Wednesday, February 01, 2006

AP continues to screw up, this time in science writing

I like to pick on MSM reporters because of their general sanctimoniousness and superiority complex. I also love to read blogs by non-journalists in professional fields because those are the people who generally know what they are talking about - as one would prefer that one's teacher actually majored in the subject being taught, and not in "Education" or some other such non-subject.

That's why it is all the more fun to point out mistakes from specialized journalists who are supposed to have special knowledge in a particular field. I have no idea who Alicia Chang from the AP is, but I do know she screwed up big time in her story about the 10th "planet" recently discovered.

The basic story is fascinating - an astronomer at Cal Tech, Michael Brown, discovered an object in orbit around the Sun that is both larger and further away than Pluto. For now, it is called UB313, but Mr. Brown named it Xena. Now, the prior debate about whether Pluto is really a planet, and hence, whether Xena is also a planet, is heating up.

But then, Ms. Chang drops this bomb at the end of her article: "If it is determined to be the 10th planet, it would be the farthest-known body in the solar system."

Uh, no, unless she meant "body" to mean "planet" and "solar system" to only include planets.

You see, both Pluto and Xena are Kuiper Belt objects. The Kuiper Belt has many thousands of relatively large "bodies" (larger than 100km in diamater) and many more thousands of smaller bodies. I highly doubt that Xena is the furthest Kuiper Belt object.

But even if it is, there is another class of objects much further out than Kuiper Belt objects - long period comets. These comets spend most of their lives in the Oort Cloud. These Oort Cloud comets are the "farthest-known bodies in the solar system," not Xena.


Post a Comment

<< Home