Starts With A Bang! » Blog info Ethan Siegel's blog/video blog about Cosmology, the Universe, and everything else Sat, 04 Apr 2009 20:12:38 +0000 en Scientific Arguments Tue, 13 May 2008 18:04:25 +0000 ethan Sometimes, I publish things on this website that are not entirely correct (and when I do, I’ll own up to it). Sometimes other people do on theirs. There are bad ways and good ways to argue these points, ranging from name-calling to explicitly explaining where the flaws are in one’s arguments, and what the corrections are.

And I had no idea how I was going to articulate this. But then Lucas pointed this chart out to me, and it does a better job of explaining it than I ever could.

You know who could explain this? Captain Picard. Imagine you got to be a Starfleet officer. Here’s what he has to say about searching for the truth:

The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth or historical truth or personal truth! It is the guiding principle on which Starfleet is based! If you can’t find it within yourself to stand up and tell the truth about what happened, you don’t deserve to wear that uniform!

And at the end of the day, that’s what we’re after. If you disagree with what I’ve written (or anyone else, ever, for that matter), try to do it in a way that brings us closer to the truth. I’ll continue to do my absolute best to respect all of you in the same exact way.

Carnival Of Space: Movie Edition Thu, 01 May 2008 12:28:17 +0000 ethan The one-year anniversary edition of the Carnival of Space is up at Why Homeschool? If only more homeschoolers were into space, Astronomy, and science in general, the United States would be a far superior place, I’m sure!

Thanks to Henry Cate for starting the Carnival and coming back to host it one year later! My post on a black hole getting kicked out of our galaxy is up there; check it out and find out what’s going on in outer space!

Video Killed the Radio Star! Fri, 11 Apr 2008 06:46:14 +0000 ethan

In my mind, and in my car,
we can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far,
pictures came and broke your heart,
put the blame on VTR.

And for those of you who are under the age of 25, VTR stands for Video Tape Recorder. This was the Buggles, who made the first music video that ever appeared on MTV, back when MTV played music videos. (I wonder what the last music video on MTV was? My guess is California Love by Tupac and Dre back in 1996. At least, that’s probably the last music video that I’ve ever seen on MTV.)

But why all this? Because I wanted to tell you about my appearance on The Space Show this past Tuesday! That’s right, I made it to the radio airwaves! Dr. David Livingston, the host, was really good to me, and even wrote this neat synopsis of me. But I didn’t know what the show would actually be like. So here’s my overview (of what I remember).

He was really nice in prepping me, telling me how it was going to go, and that he was going to start off by asking me what the difference was between astrophysics and cosmology. So I had time to think of that while he started his show and introduced me. (It was a very nice introduction.) Then I talked with him for a bit, and he asked me about astrophysics and cosmology, so I told him what I had thought up in that time: that astrophysics is about how all the stuff that we see in the sky works, but cosmology is about what it is that’s out there, and how it got to be that way. (Also, that nobody thinks you do hair, nails and makeup if you say you’re an astrophysicist.)

And then he started taking calls. I was a little perplexed, because I got a lot of calls about global warming, and as my friend Brian says, I had to put on my “scientist” hat instead of my “astrophysicist” hat. Really, I had to put on my “I’m an informed amateur” hat, as opposed to my “I’m really an expert professional” hat. But I did my best, and thought I did pretty well. And then came the roughest question of the night: I was asked to comment on the “fact” that the Earth is 6000 years old. The questioner was sure to let me know that he was a religious New York Jew.

Well, for those of you who don’t know from my bio page where it says I’m from New York, and from my last name, Siegel, I, too, am a New York Jew. And let me tell you, I am in some pretty esteemed company here… people who’ve accomplished great things… men like Carl Sagan, Alan Greenspan, and Robert Downey, Jr.

So I told him one way that we know the Universe has to be at least billions of years old; from the fact that we see light from objects that are billions of light-years away. And over the course of the 90 minutes, we got a lot of interesting questions, including one which really made me think, about the famous gamma-ray burst that we were able to see with our naked eyes, even though it went off 7.5 billion light years away!

