Category: Humor

Space Shuffle

By Phil Plait | September 24, 2012 3:32 pm

I’m not sure I want to trust plans for NASA from the same guy who wonders why airplane windows don’t open.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, NASA, Piece of mind, Politics, Space
MORE ABOUT: Mitt Romney

Let those global warming dollars flow

By Phil Plait | September 20, 2012 11:00 am

One of the weirdest (and by that I mean most ridiculous) claims I’ve heard from global warming deniers is the idea that somehow there is a cabal of scientists making up all the information we see about climate change.

First, scientists aren’t very good at that sort of collusion. As Ben Franklin said, "Three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead." Scientists as a rule tend to abhor misleading people or out-and-out lying. And those who do tend to be caught by the peer-review process.

Anyway, ignoring the idea that tens of thousands of scientists are playing a Jedi mind trick on the rest of us without a single one of them betraying the secret (and no, Climategate and its sequel don’t count since that was all trumped up smoke and mirrors by the denier crowd), the real reason this claim is ludicrous is because of its supernova-bright irony: a lot of the deniers can be traced to having fossil fuel funding.

Or, as this infographic from Occupy Posters puts it so succinctly:

Mind you, this isn’t supposed to be evidence that global warming deniers are paid frauds. It’s simply using Occam’s Razor, asking which makes more sense. Taken that way, it just shows the idea that scientists are on the wrong side of this is really silly.

Incidentally, guess who’s funding Mitt Romney’s campaign to the tune of tens of millions of dollars? Anyone? Bueller?

With the arctic melting earlier and deeper every year, with temperatures rising, with extreme weather more common, with glaciers retreating, with sea level rising, with droughts ravaging the US, reality is diverging more and more from the claims of the deniers.


Related Posts:

- Case closed: “Climategate” was manufactured
- Climategate 2: More ado about nothing. Again.
- A case study of the tactics of climate change denial, in which I am the target

Cruisegeddon

By Phil Plait | September 8, 2012 7:00 am

Looking for something fun to do in late December when the world doesn’t end? Then you might consider going on a Not The End of the World Cruise.

This is a brilliant idea: a bunch of astronomers and other scientists are doing a cruise package to take place over the silly "Mayan end of the world" date of December 22, 2012. And where are they sailing? Why, the Caribbean, of course, including Cozumel, an island off the Yucatan Peninsula.

The guest list is a good one: authors David Brin and Robert J Sawyer; Star Trek writer Andre Bormanis; astronaut Steve Hawley (he literally placed Hubble into orbit); my friends the astronomers Michelle Thaller, Kevin Grazier, Doug Duncan, Timothy and Stephanie Slater; and more.

Also attending will be Fraser Cain and Pamela Gay from Astronomy Cast! In fact, when you book the trip, tell them "Astronomy Cast sent me" and Fraser will give you a special gift on the cruise. And no, I have no idea what it is. Probably a goat or something.

Anyway, I really wish I could do this, but I’m otherwise occupied at that time (no, not hiding in a bunker). But don’t let that stop you: go book your cabin!

"Armageddon" had bad science. Shocker, I know.

By Phil Plait | September 7, 2012 7:00 am

I do so love to make fun of the movie "Armageddon". I know, it’s such an easy target, but still.

I talk about the movie when I give public lectures about asteroid impacts, because a lot of people have seen it – so it’s a nice common point of contact – and because it really goes out of its way to get so much stuff wrong.

The premise of the movie is that a giant asteroid is going to hit the Earth and wipe out all life. I’ll skip a vast amount of silliness and get to the thing that really made me laugh out loud when I first saw the flick: to prevent the impact, astronauts plant a nuclear bomb below the surface and detonate it. This splits the asteroid in half, and (SPOILER ALERT!) the two pieces are flung apart at sufficient velocity that they pass our planet on either side, missing us, and the world is saved!

Yay?

Well, not so much. I saw the movie when it came out in 1998, and after I got home from the theater – and after the Tylenol kicked in – I did a little math. We know how big the asteroid is, and what it’s made of – that gives us the mass (and therefore the mass of each half after it’s split). We also know how rapidly it’s approaching the Earth, and how far it was from the Earth when the bomb went off. That then can be used to figure out how fast the two halves separated (they had to separate by at least the Earth’s diameter to miss us).

