Exposing PseudoAstronomy

July 1, 2012

Podcast Episode 42: Who’s Yo Mamma?! (Milky Way or Sagittarius Dwarf?)


Episode 42 has been posted — on time, I might add. We’re back to the 30-minute episode length and get back to some good ol’ Coast to Coast AM clips.

I take you on a whirlwind custody case that’s 10 years (or 5 billion years?) in the making, trying to figure out if our solar system is really a member of the Milky Way galaxy, or is it a member of the Sagittarius Dwarf galaxy, a galaxy that was only discovered in 1994 and is currently being eaten alive by the Milky Way.

I also have another crater-based Q&A, discuss the solution to episode 40’s puzzler including the feedback that everyone sent in on what the fate of the puzzler should be, and then a few quick announcements.

February 29, 2012

God Said Stars Are Made from Water?


This is a quick post that is kinda another “WTF?” post from something that the young-Earth creationist (YEC) Institute for Creation Research’s (ICR) “science” writer Brian Thomas put out in his article, “What Causes a Galaxy’s Magnetism?

About the first two-thirds of the article is basically parroting a press release about a new map of the Galaxy’s magnetic field. The jist of the press release is that a team of astronomers has mapped our galaxy’s magnetic field to higher precision and accuracy than had been done previously with an eye towards studying extragalactic magnetic fields: you need to know what’s in the way before you can figure out what’s going on with a far-off object. It can also act, over time, on slightly magnetized dust and gas within the galaxy.

But – gasp! – we don’t know why the Galaxy has a magnetic field to begin with! As the ICR article states, “Secular astronomers are no closer to understanding what could cause galactic magnetic fields than they were when they first detected the fields over a century ago.” (That’s the first sentence of the article.) You kinda know what’s coming next … a God of the Gaps argument.

From what I can tell – and this is WAY outside of my field so if any astronomer who knows more about this reads this post, please post in the Comments – the statement is true that we don’t really know what caused the Galaxy’s magnetic field to form in the first place. But, a very recent article has an idea that it may have formed from a background field “seed” that became stronger as the Galaxy formed. So it’s not like we’re totally ign’ant, there are ideas out there.

But no, apparently that’s not good enough. Creationists have to figure it out from the Bible, and …

“In 2008, physicist D. Russell Humphreys proposed a Bible-centered model for the origin of magnetic fields that is consistent with the overall strength of the spiral Milky Way’s magnetic field. If God formed the stars and galaxies during the fourth day of creation using water that He had created earlier, and if those water molecules were all originally aligned, their tiny magnetic fields would have combined to form a galactic magnetic field that has decayed to something that looks like today’s observed field strength.”

Yup, that’s right. The premise of this creationist proposal is that stars are made from water. I really don’t think anything else needs to be said at this point.

January 31, 2012

Podcast Episode 21: The Geographic Pole Shift, Part 1


It’s February 1, or at least it is in some parts of the world, which means another episode of the podcast has been posted. I was working on writing an all-inclusive episode on geographic pole shifts and then I realized that there was no way it would all fit in an hour episode, much less a half-hour episode.

So this is Part 1. In it, I talk about what one particular person and group claims to be the mechanism for a geographic pole shift, the past evidence that it’s happened, and the current evidence that it is happening. The person in question is Brent Miller, the group is The Horizon Project. You can buy their DVD for only $24.95!! Or if you do a bit of Googling (which according to my spell-checker is actually a word), then you can find at least the audio posted online.

I’ll warn you that this is a bit Coast to Coast AM clip-heavy. So if those annoy you, well, sorry. I actually practiced some restraint and didn’t include two additional clips (as-is, there are five).

Part 2 will come for the February 8 episode and will focus instead on the alleged evidence, what the only known mechanism(s) would be for flipping or moving Earth’s geographic poles. It will also address the conspiracy ideas that we already have undergone a geographic pole shift in the last few years and that NASA has just been hiding it … somehow. You’ll have to listen to Episode 22 to get more on that.

In the mean time, enjoy Episode 21.

February 16, 2010

Planet X and 2012 and Astrology: Exploring the Claims of Astrologer Terry Nazon on 2012, Part 2


Introduction

This is Part 2 of my two-part series on the 2012 claims of astrologer Terry Nazon, found on her website, “The Mayan Prophecy of 2012,” which I found after seeing the Coast to Coast AM late-night George Noory -hosted radio show for February 15, 2010 on their “Astrology Special.”

Part 1 of this series dealt with Ms. Nazon’s specific numbered claims on that page on her website. This second part will focus on the claims she makes throughout the paragraphical text on the page.