And so all in all it was a good time, even though I had my rough spots, like when he asked me for a parting thought! (Oops! Next time, I’ll know to have one in advance.) But he told me he’d love to have me back, and I’d love the chance to do it again. If you’re a fan of his show or a fan of this site, make sure to send your questions in to him the next time I’m going to be on, and see if your question can make it to us live on the air! Thanks to everyone who listened, and, of course, a big thanks to David Livingston (not the one you presume), the host of the space show!

This is a very old picture of him; it’s amazing what you can find on the internet! Thanks David! And, as a renowned cosmologist, I’d like to talk to you about that hairdo…

Ethan on the Radio Tonight! Tue, 08 Apr 2008 09:05:14 +0000 ethan Tonight, from 7:00 PM - 8:30 PM Pacific Time, I will be Dr. David Livingston’s guest on his radio program, The Space Show! I have no idea how it’s going to go or if I’ll be able to communicate clearly on an audio-only format, as I’ve never tried before, but I’m really looking forward to the experience.

You can listen live via internet radio by going to at the appropriate time, or by heading to the RSS feed afterwards and downloading the episode. Don’t forget to leave your comments if you listen to it!

The right job for Ethan? Fri, 04 Apr 2008 18:04:35 +0000 ethan First things first: this week’s Carnival of Space is up at Brian Wang’s site, Next Big Future. You can find my post on Mars or Arizona? up there.

Now, what comes next for me, since I don’t like it here in Arizona? Well, the Dangerman audition didn’t work out (I never heard back), and I’ve been scoping out the Portland, OR area, which could work out well. But I got an email earlier this week about a job vacancy at ESO (the European Southern Observatories). They are looking for someone to take on the role of being head of the ESO public outreach office! Really, this would be a wonderful job for me, and I would be a great fit for it. Consider that this is what they’re looking for:

Education: A University degree in science, preferably in astronomy/astrophysics combined with public outreach training or equivalent.

Experience: The candidate should have a proven record in scientific public outreach work and be well acquainted with astronomy. A familiarity with, and an aptitude to use effectively, modern communication techniques are expected. A very good knowledge of - and particularly an ability to write - English is required. Knowledge of another language, especially German or Spanish would be an advantage.

Key Competences:

  • Provides clear, concise and timely oral and written communications, identifying the key issues, examining options and proposing way ahead.
  • Is able to speak to colleagues at all levels, external contacts and the public and can explain a complex and technical subject in terms the non-specialist can understand.
  • Sets clear performance standards for staff and makes it clear what is expected of them, both
    as team and as individuals.
  • Understands the dynamics of team relationships and is able to bring out the best of teams (sic) members.

Well, what do I have to offer?

  • Education: A Ph.D. in Astrophysics while working presently on a Masters in Education in Science Outreach.
  • Experience: A proven scientific track record in research, a proven record as an educator at the University and high school levels, and experience doing public outreach, including giving public lectures, networking with educators, and, oh, writing and running this website! English is my mother tongue and I’m also fairly proficient in Spanish.
  • Key Competences: Clear and concise communications? Check. Ability to communicate with people of all levels effectively (including about things as esoteric and complicated as, say, theoretical cosmology)? Check. As for the leadership and managerial skills? Oh, I have them, no problem; anyone who’s met me or worked with me can attest to that.

The only weakness on my application is that I don’t have demonstrated on-the-job managerial experience, unless you count managing over 100 students per semester. It’s hard reaching for a job like this at such a young age. Well, that, and I’m an American, and the US is not a member nation of ESO.

And what would I tell people I’m doing? “Yeah, I’m the head of public outreach for all of the European Observatories in the Southern Hemisphere. No big deal.” I sent in my application already, even though they aren’t due until May 31st. Here’s hoping it works out well; wish me luck!

Mark your calendars: April 8th Sun, 02 Mar 2008 17:08:03 +0000 ethan Well, it’s not technically a weekend diversion, but something awesome happened in the wake of my recent Awards-show posting of the Carnival of Space. David Livingston, a blogger over at Space Cynics and a radio host of The Space Show, has invited me to be his guest on his April 8th broadcast of his show!

