Once upon a time in my eighth grade earth science class, we were given an extra credit assignment: to take a photograph of ourselves standing eggs on end during the Spring Equinox. Being the heinous overachiever that I was, I cheated. I tried and tried, but couldn’t make the egg stand up, so what’s a girl to do? Stick the egg to the table with silly putty! I remember smiling as my mom (applauding my creativity) took the photo of me and my “talented egg.”
But alas, the “Bad Astronomer” Philip Plait taught the audience present at the Union Speaker’s Forum last Thursday quite the contrary; much to my surprise, he proved the idea that standing an egg on end can only be done on the date of the Spring Equinox is a myth.
Plait, known for his website “Bad Astronomy,” is an astronomer (of course), lecturer, and self-professed science junkie who even has a picture of Bill Nye the Science Guy on his refrigerator. He started his website after watching a local news report showing a group of students standing eggs on end, much like I had back in the day. He used the web for what it was made for—an angry post—and proceeded to blog about why this was a myth, complete with pictures of him standing eggs in his kitchen on dates other than March 21.
Plait, determined to debunk the myth, enthusiastically detailed his quest to find the origin of this myth for the audience. It turns out that the legend started in Japan, where this tradition of standing eggs would be performed to bring good luck and fertility for the beginning of spring; however, keep in mind that because of where Japan is situated on the globe, spring starts in mid-February for the country, and not our late March.
Myth one: successfully debunked.
The Bad Astronomer cited Hollywood as one of the main reasons for people’s wrong perception of science, though the worst for Plait happens to be the 1998 blockbuster Armageddon. Awful movie and poor science combined made this Plait’s target for the evening, proving that the plot was completely impossible. He proved that to explode an asteroid the size of Texas (according to the movie, that is) with enough force to make the path of the two halves miss the earth, the bomb used would have had to have the energy of the sun. Congratulations on that one, Hollywood. Plait went to town bashing the movie’s science, throwing in a slight jab at the plot once in a while for flavor. He even brought a piece of meteorite to pass around the audience to show how heavy they are, later remarking he hoped we hadn’t infected it with swine flu.
After his presentation, Plait entertained questions on alien attacks, black holes, and the myth that the Great Chicago Fire was caused by a meteor. This has been one of my favorite Speaker’s Forums that I have had the pleasure of attending. Plait kept the audience laughing and enthralled with his presentation, which even a non-astronomer like myself could follow quite easily. Not only did I learn that there was no need for me to “get creative” on that extra credit assignment in eighth grade, but also how aliens would go about world domination, how much Hollywood movies lack in scientific insight, and that a meteorite is really heavy!