Update: The Universe and the Volcano

Update: The Universe and the Volcano

Update: The Universe and the Volcano

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Aug. 10 2006 11:51 AM

Update: The Universe and the Volcano

I have some follow-up info on a couple of posts from a few days ago:

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

About the new finding calling into question the size and age of the Universe, my friend (and very smart fellow) Ned Wright, who is a cosmologist, has posted a rebuttal to both the science and the reporting of this issue. Basically, journalists made far more out of this than it's worth by reporting it uncritically. I agree; most of the articles I read made it seem like this was a huge blow to our current understanding of the size and age of the Universe. I tried in my article to say that this result was interesting, but it needed to be investigated further because of the fact that it disagrees with so many other well-established studies.


Ned's site is pretty cool, though fair warning-- a lot of it is technical.

Update to the update (August 11, 2006): Bad reader (but good astronomer) Doug McElroy pointed out to me that the OSU team's paper does not really call into question Hubble's constant. What they are questioning is the study that determines the distance to the galaxy M33 using a kind of star called a Cepheid variable. Since they get a different distance to the galaxy, they say the Cepheid study may be missing some important factors. In other words, if you use the distance value of the new study, and apply it to the study using the Cepheids, then you get a value of Hubble's constant that is way too low. Therefore, the Cepheid study is missing something (and that's important because we use Cepheids in more distant galaxies to get their distances). I might buy that, but again only if more data is obtained using eclipsing binaries. One system is just too small a sample.

About the volcano that experts said might erupt due to tides from the Moon, well, it didn't blow last night when the Moon was full. And there's no word of an eruption yet, though the BBC is reporting -- with no sense of irony at all -- that the volcano is "ominously quiet". That can be scary: volcanoes are like pressure cookers, and small eruptions are good because they literally let off steam. An active volcano that suddenly quiets down may be building up pressure for a massive eruption. But if the full Moon's tides were affecting the volcano, I would expect there to be plenty of activity. Instead, we get the exact opposite effect.

In the comments in my previous blog entry, it was pointed out that one of the experts quoted about the Moon was Renato Solidum. I was able to find a link with quotations from him on the Spiegel website, but my German is rusty (I should spray him with WD40). I distrust online translators, so if anyone wants to practice their translational skills, be my guest in the comments here!