Ah, Futurama! One of the few things on television that actually fact checks their science references... and takes great pleasure in ripping apart things that don't.
The recent meteor event in Russia has made me wish that newscasters and blog writers had Morbo sitting next to them whenever they made some lame joke or speculation about some scientific phenomenon.
I suppose the news stopped being objective and checking their facts a long time ago, and about more than just science, but the confidence with which newscasters and writers present their scientific "facts" really irritates me.
I don't claim to be a science expert, but it is a passion of mine. I studied astronomy and physics for a while and almost made a career out of it. You don't have to get that far into science, though, to know how to do a quick cross-referenced Google search. And if you are about to explain some scientific phenomenon to a worried public, you should consult a scientist. Otherwise, you end up saying stupid things like this:
(Please ignore the fact that this video clip is coming from a UFO playlist- it is a very much identified falling object.) First of all "I tracked those meteors..." No you didn't. You simply did a Google search to see if there were any meteor showers that happened to be taking place when the footage was captured. Also, meteors don't actually come from constellations, they just appear to. Constellations are apparent arrangements of stars many light years away, not throwers of fireballs. And while the name "Quadrands Muralis" is obsolete, constellations do not "go extinct." We just decide we don't like them anymore. Then we have "they are often hard to see because the northern sky is usually cloudy." That's right. Clouds like to gather in the north... for... strategic... science purposes. Forget that "The Northern Sky" is relative to where you are standing and... you know what, I'm not even going to dignify that statement with further commenting.
Actually, the women who were joking around were absolutely right! This was, in fact, a Russian rocket body that entered the Earth's atmosphere, broke into pieces and fell to the ground. I suspected it was something like this the first time I saw this footage. First of all, it is moving pretty slowly. Meteors streak and burn up quite a bit faster than this. Secondly, if you compare the colors and the shapes of the fragments to actual man-made objects burning in the atmosphere (sadly, the Columbia footage comes to mind), this what it looks like.
Then the facepalm moment. "I mean you know it all, Tomer. YOU'RE OUR METEOROLOGIST?!" A. Meteorology is not astronomy. B. Please see my comment about "northern clouds." An actual weather scientist should know better.
The reason the recent Russia event reminded me of this was that I am getting sick of every streak of light being attributed to a "meteor shower." I wish the above footage is what a meteor shower looked like! It would make those chilly early morning trips to the mountains so much more exciting than the 10-15 quick streaks you actually end up seeing.
Early reports of the Russian meteor were that it was a meteor shower or even... meteor rain? I'm sure everyone has seen the footage a million times at this point, but here it is again:
Okay, some quick vocabulary (from NASA):
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.
So, an asteroid or a meteoroid enters the Earth's atmosphere where it become a meteor. It either burns up or it makes it to the surface as a meteorite. OR in the case of the Russian event, it's a bolide, or fireball or in this particular case, a "detonating fireball."
Pretty cool, right? Contrast that with a meteor shower. Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through clouds of debris from comets. Yes, you can have all of that excitement in a meteor shower, but usually what you have is tiny streaks across the sky over several hours. Still cool, but not quite as spectacular as either of the two videos above. They are also global events (you can't have a Russian meteor shower, for example) and come like clockwork every year- not just randomly.
And meteor rain? That... doesn't exist, actually. At least, not in scientific terms.
So the next time a newscaster attributes some weird thing in the sky to a meteor shower, I want Morbo there to tell them: