SGU Episode 287

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SGU Episode 287
12th Jan 2011
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 286                      SGU 288

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein


PP: Phil Plait

Quote of the Week

Reality has been around since long before you showed up. Don't go calling it nasty names like "bizarre" or "incredible". The universe was propagating complex amplitudes through configuration space for ten billion years before life ever emerged on Earth. Quantum physics is not "weird". You are weird.

Eliezer Yudkowsky

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion


You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, today is Wednesday January 12th, 2011 and this is your host Steve Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella,...

B: Hey everybody.

S: Rebecca Watson,

R: Hello everyone.

S: Jay Novella,

J: Hey Guys.

S: Evan Bernstein,

E: Hello, hello.

S: and the first guest rogue of 2011, the Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait. Phil welcome back to the SGU.

PP: Greetings and felicitations, critical thinkers.

R: Man. We can not get rid of this guy can we?

PP: It's true.

?: Who would want to?

S: He keeps turning up.

E: And hello to the rest of you too, right?

S: Yeah, and to everyone else, right.

E: Right, cause...

PP: Well, if people have to listen to this, okay.

?: Phil would you like to make any... any astrological or astronomical predictions for 2011?

S: Eh, what's the difference?

E: Yeah.

R: Yeah, it's like cosmology and cosmetology. Basically the same thing.

PP: That's true.

R: Phil actually cuts my hair. Little known fact.

PP: I was going to say, just wash them right out of your hair, that's fine. Yeah, the astrological predictions are one things, but you know astronomical predictions, there will be meteor showers, the sun will continue to shine, somewhere a supernova will blow up.

R: Alright, but if the sun stops shining, we're going to be coming to you for answers.

S: And you can go out on a limb and say there will be sunspots.

PP: I don't know. It's actually been pretty weak so far.

S: Not so sure about that, yeah. I wouldn't...

PP: There have been a few. We've had some good ones, but not... I don't know, we'll see. It's all going to end in 2012 anyway.

S: We've never really fully rebounded from the solar minimum have we?

PP: There have been some pretty big filaments, these prominences, these giant arcs of material that that scream out of the sun and then blow off into space. There have been some really spectacular ones.

S: Yeah.

PP: Which is cool because NASA has a new satellite up there, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, so we've been getting, you know, awesome hi-res video of this. But it's still, you know, not quite where I was expecting it by this time in the cycle. Eh, we'll see. The sun...

?: Should we be afraid?

PP: We should always be afraid. But I don't think. I don't think the Sun...

R: Fear monger.

PP: going reach out and give you anything other than a sunburn.

S: Yeah.

PP: And I know how pale and doughy all all of us skeptics are so we should be worried about that.

S: We should live in constant fear. Haven't you read Phil's book?

R: Mmmhmm. MmmHmm.

?: Yeah.

PP: Look, who's going to make money if people aren't afraid?

S: Right.

R: It's true.

?: Well that's true.

S: Speaking of which, Phil how is Bad Universe doing? Any updates? On possibly more episodes?

PP: I haven't heard anything from the Network yet. I'm still hoping. The first two have aired in the US. I haven't heard of when the third is going to be scheduled, but if you live in Australia, actually. I believe there are some Australian listeners of SGU. January 16th on Sunday, I think it's at 7:30 but check your local listings, they'll be showing it and then they'll show all 3 episodes the following Sundays. So you know get on get online check check your TV schedule and then you can see me blowing stuff up.

R: That was actually a regular question I got as I was doing talks around Australia and New Zealand. People kept asking me when your show was airing. Slightly, slightly insulting to me. But, I'm sure...

PP: Well when is your TV show on Rebecca?

?: Oh!

R: Any moment now, any moment. You have to, you have to pay by the minute though.

PP: Oh dear.

This Day in Skepticism (3:27)[edit]


S: Well before go on to some serious science news, Evan what is special about today?

