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Phil Plait

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Phil Plait
Phil Plait at The Amazing Meeting on January 20, 2007
Phillip Cary Plait

(1964-09-30) September 30, 1964 (age 59)
Other namesBad Astronomer
Alma materUniversity of Michigan
University of Virginia
Scientific career
FieldsPhysics, astronomy, science communication
ThesisHubble space telescope observations of the circumstellar ring around of supernova 1987A (1995)
WebsiteBad Astronomy Newsletter (earlier posts archived on SyFy and on Slate)

Philip Cary Plait (born September 30, 1964),[1] also known as The Bad Astronomer, is an American astronomer, skeptic, and popular science blogger. Plait has worked as part of the Hubble Space Telescope team, images and spectra of astronomical objects, as well as engaging in public outreach advocacy for NASA missions. He has written three books, Bad Astronomy, Death from the Skies, and Under Alien Skies. He has also appeared in several science documentaries, including How the Universe Works on the Discovery Channel. From August 2008 through 2009, he served as president of the James Randi Educational Foundation.[2][3] Additionally, he wrote and hosted episodes of Crash Course Astronomy,[4] which aired its last episode in 2016.

Early life[edit]

Plait grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. He has said he became interested in astronomy when his father brought home a telescope when Plait was 5 years old or so. According to Plait, he "aimed it at Saturn that night. One look, and that was it. I was hooked."[5]

Education and research[edit]

Plait attended the University of Michigan and received his PhD in astronomy at the University of Virginia in 1995 with a thesis on supernova SN 1987A, which he studied with the Supernova Intensive Study (SINS).[6]

During the 1990s, Plait worked with the COBE satellite and later was part of the Hubble Space Telescope team at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, working largely on the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph. In 1995, he published observations of a ring of circumstellar material around SN 1987A, which led to further study of explosion mechanisms in core-collapse supernovae.[7][8] Plait's work with Grady, et al. resulted in the presentation of high-resolution images of isolated stellar objects (including AB Aurigae[9] and HD 163296[10]) from the Hubble Space Telescope, among the first of those recorded. These results have been used in further studies into the properties and structure of dim, young, moderate-size stars, called Herbig Ae/Be stars,[11] which also confirmed results observed by Grady, et al.[12]

Public outreach[edit]

After his research contributions, Plait concentrated on educational outreach.[13] He went on to perform web-based public outreach for the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and other NASA-funded missions while at Sonoma State University from 2000 to 2007.[14] In 2001, he coauthored a paper on increasing accessibility of astronomy education resources and programs.[15]

A large proportion of his public outreach occurs online. He established the badastronomy website in 1998 and the corresponding blog in 2005. The website remains archived[16] but is no longer actively maintained, while the blog has continued, through several changes of platform, to the present day.

His first book, Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax" deals with much the same subject matter as his website. His second book, Death from the Skies, describes ways astronomical events could wipe out life on Earth and was released in October 2008.[17]

Plait's work has also appeared in the Encyclopædia Britannica Yearbook of Science and the Future and Astronomy magazine. He is also a frequent guest on the SETI Institute's weekly science radio show Big Picture Science.

Plait has contributed to a number of television and cinema productions, either onscreen as host or guest or in an advisory role offscreen. He hosted the three-part documentary series Phil Plait's "Bad Universe" on the Discovery Channel,[18] which first aired in the United States on August 29, 2010 but was not picked up as a series. He has appeared in numerous science documentaries and programs including How the Universe Works. Plait was a science advisor for the 2016 film Arrival[19] and the 2017 CBS TV series Salvation.[20] He was the head science writer of the 2017 show Bill Nye Saves the World on Netflix.[21]

Scientific skeptical advocacy[edit]

Phil Plait (center) during TAM9 in 2011, with Richard Wiseman and Joe Nickell

From 2008 to 2009, Plait served as the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, which promotes scientific skepticism, a position he eventually stepped down from in order to focus on the "Bad Universe" television project. He has also been a regular speaker at widely attended science and skepticism events and conferences, such as The Amazing Meeting (TAM),[22] Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS),[23] and DragonCon.[24] Plait writes and speaks on topics related to scientific skepticism, such as advocating in favor of widespread immunization.[25]

Personal life[edit]

