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Cevlakohn
2007-Mar-09, 01:42 AM
I saw this on the blog today, which iirc more or less goes along with what I've seen before on the site..


Amusingly, another part of the tin says that "All the planets travel around the Sun in a counterclockwise direction." Oops. The planets all go around the Sun counterclockwise if you are looking "down" on the solar system from above the Earth’s north pole. If you look down from above the south pole, they’ll look like they’re going clockwise.

It kind of annoys me when astronomy folks pick this fact out when pointing out errors made by laypeople. It's well known to the astronomy folks that space really doesn't have an "up" or a "down", and that they're just abstractions made for convenience when making diagrams, etc. What I think many book-larnin' stromminers don't realize is that laypeople realize this TOO! And that the reason they describe the planets' motion as "counterclockwise" instead of "counterclockwise if you're looking 'down' on the solar system from above the Earth's north pole" isn't that they really think there's an "up" to the universe, but that A) the second takes a hell of a long time B) the first is completely understood by practically everybody you tell it to. Nitpicking a statement like that is comparable to responding to "the reflecting pool is in front of the Lincoln Memorial" with "Untrue! That's only if you consider the facade of the building to be its front, and all things which that faces to be 'in front of' the building!" Now, I hesitate to use the term "high-horse", but I wonder if so many people jump on the whole planets counterclockwise thing as another way to assert their superiority over laypeople.. or more to the point, to sound smart, because I doubt that they would fail to give average people THAT much of the benefit of the doubt.

Those are my thoughts.

Gillianren
2007-Mar-09, 04:46 AM
Nitpicking a statement like that is comparable to responding to "the reflecting pool is in front of the Lincoln Memorial" with "Untrue! That's only if you consider the facade of the building to be its front, and all things which that faces to be 'in front of' the building!"

No, not really; there is a front of the building. Whereas in space, all directions are essentially arbitrary, the Lincoln Memorial was designed to be turned one direction.

The Bad Astronomer
2007-Mar-09, 06:16 AM
The point is, saying the planets revolve clockwise is just wrong. It's meaningless. It's like asking "How far is it to the store?" and someone replies "Three." Three what? Miles, kilometers, furlongs, Angstroms?

Without a reference point, the statement is meaningless. And in this case, by stating it as a fact, the statement is wrong.

peter eldergill
2007-Mar-09, 02:01 PM
As a teacher who has taught torque for 10 years to grade 13 students, I can assure you that clockwise/counterclockwise is not as common knowledge as you would think. I have to explain to them as I'm demonstrating that it depends if you are looking "up" or "down"

You'd be suprised what the average person doesn't know

Pete

Ilya
2007-Mar-12, 05:31 PM
As a teacher who has taught torque for 10 years to grade 13 students, I can assure you that clockwise/counterclockwise is not as common knowledge as you would think.

People growing up with just digital clocks? ;)

jamesabrown
2007-Mar-12, 06:01 PM
The question, "Do the planets travel around the sun clockwise or counter-clockwise?" is best answered by that old standby answer, "It depends." Namely, the correct answer depends on your point of reference. Point of reference is easier on Earth than it is in space.

So stating, "The planets travel counter-clockwise," without clarifying your point of view leaves room for mis-interpretation. While I can appreciate the view that the average person is smart enough to know all this, I think that's a debatable issue. C.S. Lewis wrote "Typical readers are like sheep; they will wander into any gate the author unintentionally leaves open."

In something meant for the common public, the more in-depth explanation the better, although one runs the risk of that old complaint, "appealing to the lowest common denominator." Much depends on the audience. I'm quite sure BA doesn't hedge and over-clarify and over-explain beginning-level astronomy concepts when talking shop with his peers and co-workers. But when dealing with the public, whose education, cultural experience, and plain ol' horse sense can range from that of elementary-school kids to degreed professionals, it's best to be both precise and thorough, never mind the tension those two rules create. Science is not poetry*; it's better to use the technical terminology when possible to avoid error.

* Not that science can't be poetic, of course. It's just that science requires an accuracy that need not concern the poet.

Jim
2007-Mar-12, 10:41 PM
There could have been a better description, to be sure, but none that would fit conveniently on the tin. It might have been better to say that the planets all travel in the same direction as they orbit the sun.

publiusr
2007-Mar-16, 06:18 PM
The point is, saying the planets revolve clockwise is just wrong. It's meaningless. It's like asking "How far is it to the store?"

So if four quarters make a dollar, how much are a bunch of nickles?
Are you married or happy?

Nyuk!

Doodler
2007-Mar-16, 10:32 PM
Are you married or happy?

