Announcing BAFacts: a daily dose of sciencey fun

By Phil Plait | January 4, 2012 11:16 am

I’m happy to announce I’m rolling out a new feature: BAFacts, a short daily factoid about this strange and fun Universe we live in. Every day in the mid-afternoon GMT (in the morning for most of the US) I’ll tweet something I find interesting, cool, or gee-whizlike. They’ll all be about science, mostly space and astronomy, but really anything that catches my fancy is fair game.

Some will have links for more info (if the tweet itself is short enough to accommodate one). I’ll also post them in my Google+ stream, and I’ll include more info there when I can. I’ll use the hashtag #BAFacts to make them easy to find. I have also created a BAFact archive where I’ll list the previous BAFacts.

I started thinking about doing this months ago, and always found some reason to delay the launch. Maybe, I would think, it would be better to do it this way, or post it that way… but I decided that the best way to do something new in social media is to do it. Get it out there, and fiddle with it later if something comes up that can improve it.

So maybe I’ll figure out how to add more links, or pictures, or math, or whatever. I’m happy to take suggestions. But for now, BAFacts launches today…

… and the first one is now live!

And just why am I starting BAFacts today? As I wrote earlier, today is perihelion, when the Earth is closest to the Sun in its orbit. It’s something of a coincidence that it happens so close to New Year’s (according to the standard Gregorian calendar most of the planet uses these days). It’s funny: the first day of the year is pretty arbitrary when you think about it, but the point of perihelion is an actual, physical thing, not arbitrary at all. It would actually make a kind of sense to start our year on that day… except that the Earth’s orbit isn’t like a racetrack; it changes shape every year due to the influence of the other planets, so the precise time and day of perihelion changes by a day or so every year. Oh well.

Still, it’s something of a milestone in our orbit, and since it’s close to New Year’s day it’s an appropriate time to start something new. It was either today, or wait until the Vernal Equinox in March, and I didn’t want to wait that long!

I hope y’all enjoy it, and get as much of a kick reading them as I do writing them.

MORE ABOUT: BAFacts, Twitter

Comments (25)

  1. Ya know, I never thought about perihelion/aphelion being separate from the solstices. No reason they shouldn’t be, I guess. It just never occurred to me to wonder. That’s why I don’t get paid the big science money…

    Have fun with the Phacts, Fil! Looking forward to seeing them :)

  2. Awesome! I´ll pass them around the office, and point them to the blog! maybe that will get someone more interested in science!

  3. CJSF

    Sigh. Another reason I may “have” to join this Google+ thing. . . at tleast for the “bonus” features :-)

    Awesome, though, Phil! I’ve really missed the “Bite Sized Astonomy” you used to do on the old BA site, and I think with your Twitter Prowess you’re back in that sort of game again!

    CJSF

  4. carbonUnit

    Sigh. May have to mess with the Twitter timesink, much as I’ve been trying to ignore it…

  5. Looking forward to the BAF acts. What makes an act BAF, exactly? ;)

  6. Not to steal an old meme, but seeing the #BAFacts as a twitter hashtag got me to wondering:

    Yeah, but will it trend?

    ;)

  7. Blargh

    I’d stay clear of the word “factoid”. Even though people often use it to mean “trivial fact”, its main definition is still:

    “a piece of unreliable information believed to be true because of the way it is presented or repeated in print”

  8. Graviton

    I was about to post about the word “factoid,” but it seems I’ve been beaten to it! :)

  9. DrFlimmer

    If I may make a suggestion: Is there a possibility to include it here on the blog somewhere? Maybe a little box on the right saying “BAFact of the day” or so?
    Not everyone uses Twitter, and not everyone uses Google+, either. And why should only those benefit who do? (Maybe one could start a conspiracy around that. :D )

  10. Hey Phil I just thought you should know there was an ad for Nora the psychic adviser on the main page a minute ago. She was offering free readings. Funny to see that ad on the page of a known skeptic.

  11. Mary

    I love this idea!

  12. Chris A.

    “…Earth’s orbit isn’t like a racetrack; it changes shape every year due to the influence of the other planets, so the precise time and day of perihelion changes by a day or so every year”

    Umm, Phil, the fact that the time and date of perihelion shifts (calendrically) each year has a lot more to do with the fact that there aren’t an integer number of days in a year (i.e. the fact that we add a leap day ever four(ish) years). In order for what you’re saying to be correct, Earth’s orbit would have to be precessing by around a degree per year!

  13. Navneeth

    Fact: there’s an ad for psychic reading on Bas Astronomy Blog.

  14. Messier Tidy Upper

    @9. DrFlimmer :

    If I may make a suggestion: Is there a possibility to include it here on the blog somewhere? Maybe a little box on the right saying “BAFact of the day” or so?

    Seconded by me. :-)

    Not everyone uses Twitter, and not everyone uses Google+, either. And why should only those benefit who do? (Maybe one could start a conspiracy around that. )

    Er.. NOT seconding the start of any conspiracy theories though. More than enough of those arise “naturally” for want of a better word and hardly improve our world much at all.

