Staerkel Planetarium show debunks “Bad Astronomy”

While the special-effect lasers and explosions of “Star Wars” may make for an exciting movie, the effects are often wildly inaccurate, according to a program titled “Bad Astronomy: Myths and Misconceptions,” currently showing at Parkland College’s Staerkel Planetarium, 2400 West Bradley Ave.

The show runs each Friday until August, when the show will be presented on both Fridays and Saturdays.

Narrated by “The Bad Astronomer” Philip Plait, who authored a book and Web site with the same name as the presentation, “Bad Astronomy: Myths and Misconceptions” is an approximately 40-minute video aided by Staerkel Planetarium’s artificial starry sky.

The video began by debunking the myth of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs. In one case, Ed Walters, of Gulf Breeze, Fla., captured what appeared to be a UFO in a photograph. However, the sighting and capture was merely an act of photo manipulation. In another so-called UFO sighting, a pilot of a NASA spacecraft mistook nine ducks flying through the sky as UFOs.

Dispersed between segments in the presentation, fake television commercials and infomercials for products such as “fake moon rocks for $19.99,” lightened the mood.

The idea that the United States moon landing was a hoax was also laid to rest in “Bad Astronomy.” From the star-less sky in the background of the moon landing photographs to the lack of craters that would have been created by the spacecraft landing on the moon, the video attempts to quash any doubts about the landing coverage.

Perhaps the biggest myth nullified in “Bad Astronomy” is astrology. The video clarifies the fact that astronomy is a science, while astrology is merely a belief that is not backed by research and hypotheses.

“Simply put, astrology doesn’t work,” Plait narrated.

Alison O’Connell, a recent graduate from the University and a freelance presenter at Staerkel Planetarium, said “Bad Astronomy” has received a favorable reception since it began on May 8.

On Friday, families, individuals and young couples on dates were seen in the audience.

“It’s important because when people have misconceptions, they look at things in a different way than they should. And it’s important to show people good science, as opposed to bad science,” O’Connell said.

Good science is exactly what Plait hopes to present in “Bad Astronomy.” And, according to Plait, while the lasers and exploding asteroids in science fiction movies may be exciting, science itself is even more rewarding.

“Welcome to science, you’re going to like it here,” Plait narrated.