Hey there, fellow redditors. I figured it was about time I did this. I've been here for over four years, after all.

Oh yeah: I'm me.

So I'm ready to answer questions. Please be aware that a lot of astronomy-type queries can take forever to answer, so try to avoid things like "Explain quantum chromodynamics to me" (which is easy anyway, since all I can do is spell it).

BTW, today is a bit crazy with the asteroid mining and the Hubble birthday and of course the glavin, so please bear with me if it takes a while for me to answer stuff. I'm trying. I also asked Woody Harrelson to fill in if needed.

[UPDATE 1 (17:20 UTC): I need to take off for a while and listen to the asteroid mining press conference. I'll be back in hopefully an hour or so, but I'll have to take off again after that. I'll do what I can to keep up! Thanks!]

[UPDATE 2 (21:00 UTC): OK, I was back, but now I need to go run some errands. Back in an hour!]

[UPDATE 3 (02:00 UTC): Wow, the amount of tired I am is a lot. I may quit for the night, or get to a few more, but I may have to just start up again in the morning. You guys are curious! I love curious!]

[UPDATE the last (4/25 at 18:00 UTC): Folks, I love you all (especially you ) but I think I have to call it quits now. I'm not sure how many questions I've answered, but it's a couple of hundred I think, and I need to, y'know, write my blog and stuff. This was a LOT of fun, and the support you've given me is amazing. Like I said above, I've been here for 4+ years, and I don't see any reason to stop now. I get a lot out of reddit, and really appreciate what you've given me. Thanks.]

Comments: 959 • Responses: 63  • Date: 

MrWeiner444 karma

When you go from being a ginger to being bald, do you get your soul back?

BadAstronomer303 karma

In your case? Hopeless.

felixthehat128 karma

What terrifies you the most in Astronomy?

BadAstronomer233 karma

Gamma-ray bursts, no question. The sheer power of those beams of energy marching across the Universe, the lifetime supply of a star's energy packed into a blowtorch; that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I'm glad they're so far away.

Rocker232109 karma

What is the craziest misconception that you have had people tell you that they believe?

Also what is your greatest achievement in life?

BadAstronomer206 karma

Heh. Good questions.

There is no craziest misconception, I'd say. People believed Nancy Lieder when she said you could see a giant planet everywhere in the sky (which turned out to be lens flares in pictures) but not the big bright comet Hale-Bopp. One guy claims comets are hot and bigger than planets, and he has followers. There's no idea so ridiculous you can't find people to believe it.

Greatest achievement (mushy, but true): I have a good marriage and a good kid.

MrSpontaneous102 karma

First off, I love your blog.

Your whole "Don't be a dick" speech caused quite a stir in the skeptic community. Do you think it caused any shift in the way people deal with others, or are things pretty much the way they were prior?

BadAstronomer105 karma

I have heard from lots of folks who agreed with me, and lots who didn't. I got great feedback from people who reconsidered how to argue critical thinking topics, and that makes me happy. Of course, some of the others doubled down and dug in. That's to be expected. I don't have objective evidence of the outcome, but studies have shown not attacking your opponent tends to get better results. So I still think I'm right. :)

rotzooi100 karma

As an astronomer, you are comfortable working with big numbers. Are you able to quantify just how badass Neil deGrasse Tyson is?

BadAstronomer311 karma

Yes. He is exactly equal to 1000 milliPlaits.

frid80 karma

Are there any plans for more episodes of "Bad Universe"?

Craysh19 karma

This needs to be higher! They really need more than 3!

BadAstronomer58 karma

Yeah, thanks, but sadly no. We just made three and that was it. It was a HUGE HUGE HUGE amount of work - we spent well over a year making those episodes - and it was honestly one of the hardest things I've ever done. I would need a big incentive to start that up again, I think. I still want to do more TV and video stuff, but maybe not on that big a scale.

But man, blowing things up was AWESOME.

msmouse0573 karma

Considering your knowledge of the cosmos, what out there still makes you look up and just wonder in amazement?

BadAstronomer194 karma

All of it.

