Tuesday, June 1, 2010

216th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society

I've been busy the past few weeks on family business, vacation travel, and the 216th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting in Miami, FL.  As part of the vacation, we visited Key West and Kennedy Space Center.

For the AAS meeting, I converted some of my “Cosmos In Your Pocket” material into a poster which generated a fair amount of interest and suggestions for expanding and publicizing the effort. 

I participated in a number of informal discussions on pseudo-science issues with several attendees with whom I hope to develop some useful collaborations.  A growing number of science professors working in classroom environments have begun integrating lessons dealing with pseudoscience issues into their regular courses.  In discussions with some scientists at major scientific facilities, just the mention that I explored crank science issues elicited numerous stories of encounters with advocates of some astronomy-related crank science.

There was a poster presentation by some individuals from Bob Jones University with Danny Faulkner (University of South Carolina, Lancaster) as one of the co-authors.  Dr. Faulkner is a Young-Earth Creationist who is a graduate of Bob Jones University.  In spite of several visits to this poster, I did not get a chance to speak to the authors(s).  A copy of the content was available and I took one for further examination.  The poster was a description of observations of an eclipsing binary star, FY Bootis.  The poster appeared to be an analysis of the orbital elements of the binary system using the standard tools used by astronomers, and I could find no insinuations or implications of any significantly different cosmological interpretations.

I saw no posters by individuals identifiable as supporters of Electric Universe claims.  However, there were numerous posters on studies on plasmas in space and the laboratory so the popular EU claim that astronomers ignore effects of electromagnetism in space just keeps sounding more and more hollow.
I attended a public talk, sponsored by the AAS & AIP, of the Gemant Award (Puerto Rican-Uruguayan astronomer Daniel Altschuler wins AIP's 2010 Gemant Award).  The title was “Science, Pseudoscience and Education”, presented by Dr. Daniel Altschuler (NAIC-Arecibo Observatory).   Dr. Altschuler advocated, as I have, using pseudoscience as a teaching tool.

I sat in on Gerrit Verschuur's (University of Memphis) presentation of correlations between high-velocity HI clouds and WMAP 'blobs' (On the Association between WMAP and Galactic Neutral Hydrogen Small-scale Structure).  The basic thesis appears to be that some WMAP bright points, or “hot spots”, appear correlated with regions which may be collisions between high-velocity HI clouds.  The collision ionizes some of the hydrogen and the free electrons create emission in the bands where WMAP can detect it.  Some groups supporting alternative cosmologies (including some which are clearly pseudo-science) have tried to use Dr. Verschuur's work as evidence against the Big Bang.  From the presentation, it was unclear if the exclusion of these hot spots (if indeed they are created by cloud collisions) would sufficiently alter the WMAP power spectrum to create problems for the Big Bang cosmological model.

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