Note: There will be a third part to this series, but it will not be posted for a few months. I have been in contact with Johan Normark, who writes the Archaeological Haecceities blog and he has agreed to write a guest post for me about Ms. Nazon’s claims of the Mayan culture, but he will not be able to do so for a few months.

The Galactic Center — of Our Universe?

“Let me introduce you to the Galactic Center of our universe, the Milky Way 27° Sagittarius. This is where all the creative energy of universe comes from. A Massive black hole, many times larger than our own Sun.”

After reading some of what Ms. Nazon has written, and especially going into her numbered claims as I did in Part 1 of this 2-part post, I would surmise that she knows very little astronomy. I would expect she knows some very basics, like what a planet is, what the ones in the solar system are, and some basics known to laypeople. However, she apparently does not know galactic structure nor the basics of the layout o the universe, as evidenced by the above quote.

In my first part of this series on Ms. Nazon, I very quickly brushed through celestial coordinate systems. I’ll go a bit more in-depth here because this post is MUCH shorter.

If you were to project Earth’s latitude system onto the sky, you get what astronomers refer to as “declination” which is abbreviated as “DEC.” It’s that simple. The North Celestial Pole, at +90 DEC, is very close to the star Polaris and is where Earth’s rotational axis would lie if it were to go on forever. 0° DEC is the celestial equator.

Longitude is a bit trickier. While there are technically 360° in any circle, astronomers divide the sky’s longitude into what’s known as “right ascension,” where the circle is divided into 24 hours (abbreviated “RA”). The reason for this is to make estimating when an object will be visible a little easier. For example, let’s say I’m out observing and Mars is at the 13 hr RA. But, at that time, only objects at 12 hr RA are above my eastern horizon. Then I know right away that in 1 hour on the clock, Mars will rise. This is easier than taking the degree difference and then dividing by 15 to get the time.

So through this system of DEC and RA (where RA rotates with Earth’s rotation), we have a celestial coordinate system so that any astronomer could go to another and say, “I got an e-mail this morning from someone who claims they see Planet X at DEC +34° 12′ 52″, RA 11 hr 53 min 33 sec. Can you check out those coordinates to confirm?”

That is how you use the coordinate system Stating, “Milky Way 27° Sagittarius” is fairly meaningless. However, because I am familiar with to what she is referring as well as these general claims, I will decipher the statement (after first explaining why it’s meaningless). First, because she states 27°, one could assume she is referring to DEC because there is no such thing as degrees in RA. Stating that something is at DEC 27° is like stating that a ship is at 27° latitude. Okay, latitude is nice … but I’m not about to search the entire circle of the globe at that latitude for the ship.

She narrows it down by saying Sagittarius. Unfortunately for Ms. Nazon, the northern-most part of Sagittarius lies just above the -12° mark. Southern-most is just below -45°. So, let’s assume she actually means -27° instead of 27°. Because it’s Sagittarius, we are limited to RA 17h45m to 20h30m.

From the context, she’s talking about the very center of the Milky Way, known as Sagittarius A* (pronounced “A-star”), or Sag A* for short (us astronomers like abbr.). This object, which is a super-massive black hole, is located at the coordinates DEC -29° 0′ 27.9″, RA 17 hr 45 min 40.045 sec. So even if we flip the sign for Ms. Nazon, she’s still 2° off, though not that big of a deal – I may be nit-picking here.

The second main reason why this claim shows Ms. Nazon knows little about structure is that our galaxy’s core has nothing to do with the universe. The universe couldn’t care less where our galaxy is nor where its core may be located. A galaxy is a grouping of stars, gas, dust, and dark matter, bound by mutual gravity. The universe is – by definition – “everything.” To claim that our galaxy’s center is the “Galactic Center of our universe” simply makes Ms. Nazon sound ignorant about the basic astronomy.

Oh, as to the creative energy flowing from the galaxy’s center … I’m going to leave that alone. It’s not worth commenting on other than to make a vague reference to Star Trek: The Animated Series.

To Infinity and Beyond!

“Now the concept of infinity and time has intrigued mathematicians, scientists, physicists and philosophers for eons. It was profound and very spiritual. On the number line with the center being zero, zero is never reached. To think that you can go infinitely in one direction and infinitely in another is not only profound but, it’s the truth. If that’s the case then, when we die or end, and when we are born and begin, is infinity. It’s a continuum of time. Since there is no end on the other side of zero… it is where everything happens, but didn’t.

“Our Galactic center at 27* Sagittarius is a black Hole…Is this where we find infinity?”

If you can understand what Ms. Nazon is saying for the first part of this, I congratulate you and I request that you explain it to me in the Comments section of this post.

As for the last sentence, as I explained above, the galactic center is at a DEC -29°, not 27°, and I think she’s mixing up her symbols with Sag A* and the little degree sign (°) on her “27.”

