Science Illiteracy at the Star-Advertiser

We do like it when Keck Observatory is featured in the local papers. We are proud of the ‘scopes and take notice when we get some good press. The Star-Advertiser is the major daily paper for Honolulu and much of the state. I have even had some of my photographs published in the paper. Another article about Keck appeared today, but this time they simply display their ignorance of basic science.

Keck telescope helps discover 3 small planets outside Milky Way

The headline quickly had my attention. Exoplanet discoveries are coming fast with the Kepler Spacecraft / Keck Observatory team confirming alien worlds at a breakneck pace. It was the “outside the Milky Way” part that had my attention. I had no idea our current technology was capable of that! KOI-961 is a red-dwarf, a small, fairly dim class of star. It is difficult to even detect these stars at great distances, much less get the data needed to confirm orbiting planets. Something wrong here.

I double checked other sources… KOI-961 is actually fairly close to us in galactic terms, a mere 130 light years away. Given that the Milky Way Galaxy is well over 100,000 light years across, it puts KOI-961 well inside our galaxy. The article is actually reasonable, it appears to have simply taken the information from a press release, hard to screw up a cut and paste job. The headline however is where they stumbled hard.

Someone at the Star-Advertiser needs to take a basic astronomy course. Or maybe, simply check Wikipedia!

Update… They have fixed it. I forwarded the link to Larry O’Hanlon, the Keck PIO, whom I work with regularly. He called the S-A and apparently pointed out the issue. I would have loved to listen in on that conversation. The headline and text are edited now on the S-A website, but I kept a screenshot…

 

Outside the Milky Way?  Not really...
Outside the Milky Way? Not really...

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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