A Veritable Vortex of Vapidity

Today’s video meme is brought to you courtesy of people who get high and then philosophize about the Universe.

This video was created in 2012 by one DJ Sadhu.  Somehow I missed it back then, but it showed up recently in Facebook in a shorter, edited form thanks to an “educational” page called iReleaseEndorphins.  In case this video is eventually swallowed by an Internet black hole, I’ll provide a transcript with my comments interwoven as necessary.

The old heliocentric model of our solar system…planets rotating around the Sun…

There is some music (which I presume the video was originally intended to showcase) accompanied by an animation of planets orbiting around the Sun.  The scale of the solar system model is way off.  Normally I would forgive that, since it’s very difficult to represent both the relative sizes of the planets and the distances between them on the same small screen, but this particular aggregation of planets does not resemble the real solar system in any way.  The largest planet in DJ Sadhu’s model, presumably Jupiter, is outside the orbit of a conspicuously ringed planet (Saturn?) which is just all kinds of wrong.  Furthermore, the Sun’s center doesn’t coincide with the center of the planets’ orbits; indeed, it appears as if the Sun is actually perched above the orbital plane of the inner planets.  I’m not sure what kind of physics would allow that to happen, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the same physics we use.

So within the first few moments of this video, you should be acutely aware that you are either watching bad astronomy, or bad animation, or both.  In any case, no, this isn’t a heliocentric model of our solar system.  This might be a model of some other planetary system, in some other Universe with different physics, but it sure as hell isn’t ours.

One more thing, and I know this is pedantic but just bear with me:  a planet revolves around the Sun.  It rotates on its axis.  Earth’s revolution takes a year to complete, but its rotation is done in 24 hours.  I suppose that’s a minor quibble, but I don’t feel like cutting this video any slack.  Let’s move on.

…is not only boring, but also incorrect.

I say astronomy is not boring at all, but I guess that’s a matter of opinion.  Also…when you say that established science is incorrect, you’d better be prepared to blow me away with some dramatic evidence for why everybody else is wrong and you’re right.  At this point I’m not too hopeful that you’re going to knock my socks off.  But let’s see what you got.

Our solar system moves through space at 70,000 km/hr

This is a very difficult value to measure, because everything around us is in constant motion.  When you measure the speed of the Sun – in fact, when you measure the speed of anything – you need a frame of reference.  A frame of reference is a point which is assumed to be stationary, at least for the purpose of the measurement you’re currently making.  Without a frame of reference, speed measurements are meaningless.

To circumvent this problem, astronomers have invented a concept called the Local Standard of Rest, or LSR.  The LSR is a reference frame that follows the average motion of material in the solar neighborhood.  In other words, if you were to average together the velocities of all nearby stars, dust clouds, etc, the resulting vector would be the LSR.  The Sun’s motion with respect to the LSR is very roughly in the direction of the bright star Vega, which is prominent on summer nights in the northern hemisphere.

And yes, the Sun’s velocity relative to the LSR is about 19.5 kilometers per second, or 70,000 kilometers per hour.  In that sense, the video is correct.

However, the LSR is just one way to measure the solar system’s motion.  The LSR itself is moving with respect to the galactic center; in fact, it is moving quite fast.  The relative velocity of the LSR with respect to the galactic center is more than 200 km/s (720,000 km/hr).  On top of that, our galaxy is also moving through space on an eventual collision course with the Andromeda galaxy.

My point is this: expressing the speed of objects in outer space takes a lot more effort and clarity than DJ Sadhu was willing to put into it.  It’s very easy to convey misconceptions about astronomy by not providing the right kind of information.

Now picture this instead:

The video switches to show a model of the solar system where the Sun is moving through space, trailing a thin yellow line – presumably for illustrative purposes.  The planets leave behind helical blue trails as they race to keep up with the Sun while still orbiting around it.

I get where DJ Sadhu is going.  It is fair to say that as the Sun races through space, the planets race alongside it, and if you were to plot the motions of the planets with respect to the LSR, they would resemble giant corkscrews.

But let’s be clear; this spirally motion does not negate the heliocentric model.  The heliocentric model is built up using the Sun as a reference point, which is an entirely valid way to model the solar system.  Even if you switch to a reference frame centered on the LSR, or the galactic core, the motions of the planets are still motivated by the Sun’s gravity.  Only a total fool would imply that the movements of the solar system are not properly described by the astronomical model we currently have.  Cue the video!

The Sun is like a comet, dragging the planets in its wake

Captain Picard, Commander Riker: your thoughts?

Double Facepalm

I concur, gentlemen.  That’s not how the Sun works.  That’s not how comets work.  That’s not how any of this works!

