Bob Berman,Skyman Bob, astronomer and author.

Bob Berman’s Strange Universe

Bob Berman,Skyman Bob, astronomer and author.
Photo credit: Phil Kamrass, c. Albany Times-Union

Welcome to Bob Berman’s website. Here you’ll find comments and posts by Bob’s readers, an ability to quickly contact him, a few astro-photos, and a few of his articles. He does respond to all reader mail. This website only gets his occasional attention, but it is updated, albeit at a glacial pace. Keep checking back.

Discover Magazine, Astronomy Magazine, The Old Farmers Almanac

Bob Berman is one of the best-known and most widely-read astronomers in the world. He is perhaps uniquely able to translate complex scientific concepts into language that is understandable to the casual observer yet meaningful to the most advanced. His dry, edgy wit engages readers of such diverse publications as Discover Magazine, Astronomy Magazine, and The Old Farmers Almanac. He is the author of eight books, and is the astronomer for SLOOH, the community observatory. His newest book is Zoom, How Everything Moves.

52 thoughts on “Bob Berman’s Strange Universe”

  1. I just finished Zoom, my head is spinning at the speed of (not sure anymore). I love the book and will share it with some special friends.
    Keep looking up !!!
    Peace
    Mike

  2. Absolutely inhaled your Dec article on time! I’m sure I’m mot the only one who loves to know exact numbers for cosmological speeds & distances etc…esp when presented so very well.
    Congrats!
    Hmmmmmm…..I wonder what happened “out there” while I was typing this…..

  3. Aloha,Bob
    I’ve been watching stars since 73′, and have noticed some changes like extra stars @ Scorpio, and Cassiopea,also a shift,or twist in Sagitarius.
    I brought this up with the viewing director “Bob”@ WM Keck in my hometown. I told him i’ve got a photographic memry. He said it must be hell having someone piss me off. I told him a member of his PR saff told me my eyes ere f’d up.

  4. The faster you go time goes slower. If we where not subject to our movement in the universe, galaxy solar system etc. would we age quicker? Love your new book. Will be buying your others.

  5. I am very convinced that the goverment planes realy do fly as close as possible to the ground. as they can get ‘beuse when i was in florida traveling in my camper, I accurately. Watched a goverment plane fly real clo these over the walmart parking lot!! and it sprayed a powder substance from their plane!!!

  6. I know for a fact that our crooked goverment flys pla tnes pretty close to the ground spraying a powder substance onto the ground in hopes of giving people cancer ‘!!

  7. Hello,

    I am reading “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe”. On page 16 I found the following quote:

    “Indeed, a bit of thought will make it obvious that without perception, there can be no reality.”

    Berman, Bob; Lanza, Robert (2010-02-02). Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe (p. 16). BenBella Books, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

    I became fascinated with this thought back in 2003. I wrote a pc program that illustrated one possible answer to that question, or at least, posed the question more vividly. You can find a screen-shot summary of that program here:

    http://dctreybil.com/palettes.html

    If you’re brave, you can download the program itself using the link provided on that page. Windows 8 gave me a warning of some kind when I tried to do a test download, but I clicked the “proceed anyway” option and it worked fine. The files were clean when I uploaded them, but by all means, scan them before running if you download them.

    I’m enjoying the book and I hope you enjoy the program.

    Dennis

  8. Bob, Thanks for letting me use you in my novel “China Monster” with appropriate credit. Two things: You made a statement in one of your articles about what we actually know as hard and proved fact and what is theory and guess work; can you give me that or a similar quote, it was something like: “what we really know and can prove, and what is theory and guess: is like a match book compared to the Vatican library.. could I use that and credit you, or something similar.
    Two: What particles that bombard us by the trillions daily have a “electrical charge” there are so many “particles” with more being found or discovered, this is a key point in my book as they are responsible for “charging” a small device. Thanks and I love your articles. Thanks and best regards, Dave

  9. I was reading the From Our Inbox in the January 2015 issue of Astronomy and was surprised to see that moving inside the boundary of a black hole’s Event Horizon was not necessarily a one-way trip. I have always read that once you go beyond the horizon it is pretty much bye-bye forever (unless you call coming out as Hawking radiation coming out!)

