The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘NASA’

So Much for The End of the World, Mayan Style!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 22, 2012

Well, it seems that yet another end-of-the-world prophecy has bitten the dust.  Dec. 21st, 2012 – dreaded day of “the end” as supposedly fortold by the Mayan Calendar - has come and gone just like every other doomsday.  Beyond citing the obvious fact that we’re still here, I cannot help but poke fun by passing along this humorous photo of arch-skeptic James Randi while he was in Cozumel, Mexico just last week :)

Randi Mayan calendar

Posted in doomsday, humor | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

NASA Debunks Mayan Doomsday Prophecies… AGAIN

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 10, 2012

*Sigh* I’ve said it before, but it is worth saying again…

The World is NOT Going to End on December 21st!!!

[In case you know anyone who thinks it will, please refer them to :) ]

Incidentally, if common sense isn’t enough, and you happen to have some poor deluded family member or friend convinced they cannot come out of the basement until after the planet has been turned into a mutant-populated, radioactive hell, you could consider sharing this well-written article with them:

NASA says world won’t end in 2012 despite Mayan  calendar

mayan calendar

We’re less than a month away from the so-called end of the world, but NASA  says you don’t have anything to worry about.

Earlier this month, NASA posted a list of frequently asked questions about  why the world won’t end in 2012, like some believe the Mayans calendar  indicates.

The post explained that Earth has been getting along fine for the last 4  billion years and there is no threat to our planet this year. …

But how can those egghead geeks at NASA be so sure?  Well, there are these things called “logic” and “reason” which tend to give validity to arguments such as this:

… But just as your desk calendar ends on Dec. 31 and world keeps going on, the  same goes for the Mayan calendar, NASA explained. Just before you run out of  pages doesn’t mean life as we know it will cease to exist. …

Personally, I cannot wait until December 22nd.  Because then there are going to be a LOT of people with a LOT of egg on their faces, just like all the other times the world was predicted to end and it didn’t.

In fact, regarding all the doomsday predictions ever made in the past, there is one thing they all have in common: They were all dead wrong.

Posted in astrology, doomsday, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Farewell Neil Armstrong, and Thanks for That “One Small Step”

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 26, 2012

Neil Armstrong died today.  The first human being to ever set foot on another world – the Moon – died today.  It is with more than a hint of nostalgia that I write this, because as I reflect back upon my 40 years of life I have to marvel at the fact that humans walked on another world before I was even born!

Let’s hope we can get back “out there” even more, for the sake of Neil’s memory and the future :)

In closing, I can think of no better way to close than by referencing this amazing obituary for Neil Armstrong from The Economist Magazine:


    Neil Armstrong 

Aug 25th 2012, 20:38 by T.C.

ASTRONAUTS do not like to be called heroes. Their standard riposte to such accusations is to point out that it requires the efforts of hundreds of thousands of backroom engineers, mathematicians and technicians to make space flight possible. They are right, too: at the height of its pomp, in 1966, NASA was spending about 4.4% of the American government’s entire budget, employing something like 400,000 workers among the agency and its contractors.

But it never works. For Neil Armstrong, who commanded Apollo 11, the mission that landed men on the moon on July 20th 1969, the struggle against heroism seemed particularly futile. The achievement of his crew, relayed live on television, held the entire planet spellbound. On their return to Earth, the astronauts were mobbed. Presidents, prime ministers and kings jostled to be seen with them. Schools, buildings and roads were named after them. Medals were showered upon them. A whirlwind post-flight tour took them to 25 countries in 35 days.

As the first man to walk on another world, Armstrong received the lion’s share of the adulation. All the while, he quietly insisted that the popular image of the hard-charging astronaut braving mortal danger the way other men might brave a trip to the dentist was exaggerated. “For heaven’s sake, I loathe danger,” he told one interviewer before his fateful flight. Done properly, he opined, spaceflight ought to be no more dangerous than mixing a milkshake. …

Read the rest of the obituary here

Posted in space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Mars Science Laboratory Landing: Science – It Works!!!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 6, 2012

I, like many of my fellow humans on planet Earth, am simply bursting with joy, excitement, pride, anticipation, and (pardon the pun) curiosity after the successful landing of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory on the Red Planet.  This was a big deal, for a number of reasons outlined at this link, but for me this remarkable acheivement can be summed up in one quick phrase:

