BioBooksAwardsComing NextContactBlogFun StuffHome

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bad Astronomy

My latest audio book was Bad Astronomy by Philip Plait. I'd seen retweets from a Twitter account called Bad Astronomer, but I'd figured it was a parody account like Bronx Zoo Cobra or Fake AP Stylebook, but whenever I clicked on the links, the articles were to legitimate astronomy sites/articles. When I spotted this book on Audible, the pieces fell into place.

The book is written by an astronomer and he debunks common misconceptions about his profession, the stars, planets, meteors, etc. He covers a fairly wide range of topics including Hollywood and what moviemakers get wrong. Like small meteorites (they only go from meteor to meteorite if they hit the ground) almost never start fires when they hit Earth. They're too cold. Big ones, however, are another story and he cites an impact that happened in Russia in the 1800s. I'd seen pictures of that in the past and knew exactly what he was talking about.

We also learn that there is no dark side of the moon. There's the far side of the moon. We don't see it because of orbits and rotation, but all sides of the moon are exposed to sunlight, we just never see it when it happens on the far side.

There's an entire chapter on the Hubble telescope which gave me a lot of new information. Like the telescope doesn't have a lens, it has mirrors. The telescope has a restricted zone where it won't be utilized because sunlight is too bright for a lot of the instruments on board. Every year, astronomers put in proposals for time on the telescope. Six times more applications are received than slots available.

Many of the common misconceptions he covered were things I hadn't heard of before. For example, apparently many people believe you can see stars in the middle of the day if you stand in the bottom of a well. It's not really true, although the answer is a bit more complicated than that. This was the first time I'd heard of it, though.

Sometimes I knew the right answer already. Like Earth has seasons because of it's tilt and how that changes as we orbit. Apparently many people think it's related to our distance from the sun, but that doesn't account for the southern hemisphere whose seasons are opposite of the northern hemisphere.

I learned a lot from the book and this is despite having an astronomy class in college and an interest in the topic. The author gives the information in an interesting manner and the voice actor read well. He did a kind of Superman voiceover kind of thing for the Hollywood chapter that was kind of amusing.

If you have even the slightest interest in astronomy or curiosity about what you think you know that's wrong on this topic, I recommend this book. I found it entertaining and worthwhile.