E: It was January 13th actually tomorrow. 1610 where Galileo discovered Calisto. 4th satellite of Jupiter.

S: That's my 3rd favorite Galilean satellite

R: Steve, you know you shouldn't pick favorites.

E: Io is your first I think.

?: It's my fourth.

R: My favorite is the one that looks like the deathstar, Mimos.

PP: That's Mimos. That's on Saturn.

S: Yeah, right.

R: I thought it was Mimos. I go by the Latin pronunciations...

S: Mimos, Mimos.

R: ...but you would know better being the astronomer.

PP: I call my grandmother Mima.

R: Does she look like the deathstar, too?

PP: Oh, I'm confusing myself with Sheldon Cooper. Alright nevermind.

J: Evan...

?: Evan rocks!

J: Evan, why did you call it a satellite, not just a moon?

E: Well.

S: Well.

PP: Snap!

B: Did it throw you off, Jay?

J: Of course.

S: Because that's what Galileo called them. The words are interchangeable. But that.. the the Galilean satellites is just what they're often referred to, the four largest moons of Jupiter.

E: Well plus when people say moon to me I only think about our Moon. I don't think about the dozens of other moons that are out...

S: You don't?

E: ...out there. No!

S: Our moon is The Moon.

E: It is...

S: But all the other moons are still moons.

E: All the other moons are cheap knockoffs on our moon.

S: Oh come on? Ganymede? Please. Things as big as a planet.

E: Well so is... so is...

?: So is Uranus Steve, you know.

E: It's as big as...

PP: It's so cute when you guys talk astronomy.

?: I know...

?: Isn't it Phil?

PP: I would love to sit back listening, this is fun.

News Items[edit]

Molten Exoplanet (4:57)[edit]


S: Phil tell us about the latest exciting exoplanet to be discovered.

BMJ Slams Wakefield (13:22)[edit]


S: Well, let's move on to some non-astronomy items.

Creationist Teacher Fired (28:52)[edit]

S: Let's go on to another story about another man with dubious intentions.

Galactic Black Holes (40:15)[edit]


S: Before we leave the news items, Phil give us a quick story on this black hole.

?: In your childhood, what was it like to grow up out there?

S: Huh?

R: What?

?: What?

E: What?

?: What a stupid...

?: Non-sequitor.

?: I want to learn more about Phil Plait the man. You know what I mean?

E: Well, that...

R: Did Jay just black out?

PP: Man, my wife would laugh at you calling me that, but okay.

S: Or, or you could tell us about black holes, which happens to be your scientific area of expertise.

PP: Uhh... Yeah, I, I think that's that's not terribly unfair to call it that, I, I've studied them quite a bit, although not... not when I was doing research, but afterwards when I was doing education, public outreach, I worked on a couple of satellites that studied black holes a lot, and there have been, in the news, a lot of black hole stuff and a couple of interesting stories. I think the most interesting one is that a, a relatively nearby dwarf galaxy, called Hanize 210 (ed: spelling?). Is, is, it's really, actually, it's pretty dinky. It's only about 3000 light years across. And the Milky Way is a hundred thousand light years across, so this is pretty small. And yet it's really active. There's a lot of stuff going on in it. And what they've found is that near the center of this thing is a super-massive black hole. And that's, that's a pretty big surprise. We know that there are these black holes in the centers of big galaxies, like us and Andromeda and those kind of guys, and some smaller galaxies have them as well, but not that many. But even the ones when, when we see them in these little galaxies, those little galaxies are usually pretty well organized. This one's a mess. It's irregular. It looks like a paint blob or something like that. And it's, it's relatively close by. It's about 30 million light years away. As galaxies go, that's pretty close. It turns out because it's small it has to be close, or else we wouldn't be able to see it at all. And, this one has a super-massive black hole about a million times the mass of the Sun. It's not exactly well know how massive it is, but that's close. And that's a quarter the size of our black hole. For a galaxy, mind you, that is much much much larger. And Andromeda.

