Exposing PseudoAstronomy

June 29, 2012

An Interview with Me About Lunar and Martian Craters


Quick announcement ’cause I forgot to do it earlier and I forgot to mention it on the last podcast: Nancy Atkinson, a reporter of Universe Today (among other things), interviewed me last-minute last week about lunar and martian craters. The interview’s about 15 minutes long and was broadcast to both 365 Days of Astronomy podcast and the NLSI (NASA Lunar Science Institute) podcast.

Link to NLSI podcast page.

Link to 365 Days of Astronomy page.

The description, as Nancy wrote it:

Description: It’s a showdown! The Moon Vs. Mars. These are two very different planetary bodies. But there’s one thing they have very much in common: both are covered with craters. So how do the two compare in the crater department? With us to give us some blow by blow insight is Stuart Robbins, a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Southwest Research Institute, and he also works with the CosmoQuest Moon Mappers citizen science project.

Bio: NLSI brings together leading lunar scientists from around the world to further NASA lunar science and exploration.

Stuart Robbins in a Planetary Geologist with a PhD in Astronomy. He works at the Southwest Research Institute and the University of Colorado, Boulder and is the science lead for the Moon Mappers project.

June 26, 2012

Podcast Episode 41: Craters and Creationism, Part 2


In a slightly delayed offering, episode 41 has been posted. Sorry to say that episodes over the next month may be delayed by a few days, as well, for I have several trips coming up and won’t have my equipment with me.

As the title suggests, this episodes details a few claims by creationists to try to argue that craters really show the solar system is only 6000 years old instead of the solar system being around 4.5 billion. It may get a bit technical at times — sorry.

June 19, 2012

World Famous Astrologer Terry Nazon Redux: Word Salad of Wrongly Used Astronomy Terms with New Age Thrown In


Introduction

It’s been a long time since I wrote about “Terry Nazon World Famous Celebrity Astrologer.” I was bored last night when I should have been either weight lifting or going to bed, and I happened across her blog. I was scrolling through to see if there was any “real” astronomy in there and came across her, “Venus Retrograde The Anatomy of a Retrograde” post from May 15, 2012.

Wow.

First, Grammar

In the past when I’ve written about Ms. Nazon, I’ve made minor points about her grammar. It’s atrocious. Seriously. Anyone who is a professional (as Ms. Nazon seems to be considering that she now charges $400 to talk with her per hour) should have better grammar than she.

Throughout this post, I’m going to pick apart her three-paragraph “Venus Retrograde…” post. I’m going to be quoting verbatim a lot. Please keep in mind that these are copy-pastes and I’m not trying to make her look more ridiculous than she already is by altering her words.

What Is Retrograde Motion?

Literally, the term “retrograde” means “to go against” or “to go backwards.” Throughout the day, objects in the sky appear to move from East to West. Throughout the year, the stars seem to move just a bit faster than the sun. This means that, relative to the stars, the sun appears to travel from West to East over the course of many days.

When planets also appear to move from West to East relative to the stars over many nights, they are traveling with the sun, and so are going “prograde.” When planets move from East to West relative to the stars over many nights, they are moving “retrograde” because it’s against the motion of the sun over many days/nights.

The why of why planets will go from prograde to retrograde and back again after many months is a story that took thousands of years to figure out and was one of the main lines of evidence for heliocentrism and against geocentrism.

I really don’t want to go too much into the “why this happens” part here as I think this is going to be a long post; instead, I’ll refer you to this short animation that I made that shows a line of observation from Earth, through Mars, projected onto the stars, and the path it draws. If you look at that, then keep in mind as a basic explanation, “It’s because we ‘catch up and pass’ a planet in its orbit,” it should make some sense.

Paragraph The First

“As your horoscope week begins the planet of Love, romance, and wealth, Venus goes retrograde until June 27th. Venus typically retrogrades every about every year or 18 months, depending on its transit.”

The first sentence is surprisingly correct with regards to when Venus returns to prograde motion. The second is generally correct with how often it switches, and I’m assuming that her term “transit” is an astrology term; it doesn’t mean anything astronomically considering that the next Venus transit across the sun isn’t until 2117.

“Everyone who studies astrology tries to understand the movements of the planets and pierce understand their transits through the signs. How we see them from our perspective here on planet Earth, is sometimes quite different from what is actually happening, our perspective is skewed here on earth.”

This is Nazon’s way of setting up for why retrogrades are important, and apparently that importance helps us to “pierce understand” them.

“Retrogrades are special times when the planets appear to us from our vantage point of Earth to be moving backwards. They aren’t really. Mercury will not be transiting backwards, nor will any of the other planets. They will only appear to be moving backwards due to its position in orbit and it’s relation to the Earth …”

So far, we’re still generally okay, though the English language has suffered a bit.