Seriously, all of it. Seeing Venus shining in the west, the crescent Moon with the dark side softly lit by reflected Earthlight, a nebula through a telescope, Cassini pix of Saturn, Hubble shots of supernovae... it all still gets to me. The day it doesn't is they day you can bury me.

birkz35 karma

Seen this?

chaitan944 karma

I really don't know much about this, but are the rings of a planet really that thin as shown at 0:33 ?

Tarman8314 karma

~ 10 meters thick to a kilometer. From the distance images, appears paper thin.

BadAstronomer28 karma

Actually, to scale, Saturn's rings are thinner, by far, than a sheet of paper.

nicksauce50 karma

Hi Phil,

I'm a 24 year old doing my PhD in astronomy. My question is, what advice would you give on most effectively doing public outreach?

BadAstronomer64 karma

Good question, and I'm not really sure past saying: go out there and do it. Writer a blog, hep out the local astronomy societies, find out what your department does for EPO. I got a huge start in face-to-face PO by doing the bi-annual star party at the University of Virginia, and I loved it. It taught me a lot on how to relate to the public and explain complicated topics.

I hope you can make it happen! We need lots more folks like you who want to show the public how awesome astronomy is.

biggfoot44 karma

What are your thoughts on the asteroid mining venture that we have heard of today? http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-205_162-57419801/asteroid-mining-venture-backed-by-james-cameron-google-ceo-larry-page/ (I remember watching your TED talk where you spoke of how we on Earth can deflect the killer asteroid; you also mentioned of the possibility of putting it in orbit for mining)

BadAstronomer69 karma

My thoughts are here. I'll have more soon; the press conference starts in a few minutes!

robotjackie40 karma

If you had the TARDIS for four hours, where would you go.
EDIT: Four hours in the TARDIS, itself.

BadAstronomer52 karma

Into the Zero Room and get some uninterrupted sleep.

Or more likely I'd go to a gamma-ray burst - off to the side! - just to say I did it.

superior_footwear36 karma

Sorry if you've covered this - link as response okay - but how did you get into astronomy/physics/all that jazz?

Loved you at W00tstock, btw. Edit: And on the Nerdist podcast.

BadAstronomer61 karma

Thanks! I love Hardwick and w00tstock. So much fun!

I got into all this when I was a wee lad, and my folks bought a cheap telescope. My dad pointed it at Saturn, and that was that. The lesson: always expose kids to science. You never know how far it will take them.

RyanKinder28 karma

What is your favored/most likely doomsday scenario for the Earth? Why are you known as the "Bad Astronomer"?

BadAstronomer46 karma

"Most likely" = asteroid/comet impact, but it's also the one natural disaster we can prevent. We just have to choose to commit ourselves to doing it. They concern me, but I don't lie awake at night in a cold sweat. At least, not because of them.

As for my nickname, try here.

KiltedCajun24 karma

Hey Phil, what do we know about the precursor to our Sun; our TRUE mother(s)?

BadAstronomer29 karma

Not much, to be honest. The Sun was formed 4.56 billion years ago, which is plenty of time for us to separate out from wherever it was we were born. Plus, the nebula we formed from is certainly long gone after that much time. There's some argument over whether we formed in an Orion Nebula-like huge stellar factory or a smaller, calmer cloud. I'm not sure where the current thinking stands on that. It's kinda neat that a) we can even consider stuff like this, and 2) it's possible we can figure it out!

NFLdoWORK24 karma

What do you think about the idea that our universe lies inside a black hole? and that the big bang was the creation of a black hole in another universe? Is there any evidence that points to this being plausible?

BadAstronomer34 karma

Well, it's complicated :) but in very rough terms that may not be too far off. I don't think we're inside a black hole as most people think of them - the infinitely dense point where a star has exploded and the core collapsed - but it's certainly possible our Universe branched off as a quantum bubble form another metauniverse. I find that sort of thing fascinating, though I'm certainly no expert in it. What's neat is that there are astronomy missions (like Europe's Planck) designed to observe the cosmic background, the afterglow of the Big Bang, and may see subtle features in it that might indicate our origins. I wrote about that here

[deleted]22 karma


BadAstronomer40 karma

Do you mean politicians or local School Boards? If the former, I'm not a fan at all, because of the vast partisan gulf going on right now, and how firmly the political right is denying science - and I want to be clear I do mean Republicans in charge, not necessarily people who just identify as Republicans. I have several pro-science Republican friends, and they hate what's going on with science in the GOP.