    In the February 2015 issue of Scientific American there is an article by Adam Brown, a theoretical physicist at Stanford University titled Can We Mine A Black Hole? I quote the article: “Black Holes, after all, are shrouded by an “event horizon,” a sphere of no return where the gravitation field becomes infinite. Anything that strays inside the sphere is doomed.” Again: “What goes into a black hole never comes out: not asteroids, NOT ROCKETS, not even light.”

    So, what gives Bob, do you have a rocket with more than infinite thrust?

  10. I have idea that I would like your opinion on. We are well aware that time is relative to our situation. Faster things experience time at a geriatric rate (i.e. supper at 4:00 pm) compared to slower things. But what about smaller things compared to big things. Bacteria clearly ravage this world faster than blue whales. But does a bacterium appear faster because it works at a pumped up “time” scale. Here is my Einstein thought experiment: An enzyme coverts its substrate into product 1000 times per second when measured by a grade 10 chemistry student, but if I was as small as an enzyme would I still see it flex and mould chemicals this fast or would a more leisurely pace be observed. Alternatively, if my fascination with McDonald’s caused me to balloon to 100 times the size of the solar system, and the earth’s orbit approximated my ketchup and BBQ sauce stained plate, would it take a year for the earth as a crumb sized ball to revolve around the pickle sized sun. My suspicion is that it would whiz around like a car on a remote controlled racetrack in a matter of seconds. In other words, when viewed from my larger unhealthy scale, time would speed up. What do you think? I have not seen such conditions explored in my research so far and would like to see what you and others think. Please advise. Always available at klippend@hotmail.com.

  11. Thanks Bob for the Strange Universe column.
    I recently finished reading Eureka by Edgar Allan Poe.
    An amazing take on cosmology for a poet in 1848 !

  12. I read your article “Adventures in terra incognito” with a lot of interest. Have I got the time to memorize the stars you suggested? Nope, I spend most of my time studying the intricacies of the Chinese board game of Go. Doing so help tremendously in restoring the 10% of brain cells that I’ve lost due to throat cancer. As far as reading “Zoom,” how about tackling Cixin Liu’s “The Three Body Problem?”

  13. Hi Bob,

    Felt like reaching out. I’ve been reading astronomy for 15 years. Your column is always a favorite, i enjoy it very much and wanted to thank you for that. Anyhow, last weekend was the first time i looked at the sky through a telescope. This was at the mount megantic astrolab in quebec, 15 miles north of Vermont, actually. It was a wonderfull night for stargazing to say the least! Very little humidity, no clouds and -30 degrees. Nobody cared about the cold. Spectacular is not strong enough to describe the experience. I was starstruck. Pun intended! Or is it dumbstruck and idiotstruck? Who knows…anyhow. I saw jupiter and the big 4. Incredible, all 4 dots of light with jupiter. A privilege to see. And then the orion nebula appearing as fuzzy bluish. And then the moon. I guess one word describes it all. WOW. Many times over. Allready looking forward to going back.

    anyhow thanks again for sharing your knowledge.
    Eric fillion, montreal, quebec, canada.

  14. I read quite carefully the book, ZOOM. It was a difficult task to read the last few chapters. Here, I like to have someone to clear my understanding of the book’s description of the motion of our Moon on pages on pages 240 and 241 of the book.

    The lower center of page 240 stated that the moon requires four weeks to make a single rotation and famously orbits around us in precisely that same amount of time, 27,32166 days. Yet page 241 described our situation of always seeing one familiar side of the moon with a hidden hemisphere perennially pointing away.

    I sincerely hope that some one will take time out to clear my understanding of the above statement in the book.

