Wednesday, January 06, 2021

astonished by bad article

This is so bad...

I laughed out loud. Then gritted my teeth. 

Was this written by a robot?!

The "science" article entitled Here’s how to watch the stunning quadruple meteor shower tonight by Maria Gill posted on the Vaughan Today web site is shockingly bad.

Let's start with the title. It refers to the "quadruple meteor shower." Wrong-o. The name of the meteor shower in question is the "Quadrantids." That's a terrible spelling error.

The photo shown (without credit as far as I can tell) is of the night sky from an extremely dark location, with mountains in the distance, and visible aurora. Good luck seeing anything like that in the city of Vaughan. Yes, there's a meteor in the shot. That's good. 

First paragraph: "The quadruple meteor shower is at its zenith, and North American skywatchers have a good chance of seeing the tail end of the show tonight."

The gross spelling mistake repeats, so it's not a glitch in the title, or an issue with an uninformed editor. The author (and editor) are unaware of the proper name, perhaps. Or didn't do a proper spelling check.

Also, I would not use the word "zenith" in this context. That's an astronomical term that may be misconstrued. The author means high point. Normally, astronomers refer to this time as the peak. Zenith is the point in the sky directly overhead.

Second paragraph starts: "This annual meteorite typically peaks between January 3 and January 4 each year." Nope. You can't do that. You can't use the word "meteorite" now. Meteor and meteorite are not interchangeable terms. My trust in the author dropped here! Clearly, they do not have a science background or do not understand the astronomical significance. A meteorite is a meteor that's reached the ground.

Then, "I submitted this year so far Less than ideal views for sky watchers, Given that the moon was 81% full overnight on January 3rd."

Grammar issues aside, the author refers to moonlight. That's good. That's important when trying to view meteor showers. Moonlight interferes with viewing, regardless of location.

Then, the third sentence... "The quaternary meteorites are rather faint, so moonlight can easily wash them off."

What? What?! 

This is written by a robot!

Or a human who's letting their robot spelling checker run amok.

It's NOT the "quaternary" meteor shower.

And we've already discussed it is NOT "meteorites."

Finally, "wash them off." Yes, they are like dirty snowballs... Heh. It is a "shower" after all. But the author means to see "wash them out." Sheesh.

This second paragraph concludes with the author saying the Moon is less bright so there might be a chance of seeing something. She does note however the shower is diminishing. That tricky balance...

It's difficult to read on in this poorly written piece.

Next paragraph starts well, typo aside: "To see the quadruple, find a dark spot with minimal light pollution." Yes, get in your car and travel, during a lockdown period. Sure.

"Beat moonrise or wait until after the moon has set if you can." Does the author understand the dynamics of this? Meteors are often best viewed after midnight. Moonrise on Jan 5 is at 12:30 AM; it's up through sunrise. It's Third Quarter phase, so half-lit, fairly bright. It was worse a day or two before. Does "beat moonrise" mean view before the Moon rises? Not so good.

Has the author even seen a meteor?!

Next: "Meteors appear to emanate from the constellation Boötes." Wow. Look at that. Finally, a good bit of science. Proper word. Reference to the radiant area. And the constellation name with the accent! Astronomers often omit that! And, yes, the radiant is inside Boötes, technically.

The author goes on to explain where to look, using sign posts like the Big Dipper and Arcturus. The radiant is actually a bit west of that. A minor technical issue. Sadly the author does not use easy references like north-east. Also, it seems the author has not realised the radiant is 15° above the horizon at 12:30 AM. And Arcturus but three degrees! Hello.

All that said, experienced observers know to look elsewhere. Not at the radiant...

The final sentence in this paragraph: "You can find out when this constellation ('radiant' meteor shower) will be above the horizon..." Oh boy. This is all wrong. A constellation is not a radiant meteor shower. The radiant of the Quadrantids meteor shower is between Boötes, Draco, and the Big Dipper.

Next paragraph says, "During its climax, which lasts only a few hours, a quadruple shower can produce about 120 meteors an hour. At off-peak times, viewers may still see around 25 meteors per hour." I concur with the 120. But I don't know where the 25 came from. I'll have to check that. But my understanding is that most meteor shower activity off-peak is much lower.

In the second last paragraph, for the first time, the correct term is used.

"Quadrantids are a volley of space dust and rocks from the asteroid 2003 EH1, which is likely an extinct comet that has lost its long icy tail."

Poorly written. The meteoroids (ha) or rocks and dust particles in space we believe come from an asteroid. That asteroid may have been a comet. And we don't know if it had a long tail. Not all comets do.

"Meteorites got their name from the name of a constellation that does not exist now, Quadran Morales..."

Meteors. And it's Quadrans Muralis.

The last sentence in the penultimate paragraph: "The name of the meteor shower associated with Quadrans Muralis has not changed, although Quadrantids are sometimes known as Bootids."

Oh! They got the retired constellation name right this time.

Bootids?! No, that's a completely different meteor shower!


The closing paragraph talks about the next shower.. the Lyrids, peaking on April 22. Good. Fair warning there. Except the Moon will be 74% illuminated!

Thanks anyway.

The author segues to the EarthSky web site. Is that where all this bad info came from?

It's too bad the author did not refer to NASA for good science. There's a good article on the Quadrantids.

It's too bad the author did not refer to the International Meteor Organization or the American Meteor Society, what I would consider trust worthy, reliable, accurate sources of information. The AMS notes the "Quadrantids can be one of the strongest displays of the year, yet they are difficult to observe."

It's mind-boggling to me that something like this can be put out there. It's embarrassing for a news outlet to release something so factually wrong. Dozens of errors!

More... selling newspapers.

Again, this kind of thing is infuriating to me. Science communication, increasing awareness of astronomy, getting people outside and looking up is good. It's real good. But hyping, misrepresentation, bending the truth? Don't do that. And don't cry wolf.

Also I'd argue the timing of this is all wonky. We're after the peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower. Attempts to see lots of meteors on Jan 5, the date of the article, is fraught with frustration. Recommendations to view meteors should be released in advance of the event. Doesn't make sense to do it after.

And no mention at all of weather, that you'll likely be clouded out. No mention of the Geminids. No mention of the Perseids. It'd be good to frame things. Mathematically, the Geminids and Quadrantids are the best showers of the year. But people in the northern hemisphere usually miss the show due to grey skies...

I submitted a comment. Awaiting moderation. We'll see...


Spotted an article about a "double peak" with the Quadrantids this year but now I can't find it...


My comment was deleted! Unapproved.

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