Ideally, reform would be driven by people in charge who have lots of advisors with lots of experience, and they listen to those advisors. Instead, it tends to be driven by some educational trend with little evidence it works, or worse, a narrow ideology that excludes most of reality. Grrrr.

ritalin4320 karma

Have you ever gotten to argue Joe Rogan about the moon landing again? It seems you never got far enough on Penn's radio show.

BadAstronomer32 karma

Nah, after two segments I was done. The first one was light and funny, and it was a lot of fun. The second one he seemed a lot more aggressive, and it had a timbre I didn't care for. That's one reason I didn't do as well in the second one; his attacks surprised me. That was my fault; I should be prepared for such things when arguing against antiscience, and I hope the next time it occurs I'll be better prepared for it.

widefield720 karma

Any advice for amateur astronomy total beginner?

BadAstronomer29 karma

Easy: find a local astronomy club and join! Seriously, that's the best first thing you can do. You can learn a lot that way, and attend star parties to see the sky and get familiar with it and the equipment.

[deleted]19 karma


BadAstronomer23 karma

I know about that, and lots of other Q&A sites too. I think they're great and wish I had more time to do stuff like that. But with everything I'm working on, adding something like that to my list would kill me. And I prefer breathing. :)

MrCompletely19 karma

Hey, I just wanted to take this opportunity to say that Dr. Philbad Plaitstronomer is a great guy in a very real way and walks the talk in terms of inspiring people to learn more about science. Here's the quick story:

My 7 year old son loves the show "How the Universe Works." He's all about space and planets and stars and all of that. Phil is on this show of course, and I mentioned "hey, that guy's on the internet, he posts cool stuff almost every day and answers questions and teaches people stuff" and my son thought that was pretty sweet, that this "talking head" was actually a Real Person and that being a scientist is a Real Job that you can actually do.

So I wrote Phil an email telling him just that, kind of a "hey, nice work, thought you might like to know" sort of thing. And what happens next?

He sends the greatest care package of all time to my boy. It's got books. It's got all kinds of science swag in it. It's got a Boba Fett action figure, presumably because hey, Boba Fett right? It's even got a small nickel-iron meteorite fragment in it! That was the capper, and a great one.

Kiddo's mind = blown. That's really an understatement, but I'm short on time for hyperbole.

It was just a really classy thing to do and took more than a little effort and thought to put together and I thought Reddit might like to know about that.

Thanks Phil! You rock!

EDIT: OCD punctuation issue

BadAstronomer10 karma

:) :) :)

Tel him I said hi.

[big smile here]

DeskFlyer19 karma

Do you think Elon Musk has what it takes to get us to Mars?

BadAstronomer28 karma


... eventually. There's a long way to go, of course, and we'll see next week if and when Space X can get to the ISS. But he's got the right idea, and he's pursuing it carefully and logically. And if he can't , there are lots of others who will try. But I think he can.

hamchops7816 karma

Wouldn't mining helium-3 from the moon be more profitable than mining an asteroid??

BadAstronomer27 karma

Not yet. We have no use for helium-3! Once we have an actual working fusion reactor, then I'll cheer on anyone who wants to collect it. Until then, meh.

Gurck15 karma

What do you consider your best memory/event of working with Hubble?

BadAstronomer30 karma

Oh man, there are so many. I remember when my boss called me into his office, and showed me a picture of Jupiter's and Saturn's aurorae that were taken using our camera (this shot, in fact) and which hadn't been released yet. We had never seen anything like it.

I remember finding our first asteroid in the pictures, and figuring out how big and how far away it was (in the main belt, and a half mile or so across)... and not being able to follow up because it was too faint to be seen from the ground!

I remember when we thought we might have an actual picture of a planet orbiting another star. I worked feverishly for a month trying to pin it down, and ultimately couldn't do it. Eventually we found it was a background star, but those were exciting weeks. :)

So yeah, too many to write about!

poikes13 karma

Hi Phil, what is your favourite space pic? and why!

BadAstronomer20 karma

That's tough, because there really are so many that are so damn cool. But I love this one and this one, which are the same object (NGC 3603) observed in different ways.

