (and budget–the show looks pricey!). I hope it’s the start of a long career.

    And Alfaniner: there are NO legitimate uses of Comic Sans, unless perhaps sarcastically, and especially NOT in comic books.

  123. Stuart Goldman

    Good show overall. I agree with some of the points already made (need exclamatory variety!). One instance of “bad astronomy” that I haven’t seen mentioned was the question posed to the audience, “Do you remember when Comet Hale-Bopp streaked across the sky?” Well, not really, because it didn’t “streak” across the sky. As we all know, comets don’t do that — but to the rest of the TV audience, it only reinforces the misconception that comets are like meteors in the sky.

    I also thought that the part about Apophis would be confusing to anyone who didn’t know the details of its close approaches. The pre-commercial teaser correctly noted that the asteroid has a chance of hitting us in 2036, but the later discussion with the JPL orbit app was all about 2029. There should have been a succinct narrative tying together the 2029 pass, the keyhole, and 2036.

  124. Dosco Jones


    It was a worthy first attempt, although I believe the presentation style was far too flashy and full of pointless special effects and overly dramatic music. Given the late time slot I had assumed the show was intended for adults, but it appears to be better shaped for time-shifting teenagers.

    I look forward to the next two or three episodes, after which time I decide whether to keep recording your show or pull it from my DVR programming. I sincerely hope it improves, as I have the greatest respect for you and your blog. You’ve done excellent work.


    P.S. If I hear the phrase “Holy Haleakala” one more time I’m gonna puke.

  125. Slowly but Surly

    I have to second XPT (#116), sorry. My wife thought the show was too fast paced, making it hard to follow. Also my daughter, wife & I cringed when you said “Holy Haleakala” for the Nth time. However I did like the comic book info cards 😉

    My primary criticism with the content was how you modeled the difference between a nuke and an impactor. In both cases you fired a projectile at a target to prove two opposing ideas, which I assume must have confused many viewers. I would have liked a better description starting with “we used a bullet as a stand in for a bomb because… ”

    Also, it wasn’t clear to me that the big ka-boom was designed to be scaled down model for a larger strike until you said so while picking through the debris.

    I’d like to see the show balanced a bit more on the science side of the scale. Show me something cool, that’s fine, but please tell me more…

  126. Wayne Conrad

    Phil, Nicely done. Sweetie and I stayed up past our bedtimes to watch it (our house being the last on the planet without a DVR). You make the science exciting because it excites you. That passion makes a show fun to watch.

    I enjoyed the demonstrations a la Mythbusters. A ton and a half of explosives? Oh yeah!

    Sweetie thought that you did a great job of making the science understandable without making it dumb. I agree.

  127. Fitz

    Enjoyed the show, looking forward to the next ones.

    One thing I didn’t get. Why is a kinetic impactor better than a nuke?

    When discussing the nuke it seemed like debris was bad but for the impactor debris was good?

  128. Number 6

    Great night for TV last night….The two main actors in one of the most inventive dramas — AMC’s “Breaking Bad” — won Emmys. And, to top off the evening, Dr. Plait’s great, new show!

    Scanned some of the criticisms of the new show in this blog, and while blog responders make some good points….Hey, it’s the first show!….People (and Dr. Phil) do improve w/ practice….Cut him some slack here!

    Overall, I was impressed with the show. Scientific concepts were explained clearly. Even novices like me could readily understand them. I loved the experiments — blasting with bullets and the really BIG explosion! I think Dr. Phil tied them in nicely with the menace that we face from outer space (ignore the rhyme there).

    What I also liked was Phil’s enthusiasm….When I was growing up in Chicago many years ago, there was a physicist on the local PBS station — Dr. Dan Q. Posin — — who was emphatic in his explanations about outer space and about various scientific theories. Watching him get excited made me excited about physics and about science in general. In that way, Dr. Plait reminds me of Dr. Posin.