An object in motion has energy, called kinetic energy. It depends on the mass of the object and its velocity – the more massive it is, or the faster it moves, the more kinetic energy it has. In the case of the Armageddon asteroid, the two halves got their kinetic energy from the bomb, so by calculating the kinetic energy of each piece you can find the explosive yield of the bomb.

I did that. The bomb would have exploded with roughly the same energy output as the Sun. In other words, it would have been a 100 billion megaton bomb. Yikes.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Geekery, Humor

The faces of Licinia

By Phil Plait | September 6, 2012 6:35 am

In April, 2012, the Dawn spacecraft was a mere 272 kilometers (170 miles) from the surface of the asteroid Vesta when it took this wonderful picture of the crater Licinia:

[And oh yes, you want to click to envirgingoddessenate - it links to a picture of the area around the crater as well.]

Licinia is about 25 km (15 miles) across – too big to fit in Dawn’s field-of-view from that height. But it does show spectacular detail, including what look like landslides into the bowl from the crater rim; you can see them as dark streaks running down the crater wall. Mounds of material at the base of the crater wall indicate bigger landslides, too. Vesta’s gravity is far weaker than Earth’s – it’s about 1/40th what we experience here – but even then, it’s a force that won’t be denied.

While I was inspecting the crater floor, I saw something that made me laugh out loud. The floor is lit by the distant Sun, but a sharp shadow of the crater rim is cast on it as well. The inky black shadow is irregular due to the uneven crater rim. Inset here is a piece of that shadow line. Do you see the dark shadow "face" looking to the left at the top? It jumped right out at me… and then I saw another face just below it, this time bright and looking to the right and slightly up!

Once you see it…

Man. Pareidolia is a force almost as strong as gravity.

Anyway, Dawn’s visit to Vesta has come to an end. It left the asteroid on September 5, and began the long two-and-a-half year voyage to visit Ceres, the largest of the main belt asteroids between Mars and Jupiter. Vesta is a fascinating place, but so is Ceres, and we know very little about it.

That’s all about to change. But then, that’s what exploration is for.


Related Posts:

- Dawn flies over Vesta
- Dawn dips down to Vesta
- Vesta in breathtaking detail
- Vesta’s odd bottom

MORE ABOUT: crater, Dawn, Licinia, Vesta

Invader

By Phil Plait | September 3, 2012 11:00 am

Yeah, you know how this comic is going to end, don’t you?

Wow. I am constantly amazed by how a silly drawing can still be poignant. But then, if you didn’t cry at Jurassic Bark, you aren’t human.

Tip o’ the extra man to my pal Zack Stentz, whom you should be following on Twitter. Comic by Ehud Lavski.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Geekery, Humor, SciFi

Jump!

By Phil Plait | August 25, 2012 7:00 am

I have a very odd coincidence to report.

I like getting fun questions from folks, the kind that take a little bit of math and physics to explain, but wind up taking you to fun places. A common question like that is, "What would happen if everyone in China jumped all at once?" Would it throw the Earth out of orbit? Would it cause an earthquake? Would it do anything?

The answer is, essentially, no. I tackled this a few years back; there was this announcement by a group that wanted to get 600 million people to all jump at once so that the Earth would be pushed farther from the Sun and global warming would be solved.

Um, yeah. They called it World Jump Day, and I made quick work of it. Nothing at all would happen, for lots of reasons. Still, it’s fun to think about, right? And it turns out World Jump Day was something of a prank anyway.

And that’s where the coincidence I mentioned comes in. I recently happened to see a video done by vsauce asking this very question. He handles it really well in an entertaining video:

My opinion: science is always better when Felicia Day makes a cameo! And, of course, vsauce is right.

So anyway, I liked the video, and made a note to myself to write it up on the blog here. And then, literally the next day, what happens? My pal Randall Munroe (of xkcd fame) goes and writes about this very topic for his "what if?" series!

Although, to be fair, Randall takes it in a slightly different direction. Still. Weird.

Of course, coincidences happen all the time. It’s a big world out there, with lots of things going on. There’s bound to be the seemingly-spooky overlap or two between ‘em.

