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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
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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
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
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:
Space.com). 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
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.
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.
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,
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
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.