    Good cartoon graphics….nice way to intro. the main characters in the scientific story.

    Also, a nice touch was how Dr. Plait raised everyone’s anxiety about this eventual future event. It gave the show a sense of urgency and edginess…helps keep viewers involved to find out what can be done to solve this “End of the World” problem.

    One Question: Is there any money allocated by the Feds to begin a project to carry out the two-step solution outlined at the end of the show? If not, should we begin now writing our U.S. Congressional Representatives and Senators to urge them to do so?

  129. Neologist

    Great show, but Holy Haleakala has to be the most innane immature distraction imaginable. Do not say it EVER again on the show.
    Have Discovery bleep it out – that would be much more tolerable to listen to.

  130. jaranath

    Fitz: Well, the main differences were timing and intent. The Hollywood “nuke it” approach is based on trying to vaporize the thing or render it into too-small-to-matter pieces (although if those pieces still hit us and aren’t far enough apart than it’s just the bag-o’-rocks asteroid scenario). But the impactor is about deflecting the asteroid, spotting it soon enough that a tiny push in the right direction ensures that years later it’ll miss us by a comfortable margin.

    What I did wonder is whether a nuke could provide the same nudge, and/or if you could enhance the impactor by including a warhead. I suspect the answer is simple if you do the math…perhaps at the velocities we’re talking, a nuke would add little oomph?

  131. George

    Congrats to you Phil! You seemed comfortable throughout the whole show and you had the right amount of alacrity, too. Nice!

    Please let us know when it will be safe to go to Sydney. *wink*

  132. Somite

    I find it ironic that the @badastronomer drives an SUV in a show about saving the planet. Climate change > immediate than asteroid impact.

  133. johno

    Cool show Phil,

    I hope you can answer a question I have about the gravity tractor concept. I don’t think it can work because the exhaust gas from the ion engine will impact the asteroid and push it away from the spacecraft. In order to keep the spacecraft from settling down on the surface of the asteroid the ion engine will have to be pointed at the center of gravity of the asteroid. Can you explain why this factor doesn’t cancel out the force of gravitational attraction between the spacecraft and the asteroid?


  134. J Greer

    It was an incredible show. You could tell it had the budget to do a good job. All science programs should be this good. We would have a lot more scientists in the pipe line.

    I saved it to watch again.

  135. Dosco Jones


    So long as the tractor’s engine exhaust does not strike the surface of the body being moved, there is no issue. This can be done using multiple exhaust ports with individual vectors that do not intersect the body, but that have a net thrust in the desired direction.

    A similar situation can be seen in the design of the capsule escape rocket on an Apollo launch vehicle. That device had four exhaust ports that each vectored down and away from the surface of the capsule, but that in net thrust would take the capsule up and away from the launch vehicle.

    As an alternative, a solar sail might be used in place of ion thrusters, but that technology is far from flight ready.


  136. Ben

    @132 Somite you must be great at parties.

  137. Voss

    Just watched the show on DVR. Good job! The science exposition was interesting and detailed, and more in depth than some other science shows IMO. The demonstrations were entertaining but still relevant to the topic at hand. I also liked the comic book style introductions.

    My only quibble was the sound effects for some of the space CGI, but I realize that’s probably out of your hands.

    Can’t wait for next week’s episode!

  138. johno

    @ Dosco Jones

    That makes sense. I suppose gyroscopes could be used to change the attitude of the spacecraft and a single thruster would then be enough because it’s direction could be constantly changed as the ion engine is firing. Perhaps the engine could be directed to just barely avoid the asteroid as it follows the horizon of it in a clockwise or anticlockwise direction. That’s probably more info than they’d like to present on a pop-sci show though.

    Instead of using a solar sail with a gravity tractor spacecraft it’d make more sense to just try wrapping a mylar sheet around the asteroid itself. That would probably require a minimum of 3 ships to handle the sheet and co-ordinate the process.


