Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax" - Philip Plait (2002)


No book on astronomy could possibly cover every topic in every detail without stretching from here to the Moon and maybe even back again. The following list represents just a few books and web sites that might help you pursue the topics covered in this book a bit further. Many of them helped me a great deal when researching Bad Astronomy.


Carl Sagan did so much for public outreach in astronomy and science that scientists everywhere owe him an enormous debt. Of his many works, by far the finest-and the most fun to read-is The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (Ballantine Books, 1997, ISBN 0-34540946-9). It's a brilliant look at skepticism in many disciplines, and can be easily be applied to everyday life outside the observatory.

Stephen Maran has also helped the public understand astronomy for many years. His book Astronomy for Dummies (IDG Books Worldwide, 2000, ISBN 0-7645-5155-8) is a fun and helpful guide to the universe.

I turned to Joel Achenbach's Captured by Aliens: The Search for Life and Truth in a Very Large Universe (Simon & Schuster, 1999, ISBN 0684-84856-2) expecting to read a silly expose of people who think they are channeling aliens from another dimension, but instead found a thoughtful but still funny book about people trying to cope with modern times.

John Lewis's Rain of Iron and Ice (Helix Books, 1996, ISBN 0-20148950-3) is a fascinating look at asteroid and comet impacts. It's riveting, and might scare you a little. I have always said that no one has ever been documented to have been killed by a meteor impact ... but that was before I read this book.

In this short book I could only scratch the surface of the Velikovsky affair. Numerous books have been written about it, but you can start with the man himself: Immanual Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision (Doubleday, 1950). I also recommend the transcripts of the AAAS debate mentioned in the text Scientists Confront Velikovsky, edited by Donald Goldsmith (Cornell University Press, 1977).

In the end, one of astronomy's most rewarding gifts is simply the stunning beauty of the universe. There are many wonderful astronomy books loaded with great pictures; a recent and very good one is astronomer Mark Volt's Hubble Space Telescope: New Views of the Universe (Harry N. Abrams, with the Smithsonian Institution and the Space Telescope Science Institute, 2000, ISBN 0-8109-2923-6). This coffee-table book will have you thumbing through it again and again, staring in amazement at the glorious pictures.

The World Wide Web

Or as I like to call it, "The Web of a Million Lies." For every good astronomy site, there seem to be a million that are, uh, not so good. But if you have a guide and a skeptical eye, there are a lot of web sites out there that will sate your thirst for astronomical knowledge. If these don't do it, you can always try your favorite search engine. But knowing the web as I do, you might want to search it with both eyes in a permanent squint. Maybe it would be better to just go with the sites listed below.

If I may be so immodest, I'll start with my own: Bad Astronomy ( You'll find a few of the same topics covered in this book and many other as well. There are also links to other sites that will keep you busy for a long, long time. (Believe me.)

Penn State University meteorologist Alistair Fraser's Bad Science web site ( was in many ways the inspiration for my own. A weather kind of guy, Alistair has created a site that is a bit more down to Earth than my own.

Bakersfield College astronomer Nick Strobel has put together a wonderful web site called Astronomy Notes (, which covers everything from navigating the night sky to the shape and fate of the universe. I rely on it quite a bit to help explain why things happen the way they do.

Bill Arnett is not a professional astronomer, but he fooled me into thinking so. His Nine Planets web site ( nineplanets/nineplanets.html) is an amazingly complete and informative place to find out just about everything you want to know about the solar system. Each planet gets its own page as do some moons, and he has a huge list of links to pictures on every page.

Mikolaj Sawicki is a physicist at John A. Logan College in Illinois. His web site on tides ( .html) cleared up some of my own tidal misconceptions. It has a very clear and interesting explanation of tides, and is one of the very few that not only is correct but carries out the idea to its logical conclusions.

One of the great aspects of the web is the amazing amount of information it contains-sometimes it's even accurate. So many questions come up so frequently that people often put together Frequently Asked Questions lists, or FAQs. The Astronomy FAQ (http://sciastro.astronomy .net/) may, then, answer many of your questions. The Physics and Relativity FAQs ( do the same for their fields and would please Uncle Albert himself. Each of these FAQs has links to even more web sites, which keep even a hardened geek like me busy for hours on end.

If that's not enough, try astronomer Sten Odenwald's Ask the Astronomer web page ( .html). He has answered over 3,000 questions, so any you have might already be there.

Once again, if pictures are what you're after, then try either the Space Telescope Science institute's web site ( or the amazing Astronomy Picture of the Day (, which, true to its name, has a new beautiful picture posted each day. These are two of the most popular sites on the web, in any topic, and it's not hard to see why.

While researching the chapter on the Apollo Moon Hoax, and later when looking for images and information about Apollo, I turned again and again to the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal at office/pao/History/alsi/. There you will find an astonishing amount of detail about the most ambitious and successful space adventure in human history. I fell in love with space travel all over again after going through the images there.

There are a lot of great web sites promoting skepticism in general. I highly recommend the Talk Origins Archive (http://www, which is a pro-science web site that is mostly an answer to creationist arguments. It leans heavily toward evolution, but has great astronomy pages, too.

There are a number of web sites devoted to Immanual Velikovsky's ideas, both pro and con. The biggest one on his side is http://www, which has many of his writings. A good web site debunking Velikovsky is the Antidote to Velikovskian Delusions at http://abob

One of the most wonderfully rational and skeptical sites on the web is run by none other than James Randi, the Amazing Randi himself. Randi has devoted his life to debunking pseudoscience and paranormal claims, and does so in a tremendously entertaining way. His web site (http:Uwww is a vast store of rational treasures, from his now-famous $1 million challenge for proof of the paranormal to his essays railing against fuzzy thinking.

Finally, if you're an aficionado of bad movies, as I am, try the Stomp Tokyo Video Reviews (, a loving, and sometimes not-so-loving, look at B movies. These guys really need to get out more, but I love their site.