Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Another Week, Another Crazy Astronomy Story

No, we're not going to have a Second Sun in 2012.

Sorry Luke...
 Last week it was the new zodiac, this week it's about Betelgeuse.  Have you heard about this?  A Senior Lecturer of Physics at the University of Southern Queensland, Dr. Brad Carter unleashed another media frenzy when he talked to a reporter about this star's impending destruction.  The article, picked up by everyone across the globe claims wrongly that the supernova of Betelgeuse (Orion's red-giant armpit star) will give us two Suns, a la the fictional planet from Star Wars, Tatooine.  My reaction, "Balderdash... pure balderdash".

What they got wrong:
1) Betelgeuse is the second largest known star in the universe.  Wrong -  it ranks around 10th in our galaxy.
2) It could go supernova as early as 2012.  Wrong - it go go any day, but there is no new evidence saying it will go by 2012.  This infamous date was added for effect (bravo reporter, sarcastic clap clap).  We will have no warning about it.  It could go today or 1,000 years from now.
3) When Betelgeuse explodes it will be as bright as the Sun and there will be no night for days.  Wrong - astronomers estimate that it will be no brighter than a full moon and won't appear that large.  From past accounts of supernovas, it should be bright enough to be visible in the day time - like a really, really bright star, and not bright enough to vanquish nighttime.
4) This will affect the Earth.  Wrong - Betelgeuse is so far away (over 600 light years) that the radiation, gamma rays, and other nasty stuff won't reach the Earth. 

Tycho's Supernova
The eventual exploding of Betelgeuse is not news.  I'm hopeful that it will explode in my lifetime, but I'm not holding my breath.  We're definitely due for a bright supernova.  The last two bright enough to be visible day and night were in 1572 and 1604.  (Those guys in the Renaissance had all the luck!).  The Supernova of 1572 was described in great detail by Tycho Brahe, Danish astronomer and loser of a nose in a mathematics-themed sword fight.  It shows up on old stars charts in the constellation Cassiopeia.  The Supernova of 1604 is often called Kepler's Supernova from the German astronomer Johannes Kepler, who came out of Brahe's shadow to become the leading astronomer of the 1600s.  Both of these supernovas blazed for weeks.  I can't wait to see one... any day now ;)

"Two Suns?" what poppycock!
The Crabby Astronomer

Friday, January 14, 2011

Astronomy or Astrology

A science news story has been making the rounds regarding the zodiac.  When Parke Kunkle, a board member of the Minnesota Planetarium Society commented on the true dates of the zodiac, the firestorm erupted (okay maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit here).

Kunkle correctly pointed out that the traditional astrological dates for our zodiac signs do not match up to what is happening in the sky.  Since the zodiac was created by the Babylonians over 2000 years ago, the Earth's perspective on the stars has shifted slightly.  This has shifted the dates of your Sun Sign (the location in the sky when you were born).  In short, 88% of people aren't the sign they think they are.  Below are the traditional dates next to the actual dates.  If you don't want to know the truth, turn away now!

For larger view, right-click pic and open in new window

I understand that it is difficult to learn that your whole astrological life has been a lie.  But don't panic.  Astrologers use the Tropical Zodiac (where the constellations were in 150AD).  They seem to be stuck on that because it is "more accurate."  But to me (and the Babylonian creators of the zodiac) a Virgo is a Virgo because the Sun stood in front of the constellation Virgo when you were born.  It wasn't sitting in front of Leo.  The reality of the zodiac is very simple - anyone can see it.  Using the outdated dates cheapen the original Babylonian idea of the zodiac.  If you told the Babylonian king that the Sun was going to be in Leo and he went outside to check and it wasn't, that astrologer would be in big trouble :)  They were measuring the relationship of the Sun, Moon, and planets with the ancient star patterns that they pass through.  You can't take the stars out of the equation.  Don't call me a Sagittarius when the Sun was really in front of Scorpio when I was born...

*Oh by the way, the 13th zodiac sign included in the chart above (Ophiuchus) is a guy holding a giant snake.  Have fun with that one...