  139. Fitz

    @jaranath: Cheers.

    “whether a nuke could provide the same nudge, and/or if you could enhance the impactor by including a warhead” -this is kind of what I was getting at.

    “I suspect the answer is simple if you do the math” – I’ll let you get on with that ‘kay? 😉

  140. Jeff Wright

    I had the same questions that I share here:

    There I make the arguement that a nuclear weapon should be the first option, not the last, in that a flyby release of a warhead of the Orion pusher plate variety will take less time than a gravity tractor mission that has to spend a lot of time matching orbits–like Rosetta.

    Shout out to Dan Satterfield in post 75. Nice to see a good weatherman from my home state here.

  141. eric

    Oh noes, I missed it!
    I’ve looked on the Discovery channel website but can’t find it in the “watch full episodes” area, I can only find a bunch of 1-2 minute clips. Phil or anyone else, if/when Discovery puts it on-line, could you post the link?


  142. eric

    Oh noes, I missed it!
    I’ve looked on the Discovery channel website but can’t find it in the “watch full episodes” area, I can only find a bunch of 1-2 minute clips. Phil or anyone else, if/when Discovery puts it on-line, could you post the link?


  143. jaranath

    Who, me? I can’t get past 2+2 = 5.


  144. Just got done watching it! Not bad, not bad. :) I would’ve thought that asteroids that close to impact didn’t have fire trails, though perhaps I’m misunderstanding what I saw. Or the science. Since I never actually completed any science courses in school… *blush*

    But still, quite good! What’s next?

  145. Rebekah Dekker

    Watched the show last night with the whole family and enjoyed it very much! Our 9-year-old daughter said, about half-way through, “I like him! He’s funny!” Pause. “And he’s scary, too!” Our 9-year-old son suggested, “He needs to borrow Buster from Adam and Jaime for the blow-up stuff.” Good times! Keep ’em coming! And if you’re ever filming at UNM again, free food, drink, and unlimited numbers of 9-year-olds’ questions are available at our place. Really.

  146. Jeff Wright

    Now, according to the author of this book, it would not be good to try to look at a sizable body coming down as it would be blinding.

    Quaint as it sounds, duck and cover makes sense–be it nukes, impactors or tornado strikes. Think low, think small. Interior hallway if you are fast enough.

  147. Ian H Spedding FCD

    Just quick word of congratulation. Thoroughly enjoyed the show.

    What stuck in my mind for some reason were the little tidbits that added something to what I already knew. Like the fact that when the K/T object hit, it was so big that, as the leading edge hit the Earth, the back end was still sticking up out of the atmosphere. Or the hair-raising thought that we likely won’t see something approaching from sunward until it starts glowing in the sky!

    What I’d like to see is some way of giving an idea of what astronomical speeds look like. I found a video clip which showed what you would see if the International Space Station were able to fly low over the Earth’s surface at 17,500 mph but what would we see of a comet going by at 70,000 mph for example?

  148. Donalbain

    Hi Phil,

    (sorry for my strange English, I’m no native speaker)

    I really digged your book, here’s my take on BU:

    First my dislikes:

    1. Found permanent dramatic music quite off-putting. Save it for the climax and it will have more “impact” (ha-ha).

    2. Half the number of cuts, please. The show was trying too hard to be exciting all the time. That – again – takes away most of the excitement. There need to be some more calm parts.

    3. Too often just banging things together, too little background on all the astronomical stuff. Thats really weird, because you had so much interesting and well-explained science in your book.

    4. The “reveal” of the gravitational pulling and “salvation” of the earth was a bit rushed and too easy. Could have been elaborated more.

    My likes:

    1. You are the right person for the job, your excitement is great to watch.

    2. Good to make your hands dirty, to make experiments and also to show actual scientists and how they work, not just cool animations or cool fake movie-like labs.

