Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Astronomers A-Twitter and Prophesying

The Washington Post reported this morning; “Astronomers have spotted a cataclysmic explosion that marked the death of a huge, distant star in a blast five times as bright and powerful as any they had seen previously. They said yesterday that a similar fate might be imminent for a star in Earth's galactic neighborhood.” So-called objective scientists loooooove scary stuff more than teenagers. Although one of the most unlikely scenarios is that a star in Earth’s nabe would blow up and cover Earth with deadly radiation, the astronomers are more excited than Homeland Security’s resident Chicken Little with stories about how the sky may fall. And yes…the sky may fall TOMORROW. The supernova (SN 2006gy) that blew up is 240 million light-years away. The astronomers are “a little excited about what might happen to the similarly enormous and unstable star closer to home”, WaPo says. A nearer star named Eta Carinae is only 7,500 light-years away. It’s in our Milky Way galaxy, the breathless astronomers said. It has similar features to SN 2006gy, and it could blow up any minute, and it’s been getting really unstable lately and if it blows up it might spew death rays all over planet Earth and who knows what would happen, and then, and then…. But it’s not likely. Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore said, "Discoveries don't get more exciting than this for a theorist.” And although Livio admitted that if Eta Carinae blows up it will most likely only be a terrific lightshow, he still suggested, “it could possibly spew dangerous radiation in Earth's direction…tomorrow.” Exploding supernovas generally cause a blackhole in space that sucks all surrounding matter into itself and from which nothing can escape, not even light. Astronomers have thought that exploding supernovas might also throw enormous amounts of matter into space, but the explosion of SN 2006gy is the first time they’ve seen it. First, I find it creepy that these astronomers are so attracted to and excited by their alternate reality scenarios that have very little chance of happening. Second, I find it more than creepy that they are advancing their unlikely theories with such adolescent panting and heavy breathing. We’ve got a blackhole in the White House. We’ve got a toxic Congress that spews deadly lies and misinformation into the atmosphere. That’s reality. And it’s frightening. We’ve got a so-called Homeland Security office that routinely sends out bogus alerts to take attention away from the Bush administration’s malfeasance and criminal activity. That’s reality. And it’s maddening. Astronomers who get their jollies from imagining cataclysmic events in outer space and then promote their fantasies as possibilities are not malevolent. They are just silly, little men. And that's annoying.

1 comment:

Joy Tomme said...

Barry Schwartz is having trouble posting a comment, so I am copying his email to Joy Tomme:

"I just wanted to say that:

* Only supernovas of really, really big stars result in black holes. Supernovas of less extraordinarily large stars result in neutron stars. (There is also a way small stars can supernova, apparently, but this type of supernova is an animal of different

* Astronomers don't get excited about remote chances of global death, with a possible exception if you are talking about tracking large pieces of rock that might hit Earth (though that's probably much more likely). Astronomers get excited that they might get to witness a nearby supernova. It's Washington Post reporters and editors who get excited about remote possibilities of global death.

Barry.SCHWARTZ ĉe chemoelectric punkto org http://chemoelectric.org"