Star trippin' on The Big Bang Theory

By Phil Plait | October 22, 2010 3:04 pm

thebigbangtheory_logoDid y’all catch last night’s episode of The Big Bang Theory on CBS? In one scene, Sheldon is walking down the steps of their apartment building and reciting a little ditty about the nearest stars to the Earth. How did he — heck, how do we — know what stars those are?

Happily, BBT science advisor David Saltzberg has a blog describing each episode, and he talks about this very thing! And what’s this? Why yes, he mentions that your host here on Bad Astronomy helped him with the pronunciations of the star names! David sent me an email a while back asking me if I could lend a hand (well, a vocal cord) to pronouncing some of the names which weren’t all that obvious. I love the show, and was glad to help.

And how weird is it to hear Sheldon saying stuff I was emailing about? Pretty weird. But also totally awesome, too.

Now if I could just get my URL to appear on their white board…

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Geekery, Humor, TV/Movies

Comments (38)

  1. One might conclude that the good doctor BA is star struck.

  2. Chris

    I actually never heard Alpha Centauri called Toliman before.

  3. AJ in CA

    Sounds like some brightly emitted lines. Was it a stellar performance? I’ve never directly observed the show, but I’ve inferred from its starstruck viewers that it’s quite cool. My television schedule is nebulous at best (my orbit of the cable channels is quite eccentric) but if it’s reaching its zenith, I’d best focus on a nightly viewing 😛

  4. Matt

    It’s funny you mention pronunciations; I thought a couple of them were wrong. 1) Isn’t “Procyon” pronounced with a long ‘i’, which would also be accented? 2) I think the accent in “Eridani” should be on the second syllable, because in Latin the syllable “-da-” is short.

    I’ve used obscure star names as character names in the Earthdawn RPG. I have a troll named Toliman and a dwarf named Ras Algethi.

  5. Rory Kent

    I prefer Rigil Kent to Toliman. That has nothing to do with my name, of course…

    Also, on Tuesday, I got a point in a quiz for realising Rigil Kent isn’t the closest star to Earth. Go me.

  6. Hopper

    Congrats, you had a hand in the only episode that didn’t feature Penny.

    You bastage! (j/k)

  7. What an awesome show! I really wish CBS would stream their shows…. I’ll have to wait for the DVD.

  8. Totty

    Better than an URL would be a 2D barcode that generates that URL:
    1) More obscure
    2) Geeks can pause and scan with their phone to end up on your site, instead of typing it all in.
    3) Geek cred for 2D barcode?

  9. Abhi

    I have loved this show ever since my mom called me up one day and told me there was a “funny Indian” who looked a little like me on TV. Haha, I don’t look to much like Raj, but I love the show! HBO usually has the high caliber shows not prime time cable here. With such a major lack of quality television now days, it is more then refreshing to see such a intellectually stimulating performance every Thursday night!

  10. Hiro Kitty

    Yeah I love routine sitcoms with laugh tracks to tell the audience when the jokes happen. Could this show be any more hackneyed?

  11. My daughter said she wants to learn that ditty. Go her!

  12. Rob

    Definitely watch Community instead on NBC. Much better.

  13. Waydude

    But why did he sometimes skip a step on the stairs? Anyway, why does Bad Universe only air once and then never repeat? I missed the second episode, I figured it would be on later like all the Discovery channels shows do, but no…..

    Hey, did he start with the sun? That was one of those silly gotcha questions, what is the closest star to Earth, uh Proxima Cnetauri? No, moron, the Sun!

    Ramble on….

  14. 2. Chris Says: “I actually never heard Alpha Centauri called Toliman before.”

    Allow me to quote from the about-to-be-published ARA Press book on “Lost in Space”:

    “Astronomers rank the stars in a constellation by their
    brightness using a Greek letter and the Latin constellation
    name, so ‘Alpha Centauri’ refers to the fact that it is the
    brightest star in the constellation Centaurus (the centaur).

    “Alpha Centauri isn’t just the brightest star
    in this constellation; it’s the third brightest start in the
    entire sky after Sirius and Canopus. This means it has
    been known since antiquity by people living south of the
    equator and all stars this bright were given names. Arab
    astronomers (whose names we still use) called it Toliman,
    which can be seen on most star charts, like this one.”

    This is from the technical appendix I wrote explaining some of the science behind the original LiS pilot. Yes, before it turned into a “Monster of the week, Will/Robot/Dr. Smith show,” there was some actual research done for the series.

    Look for the book in about a month. It’s currently about to be shipped to the printer.

    – Jack

  15. Christine P.

    Missed it. Still, cooooooool.

  16. Hiro Kitty (10): Golly, thanks for being the wet blanket this post so desperately needed!

    Also, not to smack you around too much, but there is no laugh track. It’s a live audience. I know for a fact; I watched a taping last year. And yes, it was awesome and way too much fun. Dave gave me his copy of the script! I gave it to my daughter. :)

  17. Pronounciation of star names is a bit equivocal. As I understand, most are Arabic translations of Greek names. So do you say them as the Ancient Greeks did or as the Arabs did?

  18. Chris S.

    “Definitely watch Community instead on NBC. Much better.”

    studio audience, laugh track… either one kills the comedy for me. cool to see you got mentioned though. lotsa people watch it (for some reason i can’t understand, but they do!)

