Getting two experts to talk about astronomy
August 19, 2006 10:13 AM   Subscribe

In a week or so, I'm going to visit a mountain observatory with two friends who are astronomy buffs. I will audio document their on-site conversations. What provocative things could I say to kick-start their interaction?

I need a few "sparks" and I'm confident my two friends will then engage in a lively dialogue. Because they're passionate, for one, and also because they don't agree on everything.

What I say doesn't have to be intelligent. It will probably be edited out !

Like: I bet we're not event close to knowing how old the universe is; what's the definition of a planet and why is tiny Pluto called a planet; is there anything faster than light; was the moon originally part of the earth; why did the ancients arbitrarily name Venus Venus and Mars Mars and not the other way around; which is the best observatory in the world; if Galileo Galilei was alive today, what would he say about the progress made in the field of astronomy...

I know the guided tour will certainly raise many topics.

But I'm going to press record long before the tour starts.

Any thoughts...?
posted by amusem to Science & Nature (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ask them what they think the Hubble constant is. Could be 50, could be 100, depending on to whom you talk.
posted by adipocere at 10:16 AM on August 19, 2006

You could ask them their opinions on dark matter.
posted by quin at 10:28 AM on August 19, 2006

You could discuss the upcoming August 24 IAU meeting where they'll vote on the definition of what constitutes a planet. If they approve the new definition then Pluto's moon will become its own planet, and in time our own moon could even be defined as a planet.

Don't ask me to explain all that, I read it on CNN.
posted by tetsuo at 10:32 AM on August 19, 2006

"If you both discovered a comet at the same time, who would get the credit?"

"Isn't government money spent on astronomy just a waste?"

"Why should most of us care about light pollution?"

"Have you ever made out in an observatory?"
posted by LarryC at 10:38 AM on August 19, 2006

Good ones. Light pollution question is a sure-fire. (This is where we're going.)
posted by amusem at 11:12 AM on August 19, 2006

Is the SETI program a waste of time? (In light of the the "Fermi paradox"- i.e. if intelligent life is so probabalistically common [see Drake equation], where is everybody?)
posted by Rufus T. Firefly at 11:32 AM on August 19, 2006

Try something like this: "Pluto sure is a lame-ass joke of a planet, huh?"
posted by adamrice at 11:47 AM on August 19, 2006

Property rights on the moon and mars. That always gets me fired up. Nuks in space.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:47 AM on August 19, 2006

"Setting aside the incredible vastness of the universe for a second, what's left to figure out about our own solar system?"
posted by frogan at 12:46 PM on August 19, 2006

You're going up on a mountain observatory - focus on what you can see there, and talk about that.

You're probably not seeing much of what goes into cosmology, as fascinating as that is, so ignore how old the universe is and ignore dark matter (these are my professional interests, so I'm not dismissing them because I think they're uninteresting - far from it).

Focus instead on the stars and the galaxy. What people at home can see from their own telescopes. Talk about how big the galaxy is, how you don't see most stars in it because dust gets in the way. Talk about supernovae (as now and again people can see them quite easily), and from there maybe kick off into more cosmological stuff.

But at the end of the day, I'd remember that when you look up you're going to see stars in our own galaxy, and for that reason I'd talk about them first, and only if you have time let them lead on to things beyond that.

Really, the sky at a mountain observatory will be totally amazing compared to that in the city. It'll be a sky full of stars. Make the most of it.
posted by edd at 3:13 PM on August 19, 2006

Whatever your topic of astro-preference might be, I'd phrase your questions in the form of:
"Tell me about..."
"Talk about..."

Especially if you're not planning on having your voice or question be part of the recording. Instead of asking a 'yes/no' question, ask something open-ended, and let them take it from there.
posted by jazzkat11 at 5:41 PM on August 19, 2006

"What do you imagine is the best way to have zero gravity sex?"
posted by paulsc at 7:15 PM on August 19, 2006

NASA is a waste of money when there are people starving on earth. Discuss.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:24 PM on August 19, 2006

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