  15. Was listening to the radio this during the later afternoon I heard about Mars and the radiation on Mars here’s what I think would have be done before you send anybody down to planet they should build a space station orbiting Mars first

  16. Which will probably take many years to do this but that be only way to send astronauts down and up safely while they build a permanent base on Mars and expand other structures that would be shielded from the radiation what do you think

  17. Very nice letter in the current issue of Astronomy. I really enjoyed it. I’m glad you took the time to share with us readers.

    Thanks,

    Dan

  18. New fan of Slooh – Just wanted to express how I enjoy listening to you. I think you are doing a really good job.
    Thank you,
    Chad

  19. Just read your story in the April 2015 issue of Astronomy. Thanks! It brought to mind my own best dark sky experience over 25 years ago. In the foothills near Lewistown, Montana while awaiting a security system reset at an ICBM site, I knew I’d see something special but I was unprepared for just how spectacular the skies would be. Getting out of our maintenance truck into the bitterly cold, clear air, Ursa Major was discernible, but just so, the stars nearby almost beyond measure. Standing with me, a member of our security escort listened as I identified other constellations shining brightly above. Living in Ohio now, I’ve been west since and to places with some of the best viewing remaining in the US, but nothing has made a greater impression than that long ago January night!

  20. If the moon did NOT spin, then as it orbited around us we’d see one hemisphere, and then the opposite one two weeks later. Only by rotating in the same time in which it revolves, can it keep one side permanently hidden.

  21. Your Mcdonald’s model of the solar system is totally original. I like it a lot. But for mass to alter gravity, there has to be a HUGE difference. Otherwise, no effect at all. Whales versus germs, none. Even the sun’s effect is small enough that Einstein himself calculated it wrong at first.
    – Bob

  22. Doesn’t need infinite thrust. Event horizon only applies to objects following geodesics (natural paths dictated by gravity). A rocket would use a non-gravitational propulsion system, and therefore need not remain on any geodesic. Moreover, every in-path also has an outpath on the same geodesic. Only freely falling objects (including photons of light) must head inward within an event horizon. – Bob

  23. Thanks, Dave. Sorry for the slow reply. I’m getting to my website after a several-month delay. Well, my guess is that the known to the unknown has a ratio more like one snowflake in a blizzard. Second question: particles that constantly penetrate us but have no charge include neutrinos. Particles that penetrate us but do have charge include cosmic rays (90% protons, with a positive charge), muons (negative charge) and some isotopes of radon, if you have that in your basement. – Bob

  24. Tina, are you serious? Why would our government want to give people cancer? And who would participate in such a thing? I know lots of military guys, and lots of pilots (I’m one, myself) and I don’t know of anyone who would want to hurt strangers like that. So what makes you think that? I agree the government does some strange stuff, but most people in office are just looking out for themselves. The last thing they’d want is to be brought up on murder charges.
    – Bob

  25. The two best dark sky viewing places I have been Hayman Island off the northeast coast of Australia, and the middle of the Big Island of Hawaii between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa!

  26. Regarding dark skies: In 1991 I was on assignment for an oil field services company at an oil rig in the western desert of Egypt, near the Libyan border and 100 miles south of the Mediterranean Sea. On the way back to the coast, through utterly uninhabited territory, it was dark and the driver stopped and ask me and the photographer to get out, he had something to show us. We got out, expecting some ruin or ancient statue, but there was nothing to see on the dead flat landscape except a few scrubby bushes. We asked what he wanted to show us and the driver just pointed upwards and said, “look up.” I was utterly stunned. Stars filled the moonless, cloudless sky from horizon to horizon, the familiar constellations and planets hard to pick out in the multitude. I immediately thought, “This is the sky that Aristotle and Ptolemy saw every night,” but I, a denizen of the 20th century, had never seen before. I would have been happy to lie down and just stare for an hour or more, but the photographer was hungry and so we soon resumed the drive. I have always been profoundly grateful to that humble (but obviously astronomy loving) Egyptian driver who stopped to show us one of the great wonders of the world.