The Sun is nothing like a comet.  A comet is a lump of dust and ice, held together by electrostatic interactions and the feeblest gravity.  If a comet gets too close to the Sun, the Sun’s warmth sublimates some of the ice (meaning it converts the ice directly to vapor). The solar wind, a constant stream of energetic particles rushing outward from the Sun, blows the sublimated vapor back away from the Sun, forming a brilliant sunlit tail (or two).  At no point does the comet drag its tail; in fact, the tail is actively being pushed away from the comet’s nucleus by the solar wind.

The Sun, on the other hand, is a raging ball of nuclear fusion and fury!  The Sun is held together by its immense gravity, and it glows because of a hellish inferno of nuclear reactions happening deep in its core.  The planets keep step with the Sun in its journey through the galaxy because the Sun’s gravity absolutely demands that they do so.

Comparing the solar system to a comet is like comparing nuclear-powered, gravity-dominated apples to frozen dirty oranges.  Don’t do it.

Can you say “vortex”?

I can, but I can also say potato.  I can say onomatopoeia.  I can say lots of words that would be utterly meaningless in this situation.

A vortex is not what you think it is, DJ Sadhu.  In fluid dynamics, a vortex occurs when a fluid (i.e. air or water) rotates around an axis.  Examples of real-life vortices (or vortexes, if you prefer) include smoke rings, whirlpools, and dust devils.  If you look quickly, you can often see vortices when you stir cream into your coffee.

The motion of each particle in a vortex is due to a complex web of interactions with the particles around it.  Now at this point you would be perfectly correct to ask “But aren’t the movements of the planets also dictated by complex gravitational interactions among the bodies of the solar system?” and I would be forced to concede “Yes…to a point.”  See, unlike in vortices, the movements of the bodies in the solar system are far and away dominated by the strong central gravitational influence of the Sun.  Vortices are driven by turbulence; while gravity might affect the behavior of a vortex, they are not, strictly speaking, gravitational phenomena.

So no, the solar system is not a vortex.  It was not formed in the same way that vortices form and it does not behave like a vortex.  Just because both phenomena feature things spiraling around other things, that doesn’t mean they’re one and the same.

Why is this important?!

Because it demonstrates people’s willingness to swallow any kind of pseudoscientific bullshit as long as it’s accompanied by slick graphics and music?  Or am I way off?

Because “rotational motion” & “vortex motion” are two completely different things.

Except they’re not!  Vortex motion is, by definition, rotational motion.  I’m disappointed in you, DJ Sadhu!  You had an opportunity to atone for your rotation/revolution mix-up from earlier, and you blew it!

Next we cut to a shot of the leaves of a plant, arranged in spirals spreading out from the center.

Life spirals.

Ah yes!  Here is the 2:00 am dorm room pot-driven philosophizing you just knew was going to show up eventually!  What does it mean?  I have no idea!  But I’m sure that with the right combination of youthful naïveté, idealism, and THC in your system, it makes perfect sense!

Life is vortex, not just rotation.

Cue a stream of images showing various naturally-occurring spirally things, including: fern fronds unfurling, a white flower with petals arranged in a pattern that might charitably be called a spiral, a spiral galaxy, a DNA helix, a shell, and the familiar funnel shape formed by draining water.

The last of these images is the only one that depicts an actual vortex.  Furthermore, only about half of the images show something that is currently alive.  It’s as if DJ Sadhu is saying “Hey, check out these images which all bear a superficially similar shape.  Now listen as I construct the mother of all non sequiturs to link them all together!”

The video switches back to DJ Sadhu’s roaming solar system model.  Then…

The Solar System is part of life.  Think about this while racing through space.

Know what else is part of life?  Water.  Water is an essential molecule made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.  The three atoms in a water molecule are arranged into a wide V-shape, with the oxygen atom at the vertex (not vortex!).  Since water is so important to living things, does that mean that life is V-shaped?  Or how about Earth?  Earth is a ball.  (Yes it is, Flat Earthers!)  Earth is important to life.  Therefore…life is balls, man.  Life is balls.

DJ Sadhu is essentially saying that because one thing has characteristics in common with another thing, there must be some great cosmic connection between the two things (Homeopathy, anyone?).  As fun as it may be to entertain these ideas during a late-night BS session, they do not hold up under the sobering light of day.  Most people forget about these absurdities soon after considering them.  For DJ Sadhu, and for the people who uncritically share his video, these ideas seem to have grappled their imagination and un-tethered them from reality.

I notice that DJ Sadhu has produced a sequel to his video.  I’ll have to save that one for another rotation.

*Phil Plait, author of the Bad Astronomy blog at Slate, tackled this video.  (Three years ago!  Damn it, scooped again!)  I recommend checking out his smackdown of the video.

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