Fighting popularization or how I REN TV news commented

Difficult and painful choice to be popularized when he is asked to comment on something REN TV or TV-3. On the one hand, there is a risk that your words will be remounted into something completely insane and diluted with something pseudoscientific. Back in 2011, the State Astronomical Institute. Sternberg urged scientists not to give such interviews to such channels. On the other hand, one freak and one normal person in transmission are theoretically better than two freaks. And the popularizer of science, Alexander Sokolov, quite successfully went to REN TV, made a film about it and recently went for the second time (the film was shown at the festival “Scientists Against Myths-4”, waiting for it on YouTube). The other day I was contacted from REN TV and asked to comment on a couple of news. Thinking, I agreed, but with certain conditions. And the news that I was asked to comment on is quite suitable for a separate popular science publication.

“We came with the world” , artist Vasya Lozhkin

Preparation and conversation

Knowing about the experience of Sokolov, I decided to use his method and put the following condition - I keep a parallel record with my own means and post it in my blogs. And here the territorial distance (I live in Ufa) had a very positive effect - the picture quality on Skype is usually quite mediocre, and I have an excellent action camera and a separate microphone-buttonhole, which allows an almost studio level of shooting, so I was the only owner of the recording immediately after the conversation. Also, from Sokolov’s experience, I tried to speak faster and more actively move my head to make installation more difficult.

The questions turned out to be not two, but four, and even two additional ones, to my great surprise, were quite normal.

Space films

The first news initially was not credible. Some films in the yellow title allegedly hunting satellites, and in the text of the article designated as space debris. Strange information that they are supposedly visible in small telescopes and not visible in large ones. Also in the news there is a classic sign of inaccurate information - the absence of a normal reference to exactly who discovered this and in which serious source he described. However, the Institute of Applied Mathematics named. Keldysh. Two minutes of searching made it possible to find the original source - a completely adequate quality article in RIA Novosti with normal links and direct speech.

Thanks to these observations, there was information about a new class of objects with amazing characteristics: a very small mass and a huge area. Most likely these are some kind of flying films, which are either formed during the destruction of satellites and rocket stages, or are simply peeled off even from working space vehicles. The result is a sort of “artificially natural” solar sail: a device that uses the pressure of sunlight to move.

Scientists of the Ballistic Center for more than 10 years have the ability to track the ballistic evolution of similar objects, some of which, under the influence of the pressure of sunlight, either descend from the geostationary orbit or come back.
Explains Igor Molotov, head of the coordination group of the NSOI AFS IPM them. M.V. Keldysh RAS:

“These films are still interesting because they have a highly variable brilliance. Sometimes such objects are opened on a small telescope, and on a large one they are not visible. Some observatories have several telescopes of various sizes, for example, the Crimea. They have a 2.6 m telescope there - very large, and a small one - 22 cm. And now they see this film on a 22 cm telescope, and when they switch to a 2.6 m telescope, in order to make photometric observations that can to help understand what material it consists of, they don’t see at all. Go back - to 22cm - see! Probably, this was because the film turned its edge towards the Earth and lost its luster. ”

Igor E. Molotov is a real-life person, and, just in case, I wrote to him to check whether he really said that and what kind of objects he thinks are.

Waiting for an answer, you can think about brains - are there components on the satellites that have a small mass with a large surface area? There is - it is a multi-layer metallized film used for thermal insulation. In Russia, it is called “screen-vacuum thermal insulation”, in the USA - Multi-layer insulation or MLI. On the ground, such a film is used in rescue or mountain blankets, because it is very light, takes up little space and retains heat well.

It takes a lot of satellites.

And here several layers are clearly visible.

A separate interesting question is whether it falls off by itself from the satellites due to aging processes, or else the detected films are the result of some kind of collision. It is also worth noting that for many years experimentally tested changes in the characteristics of various materials under the influence of outer space. Space shuttles exhibited in orbit a large experiment Long Duration Exposure Facility from 1984 to 1990, and now the ISS is carrying out the “Endurance” experiment.

After a conversation with REN TV, an answer came from Igor Molotov, in which he also expressed the thermal insulation hypothesis:

According to one of the versions, these are scraps of thermal insulation film, in which satellites are wrapped.

He also sent me a link to a ten-year-old work in which these unusual objects are described in more detail.

The presence of objects in high orbits, unconditionally connected in their origin with large objects in the GSO region, but having unique physical properties, was confirmed. They have a very large ratio of area to mass - from 1 to 40 sq. M / kg, which exceeds the values ​​of this parameter for “ordinary” objects from 300 to 13000 times. Because of this, the orbital evolution of such objects undergoes significant changes under the influence of the pressure of a stream of light radiation. Prediction of the movement of such objects is significantly complicated by the fact that the area-to-mass ratio is not constant for them due to rotation relative to the center of mass and, as a result, it is not possible to accurately predict the effect of light radiation pressure on the movement of these objects. The only possibility not to lose these objects is to constantly observe them.

