Saturday, May 21, 2011

webspotting 21 - Mars!

Published in the Jun/Jul 2011 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. Republished here with permission. Minor edits applied.


It seems that we astronomy-types spend a good deal of our time setting people straight. We chat and argue and explain. We patiently write articles and write emails, debunking, clarifying, demystifying, and correcting. Every August, the Mars-as-big-as-the-Moon emails start flying about the Internet. We have had to explain that lunar eclipses are actually quite common; it's just that they are a bit special when they happen on the Solstice. Recently, we've had to downplay the crazy Super-Moon hoopla. Just watch an astronomer get their back up when someone calls them an astrologer! You can balance eggs any time. No, really! Some blog about astronomy myths. Some write books on it. Some have turned it into a career.

I'm not sure exactly why but there may be a resurgence in the whole Moon landing hoax. In fact, I recently had a conversation with someone who was confident that humans landed on the Moon but didn't believe they communicated in real-time (or near real-time) by radio and television signal. I had not heard the spin before. I found that intriguing, particularly given that modulation of electromagnetic waves is a well-established technology. Nikola Tesla was demonstrating it in the 1890s to his classroom students. And we had television and COMSATs in orbit around the Earth years before we headed off to our nearest celestial neighbour. We would not have GPS units and smartphones if it weren't for awesome "wireless telegraphy."

I have heard (and I hate to say this) that some of the name-a-star web sites are a tad unscrupulous. There be dragons! As usual, check your sources. Get a referral. Do some digging if you’re interested in doing such a thing. It is my understanding that it is only the International Astronomical Union (or IAU) that gets to name stars and planets and dwarf planets and Pluto and moons and very small rocks. Gotta be careful, right?

Anyhoo. With all the talk of Mars of late (a crater named after Alan Shepard's Freedom 7 spacecraft, the preparations for the Mars Science Laboratory rover  Curiosity, the Red Planet moving back into our evening skies, and its next apparition occurring a few months from now), I thought I'd let you know about a great opportunity that you should take advantage before it's too late. Step right up. Visit the Mars Shop! 

Then, get one of these [a Martian property deed]!

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