Combing the Sky … for a Good Explanation

Finding Extrasolar Planets with Lasers

This ought to be better, and the fact that it isn’t reflects very poorly on the writer, and on the Planetary Society for not demanding better.

I find this particularly annoying because it has this “all these big words! Optical physics is Hard!” vibe to it. It would be easy enough to do the same thing with the astronomy side, cracking wise about stellar classifications and the like, but they would never consider doing that, because that’s their business. When it comes to physics, though, they have no qualms about dropping into Barbie mode, and I find that really annoying.

The hard is what makes it great.

Anyway, I agree — glossing over some interesting physics because it’s outside your area of expertise is one thing, but passing it off as magical gizmos is just lazy. I am biased, though — I’m an atomic physics guy, I’ver seen talks by both Ron Walsworth and Dave Phillips on the Astro-Comb and it’s pretty cool, and frequency combs are why I am of Nobel blood (via Ted Hänsch).

And even if you don’t want to (or can’t) write up something less awful than this hand-waving, here’s a radical idea: it’s the internet, so link to someone with a better explanation! I know, that’s blasphemy for a commercial publication — thou shalt not link outside your own ecosystem — but this is the Planetary Society (it’s a “dot org” not a “dot com”) so I’d think they’d be more concerned with getting good info out and less about external links at the tail end of an article.