Archive for the ‘Skepticism’ category

Mike Brown on Planet Images

November 18, 2008

Mike Brown (planet hunter extraordinaire) has a really interesting and thoughtful post on his blog about his reaction to the announcement that planets around other stars had been imaged. He details the process that he goes through when reading a paper and then preparing to speak to the press about it. Here’s the excellent quote that he gave to a reporter asking about the discovery:

I can’t say the pictures are surprising. We have known for a long time that these planets are out there and that someone someday would take pictures of them. But that doesn’t take away from the exciting fact that we are seeing planets around other stars for the first time. When you start to sail across the ocean you know that you are finally going to reach shore, but, still, when you see land for the first time it is the most beautiful and exciting thing in your universe. “Land ho!” is never said in a quiet voice.

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Cracking the Nutcases

April 13, 2008

Over at the space review, Dwayne Day shoots down the ever-ridiculous Richard Hoagland; the guy who, among other things, believes that there are glass tunnels and cities and pyramids and faces on Mars. Go take a look, at Day’s article. It’s pretty amusing.

Martian Real Estate

March 16, 2008

Well, LPSC is over and it is now Cornell’s spring break. Briony and Melissa are running around Joshua Tree National Park this week, so it looks like you’re stuck with me.

I was just checking my email when Gmail presented me with a very interesting targeted advertisement: Own Land on the Red Planet !

Apparently there is a company out there convincing gullible people that they can buy plots of land on Mars. Before I go on, let me make it clear that this is a total scam! It is, however a very “educational” site. Right on the front page I learned why Mars is a good place to own land: “The moon will only be a stopping point for re-fueling; Mars is where the real action will happen. With its signs of water and unexplored fossil fuels, Mars will be the only logical choice for planetary land development.”

Fossil fuels, eh? Apparently the climate changed even more than we thought if there were once oceans full of enough plankton and algae to have been buried and turned into oil. Personally, if fossil fuels are the motive, I’d rather own land on Titan.

At this point, I was picturing myself in a spacesuit dancing and laughing maniacally while oil gushed from my new martian oil well in the background. Needless to say, I checked to see what properties were available. I was pleased to see that land was available in one-acre plots in six locations on Mars. Unfortunately, they appear to all be on one hemisphere of the planet, but they have great names such as: “Elysium Basin Estates”, “Kepler’s Dunes”, and “Tycho Trails East”.

All of these lovely locations come with a description of the property and a photo from the surface of Mars. The photos are from the MER rovers and I was amused to see that they never actually claim that the images shown are of the property in question. For example under “Elysium Basin Estates” the site says: “Below is a view from the top of the promontory named “Cabo Frio” on the rim of Victoria Crater.” Now, Victoria Crater is in Meridiani, nowhere near Elysium, but to the site’s credit, they never make that claim. They just happen to place the image right after a description of the Elysium Basin Estates subdivision.

Finally, I clicked on their page of “Facts About Mars!”. Surprisingly, most of their facts really are true. One in particular caught my eye though: “Mars is the only planet you can observe from earth.” I could swear I’ve seen Venus, Saturn, Jupiter and Uranus through a telescope with my own eyes, and have heard of people seeing Mercury too. I must have been confused.

Anyway, I encourage you to take a look at the site for a laugh, but please, don’t take it seriously. It’s just like those scam sites that sell people obscure stars in the sky. We get questions at the astronomy department all the time from people who have bought their loved one a star and want to find it in the sky, and every time we have to tell them that they’ve been tricked by a scam.

Now, I have to go. I’ve got my eye on a few acres in Hellas Basin East, which appears to be located on the Tharsis bulge…