Science – It Works!!! :)

Image source and caption: In this image from NASA TV, shot off a video screen, one of the first images from a second batch of images sent from the Curiosity rover is pictured of its wheel after it successfully landed on Mars. The video screen was inside the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) team inside the Spaceflight Operations Facility for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California August 5, 2012.The rover landed on the Martian surface shortly after 10:30 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday (1:30 a.m. EDT Monday/0530 GMT) to begin a two-year mission seeking evidence the Red Planet once hosted ingredients for life, NASA said. REUTERS/Courtesy NASA TV/Handout

Image source and caption: Aeolis Mons (unofficially Mount Sharp), as seen from Curiosity.

And if that isn’t cool enough, check out this Youtube video of the descent of the MSL towards the surface of Mars taken from the lander itself!

**Note: I want to give a shout out to my FB friend Rob for inspiring the title of this blog entry :)

Posted in scientific method, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Discovery of Earliest Mayan Calendar Throws 2012 Doomsday Claims into Doubt

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 18, 2012

No doubt, unless you’ve been living in a hole, you have heard about the supposed end-of-the-world coming this December 21st, 2012 – at least, that’s what some New Age whackadoodles and apocalyptic doomsayers would have you believe.  Why do they believe this?  Because, according to them, the Mayan calendar predicts it.

Unfortunately for the doomsday prophets, the Mayan calendar predicts nothing of the sort.  Take, for example, the fact that recently the discovery of the world’s oldest Mayan calendar seems to have thrown the whole “Mayan 2012″ prophecy of armaggedon into serious doubt:

Nevermind the Apocalypse: Earliest Mayan Calendar Found

Image source

The oldest-known version of the ancient Maya calendar has been discovered adorning a lavishly painted wall in the ruins of a city deep in the Guatemalan rainforest.

The hieroglyphs, painted in black and red, along with a colorful mural of a king and his mysterious attendants, seem to have been a sort of handy reference chart for court scribes in A.D. 800 — the astronomers and mathematicians of their day. Contrary to popular myth, this calendar isn’t a countdown to the end of the world in December 2012, the study researchers said.

“The Mayan calendar is going to keep going for billions, trillions, octillions of years into the future,” said archaeologist David Stuart of the University of Texas, who worked to decipher the glyphs. “Numbers we can’t even wrap our heads around.” …

Oops.  That’s embarrassing.  So the Mayan calendary doesn’t predict the apocalypse?  Why exactly is that?

… The Maya recorded time in a series of cycles, including 400-year chunks called baktuns. It’s these baktuns that have led to rumors of an end-of-the-world catastrophe on Dec. 21, 2012 — on that date, a cycle of 13 baktuns will be complete. But the idea that this means the end of the worldis a misconception, Stuart said. In fact, Maya experts have known for a long time that the calendar doesn’t end after the 13th baktun. It simply begins a new cycle. And the calendar encompasses much larger units than the baktun.

“There were 24 units of time they actually could have incorporated into their calendar,” Stuart said. “Here, we’re only seeing five units and they’re still really big.”

In one column, the ancient scribe even worked out a cycle of time recording 17 baktuns, the researchers found. In another spot, someone etched a “ring number” into the wall. These notations were used to record time in a previous cycle, thousands of years into the past. The calendar also appears to note the cycles of Mars and Venus, the researchers said. Symbols of gods head the top of each lunar cycle, suggesting that each cycle had its own patron deity.

“There was a lot more to the Maya calendar than just 13 baktuns,” Stuart said. …

Of course, another reason to doubt the claims of the doom-mongers, despite the structure of the Mayan calendar, is the fact that no matter what the source for the supposed end-of-the-world prophecy, every prophecy of this nature in the past has had one thing in common: THEY HAVE ALL FAILED SPECTACULARLY!  This includes at least one high-profile prediction from last year!

It’ll be interesting to see what the doomsaying believers have to say on December 22nd, 2012 when we’re all still here :)

Posted in doomsday | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

One in Seven People Think the World Will End in 2012

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 4, 2012

Straight out of the “What the f**k?!” files comes this little gem about people’s beliefs concerning the supposed end-of-the-world…

One in seven thinks end of world is coming: poll

Credit: Reuters/Argely Salazar

(Reuters) – - Nearly 15 percent of people worldwide believe the world will end during their lifetime and 10 percent think the Mayan calendar could signify it will happen in 2012, according to a new poll.

