Tag: Star Wars

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

Exoplanet news Part 4: More wretched hives of scum and villany

By Phil Plait | January 13, 2012 11:29 am

[I’m trying to catch up with all the news that’s been released this week while I was off lecturing in Texas. This is Part 2 of a few articles just about exoplanets. Here’s Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.]

Astronomers have found more Tatooines! Cool.

In September, astronomers announced the discovery of a planet (Kepler-16b) that orbited not one but two stars. The stars orbit each other (in what’s called a binary system) and the planet circles both. This was the first such planet found doing this (out of hundreds of planets orbiting single stars discovered), which opened up the question: how rare is this kind of system? Is Kepler-16b one of a kind?

The answer appears to be no: two more such systems have just been announced! Dubbed Kepler-34b and Kepler-35b, both are gas giants, similar in size to Saturn.

The planet Kepler-34b orbits two Sun-like stars once every 289 days. The two stars (Kepler-34A and Kepler-34B; note the capital letter denoting a star versus the lower case letter denoting a planet — which technically should be called Kepler-34(AB)b, but at some point I have to draw the line and simplify) orbit each other every 28 days. The planet Kepler35-b orbits a pair of somewhat lower-mass stars every 131 days (the stars orbit each other every 21 days).

Note that in both cases, the planets orbit their stars at distances much larger than the distances between the two stars themselves. That’s not surprising to me. From far away, a circumbinary planet (literally, "around two stars") feels the combined gravity of the two stars more than either individual star, much like distant headlights on the highway look like a single light. When you’re close, the two lights resolve themselves. Same thing with a planet; if it orbits much closer in the gravity field is a bit more distorted by the individual stars. Too close, and the orbit becomes unstable and the planet can be ejected from the system entirely! But it looks like both Kepler-34b and 35b have nice, stable orbits.

Binary stars are very common in the Milky Way: roughly half of all stars are binary, and now we know that at least three such systems have circumbinary planets. And we’ve only just started looking! Mind you, these planets were found using the transit method, so the orbits have to align just right from our viewpoint or else we don’t see them transit. For every one transiting system we find there are many more that exist but don’t transit, so we don’t see them. But they’re out there.

I suspect that the fraction of binary stars with planets is probably lower than for single stars, since planets forming (or moving) closer in to the binary center will get ejected. But still, even with a lower fraction we’re still talking about a pool of hundreds of billions of stars, so it’s likely that there are millions of circumbinary planets out there: millions of Tatooines!

And hmmmm. Kepler 34 and 35 are 4900 and 5400 light years away, respectively, making them among the more far-flung planetary systems seen. You might say that if there’s a bright center to the Universe, they’re the planets that it’s farthest from.

I’ve always dreamed of standing on a hill and watching twin suns set in the west. Sadly, the wind won’t blow through my hair like it did Luke Skywalker’s, but that would be a small price to pay. What a view that would be!


[UPDATE: Wait a sec! Right after posting, I realized: the two planets are both gas giants, but far enough from their stars that big, terrestrial moons might be possible. So imagine that: a binary sunset with a gigantic planet looming in the sky as well! That would be incredible.]

Image credit: Lynette Cook and SDSU

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

The odds of successfully surviving an attack on an Imperial Star Destroyer are approximately…

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

Never tell me the odds!

Yegads. I saw this while I was outside the other day; that’s a lenticular cloud, shaped by winds blowing over the Rocky Mountains. We see a lot of them around Boulder, but this one looked really familiar. I suddenly realized: it’s a ship from Star Wars!

I thought it looked a lot like Queen Amidala’s ship. But I couldn’t be sure, so I sent a note to my pal Bonnie Burton, aka BonnieGrrl, the proprietor of grrl.com, and major Star Wars dork. She concurred with my conclusion of the cloud looking like a Naboo Royal Starship (I was careful not to bias her by suggesting it; she mentioned it herself). And Bonnie should know: she literally wrote the book on Star Wars crafts!