    Overall I would blame the network and the editor for trying too hard to make everything as exciting and cool and “un-sciency” as possible. For me I looked a bit like cheap tricks that were totally unnessessary. I hope that the show gets picked up for a lot more episodes and that the editor/producer gain more trust in the fascination created by the science of the topic than by “cheap” action sequences.

    But overall, I liked it.
    Wish you great success with your show!


  149. It was great show. I’m just not sure about the way all the impactors were displayed, i.e. I kind doubt that a bigger object (of about 100-400m) would heat up in the few seconds it takes to cross the atmosphere.

    p.s. I counted only 6 “holy haleakala”

  150. Steve Huntwork

    1) F = M * V^2 and it does not matter how the mass is distributed. One huge impact, or thousands of small ones, will have the exact same amount of force.

    2) To maximize the mass of the impacting object, a high density metal such as uranium would be preferred. That is why the US military uses depleted uranium bullets, because the mass is greater than lead.

    If your high density mass can also go BANG upon impact, then you will increase the amount of force applied to the asteroid.

    3) The original atomic bomb was based upon the cannon concept, where sub-critical uranium masses were fired towards each other, and upon impact, achieved the critical mass density required for nuclear detonation.

    4) Assemble the components of a hydrogen bomb in a rod like configuration which would be “inert” and safe. Upon impact with the asteroid, the components would be compressed and achieved the critical mass density required for nuclear detonation.

    5) Similar to Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, send a long chain of these nuclear rods on a high velocity intersect trajectory with the asteroid. There is no need for one massive impact, since multiple small nudges will also alter the orbit.

    6) Assemble the components of the nuclear rod weapons in low Earth orbit. Current technology is capable of launching these individual components.

    7) Each individual nuclear rod is rather low in mass, so only relatively small rockets will be required to launch each of them from low Earth orbit onto an intercept course with the asteroid.

    8) Use Earth’s Moon for a gravity assist in altering the orbit of the asteroid. If a gravity assist is not possible, alter the trajectory of the asteroid to impact upon the Moon.

  151. SCorinth

    My first impression was “Please, please, please don’t be another “Mythbusters”!” I would have liked to see more science and less explosions.

    Really, though, any complaints I have about the show pale in comparison to “It’s Phil Plait on TV! YAAAAY!” and “Hey [significant other], it’s the guy that wrote the book you like on TV!” Sadly, he was less impressed. :-(

  152. Tritium

    Hi Phil,

    Interesting and engaging show. However, you really messed up with regards to the effects of a thermonuclear weapon (in space), and how it could be used to deflect an asteroid or comet.

    First of all, your modeling of a nuclear blast was based on kinetic energy (high velocity impactor). A thermonuclear explosion in space releases only a small fraction of it’s total energy as kinetic energy (fission products and neutrons). In the vacuum of space, a thermonuclear weapon releases over 80% of it’s energy in soft x-rays and gamma rays. This high energy ionizing radiation would ablate the surface of the bolide, creating a thrust in the opposite direction. If the asteroid/comet was caught early enough, and we could deliver the nuke(s) to the object where the intercept occurs far enough away from it’s Earth-bound trajectory…then the “rocket” effect of the ablation would displace the object’s orbit enough so that it would completely miss our planet.

    Furthermore, the weapon would probably be engineered to direct it’s energy in a cone (analogous to a shaped charge), as opposed to isotropically. Although the exact details of producing a directed pulse/blast of a thermonuclear weapon are classified, the capability was developed for Project Orion, back in the 60’s. This would result in focusing the massive energy release, which would significantly increase the net thermal and ablative impulse experienced by the asteroid/comet.


  153. Darren

    Phil… Awesome show! One criticism though… You’re using the phrase, “Holy Haleakala!” Way too much!

  154. Mike Sperry

    YESSSSS! This show was just as full of WIN as I’d hoped!
    Awesome start to a great series.

    “Holy Haleakala!” indeed!

