The Bad Astronomer Claims our Universe is Really Bad

Past Gnomedex speaker and long-time friend Dr. Phil Plait has a very cool new project in the works with the Discovery Channel. His new show, Bad Universe is his latest attempt at galaxy-wide domination. He’s on a mission to debunk the junk and reveal the REAL science behind the mysteries of our planet, our solar system and the icky universe we all call home.

Phil Plait is an astronomer, author, blogger, and skeptic… which means you better have some good evidence for any claims you make to him! In fact, Phil is the President of the James Randi Educational Foundation, a non-profit based on the works of noted conjurer and skeptic James Randi – famous for debunking the spoon-bending efforts of Uri Geller. The critical thinking movement is growing by leaps and bounds, and the JREF has been at the center of a grassroots effort to bring more skepticism into everyday life, especially online.

Phil writes the Bad Astronomy Blog, now hosted by Discover Magazine, and he blogs for the JREF and for SkepticBlog.

His books debunk many misconceptions about astronomy, and to his chagrin he still deals with Moon Landing deniers, astrology, and UFO believers to this day.

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's the International Space Station?

There are times when astronomy amateurs stumble into the photo of a lifetime. For Pixeltop forum member labsmansid, that moment happened yesterday. He worried all morning that he may not even get the opportunity due to the massive cloud cover in his area. Luck was with him, though, when the skies cleared up less than a half hour prior to the time that the International Space Station was scheduled to pass between his location and the Sun.

Some people are comparing this photo to one found on the Bad Astronomy blog. labsmansid takes that as a compliment, and states that photos like this are what got him interested in this hobby of his to begin with.

According to the photographer, the entire event lasted less than a second. To capture this breathtaking moment, he “was using a long telephoto lens with a 2X teleconvertor attached to my Canon 40D camera. The lens front was covered with a special solar filter designed for photographic, rather than visual, use. It lets more light through for higher shutter speeds. In this case, I shot at 1/8000th shutter speed and f/11 at 200ISO.”

A few skeptics are trying to claim that it is all a hoax. If that is true, then you have to give him credit for his ingenuity and creativity. I highly doubt this photo is the result of a “spot on the lens” as one person said. What are the odds that a smudge would look exactly the same as the ISS?

Astronomy for Amateurs


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During our open mic session at the last Gnomedex, my good friend Derek Miller came up on stage to show off some backyard Astronomy that his Dad has done. Derek reminds us all that you don’t have to work at NASA to get amazing photographs of things found in our solar system. All you need is passion for what you’re looking at, and a telescope!

Derek was inspired to show off his Dad’s work after seeing the Bad Astronomer himself, Phil Plait, on stage during the conference.

You can find the amazing picture Derek’s Dad took on his blog. There’s a very cool picture, as well, on Phil Plait’s blog.

Are you a backyard Astronomer? If you have gotten cool pictures like these, leave us a link in the comments section so we can all enjoy them!

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Phil Plait – Active Skepticism Online


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Phil talked to us about science communication online, and how the “new” (now teenaged, in more ways than one) media has affected it. Specifically how instant info – passed on Twitter – can actually make misinformation spread faster than good info, and how freaking hard it is to clean up once that happens.

Phil Plait is an astronomer, author, blogger, and skeptic… which means you better have some good evidence for any claims you make to him! In fact, Phil is the President of the James Randi Educational Foundation, a non-profit based on the works of noted conjurer and skeptic James Randi – famous for debunking the spoon-bending efforts of Uri Geller. The critical thinking movement is growing by leaps and bounds, and the JREF has been at the center of a grassroots effort to bring more skepticism into everyday life, especially online.

Phil writes the Bad Astronomy Blog, now hosted by Discover Magazine, and he blogs for the JREF and for SkepticBlog.

His books debunk many misconceptions about astronomy, and to his chagrin he still deals with Moon Landing deniers, astrology, and UFO believers to this day.

In his opinion – and he’s right – the Universe is cool enough. Why make up stuff about it?

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Death from the Skies: the End of the World?


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Death from the Skies is an aptly titled book. It’s written by my good friend Dr. Phil Plait, otherwise known as the Bad Astronomer. It was written to explain all of the ways the World might end… scientifically speaking.

Plait, an astronomer and author of the popular Web site badastronomy.com, presents in loving detail the many, many ways the human race could die, from temperature extremes and poisonous atmosphere to asteroid impacts and supernovae explosions. Such a state of destruction existed some 65 million years ago, when a giant meteoroid struck Earth, sending up so much flaming debris that the whole planet caught fire and the dinosaurs were wiped out. Solar flare activity could bring on another Ice Age. Worse yet would be a gamma ray burster, a collapsed star whose radiation would be comparable to detonating a one-megaton nuclear bomb over every square mile of the planet. Plait discusses insatiable black holes, the death of the Sun and cannibal galaxies—including our own. Balancing his doomsday scenarios with enthusiastic and clear explanations of the science behind each, Plait offers a surprisingly educational and enjoyable astronomical horror show, including a table listing the extremely low odds of each event occurring. He gives readers a good scare, and then puts it in context.

I knew right away when Phil got the contract to write this book. He was extremely excited about this. We met back when I was hosting Call for Help, and we hit it off immediately. We have the same sense of humor, and he is just hilarious! If you think this is just some boring science book… you have another thing coming.

I just started reading the book, and I’m looking forward to getting through it all. I can’t imagine there could be any better book on this subject. From a purely scientific standpoint, Dr. Plait knows his stuff. Realistically, the World could end. And death could come from the skies. Make sure you check this book out, educate yourself, and have some laughs along the way.

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