Science Headline: Oh, Come ON!

This may take some sort of prize:

Astronomers find super-Earth with climate like ours, say it’s due to planet’s night-day cycle

Let’s list the problems with this headline, here:

1. ‘Find’ and ‘Find evidence suggesting maybe…’ are categorically different claims. It may be crass and unsophisticated of me to point this out, but it’s different enough to constitute a *lie*.  Put another way: a wife noticing a red smudge on her hubby’s collar has found evidence suggesting maybe; this is categorically different than catching him in bed with the nanny.

2. Climate like ours? Setting aside the insurmountable difficulties in saying much of ANYTHING about a planet whose very existence is only inferred (well-inferred, but still) from wiggles and anomalies in a series of very tricky observations, we don’t know if it’s a mini-gas giant or a ball of rock 7 times* the size of earth, or something else entirely. A guess at its mass is about all we can reasonably make at this point. Does it even *have* an atmosphere? We don’t know! So, speculation on the climate this cipher might have, if in fact it is a big heavy rock with an atmosphere like ours (‘like’ being a bit vague as well) – it does strain credulity. It’s kissing cousins with lying.

3. Night-day cycles. Riiiight. So, we’re now guessing that, because this planet is both large enough and far enough away from its sun or any other large masses that could slow and lock its rotation a la Mercury or the moon (these are two things – mass and distance from the star – that scientists can reasonable at least guess at) it has a day and a night, ignoring the question of it those days and night, if they exist at all, have a reasonable period. If it’s spinning like a top, with 2 hour days, or spinning so slow as to have week-long days, that would make it hard for life as we know it: thousand-mile-an-hour winds in case 1, total freeze followed by total melt down in case 2.

Why they would assume a reasonable rotational period, I’m not sure – planets larger than earth that we know of – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – all have ‘unreasonable ‘ rotational periods – something to do with the conservation of angular momentum as they congealed.  We’re not even sure how the earth, after its presumed collision with a Mars-sized body 3 – 4 billion years ago, ended up spinning as fast as it does, with the axis tilt it has (axis tilt being another major factor in climate). and earth’s rotation is slowing down due to drag from the moon.  So, the reasonable expectation is that this planet spins too fast, making for violent weather and making it very hard for your average 1 ton person (at 7 Gs) to stand up.

Bad Science headline! Bad!

* Planet was 4-5 times the mass of earth yesterday. Seems to be putting on the weight. Oh, well, it’s *only* Science!


Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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