  27. Hi, I just finished Zoom and I loved it except for one thing. Hundreds of people have been killed by meteorites and ehole towns set on fire by them. These events have been recorded in the records kept by every town in China for the last 3000 years.

    The only problem is that you have to go there and read the records. That is what the author of a book on meteorites did. There is probably enough data in those records to keep an army of grad students busy for 1000 years.

    I read the book a few months ago, don’t remember the title. I am going to the library tomorrow. I will see if I can find the book and I will look for more of your books too.

  28. Bob-

    I just read your Night Sky article in the Hudson Valley Almanac Weekly, “Conspiracies: When is it Paranoia”

    Why are you conflating people who have theories about rigged football games, chemtrails and imaginary planets crashing into the earth with people who have legitimate questions about the events of 9/11?

    It wouldn’t bother me so much if you actually addressed the science, but you don’t. You simply point to the NIST report and claim their science is solid. You make an erroneous claim that none of the “truthers” has read the NIST report. This is not true. Perhaps you need to look at the work of Professor Steven Jones and Kevin Ryan, former employee of the Underwriters Laboratory (who was fired after asking questions about the steel in the World Trade Center, which they were responsible for inspecting when the towers were being built).

    We know for a fact that the towers were at least able to support their own weight, they had stood for over 30 years. Ignoring the fact that the exterior columns were designed to resist three times the load and the core columns five times the load above them, lets just assume one times the load. Now let’s assume that two floors of the building where the planes impacted completely disappeared. That means that the top floors acting as the “pile driver” would accelerate until it hit the unheated floors below. And because they would encounter a resistance of 1x, it would only have its momentum keeping it going, but it would stop accelerating and fall at a constant velocity (ignoring the energy it takes to rupture all those joints, pulverize the concrete and eject all that material in a lateral direction. Not to mention the Law of Conservation of Momentum, which would have slowed it even further as the added mass of the stationary floors below would slow the velocity of the falling whole.

    Additionally, the columns were thicker the lower they were in the building, ranging from about 4″ thick at the base of the building to about 1/4″ at the top, making the mass per floor increase the lower the floor.

    When looking at the footage of the collapse, you can see that the lower portion of the building is resisting the collapse with almost the whole upper floors disintegrating itself, pulverizing the concrete and ejecting a good percentage of itself in the lateral direction. So were did all that energy come from? Can you please address that?

    NIST does not, they only address the science to the point of collapse of WTC1 & 2. And on WTC7, they admit to over 2 seconds of free fall acceleration! They show a computer model of how it feel, but refuse to show the program that generated it, claiming “national security concerns”. How is it possible for WTC7 to go into free-fall acceleration? Can you please explain how free fall acceleration is possible with the problem of accounting for the Laws of Physics Conservation of Energy and Conservation of Momentum? I’d like to see a legitimate scientific explanation.

  29. Regarding event horizons, Newton would agree, but Einstein would not. The problem with the event horizon isn’t really the escape velocity. If it were, then both would agree that with enough fuel your rocket could escape eventually as long as it was able to maintain thrust for long enough. The deeper problem with the event horizon is that space itself is so warped that all directions point in – there is literally no way out. No matter which direction you try to go or how hard you push to go there, all paths lead to the singularity.

  30. I enjoyed your May column and calorific rays. I had a heart attack & brain injury a few years ago but am now functioning better. Keep up the good writing.

  31. When I look at the crescent moon and see “Earth shine”, it appears to me that the edge of the disk of the moon is brighter than middle area of the disk. But when I look at reflection off of the surface of the ball the edge is darker than the middle area. Am I perceiving this right? If so, then why does the moon have different reflective properties than any other relatively smooth sphere?

  32. Bob, I’m guessing that you know this by now, but if not …

    Sorry, but you are simply wrong about being able to escape from below the event horizon of a black hole with a strong enough rocket. I believe you’re mistake is the result of misapplying the (correct) classical/Newtonian idea that “escape velocity” is simply the initial speed one would need in order to escape without FURTHER propulsion in a realm in which that idea is simply not applicable.

