Saturday, November 15, 2008

Press mystery solved?

We now have the first photograph of a planet outside of our own solar system, taken by astronomer Paul Salas of UC-Berkeley using the Hubble telescope:

In that picture, it's the teensie-weensie spot highlighted in the box. The spot that here looks about the size of George W. Bush's good judgment. Not yet having been awarded the name of a Roman god, this newly-photographed planet goes by the name Fomalhaut b.

Could this be where the cohort of pod people that we call our national press corps originates?

Of course, since this post is about science, I feel obligated to say that there is no actual direct evidence of the existence of pod people from outer space. So, as attractive an explanation as it is of the emminently strange conduct of our Big Pundits to assume that they are invaders from Fomalhaut b, it doesn't qualify as a reality-based explanation.

The UC-Berkeley Web site has an article describing the "exoplanet" in language that we non-physicists can understand, Hubble snaps first optical photo of exoplanet by Robert Sanders 11/13/08:

Only 25 light years from Earth, the planet - probably close to the mass of Jupiter - orbits the star Fomalhaut at a distance about four times that between Neptune and the sun. Formally known as Fomalhaut b, the planet could have a ring system about the dimension of Jupiter's early rings, before the dust and debris coalesced into the four Galilean moons.

The planet's existence was suspected in 2005, when images [astronomer Paul] Kalas took with the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys showed a sharply defined inner edge to the dust belt around Fomalhaut, in the southern constellation Piscus Austrinus (southern fish). The sharp edge and off-center belt suggested to Kalas that a planet in an elliptical orbit around the star was shaping the inner edge of the belt, much like Saturn's moons groom the edges of its rings.
Some of the more technical material is available at the Science Express site, including this short piece by Mark Marley of the NASA Ames Research Center, Exoplanets - Seeing Is Believing.

The following is a NASA illustration (not a photo) of Fomalhaut b:

Direct photographic images of pods from Fomalhaut b replacing human TV pundits have not yet been obtained.

However, circumstantial evidence of their existence and activity remains strong. For example, on the PBS Newshour of 11/14/08, Jim Lehrer quizzed Big Pundit regulars David Brooks (the conservative) and Mark Shields (nominal liberal) about the idea, popular among the Establishment press, that President-elect Obama might want to keep Republican Defense Secretary and Bush family ally Robert Gates on for a while as his Secretary of Defense.

Now, to regular Democrats who want get the US out of Iraq, this notion sounds like raving idiocy. Not to mention that little military attack into Syria a few days ago. An attack which may well have been a war crime in itself and which certainly showed bad judgment on the part of everyone involved in it, including Secretary Gates. Or if, as Robert Fisk has suggested as a possibility, it was a rogue operation, that in itself should be cause for the Gates' immediate resignation.

Here's how the exchange about Gates went on the Newshour, in its entirety:

JIM LEHRER: Quickly, what about the idea of keeping Bob Gates on as secretary of defense? Is that a good idea?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it's a good idea.

JIM LEHRER: What about you?

DAVID BROOKS: That's an excellent idea, if he'll do it.
Pod people from Fomalhaut b: it's the best explanation I've heard so far!

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