The end of the Mayan calendar, which spans about 5,125 years, on December 21, 2012 has sparked interpretations and suggestions that it marks the end of the world.

“Whether they think it will come to an end through the hands of God, or a natural disaster or a political event, whatever the reason, one in seven thinks the end of the world is coming,” said Keren Gottfried, research manager at Ipsos Global Public Affairs which conducted the poll for Reuters.

“Perhaps it is because of the media attention coming from one interpretation of the Mayan prophecy that states the world ‘ends’ in our calendar year 2012,” Gottfried said, adding that some Mayan scholars have disputed the interpretation.

Responses to the international poll of 16,262 people in more than 20 countries varied widely with only six percent of French residents believing in an impending Armageddon in their lifetime, compared to 22 percent in Turkey and the United States and slightly less in South Africa and Argentina. … [emphasis added]

I want to just make note of the bolded text above: apparently, according to this poll, over one-fifth of the population of the United States – the most advanced and powerful industrial nation on the planet – believes in this 2012 end-of-the-world hooey.  Oh… my… FSM…

Wow, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  But one thing’s for sure: I predict that we’ll be here in 2013 to show that this Mayan doomsday prophecy is just a load of crap; and I say that not just because NASA recently crushed these stupid prophecies.

After all, people have been predicting doomsday for thousands of years, with supposed divine revelation or prophecy to back them up, and all that time there’s been one thing common to all those predictions: they’ve all been dead wrong.

I have just one question for all of these people who claim to believe “the end is near”: Can I have all your stuff? ;)

Posted in doomsday | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

NASA Video Crushes Mayan Doomsday 2012 Predictions

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 14, 2012

The fine folks at NASA have put together a nice, quick video debunking the claims of doomsday related to the supposed end of the Mayan calendar on Dec. 21, 2012.  Check out the video over at Life’s Little Mysteries…

NASA Crushes 2012 Mayan Apocalypse Claims

by Natalie Wolchover, Life’s Little Mysteries Staff Writer

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have put out a new video to address false claims about the “Mayan apocalypse,” a non-event that some people believe will bring the world to an end on Dec. 21.

In the video, which was posted online Wednesday (Mar. 7), Don Yeomans, head of the Near-Earth Objects Program Office at NASA/JPL, explains away many of the most frequently cited doomsday scenarios. [See video]

Addressing the belief that the calendar used by the ancient Mayan civilization comes to a sudden end in December 2012, and that this will coincide with a cataclysmic, world-ending event, Yeomans said: “Their calendar does not end on December 21, 2012; it’s just the end of the cycle and the beginning of a new one. It’s just like on December 31, our calendar comes to an end, but a new calendar begins on January 1.” …

Read the rest at Life’s Little Mysteries


Posted in astrology, doomsday, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

More High Resolution Images of the Apollo Moon Landing Sites

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 7, 2011

We’ve been here before, and I’m sure we’ll be here again, folks.  NASA has just released a set of even higher resolution images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera of the Apollo 17 landing site (see my previous blog entry on earlier images here), which shows – yet again – more evidence that human beings really did go to the Moon!  Here are the images…

Clearly visible are equipment left on the Moon’s surface (such as the base of the lander which is casting a clear shadow) and numerous tracks left by the astronauts’ footprints in the lunar regolith.  And here is a magnified version of the above image, centering on the base of the lunar lander itself:

Image credit: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera

[**Aside: Bad Astronomer Phil Plait has an excellent analysis and specific breakdown of these newest images here.]

Sadly, this probably won’t stop conspiracy-minded Moon hoax theorists from spinning their usual nonsense denying the fact that we sent humans to the Moon (see this excellent analysis by Bad Astronomy of the Moon hoaxer claims).  That’s because, no matter what evidence is provided (even including high-resolution images of the landing sites and human footprints on the Moon), these conspiracy theorists will attempt to rationalize it away, such as by invoking the all-powerful Conspiracy (i.e., all the images are faked, except – of course – the very images the hoaxers use to claim the Moon landings didn’t happen).  Case in point, just today I received the following comment on an earlier blog post on this matter:

Haha – your photo’s prove the fake – look closely at the image of the Apollo 14 landing site and you can see the the LM has no height profile compararive to it’s shadow – thankyou for the proof – hahahaha. Also the eagle landing module has a shadow the shape of a christmas tree. Why would that be?