Nitorak13 karma

What's the strangest thing you've observed in space?

BadAstronomer34 karma

When I was working on Hubble, by random chance we got an image of two stars next to each other of almost the exact same brightness. We also got spectra, and the two stars were almost exactly the same. It was bizarre, like a cosmic mirage doubling the image of a single star, but it was definitely two different stars at least a light year apart. They were evolved carbon stars, red giants, and I never was able to figure out why they were so similar. It haunts me to this day. Seriously.

themoop7813 karma

I'd personally like to hear any dirt you have on that Hawking fellow.

BadAstronomer19 karma

Well, there's this.

scienceben13 karma

What do you consider to be the best route of entry for a scientist wanting to convert to journalism? Do you think a journalism degree is necessary? Or do you think someone with enough experience in their field and a pretty good voice on the page is already qualified enough to do the job?

BadAstronomer14 karma

Hmmm, good question, and I'm not entirely sure. Having journalism experience might be a plus, but I'm not sure it's necessary, especially since there are so few real journalists left. The best bet is to write, write, write. I know it's a cliche, but it's a cliche because it's true. Write for your local paper, write a blog, submit to group websites, whatever. Writing is like any other form of expression; you get better with practice.

Once your confident, talk to some of the science sites and see if they want contributions. If you have a strong, unique voice you'll have a better chance of getting heard.

le_procyon12 karma

How could artificial gravity be achieved, say, on the ISS?

BadAstronomer30 karma

The only real way would be to use spin/centrifugal force, and the ISS isn't designed for it. The stress would tear it apart. But there are some ideas for spacecraft to spin, or to have multiple units tethered together, revolving around the center of mass like two kids holding hands and spinning around. We may need to do stuff like that if we want to have long-duration space missions. There are medical problems with extended periods of microgravity, so we'll have to figure out how to so this.

rudism11 karma

Hi Phil. What's your survival plan for when the zombie apocalypse arrives?

BadAstronomer72 karma

I've thought about that, and decided just to join the crowd. I bet brains taste GREAT!

Lilivati10 karma

How would you recommend an aspiring science writer break into the field?

BadAstronomer13 karma

devmorgan10 karma

If you had "full control", where would you focus money/time/effort as far as research/exploration/etc is concerned on a near term (<25 years) timeline and on a far term (>50 years) timeline?

BadAstronomer19 karma

Oh man, I don't know. The politics of that are very complicated, and even with full control there are hard choices to make due to limited budgets, time, personnel.

But if I could, I would support the idea of near-Earth asteroid exploration, coupled with putting an actual research base on the Moon and a bigger, better space station in orbit.

That's for crewed missions. Unmanned, I'd say keep ramping up Mars exploration, send probes to Europa, Enceladus, and Titan to look for life, and build monster telescopes in orbit to observe at all wavelength ranges. Y'know, the easy stuff!

johnhattan10 karma

Am I correct in thinking that that famous "Earthrise" photo taken from the moon is misnamed, as the moon is in a tidal-locked orbit, and then Earth would always be in the same spot in the sky from the astronauts' perspective, thus preventing a "rise"?

BadAstronomer24 karma

Yes, but no. :) Apollo 8 was orbiting the Moon at the time, so they did in fact see the Earth rise. If they had been on the Moon's surface, the Earth wouldn't appear to move. Well, not very much; it does move due to the Moon's orbit being elliptical and other factors, but that apparent motion of the Earth in the lunar sky would be small. Look up the term "libration"! That'll help.

CouponTheMovie9 karma

I have a 10" Dobsonian, but I'm stuck in the suburbs 99% of the year. What deep-sky objects would you recommend as targets for a almost-city sky? We've become close friends with the planets, but there's not much in the Messier catalog that we can see.

Also, you're the man.

BadAstronomer6 karma

Yeah, that's tough. At some point, there's not much you can do except load it into the back of a pickup and get away from the lights. But things like M42, M31 for fuzzies, clusters like M35, M41, M13 and others are still cool through a big aperture even in light polluted skies. like I've said before, find a local astronomy club! That usually helps.

bdowns38 karma

Here's one I've wondered about - not being an astronomy expert - but I understand it fascinates scientists that galaxies farther away are moving faster than the ones closer to us. If I understand that correctly, it makes sense to me - the ones farther away are also farther back in time, and would be showing less effect of gravity slowing them down, so they WOULD be moving faster....I'm sure I'm missing something. Can you set me straight?

