Exposing PseudoAstronomy

March 31, 2012

Podcast #29: Was the Asteroid Belt a Planet? Part 1

In this episode that is one second shy of 30 minutes, I talk about some of the historical reasons why some people may think the asteroid belt was at one time a planet, but then I go into four ways to show that it could not have been a planet. Next episode (“Part 2”) will get more on the wacko-conspiracy/crazy/pseudoscience exploding planet ideas.


Upcoming Posts This Week

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Stuart Robbins @ 2:39 am
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As my busy travel schedule winds down until July, you can hopefully expect some more blog posts beyond the podcast announcements. And Coast to Coast AM is going to offer up some “good” ones. Tomorrow night (March 31) they’re interviewing John Lear. April Fools Day is Hugh Ross, one of the main young-Earth creationists who knows something about astronomy. April 2 will be Richard Hoagland to “share the latest space news.” Three shows right in a row that should provide some material for blog posts. And then we have some stuff on Jason Lisle, another young-Earth creationist who knows about astronomy.

March 26, 2012

Podcast Episode 28: The Fake Story of Planet X, Part 2 (Gilbert Eriksen’s Wormwood)

In yet another belated episode, here’s Part 2 of the fake story of Planet X, brought to you by Gilbert Eriksen as opposed to Zecharia Sitchen. That is all.

March 17, 2012

Podcast Episode 27: Stellar Scams

Day late, 20 hrs of work left to do before I leave for the airport in 10 hours … sorry. This episode is about buying star names and land on other planets.

This week, I’m introducing a new, alternative segment to the puzzler. My tentative name for it is “Fact or Fake.” This totally original idea that is not ripped off from any other popular skeptical podcasts is where I will present you with two to four items, based loosely around the topic in the main segment, and you need to figure out which is or are fact, and which is or are fake.

The reason for this segment shift is that the puzzlers are sometimes really really hard to come up with, hence why I’ve been soliciting ideas for the past few episodes. This doesn’t mean that the Puzzler is retired — if I can come up with a puzzler that’s good for the topic of the episode, then I’ll use it. If I can’t, then I’ll do this new segment. That said, the NEXT episode is going to be an overview of the asteroid belt, and whether it was ever a planet. If you can think of a good puzzler for that, please send it in.

This is my first attempt at this thing, so let me know what you think.

March 11, 2012

Did the Moon Sink the Titanic?


Earlier this week, with the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic coming up next month (April 14, 2012), a new report is out claiming that the moon “helped” to sink the Titanic.

What this is really saying and what the media is trying to say and what the real effect may have been are all somewhat different things.


To understand the story, you need to know about tides. We can go back to Newton for his Equilibrium Theory of Tides and the people who improved upon it t get a rough background. In its simplest formulation, tidal intensity is not caused by the inverse-square law of gravity (the gravity from an object falls off as 1 divided by the square of the distance, so if you’re 2x farther away, the gravity is 1/4 as much), but rather an inverse-cube. So the closer you are to what would cause tides, the tidal effects are larger. Similarly, if you’re farther away, then they’re significantly smaller.

On Earth, tides are caused both by the moon and the sun. The sun’s tidal effects are only about 40% as much as the moon’s. If the sun and moon line up, then their effects combine and we get spring tides. If the sun and moon are at right angles (during a first or third quarter moon), then their combined effects are diminished and you get neap tides.

The other component of this story is that the moon is on a slightly elliptical orbit around Earth, and Earth is on an elliptical orbit around the sun. We’re closest to the sun in the month of January, and the moon’s closest point to Earth moves around with time.

The Basic Idea

The basic idea of this story is that the Titanic set sail (not that it had sails) in April, 1912.

On January 3, 1912, Earth was at perihelion – its closest approach to the sun. One day after that, on on January 4, 1912, the moon was full, and it was also (according to this work) at perigee (its closest approach to Earth). The Time article I linked to at the start of this post claims, “the moon just happened to make its closest approach to earth in 1,400 years.” That is not correct, since by definition, it must make its closest approach to Earth once an orbit. It might have been the closest approach at the most full phase in 1400 years, but that’s a different issue.

What this all means is that we had strong tides from the lunar and solar tides adding up (spring tides), and the individual components of each were particularly strong because the moon was its closest and we were closest to the sun.

What the authors (Donald Olson, Russell Doescher, and Roger Sinnott) of this study claim in the magazine Sky & Telescope (or what one of my former professors used to call “Try-and-sell-a-scope” due to all the ads), is that these particularly high tides affected iceberg migration patterns. They suggest that icebergs frequently become grounded in shallow waters around Labrador and Newfounland (Canada). The particularly high high tides could have freed some of them. Including the one that struck the Titanic.

Final Thoughts

To me this is a “just so story.” Yes, it’s possible. I don’t know how probable it is as it requires an unknown and uncharted iceberg being maybe freed due to high tides and then happening to be the one that struck the Titanic. There’s no way to prove it and I don’t think even the original authors are really saying “This IS what happened.” But the media is tending to report it that way.

In the end, it’s possible, and with the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking coming up in 33 days from writing this, I expect more kinds of stories about it to come out over the next month. The thing to remember about many of these “this could have happened!” stories is the “could” part. Maybe yes, maybe no. But you’re going to hear about them because that’s what the media does before some anniversary that they think will sell.

March 8, 2012

Podcast Episode 26: Richard C. Hoagland, Part 1 – 19.5°

This episode is my first (of many) formal episodes devoted to some aspect of the ideas behind Richard C. Hoagland’s … um … we’ll just say “mythology.”

I go into a fair amount of depth exploring the idea that everything energetically important happens at 19.5° on the sun and planets in the solar system. (Spoiler Alert: It doesn’t). I go into a lot more detail than in my blog post on the subject from last year.

Hopefully you find it informative and interesting. I tried to make it a bit like a “tour through the solar system” since people seem to like that kind of approach with subjects.

March 1, 2012

Podcast Episode 25 – The Magnetic Pole Shift

For the third episode written and recorded in 10 days, we finish off the idea of pole shifts started in February with the magnetic pole shift. And that is it. Puzzler for this time is based on last episode, not this one.

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