Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Pilot article corrected

I noted a sensational article on a couple of days ago. Lots of problems, ambiguity, some mistakes. No ability to comment or rebut.

But then I spotted that this was a repost. The original was on the Virginian Pilot web site, written by Joanne Kimberlin. Her phone and email was included with the article!

I reached out on Dec 8. I shared that I had identified some technical mistakes in Jup-Sat article. The main issue I commented on was her statement that "it’s been nearly 800 years — we’re talking Middle Ages — since they got this close."

The statement was wrong about the 800 years. I provided the separation values for 1226 and 1623 compared to this year and commented on the visibility. I suggested different wording like "... it’s been about 400 years since they got this close."

When Ms Kimberlin replied a short time later I was astonished. She thanked me and explained how she and her university planetarium director had arrived at the dates. She wondered if it was in the exact wording - as in "visible in the night sky." Bingo. She said she would investigate the matter and thanked me again. Huh.

I thanked her for the quick response. Then I raised the matter of the 2080 event. I explained it would be very good but in a mere 20 years, the next conjunction would be very impressive. It sounded like we were on the same page about the dangers of writing quickly and the importance of helping people understand astronomical phenomena with clarity.

That said, I was not feeling terribly hopeful. So it amazed to receive a follow-up a day later.

I've spoken with local planetarium director who says, yep, they were one arc minute closer in 1623 but not visible to the naked eye - so the devil is, as usual, in the details.  I've written a correction for tomorrow's paper and tweaked/corrected the story online.  Planning to address it again in a Dec. 20 reminder story.  Thank you for pointing out the error, though.  I really do hate it when we get things wrong.

Very impressive. Good to see some news media people caring about their content.

I refer to the corrected article online at The Pilot. It's still emblazoned with the 800 years phrase in the title but the close conjunction in 1623 is noted per the "For The Record" footnote.

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