Whales from space

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Jonathan Amos, "Scientists count whales from space", BBC News 2/12/2014.

It's amazing how sensitive the measurement and modeling of gravitational perturbations of exoplanet systems has become, but detecting the effects of whales is a whole new level.  Anyhow, apparently, whales are Out There…

Screen shot:

[tip of the hat to Bill Burns]


  1. Vance Maverick said,

    February 12, 2014 @ 9:03 pm

    It took me a solid minute to figure out how to miss the intended reading. Perhaps "whales from space" (like "pigs in space") doesn't strike quite the right dry note for a headline.

  2. Bob said,

    February 12, 2014 @ 10:18 pm

    –scientists need grants. Please spare a million or two…..

  3. Bill Burns said,

    February 12, 2014 @ 10:21 pm

    There's a common complaint among science fiction readers that "literary" authors never like to be accused of writing SF, and will go to any lengths to call it something else. Margaret Atwood famously explained once on BBC1 Breakfast News that science fiction, as opposed to what she writes, is characterized by "talking squids in outer space."

    So when I saw the BBC headline on this story, it made perfect sense to me.

    More on this topic from my friend the science fiction author and critic David Langford:

  4. Bob said,

    February 12, 2014 @ 10:22 pm

    ** we all know whales make noises/speeches… LL should apply for some grants also. We need to know space whales' grammar, ..etc.

  5. Cygil said,

    February 12, 2014 @ 11:05 pm

    It's amazing how sensitive the measurement and modeling of gravitational perturbations of exoplanet systems has become

    To be sure, but this technology appears to rely on image processing in the visible light spectrum. Gravometric detection of individual whales would be huge — for one thing, it'd put submarines out of business!

  6. mookie said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 12:23 am

    Space whales!

  7. maidhc said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 3:17 am

    Gravimetric detection!

    To estimate the aquifer's changing water levels, the Irvine center receives monthly gravity maps from a pair of twin orbiting satellites named Grace, for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment.

    The satellites carry instruments that can sense minute variations in Earth's gravitational pull caused by changing features of the land below. They detect – at least roughly – changes in the gravity of the Central Valley aquifer as its water content diminishes


  8. Peter Harvey said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 5:46 am

    But Douglas Adams got there first.

    "Another thing that got forgotten was the fact that against all probability a sperm whale had suddenly been called into existence several miles above the surface of an alien planet.

    "And since this is not a naturally tenable position for a whale, this poor innocent creature had very little time to come to terms with its identity as a whale before it then had to come to terms with not being a whale any more."

    Full quote on link:

  9. mollymooly said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 5:58 am

    Like Vance Maverick, I had difficulty misreading the headline. The word "exoplanet" in the commentary was the vital clue.

  10. NW said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 7:35 am

    It might not be gravitational: they might be detecting very loud bloop-like calls perturbing the atmosphere.

    On a serious linguistic note, this is more worrying than you have realized. Xeno-whales on their home planet are whales in space, not whales from space. Whales from space have landed (beached? breached?) and are among us.

  11. AlexB said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 7:53 am

    Will they be tracking bowls of petunias next?

  12. EndlessWaves said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 10:05 am

    Science fiction, like romance, does get lumbered with a lot of embarassing books. Part of the problem is that the literary world doesn't seem used to things changing over time, which is a characteristic of science. 60 years ago mars was a blurry red dot and it was perfectly reasonable science fiction to people it with jungles & cat people, or pyramids & canals. These days if you want to write such a story you're firmly in the realm of fantasy (or perhaps alternate history) yet anything that remotely involves space seems to get filed under science fiction regardless

  13. Elise said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 12:24 pm

    Headline yesterday from the Wall Street Journal: High Speed Stock Traders Turn to Laser Beams. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303947904579340711424615716?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702303947904579340711424615716.html

  14. EricF said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

    @Peter Harvey
    My first thought upon reading the headline was, "Oh, no, not again!"

  15. Rubrick said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 7:28 pm

    As every obsessed (*cough*) Homestar Runner fan knows, Strong Bad's dream job is to be a 2nd 2nd Assistant Space Whale Scrubber.

  16. Mike Maxwell said,

    February 16, 2014 @ 7:24 pm

    You mean nobody's mentioned this yet?:


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