Plait used to live in Boulder, Colorado with his wife, Marcella Setter, and daughter.[13] In a 2009 interview, Plait stated that his daughter is interested in astronomy and science, as well as anime and manga.[26] Setter and Plait run Science Getaways, a vacation company that provides science-based adventures.[27] As of January, 2024, he lives in rural Virginia outside of Charlottesville.[28]

Internet presence[edit]


The final slide to Plait's presentation at the JREF's 6th The Amazing Meeting convention

Plait began publishing explanatory Internet postings on science in 1993.[29][30]: 3:10  Five years later, Plait established Badastronomy.com with the goal of clearing up what he perceived to be widespread public misconceptions about astronomy and space science in movies, the news, print, and on the Internet, also providing critical analysis of several pseudoscientific theories related to space and astronomy, such as the "Planet X" cataclysm, Richard Hoagland's theories, and the Moon landing "hoax".[31] It received a considerable amount of traffic after Plait criticized a Fox Network special accusing NASA of faking the Apollo missions.[32] Astronomer Michelle Thaller has described Badastronomy.com, as well as Plait's book and essays called Bad Astronomy, as "a monumental service to the space-science community".[33]


In 2005, Plait started the Bad Astronomy blog. In July 2008, it moved to a new host, Discover Magazine. While it is primarily an astronomy blog, Plait also posts about skepticism, pseudoscience, and antiscience topics, with occasional personal and political posts. On November 12, 2012, the Bad Astronomy blog moved to Slate magazine.[34] Plait told Richard Saunders in an interview that "they [Slate] are very supportive... a new community." Revisiting old posts, Plait stated, "I've written about everything, when you've written 7,000 blog posts you've pretty much written about every topic in astronomy."[35]

On February 1, 2017 the Bad Astronomy blog moved to SyfyWire[36] where it was hosted until October 2022 [37] His blog is currently (2023) hosted by Substack.

Online video[edit]

In September 2011, Plait spoke at a TED (conference) in Boulder, his hometown. His conference explained how to defend Earth from asteroids.[38]

Plait taught Astronomy on the YouTube educational series Crash Course for 47 episodes, from January 15, 2015[4] to February 12, 2016.


  • Plait, Philip (2023). Under Alien Skies. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-86730-5.[39]
  • Plait, Philip; Weinersmith, Zach (2013). 27 Nerd Disses: A Significant Quantity of Disrespect. ASIN B00GI25TSC.
  • Plait, Philip (2008). Death from the Skies!: These are the Ways the World Will End. Viking Press. ISBN 978-0-670-01997-7.
  • Plait, Philip (2002). Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax". John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-40976-6.


Media appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode(s) Notes
2020 Captain Disillusion: UFO on the Moon | Quick D Video short
2019 Ancient Skies Episodes #1-3 Mini Tv series documentary
2017 How the World Ends Episodes "Planet X"/"Aliens Invade" Tv series documentary
2015 Crash Course: Astronomy Episodes #1-47 Short form YouTube series
2012 Curiosity Episode #2.12 – "Sun Storms" TV series documentary
2012 The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson Episode #8.122 TV series
2010–19 How the Universe Works "Black Holes"
"Solar Systems"
"all episodes in seasons 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6"
TV series documentary
2011 Captain Disillusion: Fame Curve Collection Video short
2010 Bad Universe "Death Stars"
"Alien Attack!"
"Asteroid Apocalypse"
TV series documentary
Known Universe "Stellar Storms"
"Cosmic Collisions"
TV series documentary
2008 Naked Science "Hubble's Amazing Universe" TV series documentary
2007 Is It Real? "Life on Mars" TV series documentary
The Zula Patrol "Larva or Leave Me/Egg Hunt"
"There Goes the Neighborhood"
TV series
2006 Nova "Monster of the Milky Way" TV series documentary
2005, 2009 Penn & Teller: Bullshit! "Conspiracy Theories"
TV series
2002 Die Akte Apollo TV movie documentary

Awards and honors[edit]


  1. ^ "Plait, Philip Cary (born 1964-09-30)". OCLC. Archived from the original on October 24, 2014. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
  2. ^ Plait, Phil (August 4, 2008). "Randi's big shoes to Phil". Bad Astronomy (blog). Discover.com. Archived from the original on May 19, 2011. Retrieved January 29, 2014.
  3. ^ "James Randi Educational Foundation Names New President" (Press release). James Randi Educational Foundation. December 7, 2009. Retrieved January 29, 2014.
  4. ^ a b Chmielewski, Dawn (November 6, 2014). "Vlogbrothers Bring "Crash Course" Videos to PBS Digital Studios". Re/code. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved November 8, 2014.
  5. ^ "Phil Plait". Samara Lectures. Archived from the original on January 11, 2019. Retrieved January 26, 2014.
  6. ^ Sonneborn, G.; Pun, C. S. J.; Kimble, R. A.; Gull, T. R.; Lundqvist, P.; et al. (January 1998). "Spatially Resolved STIS Spectroscopy of SN 1987A: Evidence for Shock Interaction with Circumstellar Gas". The Astrophysical Journal Letters. 492 (2): L139–L142. arXiv:astro-ph/9710373. Bibcode:1998ApJ...492L.139S. doi:10.1086/311106. S2CID 29997086.
  7. ^ Plait, Philip C.; Lundqvist, Peter; Chevalier, Roger A.; Kirshner, Robert P. (February 1995). "HST observations of the ring around SN 1987A". The Astrophysical Journal. 439: 730–751. Bibcode:1995ApJ...439..730P. doi:10.1086/175213.
  8. ^ Kotake, Kei; Sato, Katsuhiko; Takahashi, Keitaro (April 2006). "Explosion mechanism, neutrino burst and gravitational wave in core-collapse supernovae". Reports on Progress in Physics. 69 (4): 971–1143. arXiv:astro-ph/0509456. Bibcode:2006RPPh...69..971K. doi:10.1088/0034-4885/69/4/R03. S2CID 119103628.
  9. ^ Grady, C. A.; Woodgate, B.; Bruhweiler, F. C.; Boggess, A.; Plait, Philip; et al. (October 1999). "Hubble Space Telescope Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph Coronagraphic Imaging of the Herbig Ae Star AB Aurigae". The Astrophysical Journal Letters. 523 (2): L151–L154. Bibcode:1999ApJ...523L.151G. doi:10.1086/312270.
  10. ^ Grady, C. A.; Devine, David; Woodgate, B.; Kimble, R.; Bruhweiler, F. C.; et al. (December 2000). "STIS coronagraphic imaging of the Herbig AE Star: HD 163296". The Astrophysical Journal. 544 (2): 895–902. Bibcode:2000ApJ...544..895G. doi:10.1086/317222.
  11. ^ Millan-Gabet, Rafael; Schloerb, F. Peter; Traub, Wesley A. (January 2001). "Spatially Resolved Circumstellar Structure of Herbig Ae/Be Stars in the Near-Infrared". The Astrophysical Journal. 546 (1): 358–381. arXiv:astro-ph/0008072. Bibcode:2001ApJ...546..358M. doi:10.1086/318239. S2CID 14468101.
  12. ^ Natta, A.; Prusti, T.; Neri, R.; Wooden, D.; Grinin, V. P.; et al. (May 2001). "A reconsideration of disk properties in Herbig Ae stars". Astronomy and Astrophysics. 371 (1): 186–197. Bibcode:2001A&A...371..186N. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20010334.
  13. ^ a b "Dr. Philip Plait: Biography". Bad Astronomy. Archived from the original on September 19, 2018. Retrieved December 25, 2013.
  14. ^ "Phil Plait". Sonoma State University. Archived from the original on January 16, 2014.
  15. ^ Plait, P.; Tim, G.; Cominsky, L. (December 2001). Space Mysteries: Making Science and Astronomy Learning Fun. American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2001. December 10–14, 2001. San Francisco, California. Bibcode:2001AGUFMED32A..02P. Abstract #ED32A-02.
  16. ^ Plait, Phil (2008). "Bad Astronomy". Archived from the original on November 20, 2019. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  17. ^ "Big Announcement Part 1: My next book!". BadAstronomy.com. April 8, 2007. Archived from the original on May 5, 2007. Retrieved May 17, 2007.
  18. ^ "My Sooper Sekrit Project: REVEALED!". Bad Astronomy. Discover Magazine. Archived from the original on September 17, 2011. Retrieved July 23, 2010.
  19. ^ Plait, Phil (February 15, 2017). "Arrival - A not really Bad Astronomy review". Syfy.com. Archived from the original on April 15, 2018. Retrieved April 14, 2018.
  20. ^ Howell, Elizabeth (July 19, 2017). "How Realistic Is the Science in the CBS Show Salvation?". Space.com. Archived from the original on December 2, 2017. Retrieved August 1, 2017.
  21. ^ Plait, Phil (April 21, 2017). "Bill Nye Saves the World!". Archived from the original on December 22, 2017. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  22. ^ "Phil Plait at TAM 8: Don't be a Dick". James Randi Educational Foundation. YouTube.com. February 17, 2012. Archived from the original on May 28, 2014. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
  23. ^ "Phil Plait – The Final Epsilon". NECSS. YouTube.com. November 27, 2013. Archived from the original on September 19, 2018. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
  24. ^ "Phil Plait". DragonCon. Archived from the original on January 14, 2014. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
  25. ^ Plait, Phil (October 8, 2009). "Why I'm pro-vax". Discover Magazine. Archived from the original on January 15, 2014. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
  26. ^ Williams, Jenny (January 14, 2013). "Phil Plait: Bad Astronomer and Champion for Science". Wired. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
  27. ^ "About Science Getaways". Science Getaways. Archived from the original on January 10, 2014. Retrieved December 25, 2013.
  28. ^ Plait, Phil (March 18, 2018). "About". Bad Astronomy Newsletter. Retrieved January 2, 2024.
  29. ^ Plait, Phil (March 21, 2008). "Fifteen years". Slate. The Slate Group. Archived from the original on November 7, 2017. Retrieved December 21, 2016.
  30. ^ "Point of Inquiry: Phil Plait — The Bad Astronomer" (MP3 Podcast). Point of Inquiry. Center for Inquiry. April 12, 2007. Archived from the original on November 7, 2017. Retrieved December 15, 2016.
  31. ^ "Moon Hoax Spurs Crusade Against Bad Astronomy". The New York Times. Reuters. January 11, 2001. Archived from the original on January 30, 2015. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
  32. ^ Doyle, Jim (March 29, 2002). "Astronomer works for heavens' sake / Rohnert Park man corrects misconceptions". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on February 3, 2015. Retrieved January 30, 2015. A lot of folks logged on to www.badastronomy.com a year ago when Plait skewered a Fox-TV documentary that accused NASA of faking its Apollo missions and lunar landings during the 1960s and 1970s.
  33. ^ Thaller, Michelle (January 28, 2004). "The Bad Astronomer". Christian Science Monitor. Archived from the original on January 30, 2015. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
  34. ^ "Big news: Bad Astronomy is moving to Slate magazine". Bad Astronomy. Discover Magazine. November 2, 2012. Archived from the original on November 4, 2012. Retrieved November 11, 2012.
  35. ^ "24.Nov.2012". The Skeptic Zone. Archived from the original on September 21, 2013. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  36. ^ Swiderski, Adam (January 31, 2017). "Syfy Wire Welcomes Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy". SyfyWire. Archived from the original on September 2, 2017. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
  37. ^ "All Good Things…". SYFY Official Site. September 30, 2022. Archived from the original on November 6, 2022. Retrieved November 6, 2022.
  38. ^ Plait, Phil (September 2011). How to defend Earth from asteroids. TEDxBoulder. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  39. ^ "'Under Alien Skies' Will Fuel the Next Generation of Sci-Fi". WIRED. April 21, 2023. Retrieved April 23, 2023.
  40. ^ "Best Science Blog – The 2007 Weblog Awards". Weblog Awards. November 1, 2007. Archived from the original on December 6, 2013. Retrieved December 25, 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  41. ^ Medkeff, Jeff (March 25, 2008). "Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, and (165347) Philplait". Blue Collar Scientist. Archived from the original on June 5, 2008.
  42. ^ "165347 Philplait (2000 WG11)". JPL Small-Body Database. March 26, 2008.
  43. ^ McNichol, Tom (February 13, 2009). "25 Best Blogs 2009: Bad Astronomer". Time Magazine. Archived from the original on August 26, 2013.
  44. ^ "Shadow of a Doubt". NCAS.org. October 7, 2013. Archived from the original on December 26, 2013. Retrieved December 24, 2013.
  45. ^ "Winners of the David N. Schramm Award". High Energy Astrophysics Division, American Astronomical Society (HEAD/AAS). Archived from the original on January 19, 2016. Retrieved January 30, 2016.
  46. ^ Plait, Phil (February 25, 2015). "A Supermassive Black Hole's Fiery and Furious Wind". Slate. Archived from the original on January 31, 2016. Retrieved January 30, 2016.

External links[edit]