Of course, one can see clearly in the higher resolution photos above of the Apollo 17 landing site that there is an obvious height profile compared to the shadow of the lander base.  As for the Eagle lander having a “shadow the shape of a christmas tree”, one should note that what was left behind on the Moon was the base of the lander, not the entire lander structure with the descent module attached (because, duh, that part brought the astronauts back).  It’s details like this the conspiracy theorists overlook in their zealous attempts to simultaneously deny reality and spin some kind of fantasy world where they are clued in to what’s really going on.

I’m content to allow these whackjobs to continue spinning their tall tales that fly in the face of mountains of evidence, including their utterly abyssmal understanding of physics (see the Bad Astronomy link for more on that).  Meanwhile, the rest of us can sit back and enjoy the fact that we still have the right stuff :)

Posted in conspiracy theories, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Secret Mars Base Discovered? Hmmm, No…

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 7, 2011

According to this story over at, there is an amateur astronomer claiming that he has discovered what he calls a “Base on Mars” in the following image that he downloaded from Google Mars…

All I can say is… are you kidding me?!  A grainy, fuzzy, and heavily pixelated image from Google Mars shows… what exactly?  Why couldn’t this be some kind of geological feature on Mars, or couldn’t some of the features be artifacts of the imaging process?  Why the rush to jump to “alien base on Mars” without any supporting evidence?  This sort of thing is on par with people using similar crappy-quality images to claim they’re looking at Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, or seeing Jesus in the clouds.  Folks, it all boils down to that well documented phenomenon called pareidolia, because if there were decent high-resolution images available then it would be harder for people to see what they (consciously or not) want to see in the pictures.

Some more reasonable possibilities are suggested by some experts in the article:

“It looks like a linear streak artifact produced by a cosmic ray,” said Alfred McEwen, a planetary geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Lab at the University of Arizona and the director of the Planetary Imaging Research Laboratory. McEwen is the principal investigator of the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), a powerful telescope currently orbiting Mars.

Cosmic rays are extremely energetic particles emitted by the sun and other stars. For the most part, the Earth’s protective magnetosphere blocks them from hitting the planet’s surface, McEwen explained. “But with space images that are taken outside our magnetosphere, such as those taken by orbiting telescopes, it’s very common to see these cosmic ray hits. You see them on optical images and a lot of the infrared images too,” he told Life’s Little Mysteries. …

… The digital compression software that converts the image into a JPEG file then “sort of smears out the image, giving it that pixelated look,” McEwen said. What started as a clear streak in high-resolution turns into a streak that, in the armchair astronaut’s words, looks like it is “made up of cylinders.”

That, or this guy actually did discover an alien base on Mars.  I think you’d have to have a particularly dull Occam’s Razor to accept that conclusion, however.


Posted in aliens & UFOs, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Alien Life in a Meteorite? Ummm, Not So Much

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 13, 2011

Last week the media was all abuzz about a story that a NASA scientist had discovered “definitive evidence” of alien life in a meteorite.  In fact, they apparently even had photos of the little critters…

Here’s the headline:

NASA scientist finds evidence of alien life

Aliens exist, and we have proof.

That astonishingly awesome claim comes from Dr. Richard B. Hoover, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, who says he has found conclusive evidence of alien life — fossils of bacteria found in an extremely rare class of meteorite called CI1 carbonaceous chondrites. (There are only nine such meteorites on planet Earth.) Hoover’s findings were published late Friday night in the Journal of Cosmology, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

“I interpret it as indicating that life is more broadly distributed than restricted strictly to the planet earth,” Hoover, who has spent more than 10 years studying meteorites around the world, told in an interview. “This field of study has just barely been touched — because quite frankly, a great many scientist [sic] would say that this is impossible.” …

The “field of study” to which Dr. Hoover is referring is astrobiology, and it is a legitimate scientific endeavor that attempts to study the question of life beyond Earth.  Unfortunately, Dr. Hoover is somewhat of a crank, and his claims are quite overblown, as evidenced by the ruthless criticism he and the “peer-reviewed” Journal of Cosmology received from the wider scientific community.  Here are just a few samples of how these trumped up claims of “alien life” simply wither under scrutiny…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in aliens & UFOs, scientific method, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »


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