Top 5 Things Science Got Totally Wrong

Science is the best tool we have for understanding the world. But there are ways we could be doing science better, and they have been

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  1. A supernova’s superfast pulsar

Astronomers rejoiced in 1987 when a supernova appeared in the Large Magellanic Cloud, the closest such stellar explosion to Earth in centuries. Subsequent observations sought a signal from a pulsar, a spinning neutron star that should reside in the middle of the debris from some types of supernova explosions. But the possible pulsar remained hidden until January 1989, when a rapidly repeating radio signal indicated the presence of a superspinner left over from the supernova. It emitted radio beeps nearly 2,000 times a second — much faster than anybody expected (or could explain). But after one night of steady pulsing, the pulsar disappeared. Theorists raced to devise clever theories to explain the bizarre pulsar and what happened to it. Then in early 1990, telescope operators rotated a TV camera (used for guiding the telescope) back into service, and the signal showed up again — around a different supernova remnant. So the supposed signal was actually a quirk in the guide camera’s electronics — not a message from space.

  1. A planet orbiting a pulsar

In 1991, astronomers reported the best case yet for the existence of a planet around a star other than the sun. In this case, the “star” was a pulsar, a spinning neutron star about 10,000 light-years from Earth. Variations in the timing of the pulsar’s radio pulses suggested the presence of a companion planet, orbiting its parent pulsar every six months. Soon, though, the astronomers realized that they had used an imprecise value for the pulsar’s position in the sky in such a way that the signal anomaly resulted not from a planet, but from the Earth’s motion around the sun, you can find a casino game based on the planet at if you intend to widen your horizons.

  1. Age of Earth

In the 1700s, French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffonestimated an Earth age of about 75,000 years, while acknowledging it might be much older. And geologists of the 19th century believe it to be older still — hundreds of millions of years or more — in order to account for the observation of layer after layer of Earth’s buried history. After 1860, Charles Darwin’s new theory of evolution also implied a very old Earth, to provide time for the diversity of species to evolve. But a supposedly definite ruling against such an old Earth came from a physicist who calculated how long it would take an originally molten planet to cool. He applied an age limit of about 100 million years, and later suggested that the actual age might even be much less than that. His calculations were in error, however — not because he was bad at math, but because he didn’t know about radioactivity.

  1. Age of the universe

When astronomers first discovered that the universe was expanding, at the end of the 1920s, it was natural to ask how long it had been expanding. By measuring the current expansion rate and extrapolating backward, they found that the universe must be less than 2 billion years old. Yet radioactivity measurements had already established the Earth to be much older, and it was very doubtful (as in impossibly ridiculous) that the universe could be younger than the Earth. Those early calculations of the universe’s expansion, however, had been based on distance measurements relying on Cepheid variable stars.

  1. Earth in the middle

OK, we’re going to name and blame Aristotle for this one. He wasn’t the first to say that the Earth occupies the center of the universe, but he was the most dogmatic about it, and believed he had established it to be incontrovertibly true — by using logic. He insisted that the Earth must be in the middle because earth (the element) always sought to move toward its “natural place,” the center of the cosmos. Even though Aristotle invented formal logic, he apparently did not notice a certain amount of circularity in his argument. It took a while, but in 1543 Copernicus made a strong case for Aristotle being mistaken. And then in 1610 Galileo’s observation that Venus went through a full set of phases sealed the case for a sun-centre solar system.

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