    Personally, I don’t use twitter at all and agree the BA should post them on his blog here or maybe on facebook which I do use a bit mainly for sharing links and articles such as, well, many that appear here.

    @7. Blargh & # 8. Graviton : Regarding “factoid” that’s news to me.

    I always just thought it meant a small interesting fact – something you’d get in a sidebar or list. I never got the impression that it connotated unreliability at all.

    The word ‘apocryphal’ would seem to better fit your definition provided in comment #7.

  15. kat wagner

    Me too. I thought a factoid was a small fact. And, according to Stephen Colbert, “truthyness” is where an item of fiction is repeated so many times people start to believe it. So if you have a factoid of the day, I’ll take it.

  16. #15 MTU:
    “The word ‘apocryphal’ would seem to better fit your definition provided in comment #7.”

    Agreed, but I suspect that with today’s dumbed-down education standards, most people are too thick to know what “apocryphal” means – or know how to spell it!

  17. dawilts

    From the Astronomical Applications Dept. of the U.S. Naval Observatory (http://aa.usno.navy.mil/faq/docs/apsides.php):

    “Why do times of Earth at perihelion and aphelion vary in date more than other phenomena such as the start of the seasons?

    It is actually due to the presence of the Moon. The Earth and Moon both orbit every month around a point called the Earth-Moon barycenter, which is on average about 4700 km (2900 miles) from the Earth’s center. Because perihelion and aphelion are defined by the distance between the center of the Sun and the center of the Earth, the Earth’s position in its monthly motion around the Earth-Moon barycenter greatly affects the time of perihelion and aphelion. Due to the fact that the position of the Moon doesn’t repeat from year to year on the same date, neither does the position of the Earth with respect to the Earth-Moon barycenter. This produces what appears to be a quasi-random variation in the dates of perihelion and aphelion.”

  18. Perihelion is a special day for Equivalence Principle experiments. It is the day the earth’s gravitional acceleration in its orbit about the sun is maximal. If you diddle lunar laser raging and the Nordtvedt effect, Eotvos experiments, geometric parity calorimetry, skimmed supersonically expanded cryogenic racemic microwave beams… today’s the day!

    And a couple of weeks on either side.

  19. Georgijs P

    Is this the reason why this year is unusualy warm? (at least one of the reasons?) Las year we had a 15 cm (in some places even 30cm) thick layer of snow but this year there is none.

  20. HLC

    As some others have noted, I hope BAFacts will actually include “facts” and not “factoids.” Yes, a “factoid” is usually a misinterpreted word representing not a “fact” but rather unverified or inaccurate information presented as factual and eventually accepted as true because of constant repetition.

  21. Acronym Jim

    Phil,

    What’s the back story on your twitter wallpaper (twallpaper?)? Cigarettes and Bacteria(tm) would make a great band name, but I don’t think that’s what you’re going for.

  22. Messier Tidy Upper

    @19. Georgijs P Says:

    Is this the reason why this year is unusualy warm? (at least one of the reasons?) Las year we had a 15 cm (in some places even 30cm) thick layer of snow but this year there is none.

    Is what? Huh? What are your referring to there? Surely you aren’t suggesting the BA announcing BAfacts somehow heats the planet? :-o

    The new BAfacts deal may warm your heart and mind but I doubt it could physically alter planetary temperatures! ;-)

    As for the cause of planetary warming the theory of Human Induced Rapid Global Overheating (HIRGO) – often more mildly and less straightforwardly called the Anthropogenic Global Warming theory – is probably the best explanation. Our Sun is certainly not resposnible despite the recent rise towards the solar maximum sunspot cyle~wise and .. well, I could go on but we’d be getting a fair way off-topic if I did.

    Any noticeable warming certainly isn’t due to perihelion which occurs around the same place and at the same distance every year. If Earth’s orbit is changing at all it would be drifting very, *very* slowly outards as teh Sun gradulaly loses mass intheform of the solar wind. Our worlds orbital eccentricity (range of circular-to-ovalness) also shifts predictabley to a very small extent over tens of thousands of years and will not have perceptible effects over mere decadal timespans.

    @17. dawilts : January 5th, 2012 at 7:55 am

    “Why do times of Earth at perihelion and aphelion vary in date more than other phenomena such as the start of the seasons?[Emphasis added.]

    When the seasons start and indeed whether you get them at all also depends to some extent on where on this planet you live. Just thought I’d mention that.

    @16. Neil Haggath : Sadly, your probably right – but is the solution to avoid the word ‘apocryphal’ and substitute “factoid” in its place or to educate people better instead? I’d much prefer the latter choice.

  23. Chris A.

    @dawilts (#17):
    So, Phil’s explanation was a bit off (unless you consider our moon to be a planet), but so was mine. I didn’t even think about the Moon making Earth wobble to and fro, and thus tweaking the time/date of perihelion. I’ll go eat my words now. (Nom, nom, nom.)

  24. Your Twitter link doesn’t work. It searches for the #BAFacts (plural) hastag, but it looks like they all use #BAFact (singular) instead.

  25. Vesa

    As Navneeth (#13) pointed out, is weird to see ad for “2012 Psychic Reading” in this blog.

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