Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Barnum was more right than he knew

kw: astronomy, photographs, comets, pseudoscience

Here is how the popular cult comet Elenin looked more than three weeks ago, on the evening of August 27, as photographed in Australia by Michael Mattiazzo. The image accompanied this Sky and Telescope article.

Why should this interest me? I usually only care for naked-eye comets, and there has not been one since Hale-Bopp about 15 years ago.

There is a subtle feature of this image: the nucleus of the comet appears elongated, where it was pointlike just a day or two earlier. The comet is breaking up. Yet just this morning (here is why I am interested), I was up extra-early, listening to Coast-to-Coast AM with George Noory, and he and a guest were talking about this comet as some kind of celestial messenger. I wonder if they even knew the comet is already in "rest in pieces" condition.

On those occasions that I am up before 5:30 AM I listen to Coast-to-Coast AM purely for its entertainment value. It is great fun to listen to. I have yet to hear anything that I'd call scientifically verifiable. I simply add what I hear to my store of the bottomless fund of human credulity.

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