Still, it looked like another ship from Star Wars, too… maybe even one that might be carrying Vader himself. If that’s the case, I know which cloud I could really use now!

Moisture and updrafts matter not. Look at me. Judge me by my convection do you? Hmm? Hmmm?

Related posts:

May the cumulus be with you
Lenticular clouds over the Boulder foothills
Windswept clouds over Boulder
Cloud Busting

Dr. Sith's The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

By Phil Plait | December 4, 2011 7:00 am

In retrospect, the story similarities seem obvious.

Via Neatorama on G+

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Geekery, Humor, SciFi

Astronomers discover a wretched hive of scum and villainy

By Phil Plait | September 15, 2011 12:04 pm

If there’s a bright center to the Universe, astronomers have found the planet it’s farthest from. Called Kepler-16b, it’s a Saturn-like world which has the distinction of being the first discovered to orbit both Sun-like stars in a binary system.

OK, Star Wars references aside, this is pretty cool. Most of the planets being found around other stars are orbiting single stars. A very few — like a possible planet orbiting Gamma Cephei — orbit one of the stars in a binary system, and some (like NN Serpentis b and c) orbit both stars, but one of them is a dead star like a white dwarf or a neutron star.

Unlike those, Kepler-16 is a binary where both stars, though dinky, are bona-fide stars like the Sun, and the planet orbits both. Actually, how it was found is pretty nifty. The orbiting Kepler observatory is designed to stare at over 100,000 stars and detect the tell-tale drop in light when a planet transits (that is, from our point of view passes directly in front of) its parent star. Kepler has found a lot of planet candidates this way — well over 1200!

Kepler-16 is one (OK, two) of those stars (hence the name), located about 200 light years from Earth. The two stars are eclipsing binaries, meaning that we are viewing them from Earth in the plane of their orbit. Twice every orbital period, one of the stars blocks the light from the other and we see the total light from the system dip a little bit. We know of a lot of eclipsing binaries, and their properties are pretty well understood.

But Kepler-16 is different. Read More

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

Use the TARDIS, Luke

By Phil Plait | December 18, 2010 7:15 am

Long-time readers may remember the Doctor Who/Star Trek mashup by Rick Kelvington I posted about almost precisely two years ago. Well, he’s at it again: this time, with more Force.

Pretty funny! Make sure you watch it in 720p, and stay with the credits all the way through; there’re some solid LOL moments there.

Tip o’ the sonic saber to Blastr.


When worlds really do collide!

By Phil Plait | August 24, 2010 6:30 am

When I was a kid, one of my favorite movies was "When Worlds Collide", about a rogue planet that collides with Earth, killing everyone (except for a few who escape on rockets).

Science fiction, right? Right?

Yeah, maybe not so much. It turns out, worlds really do collide. And we can see the shrapnel.


Binary stars are stars that physically orbit each other. They’re extremely common, but there are many types. One special kind are where the stars are very close together, like only a few million kilometers apart. Note that your average Sun-like star is well over a million kilometers in diameter, and you’ll appreciate that’s a pretty tight pair.
Read More

I used to bullseye womb rats in my T-16 back home…

By Phil Plait | May 9, 2010 12:29 pm

It’s Mother’s Day here in the States, so…

I know, I just did a Star Wars metaphor, but this made me LOL.

It’s been floating around teh tubez for a few days now. Sometimes these viral things really are pretty cool. In a dorky way. And congrats to the happy couple; two more for the Rebel Alliance coming up!

Tip o’ the R2 unit to Fark.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Geekery, SciFi, TV/Movies

May the cumulus be with you

By Phil Plait | May 7, 2010 12:18 pm

Taking pictures at a Vancouver airport long-time BABloggee Michael Lonergan was, when spotted this odd cloud he did.


When 30,000 feet you reach, look as good you will not.

Too bad this didn’t come out on May the 4th. Of course, the dark side clouds everything…


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