The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘sky’

Weird Al’s Horoscope Song

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 23, 2013

In honor of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s birthday, I wanted to share with you one of his songs which has a funny skeptical and cynical slant to it… “That’s Your Horoscope for Today” (lyrics here).  Enjoy!  🙂


Incidentally, here’s my favorite section of the lyrics:

Now you may find it inconceivable or at the very least a bit unlikely
that the relative position of the planets and the stars could have
a special deep significance or meaning that exclusively applies to only you, but let me give you my assurance that these forecasts and predictions are all based on solid, scientific, documented evidence, so you would have to be some kind of moron not to realize that every single one of them is absolutely true.

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

Kickstarter Project: Portable Planetarium

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 8, 2013

I love astronomy… so much so that it motivated me to major in physics (it’s the closest I could get to astronomy as an undergraduate).  I’ve taught astronomy at the college level, too, and I have to say that one of the most engaging things you can do is show students the night sky.  For this, going outside is best, but sometimes the weather and light pollution conspire to make night-time skygazing an impossibility.  And that’s where planetariums come in!

Enter Lauren Ard, a teacher who has a really great idea to take her portable planetarium on the road for teaching not just her students but also others (such as attendees at science fiction and fantasy cons) about astronomy and the night sky.  Lauren is attempting to raise some money for her effort, and I thought it was worth advertising her Kickstarter campaign in this blog post.

For more information, read on…

Portable Planetarium = Astronomy for All!

by Lauren Ard

Planetarium Kickstarter

A sun-inspired inflatable planetarium that will bring astronomical theater to local schools, youth groups, and geek gatherings.

The Cause

Kids just love inflatable planetariums; they get to crawl inside a space built just for them, one that has popped up right in their classroom or meeting place to show them the wonders of the sky. Regular classroom disruptions fall away as students become engaged in learning about astronomy in a new and exhilarating way. Kids relate to the fun and interactive medium of a portable planetarium in a manner that no other astronomy instruction can match.

According to the Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT), students retain learning longer when that learning comes from an engaging, hands-on activity. When they are captivated by a unique opportunity such as an inflatable planetarium, they are more likely to share what they’ve learned with family members and friends, deepening their understanding with each repitition. These activities also transcend language barriers with their visual appeal.

We need more exciting educational activities in order to fight the intellectual apathy so common in our students today (what RAFT calls “the engagement gap”)! As the pace of scientific research advances, the average person is faced increasingly with science and technology in his or her daily life. Yet, a study done by the University of Sciences in Philadelphia indicates that American students’ interest in science is drastically waning.

My inflatable planetarium offers kinesthetic and visual learning to students who are hungry for stimulation. The wonders of the night sky can be brought right into the classroom! Right here, you have the opportunity to help bring science to life.

The Story

Five years ago I was a middle school science teacher working at a Title I school. The school (and its students) had little money for field trips or fancy science equipment, but I longed to find a way to bring Astronomy to life for my seventh graders. Through much trial and error with my crappy sewing machine, I created the magnificent monstrosity you see on my cover photo.

Using a box fan (for inflating) and a $150 “toy” projector from Japan, I’ve given planetarium shows to thousands of students over the last several years. Even when I left teaching to become a mom and foster parent, I continued to give presentations to schools, youth organizations, and clubs.

The Goal

To build a bigger, better planetarium! Planetarium 2.0 will be able to fit 30 students instead of 15. It will be made out of more durable fabric. And it will be a golden yellow to represent our Sun! This way, the half-sphere shape of the planetarium serves a second purpose – to be part of a scale model of our Solar System (with the planets being represented by sports balls).

If I were to purchase a boring, black inflatable planetarium from a commercial company in the United States, it would cost at least THREE TIMES as much as my Kickstarter goal! By creating a planetarium myself, I am able to make the planetarium more fun AND more economical.

Click here to read more

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

The Shifting of the Zodiac & Why Astrology Fails

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 15, 2011

For the last couple of days I’ve been getting questions from some of my colleagues about the “shifting of the zodiac” and today one playfully asked me if they were still a Cancer.  In fact, I’ve seen news headlines stating “Your horoscope could quite possibly be wrong” – this is humorous because I’ve always known horoscopes are wrong & useless 🙂

Some astrologers and other pseudoscientific goofballs are apparently making a lot of hay out of this (including some doomsayers who have bought into the 2012 hysteria), but I’m here to tell you that this is the effect of nothing more than simple physics.  What is going on is just the effect of the rotational axis of the Earth twisting around in a cone – this is a phenomenon called axial precession. Picture a spinning toy top on the ground – does it stay upright and keep spinning forever?  No, it eventually starts to wobble.  In much the same way, the Earth’s rotational axis wobbles, and it takes about 26,000 years for this cycle to complete.

Image Credit: Wikipedia

For example, many of us have heard of the North Star, also known as Polaris, as the star in the sky right above our north (geographic) pole.  That is, if you were standing at the geographic north pole of the Earth, Polaris would be directly overhead all the time with the rest of the sky appearing to wheel about it.  Well, believe it or not, Polaris hasn’t always been the North Star; in fact, about 13,000 years ago (halfway through our precessional cycle) our North Star was Vega!

Thus, if our North Star can be shifted over time due to precessional movement, then so too can other features of our night sky, such as the zodiac.  The zodiac is a collection of constellations which inhabit a band of sky called the ecliptic – the ecliptic is that region wherein we see the Sun, Moon, and all the planets move from our perspective on Earth, and it basically outlines the plane of our solar system.  The following image explains clearly the arrangement of the zodiac symbols along the ecliptic…

A band around the sky about 18° wide, centered on the ecliptic, in which the Sun, Moon, and planets move. The band is divided into 12 signs of the zodiac, each 30° long, that were named by the ancient Greeks after the constellations that used to occupy these positions; “zodiac” means “circle of animals,” and only Libra is inanimate. Over the past 2,000 years, precession has moved the constellations eastward by over 30° so that they no longer coincide with the old signs. Image Source

So what’s really going on is that, due to the long slow precessional cycle of the Earth, our old star maps which laid down the zodiac we’ve all come to recognize are now getting out of date.  That’s it, nothing more, nothing less.  So relax, it’s not the harbinger of cosmic disaster, it’s just simple physics.  And, I might add, where superstition & astrology have failed, science & astronomy have triumphed – what astrologer predicted the shifting of the zodiac? That is, without consulting the actual scientists first… 😉

If you’d like to see an excellent blog post on this same subject, I highly recommend this entry by Phil Plait over at the Bad Astronomy Blog.

Posted in astrology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Visions of Michael Jackson?

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 1, 2009

I ran across this video from CNN.com – it shows a strange looking cloud formation over New York City.  At the 1:25 mark in the video, the reporter goes on about how many people see the face of the recently-deceased Michael Jackson in these clouds…

michael jackson pareidolia

Mmmm-kay… I’m not seeing it.  But then, I was never a big fan of MJ in the first place.  And, of course, if you had never even heard of or seen a picture of MJ, then the blob in the clouds above would likely look to you like… well, like a blob.

These clouds are called mammatus clouds, and they are more common than you might think.  It’s just that they’re not that common around New York City, which is why so many people there reacted as they did.  So, there’s nothing particularly strange there.  But what about some people claiming to see MJ’s face in these clouds?

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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