Astronomy students say the strangest things!


These are genuine, unexpurgated snippets from my introductory astronomy classes at the University of Alabama. This certainly demolishes my illusions of teaching effectiveness, but does give almost enough material for a "Universe according to Student Bloopers" collection. Usually I can tell what went in and became garbled, but some of these I can't figure out at all.


A radio telescope often sends messages to the astronomer by the use of frequencies.

The gravity of the earth while rotating receives a bulge on the sides due to the speed of the earth and in what relation the moon is to the earth. When the ocean waters become full to capacity it overflows upon the beaches. After the earth rotates the oceans can hold that water again and the beaches become dry. The two bulges are directly opposite each other on the earth due to the relation of gravity and mass of the two direct points.

During the winter months, the Earth is higher away from the Sun so we have longer days.

During a lunar eclipse the sun is completely covered by the moon and during a lunar eclipse the moon just passes through the earth's shadow.

During lunar eclipses, the moon travels around the sun preventing light to the earth. During solar eclipses, the earth travels around the moon.

The earth's surface is closer to the moon than it is to the center of the earth.

The star starts out by being formed by gravity pushing being pushed back.

Clouds of gas and particles float throughout the atmosphere. As these processes continue the stars gain luminosity, size, distance, and energy.

Helium has no insulation, so therefore it radiates off the star and causes it to swell.

It will be several millenia before there are any significant changes in the Sun.

A main sequence star transforms into a Red Giant - the Red Giant is very hot. The Red Giant goes to the envelope magnitide and after gradual cooling, the end process is a white dwarf. A white dwarf generates no energy inside its core. This whole process can take months and sometimes years.

Mesopotamia was an area in the valley of Euphrates and Tigris river, now the region of Iraq. Much of the celestial bodies and their ways came from the people of this area. The summarians, a pre-semantic population, occupied this ancient area of land.

These smaller planets are said to be fragments produced by collisions and some of the larger ones were named by the collisions.

Some 200 years ago, X-ray astronomy was used to obtain temperatures of the atmosphere at many different altitudes.

Most impacts on the Earth's surface are impact craters.

Asteriods are minor planets that orbit the sun like a planet in the area of the solar system called the astriod belt.

A comet is an object that orbits the sun in the shape of an ellipse.

This era has experienced a new aspect of science termed Radio Astronomy, "a vile new science which stemmed from radio engineering but finally became established as a powerful complementary ally to the most ancient of the sciences".

The incredible fascination with the Milky Way has become so great that poets have even written poems about it.

Most of this reasoning lies in the fact that the Milky Way is not alone. It is part of the magnificent Milky Way Galaxy which is still being studied today.

People all around the world are fascinated with the thought that there may be extraterrestrial life on Mars.

During a solar eclipse the sun tends to stay out longer and is much more damaging - it takes longer for the earth to rotate. The lunar eclipse means less sunlight and the earth rotates faster.

Since the distance from the center of the earth to its outer edge is 4000 times farther than from the earth to the moon, the gravitational pull from the moon pulls the liquid part of our earth to a slight point.

The retrograde motions of the earth give rise to the seasons, as shown here.

During a solar eclipse, the moon passes at just the right time and distance from the moon that it appears to cover the sun.

Radio telescopes can become blurred because of the actual radio waves in motion.

"...growth of both the earth and the moon from pronto planets..."

As all the stars in the universe the Sun might have resulted from the huge cloud theory. But whatever the reason was, the Sun have been founded for at least 4.5 million years.

The Sun is one of the clearest stars to be seen on earth because it has the largest animosity.

When the possibility of life existing in other places is discussed, the plant Jupiter is left out.

In that experiment results support the theory that life once may have been present on Earth years ago.

In addition, size is very important for bacterial and fungal spores and for viruses because the distance of the organism from the star for the ratio of radiative acceleration is the same at all distances.

There is a bright side to being the first and only intelligent beings in our galaxy - we will have the chance to found the Galactic Empire!

The Hubble law for galaxy redshifts is that the Sun is the center of the universe.

A parallax are near-by stars relative to the earth's orbit (the baseline) the stellar motion is measured by a star's annual distance relative to other stars, after any effects of parallax have been rendered, and by this we can find its distance.

It is believed that neutron stars produce pulses of radio emission due to the stars absorption ability of rays in which produce this type of radio emission pulses.

When the Sun goes down, darkness illuminates the sky...

The appearance of a total solar eclipse would be very different from what we now see when we inhale this intriguing sight...

Some astronomers spent their entire lives perfecting laws that were completely useless and thus never even mentioned.

The sun provides heat for Earth as a whole, and although this may at the same time have negative effects, such as the greenhouse effect and skin cancer, it's a positive influence overall.

The effect of the gravitational force is much stronger in the ocean water than in the solid crust so the water bugles are higher.

