Exposing PseudoAstronomy

April 24, 2013

Podcast #72: Solar System Mysteries “Solved” by PseudoScience, Part 1 – Iapetus

Exploding planets,
Alien spaceships … Why is
Iapetus weird?

The subject of this episode is Saturn’s moon, Iapetus, and two mysteries about it that various branches of pseudoscience have claimed to solve: the brightness dichotomy via an exploded planet, and the equatorial ridge via a spaceship.

This is the first of what I plan to be a series much like “The Fake Story of Planet X” series — different mysteries of the solar system that have a pseudoscientific explanation and may or may not have a real science (agreed upon) explanation. Let me know what you think of the concept. Future ideas for shows are the Pioneer Anomaly and Mars’ crustal dichotomy.

Otherwise, there’s a bit of feedback and then I get into the puzzler from last time and one announcement.

Well, I sorta snuck in a second announcement — I’m headed to Australia, December 18 – January 20. I’ll be centered in Melbourne (which I enjoy pronouncing as “Mel-born-EE”) for most of the trip though should make it up to Sydney (I wanna see the Great Barrier Reef!). So, dinner in each city if I can round up enough interest. I’m slowly learning that Australia is not just a 5-hr drive across, so I’m less likely to make it to the eastern half. We’ll see if I can increase my Australian listenership in the meantime to make a dinner here or there worth organizing.



  1. Stuart, I think the link in the header may be broken. Clicking on it does nothing.


    Comment by SB — April 25, 2013 @ 12:13 am | Reply

    • There wasn’t a link before, but I’ve fixed that now.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — April 25, 2013 @ 6:59 am | Reply

  2. As an inhabitent of Australia’s Western half, you’re free to try and take a taxi across the Nullarbor, but just be aware the cost will be astronomical, much cheaper to fly…

    Comment by Graham — April 25, 2013 @ 12:53 am | Reply

  3. Great episode- the pseudo part was interesting but the real stuff, even if science hasn’t quite figured it all out yet, was utterly fascinating. Were you a fan of the BBC series ‘the planets’? I loved that series and this episode held a similar fascination. The crackpots couldn’t come up with something stranger than the twelve mile high ridge on Iapetus.

    Comment by Dermot Power — April 25, 2013 @ 9:21 am | Reply

    • No, I don’t think I’ve seen “The Planets.” But your last sentence reminds me of something Phil Plait said at one point: Making stuff up for a plot point in a movie (or crackpot idea or whatever — he was talking about “red matter” in the last Star Trek movie) often isn’t nearly as interesting as some real science mechanism/thing/object.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — April 25, 2013 @ 10:44 am | Reply

      • http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0069v8r I’m sure you get pushed to watch lots of stuff…but this clip is only one minute long and gives a flavour of why I thought you might have seen the BBC 2 ‘the planets’ series. I just realised it was made in 1999! That’s shocking to me that it was so long ago. It was done with such good taste that the CG (mixed with shots from Voyager etc) still hold up very well. The episode on Jupiters icy moon Europa had was a total WTF?! for me.

        Comment by Dermot Power — April 26, 2013 @ 1:14 am

  4. I liked this episode a lot. A sprinkling of Richard C, Hoagland and a heavy dose of rationality are a good mix. I had one thought I wish that you’d discussed… How astronomers know that the “dark stuff” is “on top of” the “light stuff” and not the other way around.

    Comment by Julian Janssen — April 25, 2013 @ 2:41 pm | Reply

    • Thanks. And that was actually briefly mentioned, with probably the most convincing being that small craters on the dark part punch through to brighter material.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — April 25, 2013 @ 3:01 pm | Reply

      • Sorry, I guess I missed that because I was listening in the car. I have listened to all of podcasts and I think yours is one of the best that I regularly listen to.

        Comment by Julian Janssen — April 26, 2013 @ 2:14 am

      • That’s fine, we all miss things, as evidenced by mistakes creeping into some recent episodes.

        Comment by Stuart Robbins — April 26, 2013 @ 7:11 am

  5. Listened to the latest episode on the way to work. Great stuff. You may not have heard, but in the original script (& the published novel) of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the mission ends at Iapetus, the Monolith rather than floating in space is found sitting in the middle of a white circle on the leading hemisphere of the moon. From memory the rings (& the dark stuff on Iapetus) are the byproduct of the process used to create the Monolith.

    If you do make it to the West Coast of Australia and drop by the Mint, drop me a line (or send an email), I’d love to shake your hand.

    Comment by Graham — April 26, 2013 @ 10:23 am | Reply

    • Thanks. And yes, Hoagland quotes Clark a lot in his series and mentioned it in the C2C interview about it.

      I’ll be centered in Melboure and it looks like the RAM is about a 6-7 hr drive. Australia is so much bigger than I thought it was! It’s more likely I’ll get there than Perth, though.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — April 26, 2013 @ 10:29 am | Reply

  6. Excellent, Stuart. I eagerly anticipate the remainder of the series.

    Comment by John Paisley — April 27, 2013 @ 7:20 pm | Reply

  7. Stuart, this podcast inspired me to finally make an entry for Richard C. Hoagland at Gallery of Wackos, thanks.


    Comment by Torsten Pihl — April 28, 2013 @ 4:02 pm | Reply

  8. Ah Stuart… Melbourne and Sydney *are* in the Eastern half. I think you meant you won’t be getting to WA (Western Aus.), which is about 8 hours flight from the eastern coast.

    Oh, and I’m in Melbourne – so I’d definitely be interested in a meet up. šŸ™‚
    Pronounciation-wise, it’s “Mel BORN”. The “e” is silent šŸ˜‰

    PS. Love the idea for this podcast episode. More please!

    Comment by flip — May 25, 2013 @ 5:56 am | Reply

    • Thanks. And yes, East/West … whatever ;). I’ll send out more details when we get closer to December. And yes, I know the pronunciation, I just choose to annoy a certain individual on purpose by pronouncing it totally wrong. Sorry to all the collateral damage out there.

      And, glad you liked the episode.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — May 25, 2013 @ 9:25 am | Reply

      • šŸ™‚ Heh, it’s an easy mistake to make. – Sorry for jumping the gun on the pronunciation. I guess my humour meter needs recalibrating.

        Comment by flip — May 27, 2013 @ 4:23 am

      • ‘Sok. Sometimes my humor gets lost.

        Comment by Stuart Robbins — May 27, 2013 @ 10:56 am

      • I think your sense of humour comes across better vocally, as I usually get it when listening to the podcast šŸ™‚

        Comment by flip — June 3, 2013 @ 1:41 am

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