BadAstronomer18 karma

It's not that we see them in the past so we see them when they were moving faster, it's that the Universe itself is expanding, so the ones farther away are moving faster. Think of it this way: take a picture of a hand grenade one second after it explodes. The stuff moving faster moves the farthest in that time, so it's farthest away.

That's not the best analogy, but it gives you a sense of it. Every galaxy sees every other galaxy moving away from it, and there is no center to the Universe!

Here, this and this should help destroy your brain. :)

jamespijpstra7 karma

Who is your biggest influence in the field of science at the moment?

BadAstronomer14 karma

I don't think I have one, to be honest. It wasn't the specific people who motivated me as a kid, it was the topic, the ideas of science. It still is! But I have lots of friends who inspire me like Neil Tyson, Bill Nye, Carolyn Porco, Amy Mainzer, and many, many more. Mostly that's in outreach, not research. But that's what I do!

Joe_Kickass7 karma

Hi Phil.

Can you suggest some "layman" level experiments that people can do to to debunk popular physics and astronomy myths and misconceptions? Ex; the earth does not revolve around the sun, the earth is less than 6000 years old.

Are there more episodes of Bad Astronomy coming anytime soon?

BadAstronomer5 karma

Yup: go to my pal Moriel's site. She has some great stuff there.

And nope, no more "Bad Universe". We made three and that was it. New episodes of "How the Universe Works" will come out this summer, and I do talking head stuff in those. Stay Tuned!

MrBody427 karma

What are some of your favorite trails to bike in the Boulder area? I always see you tweet pics but its usually hard to tell where they are from.

BadAstronomer15 karma

That's not by accident. :) But I bike all over. I prefer to head north, out of town, because that's quieter, and I'm more likely to see cool birds and animals and scenery. But seriously, biking anywhere in Boulder is a joy. I may go out today, in fact.

ellipses17 karma

Should we strive to gain a broad understanding of the universe, but have it be limited to far-away observation and mathematical theory... or should we put all of our effort into one huge, but limited achievement (like sending a colony ship to another star system)?

BadAstronomer12 karma

I don't think we need to make that choice. Why not do both? or at least, put money into understanding what we can while still going for big (but achievable) projects. Traveling to another star is probably not the best bet - takes too long, we don't have the right tech, it would cost too much - but putting a base on the Moon, going to Mars, exploring asteroids... that stuff we can do. And we could still push science as hard as we can by building probes and bigger telescopes.

MrSodium6 karma

My 5-year-old daughter can't decide what kind of scientist she wants to be when she grows up. (Right now, she wants to be "all scientists.") Make your case to a 5-year-old girl as to why she should be an astronomer.

BadAstronomer16 karma

Nope. I think she should be whatever kind of scientist she wants. :) All of science is cool, and all of it is amazing, and when you're five the entire Universe and everything in it is a source of wonder and awe. I find as much joy in examining an exploding star as I do looking into the crystal structure of a piece of galena.

OK, that's not entirely true. I do like astronomy more. But I wouldn't dare tell an inquisitive little girl what's best! Let her figure it out for herself. After all, isn't that what science is?

RichLather6 karma

I've been amused by your reviews of Hollywood films and how their science often goes hilariously wrong (Armageddon for one) in the name of entertainment.

What TV shows or movies, in your opinion, get it more right than wrong?

BadAstronomer13 karma

Hmmm. Battlestar Galactica did a great job of at least trying very hard to be consistent (they had a science advisor who helped) Come to think of it, Big Bang Theory is pretty good too! For movies, Contact is probably the closest science/astronomy-based movie that got most of it right, and all the important stuff. 2001 did too.

dute6 karma


BadAstronomer10 karma

I have since said that some astronomers do report UFOs. The actual statistic to look at is how many report them compared to the general populace, since most UFO believers I've encountered use that number as a baseline. And the percentage is far lower from every report I've seen, and I attribute that to understanding the sky better. So I would argue that if UFOs were real, astronomers would be reporting them in far, far greater numbers than anyone else because we spend so much time looking at the sky.