“… as it moves away from the planet Earth in its orbit.”

I thought at this point that she was sort of correct, and I was going to give her the benefit of the doubt. That was until I saw the next three sentences:

“The farther an object is from us the slower it appears to be moving, it’s that simple. An object really far away appears to be moving backwards. Space and time affect our perception.”

Alright, this first sentence is true IF the object is moving at the same speed. Otherwise, all bets are off. An airplane 5 miles above me is going to move faster than the bird 20 feet above me.

The second sentence makes absolutely no sense. No sense whatsoever. It seems as though she’s extrapolating a linear relationship that stuff moves far away so it moves slower, so if it moves really far it will eventually slow down and move backwards? Um, huh!?

Paragraph The Second

“Science has proven that there is a difference in the influence of a planet when moving toward the Earth (or direct) and moving away from the Earth or retrograde.”

No. First off, “science” has never shown any influence whatsoever (astrology-wise) of other planets on Earth regardless of their position or movement in space. Since “science” has not done so, it also cannot show a difference between nothing and nothing for how that planet may be moving.

“This difference is called Red Shift.”

Cue George Takei: “Oh my.”

Ms. Nazon is confusing apparent motion across (as in “back-and-forth”) our sky with a real physical motion towards or away from us, which is red shift and blue shift. Read the link if you don’t know what these are, but suffice to say for the purposes of this post, these are nothing alike. They have nothing to do with each other whatsoever. What she basically said is, “The difference between a flute and a piccolo is tomato bisque.”

“When a planet is receding, or moving away it appears to be retrograde, the color of the light it gives off changes. It does in fact have a different measurable speed and different light spectrum. This is called Red Shift.”

As my animation example shows, Mars was moving prograde until its closest approach with Earth, at which point Earth “passed” it and Mars’ motion became retrograde. Earth was moving away from it for awhile and it was retrograde, and Earth continued to move away and it flipped to prograde. Not possible under Ms. Nazon’s misunderstanding.

I interpret these three sentences as Ms. Nazon’s misunderstanding of what’s going on and using the general astronomy terms in a “word salad,” going into overdrive. Now, she is technically correct when she says that there would be a measurable redshift as the relative velocities between Earth and another planet increase. That difference is minuscule, however, and you get a bigger difference in redshift/blueshift light from opposite limbs of the sun (since the sun rotates, the limb coming towards us is slightly blueshifted, the limb going away is slightly redshifted).

“When a planet is retrograde its influence is subnormal. Retrogrades makes the normal influence of any planet weak.”

This is just astrology-speak mumbo jumbo. I have no other comment.

Paragraph The Third

“Venus retrograde produces red spectrum lines and its influence is the antithesis or the exact opposite of Venus direct, its influence is more like Mars. Normally Venus produces a violet light. When retrograde a red spectrum light like Mars.”

As I already explained above, apparent motion back-and-forth through the sky has nothing to do with its physical motion towards or away from us. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. גאָרנישט. 何も. 没什么. Inget. (Yay Google Translate!)

That said, every object in the solar system radiates every color of light, by definition of how radiation works. Planets radiate more in the infrared because they’re cooler than the sun. Planets also reflect light, and a lot of that is in the visible. Venus’ cloud layers are mostly made of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Being a molecule, carbon dioxide has a complicated emission/absorption spectrum, but it is heavy in the infrared (which is why it’s a greenhouse gas). What makes Venus appear yellow-whitish-orange is a sulfuric acid haze in the atmosphere. If Venus’ relative motion towards/away to/from Earth really caused it to have a significant red/blue shift, then everyone would notice this. ‘Cause, well, it would appear visibly redder or bluer. It doesn’t.

I’m really amazed at how some very basic observations that “everybody” knows or can make somehow manage to get by a “World Famous Celebrity Astrologer” such as Ms. Nazon who charges $100 to talk with her for 15 minutes.

“The give and take of Venus is undermined now and many will feel they have to do more or give more to receive love, recognition, or attention. Nothing comes easy under Venus retrograde and the concept of “what’s in it for me” is always prevalent.”

And we end with more astrology stuff.

Final Thoughts

I almost didn’t do a blog post about this, then I changed my mind. I haven’t ever really addressed the “word salad” idea with regards to pseudoscience claims on this blog, except perhaps with quantum mechanics.

Ms. Nazon’s blog (and other writings) is a good example of this idea: Take some science-sounding words, add a heaping spoonful of new age, whisk vigorously until foamy, and then pour on baking sheet. Bake at 250°F for 15 minutes until half-done, then chop up and post your half-baked ideas online.

June 16, 2012

Podcast Episode 40: Crater Age Dating Explained, Part 1


This is a bit of a longer episode. ‘Cause, this is what I do.