While ultra-violent waves would allow revealing hot, excited regions, hot stars and hot gas.

The Moon's gravitational attraction is stronger on the side of the Moon which is closest to the earth and weaker on the side that we cannot see.

Even though each constellation varies in brightness and size, without the moon to light up the night sky we would not be able to examine the constellations, we probably would not even know that they existed.

Without the Moon, the fast rotating Earth would be frantic and wet.

A nasty hot/cold place that has a good life of a nasty hot/cold place that is a big rock of nothing floating around space that resembles Mars, not the earth we know today.

Uranus is very peculiar because its axis and poles are not even closely aligned.

Because of astronomy, the Greeks learned that they were not looking up to the Gods and realizing that they were looking up at the bikg dipper. If we had been here earlier, the Greeks would have known this all along.

If none of this happens and there are still stars in the Universe then they will tidally rip the planets from the sun. If this happens then astrology will no longer have a scientific basis. We will no longer have a horoscope either.

If the Sun were a red dwarf, it would have no more significant effect than any other star in our solar system.


...and so do professionals

Not to be outdone, some pretty weird stuff has shown up in the professional journals and meetings too. Watch this space for my collection (almost none actually written by me, before you get any ideas). Please send me references to any more than I've missed.


A preferable method of clarifying the situation would be the combination of observations from various viewing angles once extra-terrestial communications permit the intercomparison of data taken from various viewing directions. [G. Wallerstein, "CH Cygni: Now a Shell Star", PASP 95, 135 (1984)]

The presence of mind of Mr. F. Kosik, quick work by Ms. S. Young, and 23 quarts of hydraulic fluid kept the observatory aloft during these observations. We are grateful. [Harley Thronson et al. ApJ 280, 154 (1984)]

Old equations describing disk flex would many a reader perplex, but we've fixed up some errors and banished the terrors: our equation is _linear_ (complex). For a number of torque contributions this allows analytic solutions. With equal facility we've shown the stability resulting from viscous diffusion. [Hatchett, Begelman, and Sarazin ApJ 247, 684 (1981)]

IRAS galaxies are all chocolate chip flavored rather than vanilla flavored as heretofore suposed. This no doubt accounts for their diversity and appeal. [Vader and Simon AJ 94, 865 (1987)] (which, I understand, got them into real hot water with the editor)

Our conclusion is that we cannot satisfactorily account for the broad hump. Thus unbridled speculation is presumably in order. [Grandi and Phillips, "Large and small-scale structure in the continuum energy distributions of quasi-stellar objects and Seyfert 1 galaxies", ApJ 239, 475 (1980)]

Steep-spectrum sources, on the other hand, are usually inferred to have linear sizes of the order of kiloparsecs, and it is very difficult to see how such objects could show significant variations on astronomically relevant timescales such as the duration of a graduate student stipend or the tenure trial period of a faculty member. [Spangler and Cook, "VLA observations of steep-spectrum, variable radio sources", AJ 85, 659 (1980)]

Our picture of the current state of Iapetus has, to some extent, been anticipated on rather different grounds by Clarke (1968). We are, however, unable to substantiate his claim that the center of the bright region contains a curious dark structure. [A.F. Cook and F.A. Franklin, An explanation of the light curve of Iapetus, Icarus 13, 282 (1970)]

...preliminary estimates indicate that the alcoholic content of this cloud (Sgr B2), if purged of all impurities and condensed, would yield approximately 10^28 fifths at 200 proof. This exceeds the total amount of all of man's fermentation efforts since the beginning of recorded history. [B. Zuckerman et al., ApJLett 196, L99, March 1975; at the end of the article they appended a "Note added on proof"]

(It may also demonstrate D.W.W.'s inability to measure magnitudes on the Sky Survey). [B. Vaucher and D. Weedman, ApJ 240, 10, (1980)]

Conclusion: is left to the reader (see Table 2). Acknowledgements: I wrote this paper for money. [A.A. Chastel, A critical analysis of the explanation of red-shifts by a new field, A&A 53, 67 (1976)]

The authors regret that their AAS abstract concerning this project... was composed at a premature stage and fails to state the present striking conclusions. It should be disregarded. [Djorgovski and King ApJL 277, L49 (1984)]

No data were taken at station D during the period 0830 to 1630 GST due to the presence of a red racer snake (Coluber constrictor) draped across the high-tension wires (33,000 V) serving the station. However, even though this snake, or rather a three-foot section of its remains, was caught in the act of causing an arc between the transmission lines, we do not consider it responsible for the loss of data. Rather we blame the incompetence of a red-tailed hawk (Buteo borealis) who had apparently built a defective nest that fell off the top of the nearby transmission tower, casting her nestlings to the ground, along with their entire food reserve consisting of a pack rat, a kangaroo rat, and several snakes, with the exception of the above-mentioned snake who had a somewhat higher destiny. No comparable loss of data occurred at the other antenna sites. [N. Bartel et al. 1987, ApJ 323. 507]

