SGU Episode 508

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SGU Episode 508
April 4th 2015
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 507                      SGU 509

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Science is more than the mere description of events as they occur. It’s an attempt to discover order, to show that certain events stand in lawful relations to other events.

B.F. Skinner

Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Discussion


  • Michael's passing
  • April Fool's jokes

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

Forgotten Superheroes of Science (4:43)[edit]

  • Sandra Moore Faber: Part of the team that discovered the Great Attractor

S: All right, Bob, (laughing) tell us about this week's Forgotten Superheroes of Science.

B: Yes! This week's Forgotten Superheroes of Science, I'll be covering Sandra Faber, who is currently a professor of astronomy and physics. And she has made many scientific advances in her ongoing career, including this co-discovery of the Great Attractor. Ever hear of her?

J: No

E: She described

S: Not Kell Welch?

B: (Chuckles) Oh, yeah. Nice one, okay. So, Faber was born in 1944, in the great city of Boston, Massachusetts.

S: All I got was a chuckle out of it?

B: Yeah. She received her bachelor's degree in physics, and a PhD in astronomy - two awesome degrees if I were gonna get a couple. She has definitely had an interesting career. Many, many interesting little highlights. She found an interesting relationship between the brightness of galaxies and the velocity of stars within them. I didn't know there was a relationship like that.

E: Oh yeah, second cousins once removed.

B: That's called a Faber-Jackson relation. She demonstrated how important dark matter halos are around galaxies for their evolution. And these halos were, I think they were totally unknown, just even a short while ago. So that was interesting. Also, she was in on the design of one of the best telescopes on the planet, the famous Keck telescope in Hawaii.

E: I like that one.

B: My favorite though, was the discovery of the Great Attractor. Now, for years, it was a mystery why the Milky Way was moving towards the constellation Centaurus about 1.4 million miles per hour. They weren't sure why this was happening. She worked with a team of astronomers called "the seven samurai," which is a cool, little nickname.

E: (Chuckling) Okay

B: She and her team noticed a flow of galaxies over hundreds of millions of light years, a huge span of space, and they determined that it must be due to a huge source of mass that's obscured by all the gas and dust of the Milky Way. So even though it was very far away, it was, our galaxy was right in the way of it. So we really couldn't see it, in visible light at all. The gas and dust was blocking it. So much so that it's actually called the "zone of avoidance."

J: What?

B: 'Cause, yeah!

E: Wait a minute, that's from Planet of the Apes, isn't it?

B: (Laughs) No, wasn't that the radiation

S: The Forbidden Zone

B: Forbidden Zone, yes.

E: Same idea

B: They realized that there was some huge mass there, so they dubbed that gravity the Great Atractor, which is a really good name. They realized they needed something pithy. So this then led to the discovery of Norma Supercluster, at the center of the Great Attractor, once they were able to have powerful enough X-ray telescopes to really see what was there, and pierce the gas and dust.

The Norma Supercluster was initially estimated to have a mass many, many billions of suns. Now, they've downgraded the mass a bit, but clearly, this is quite a big supercluster. And like many discoveries in science, especially really good science, this led other scientists to yet even more discoveries about this. And what they found more recently is that an even greater supercluster, much farther away, I think five hundred million light years away, beyond the Great Attractor, was another supercluster. This is called the Shapley Supercluster.

And this thing is big. We're talking about ten quadrillion solar masses, according to a couple sources. I read, so, just imagine, ten quadrillion solar masses. It's actually the most massive gravitationally bound object in the visible universe. So guys, remember Sandy Faber; mention her to your friends, maybe when discussing the comparisons of galactic peculiar motion to density maps from Ires.

S: All right, thanks Bob.

News Items[edit]

Radio Bursts and Alien Signals (8:22)[edit]

  • Radio Bursts and Alien Signals

Peer-Review Scandal (15:59)[edit]

World is a Bit Greener (18:46)[edit]

Gravity Tunnel Revisited (24:23)[edit]

Compression clothing (33:27)[edit]

Special Report (38:24)[edit]

Who's That Noisy (53:03)[edit]

  • Answer to last week: Eurosignal

Dumbest Thing of the Week (55:26)[edit]

  • "Deepak Chopra: The Problem With Atheism"

(Commercial at 59:43)

Science or Fiction (1:00:38)[edit]

Item #1: A new study confirms the popular belief that batteries bounce higher when they are out of juice than when they are fresh.

Item #2: Engineers at NIST have created a 'nanomechanical plasmonic phase modulator' which they claim can be used to fit an estimated 2.4 terabytes of data on an optical disc the size of a conventional CD.

Item #3: Researchers have taught blind rats to effectively “see” and remember how to navigate a maze by attaching a geomagnetic compass to their brain.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:23:49)[edit]

“Science is more than the mere description of events as they occur. It’s an attempt to discover order, to show that certain events stand in lawful relations to other events.” - B.F. Skinner

Announcements (25:24)[edit]

  • NECSS next week. TAM on July 19.

S: 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, where you will find the show notes as well as links to our blogs, videos, online forum, and other content. You can send us feedback or questions to Also, please consider supporting the SGU by visiting the store page on our website, where you will find merchandise, premium content, and subscription information. Our listeners are what make SGU possible.


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