Also in the conversation I was asked about the correctness of the estimated amount of space debris. The article RIA Novosti cites the number of 24,000 objects, in the quarterly NASA report mentioned 17,260 objects. Space debris is tracked by radar and optical telescopes, it is necessary for the safe operation of the ISS and satellites.

Conclusion : In a serious edition they told about objects that have been observed for ten years. Whence already, without understanding and hanging up more and more yellow headlines, various websites dragged it.

Runaway mercury

The second news is also in the original wording does not cause any confidence. Unknown nameless scientists, supposedly dislodged Mercury, who in some magical way will receive a huge amount of energy to leave the solar system. Begin to look for the source. There is nothing sensible in runet. We are looking for in English. We find a note that almost no one read - at the time of writing the publication there are 24 views, of which 6 are mine. But she came out recently and almost literally repeats the text on the link that was sent to me. It is highly unlikely that Russian articles were translated on this site, so most likely we found the original source.

In the English text the same oddities, and in one place Mercury in general with a small letter. We start looking for reputable sources. There are no recent publications, we are expanding the search queries more and more, we are already looking for general issues of the sustainability of the Solar System and as a result we find an article in Nature 2009 for authorship of Lascar and Gastino. And it seems that it was her (or her retelling) that was read by the authors of our original source. Because Laskar and Gastino created 2500 scenarios, shifting the position of Mercury by 1 meter and calculating the position of the planets for the next five billion years. In 20 cases out of 2500 (slightly less than 1%) Mercury went into orbits, where it could collide with Venus or fall onto the Sun, and in one case from 2500 it changed the orbits of neighboring planets so that Mars switched to the trajectory on which it could collide with the Earth .

In general, the stability of the solar system is quite an interesting and fully scientific question. The fact is that only for two bodies can one find an analytical solution (formula) by which one can calculate their position in an arbitrarily distant future. Already for three bodies, an analytical solution can be found only for a few special cases ( Lagrange points ). In the general case, for three bodies or more, the position of objects can be calculated only numerically, on a computer. In the solar system, obviously, more than two bodies, it is stable over the past million years, but after 2-200 million years it becomes unpredictable.

The second question raised in the original article is the expansion of the Sun, which will be absorbed by Mercury. Indeed, the Sun is the star of the main sequence and after about 7 billion years will become a subgiant, and then a red giant and swallow Mercury, Venus and, possibly, the Earth. But specifically, we will not live to see it.

Conclusion: The old authoritative scientific article was poorly understood and poorly retold.

Venusian chips

The third news, told already in the course of the conversation, concerned the development of NASA chips capable of working for a long time in the conditions of Venus. The scientific publication is the source here , the news appeared in February. To be honest, here I fell into a little stupor, thinking that you can comment here. The credibility of the news is not in doubt, it is a normal process of developing new technologies that will allow to get even more scientific information. Fearing confusing the numbers of the Soviet "Venus", he answered with general phrases. Mentioned "Venus-D", work on which is underway, but the dates have already moved to 2026.

Conclusion : Regular news, what is there to comment?


The latest news from the quote is restored before this article . In short, the METI (Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) organization is going to send a signal first to Centaurus Proxime, and then to more distant stars. What pleases, in the English-language article is the original source, the news is quite reliable. Alas, an error appeared in the Russian translation - it is said that the signal will be the first one sent to the stars. This is not so, the first message with the words “Peace”, “Lenin”, “USSR” was sent to Venus as far back as 1962, and since then there have been few of them . I tried to point out this mistake in a conversation, besides I spoke about the Drake equation .

Conclusion : The news with the actual error.


In general, the communication turned out to be not very pleasant (there is a feeling that instead of a conversation there was a competition, someone who will prepare more unpleasant surprises), but gave me personally useful experience and could theoretically bring non-zero benefits in general.

  1. The requirement of parallel fixation to leave, it does not accelerate - in this case, its quality decreases.

  2. The sole control over the recording files turned out to be very useful - I was able to remove one factual error in my words and an insufficiently authoritative classification that I used through negligence.

  3. In vain hoped for a normal communication among the people who made the transfer. My demand for parallel recording and uploading video at my place, discussed with the producer, turned out to be news for a journalist with whom I spoke.

  4. It is very curious that the journalist with whom I spoke, really did not want his face to be in the video. REN TV employees feel free to work there? Already after the conversation, he suddenly declared that he was against publishing his voice, so that the original video is still lying in evidence in case I am mounted in the style of “Are you a reptilian? - Yes!"

The producer who contacted me first said that the material is being prepared for the transfer of “The Mysteries of Humanity”, the airs are supposedly from June 13, but I did not find it in the program schedule. Let's see what happens in the end.

Do you agree with the logic of the decision? Do you have good arguments to fundamentally refuse to communicate with channels with a similar reputation, losing the chance to say the right things to a rather big audience? Do you have any ideas on how to be engaged in such popularization in unfriendly conditions?

UPD : And this is what their standard contract looks like, if anyone is interested. With the possibility of installation, everything is clear, but, nevertheless, I hope, installation does not include a transfer of the answer to one question in response to another question.


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