E: 25 percent... (ed: hard to hear)

PP: which is a galaxy essentially the same size as the Milky Way. It actually has a black hole that's 140 million solar masses. So, galaxies our size can have black holes of all different masses. But it's really weird to see one in a galaxy this small. And really nobody knows how it got there and how it got so big. It's an interesting little mystery.

B: I know. I know how it happened.

PP: Oh here we go.

E: That it's...

PP: It's Andrew Wakefield's fault.

B: No, my, my theory is that the super-massive black hole...

PP: Your hypothesis. Your hypothesis.

B: Yes. My hypothesis, yes.

R: Way to keep him inline, Phil.

E: So typical...

B: No! I've developed this pretty far. I'd call it a theory. My... My... yeah, my quick... quickie little idea is that this black hole... it... it... the galaxy originally had a tiny black hole, but it got really big because it merged with another super-massive black hole that was ejected from another galaxy.

PP: Bob, why do you hate America?

J: Can black holes merge?

B: Shee-yeah. They can merge. Now there's actually some precedence for this. There was some... I read some articles, about, idea, theories or hypotheses, of black holes being ejected from other, other, other galaxies. The Chandra X-ray satellite I think spotted one that they think was possibly ejected. Now, I know it's probably baloney, but I'm just throwing it out there.

PP: Well, it's possible. You know, when, when two galaxies collide, we see this all the time. It's possible that, that the black holes in the centers of the two galaxies, depending on the circumstances. Usually the galaxies will pass through each other. Sometimes they merge. If they merge the black holes can orbit each other, and eventually merge. But if there's a... a, a lot of junk around, massive clouds of gas and dust and stuff. These guys can actually weigh as much as the black holes, they're just much, much, much bigger. And if you do that, you can toss around a lot of stuff. You need, you need massive objects, and the orbital mechanics gets really complicated, but you can kick something out of a system when that happens, when you have more than two things interacting. So yeah, you can eject a super-massive black hole from a galaxy. I don't imagine it happens very often.

S: Right.

PP: However, you know, there's the whole universe for this thing to be inside of. The odds of it being inside a little dinky galaxy, which doesn't have a prayer of capturing it, would be really, really low.

?: Right.

PP: It's the same sort of things with moons in the solar system. And, and even planets.

S: Yeah.

PP: They can get ejected. But it's really, really hard to actually capture an object.

?: Mmhmm.

?: The amount of... Yeah, but...

PP: The amount of energy you have to lose is huge.

?: Yeah.

E: How old is this galaxy?

?: It's a big galaxy.

PP: I don't know. That's a good question.

?: Big universe.

PP: It's hard to actually get data on something like this.

E: Could the age have something to do with its, its structure.

PP: It could be just a very old galaxy that just something happened to it recently. I'm not sure. I don't know that much about this galaxy. There were a lot of papers out. It's been studied for a while, because it is a star-forming galaxy. A lot of these little dwarf guys do crank out a lot of stars. And, and honestly, 30 million light years, this thing would be invisible, if it, if it weren't this bright, if it weren't cranking out these stars. So people have been studying it. It will be interesting to see what else can be determined about this thing. I mean, there's, the evidence for it being a black hole is pretty convincing. It's blasting out X-rays. There are radio waves coming from either side of, of whatever this object is, which is what you expect when beams of material are screaming out of the black hole, well, near the black hole and, and slamming into material in the galaxy. So, looking at it, yeah, you know, I, I think a super-massive black hole, is a pretty good, pretty good deal. But how it got there, how it got so big, when the galaxy is so small is a pretty interesting question.

Who's That Noisy? (45:47)[edit]

S: Evan! Get us up to date on Who's that Noisy?

E: Yeah, why don't we play last weeks Who's that Noisy? Here we go.

R: Yeah, lets.