"Look, you have two choices. You can be lonely, bored, and single, or married. There ain't no happiness out there" -Chris Rock.

The orientation becomes even more meaningless when observing other star systems, because very very few of them are aligned similarly to ours, or two any other observed systems. Prograde versus retrograde is more accurately determined by relation to the rotation of the central body. A planet's orbit is described relative to the star's rotation, a moon is determined by the rotation of a planet (which means a hypothetical Venusian moon's retrograde orbit would be aligned with the prograde orbits of other planets' moons. How's that for a noodlebaker?).

torque of the town
2007-Mar-25, 02:17 PM
You'd be suprised what the average person doesn't know

Pete



eh.... No I don't think I would really;)

tony873004
2007-Mar-26, 08:22 AM
...Without a reference point, the statement is meaningless. And in this case, by stating it as a fact, the statement is wrong.
If a person said that the hands of a clock move clockwise, would you consider that statement to be meaningless and wrong as well?

I'm inclined to agree with Cevlakohn. Granted, specifying clockwise is meanless without some sort of reference viewing direction. But in almost every instance, when we use the term clockwise, the viewing direction is implied. And the English language has many examples where implication is permitted when stating the obvious. (Go to the store = You go to the store, etc.)

When stating that a person is jogging around a track, need we state "as viewed from above" as to not upset the underground gophers who think he is jogging counter-clockwise? Without actually saying so, our statement is technically meaningless. When we say that the hands of a clock move clockwise do we need to state "as viewed facing the front of the clock" to avoid confusing people who might be standing behind the clock? Or perhaps to make certain that we aren't talking about the gag clock they sell in novelty shops, where the hands actually do move backwards? Again, without stating the obvious, our statement is technically meaningless. But we can ignore that because in both these cases, the reference viewing direction is implied.

In the case of the solar system, the reference viewing direction is implied as well. I've seen many, many orbital diagrams of our solar system, and the moon systems within our solar system, and I don't ever think I've seen one looking towards the Sun's south pole. The implication here is "as viewed from above" because that's just how we draw orbits.


As long as we're on the topic of things that are technically wrong, here's 3 more examples that make me wonder:

#1. "I'm going to drive from San Francisco down to LA". Do I use the term "down" simply because LA is below San Francisco on any map or globe where north is up? What if the place in LA has a higher elevation than San Francisco? People would look at me strange if I said that I'm driving up to LA. But what if I live on the north side of a hill. Do I drive down to the top of the hill? This too seems weird. How far does one need to drive before the implication for up and down switches from elevation to latitude?

#2. Are the Philippines north or south of San Francisco? Intuition would tell me to say south. After all, its a tropical country, and San Francisco is far north of the tropics. But if you stretch a piece of string across a globe, you will see that to get to the Philippines from San Francisco, a boat or plane needs to travel northwest. The Philippines are northwest of San Francisco.

#3. Venus at is brighest is brilliant enough to cast shadows on the snow. But if you're standing in the snow and you see your shadow in the Venus light, YOU are casting the shadow, not Venus.
Here's a link to a Nasa page using similar language


November 28, 2005: It's often said (by astronomers) that Venus is bright enough to cast shadows.
So where are they?
Few people have ever seen a Venus shadow. But they're there, elusive and delicate—and, if you appreciate rare things, a thrill to witness.

The NASA site gets it right for the wrong reason when it says that few people have ever seen a Venus shadow. Venus casts two types of shadows: an umbra, and a penumbra, complete with an anti-umbra. Anyone whose ever witnessed Venus transiting the face of the Sun has been in a shadow cast by Venus.

HenrikOlsen
2007-Mar-26, 11:55 AM
If a person said that the hands of a clock move clockwise, would you consider that statement to be meaningless and wrong as well?

I'm inclined to agree with Cevlakohn. Granted, specifying clockwise is meanless without some sort of reference viewing direction. But in almost every instance, when we use the term clockwise, the viewing direction is implied. And the English language has many examples where implication is permitted when stating the obvious. (Go to the store = You go to the store, etc.)

I would tend to agree on this, without an explicit reference orientation north is up, and you'd watch the solar system from above, ie. from the north.


In the case of the solar system, the reference viewing direction is implied as well. I've seen many, many orbital diagrams of our solar system, and the moon systems within our solar system, and I don't ever think I've seen one looking towards the Sun's south pole. The implication here is "as viewed from above" because that's just how we draw orbits.
Actually that would make you look towards the Sun's south pole in all of them. Ok the Sun's in the way so you don't see a lot of it, bt you're definitly looking towards it. :)

CJSF
2007-Mar-29, 03:06 PM
As long as we're on the topic of things that are technically wrong, here's 3 more examples that make me wonder:

#1. "I'm going to drive from San Francisco down to LA". Do I use the term "down" simply because LA is below San Francisco on any map or globe where north is up? What if the place in LA has a higher elevation than San Francisco? People would look at me strange if I said that I'm driving up to LA. But what if I live on the north side of a hill. Do I drive down to the top of the hill? This too seems weird. How far does one need to drive before the implication for up and down switches from elevation to latitude?

