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CNN is at it Again
(February 11, 1998)
Recent Hubble images of the
ring of gas surrounding supernova 1987A show that
the blast wave from the exploded star is finally
starting to impact the ring, lighting it up. The
last time Hubble took images of this object was
just after the last servicing mission, and the news
services managed to get a lot of the information wrong;
see the May 14, 1997 entry below for those details.
It has two pictures of the ring, sort of a "before and after"
set. The before picture is on the right, while the after is
on the left. This is backwards from tradition, implying they
weren't sure which was which. The pictures are not labeled,
either, leaving the reader befuddled as to what is being shown.
A later paragraph says "A supernova occurs
when a large star dies, first expelling layers of
gas outward, then exploding into a huge
ball of fire, scattering complex molecules formed deep inside
stars far out into space." This is not correct; they
mean "elements", not "molecules". A molecule is a binding
of atoms together into a more complicated structure, and no
molecule known can stay together inside the core of a supernova.
Incidentally, the supernova event is the actual expulsion
of the outer layers of the star, which is the actual fireball.
CNN splits it into two events, which isn't really the case.
Also there are two types of supernovae. A massive star is
only one type; a low mass star can explode as a supernova as well.
On the CNN page is an image (located next to the paragraph
mentioned above) representing how the
Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) operates.
STIS breaks up light from an object into its component
colors, like a giant prism makes a rainbow. The image CNN shows
is a computer image, like a cartoon, of how that works.
Inexplicably, the image is labeled: "NASA's simulation of the
nova in the coming decades." It's nothing of the sort. The icing
on this particular cake is calling it a nova. A nova is a very
different event than a supernova. Perhaps the terminology astronomers
use for the two events is confusing; it's a holdover from many decades
ago when the processes were not understood. Still, the word "nova"
was never used at the press conference.
Insult to injury: under "Related Stories", CNN has the listing:
"Stars burst into life before Hubble's lens". Ahem. Hubble does not
have a lens. It uses a series of mirrors. Ouch.
By the way, I am delighted to note that
MSNBC got their facts right
when they reported o this issue.
All of them. They left that story up for a long time,
in part because they found this web page and wanted to leave
their good story up for longer than usual!