Posts Tagged ‘astronomy’

Lunar Eclipse Defined by Wikipedia

In cel­e­bra­tion of today’s lunar eclipse, Google‘s logo fea­tures an ani­mat­ed moon.  When you click through, as usu­al, you get a page of relat­ed search results.

A lit­tle while ago, one of the top results includ­ed a sur­pris­ing def­i­n­i­tion of “lunar eclipse” from Wikipedia:

Accord­ing to Wikipedia:

Lunar eclipse: A lunar eclipse is when the moon turns black and explodes, releas­ing a poi­so­nous gas, killing all of human­i­ty.  Of course this can occur only when the Sun, …

The page had already been cor­rect­ed by the time I saw it.  But the false def­i­n­i­tion was appar­ent­ly cached and show­ing up in Google’s search results, until a lit­tle while ago.

I love Wikipedia. But it’s still fun­ny.

Check out the page devot­ed to Google Doo­dles.

Bad Science in Star Wars has a short video of me per­form­ing at the recent Won­der­fest sci­ence fes­ti­val in Berke­ley.  I’m talk­ing about bad sci­ence in sci­ence fic­tion movies, and the exam­ple in the clip is a clas­sic moment from Star Wars…

Link to video on YouTube

Link to video on


Sun­day, Novem­ber 7, 2010. Once again I am thrilled to be per­form­ing at Won­der­fest – the Bay Area’s long-running fes­ti­val of sci­ence.  This is their 12th annu­al event – and my third time par­tic­i­pat­ing.

As always, it’s a 2-day event – Sat­ur­day on the Stan­ford cam­pus and Sun­day on the Berke­ley cam­pus.

I am only attend­ing Sun­day, Novem­ber 7, at UC Berkeley’s Stan­ley Hall.  I will per­form and then mod­er­ate a dia­logue:

3pm:  Sci­ence Laughs with Sci­ence Come­di­an Bri­an Mal­ow

4pm:  Mod­er­a­tor for  “Do We Under­stand the Struc­ture of the Uni­verse?” – a dia­logue between Lloyd Knox, a physics pro­fes­sor from UC Davis, and Chung-Pei Ma, an astron­o­my prof from Berke­ley

And, in between my two slots, you can enjoy a live pod­cast of “This Week in Sci­ence” with my friends Dr.Kiki and Justin! 

Helium – So Long and Thanks for all the Balloons!

Some­how this didn’t make it into the blog ear­li­er – our video about heli­um.  A flight in a zep­pelin, a vis­it with the Bal­loon Lady, and the end of an era?…

Relat­ed Post:
Sci­ence Come­di­an Riffs on Hydro­gen and Heli­um at Ignite

Vega Next 3 Exits

Oops…  I must’ve tak­en a wrong turn at Arc­turus…

Vega Next 3 Exits

From the Wikipedia entry on Vega:

Vega is the bright­est star in the con­stel­la­tion Lyra, the fifth bright­est star in the night sky and the sec­ond bright­est star in the north­ern celes­tial hemi­sphere, after Arc­turus.  It is a rel­a­tive­ly near­by star at only 25.3 light-years from Earth, and, togeth­er with Arc­turus and Sir­ius, one of the most lumi­nous stars in the Sun‘s neigh­bor­hood.

Vega has been exten­sive­ly stud­ied by astronomers, lead­ing it to be termed, “arguably the next most impor­tant star in the sky after the Sun”.[8] His­tor­i­cal­ly, Vega served as the north­ern pole star at about 12,000 BCE and will do so again at around 14,000 CE. Vega was the first star, oth­er than the Sun, to have its pho­to­graph tak­en and the first to have its spec­trum pho­tographed. It was also one of the first stars to have its dis­tance esti­mat­ed through par­al­lax mea­sure­ments.

Also:   Vega became the first star to have a car named after it when Chevro­let launched the Vega in 1971. 

Astronomy in Science Fiction

When I attend­ed the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas, in Austin, back in the last cen­tu­ry, I took a few astron­o­my class­es and the most inter­est­ing one was called “Astron­o­my in Sci­ence Fic­tion.”

Through the fog of mem­o­ry that sits like inter­stel­lar dust between me and Total Recall, I can only say with a lev­el of cer­tain­ty lim­it­ed by more than just Heisenberg’s equa­tions that we read at least one nov­el for the class – Tau Zero by Poul Ander­son – and numer­ous short sto­ries,Tau Zero by Poul Anderson includ­ing the clas­sic “Night­fall” by Isaac Asi­mov and a few Lar­ry Niv­en sto­ries.  I’m pret­ty sure “There is a Tide” was one of them, and per­haps “The Hole Man.”  I rec­om­mend them all.

We read the sto­ries and then we dis­cussed the astron­o­my and sci­ence con­cepts con­tained in them.  It was fun and edu­ca­tion­al, a great way to teach and learn sci­ence.

Mike Broth­er­ton had a sim­i­lar idea, which is not ter­ri­bly sur­pris­ing, con­sid­er­ing he’s both an assis­tant pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of physics and astron­o­my at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wyoming, and a sci­ence fic­tion author him­self.  He’s writ­ten two hard-SF nov­els – Star Drag­on and Spi­der Star – and some short sto­ries, one of which is fea­tured in his new anthol­o­gy (one of the perks of being the edi­tor of a book is the increased odds of being includ­ed in it).

Dia­monds in the Sky is avail­able for free online and was fund­ed with a grant from the Nation­al Sci­ence Foun­da­tion.  How cool is that?

