A Minor Blow-Up

A minor gripe about the European Southern Observatory’s press coverage of Supernova 1987A. I feel compelled to blog about SN 1987A because today marks the twentieth anniversary of its discovery.

Honestly, I appreciate ESO putting a graph on their web page of images. Even better, it includes color-coded dots with decent labels! But the good news stops there. Two major problems here: the label on the ordinate and the caption for the image.

Why say simply “V Magnitude” when you could add “Brightness” and make the message more clear?

And why cut the caption so short? “Light curve of the Supernova 1987A over a long period of time. Characteristic phases in the evolution of the supernova are indicated.” I mean, “a long period of time”? Just say “more than a decade” (so people don’t have to do the division in their heads). And how ’bout explaining some of those “characteristic phases” while you’re at it? I’d like to know a little more about radioactive tails; they sound kinda interesting.

Anyway, happy birthday, SN 1987A! And many happy returns…

Small Bodies, Simple Graph

The image above accompanies Steve Soter’s Scientific American article about the new definition of planets. The image of the solar system deals with the typical issues of scale and two-dimensionality adequately enough, but I really like the little graph just below the center. It shows Soter’s proposed μ values for various solar system bodies, which gives a more mathematical expression to the concept of a planet “clearing its orbit.” (Note that the scale of the bar graph is exponential!)

Now compare the graph to Figure 3 in the astro-ph version of the article. Whereas the astro-ph version uses a standard scientific convention (plotting two quantities and revealing μ as a diagonal line on the plot), the Scientific American version translates the concept into simple visual vernacular. Excellent work.