  155. Watched it. Loved it.

    1) What do you have against Sydney, exactly?
    2) You do realise that “Holy Haleakala!” is now your *official* catch-phrase?
    2a) Interesting to know how that’s pronounced. Not what I expected, exactly.
    3) You have a TV show?!
    4) The vision of you as a hundred-foot radioactive astronomer who shoots down UFOs with his eyes is so awesome I’m going to have to try to work it into a piece of short fiction somehow.

  156. And oh dear. I did forget to criticise your science, didn’t I?

    I mean, okay, I know you know that terrestrial rocks aren’t great models for asteroids, impactors are poor models for nukes, space explosions are *different*, and that the energy liberated in an impact relates more nearly to the square of velocity than to velocity, but why didn’t you mention any of these things?

  157. @150 —
    1) According to Newton, F=MA, and P=MV, the only place velocity gets squared is when you’re dealing with E. And actually, the nature of the projectile can matter, because it’s going to effect the elasticity of the collision (the more elastic, as it happens, the better.)
    2) There are a couple of reasons the army likes uranium. Its density is higher than lead, or tungsten, which is important not because it changes the force of the impact, but because it puts more pressure on a smaller area, leading to a penetrating collision. While good for killing tanks, a penetrating collision is not remotely what we want in killing asteroids. Uranium is also “incendiary” and “self-sharpening” — also good for tanks and less than ideal for asteroids.
    3) I’m not saying your gun-bomb idea is a bad one, exactly, but a more modern weapon would release more energy for the same weight and might apply it better.

  158. JoeB

    This Hawaii fan really enjoyed the show, but if you are going to continue to use your HH expression, you must learn to pronounce it correctly. The accent is not on the third syllable
    but on the final one. It’s not really an accent, just an emphasis and lengthening; one of the commenters wrote Haleakala with the macron (long mark) over the final a; I don’t know how to do that, but it is correct.
    Haleakala is a 10000 foot volcano on Maui. Many visitors drive to the top to see the sunrise: Hale-akala=house of the sun. There are numerous observatories on top, including a solar one, and an infra-red one; the visible stuff is better on 14000 ft Mauna Kea. I try to spend three nights in the “crater” cabins at least once a year with ~10 friends, often during a meteor shower. The geminids last December were great. I’m sure we could fit a BadAstronomer and a little BadAstronomer into our group.

  159. My wife and I (both science people) watched it yesterday. She works at a sort-of ESA Spanish branch so in a way, we knew everything in advance. Despite that, we really enjoyed the show and we’re looking forward to watching them all.

    We only have a BUT. It may sound snob but we feel it is rather important when you’re talking about science. Please, please, please… use International Metric System for magnitudes. If you feel like you’ll be alienating the US audience, then at least show the equivalent in IMS on screen.

    Other than that, awesome piece of work.

  160. Jim Ernst

    Great show! I loved it! But….. :)

    I would have liked to see a simulation of an impact. It could have been fun to fire each type of asteroid at the ground with as much velocity as you could muster.

    Also, why didn’t you drill a hole into each type, insert some sort of explosive, and detonate that? A shaped charge could have been contrived as well.

    Otherwise, very cool!

  161. Ginger Yellow

    There was lots to like in the show, but I had some quibbles.

    First the good:

    1) Explosions! In slo-mo!

    2) Relatively high proportion of actual science, both theory and practice.

    3) Phil’s enthusiasm (although as everyone else has noted, the exclamations got a bit repetitive).

    4) The comic book presentation of science fiction.

    The bad:

    1) This is a flaw of most American TV documentaries, which are cut around numerous ads, but the constant recapping really grated and took up an inordinate amount of time. If this were a BBC show it would be half the length, or would cover more ground.

    2) Lots of pointless quick cuts. Explosions and asteroids destroying life on earth don’t need hyperactive editing to be interesting.

    4) On a related note, I got bored of seeing Sydney destroyed about 20 times. I realise that consumed a lot of budget and the producers want to get their money’s worth, but still.

