Arguing with a Flerf

What is a flerf?

Flerf is simply short for a flat earth fanatic, a little easier to type than the whole thing. Some may consider this derogatory, I do not particularly see it as so. Well? Maybe a little. But considering what I have been called by flerfs, I have no regrets.

Chang'e 5 Earth and Moon
The Chang’e 5 test vehicle service module took this photo of Earth and the Moon together. Credit CSNA

Our local flerf goes by the screen name of Adam Asing. That might even be his real name as there is a local musician of the same name. We have occasionally identified other screen names he uses, probably because he has been blocked under his primary alias in so many media outlets.

I would probably not normally notice Mr. Asing, except he routinely attacks the telescopes in just about any media he still has access to. As such he intentionally makes himself a target. As such I sometimes respond… It can be so much fun!

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Ancient Nothings

An ancient megalith here on Hawaiʻi? That would be cool, check this out!

A YouTube video of a supposed ancient megalith in North Kohala
The video I find linked on a local Facebook group shows a rayed structure on the ground a few miles north of Kawaihae, with lines radiating from a central point for a mile or more, an enormous compass that points at destinations near and far from the islands.

It is a striking feature, but it is quite the jump to claim that this is a geoglyph created by an ancient civilization.

The video explains that the feature is 120,000 years old based on the geologic datings of the lava flows on the western slope of the Kohala. Part of this dating is based on a map of the island inscribed around the compass.

I know this area fairly well, even know some of the local ranchers, I find the evidence provided by the video a bit lacking. There are more than a few real archaeological remains in the area, remains of the rich Hawaiian culture that existed in the area before western contact.

As soon as I looked at the Google satellite imagery I had a pretty good idea of what I was looking at. A few moments of research confirmed my suspicions… The pattern on the ground is a paddock system used to control cattle movements in a section of range land. I am a bit disappointed, but not really surprised.

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Viewing the ISS

Occasionally we get phone calls. People have an astronomy question and decide to call an observatory to get an answer. I would caution that this is generally not the best way to get an answer, Googling the question or looking it up on Wikipedia is much more likely to result in a usable answer. Usually our front desk will politely defer the caller to some other source, Shelly is very good at doing this.

The International Space Station and the docked space shuttle Endeavour
The International Space Station and the docked space shuttle Endeavour

Shelly is also a very nice lady who occasionally takes pity on some caller. Or the caller is very polite and asks very nicely. Often she forwards the call to me, knowing that I can usually answer these sort of questions.

What sort of telescope can be used to view the ISS?

At least the question did not involve aliens or NASA cover-ups, those question would have gotten the polite brush off from Shelly.

For someone who is inexperienced in using telescopes this not the easy place to start. Most of us who have been using telescopes for decades usually do not even try to do this. The space station is quite small and would require higher magnification to see well. It is also moving quite quickly across the sky. The combination of these two factors makes viewing the ISS a real challenge, to put it politely!

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The Portents of ISON

Comets have long been regarded as omens of extraordinary portent. Novae, eclipses, conjunctions, anything seen in the sky can serve in this role, but bright comets have always held a special awe.

C/2007N3 Lulin
Comet C/2007 N3 Lulin on the morning of 22 Feb 2009
Even today those who seek signs are quick to seize upon any unusual astronomical event. A few months ago it was meteors, events over Chelyabinsk grabbing the attention. With ISON entering the inner solar system the attention shifts.

Bright comets are invariably seen as omens by some. History is littered with stories of comets and prophesies. This has not changed, there are many recent examples… Hale-Bopp, Hyakutake, Elenin, each has been used to make all manner of wild predictions. Comet C/2012 S1 ISON certainly fits the role. It will most likely be quite bright, easily visible without optical aid. It may even be visible in the daytime.

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The SuperMoon is Back

I saw it on Facebook first, shared by a family member… The meme that will not die…

SuperMoon Hype
The usual Super Moon hype as found on Facebook, source unknown
SuperMoon is back!

The claims are the usual… The Moon will be huge in the sky. The Moon will be closer than is has been in some huge time span.

There is some truth here, the June full Moon will be a bit bigger and brighter than usual. And it will be closer to the Earth than it has been in a long time, if you consider 27.5 days to be a long time.

The SuperMoon meme exaggerates the truth to varying degrees.

It all relates to lunar apogee and perigee. As the Moon’s orbit is elliptical, it does get a little further and closer during each orbit, but the difference is fairly minor, the distance varies from 405,000km (251,000miles) to 360,000km (223,000miles) from the Earth. This difference in distance results in the Moon appearing up to 12% larger at perigee compared to apogee. For a better explanation you can go to another post that explains this more fully, with graphics.

12% difference, noticeable if you look close, but hardly a “SuperMoon”.

The Moon passes through perigee, the closest point every 27.5 days, about once each orbit. Not a very long time. But SuperMoon only occurs if perigee happens to coincide with full Moon. As these two cycles are usually out of sync with each other people do not usually notice. About once a year the two cycles coincide and we get a slightly larger, brighter full Moon… The SuperMoon. Interesting, but not as dramatic as the hype.

Lunar Apogee & Perigee
The apparent size of the moon as seen at perigee versus apogee
Another theme that pops up in the SuperMoon meme is a prediction for more earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. I found this one again touted in some YouTube video on the June 2013 full Moon. This claim would at least seem to be somewhat logical, lunar tidal forces do have notable effects on the Earth.

Geologists have studied the lunar earthquake/volcano possibility for decades with varying results. Indeed, some older studies seemed to indicate a link. More recent studies have pretty much ruled out any association, better data associated with more instrumentation and improved worldwide coverage has shown that if there is any effect it is quite small.

Besides, if there were a link, the earthquakes should occur every 27.5 days as the Moon passes through perigee, they do not. There is no reason to make anything special of the full Moon/perigee synchronicity.

June 23rd will offer a nice, bright full Moon. A great time to take a moonlit walk, or a night dive. Ignore the scaremongers, and use this as an excuse to enjoy our beautiful universe.