I give you a pretty detailed overview of how crater age dating works, the difference between absolute and relative age dating, how we can assign absolute ages to the relative ages of craters, how geologic mapping works and why it’s important for crater age dating, and then many of the known problems and caveats with the method.

Finally, there’s an open question about the puzzler: Is it worth doing? I wanted to do it initially to get interaction between me and the listeners. But participation has been around 1 for each. So if you have any opinion regarding the Puzzler, please let me know in the Comments to this post.

June 13, 2012

The Amazing Transit of Venus Proves My New Transdimensional HyperPhysics Theory

Filed under: humor — Stuart Robbins @ 5:39 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Now Hear This!!

For those who don’t know ’cause they were living inside the spaceship that is Phobos, Venus transited across the face of the sun last week on June 5 or 6, depending on which time zone you’re in. A prediction of my Transdimensional HyperPhysics theory – which is based on Soviet-era research in the USSR that Western so-called “scientists” refuse to talk about – is that something wonderful would happen during this event.

To be more explicit, I have a pendulum. Pendulums should swing at a steady rate that is only based on the length of the pendulum and the gravity field its in. A Foucault Pendulum is a special kind of pendulum that proves Earth rotates, and again, the period is only dependent on the length and local gravity.

Except in my Transdimensional HyperPhysics model. My theory, again, based on REAL research carried out in Soviet labs, predicts that pendulums will be have weirdly during transits like this.

Ancient civilizations were much more intelligent than us, and they knew of this physics and built their sacred spots in places where this physics manifests on Earth. The Four Corners area of the US southwest (named because it’s where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah all meet at one corner) is one of these special places on Earth where this Transdimensional HyperPhysics energy manifests extra-strong.

So I went there with my “its complicated” person in the Exposing PseudoAstronomy-mobile. And I took along my trusty pendulum that has been thoroughly tested by top scientists to be accurate to the microsecond in its period and the size of its swing. I had this hooked up to an angle sensor that fed data into my laptop computer so that I could measure exactly the size of the swing and exactly how long it took.

My “it’s complicated” and I set up camp at the Four Corners so we could test my Transdimensional HyperPhysics theory. And the results are AMAZING! See for yourself:

Venus Transit Data

Venus Transit Data that Proves Transdimensional HyperPhysics

I started measuring 15 minutes before the transit and continued for another two hours. As you can see, as soon as the transit starts, something wonderful happened to the pendulum where both the period and the amplitude changed!!! And during the transit, with roughly the time it took Venus to move its diameter across the sun, there was a weird amplitude shift and the period was still faster!!

Since the length of my pendulum didn’t change, that means that the gravity field did and/or the basic laws of physics that Western establishment “scientists” think are right are WRONG!!

Whereas, all predictions made by my Transdimensional HyperPhysics that says that extra dimensional energy gets pumped into things like pendulums during stuff like this!

STAY TUNED!!!

June 9, 2012

Podcast Episode 39: Young-Earth Creationist Attempted Refutations of Radiometric Dating


A slightly delayed episode is finally up. Part 2 of the series of 2 on radiometric dating, part 2 of the series of 4 (this month’s theme) on dating techniques. I talk about four of the main categories of claims that young-Earth creationist arguments fall into in their attempts to refute radiometric dating.

It’s also the first regularly formatted episode since #35, including the main segment, new news, Q&A, feedback, puzzler, and announcements.

June 8, 2012

That Was Fast: Neutrinos CAN’T Travel Faster than Light (So Far)


Introduction

For the first regular non-podcast-announcement post in awhile*, I just came across this Wired.com article: “ It’s Official: Neutrinos Can’t Beat Speed of Light.” While I doubt this will get much play in most main media outlets, I’m sure it will be talked quite a lot about on science blogs and podcasts. Instead of talking about the results (beyond summarizing them), I’m going to talk about the process here and how, in my opinion, the scientists involved did NOT do the wrong thing.

Pons and Fleischmann and Science by Press Release

Pons’ and Fleischmann’s names will forever live in infamy for doing science by press release. In 1989, they held a press conference where they claimed they had succeeded in cold fusion (fusion at temperatures below millions of degrees).

They were wrong. Every single experiment after them that tried to duplicate their work failed. Disgraced but indignant, both moved to France and took £12 million of Toyota’s money with no results after 10 years. Fleischmann now lives in England and Pons gave up US citizenship and is still living in France.

Both are still championed by the “alternative energy” community for having succeeded in cold fusion but being held back and put down by The Powers that Be (as in alternative medicine, as in, not real).

CERN’s Announcement of Faster-than-Light Neutrinos

Part of Einstein’s momentous work in the early 1920s was to propose that nothing can travel faster than light. Every experiment ever done since then has eventually shown that this is correct, as far as we can tell.