Of course even astronomers won't be able to identify everything they see. The two spirals in the sky a couple of years back from rocket boosters would've freaked the hell out of me had I seen them.

Also? DBAD, dude. "Intellectually lacking"? DBAD.

murfguy6 karma

How do we know the universe expansion is accelerating? How do we know it will keep accelerating, rather than the idea that we are perhaps still in the phase of the Big Bang where stuff would not have begun to decelerate?

BadAstronomer8 karma

I wrote about this on the blog, and the links (especially under "Related Posts" at the bottom) have your answer. :)

asboans5 karma

Top 5 tips for aspiring science communicators?

BadAstronomer9 karma

1) Communicate.

2) Communicate.

3) Communicate.

4) Communicate.

5) Communicate.

IOW, practice. Get out there and do it. Write, blog, talk, whatever. The more you do it the better you'll get, and the more likely people will listen. If the most talented communicator in the world sits at home and plays video games all the time, they're not the world's best communicator. They're the world's least efficient one.

shnoobles5 karma


BadAstronomer9 karma

I think it's entirely plausible, but difficult to prove. It also pushes the origin of life problem back one step! But it's always good to know more - maybe it was easier for life to start on Mars than on Earth. If that's the case, wouldn't it be cool to know for sure?

angreesloth4 karma

Hey Phil! As someone who shares a birthday with the hubble (go IRL cakeday), I'm glad that you're here to answer some questions. I just have one; What do you think will be the next revolution in space exploration? I know you mentioned we have an ion drive, but what do you think the next "holy shit" moment of tech will be?

BadAstronomer7 karma

Oooo, good question. I'm not sure. A lot of the stuff being worked on now is incremental, like bigger telescopes, more sensitive instruments, and so on. If we could combine high-thrust (like chemical rockets) and long-duration thrust (like ion drives) then you're really opening up the solar system. Fission/fusion drive? Maybe, but that's a long way off yet.

Or the Orion drive. That would definitely be a holy crap moment.

hailXenu4 karma

I enjoyed reading your supposition about what Planetary Resources, Inc. was going to be, and your follow-up.

  • Can you give us some more insight into your [and perhaps the astronomer community] expectation and predictions to what it means for the future of the world's space programs?

  • Is this the vision-based long-term thinking that will get us beyond the shorter-term profit-driven LEO arena?

  • Can you tell us your hopes for advancements in technology as they relate to astronomy in the next 5, 10, or 20 years?

I'm a huge fan, Thanks.

edit: formatting

BadAstronomer4 karma

If the company can do what they say, this will be critical. Needing water to live is a pain; it's heavy and can't be compressed, so having it already in space could save billions of dollars and make it way way easier to extend crewed missions (it's also good at absorbing radiation from the Sun). So this is an exciting possibility.

I'm hoping this will be long-term thinking. It sounds like it, and as I wrote on my post about it, it sounds like the investors know what they're getting into.

And last, I try not to predict the future too much. It has a way of zagging when everyone earlier thinks it'll zig. :)

unquietwiki4 karma

I've followed your blog on/off over the years: we need more "smart people" posting online. Question for you: I've found it easier to find stuff in the night sky lately; I live in the eastern part of Orlando, and I've been able to pick out a dim red Mars with little difficulty (Google Sky confirms when I see it). I took this pic a few weeks ago when Jupiter and Venus were out. As cities and people switch to CFLs and LEDs, are you hearing any reports of a decrease in light pollution?

BadAstronomer4 karma

Decrease? Not really; as cities expand it tends to get worse. We need better lighting which are more efficient, cheaper in the long run, and provide better illumination of the ground without ruining the sky. Look up The Dark Sky Association! They're a good group.

Reddhat4 karma

With the news of the asteroid mining by Planetary Resources, Inc. hitting today, what do you see as the potential outgrowth of technology from this? Obviously a lot of this is still in planning stages, but the technology needed to complete this on the scale they are planning has yet to be created. I would imagine they would use some sort of ion thruster/solar panel to move the asteroids into an orbit where they can be mined and processed.

Ultimately what do you think the near future goal of such endeavors be? A mining/refueling station located near L1 for earth/moon travel? Something grander?

