Tag: Dan Vergano

Reminder: ROSAT's coming down soon

By Phil Plait | October 18, 2011 10:30 am

Last month, after the UARS satellite burned up over the Pacific, I mentioned that the German Astronomical satellite ROSAT will be burning up soon as well. It’s looking that will happen next week, with some models pointing to October 23rd. The exact time and even the date are still a bit uncertain, because it’s impossible to perfectly model the incredibly complex interaction between the satellite and the very thin atmosphere hundreds of kilometer up.

Emily Lakdawalla at The Planetary Society Blog has a nice write up of this, as does Dan Vergano at USA Today (featuring a quote by me, of all people, from that post last month). I imagine Space Weather will have info too as it comes out.

There’s a ROSAT Twitter stream with fairly up-to-date information as well. I’ll be paying attention to that carefully.

Just to be clear, I’ll state that even though more pieces of this satellite will survive re-entry than UARS did, the odds of anyone getting hit by a piece are still many thousands to one against, and of any particular person getting hit (meaning you) are trillions to one against. So while I don’t want satellites to fall from the sky every day, I’m not too concerned over this one.


Moon Hoax +10

By Phil Plait | February 15, 2011 11:15 am

My friend and fellow skeptic Tim Farley reminded me that today is the tenth anniversary of Fox airing the TV show "Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?"


If I had to describe that show in one word, it would be "grotesquely distorting reality, an execrable steaming pile of offal that doesn’t come within a glancing blow of the truth."

Was that more than one word? Well, it’s hard to find a single word that truly captures the feel of that program.

I remember that week pretty well, in fact. I had just started my job at Sonoma State University, having uprooted my family from suburban DC and moving 5000 km west just the month before. I was puttering around on my computer when the phone rang: it was my pal Dan Vergano, who writes for USA Today. He had some questions about Pluto, so we chatted for a while, and then he asked me that fateful question that would, quite seriously and in all honesty, change my life: "Hey, did you hear about this Fox TV show about the Moon landings being faked? It’s airing on Thursday."

Ironically, at that time I had just finished writing about people who thought Apollo was faked for my first book, Bad Astronomy, so I was pretty familiar with the arguments. I was able to procure an advance copy of the show and watched the whole thing. It was like watching a snuff film, except the victims were 1) reality, and b) the immense effort of nearly half a million people to get Apollo off the ground and to the Moon.

I sat down and wrote a point-by-point dissection of the show, waiting until after it aired to actually post it on my site. I was upset, but didn’t think the page would help much; the web was still a bit shiny and new back then.

Ha! By Monday, the page was out of control. To my shock, CNN and NASA had both linked to it, and I was getting flooded with emails. Most were supportive, but some were from, um, people whose grip on reality was somewhat tenuous. One person called me "Mr. Smarty Pants Astronomer" and proceeded to tell me how dust motes in an Apollo 13 photo were actually stars. Lots of other emails were on par with that one.

One in particular caught my eye. Read More


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