Actually, as a Geographer I often correct this kind of statement. I didn't move "down to Florida," I moved either "to Florida" or "south to Florida."

Of course I technically could say I moved "down" here, as the parts Massachusetts (home state) and West Virgina (last state) I lived in are higher in elevation than The Space Coast.

CJSF

Fazor
2007-Mar-30, 08:53 PM
Actually, as a Geographer I often correct this kind of statement. I didn't move "down to Florida," I moved either "to Florida" or "south to Florida."

Of course I technically could say I moved "down" here, as the parts Massachusetts (home state) and West Virgina (last state) I lived in are higher in elevation than The Space Coast.

CJSF

Heh, well I'm one of those common-fools who always says "down to" no matter where said location is relevant to mine. You'd think the annoyance of constantly being corrected would get me to change that tendency, but somehow the word "down" lost it's orientation-meaning and gained a fictious "means somewhere other than here" meaning. I never actually mean down OR south when I say it, just tack it on for no good reason at all. :doh:

bloodyinkpen
2007-Apr-17, 06:41 PM
Gawd people! Ok, what our Friendly Neighborhood Bad Astronomer is doing is not belittling people or talking down to them or nitpicking a niggling detail. He's using something that I've heard Dawkins call a consciousness raiser. By clarifying and pointing out an important detail: that in space, reference points are not nearly as clearly defined as your cultural boundaries dictate, he challenges our preconcieved notions and encourages a less dogmatic method of observation.

It's a good thing. It encourages imagination and abstract thinking and more creative ways of viewing the world around us. In The God Delusion I read about maps in Australian classrooms that put the South Pole at the top right alongside those that use the North Pole as the designated "right-side up". I think this is a fantastic way to encourage minds to really think in critical ways. What if, in the development of human history, we had instead as a species been influenced to label the South Pole as the "top" of the world? It really wouldn't have changed much, but that surreal image of a world completely mirrored in the mind's eye is invigorating and nourishing nutrients for imagination and open-mindedness.

So lets not be so quick to bash on Phil for demanding explicit reference points when defining orientations. That's a big part of a truly creative scientific mind.

BigDon
2007-Apr-17, 07:19 PM
If Cevlakohn want's a site that's just chock full of what he's complaining about, he ought to check out the Bad Meteorology site. A lot of it insulted the crap out of me. Most of this guys stuff is just semantics. And a real "high horse" attitude. Takes no account of culture, history

I was honestly considering PM'ing the BA hisself and asking Phil to tap that guy on the shoulder and help him out making a more reader friendly web site. (actually a more friendly to the reader web site.)

here's the link: http://www.ems.psu.edu/~fraser/BadMeteorology.html

Just hope the guy isn't the Bad Astronomer's favorite cousin or Army buddy or something like that.

lpgeorge123
2007-Apr-17, 08:06 PM
Actually, as a Geographer I often correct this kind of statement. I didn't move "down to Florida," I moved either "to Florida" or "south to Florida."

I know that's not a very good way of explaining things, but I still use it. It gets really bad considering I go to college in Florida, but I'm from Minnesota. I tend to think of anything below The Cities as being to the south, and therefore down. I remember saying, "He went down to Georgia," which made the person I was talking to give me a funny look. Hey, at least I know what I mean. :)

To change the subject, today I heard something that made me grind my teeth. In my space sciences class we watched part of a Discovery channel video. In the beginning the narrator said "Imagine being able to life 9,000 lbs." I know they were trying to put things in perspective, but it annoyed me. They should have said something like, "Imagine being able to life a rock, that on Earth would weigh 9,000 lbs."

Gillianren
2007-Apr-17, 09:22 PM
Actually, I bet they meant "lift."

Jim
2007-Apr-17, 09:54 PM
Well, technically it's a 9,000 lb rock on earth, moon, or Jupiter. IF you mean 9,000 lbm.

lpgeorge123
2007-Apr-17, 10:10 PM
Actually, I bet they meant "lift."


:wall: Ooops. I thought I caught all the mistakes. Thanks though!

Bearded One
2007-Apr-25, 04:44 AM
Actually, as a Geographer I often correct this kind of statement. I didn't move "down to Florida," I moved either "to Florida" or "south to Florida."