1: No, No, No! None of these books have a cure! Urh! There has to be a real reason for this. An illness! An allergy! 2: A curse. 1: I said a real reason. Something that points to something real. 2: How about this one? 1: Supernaturals? Spike, the word supernatural refers to things like ghosts and spirits and zombies. Which are as make-believe as curses.

E: Okay.

?: Except the zombies.

?: So who is that noisy.

R: I know who it is.

E: Alright Rebecca.

R: It's My Little Ponies. Only like the best toy ever.

E: That's Right.

R: Right? Right?

E: Exactly. That is right. That's exactly correct.

R: I had tons of My Little Ponies as a kid. And that's what made me a skeptic today.

S: I'm not shocked by that at all.

R: Not.. not actually true, but I did have a ton of My Little Ponies.

J: There was a My Little Ponies like cartoon?

R: Yeah.

E: Oh, There have been several Jay, there have been several.

R: It used to come on after Gummy Bears.

PP: Wait, Gummy Bears was a show?

?: What is?

R: What? Come on. (singing) Gummy Bears bouncing here and there and ...

?: You just made that up.

R: No I swear to god. (singing)bouncing here and there and everywhere.

S: So what were they talking about in that little clip.

PP: You know stuff and things with the stuff.

?: Basically the Gummy Bears are talking about how not to get eaten.

R: No.

S: No.

R: No, they're My Little Ponies.

?: Oh.

E: I did not watch, I did not watch the entire episode but the moral of the story was that the solution was in the... that going to look for a solution to a problem using a paranormal book is not a good thing to do. And thank you by the way to Adam from The Reality Check podcast who brought that to our attention.

?: Oh cool. Hey Adam.

S: Thanks Adam. Did anybody guess right?

E: Yeah, absolutely, some did get it right.

?: And her name was Rebecca Watson.

?: Rebecca

E: His name...

R: It was me.

E: Wolbertinger (ed: spelling?) from the message boards was the only one to guess correctly.

?: He should see a doctor about that.

E: He even got the name of the Pony: Twilight Sparkle.

?: Oh boy.

?: I'm sorry. Twilight Sparkle? Can they sue?

S: You like Twilight Sparkle?

PP: Twilight Sparkly vampire.

?: So basically Evan, what you're saying Wolbertinger (ed: spelling?) wherever he is right now might be wearing a I love My Little Pony t-shirt, whatever that is.

E: The t-shirt actually reads "Everything I learned about skepticism, I learned from My Little Pony."

R: That is so true.

PP: That's ridiculous because honestly everyone knows Hello Kitty is a lot better.

R: What? Get out of here.

E: Is Hello Kitty very skeptical?

R: No! Hello Kitty is just a cheap marketing ploy.

E: I'll take four.

PP: Well, I've been put in my place.

R: My Little Ponies had content.

S: Stuff. Evan. Evan what do you've got for this week?

E: This week's Who's That Noisy.


PP: It's David after dentist.

(Noises continue)

J: Evan look man.

E: Jay, that was for you.

J: I told you, no window lickers okay?

PP: It's Kei$ha without auto-tuning.

?: You know guys...

E: That's a really good guess.

?: Something really weird and profound just happened to me.

S: Yeah.

?: I think I have finally merged with the Internet.

R: Really?

?: Because I know exactly what that is.

R: Are you Lawnmower Man? It that what this is?

?: More more Metro-Sexual Man.

E: I do predict one of our listeners, at least one of our listeners is going to get this one, so...

Your Questions and Emails (49:58)[edit]

YouTube Link to Video S: Thanks Evan! Let's go on to a couple of Your Questions and Emails. This one by coincidence, total cosmic coincidence, not planned in any way.

Name That Logical Fallacy (57:25)[edit]

S: Well let's move on. We're going to do a name that logical fallacy.

Science or Fiction (1:08:04)[edit]

S: Well, let's go on to Science or Fiction.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:27:35)[edit]

S: We have a few very important announcements coming up but first ...