While you may not consider this to be an important point, it does speak to her lack of familiarity with the topic, and hence should speak to whether or not you want to pay her nearly $330 an hour for a phone consultation.

Real Particle Baths?

“During the Solstices the Galactic Center bathes us in energy. Real particle energy! Protons and Neutrons the DNA material that sustains life on Earth.”

Interesting claim. But profoundly meaningless. First, the center of our galaxy is very roughly 30,000 light-years away. That means that the fastest thing we know of – light – would take 30,000 years to get to us from there. So, perhaps Ms. Nazon is claiming that the Milky Way’s black hole is constantly spewing out material and so that 30,000 light-year distance -> time delay doesn’t matter.

Now, by definition, a black hole cannot emit particles (let’s ignore Hawking Radiation for this discussion). However, material falling into the black hole does emit radiation, and this radiation and any particles can be accelerated to speeds very close to that of light. So in that sense, Ms. Nazon is correct.

But, it’s this whole alignment with the solstices that’s meaningless. By definition, the Winter Solstice happens when the sun is at exactly RA 18 hr, and the Summer Solstice happens when the sun is at exactly RA 6 hr. That’s actually how the RA system is set up, to line up with the solstices and equinoxes.

Granted, 17 hr 45 min 40.045 sec is not that far off from 18 hr 00 min 00.000 sec. But it’s not the same. And this is ignoring that it’s a few degrees off in DEC. So let’s say she’s right – on the Winter Solstice, this event for some reason happens because the sun is only about 14 min away from the galactic center. If that’s so, then why doesn’t this happen for the ~2-4 week period surrounding it? There are a few days around there when the sun is in closer alignment with the galactic center.

And then the same thing for the Summer Solstice, except why would this bathing event happen when the sun is in the opposite part of the sky?

And then, if you think about looking at the galaxy in a top-down way – say, a flat plate representing the galaxy and then a grain of sand representing our entire solar system – why would the orientation of that grain of sand relative to the center of the plate make any difference in the larger picture?

Final Thoughts, Part 2

This post is shorter than the first because there were much less astronomy-related specifics in it.

This post focused mainly on Ms. Nazon’s sketchy new-agey astronomy-sounding claims and why to anyone who studies astronomy they are fairly meaningless and demonstrably insignificant. If you doubt what I’ve written, I suggest you do a little independent reading on your own on astronomical coordinate systems, large-scale structure of the universe, and how an apparent alignment between two objects would have any bearing on anything. I invite you to post questions you may have in the Comments section for clarification.

And I would ask that – even if you don’t believe me completely – you consider the lack of knowledge that Ms. Nazon has demonstrated on her website before you fork over $64.00 for an “E-Reading via email,” or $74.85 for a 15-minute phone reading (or $329.95 for a 1-hour reading).

December 21, 2008

Creationist Claim: Spiral Galaxies “Wind Up” Too Fast for an Old Universe


Introduction

In preparation for a few public lectures I’ll be doing in the next 6 months, I wanted to address another one of the three main (that I’ve see) straight-forward young-earth Creationist claims about astronomy that “prove” we live in a young universe: Spiral galaxies “wind themselves up too fast.”

This is actually the #1 claim in Russ Humphrey’s treatise on “Evidence for a Young World” that you can find on sites such as Answers in Genesis or the Institute for Creation Research (e.g., this link).

Note that the #2 reason presented is that comets would disintegrate too quickly (which I’ve addressed here) and the #5 claim (#3 astronomy claim) is that the Earth’s magnetic field is decaying too quickly, which I will address in a future blog post.

About Spiral Galaxies

Spiral galaxies, such as the one above (M101), are generally medium- to large-sized congregations of stars. They have either a bulge in the center or a bar in the center. The bulk of the galaxy is a disk (much wider than it is thick) that contains spiral arms. For more basic information on galaxies, see this link.

The feature in question in creationist circles is these subjectively beautiful spiral arms themselves. The trick is that these arms are not “solid.” It is not the case that stars either always exist within a spiral arm or they always exist outside of an arm. Rather, the arms are constantly picking up stars and losing others. What the arms represent are just density waves.

The common analogy to think of is cars on a highway. You may be driving along with many dozens or hundreds of meters between you and the car in front of you. Then, for no apparent reason, you start to get much closer to the car in front of you. And then, for the next several kilometers, there are only maybe five to ten meters between you and the car ahead of you. Afterwards, traffic seems to thin out again and there’s a large distance between you and the next car.

What you have just experienced is a density wave. You are a star, traveling the road that is an orbit around the galaxy, and every now-and-then you find yourself in a density wave where you have to slow down.

