Category: Blueshift Ponders

[Blueshift ponders...] What’s one misconception in astronomy that drives you crazy?

Blueshift has covered the bad science in movies. In today’s “Blueshift Ponders,” we asked several of our colleagues:

What’s one misconception in astronomy drives you crazy?

Here are are their answers! What are yours? Tell us yours either in the comments, or on Facebook or Twitter!

Korey Haynes: The “dark” side of the moon misnomer. It’s just the far side! But I think the misleading terms people use contribute to why it’s so hard for most people to understand how the moon moves with respect to us and the sun. Maybe we need to launch a campaign to make Gary Larson more famous than Pink Floyd?

Far Side of the Moon
The far side of the moon, Credit: Apollo 16 Crew, NASA

Brian Williams: The misconception that drives me crazy is how people view scientists in general from a societal standpoint. The “stereotypical” scientists are socially awkward geeks (usually male) who could easily be picked out of a crowd of “normal” people. Television shows and movies don’t do anything to help here, with shows like The Big Bang Theory (which I do generally like, but still) reinforcing these stereotypes to the extreme (4 nerdy scientists who hang out with a pretty blonde girl). As funny as shows like this are, the fallacy being promoted is that you can be cool or you can be smart, but you can’t be both. In truth, we’re just like everyone else, and some of us are actually pretty cool people. :)

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[Blueshift ponders...] What Would You Like to Find on an Exoplanet?

We just recently blogged about some of the strange and wonderful planetary systems recently discovered. From Saturn-like rings, to miniature scale, to systems practically right out Star Wars, it seems that there are an indefinite number of possibilities out there.

Our questions to you are this:

Blueshift ponders: What kind of star system do you think it would be cool to discover, or alternatively, what would you like to find on an exoplanet? (Let’s discount “life” as an answer because we know it goes without saying!)

What are our opinions?

Maggie says: I’d love us to be able to really image some of the exoplanets we’ve discovered. We have such gorgeous images of the planets in our solar system – and there is such an interesting range of planets, from rocky to oceanic to gaseous giant – that I can’t wait until we have the capability to see what the planets in other star systems really look like.

I know we discounted “life”, but I think it would be interesting to see the range of planets that could exist in the habitable zones of other stars. (A habitable zone is the region around a star where a planet the temperatures are right for a planet to have liquid water on its surface.) Just this past December, Kepler-22b was discovered – the first confirmed extrasolar planet found by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope to orbit within the habitable zone of a Sun-like star. That’s exciting stuff! Scientists don’t know yet if Kepler-22b has a predominantly rocky, gaseous or liquid composition. The artist’s interpretation below, which also compares Kepler-22b’s system to ours, shows it with clouds in its atmosphere. But I want to know what it really looks like!

Kepler-22b System Diagram
Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

Sara says: I remember when I posed this question to a 5-year-old at an event… he was really hoping that we’d find a planet made of yellow Jell-O! It’s easy to think about how exciting it would be to find another Earth-like planet outside of our solar system – one with plenty of water, a protective atmosphere, and good prospects for life. But there are a lot of other things that would be interesting and useful to find in other solar systems! For one thing, how about more planets like each of our different planets, in terms of size and distance and general conditions? One of the great things about space is that you can look at lots of different objects in different phases of their lives. So imagine that you could see a Mars-like planet bring formed… and then other Mars-like planets that are more mature… and then another Mars-like planet as its system is being destroyed? Then you could learn a lot more about how Mars (and planets like it) are formed, live, and die. The formation of planetary systems is also really exciting – seeing more planet-forming disks and early systems would really enhance our understanding of how planets come to be. I’m enjoying all of the things that we’re learning as we find more and more planets. I remember when finding a planet was a really big deal, and now we’re constantly finding more candidates and progressively confirming that they’re really planets. We find a lot of normal ones, and then some really weird ones!

So now we want to know what you think! You can also respond with your opinion on our Facebook, or leave a comment here!

[Blueshift ponders...] How would you wake up the astronauts?

As you may or may not know, each “morning,” the astronauts aboard the shuttle are woken up with specially selected music. Sometimes they get the original band to play the tune, sometimes it’s a favorite song or a parody (during the last Hubble servicing mission, I have it on good authority that a parody of Hotel California written by someone on the project was used), or sometimes the public votes on it.

And sometimes, it’s…Captain Kirk?


Our question to you is this:

Blueshift ponders: What song or message would you want to send the last two shuttle crews for a wake-up call?

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[Blueshift ponders...] Where were you?

This Red Rover cartoon was recently posted on in honor of the astronauts that have lots their lives in the pursuit of space exploration, and we wanted to share it with our readers too.

Red Rover

It’s a sad and thoughtful time of year for NASA, as we mark the anniversaries of three tragic accidents. The astronauts of Apollo 1 perished 44 years ago on January 27th, Challenger was lost 25 years ago on January 28th – and the tragic loss of Columbia occurred 8 years ago on this date. NASA held a Day of Remembrance last week to honor and mourn the sacrifices of these brave astronauts.