P.S You were great at w00tstock!

EDIT: Well apparently this answers all my questions! Here!

BadAstronomer2 karma

Yup. :)

[deleted]3 karma

What do you think of the fact that there is a sequel series to Cosmos coming out in a year or two (I don't remember the date that was mentioned)? Do you think you might be making an appearance on it?

BadAstronomer5 karma

I think it's great! Neil Tyson will do a fantastic job with it, and Seth MacFarlane, the co-creator of the reboot, is a major science dork. I have no idea if they'll ask me to be in it, but if it's like the old show then it'll mostly be the host - Neil - in various astronomical situations. The old show didn't have interviews and such. I actually hope they go that way; all the other shows do interviews, and this one should be different.

[deleted]3 karma


BadAstronomer5 karma

It is simply sufficient to know that CUSTOMER DOESN'T CHEESE.

MintyClinch3 karma

Have you ever thought about changing your first name to "Yo"?

BadAstronomer6 karma

Yes. It was my second choice; Dannon was already taken.

nuviremus2 karma

Ever do any studies involving the aurora borealis or its causes and outbreaks? From what I've read, there is still a lot not understood about the phenomena. I'm currently on track in my last few years of undergrad to become equipped to find some of this out.

Big fan by the way, your tweets and blogs are quoted in my life pretty consistently.

BadAstronomer3 karma

You're right, we still have a lot of gaps in our knowledge. I don't study them personally, but I know folks who do. But we've learned a huge amount in the past few years, and it's fun to read up on it. Magnetism is very daunting as a physics subject, so I struggle through some of it, relying on a few of my friends to explain the finer points.

Glad you like my tweets. I do love Twitter. :)

Codaflow2 karma

No question. Thank you for what you do.

BadAstronomer3 karma

You get an answer anyway: you're welcome, and thank you.

Mcsofa1012 karma

probably a very elementary question, but what causes rouge stars, like the ones that just fly through space and thousands of miles an hour. I've never really learned about astronomy so sorry if that's a stupid question

BadAstronomer3 karma

All the stars in our galaxy are moving, orbiting the center like planets orbit the Sun. Some move much faster, though. The thinking is that they were part of a binary system, two stars orbiting each other. One star blew up in a supernova. It's not that the explosion pushed on the second star and made it fly away though! It's just that when the exploding star went away, the second star was flung off by centrifugal force. It's the same thing in an Olympic hammer throw; the thrower spins around and lets go of the hammer, which flies off.

Deradius2 karma

Do we have any particular reason to believe that the physical laws that govern our reality will remain constant?

Granted, it appears they have (probably) always held in the past, but if we really are the product of some quantum bubbling effect or if we are waving around on some cosmic brane, is it possible that some time tomorrow gravity might work differently or stop working altogether as we pass through or intersect some other element of the metacosmos?

Or that time as we understand it might change?

Hopefully I've asked my question in such a way that you can get at the meaning in spite of my having butchered the terminology.

BadAstronomer3 karma

Funny, I just heard Lisa Randall answer this the other day. Basically, we don't say they are, we just make that as a first assumption, However, all the tests seem to indicate that, for example the speed of light really is a constant.

Physicists are pretty conservative about such things, but as good skeptics they test it. If good enough evidence comes along, they'll change their minds!

But as far as things changing like that, it seems unlikely. When we look far away we see back in time, and there's no sign the Universe underwent some fundamental change in gravity or anything else over the past 12 billion years or so at least. That's a loooong time, so it seems like it's the safe way to bet.

TheEliminator2 karma

Did you always want to be a bad astronomer, or did you grow up wanting to be a mechanical engineer or something?

BadAstronomer3 karma

Nope, I always wanted to be an astronomer. Well, for a while it was a tossup between dinosaurs and space - I was five, when all kids want to study dinosaurs - and then for a short time it was astronaut. Since I get sick on a kid's swingset, the choices got pretty narrow.

home_pale_blue_dot2 karma

What technological developments are essential to humans settling the solar system and how far off are we from achieving this goal?

BadAstronomer4 karma

We need cheap access to space, a way of recycling resources like air and water, radiation protection, and a way of making fuel cheap and in situ.

