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    Cernan Earth and Space Center

    Bad Astronomy

    Grade Level: Fifth grade and up
    Length: 40 minutes

    Based on the popular book and Web site of the same name, Bad Astronomy offers an enjoyable and informative approach to learning about the cosmos. Viewers will join author and astronomer Philip Plait as he takes a critical look at several astronomy-related myths and misconceptions to show audiences how science can be used to evaluate questionable claims. Utilizing the Cernan Center's new three-screen video projection system, star projector, and panorama projectors, Bad Astronomyis divided into several "chapters" that each describes a different myth or misconception, as follows:

    Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs)
    Bad Astronomy describes the history of UFOs, which Phil Plait prefers to call "Misidentified Flying Objects." Since most people rarely look up at the night sky, many UFO reports can be traced to the misidentification of astronomical objects or other natural phenomenon. The program describes a few famous UFO sightings that were discovered to be hoaxes, while a few others remain unexplained. However, the presence of such unexplained phenomena does not "prove" that extraterrestrials have visited Earth. The author explains that the incredibly large distances between star systems make such alien visitation unlikely, even if an advanced civilization could somehow fly in spacecraft approaching the speed of light.

    Moon Landing Hoax
    Several books, articles, and television programs have suggested that NASA faked the Apollo Moon landings, which began in 1969 with Apollo 11 and ended in 1972 with Apollo 17. This section of Bad Astronomy describes some of the "evidence" that some researchers have used to support the "anti Moon landing" point of view, including the lack of stars in Apollo photographs, the unnatural appearance of shadows in some Apollo photographs, the waving of the American flag on the airless Moon, and the impossibility of navigating to the Moon using the primitive technology of the 1960s. Each of these pieces of evidence is described and debunked by the author, and the validity of the Apollo missions is upheld.

    In the Movies
    From Star Wars and Star Trek to Armageddon and Independence Day, there have been many Hollywood movies set in space. This section of Bad Astronomy shows a typical "space battle" movie segment and asks the viewer to find whatever scientific inaccuracies they can. From the sights and sounds of space weaponry . . . to the design of future spacecraft are how they are "flown" . . . and to the density and appearance of asteroid belts, the author describes how movies are written and produced for maximum drama, often at the expense of scientific accuracy. He also explains what Earthlings should really do if an asteroid was on a collision course with Earth, and his answer bears no resemblance to Bruce Willis' actions in Armageddon.

    What's Your Sign?
    For most of human history, people have held the belief that the position of the heavenly bodies influences our lives on Earth. This section of Bad Astronomy describes how astronomy and astrology differ and the unlikelihood that celestial objects as far away as the planets could somehow exert a force large enough to affect our lives. The author performs an experiment using the birthdays of U.S. presidents and reads his own horoscope to further demonstrate that astrology is merely a set of beliefs without scientific validity. Finally, the author reminds us that science has brought forth new medical miracles, developed consumer electronics (e.g. personal computers, microwave ovens, television and cell phones), and opened up a universe of discovery to those who choose to follow it. He concludes by saying, "Welcome to science . . . you're going to like it here!"

    Bad Astronomy was written and produced by the Detroit Science Center and the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan