Filed under: Astronomy, Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait, Science, Slate, Space | Tags: asteroid, Astronomical Unit, astronomy, Bad Astronomy, Douglas Adams, fear, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, jim downey, Light-year, Moon, Phil Plait, science, Slate, space, UR116, Wikipedia
Phil Plait has another in a long series of articles about a space rock that isn’t going to hit Earth. Seriously:
This is Part N of what is apparently an infinite series of “No, Asteroid XXX Is Not Going to Hit the Earth” posts.
I’m sure he’s right. I have no doubt that he’s right. The latest rock in question isn’t going to get any closer than about 5 million kilometers. Which, as Plait notes: “That’s a pretty wide margin, well over 10 times the distance to the Moon.”
But I think that the problem with this kind of thing is that most people just have no clue how great that distance actually is. Seriously. I remember reading that a series of studies were done where if you asked people what they thought of the relationship between the Earth and the Moon was in terms of distance, where the Earth was represented by a basketball and the Moon by a softball, they’d typically say that the distance between the two was about a foot. Some would say a yard. As in, 3 feet. Maybe they’d say a meter if they were feeling sciency.
Whereas the proportional distance would be more like 24′ in actuality. (Based on just memory, I originally said 18′. A friend who actually knows this stuff gave me the correct number – thanks, Brent!)
Space is big. Most people have no damned clue how big. So when you say that some fast-moving rock will pass by the Earth by as much as 10x the distance of the Earth to the Moon, they’ll get scared, thinking that it is going to be a hell of a lot closer than it actually is.
It’s all a matter of perspective, not science. Like most things.
Edited to add: My friend Brent, who set me straight on the actual proportion above, added a comment on FB to note that if you have the distance of the Sun-Earth (one AU) set to one inch, then a full light-year would be right about a mile total distance. Which would put our nearest neighboring star at about 4.5 miles distance.
Yeah, space is BIG.
Filed under: Art, Astronomy, Bad Astronomy, Connections, movies, NPR, Phil Plait, Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, Singularity, Slate, Space, tech, Wired, YouTube | Tags: ALMA, art, astronomy, Bad Astronomy, blogging, Blood Sweat & Tears, Interstellar, jim downey, Kip Thorne, movies, music, NPR, Phil Plait, photography, predictions, reviews, science, Science Fiction, space, technology, video, www youtube
The reviews have been mixed, but one aspect of the new movie Interstellar is pretty cool: the rendering of the black hole depicted in the movie. Even moreso since it is as scientifically accurate as possible, based on close collaboration with noted astrophysicist Kip Thorne:
Still, no one knew exactly what a black hole would look like until they actually built one. Light, temporarily trapped around the black hole, produced an unexpectedly complex fingerprint pattern near the black hole’s shadow. And the glowing accretion disk appeared above the black hole, below the black hole, and in front of it. “I never expected that,” Thorne says. “Eugénie just did the simulations and said, ‘Hey, this is what I got.’ It was just amazing.”
In the end, Nolan got elegant images that advance the story. Thorne got a movie that teaches a mass audience some real, accurate science. But he also got something he didn’t expect: a scientific discovery. “This is our observational data,” he says of the movie’s visualizations. “That’s the way nature behaves. Period.” Thorne says he can get at least two published articles out of it.
And in a nice bit of serendipity, there’s another fantastic bit of astrophysics in the news just now: actual images of planetary genesis from ALMA. Check it out:
A new image from ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, reveals extraordinarily fine detail that has never been seen before in the planet-forming disc around a young star. ALMA’s new high-resolution capabilities were achieved by spacing the antennas up to 15 kilometers apart . This new result represents an enormous step forward in the understanding of how protoplanetary discs develop and how planets form.
ALMA has obtained its most detailed image yet showing the structure of the disc around HL Tau , a million-year-old Sun-like star located approximately 450 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Taurus. The image exceeds all expectations and reveals a series of concentric and bright rings, separated by gaps.
That’s not computer-rendered theory. That’s an actual image, showing the formation of planets around this very young star.