Posts Tagged ‘science’

Jedi Journalism

18 January 2008

No Dark Side

I am continually amazed by how often members of the news media make fundamental errors when reporting on science. (See the recent journalism disaster regarding a non-existent SETI signal.)

Yesterday I noticed a glaring error in the Chicago Tribune headline Scientists finally glimpse Mercury’s dark side. Well folks, in Star Wars there is a Dark Side of the Force, but in this solar system, there is no dark side of Mercury. Nor is there a dark side of the moon (Pink Floyd notwithstanding). At least, there is no permanent dark side of either of these celestial bodies.

Mercury and the moon both receive sunlight around all longitudes. Just like the Earth, they both have night and day, though with different durations. If you go to the original NASA press release, you can see that the novelty of the MESSENGER photos is simply that these regions of Mercury have never before been photographed. This press release points out that the photo is of “the sunlit portion of the hemisphere not viewed by Mariner 10” (my emphasis). Mariner 10 was the only other spacecraft to have photographed the planet at such close range.

I suspect that the news media is replete with such errors, but I tend to catch them mostly in science reporting simply because I am more familiar with science than certain other topics.

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