So get ready to listen up, because this is going to be available worldwide for download! I’ll definitely have an entry for you after the recording to let you know how it goes and what we talked about, but I hope to get to talk about all the things that excite me about doing this, including space, the solar system, dark matter, dark energy, the big bang, and so much more! I’ve answered most of the questions that would be good for a general audience that you guys have sent me, so send me more!

Carnival of Space #43: Oscar Edition Thu, 28 Feb 2008 04:36:44 +0000 ethan It’s been a spectacular week for the film space industry, and here at Starts With A Bang!, we’ve got the recap of all the highlights that you may have missed while watching the countless Oscar montages. Take your time browsing and enjoying this site, and maybe even find out what the question is if 42 is the answer! And now, without further ado, here are the winners from the 43rd Carnival of Space, as chosen by Ethan Siegel, your magnanimous host of this week’s Carnival (and check out all previous carnivals here):

Made it this far? Take a good look around the site and enjoy! Have any questions about astronomy/physics/cosmology? Drop me a line and check back; it’s your good questions that keep me writing. Thanks for visiting this week’s Carnival of Space! Did you like it? Digg it!

Great things await you online… Fri, 15 Feb 2008 13:45:33 +0000 ethan Three awesome things are going on today for you, and I invite you to check them all out:

  1. The latest Carnival of Space is live, where you have your choice of 23 different astronomical topics to choose from. Of course, my post this week on galaxies and how they’re made is on there, too!
  2. Pamela L. Gay, cohost of Astronomy Cast, blogger of Star Stryder and all-around great person, saw a press release this week about whether we need dark matter and dark energy. The answer, of course, is yes, but since I’m an expert on that stuff, she came to me and asked me to give my analysis of the scientific articles. You can find my first guest post on her blog here.
  3. I found the perfect job advertisement for myself: hosting a science-based TV show! The concept is that I would be Dangerman, putting my life in the hands of science and performing stunts that would otherwise be life-ending. This would be great for me because I wouldn’t do this crazy stuff unless I was confident I would live, and so I’d be great at convincing the audience that, against the odds, I ought to survive. I think I could bring a perspective that it isn’t about having faith in science, it’s about understanding the way the world works that would allow me to live through those stunts. Plus, I love doing crazy stunts!

So seriously, go read the Carnival of Space, go read my guest post over on Star Stryder, and go email Annabel Rafferty and tell her that I would make a wonderful Dangerman!

Setting up for the Blogosphere Thu, 17 Jan 2008 22:51:43 +0000 admin In preparation for the launch of, I am attempting to embed a video I had found on youtube, of the slow-motion ignition of a lighter.  


How does this work?  The video demonstrates that to make something very simple happen (to get a sustained, controlled flame out of a compact piece of equipment), a lot of thought needs to go into how it’s made, and what each step is going to accomplish.  A lighter works by the following:

  1. Flint and steel rub together (that’s turning the wheel) to create very high temperatures along the metal shavings, which fly off in many directions.  
  2. The metal conducts heat well enough to get very hot, but the individual shavings, interacting only with the air, remain quite hot, and can glow for up to about a quarter of a second.
  3. The hydrocarbon gas (which flows up from the spout when the lever is pressed) enters the volume where the very hot metal shavings are.
  4. The gas has a low ignition point, and when it approaches close enough to the hot metal shavings, they ignite, so long as there’s enough oxygen around.
  5. The ignition causes a large release of energy, significant enough to light all of the remaining gas in the neighborhood, which expands, rises, and cools.
  6. Finally, the excess gas completely burns off, leaving only the gas from the spout continuing to burn, as the air directly over the lighter is hot enough (and oxygenated enough) to cause continued ignition.

Neat!  You can see the different colors of fire that result from the different temperatures, and you can see how, if it weren’t for three or four specific metal shards, the lighter wouldn’t have lit!  Of course I think everything is better in slow motion