Revealed: My tattoo

By Phil Plait | November 12, 2012 6:00 am

Folks, it’s time. And an appropriate time: for my penultimate post here at Discover Magazine, I’ve decided to show you my tattoo.

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, but there were a lot of behind-the-scenes issues getting permissions I won’t bore you with. But by the time I was able to post this it was so long after I got inked it seemed a little silly. Still, Discover Magazine was the reason I got it, so it seems fair and fitting to post this now. And I’ve dyeing to let y’all know anyway.

As a brief recap, a few years ago I made a bet with then-Discover Magazine CEO, Henry Donahue: if I got 2 million page views in one month, and the magazine got 5 million total, we’d both get tattoos. In March 2009 we did it! So Henry and I went about getting inked.

He got a pretty nifty Celtic fish on his shoulder. For mine, I decided to turn to you, my readers, for suggestions. And they poured in. I narrowed it down to a handful I liked, then made my decision. Henry and I thought it would be fun for me to try to get my tattoo on the TV show "L.A. Ink", so I applied. They accepted! Discover Magazine generously offered to cover my expenses, and so a little while later I was on my way to Hollywood to get myself some ink.

That’s the basic story. So, without further ado, here it is: my tattoo!

Cool, huh? It’s perfect, and just what I wanted! And how appropriate is it to get an asteroid burning up over the Earth? I know, the scale’s a bit off, but it’s a tattoo, not a scientific graphic in the Astronomical Journal. And I love the flames and the colors.

The actual clip never wound up getting aired on TLC, but they did create a fully-produced version and put it up on YouTube – they have a higher res version on the TLC site. For those of you too lazy to click, here is the YouTube video version:

The first thing to note in the video is that while I seem upbeat I was actually screaming in pain inside my head. The whole thing took just under four hours, and the last quarter of that was where Dan was going over the flames again and again, shading in all the reds and oranges. The pain was, um, astonishing.

Still, I love the end result! If you’re looking to get a full-color tattoo, you could do a lot worse than Dan Smith. He’s an excellent artist, and a friendly guy. If I were to get another tattoo – which will never ever happen – I’d want him to do it.

Thank you Henry, thank you Dan, and thank you Discover Magazine for supporting this bit of fun. It was quite a ride, and I have a nice piece of art to show for it that’ll last the rest of my life.

Related posts:

Big news: Bad Astronomy is moving to Slate magazine
My secret nefarious inky plan revealed
We who are about to dye
Tat two

MORE ABOUT: L.A. Ink, tattoo

Comments (20)

  1. Sanjong

    Gosh, I’m shocked!! A member of the Global Warming Doomsday Cult has a tattoo of the world ending!


  2. Grand Lunar

    Nice, Phil!

    Going to be weird with a different host. But change is as inevitable as the sun becoming a red giant.

  3. Chris

    We actually saw it years ago, Phil. But glad you can now post topless photos of yourself without fear of lawyers descending on you.

  4. Ray Bellis

    OK, so how can you need permission to show a piece of art that’s on your own body?

  5. Tomkaz

    This will be an important reference photo when we finally get the Phil Plait movie made. Louis CK will be perfect.

  6. Daniel J. Andrews

    At last. With all the hints but being unable to say or show the tattoo I was wondering if you had been inked with a brand name (Discover? NASA?).

    Just checked out your Slate intro. Suppose I’ll set up an account to comment (and hope not to lose my password/log-in info). Also checked the comments. Nice to see the regulars, and so far, there are only a couple of minor trolls.

    Best wishes with the move and new place…hope it goes well for you.

  7. Gus Snarp

    Oh, you’re already posting at Slate? Time to head over and update my RSS feed.

  8. Greg in Austin

    You got a tattoo?

  9. Yigit U.

    Mad scientist? Phil is one of the sanest people in the world, jeez.

  10. Shoeshine Boy


    The url “” still points here. You may want to update that to follow you.

  11. RAF

    I was wondering why you would get tattooed….thanks for explaining it…don’t know how I missed you asking readers for suggestions, but the end result is beautiful.

    4 HOURS!! Guess I know why I don’t have any tattooes. ūüėÄ

  12. Nathan

    I looked up the clip on the TLC website a while ago because I assumed I had missed the reveal. Nice artwork, and a perfect design for you, Phil.

  13. VinceRN

    Very cool. Seems odd that they can, or would, stop you from showing the tattoo on your arm.

  14. drow

    the rest of your life? probably not. in a decade, parents will be all like, “think carefully before you get that genetic splice, young lady. DNA retromodification is permanent, it’s not just something you can laser off the next morning like a tattoo.”

  15. Ha! I forgot to bug you about that back in September! Looks great!
    As for the meteor being too large, it can easily be an issue of perspective. The asteroid can be 1km away and Earth 5,000km. No problem!

  16. Canyon42

    Well, if the Earth was 5,000 km away, the asteroid wouldn’t exactly be aflame yet. :^)

  17. Nigel Depledge

    Surely it should be your tattoo . . . of death!

  18. MoMan

    And here we have a dramatic illustration of the opinions of different generations: in my day (when Truman and Ike and JFK were important characters), you got a tattoo only if you were drunk or a sailor, or a drunken sailor. So, while you youngsters find them “cool,” I stil don’t get it. Who in their right mind would endure the pain to have colored ink injected into their skin to achieve a symbol that in time they may find ridiculous and tasteless? Obviously, conformity and peer pressure continue to be such strong forces that even the “rational people” will do irrational things.

  19. You gave Discover Magazine legal ownership over a part of your body. I’ve always found that kinda disturbing… :-)

    (I saw the clip some time ago — don’t really remember but probably someone posted the link in a comment.)

  20. Lizzie

    Nice! I’ve been wondering if we were ever going to get to see the ink. I think it looks great!


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