And as a final note, if you want to read more about the gnarly math of millions of people jumping, Dot Physics has you covered.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Debunking, Geekery, Humor, Science

ANIMATION DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY!

By Phil Plait | August 17, 2012 11:00 am

Oh, that uncanny valley. Cute cartoon characters are adorable, aren’t they?

… until depicted realistically. Which is what Jared Krichevsky does. And then yikes.

Like this drawing of Morbo from Futurama, one of my favorite characters on the show:

Yegads! He’s also done other Futurama characters, like Kif, Lrrr, and Nibbler. And of course, his terrifying Zoidberg. [Note: Jared's drawings are amazing, but some are perhaps distressing, and should be considered NSFL.]

It’s amazing how creepy these guys are "in real life". I’ve written about this before; a drawing of Homer Simpson freaked me the hell out, and I mean that in the most literal sense. Click through to that drawing of him if you dare. But don’t blame me when he haunts your dreams for all eternity.

And as for the title of this post, you should really know your meme. And watch Futurama, because if you read my blog you’ll LOVE AND OBEY HYPNOTOAD.

Tip o’ the brain slug to io9.

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

Mad Art: Giger Counter

By Phil Plait | August 15, 2012 10:18 am

What, you may ask, is this?

That, dear BAtweeps, is a Giger Counter. It’s an actual thing, built by my friend Steve D at Mad Art Lab, and he got the idea from an idle joke I recently tweeted.

Seriously. Go read the whole story behind it, and be amazed at the creativity some folks have. And to know that something I wrote as a silly joke inspired someone enough that he turned it into an actual physical object – especially a pun! – is beyond awesome. I am honored.

No, that's not a picture of a double sunset on Mars

By Phil Plait | August 13, 2012 12:52 pm

So Curiosity’s been on the Martian surface for a week, and we’re already seeing faked images touted as being real. The other day it was a more-or-less honest mistake of people spreading around a computer-generated view from Mars – originally meant just to show what the skyline looked like from there – thinking it was real.

Now though, we have what’s clearly an actual fake. Here’s the shot, getting passed around on various Tumblrs:

Now, I’ll note it’s not crazy to think this shot might be real; the Sun is very bright and in many cameras you can get reflections inside the optics, causing this double-Sun effect. It happens all the time. So you wouldn’t really be seeing two suns setting – just one real one and one that’s an internal reflection.

But that’s not what’s going on here, as I knew right away. That’s because I’m familiar with this picture:

That shot is also of the sunset, but it really is from Mars! It was taken by the Spirit rover in May 2005, a spectacular shot of the Sun setting over the Martian landscape.

And that’s where you’ll find the proof of double-sunset-fakery. Compare the double-sunset picture with the real one from Spirit, and you’ll see the profile of the landscape on the horizon is exactly the same. Clearly, the double-sunset pic was faked, adding in the second Sun. In fact, you can see that both images of the "Sun" in the double sunset picture don’t match the real one. In other words, both images of the Sun were faked.

Also, I couldn’t help but think the faked Sun images looked kinda familiar to me as well. Recognize them? Perhaps the picture here will help place them. Clearly, the faker must have come from some wretched hive of scum and villainy.

It may be this picture was created as a joke and got out into the wild, or maybe it was done on purpose to fool people. As usual with things like this, tracing it back to the original is a bit tough (though the Martian skyline picture from earlier was able to be pedigreed). I’ve seen it on several sites now, and I’ve gotten email and tweets about it. It was easy to debunk, so why not?

I don’t know if this image will go viral like the previous unreal one did; this is so obviously hoaxed that it may not have the same sort of traction. Still, it sometimes helps to get ahead of the curve here, and dowse these things with reality before they spread out of hand.

So if you see someone posting that image, send ‘em here. That way, we will crush the hoaxers with one swift stroke.

Image Credits: Mars sunset: NASA/JPL/Texas A&M/Cornell; Tatooine: Uncle Owen’s Wedding Photography Service (now defunct).


Related Posts:

- An unreal Mars skyline
- Gallery: Curiosity’s triumphant first week on Mars
- Astronomers discover a wretched hive of scum and villainy
- Hoagland = lose

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