The mechanism that perpetuates the density waves – why they don’t just dissipate – is that as a star approaches a density wave, it will speed up slightly due to the gravity of the stars there. And as a star is about to leave a density wave, it will slow down a little, again because of the higher gravity there. So they won’t just smooth out over time.

How did the spiral arms get there in the first place? The main idea here is that all you need is a disk of stars. Stars closest to the center of the disk will need to rotate around it faster than those near the edge, just like planets in our solar system (Mercury’s velocity around the sun is much faster than Earth’s). This can easily set up the initial differential rotation needed to start them.

In addition to this, stars do not orbit on circular paths, rather on elliptical ones (Kepler’s first law). When farthest from the center, their velocity will be at its slowest (Kepler’s second law). When you have just a few extra stars traveling a little slower in some parts of a differentially rotating disk, then you will get spiral patterns.

The Creationist Claim

To quote from a source other than Russ Humphreys: “Stars closer to the center of a spiral galaxy orbit the galaxy faster than stars farther away. Over many millions of years, the difference in orbital rates should wind the spiral tighter and tighter. We do not see any evidence for this in galaxies of different ages.” (This is from the Creation Wiki website.)

Problems with the Creationist Claim

The problem with this is that it rests upon the unstated major premise that density waves are physical parts of galaxies that contain a set of stars that is unchanging. That way, the differential rotation will cause them to “wind up” into a featureless disk. As I have already explained above, this is simply not the case. Galaxies are not like figure skaters.

Another problem is a timescale here. Russ Humphreys may be correct when he places a maximum age of “a few hundred million years” on his fallacious understanding of the theory of spiral galaxies. However, many others, including the one quoted above, will say “many millions of years,” or even “thousands of years.”

Those time scales are way too short. The sun takes about 250 million years to orbit around the galaxy once (as anyone who watches Monty Python knows). There is no way that – even given their faulty understanding of the model – galaxies would “wind up” within less than 1% the time it takes a star half-way from the center (about where we are) to complete a single orbit. This is actually a fairly good example (like comets) about how creationists often don’t understand the timescales involved with astronomical phenomena.

Creationist Refutes of the “Naturalistic” Refutes

(1) To quote again from the Creation Wiki website, the very first response to the explanation I have given is, “First of all this is a theory not a proven fact.” This is, to put it nicely, a bogus argument. As I have stated many times on this blog, a scientific theory is when a hypothesis has withstood all attempts to falsify it, and all data are explained by it. So even them saying it’s a theory is an admission of that. However, “theory” is often used in a derogatory manner by creationists because the colloquial definition is more along the lines of, “a vague idea.”

(2) The next response is, “Furthermore, it does not come from first principles, but is simply the latest in a series of theories designed to save the long age theoretical system from reality.” Well, yes it does come from first principles. Try running a computer model of spiral galaxies, and you’ll see it work pretty darn well after only plugging in “first principles” like gravity.

The next part of that, “series of theories,” is not as derogatory as they intend. Science progresses. If one theory has explained all the data to-date but then the next piece it can’t explain, then a new theory needs to be developed. This, of course, is in contrast to creationism where evidence that refutes their “theory” is simply tossed out the door.

The final part of that sentence, “series of theories designed to save the long age theoretical system from reality,” is simply an attempt to paint what I’ve presented as an Argument from Final Consequences (logical fallacy) when it simply is not.

(3) The final claims, that observations of M51 have shown that the arms in the center don’t fit with this theory – is a misreading of the technical literature. The reference given (Zaritsky et al. (1993), “Inner spiral structure of the galaxy M51,” Nature, 364) clearly states:

The coherence of the arms over this large radial range challenges current theories of spiral structure. We suggest that a combination of several mechanisms, such as the interaction of M51 with the neighboring galaxy NGC5195, forcing by the central ‘bar’, or distortions from density waves, is required to generate the observed structure.

No where does it “[call] into serious question [the spiral density wave theory] by the
Hubble Space Telescope’s discovery of very detailed spiral structure
in the central hub of the ‘Whirlpool’ galaxy, M51,” to quote Humphreys. Rather, it states that just using a simple model that I laid out that you would get in an introductory astronomy class does not tell the whole story. It tells a lot of it. But you do need other information in order to explain every detail of the observations.

Final Thoughts

I think that with this post, I’ve fairly tidily explained why creationist arguments for a young universe based on spiral galaxies are fallacious, generally falling subject to a gross misunderstanding of the theories involved, the technical literature, and various other, smaller, factors.

I also want readers to remember that I am not trying to undermine religion. Faith in a divine creator is a completely separate issue. It is only when people use that faith as a starting point to make testable, scientific claims that I will explore them and refute them if fallacious enough.

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