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Coast to Coast AM topics

November 15, 2003

Welcome to Bad Astronomy! This page has images and links that George Noory and I discussed on the Coast to Coast AM radio show on Monday night, November 17, 2003. I want to include a disclaimer before you read this page though: the discussion and conclusions below are mine alone. I sometimes make mistakes, and I am comfortable admitting them when I do. If anything on this page is wrong please let me know. I am summarizing claims of other people, and this can be a dangerous task, because it can lead to misinterpretations of what they are saying. I want to be as fair as I can to their claims.


  • Richard Hoagland and Jupiter's Dark Spot
  • The Overactive Sun
  • The Leonids
  • The Harmonic Concordance
  • James McCanney, Comets, the Sun, and Planet X
  • Conclusion

  • Richard Hoagland, Jupiter's Dark Spot, and Galileo

    Richard Hoagland claims that the Galileo probe exploded as a nuclear bomb, and the dark spot recently seen on Jupiter is the aftermath of that event. He is completely wrong. In fact, his claims are ridiculous. Here's why:
    • First and foremost, despite his claims, Galileo could not explode.
    • Second, the dark spot seen on Jupiter is nowhere near the latitude of Galileo's entry point. Galileo plunged into Jupiter within a degree of Jupiter's equator (cite: Galileo End of Mission document from NASA, page 4).
      image of Galileo impact location on Jupiter from Hoagland's website As you can see from the image on the right (which shows wind speed relative to latitude on Jupiter), the dark spot appeared at a latitude of about 10 degrees north, over 7500 miles from where Galileo went in. That distance is roughly the diameter of the entire Earth; not exactly closeby.
      Note (added January 31, 2004): When I first wrote this page, I used information from the Groupe Astronomie de Spa Belgique to say the spot was at 28 degrees south. This is incorrect. The number I now use (10 degrees north) is from Hoagland's own webpage, using the graphic above which is also from Hoagland's webpage. He cannot claim I am doctoring the numbers, since he is the one who displayed this image in the first place.
    • Hoagland claims "wind shear" moved the spot north from where Galileo went in, but spots are seen all the time on Jupiter, and they remain confined to the same latitude. Hoagland is wrong.
    • Jupiter has a history of dark spots popping up. There was one seen in December of 1998, and another in March of 2002. The one is December 1998 was so dark that NASA said
      "A recently discovered black spot in Jupiter's clouds is darker than any feature ever before observed on the giant planet. The spot may be the result of a downward spiraling wind that blows away high clouds and reveals deeper, very dark cloud layers."
    • Hoagland wonders why Hubble didn't observe the dark spot. It's because Jupiter was too close to the Sun. Hubble has a very stringent requirement that it not point to anything too close to the Sun, because scattered sunlight can destroy some of its cameras. Had Hoagland bothered to actually ask someone who knows about Hubble, he could have found that out.
    • Hoagland claims on his Jupiter page that he first thought of the idea that Europa has an ocean of liquid water under the ice, and links to a page where he clearly makes this claim. This claim is demonstrably false, as I show on my page debunking many of Hoagland's dubious claims. [This note added March 10, 2004.]
    • I don't talk much about the face on Mars on my site much; debunking that bit of Hoagland's silliness would take me forever due to the incredible amount of nonsense about it. But I will point you to a much better example of seeing faces in random patterns.

    Also, here is the page with the gorgeous Jupiter image I mentioned several times on the show.

    The Overactive Sun

    The Sun has been in the news a lot lately, with several record-breaking eruptions in the past few weeks. Is this normal? Well, yes and no. These flares and coronal mass ejections have been huge, no doubt about it. As a matter of fact, in the past couple of weeks we've seen two of the four biggest flares in history. But bear in mind a few things:

    • These flares came from the same sunspot region. The spot was huge and active, so seeing multiple enormous flares from it isn't surprising. It's like making a huge cannon, firing it off twice, and then making a big deal that the explosions from it were two of the biggest in history, like they are unrelated. What's remarkable is the gun itself, not the explosions. The sunspot that made the flares is what's amazing. And it's not the biggest in history; there have been many bigger. Don't get me wrong: this spot and the flares have been truly astounding, but they are not without precedent.
    • Many people claim we are in the solar minimum, so we shouldn't be seeing any spots or activity. This is incorrect. The Sun goes through 11 year cycles where sunspot numbers reach a maximum, then decline to a minimum half a cycle (5.5 years) later. The last solar max was in 2000, so we are still on the "downhill slide" to minimum. We won't be there for another 2 or more years.
    • Also, it's well-known that the Sun can have lots of activity even a couple of years after solar max. The Sun's activity actually tends to have two peaks; one at the usual "maximum" and then another one sometime later (cite: In fact, I know several solar astronomers, and they told me that bigger flares are associated with the second peak, so again, seeing big flares well after the solar max is common, and even expected.