How far off are we? Beats me. We do have some recycling of resources now, but being able to make water and air wherever we go would be nice. Cheap launches? We'll see if Space X and the like can bring down the costs to something reasonable. I think they can, but time will tell!

LouBrown2 karma

What excites you most about the James Webb Space Telescope?

BadAstronomer2 karma

Exoplanets. More pictures, spectra, better characterization of them... JWST will do all of that. But it'll be a while... :(

jmk44222 karma

The first time I ever read anything you wrote was your point by point take down of that "the moon landing was fake" show. I had your "bad astronomy" website bookmarked for a long time after that. Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated that work.

My question: Firefly. Your thoughts on its science?

BadAstronomer4 karma

Yeah, the Moon Hoax is pretty much dead now, but in a way I owe my career to it. Weird.

The science of Firefly was pretty good. I don't think you could have a system of planets and moons like they did, but other than that I was OK with it. Science was secondary at best to the show, unless it came up naturally, and then it was handled well (like when they shoot the big gun at the space station, and it was silent in space... and they had to wrap a spacesuit around it since it needed oxygen). Love that show.

Rockymowen2 karma

What is the importance of the James Webb Space Telescope? Also, got any funny stories involving Bill Nye?

BadAstronomer5 karma

Bill Nye taught me how to shoot a rubber band farther and straighter! True story. First time I met him he was perusing tables at a math convention I was at. I was cleaning up and picking up all the rubber bands, and he stopped and showed me. This was like 10 years ago. We're friends now - I got a chance to hang with him for a while last week at a space meeting, and it was great. But that was a pretty cool moment.

As far as JWST goes, that's easy: it'll be as important to infrared astronomy as Hubble is and was to visible light. It'll look farther and in more detail than anything like it in the past, and it'll increase our knowledge of astronomy and the Universe HUGELY. I have mixed feelings about its history now (read this and this and links therein) but once built, it'll be the bee's knees.

Oh, and the rubber band thing? When you put it on your finger to shoot it, tighten up one side and loosen the other. That'll make it spin when it flies, giving it gyroscopic stability and a bit of lift. It really works!

mrzubi2 karma

Just wanted to say that I loved your presentation at TEDxBoulder. That is all. Thanks!

BadAstronomer3 karma

Thanks! That was an amazing experience, and it's been very gratifying to get such a positive response from it.

ShetlandJames2 karma

What do you make of the recent development regarding mining asteroids? I hope there is some room for a science module on board to collect samples.

BadAstronomer3 karma

shadmere2 karma

I'm going to ask more than one question and break the question economy! Bahahaha!

First: Is it hard to use a semi-cheapish (< $500) telescope if you wear glasses?

Second: I live in the middle of a city, and though it's a smallish one (Oklahoma City), I'm worried about light pollution. I really want to get a telescope, but am afraid that it'd be entirely useless unless I drove an hour away from the city or something. It's easy to find websites talking about light pollution, and obviously it's better to get away from a city, but would an 8 inch Dobsinian be completely pointless near one?

Third: Do you actually say "Holy Haleakala!" in real life, or is that something you started doing in your blog? I know you said it out loud in Bad Universe, but you might have just been referencing your blog.

Finally, I just want to say that I love your blog. It's the only blog I go to on a daily basis. I miss the scientific reviews of movies and TV shows you used to do, but I'll admit the newer stuff is even more interesting. Just less funny, heh. Whenever I hear about something awesome related to space, like the asteroid mining startup, I immediately think, "I wonder what Phil Plait thinks about this!" and go check to see if you've posted yet.

Thanks for all your work!

BadAstronomer3 karma

1) I'm near sighted a bit, so I just take mine off. You can focus a telescope for your eyesight.

2) You can always look at the Moon and planets. There are also bright clusters and such, but it's always better to get away to dark skies. Your best bet is to find a local astronomy club and go to their star parties. That'll give you a sense of what you can do.

3) Rarely, but I do. In the show my director wanted me to say it a few time so we could pick a couple of times to use it. They all wound up going in. :)

4) Thanks! I haven't done reviews because there have been so few movies to review (plus I don't go to movies first night much anymore). I did do Terra Nova a while back. It was meh.

So thanks!