Blueshift Ponders: Some events define a generation. What are your memories of these events? Where were you? What are your hopes for the future of space exploration?

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[Blueshift ponders...] Black holes – fact or fiction?

If November can have Black Friday, we thought… what if December had Black Hole Friday?

People have a lot of really interesting ideas about black holes. We can’t always blame them – black holes are quite mysterious and exciting objects, and scientists are curious to figure out all of their secrets! Plus, pop culture has offered a variety of takes (some more fantastical than others) on black holes – check out this list of black holes in TV and movies (which hasn’t been updated in several years, but it’s still an interesting read). So when we do outreach, we end up dealing with a lot of misconceptions, the ideas that people have that are weird, wacky, or just not quite right.

Quasar in the Center of a Galaxy (artist's concept)
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)

We regular battle a variety of misconceptions about black holes – that they’re some sort of monstrous space vacuum cleaners that roam the universe and eat everything they find. But alas, physics says that just isn’t possible. Sometimes we feel like we’ve entered an episode of Mythbusters, trying to debunk the ideas that come our way about black holes! So we wanted to ask our scientific colleagues here in NASA Goddard’s Astrophysics Science Division about their least favorite black hole misconceptions… and then we’ll give you a few links with the real scoop on black holes!

Blueshift ponders: What misconceptions about black holes drive you crazy? What are some of the wackiest things you’ve heard about them?

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[Blueshift ponders...] When does Hollywood get it right?

We’re avid readers of Dr. David Saltzberg’s blog, The Big Blog Theory.  As the science advisor for The Big Bang Theory, he blogs after each episode airs to give an in-depth explanation of the episode’s science.  Last week’s blog caught our eye because, well, it’s about the episode that must have been filmed right before our visit to the show’s set!

In the blog, Dr. Saltzberg talks about what is written on the whiteboards in Leonard and Sheldon’s apartment in the episode “The Hot Troll Deviation.” Here’s a photo that we snapped:

Big Bang Theory

Any guesses as to what is being graphed here? Hint: It’s from a movie!

Which brings us to our question…

What is your favorite or least favorite bit of science in a movie? (TV shows are also acceptable.) We actually did a podcast about some of the questionable (or downright awful) science in movies – but here’s your chance to weigh in!

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[Blueshift ponders...] Who’s your favorite fictional scientist?

If you recall this week’s link round-up, we linked to a very cool subway map of science. Sara printed out her own copy (it’s easier to follow if you can see the whole thing at once, instead of scrolling around on a screen), and this got us thinking of what scientists we thought should or perhaps shouldn’t be included on it. You may hear more from us about that in the future!

But this also got us talking in our weekly Blueshift meeting about our fictional science heroes… so that’s what we’d like to ponder this time around! So:

Blueshift ponders: Who is your favorite fictional scientist? It could be from a book, comic book, TV show, movie, or anywhere else!

Great Scott!
Photo credit: Fox Magrathea Circe/

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[Blueshift ponders...] What’s next in space exploration?

This past weekend, I attended an unconference called SpaceUP DC, which drew together space enthusiasts from near and far to talk about the future of space exploration and advocacy. It’s an “unconference” because it’s not like a regular professional conference – it’s much more free-form, and attendees determine the structure, schedule, and sessions on the spot! It was invigorating to be collaborating and networking with a diverse crowd who all love space!

Topics discussed at SpaceUP DC covered a wide variety of topics (you can see the final session schedule on the wiki), but there was a lot of emphasis on where we should go next: in manned and unmanned exploration, in public and private exploration, and in outreach and advocacy. There was a lot of discussion about the future. So we wanted to ask you:

Blueshift Ponders: What big things do you hope to see next in space exploration?

The solar system from Voyager
Photo taken by Voyager 1, one of only four human-made objects to leave our solar system.

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[Blueshift ponders...] Should Hubble go in a museum?

We’re starting a new feature here at Blueshift, and we want you to talk back!  We’re going to bring up some hot topics that are related to the things we do here at the Astrophysics Science Division, offer our own opinions, and then ask for yours! Here is our first question:

Blueshift Ponders: Should the Hubble Space Telescope go in a Museum?

Everyone loves Hubble. As evidenced by recent pop culture events, the ultimate fate of Hubble has been on a lot of minds. It’s understandable. We just completed a high-profile, against-the-odds servicing mission, for one thing. And despite its early optics issues, the magnificent pictures it has since produced have turned it into the “little satellite that could” (never mind the fact that it’s as big as a bus!).

We know that the public has developed strong emotions about Hubble.  The thought that it won’t be serviced again, and will one day be “replaced,” has caused strong reactions.  Once a low-Earth orbiting satellite’s mission has ended, it isn’t just left up there as dangerous space junk –  these old satellites are typically de-orbited and burned up as they re-enter the atmosphere.  But is this the fate that should await Hubble?


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