Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Intergalactic violence

Astronomers and/or science reporters are trying to sex up some astronomical events that are taking place in a distant galaxy.

Black hole 'bully' blasts galaxy

by Paul Rincon, BBC Science reporter, Monday, 17 December 2007.
It is the first time this form of galactic violence has been witnessed by astronomers.

The larger of the two galaxies in 3C321 - dubbed the "death star galaxy" by the astronomers - has a jet emanating from the vicinity of the black hole at its centre. The unfortunate smaller galaxy has apparently swung into the jet's line of fire.

This jet could be causing all sorts of problems for the smaller galaxy it is pummeling.

It is possible that it would not all be bad news for the galaxy being struck by the jet. The massive influx of energy and radiation from the jet may induce the formation of large numbers of stars and planets once its initial wake of destruction is complete.

I sympathize with the desire to describe some distant and obscure phenomenon in Homeric terms (and brave 3C321 smashed his pitiless particle stream into the unseeing face of the oncoming galaxy, scattering planets with the force of his blow). Homer did the opposite - describing the actions of heroes as if they possessed the unstoppable force of planets.

But it's bad science. Galaxies don't have problems or bad news. And the idea that the bad news might be moderated by the happy creation of stars and planets is just pathetic.

Wikipedia: Pathetic Fallacy

2 comments:

auyon said...

I don't think its fair to say that its bad science, because the BBC science section isn't meant to be taken as a scientific journal. The author was just contextualizing the event in an entertaining way for readers.

Richard Veryard said...

But it wasn't just the BBC journalists - it looked like the astronomers themselves were using this language. I agree it's entertaining, and perhaps there is a positive effect of presenting science in this way, but I still think that there was something rather odd about the superimposed context.