Tag Archives: nasa

The Grand Conspiracy

Last night, among a generally jovial conversation around new finds in astronomy, I also was subjected to various out bursts of “electrical theory of mars” (i.e. Mars was carved by machines) and similar Grand Conspiracy ideas about how NASA had hid all this from us. It all came from one new club member, who’s previous outbursts had been minor enough I hadn’t yet realized he was a full time crank. The reaction from the table was mostly ignore and move on.

But it still amazes me that someone thinks it’s far more plausible that tens of thousands of individuals are manipulating scientific information about Mars in a coordinated and consistent way. That they can manage to induct all new science students working on the data into their masonic clan. I guess it makes a good Dan Brown novel, but it maps really badly to reality.

And if the grand conspiracy was just at the kooky fringe, it would be something I could mostly chuckle at and move on. But grand conspiracies have become mainstream fodder. For instance, cable news generating a meme in conservative America that Climate Change is a hoax created by 10s of thousands of scientists to keep their jobs. Really? The next Dan Brown novel is going to be about grad students living 4 to an apartment, eating raman noodles, feeling so clever in their grand conspiracy?

I guess if you’re primarily motivated by dollars, have a poor understanding of science in general, and never worked with science researchers before, it might make sense. First, project your basest motivations on others. Then sprinkle gracious ignorance about how science or economics work. Make sure to pass over the fact that if you had the mathematical chops to work out something as complicated as a climate model, and money was your motivator, you’d easily make 10 times as much being a Quant for the financial sector. They heavily recruit out of the physical sciences, many of my classmates from college went that route. But no, the grand conspiracy would rather believe the route to riches is applying for competitive NSF grants instead of credit default swaps and derivative trading.

So why do people believe in the Grand Conspiracy? Because it’s comforting. It takes a complex world and makes it simple. Complex problems and motivations are now turned into mythical dragons that some mythical protagonist can go slay, making all right in the world.

The only problem with that: it isn’t real. The moon landing wasn’t faked, it took a generation of our best minds to get us there, and huge technological advances came out of it. Vacines don’t cause autism, they’ve eliminated a vast number of debilitating diseases that you no longer have to worry about if you live in the west, and are now starting to eliminate certain kinds of cancer. Climate change is not a hoax, it’s a real, hard problem, that we’re going to need to figure out how to address as a society. Evolution is demonstrated science, we don’t need a designer to create complex emergent behavior.

The world of facts and knowledge is one of spectacular beauty, complexity, and wonder, and doesn’t need Grand Conspiracies to make it majestic and exciting.

You are here

That is Earth and Moon taken from the Messenger probe last year, though it’s been wandering the blogosphere this week as Messenger successfully entered Mercury’s orbit. It’s a little brighter than the Pale Blue Dot, but equally cool.

Quoting from Carl Sagan:

Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.

Planets, Planets everywhere

The Kepler mission dumped another 3 months worth of data into the public yesterday, which brings their candidate planet list up to 1200 right now. It’s clear by the rate of finding candidates vs. confirmations, that most of the confirmations of real planets here are going to come from other teams. What’s most important is the density of these signals. This represents 1/400th of the sky, and is proving out that planets are everywhere, and are vastly more varied than we ever imagined.

Kepler uses planetary transits to see there is something there, so it can only detect solar systems whose disc is pointed right at us.

This means that they are only able to find a small fraction of the the possible systems out there, which makes the number of candidates even more impressive.

As you keep slicing that data down they eventually got to this slide:

Yes, that’s 54 candidates which exist in a temperature range that could be habitable. While one might dismiss the giants for a moment, remember that they could very well have moons that were earth sized, which would put those moons in the habitable zone. I’ve got to imagine the race is on big time to get confirmation on these targets.

Lastly, they had a new confirmed solar system, with 6 planets, all within the orbit of Venus.

These 6 planets are all in the super earth category, which makes some of them definitely rocky.

All in all some really impressive stuff. You can learn lots more about all of it at the Keppler Mission site, where they’ve also got some great videos on how this all works.