Tag Archives: planet

Rings around Uranus

We don’t often get to see images of Uranus – and certainly none like this.

Uranus and Miranda (Credit: Mike Brown/CalTech)

The astronomer Mike Brown took the photo a few days ago using one of the 10-meter twin telescopes at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

It’s an infrared image and clearly shows the rings which were discovered as recently as 1977. Several moons are also obvious – the brightest at top left being Miranda.

Mike Brown is the author of How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming. It tells the story of his work leading to the discovery of the then 10th planet. This was one of the factors leading to reclassification of planets and to Pluto’s demotion.

Thanks to Skymania: Now hotshot Mike grabs Uranus.

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Empathy for colleagues

Science follows certain procedures, but does the media get the signal? Credit: CSIRO

The Australian astrophysicist Mathew Bailes recently got international recognition for his part in the discovery of an exoplanet which could be made of diamond. As he says: “Following the publication of our finding in the journal Science, our research received amazing attention from the world’s media.” (See Diamond planets, climate change and the scientific method)

It’s always nice when a scientific discovery, and the work of a scientist, receive public attention. Even though, as he says:

” in the overall scheme of things, it isn’t that important.

And yet the diamond planet has been hugely successful in igniting public curiosity about the universe in which we live.

In that sense, for myself and my co-authors, I suspect it will be among the greatest discoveries of our careers.

Our host institutions were thrilled with the publicity and most of us enjoyed our 15 minutes of fame.”

It could have been different

But here’s the lesson in this story:

“The attention we received was 100% positive, but how different that could have been.

How so? Well, we could have been climate scientists.”

And he asks you to consider a parallel scenario;

“Imagine for a minute that, instead of discovering a diamond planet, we’d made a breakthrough in global temperature projections.

Let’s say we studied computer models of the influence of excessive greenhouse gases, verified them through observations, then had them peer-reviewed and published in Science.

Instead of sitting back and basking in the glory, I suspect we’d find a lot of commentators, many with no scientific qualifications, pouring scorn on our findings.

People on the fringe of science would be quoted as opponents of our work, arguing that it was nothing more than a theory yet to be conclusively proven.

There would be doubt cast on the interpretation of our data and conjecture about whether we were “buddies” with the journal referees.

If our opponents dug really deep they might even find that I’d once written a paper on a similar topic that had to be retracted.

Before long our credibility and findings would be under serious question.”


“Sadly, the same media commentators who celebrate diamond planets without question are all too quick to dismiss the latest peer-reviewed evidence that suggests man-made activities are responsible for changes in concentrations of CO2 in our atmosphere.The scientific method is universal. If we selectively ignore it in certain disciplines, we do so at our peril.”

It’s worth those of us outside the climate science community reflecting on this. Scientists and non-scientists alike.

Consider the continuing harassment of Dr Michael Mann who is still be pursued by climate deniers and conservative politicians. What do they want. His emails from years back! (see Professor turns to law to protect climate-change work).

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Moons of Saturn

CassiniAlbert Einstein expressed his awe for the beauty of reality and humanity’s exploration of it in this manner:

“If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it”

“One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike – and yet it is the most precious thing we have.”

Many other scientists profess a similar passion. Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins are well known for their enthusiastic popularisation of science – for bringing the awe and understanding to the general public. Carolyn Porco is also a great populariser of science.

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