Accord­ing to Mike’s web­site, its pur­pose is…

“to pro­vide sto­ries with ample and accu­rate astron­o­my span­ning a range of top­ics cov­ered in intro­duc­to­ry cours­es.  Instruc­tors in high school and col­lege may these sto­ries use­ful, as some stu­dents may learn con­cepts more eas­i­ly through sto­ry than from lec­ture.  Fans of sci­ence fic­tion with good sci­ence should also enjoy these sto­ries.  Con­tri­bu­tions include both orig­i­nal sto­ries and reprints from some of the top sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers work­ing today.”

One of the sto­ries, “Plan­et Killer,” is co-written by my friend, Kevin Gra­zier, who is a plan­e­tary sci­en­tist at JPL and the edi­tor of The Sci­ence of Michael Crich­ton, The Sci­ence of Dune, and the upcom­ing The Sci­ence of Bat­tlestar Galac­ti­ca (he’s also sci­ence advi­sor to Bat­tlestar).

I men­tioned Dia­monds in the Sky in the new arti­cle about me at The Man­i­to­ban Q&A: Bri­an Mal­ow, sci­ence come­di­an.

Ear­ly in the inter­view, stu­dent jour­nal­ist Trevor Beko­lay asked about the role of sto­ry­telling in teach­ing sci­ence and we talked a bit about sci­ence fiction’s influ­ence.  It was cer­tain­ly a big influ­ence in my life – and con­tin­ues to be.  I cred­it Isaac Asi­mov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Lar­ry Niv­en, in par­tic­u­lar, with cap­ti­vat­ing me ear­ly on with their cre­ative use of real sci­ence con­cepts in their sci­ence fic­tion.

It’s a great way to get acquaint­ed with sci­ence – in the con­text of an engag­ing sto­ry.

Check out Dia­monds in the Sky for free online.

Dia­monds in the Sky

Q&A: Bri­an Mal­ow, sci­ence come­di­an

Relat­ed post: 
Sci­ence Come­di­an in The Man­i­to­ban

Science Comedian in The Manitoban

There’s a new Q&A with me up at The Man­i­to­ban – the inventively-named offi­cial stu­dent news­pa­per of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Man­i­to­ba, in Cana­da.

Stu­dent jour­nal­ist Trevor Beko­lay con­tact­ed me two weeks ago, intend­ing to write a short arti­cle about sci­ence and humor (or “humour,” as he calls it) but, after tran­scrib­ing our tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion, he decid­ed to just run it as a Q&A with a brief intro…

“No one has explored the con­nec­tion between sci­ence and humour more than Bri­an Mal­ow.  A vet­er­an standup come­di­an, Mal­ow frames his wit­ty obser­va­tions with sci­en­tif­ic the­o­ry, ask­ing from his audi­ence a basic under­stand­ing of the uni­verse and reward­ing them with laugh­ter from start to fin­ish.

“Mal­ow is tread­ing in unchart­ed ter­ri­to­ry for a standup com­ic…”

Thanks, Trevor!

One of the top­ics we dis­cussed was sci­ence and sci­ence fic­tion, which leads me to my next post – Astron­o­my in Sci­ence Fic­tion – about Mike Brotherton’s fan­tas­tic new anthol­o­gy of sci­ence fic­tion sto­ries that fea­ture accu­rate por­tray­als of sci­ence con­cepts.

Q&A: Bri­an Mal­ow, sci­ence come­di­an

Relat­ed post:  Astron­o­my in Sci­ence Fic­tion


Oops.  I think I took a wrong turn…


Mike Brotherton and the Science Comedian

Mike Broth­er­ton has a real­ly nice blog post about me.  Mike is a sci­ence fic­tion writer who also hap­pens to be an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wyoming in the depart­ment of Physics and Astron­o­my.  Quasars are his spe­cial­ty!  And there’s a lot of great con­tent in his blog.  Check it out.

I’m ecsta­t­ic that, of the two jokes he sin­gled out for men­tion, one is an anal­o­gy that rarely gets the laugh I wish for it.  It’s about the abil­i­ty of a virus to take down a human.  We must out­weigh them by a fac­tor of a bil­lion or more.  It’s the ulti­mate David and Goliath…  “It’s like Luke Sky­walk­er tak­ing out the Death Star in a lit­tle X-Wing Fight­er.”

Well, it is, isn’t it?

He also says this about the embed­ded video:

Next time I teach an intro­duc­to­ry sci­ence class, I’m going to show some of these. I might be able to deliv­er a cou­ple of the sim­pler jokes and fit them into lec­tures. I’m a good lec­tur­er, but not great, and wak­ing peo­ple up with a smart joke that has some real sci­ence in it isn’t pan­der­ing, it’s edu­cat­ing.

Too often I think thatI just get depressed about the nev­er end­ing bat­tle with igno­rance and sci­ence illit­er­a­cy, with the folks who reject our best knowl­edge because it con­tra­dicts their polit­i­cal or reli­gious beliefs.  Get­ting peo­ple to laugh and want in on the joke is prob­a­bly a bet­ter method of doing some­thing oth­er than preach­ing to the choir and bring­ing in some peo­ple who want to chuck­le, too.

Thanks, Mike!

I haven’t read his two nov­els yet – Star Drag­on and Spi­der Star – but they’ve been praised by David Brin and Paul Di Fil­ip­po.  They are hard SF and have been com­pared to the books of Lar­ry Niv­en and Robert L. For­ward.  Sounds good to me!