Title: Testing the Hypothesis of Modified Dynamics with Low Surface Brightness Galaxies and Other Evidence Authors: Stacy McGaugh and Erwin de Blok Comments: Accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. 35 pages AAStex + 9 figures. This result surprised the bejeepers out of us, too [from LANL preprint notice astro-ph/9801102, contributed by Christina Williams Heikkila]

After having written introductory remarks for 9 elements, we must confess that this becomes a rather cumbersome exercise in style. Since we expect that this introduction will share the fate of most introductions (namely be ignored) and since there is nothing new to say on this ion (for scientific content see F I) we might as well give the few readers of this introduction some good advice :
If there is no other data source,
Use the Coulomb approximation, of course.
The results should certainly be fine
For any moderately or highly excited line.
[from Atomic Transition Probabilities: Hydrogen through Neon , NSRDS-NBS 4 (1966) by Wiese, Smith & Glennon, contributed by Aaron Sigut]

Note that once the LSR is chosen the Sun immediately begins to drift away from it, implying that we would effectively need to redefine the reference point constantly. In reality this is not a significant problem because the orbital period of the LSR (perhaps 230 million years) is very long compared to the lifetime of a typical research grant, so there is not sufficient time for the effect to become noticeable.[Carroll and Oslie, An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics, contributed by Summer Ash]

"HS's thanks also go ... to the University of Liege for taking care of his integration and for generously providing heat and electricity." [H. Sana et al., A phase-resolved XMM-Newton campaign on the colliding-wind binary HD 152248, MNRAS 350, 809, 2004; contributed by Yael Naze. I understand there is a long story behind this one.]

Weedman and Hamilton attempted photoelectric monitoring of the variable X-ray globular cluster NGC 6624 at declination -30. This project was abandoned due to limb-darkening problems caused by a maple tree adjacent to the Dyer Observatory. [Bull. A.A.S. 9, 91, 1977].

Like all astronomers, we assume that our values are the correct ones, but in fact we do not have independent evidence to show that at this time. [A. Youngblood and D. Hunter, Astrophysical Journal 519, 55, 1999]

Three out of four Seyferts surveyed prefer the brighter pair member. [Keel, Astronomical Journal 111, 696, 1996; I couldn't quite resist]

Section heading:

3. COMPARISON OF SFE IN PARIS AND ISOLATED GALAXIES
[A. Zasov and J. Sulentic, ApJ 430, 179, 1994]

Nevertheless. we acknowledge that a few per cent of the 200 Earths that Kepler is expected to find may be erroneous, and we urge travellers to confirm their hotel reservations directly before setting out to visit one of them. [J. Caldwell and W. Borucki, Bull. AAS 31, 1077, 1999]

Interpretation is cheap in astronomy because any ad hoc assumption consistent with our extensive ignorance and limited data may be used. [Condon, Helou, and Jarrett, AJ 123, 1881, 2002]

We will now go on to justify the system of dimensions that has been chosen. Readers with weak stomachs may wish to pass to the next subsection. [J.R. Fisher and R.B. Tully, ApJS, 47, 139 (quote from page 185)](Contributed by Caroline Simpson; this is a remarkably famous paper for me to have missed it for so long!)

"This is the origin of the polarization of the Comic Microwave Background Radiation (CMB) that has just been observed recently." [Zhang, Y.; Hao, H.; Zhao, W., Acta Astronomica Sinica, vol. 46, no. 1, p. 1-17] (Contributed by John Zinni)

"Although they have received relatively little attention in astronomy so far, lognormal distributions are very common in nature. They include distributions of the critical dose of a drug, grain sizes produced by both artificial and natural means, incubation periods of diseases, time to recovery from illness, time for failure of electronic and mechanical devices, times for marriage, divorce, and death, scintillation in the Earth's atmosphere, raindrop size distributions, rainfall amounts on timescales from minutes to months, cloud sizes, pollutant concentrations, the fluctuations in many economic quantities, the abundance of biological species, velocities in air, the time to solve a research problem, the lengths of telephone calls, and the distribution of word lengths in this Letter.". [C. Martin Gaskell, Lognormal X-Ray Flux Variations in an Extreme Narrow-Line Seyfert 1 Galaxy", ApJLett 612, L21, 2004]

Cataclysmics? Too trendy for my taste. [Bruce Margon, at night lunch on Kitt Peak, 20 August 1984]

Kitt Peak should look as friendly as Cerro Tololo, and be as professional as ESO looks. [S. Wolff, 1 March 1985]

And for a verbal selection, see the quotations listed by Alan Bridle from the Tuscaloosa workshop on quasars and radio galaxies. As far as I can remember, only three of those were from me...


Bill Keel's home page | UA Astronomy

keel@bildad.astr.ua.edu