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

FORA.tv 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 FORA.tv

Wonderfest

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 Time.com 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.

Links:
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.

Links:
Q&A: Brian Malow, science comedian

Related post:  Astronomy in Science Fiction


Vega

Oops.  I think I took a wrong turn…

Vega

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!