Bad Astronomy Newsletter #5

April 30, 2018 Issue #5

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I recommend

Something I think you’ll like

[Credit: Walt Disney Studios]

Spoiler-free review of Marvels: Infinity War:

I liked it.

It’s big, it’s splashy, and for the most part it’s what you’d expect from a movie that’s clearly meant to be at the confluence of a dozen movies that came before. My biggest complaint would be that it doesn’t get into as much depth of character as previous ones, but that’s understandable since most of the characters have had their own movies to do that. Even so, I was a little disappointed to see a lot of my favorites just basically there to do a job (fight, obtain items, fight, etc., fight) instead of building or confirming the camaraderie and teamwork. But I also suppose that’s on me since that’s not the point of the movie. And we’ll see more of that, certainly, in the movies to come.

There’s literally no way to review this movie fairly without giving away major plot points — and I do have some thoughts on those — so I’ll leave it at that. I don’t like revealing spoilers, and there’s no way to hide them here.

Still, if you’ve seen it then poke around the web to see others commenting on it in detail; I enjoyed reading some of the reviews (like this spoilery one which has many of the same questions I did). I also agree with my pal John Scalzi and his take on the movie (spoilers there, too), though reading his analysis I think I enjoyed it more than he did.

If you’re looking for the worst take ever on it, then prepare to flinch and go to The New Yorker, where I swear the critic says, “Its characters aren’t introduced; they just show up, and their behavior is entirely defined by the template set for them in other movies. Not only does ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ presume that viewers have seen all the preceding films in the Marvel series but, worse, it presumes that they’ve thought about them afterward.”

Yes, not only that, but most of the characters spoke English, so if you’re not familiar with the language all those words just show up without being defined, and presumes the viewer knows words and has associated them with meanings in their heads.

Sheesh. And the critic goes on from there, being upset that Marvel has crafted a universe that spans several movies. His complaint is literally true of every serialized story ever made.  

Anyway, I liked the movie, and if you’re a fan (and have seen the previous movies, I mean c’mon, duh) then of course you should go see this. Which in itself is a silly thing to say. If you’re a fan then you’ve already seen it or plan on it anyway. Excelsior.

What’s Up?

Look up! There’s stuff to see in the sky!

Launch alert!

On May 5th, NASA plans on launching the Mars InSight mission on an Atlas V rocket from the Vandenberg Space Complex. If you live in that area, you’ll get a good view… but you’ll have to get up early. Launch is scheduled for 04:05 Pacific time. Yes, a.m. That’s 11:05 UTC.

NASA has info on how to watch the launch if you live in the area where it’ll be visible. If you don’t never fear: It’ll be live streamed. This is an historic one: It’s the first interplanetary launch from the west coast, so that’s cool too.

InSight is a pretty interesting mission. It’ll study the interior of the Red Planet, trying to help us understand how Mars formed and what’s happened since. It’ll also study tectonic activity (and meteorite impacts, too, which I find fascinating).

Once it launches I’ll write more about it on the blog, but I wanted to make sure folks in SoCal get the heads up.

Oh! I mean that literally. Turn your heads up and watch a rocket take a lander to another world. How amazing is that?

Follow o’ the Letter

Someone you should follow on social media

Every now and again I’ll recommend someone for you to follow on social media. It might be a scientist, or a science communicator, or someone who is just cool or funny or smart or wise.

[C’mon, you know you’d vote for a candidate who goes to a Star Trek convention! Jess Phoenix and me at Sta Trek Las Vegas in 2017. Credit Phil Plait]

For my first one, I recommend you keep your eye on Jess Phoenix. She is a scientist — a volcanologist! — running for Congress in California’s District 25. Jess is compassionate, articulate, extremely smart, funny, and she stands on the right side of history on a long list of issues. I think she has an excellent chance of securing the Democratic nomination and also of beating her GOP opponent, Stephen Knight, who is a Trump lackey.

I endorsed her run last year and I encourage you to check into her campaign. She’s the real deal. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook. She’s also holding a science rally called Science Mayday on Tuesday May 1 (tomorrow as I post this newsletter), so if you’re in the LA area take a look!

Pic o’ the Letter

A cool or lovely or mind-bending astronomical image/video with a short description so you can grok it

John Chumack is a professional astrophotographer in Ohio, and takes some pretty great shots of the sky. I was poking through his Flickr photos, and found this terrific photo he took of Barnard 72, also called — for obvious enough reasons — the Snake Nebula:

[Credit: John Chumack, used by permission]

I think maybe just “S Nebula” would work too!

B 72 is a dark nebula, a thick cloud of cold dust (literally, silicate (rocky) grains and soot-like molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and molecular gas. A quick search of the professional literature didn’t yield much, but APOD lists it as 650 light years away, which is close on a galactic scale. Chumack has another image where he identifies some of the objects, and his descriptions there talk about how he took the shot.

The dark cloud just to the right of it near the top of the S is one of my favorites, Barnard 68. It’s a fantastic example of how dark and dense these clouds can be, and how they tend to redden starlight that passes through their edges. I talk about that in my episode of Crash Course Astronomy: Nebulae.

It’s also near the wonderful Pipe Nebula, which I’ve written about as well.

These nebulae are pretty hard to spot visually, since you need a biggish telescope and dark skies to get enough contrast to see them silhouetted against the background stars. Someday I’ll get to one of the big star parties that take place in very dark sites, and maybe I’ll see one of them for myself. I’ll note that big dark clouds (really, huge complexes of smaller ones) can be seen if you can see the Milky Way in a reasonably dark area. Those are pretty amazing to see for yourself. If you ever get a chance to get out away from city lights in the summer when the Milky Way is up high, take it!

My thanks to John for letting me use his image!

Et alia

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