image of Phil Plait near the Space Shuttle Dr. Phil Plait, aka "The Bad Astronomer"
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Bad Astronomy site


For as long as he can remember, Dr. Plait has been in love with science.

"When I was maybe four or five years old, my dad brought home a cheapo department store telescope. He aimed it at Saturn that night. One look, and that was it. I was hooked," he says.

image of Dr. Plait showing his daughter the Moon When he was 14, he saved his newspaper delivery money and bought an impressive 10" telescope. For years, it was a safe bet that any clear night you'd find him at the end of his driveway, struggling to find the faint fuzzy galaxies he read voraciously about in his books. This turned out to be pretty good practice for his years in college and graduate school, where he used a 40" telescope at the University of Virginia for his Master's research. Eventually, he worked with the Hubble Space Telescope, spending ten years using it to observe expoding stars and helping to calibrate one of the cameras on board. Not bad for a guy who started with a wobbly 3" telescope!

It was during his graduate studies at UVa that he began the Bad Astronomy website. He was watching the local news, and the anchor was at a school during the Vernal Equinox (the so-called "first day of spring") encouraging kids to stand eggs on end as part of an old legend. Knowing this had nothing to do with the seasons, Plait wrote his very first web page debunking this myth (the page, highly evolved, is still on his site -- and was even quoted on NBC's "The West Wing"!). He added to the site, and eventually got the domain name "Bad Astronomy" in 1998.

silly image of Dr. Plait in a spacesuit After graduate school, Dr. Plait continued working on his website. He got a job in 1995 working as a NASA contractor at Goddard Space Flight Center, again working with Hubble. It was there that he began his career in public outreach, giving talks at local astronomy clubs and schools. His website grew, as did his notoriety. He started giving interviews on local and national TV, and became the "go-to guy" for several radio stations when astronomy was in the news.

Eventually, Dr. Plait decided to rein back on astronomical research and concentrate more on education and outreach. He moved to California and got a job working at Sonoma State University for the Education and Public Outreach Group, which has grants from several NASA space missions to develop educational material for students and the public. They have won several awards for their outreach activities, and continue to produce outstanding educational products.

In 2001, Dr. Plait finished his book Bad Astronomy, published by Wiley and Sons. With the following he developed from his website over the years (the site gets over 4 million hits per year), the book quickly sold out its first printing. It is currently in its sixth printing, having sold over 22,000 copies. Deciding that full-time writing was his calling, Dr. Plait left his position at Sonoma State University, moved to Boulder, Colorado, and is now working on his second book, Death from the Skies, about all the myriad ways astronomical events can wipe out life on Earth. Published by Viking Press, it is due out in Fall 2008. He continues to write his blog and contribute to various magazines. He is also a science consultant for the award-winning children's science program, "The Zula Patrol".

Dr. Plait is married and has one daughter (on his blog he calls her the Little Astronomer). She loves astronomy too, and can stand eggs on end, too!