In 1987, a supernova happened in a neighboring dwarf galaxy (as seen from Earth). The neutrino burst arrived a few hours before the visible light counter-part, exactly in line with theory (that neutrinos travel slower than light, but they are unimpeded by the atmosphere of the dying star which is why the light was delayed).

In 2011, scientists at CERN announced the results of numerous runs of the same experiment that showed that neutrinos somehow seemed to travel faster than light. The difference in timing was 60 nanoseconds (a nanosecond is 0.000000001 seconds). But, their results were consistent over the course of 15,000 repetitions.

They had checked everything they could think of and debated the results within the team. Finally, they released a paper and held a press conference about the paper wherein they stated (paraphrased): “These are our results. We know this violates established physics, but we have tried everything we can think of to figure out where we might have made a mistake. Please help us and critique our work!”

If their results were real, and neutrinos do travel faster than light by the amount they measured, then the neutrinos from the 1987 supernova should have arrived at Earth years before the visible light counterpart. Not hours.

Media Missteps

With the decline of dedicated science reporters, science reporting in most media outlets has declined in quality over the past decade. Significantly. Media in general took the sexy headlines of “Einstein Was Wrong” and “Light Speed Limit Broken” and other such things.

What they didn’t report was that this is part of the scientific process. Work needs to be vetted and repeated before it is accepted.

Loose Wires

A few months ago (March 2012), it was announced that a possible source of systematic error was found: A loose cable. (Systematic error/uncertainty is something that will always give you the same relative offset in an experiment. This is in contrast to random error where you get literally random sources of error that crop up.)

Because of the very precise timing required in this experiment, a loose cable may seem innocuous, but it was enough to account for the difference.

In the time since March, the experiment has been redone many times and, today (June 8, 2012), CERN research directory Sergio Bertolucci presented results at a conference that shows the neutrinos travel at just under the speed of light.

Pseudoscience Already Grabbed It

Unfortunately, just as pseudoscientists hawking their latest perpetual motion devices still point to Pons and Fleischmann as having succeeded in creating cold fusion, already in the past few months several have latched onto the idea of FTL neutrinos to bolster their own line of beliefs.

I have heard from numerous, different people on some forums I monitor as well as the “venerable” Coast to Coast AM show saying things such as, “ESP exists because CERN scientists have shown that things can travel faster than light!” Or, “UFOs are aliens from other planets and we already know that they can get here faster than light because CERN scientists have shown that things can travel faster than light!”

Do I expect them to retract their claims now that the science has been corrected by the same people who made the claim to begin with? Of course not. But hopefully I’m wrong.

Final Thoughts

These scientists did not do science by press release, they vetted their work within the team and performed over 15,000 experiments. Even when presenting their work, they still didn’t believe their results and they were calling on the rest of the physics community for help. That was not the route taken by Pons and Fleischmann.

I think that this shows well how science is generally supposed to work when you have an extraordinary claim (Alex Tsakiris …):

  • Established physics theory borne out from hundreds or thousands of experiments.
  • A single new experiment suggests it’s wrong.
  • Experimenters repeat their experiment many times, and search for sources of error that would explain the anomalous result.
  • Not finding it, they publish a peer-reviewed paper about the work and ask the broader community for help.
  • Many people come in and try to figure out where the latest experiment may have gone wrong.
  • Course A: If they find the mistake, they retract the initial claims and the established physics is shown to still hold.
  • Coarse 1: If they don’t find the mistake, then an independent experiment must be set up that is designed to measure the same phenomenon and run. If it verifies the new results, then the established theory must be modified. If it doesn’t, then the original experiment remains an interesting anomaly to be explained but does not affect the established theory.

And that’s what happened here.

*Sorry folks, I know that I’ve been lax lately, I have no excuse other than work and other things that have taken priority. This blog is unfortunately not my tip-top priority. And the last three weeks have seen three astronomical events that have generated about 100GB of images I’m trying to finish processing (annular eclipse, lunar eclipse, Venus transit). And I’m behind on work in my day job.

June 1, 2012

Podcast Episode 38: Radiometric Dating Explained, Part 1


This is Part 1 of two parts, the next to be in the next episode, conveniently, and will discuss what young-Earth creationists say about the topic.

But in this one, I give you a 50-minute interview with geologist Rachael Acks who explains some of the history of radiometric dating, the very basic physics of it, how it works in practice, and some cases of when and why you can’t use the method.

This month begins a four-part series (though it’ll be labeled as two Parts 1 and 2) on age-dating techniques and then the young-Earth response. The first set is radiometric, second set will be craters. It’s a bit of a different thing, so we’ll see how it works out.

Note that because this interview ran longer than I like to make normal episodes, I’m pushing the not-main segments to Episode 39.

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