- On Nov. 5 the British Natural History Museum put online a story about a meteorite with unusual properties that had been recovered thanks to an Australian camera network imaging its fall. Many blogs, including several 'famous' ones, treated this as a news story - when in fact the respective paper had been published in Science on Sep. 18, together with a press release by CSIRO and lots of timely news coverage, e.g. in the New Scientist. Apparently none of the blogger stars had recalled this major astronomy news event from less than two months ago - what does it say about how serious they are with their reporting work? Particularly shocking is that this oversight happened to a number of the 'big names' in the business.
- There have been two 'incidents' with minute asteroids of 5 to 10 meters in diameter recently, one exploding over Indonesia on Oct. 8, the other missing Earth on Nov. 6. While the former case was at least unusual (bodies of this size hit Earth only every few years), the latter was not as similar approaches to Earth w/o impact are ten times as frequent. Yet there were those blog stories again about how Earth just escaped another "asteroid" collision. Of course nothing other than an Indonesia-style fireball would have occurred, and no distinction between harmless airbursting rocks and dangerous bodies of 25+ meters was made or at least emphasized. The headlines should have been "Earth missed another nice bolide event" ... but instead we got served the dire view that these (non-)cases are further proof that Earth is defenseless against grave danger from space - which does exist, of course, but on an entirely different scale.
- One week from now the Leonid meteors may or may not produce a decent shower when the Earth encounters some dust trails left by the parent comet. Last year a crude model calculation by a French astronomer (now working at Caltech) had predicted a maximum Zenithal Hourly Rate - i.e. meteor/hour under the best possible viewing conditions - of 500 or more: This would have qualified as half a "storm", reminding meteor veterans of great drama a decade ago, and the prediction was picked up by NASA and even by the IAU in an IYA press release. But this high prediction always stood alone, with other experienced theorists predicting a much smaller outburst. Still NASA ignored the doubts and many bloggers - with rare exceptions - took the 500+ figure for granted, until today. Alas, some time ago the theorist retracted it and is now predicting some 200, while the main 'competitor' is at around 175 and yet another pioneer of the field sees around 100. Even NASA conceded today that the 500 are history (but still thinks 300 possible without presenting the calculations leading to this).
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
RANT EXTRA: On the state of the astro-blogosphere
(Too) much has been written lately on how old-fashioned journalism is gonna die and to be replaced by blogs or tweets or wiki-whatevers. In the field of science and esp. space-related reporting the borders are blurred anyway, and the volume of 'copy' produced by bloggers is way outweighing the classical formats in any case. Just watch what the blog feed catcher of the Portal to the Universe (in the creation of which this blogger was actually involved) sucks in all the time. There is a lot of redundancy here, as noted by the PTTU editors early on, often little more than copy-&-past-ing of press releases, and only occasional original work. The watchdog function many blogs in the political area play is mostly missing - and just recently so many examples of poor reporting and/or judgement have come across my screen that this rant just had to get out. I won't name - or link to - individual 'sinners' here: You know who you are, as do your readers. Three examples: