Reality Straight Up!

Thoughts & Observations of a Free Range Astrophysicist

The UFO Syndrome

Psychologists Call it Confirmation Bias

Central to my message is the fact that while much of what we think we know may be reliable, much of it is really only a W.A.G. – a wild ass guess.  The problem is that we don’t know which is which.  To make matters worse, our natural tendency is to go out there and actively reinforce those W.A.G.s!  We look for and pay attention to things that agree with our preconceptions and dismiss things that don’t.  In the process we run the risk of solidifying the very notions that might one day be our downfall. 

Star Formation in the Eagle Nebula

The Hubble Space Telescope image of the Eagle Nebula, dubbed “The Pillars of Creation,” is one of the most famous astronomical images ever taken.

Repairing the Hubble Space Telescope

Before launch, the Hubble Space Telescope was being touted as the greatest advance in astronomy since Galileo first pointed a telescope at the heavens. But it didn’t take long to discover that it had a serious flaw. Hubble’s mirror was exquisite. It was just the wrong shape, leaving it unable to make sharp images of the heavens.

Origin of the Solar System

Some of the most interesting ideas come when people from very different backgrounds talk to each other. An example of this involves some work that I undertook along with meteoriticists (scientists who study meteorites) at ASU. Meteorites are fragments left over from the time when the Solar System formed, 4.5 billion years ago.

Crab Nebula

The Crab Nebula

The Crab Nebula is the remnant of a supernova – the explosion of a massive, luminous star – observed by Chinese astrologers in 1054 AD. And to astrophysicists, the Crab is one of the most important objects in the sky.

Press Releases

This page covers a few of my scientific accomplishments. Over the course of my scientific career I was involved in a host of fascinating and important projects.

21st Century Astronomy

More often that not the chasm that seems to exist between the scientist and the nonscientist is one of language. But it is possible to communicate across such boundaries. It was with that in mind that I took on the task of writing what became a very successful introductory astronomy textbook, 21st Century Astronomy.

Recent Article Mobile

  • Cassandra Smiling  Science, politics and a march in the rainPosted in For Your Consideration
  • EPA Rehash  A suddenly partisan NASA faces its futurePosted in Thoughts
  • The Hermeneutics of  Bunk  Alan Sokal and postmodernism’s black eyePosted in For Your Consideration
  • A Dunning-Kruger Universe  Everyone, it seems, has a “theory”Posted in For Your Consideration
  • Our Need to Know  We crave certainty, even when it is only an illusionPosted in CoachingThoughts
  • A Saguaro’s universe  Building a cactus starts with the Big BangPosted in For Your Consideration
  • Oklahoma Skies  To all the amateurs out there, thanks!Posted in For Your Consideration
  • Fight-or-Flight  How our Pleistocene brains (mis)handle modern threatsPosted in Coaching
  • In a Shark’s Eye  Science and the experience of wonderPosted in For Your Consideration
  • The Quandry of Unpredictability  Chaos, climate and an unpredictable futurePosted in For Your Consideration
  • Why I March for SciencePosted in Thoughts
  • Waiting for Skynet  The benefits of being a machinePosted in For Your Consideration
  • On a cold day in April, 2017 scientists gathered in Washington DC and cities around the world for the March for Science. Their message was a single powerful idea. Truth is not a political expediency. Reality cannot be ignored. In the year that has followed the vital importance of that message has only grown.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • When I look at NASA’s new Administrator, Jim Bridenstine, it is his fellow Oklahoman Scott Pruitt’s EPA that jumps to mind. As politically uncomfortable science is pushed aside, NASA’s history of nonpartisanship appears headed for an abrupt end. Will a strongly partisan NASA have a target on its back?

  • Some years ago, NYU physicist Alan Sokal wondered whether anti-science postmodernists could recognize politically-correct-sounding nonsense even if he rubbed their noses in it. The unwitting subjects of the Sokal Hoax jumped at the bait.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • Some people are sure they know more than the experts, but it can take a lot of knowledge to realize just how wrong an idea is.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • The human brain craves the sensation of knowing like a drug addict craves the next fix. If real knowledge is uncomfortable or not at hand, we are quite content to just make something up, then convince ourselves it’s real. In a world where knowledge matters, that’s dangerous.

  • The iconic saguaro cactus gives the desert an otherwordly beauty. That beauty does not exist in isolation. It embodies the fascinating and awe-inspiring processes that have shaped the universe, going all the way back to the Big Bang itself.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • Looking at room full of amateur astronomers, gathered for the Okie-Tex Star Party under the spectacularly dark skies of the Oklahoma Panhandle, I am reminded of my own roots and those who helped me discover the universe.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • A strong fight-or-flight reaction served our evolutionary ancestors well. If the leopard catches you, that’s it! But today a visceral response to a not-so-mortal threat seldom improves things. If you want to get a handle on those intense, counterproductive bouts of emotion, start by understanding where fight-or-flight came from in the first place.

  • Alone, 100 feet underwater, with a shark in its element, I am overwhelmed by a mixture of awe, beauty, joy, and intellectual wonder at the world that brings us together. In that moment, I experience just what science is all about.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • Chaos is a sticky wicket for science. There are things a correct theory like climate change cannot predict, but there are a lot of things that it can. It’s important to understand which is which.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • On Earth Day, April 22, 2017, people around the nation will March for Science. It seems strange to need to march in support of the idea that pronouncements from politicians cannot change the nature of reality, or that evidence matters when making decisions. But such are the peculiar times in which we live.

  • For biological organisms, interstellar travel is hopelessly difficult, and probably pointless. For sentient machines, however, home is the environment you were built for.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

Over his 30 year career as an internationally known astrophysicist, Dr. Jeff Hester was a key member of the team that repaired the Hubble Space Telescope. With one foot always on the frontiers of knowledge, he has been mentor, coach, team leader, award-winning teacher, administrator and speaker, to name a few of the hats he has worn. His Hubble image, the Pillars of Creation, was chosen by Time Magazine as among the 100 most influential photographs in history.
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