Tuesday, October 04, 2011

What do they teach in science these days

It is really hard to keep the car on the road when listening while driving and hearing news stories like the one I heard this morning on the 8:30am Triple J news.

An item on a new telescope in Chile cited as the world's most powerful radio telescope concluded that the objects the telescope is looking at "are so far away that the light and radiation is only just reaching the Earth."

I took that to mean "just now" and it might actually have been what it said. Is there any other kind of light and radiation a telescope could see? Like light and radiation that reached the Earth last week, month or year? Surely not radiation that won't reach the Earth till tomorrow.

If the "just" is meant to reflect the arduous journey of the photons through the vastness of space - well, we know that the only thing that will stop the photon is other matter and that space is pretty empty. Most photons just keep on keeping on.

The other possible interpretation is that the distance relates to the dispersion of the light (as the square of distance) and hence the further away the object the lower the statistical likelihood of photon hitting the Earth - or more specifically just a much much lower signal intensity.

But the description "just reaching the Earth" isn't the same thing at all.

I'm sure all the people in the Triple J newsroom are probably journalism or Arts graduates, but surely they should have a better grasp of basic science than that.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

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