Possibility and Probability

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23 September 2005

Astronomy: the new bloodsport

by Nick

A few months ago when it was announced that astronomers had found a trio of large objects in the outer solar system, I was intrigued. I’ve been a huge “Space Fan” ever since I could remember and in the last year or so I’ve been getting really interested in Astronomy. I found out that there was a Yahoo! group called the Minor Planet Mailing List which has a mailing list where a lot of astronomers talk about what they are finding, how they observe, etc. I joined this list and was expecting to read some really interesting (if not over my head) tidbits about the heavens. Was I in for a surprise. It turns out that the announcement of the new objects was stirring up quite a controversy. Allegations of hacking, blackmail, theft, and all kinds infractions were flying back and forth on the list. A good little explanation of what was (and still is) going on was put out in Scientific American today: Breaking News - Astronomer denies improper use of web data. This incident has really riled up this community of star gazers. They are all really passionate about their craft (which is a great thing) and the controversy has made some really big waves. It still strikes me as funny that I joined the list to read some scholarly discussions about what lies out beyond the orbit of Neptune, and instead I walked into a flame war like you would see on Slashdot. Despite the action on the list, I have learned a lot just by reading it. In fact, reading the list has inspired me to learn more about astronomy so that if nothing else I can understand more of what they are talking about.

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