Well, since the "Devil went down to Georgia, he was looking for a soul to steal", what does that tell us about where the devil comes from :D

jami cat
2007-Apr-25, 08:33 PM
If I look west at sunset we appear to be traveling over the sun.

If I look east at sunrise we appear to be traveling underneath the sun.

So which is it, from a North looking standpoint?

Over Under Clockwise or Counterclockwise.

Peter Wilson
2007-Apr-25, 11:01 PM
12:01
12:02
12:03
12:04...

springa
2007-Apr-26, 01:34 AM
I know that's not a very good way of explaining things, but I still use it. It gets really bad considering I go to college in Florida, but I'm from Minnesota. I tend to think of anything below The Cities as being to the south, and therefore down. I remember saying, "He went down to Georgia," which made the person I was talking to give me a funny look. Hey, at least I know what I mean. :)


I always say "down there" when referring to someplace generally to the south of me, "out there" for someplace generally west of me, "up there" for someplace generally north of me, and "over there" for a place generally east of me.

It may not be scientific, but I've used it so long that it makes perfect sense to me and I usually forget that not everyone uses those terms!

Sigma
2007-May-01, 03:51 AM
I saw this on the blog today, which iirc more or less goes along with what I've seen before on the site..



It kind of annoys me when astronomy folks pick this fact out when pointing out errors made by laypeople. It's well known to the astronomy folks that space really doesn't have an "up" or a "down", and that they're just abstractions made for convenience when making diagrams, etc. What I think many book-larnin' stromminers don't realize is that laypeople realize this TOO! And that the reason they describe the planets' motion as "counterclockwise" instead of "counterclockwise if you're looking 'down' on the solar system from above the Earth's north pole" isn't that they really think there's an "up" to the universe, but that A) the second takes a hell of a long time B) the first is completely understood by practically everybody you tell it to. Nitpicking a statement like that is comparable to responding to "the reflecting pool is in front of the Lincoln Memorial" with "Untrue! That's only if you consider the facade of the building to be its front, and all things which that faces to be 'in front of' the building!" Now, I hesitate to use the term "high-horse", but I wonder if so many people jump on the whole planets counterclockwise thing as another way to assert their superiority over laypeople.. or more to the point, to sound smart, because I doubt that they would fail to give average people THAT much of the benefit of the doubt.

Those are my thoughts.

I won't speak for everyone, but I know that I'm a ball buster specifically for the purpose of looking intelligent. I work to hard to not let everybody know what a genius I am.

:naughty:

Gillianren
2007-May-01, 06:53 AM
I won't speak for everyone, but I know that I'm a ball buster specifically for the purpose of looking intelligent. I work to hard to not let everybody know what a genius I am.

:naughty:

I cannot resist. You used the wrong "too" in that second sentence.

Sigma
2007-May-01, 09:21 PM
I cannot resist. You used the wrong "too" in that second sentence.

That was the point. My use of improper grammar, while simultaneously calling my self a genius, was meant to be a joke.

Gillianren
2007-May-01, 10:58 PM
That was the point. My use of improper grammar, while simultaneously calling my self a genius, was meant to be a joke.

Oh. See, we just get that as a mistake around here a lot. Carry on!

The Bad Astronomer
2007-May-02, 02:22 AM
Oh. See, we just get that as a mistake around here a lot.

You mean, "alot".


:D

Damien Evans
2007-May-02, 02:53 AM
Well, since the "Devil went down to Georgia, he was looking for a soul to steal", what does that tell us about where the devil comes from :D

Don't forget, he also went down to Jamaica

Gillianren
2007-May-02, 05:50 AM
You mean, "alot".

Thanks, Phil. You're a peach. (If you need a proofreader for the new book, I'm always available. Then, I'd get to read it first!)

Peter Wilson
2007-May-02, 10:34 PM
...sounds like allot of work :think:

Gillianren
2007-May-03, 06:01 AM
...sounds like allot of work :think:

I've got plenty of time I could allot to it, if that's what you mean . . . .

pzkpfw
2007-May-09, 01:20 AM
Which bank of a river is the left or right bank?

There is a term "true right", which is the right bank... when looking down-stream.

The standardised point-of-view gives a context to the "left" or "right".


It would seem to me that solar-system pictures generally do use a look-down-on-North-pole view, not a look-up... view.

Is there a name for that?

e.g. can we say something like "Earth orbits the Sun in a true counterclockwise direction"?



(Yeah yeah, not the Sun....)

Peter Wilson
2007-May-09, 07:44 PM
It would seem to me that solar-system pictures generally do use a look-down-on-North-pole view, not a look-up... view.

Is there a name for that?
Northocentric ;)