    Although classical “escape velocity” from the Earth is 25,000 mph, one can, quite obviously, “escape” by simply constantly moving away at any nonzero speed. This result, however, is not applicable within general relativity for reasons having to do ultimately with the fact that different observers disagree about things like time intervals, distance intervals, and, therefore, speeds.

    One can remain at a position outside the event horizon of a Schwarzschild black hole by simply applying sufficient thrust. That, “sufficient thrust” however diverges to infinity at the event horizon and at positions below that, no amount of thrust is sufficient EVEN to “stand still.”

    A flashlight in the hands of an observer within the event horizon (and falling inexorably toward the singularity) that is shining “upward” toward the event horizon will emit photons that the observer will measure to be moving at the speed of light toward the event horizon, but that still, move inexorably TOWARD the singularity. And nothing can do better than those photons.

  33. Hi John,
    Thanks for your letter. As my friend Tarun Biswas explains, geodesics are followed when gravity is the only force. A rocket powered by
    any source of energy is likely to be using electromagnetic forces which are not gravitational. Hence, while the rocket engine is firing the ship can go
    off geodesics.

    Third, only the inward directed photon geodesics will fall inwards. All geodesic paths are reversible. So, the spatial component of every geodesic
    has an equivalent geodesic going backwards. This is due to the time reversal symmetry of the geodesic equations. The situation is often confused
    by the use of the so-called Eddington-Finkelstein coordinate system. This coordinate system has two versions — one shows the ingoing geodesics
    and the other the outgoing geodesics. For some odd reason the ingoing ones are given more importance. Hence, it produces the misconception
    that geodesics go only inwards. Some have interpreted the outgoing geodesics to be existing only in white holes. But there is no physical or
    mathematical reason to believe that there will be only ingoing geodesics in black holes and outgoing ones in white holes. Both kinds of geodesics
    can and should exist in any kind of star.

  34. Thanks for your letter. The moon is an odd case when it comes to reflecting light (the sun’s and Earth’s) because of its powdery surface. When full, the moon’s center ought to look brighter than its limb because sunlight is hitting the former more directly, but it doesn’t. This oddity was noted by the Greeks thousands of years ago. It may apply to Earthshine too, though I haven’t seen the ‘edge” look dimmer than the lunar center…..

  35. Thanks for your letter, Darren, i enjoyed it.
    My friend Tarun Biswas, who teaches Relativity at the State University of New York, answers it this way:
    Geodesics are followed when gravity is the only force. A rocket powered by
    any source of energy is likely to be using electromagnetic forces which are not gravitational. Hence, while the rocket engine is firing the ship can go
    off geodesics.

    Moreover,, only the inward directed photon geodesics will fall inwards. All geodesic paths are reversible. So, the spatial component of every geodesic
    has an equivalent geodesic going backwards. This is due to the time reversal symmetry of the geodesic equations. The situation is often confused
    by the use of the so-called Eddington-Finkelstein coordinate system. This coordinate system has two versions — one shows the ingoing geodesics
    and the other the outgoing geodesics. For some odd reason the ingoing ones are given more importance. Hence, it produces the misconception
    that geodesics go only inwards. Some have interpreted the outgoing geodesics to be existing only in white holes. But there is no physical or
    mathematical reason to believe that there will be only ingoing geodesics in black holes and outgoing ones in white holes. Both kinds of geodesics
    can and should exist in any kind of star.

  36. Sorry, but this letter reveals that you haven’t read the NIST report.
    The nation’s structural engineers, as well as those who designed the building, as well as a separate independent team of experts commissioned by the NY Times, are very satisfied with the detailed analysis of how these buildings collapsed. There is no mystery that needs to be explained — except in the crackpot world, which of course is easily found on the Web.

  37. Hi Sunwayn, Yes, let me know of that title. It would be truly amazing if in China alone, meteorites have been clobbering people for centuries — but nowhere else on Earth.

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