J: So this quote was sent in by Dex (ed: Spelling?)

S: ... we have a quote from Jay.


Reality has been around since long before you showed up. Don't go calling it nasty names like "bizarre" or "incredible". The universe was propagating complex amplitudes through configuration space for ten billion years before life ever emerged on Earth. Quantum physics is not "weird". You are weird.

R: That's harsh.

J: Eliezer Yudkowsky

S: Eliezer Yudkowsky

E: Is that through your diggereedoo, Jay?

J: I'm not going to reveal my secrets.

Announcements (1:28:14)[edit]

S: A few...a few important announcements. First Richard Saunders requested that I let people know that the Skeptic Zone now has an email newsletter so if you would like to receive, I think it's weekly, a weekly newsletter through the email from the Skeptic Zone, you can visit and you can subscribe there. Also, NECSS registration is now open, so...

R: Yay!

S: So you can go to go to the NECSS Con website and you'll see a big button to register here.

R: This is the conference previously known as the SGU live show.

S: Yes, the SGU... the local SGU live show, which has warped into the North East Conference on Science and Skepticism or NECSS for short. And who's our keynote speaker this year?

E: Some guy, I think.

R: Is it me?

PP: Isn't, isn't this whole thing just William Shatner chopping wood? Oh that's the other Nexis, sorry.

R: I wish.

E: What about Snooky. Snooky.

S: I believe that the Bad Astronomer is going to be our keynote this year.

R: Oh, I've heard of him.

PP: Hey, hey.

E: He's the...

PP: I can dress like Snooky for the talk.

?: That's awesome guys, come on.

E: He's the Bad As...tronomer.

S: The Bad As...tronomer.

PP: All I need to do is figure out what I'm going to talk about.

E: That's easy.

S: So we have coming Phil Plait of course, Massimo Pelluci, John Rheny, John Alan Palous, Todd Robins, Eugeny Scott, Carl Zimmer, Daniel Conamen, did I say George Hrab? Jennifer Michael Hect, (ed: spelling??) ...

R: No.

S: Thomas Gillovich.

?: Hrab.

S: I'm actually excited to see this guy. Have you guys read his book? You know I think it's called...

E: No.

S: How We Know What Isn't So

PP: Yeah, I've got that book right here.

E: No, I'll have to read that.

PP: It's a great book.

S: Yeah, it's a seminal book in my opinion in understanding ...

E: Really?

S: ...the psychology of belief. Yeah, love it.

PP: It's a good book.

E: Oh I've got to read that.

S: Yeah, yeah, you've got to read it. So I'm excited to see him at the... at the conference. Hal Bidlack, Brooke Allan, Dan Garterner (ed: spelling?) who we interviewed recently. So it's quite the lineup. There may be some other additions coming, but just the list as it is now is awesome. Also, if you are a member of the NESS, of the New England Skeptical Society, then email us at and I will send you a special code to get your membership discount. We do...

?: Awesome.

S: We do have, we do have a list of everybody, but I don't have everybody's email so it's easier just to email me if you want the code.

PP: When you decode it, it says be sure to drink your Ovaltine.

?: Nice. Nice.

E: Brought to you buy.

S: Well, Phil, thanks for joining us this week.

R: Thanks Phil.

?: Thanks Phil, great to have you.

PP: This was awesome, as always, thank you.

E: Yeah, thanks Phil.

S: Thank you everyone else. A pleasure as always.

R: Thank you Steve.

E: Thank you everyone else.

?: Great episode!

S: And until next week, this is your Skeptics Guide to the Universe.

Voice-over: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at You can also check out our other podcast, The SGU 5x5, as well as find links to our blogs and the SGU forums. For questions, suggestions, and other feedback, please use the "Contact Us" form on the website, or send an email to If you enjoyed this episode, then please help us spread the word by leaving us a review on iTunes, Zune, or your portal of choice. 'Theorem' is performed by Kineto, and used with permission.


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