Friday, June 20, 2008

arts graduates

Dawkins is wrong, wrong, wrong. The enemy of science is not religion, it's arts graduates. (Well actually it's probably corporate greed, but today it's arts graduates.)

On the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning, there was an item about the acquisition of an important meteorite by the Natural History Museum. One of the presenters said they didn't know the difference between a comet and a meteor, and everyone else in the studio said that they didn't either. If they had said they didn't know the difference between a meteor and a meteorite, that would have been fair enough. Or even if they had been embarrassed about not knowing - but no, they were quite pleased with themselves!

I expect they would laugh at people who didn't know the difference between, say, Cézanne and Monet; but they seem to think it's fine not to understand a fairly basic piece of science. Nor is this a one-off incident; similar things have happened several times on the Today programme (like the time someone felt the need to point out that the Earth orbits the Sun).

It's simple really - a comet is a big ball of dirt and ice which has an elliptical orbit around the sun, which acquires a tail and a coma due to the ice melting as it gets closer to the sun; and a meteor is a shooting star (a small piece of space debris, often a fragment of asteroid) that has a decaying orbit and gets caught in the Earth's gravitational field and burns up on entry to the atmosphere.

Balador checked that the above was correct by going to a helpful NASA FAQ page, which has a neat little table:
Asteroid A relatively small, inactive, rocky body orbiting the Sun.
Comet A relatively small, at times active, object whose ices can vaporize in sunlight forming an atmosphere (coma) of dust and gas and, sometimes, a tail of dust and/or gas.
Meteoroid A small particle from a comet or asteroid orbiting the Sun.
Meteor The light phenomena which results when a meteoroid enters the Earth's atmosphere and vaporizes; a shooting star.
Meteorite A meteoroid that survives its passage through the Earth's atmosphere and lands upon the Earth's surface.


Bo said...

Bloody hell. As the son of two scientists and an arts graduate, I understand this all too well.

Yvonne said...

Of course I am equally annoyed by scientists who know nowt about art and literature...

(Also I bet you knew the difference between a comet and a meteor.)

Bo said...

I do, yes! ;)