  19. Gary Ansorge

    Black Hole Theory is my favorite. There’s enough subtlety to keep this old dawg laughing all night long. Of course, since I dropped my sat TV subscription, I have to watch it on NetFlix, so I’m about a season and a half behind, but it’s well worth the wait.

    Gary 7
    PS It does help to actually know some physics, etc.

  20. baryogenesis

    Well I saw that episode and groked all of the star names ….but certainly hadn’t memorized an order… The script is often “middling”, but I’ve learned to love it. It’s got so much going for it science-wise.
    Supposedly, there are in-jokes on the White-board. I would not be capable of catching the physics calculations there, but one thing I noticed in a previous show on the board was basically “One solar radius = one AU” with no other reference.

  21. JB of Brisbane

    @Jack Hagerty #14 – that would have been just before Irwin Allen threw your technical appendix in the bin and said “Don’t give me all this research stuff – running and jumping action, that’s what this show needs!”, wouldn’t it?

  22. John

    Love the TBBT…great show.

    But wait, [quote]”David sent me an email a while back asking me if I could lend a hand (well, a vocal cord) to pronouncing some of the names which weren’t all that obvious.[/quote]

    Isn’t David (Saltzberg) a professor of physics and astronomy…surely, he would have heard of these names throughout his career without having to ask Phil. Hmmm…so many ego’s?


  23. Georg

    to name the misuse of Latin or Greek words by
    English or American native speakers “pronunciation”
    is really funny.
    There are very few Americans which ever succeed to
    articulate certain consonants and vowels.

  24. Adrian Lopez

    I’m not sure it makes much sense to speak of the correct pronunciation of words that are no longer restricted to a particular language. Heck, even in the context of a particular language words can have different pronunciations according to the region of the speaker.

    Matt (4) disputes the pronunciation of the word “Procyon”, but it seems to me either way you pronounce it (Pro-see-on with the accent on “pro”, or Pro-sigh-on with the accent on sigh) is a very American way of pronouncing the word (because of the “oh” in “pro” and the sound in “on”).

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive for a consistent pronunciation (e.g. 1.21 Gigawatts instead of 1.21 Jigawatts), but ultimately we cannot escape the fact of regional differences in pronunciation. After all, that’s how new languages evolve.

  25. DrFlimmer

    TBBT is SOOOOO awesome. Season 4 had a very good start from my point of view (Episode 4 was SO hilarious I was literally rolling on the floor!!!). Too bad that I cannot watch it for the next few weeks. That’s the disadvantage at being at a location where is only (but also at least) a very slow internet connection. But hey, it’s the H.E.S.S.-site in Namibia. So, greetings from the other side of the world. It’s bl**dy awesome here! (Haven’t seen the stars yet, but that will happen any time soon…)

  26. John

    @ DrFlimmer

    Don’t worry, DrFlimmer, becasue as far as I understand the H.E.S.S. scope has been recording radio waves from American skies since each show began, so they are on file somwhere at the facility.

    Oh yeah, I forgot to say…BAZINGA :)

  27. Markle

    TBBT is too sit-commy to watch. It’s inferior to Three’s Company. I don’t believe you when you say there is no laugh track. People couldn’t possibly laugh at those things.

  28. Mooney

    Having been an audience member myself, Markle, I can assure you that you’re wrong.

    Feel free to cling to irrational beliefs in the face of refutation, though! 😉

  29. Y’know, Phil. After I stopped laughing (yes, real people do laugh at this show), I asked MBH if she thought maybe you had participated in creating that little ditty. It’s cool to find out you did!

    Those of you who think the show is inane need to get off their haughtiness. Season 4 is hilarious! Oh, wait, but you are too busy watching “reality” (whose, anyway?) TV.

    Talk about bogus!

  30. Just to be clear, all I did was send him pronunciations. I wish I had helped actually write it. :)

  31. Kevin

    Hey Phil. You need to work on Bill Prady to get you on the show. Neil Tyson posted something last week that he’s going to be in an episode, so you need to be in one as well.

  32. 21. JB of Brisbane Says: “that would have been just before Irwin Allen threw your technical appendix in the bin and said “Don’t give me all this research stuff – running and jumping action, that’s what this show needs!”, wouldn’t it?”

    Pretty much. But as long as the ratings stayed up and the sets had 10,000 blinking lights, he was happy.

    – Jack

  33. DrFlimmer

    @ #26 John

    😀 Well done, dude! Well done, indeed! 😀

  34. reidh

    The actor playing the King Geek on that show, is a self outed GAY. What does that tell us about Bad Ass-tronomy?

  35. Kevin

    @34 reidh – It tells us you broke Wheaton’s Law.

  36. @34 reidh
    Obvious troll is obvious.
    Do not feed it.

  37. réalta fuar

    If Neil Tyson is ever on the show, I sure as hell hope they make fun of his arrogance (and parody his publication record!) That could lead to more laugh out loud TBBT humor.

  38. mike burkhart

    Lets not be to hard on him I still have to look at an astronomy book to know the cloeset stars and star maps and plainasphers to know what the sky will look like on any given night (thats why I keep my Golden guides and Peterson guides handy)


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