Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Friday, June 29, 2007

I dunno if it's the dumbest, but it's certainly up there.

Blogging pal Plain(s)feminist is participating in a new meme over on her blog that I feel compelled to pass on. Specifically, the meme is as follows:

"For this meme, I'm going to ask you to answer three (hopefully not dumb) questions: What is the dumbest question you have ever been asked? Why was it dumb? And, even though it won't help, because answering a dumb question never does, what's the answer? (Or, as I like to think of them: The Big Dumb Question, The Big Dumb Reason, and The Big Dumb Answer.)"


To preface this you need to understand that for a time in college I served as the lab assistant for an astronomy course. I had, and still have, a strong amateur interest in space and astronomy so the professor offered me the position when his only truly qualified assistant quit. My duties were pretty simple- pick up/drop off the vans for the lab sections, assist with telescope operation, lead study sessions, and help with in-class lab assignments. It was during one of these in-class labs, when the students were using planetarium software to do a worksheet, that I encountered my answer to this meme.

(1) What is the dumbest question you have ever been asked?

"Is that when the constellations enter the Earth's atmosphere?"

(2) Why was it dumb?

Well, constellations are groups of stars that form a pattern when viewed from the Earth. Leaving aside the fact that the constituent stars in a constellation are often separated by tremendous distances and are not actually related to one another,* there's the simple fact that constellations are composed of stars. Stars are enormously hot, enormously massive balls of gas. The smallest stars are vastly larger than the Earth. Thus, constellations couldn't enter the Earth's atmosphere because, if for no other reason, our world would be ripped apart by tidal stress and plunged into hot fiery death first.

(3) What is the answer?

Well, the short answer is "No." The longer answer is what I wrote above. The answer I actually gave at the time was to stop, scratch my head, and comment, "I really need to take a minute here guys because, just to ask that question, there has to be so much that you don't understand, I'm not even sure where to start." Perhaps not the kindest response but, hey, I was just starting.

Anyone who wants to continue this particular meme, be my guest.


* Imagine you're in a city looking at a sky scraper in the distance and a small house just in front of you. The two appear together because they're in the same direction, but are so widely separated that they aren't truly geographically proximate. The same is often true of the stars in constellations.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Lim Leng Hiong said...

I have a similar story about star-gazing. Back when Pluto was a planet, whenever there was an interesting astronomical event (say comets) I would set up my 80mm telescope for the public to view it. Sometimes we would look at brighter planets such as Jupiter and Saturn.

A question I often get is:
(1) Can you see Pluto?
(2) It's dumb in two ways.
a. The sky glow conditions in Singapore is so bad that the limiting magnitude doesn't allow the viewing of dim objects. You just get an orange glow in your scope.
b. Pluto is so dim that it is dimmer than many background stars. Even if the sky was perfectly clear and I had a huge telescope, all one could see would be a dim spark among hundreds of others. In order to confirm which dim spark is Pluto you'd need to take time-lapsed photos to see which one moves and point it out with an arrow.
(3)The short answer is "No, and it wouldn't look impressive at all."

Another dumb question I get is "If you point the telescope at a cloud will you see water molecules?"

Heh.

You have funny and intelligent team blog. I write a science blog called Fresh Brainz mainly about evolutionary biology and some astronomy as well.

Would you like to exchange blog links?

Best regards!

Monday, July 02, 2007 12:43:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...

Hey Lim,

Ugh. "Can I see water molecules?" Good lord.

Normally, I don't do link exchanges but, having looked over your blog, I think I'll make an exception. Welcome to the blogroll!

Monday, July 02, 2007 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger Lim Leng Hiong said...

Hi Drek,

Thanks for the link. Much appreciated!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007 1:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Susan said...

When I worked on Disney property:

"What time does the three-o'clock parade start?"

"..."

Wednesday, July 04, 2007 1:36:00 PM  

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