    The Leonids

    The famous Leonids meteor shower peaks on the night of November 18/19, 2003. The Moon will be up all night, damping the number of faint meteors seen. But if you want to give it a try, first go to the NASA/Ames Leonids webpage. They have tons of info about the meteor shower, and there is also a very nifty online Java applet that predicts how many meteors you will see per hour from your location.

    For more information, I have a page about the Leonids from the 1998 shower. The specific info there is out of date, of course, but the links on that page are useful for learning more about this fascinating shower.

    The Harmonic Concordance

    I won't go into detail here; instead, just read the page I wrote about this non-event.

    James McCanney, Comets, the Sun, and Planet X

    When will this silliness go away? Probably never.

    • I wrote up an extensive series of webpages debunking the main points in the PX arguments.
    • James McCanney was a recent guest on Coast to Coast. He makes lots of claims about comets and the Sun. As of right now, I have never heard him make a single correct claim about any scientific topic! I read his book about comets, and he is so wrong it would take me 5000 words to even start to say why. Instead, I'll point you to a page which gives you a taste of his nonsense.
    • He does claim that comets are not made ice. He says they are actually balls of plasma from the asteroidal nucleus which interacts with " the solar capacitor", gaining mass as they orbit the Sun until they are planet-sized. This is quite wrong.

      Comets are among some of the best observed objects in the sky, and they are quite well understood to be rocky and icy bodies which actually lose mass as they get near the Sun. Basically, the heat from the Sun melts (or more correctly "sublimates") the ices, turning them into a gas, which surrounds the nucleus of the comet. If comets gained mass, as McCanney says, why do we see many of them splitting as Comet LINEAR (C2001/A2) did in 2001? That is normal behavior according to the standard theory.

    • He claims comets are the sizes of planets. This isn't just wrong, it's ludicrous. Comet Halley, for example, had several probes sent to it when it passed the Earth in 1985/1986. The probe Giotto got direct measurements of the nucleus, and the size was found to be roughly 10 miles long. That's hardly the size of a planet. McCanney loves to talk about a NASA conspiracy (with no evidence, of course), but Giotto was European satellite! Just how big is his conspiracy?
    • McCanney wonders many times how a snowball can emit X-rays. It takes a hot object to emit X-rays, he implies. But that's not true. In fact, there are many different ways an object can emit X-rays, and models exist which explain X-rays from comets. Ironically, it involves electrical charge transfer, which McCanney claims to know a lot about.
    • McCanney claims that the Sun emits protons in the solar wind, but not electrons. This would be a surprise to solar astronomers who routinely measure the electrons coming from the Sun. If the Sun only emitted protons, it would rapidly build up a vast negative electric charge, and every proton in the solar system would come screaming in to the Sun to try to balance out the charge.
    • McCanney claims that flares and coronal mass ejections are caused by sungrazer comets; comets that actually pass very close to or even impact the Sun. However, there doesn't appear to be any connection between the two. In fact, the SOHO satellite sees coronal mass ejections every day, but very rarely does it see sungrazing comets.

    There is much more, of course, but hopefully the links above will show you that McCanney is grossly wrong in his claims about the Sun and comets.


    I have said this before, but it bears repeating: the Universe is a marvelous place, filled with wonder, beauty, and objects that bend the mind almost to breaking. But as far as we can observe, the universe obeys a set of rules, which we call physics and mathematics. We have a pretty good grasp on the basics of these rules (which is why, for example, you can use the computer in front of you right now; it takes a lot of physics and math to make a computer). We do not understand all these rules, of course, but that does not mean we understand none of them. People like Hoagland, McCanney, Lieder, and others want you to think that we need to overturn the very underpinnings of physics and science, but this is simply not true.

    The Universe is wonderful enough without having to make up nonsense about it.

    ©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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