North Star Getting Brighter, Therefore God

Posted: February 24, 2014 in science
Tags: , , , , , ,

In other astronomy-related news, apparently Polaris (the “North Star”) is getting brighter. I actually cannot find the original peer-reviewed work for this that might have sparked the recent flurry of news on it. From what I can tell, it was started by a Space.com story, but a Google Scholar search for the author’s name and the star’s name shows a paper from 2010 and 2012, and several conference abstracts before then, as far back as 2004. Maybe Google hasn’t indexed the paper yet, but if so, neither has the search most of us in astronomy use, “ADS.” According to ADS, the most recent is an abstract from the American Astronomical Society meeting in January of this year, so that was probably it: The Brightening of the North Star: Has Polaris’ Brightness Steadily Increased for Centuries and, perhaps, even Millennia? Here’s the abstract:

Polaris is arguably the best-known star in the Northern Hemisphere, since it lies within a degree of the North Celestial Pole. For much of human history, Polaris was highly regarded for its unchanging nature. However, we now know that Polaris is a Cepheid variable, undergoing ultra-low-amplitude pulsations. Thirty years ago, a paper in the Astrophysical Journal by A. Arellano Ferro announced that the amplitude of these pulsations was diminishing. This behavior was confirmed, and it was believed that soon enough Polaris would no longer be a Cepheid variable. We started photometrically monitoring Polaris in 1999 and discovered that the amplitude of pulsations had reached a minimum and was now, in fact, growing again. It was while gathering historic photometry for the amplitude study that we noticed the published magnitudes of Polaris were systematically fainter, the further back in time the data went. This is an entirely unexpected behavior for a Cepheid variable, and one that we wanted to investigate further. We continue to observe Polaris to monitor the star’s brightness, along with pulsation period and amplitude, and we have re-analyzed the historic studies of Polaris to validate the brightening. We have also obtained HST-COS UV spectra of Polaris for comparison to archival IUE data, to look for flux and/or temperature changes. We gratefully acknowledge support from NASA grant HST-GO-11726.

Oh, and WND’s month-late snippet: “North Star Getting Brighter.”

The science in this case is not the point of this blog post. It seems dubious to me that historic accounts are accurate enough for this kind of claim, unless the brightness was by a huge amount, but I have not read a published paper to check the calibrations (and from what I can tell from searching, there is not yet a new paper on this). Rather, we have WND’s 39 comments.

Top-rated is a rant against President Obama from “TexasVetgal” with 18 up-votes: “Maybe… No, hopefully its a sign ObozO will be arrested and tossed into prison for forgery and fraud. One can hope.”

Next is about God by “nebraskafilly” with 17 up-votes: “IMO, this is just another aspect of God’s Billboard in the sky!!! He IS trying to tell us something, along with the coming four blood moons!!! Pay attention, America!!!”

Or “gardeninggal1” with 10 up-votes: “And the heavens declare His Glory, that is all I need to know. Interesting story, but looking to scientists for the answers is looking in the wrong place since God said he will make those who think they are wise look like fools.”

Or, it’s because we’re being sarcastic about climate change, such as “jtrollla” with 3 up-votes and 1 down-vote (page was loaded before Disqus stopped showing down-votes): “Maybe CO2 is causing Polaris to heat up?”

It seems like these basic astronomy-related stories bring out some of the more interesting (if predictable) non sequiturs.

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