  162. I really enjoyed the show, Phil. It was a lot of fun, and you have a good camera presence. But I really must agree with others commenting here that you MIGHT want to cut back on the use of “Holy Haleakala!” You don’t need a gimmicky catchphrase.

  163. MarkH

    I watched BU last night on the DVR. I thought it was…pretty good. Not great. Entertaining. Honestly, that episode’s particular subject isn’t anything I’ve never seen many times before on other shows, but the experiments made it more interesting, even if I suspect the point there was more to be able to shoot stuff with big guns. I’d be all over that too.

    On the other hand, I dig that BU pretty much instantly becomes the most science-y show on TV. Just watching it didn’t make me feel dumber, which happens a lot even on the alleged smarter networks like the one airing your show. So huge kudos for that.

    Also, like some other have said: if would be nice if, in future tapings, you could cut down on the “Holy Haleakala” exclamations. Really, it just sounds a little…silly. There’s enthusiasm, and there’s no longer making sense. Choose wisely.

  164. Les

    Truly enjoyed the show. Thank you!

  165. Menyambal

    Phil, *you* were great! I really enjoyed seeing you, listening to you and I appreciated your enthusiasm.

    Any quibbles with the show that folks have were probably attributable to “Hollywood”. Yes, the state of science TV these days is deplorable, but a relatively unknown astronomer cannot be expected to fix everything on his first time out. He hasn’t the clout to say “don’t do this, it isn’t right”. Phil probably had no more control over what was shown than you or I did. He was an actor, not the director–well a bit more than just an actor, but I doubt he was running the show–we could tell that.

    I didn’t notice the “Holy Haleakala” frequency being excessive. Hey, it is a good catchphrase, much better than %$#@. It shows Phil as an intelligent, in-control, verbal person, rather than just a random swearer. And for folks to tell Phil to cut down is just silly. He may have just said it once a week while filming, the editor chose how often to put it in the vid, and Phil had no control of that.

    The pet peeves that I have–slow meteors trailing billows of smoke, asteroids with accompanying rocks, asteroid fields–are all standard bad astronomy, which makes it sad to see them on a show with Phil. But again I say that he had not the clout to get them revised, if he even knew about them.

  166. Len

    Why can’t Discovery show this internationally, surely they can fit it in somewhere between their hectic schedule of Mythbuster repeats or that top 25 Mythbuster program thats on twice a day, or adds for Mythbusters.
    Or they could just change Discovery channel to Mythbusters channel and show Bad Universe on Discovery Science.
    Just done with the book & really wanna watch :(

  167. Steve Huntwork

    You are correct and I did confuse force with kenetic energy, which is the important aspect of an impact event.

    Ek = 1/2 * m * v^2

    I forgot about the 1/2 term, but did remember the m * v^2 aspect. In other words, the velocity of impact is much more important than the mass, which is what I was trying to express.

    Kinetic energy of the impact was only the first part of my hypothetical asteroid intercept, and the implied thrust applied to the object seems to have been forgotten. With a nuclear weapon detonating below the surface, you not only get the original kenetic energy of the impacting mass, but also a thrust vectors from the results of the explosion.

    Think of the products of a sub-surface nuclear explosion along the lines of an ion engine. Rocks, light and gases will be ejected in the opposite direction of the original impact vector.

    That is called: THRUST!

  168. On the Fence

    I love watching shows that educate and found this one well done while both catering to the science and the action audience. I guess my only nitpick about the show was the over use of the Holy ******* catch phrase. Didn’t the editors get any feed back from the testers? As i read through these reviews it looks like it scored pretty high on the dislike list. The fact that I even got online to find out what it actually meant instead of watching the show should be a good indicator that it’s got to go. Then again, maybe it’s just my dislike of people making acceptable type swear words like Judas Priest or something like that. Other than that, I’ll be watching further episodes. Keep up the good work.


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