Observer's Notebook


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Letter from a Contrarian



Bruce Dorminey

Contributing Editor:
Ken Rumstay

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Justin Herron

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Ben Rehberg

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Controversy is probably not the first thing that springs to mind when most people hear the words — astronomy, astrophysics, astrochemistry; or even astrobiology. 

After all, isn’t controversy the realm of politics and culture?  

Aside from an ongoing debate about the politics of climate change, cloning, or stem cell research, mainstream science journalism, including astronomical coverage, often tends to be cursory, devoid of real context, much less scientific rancor.  

Despite the recent uncharacteristically public and heated clash over the new planet classifications, most astronomy news flies well below the media’s radar.

What the general public often doesn’t realize is that behind closed doors, rancorous coffee klatsches are often a matter of course at any given astronomical colloquium. 

Politicians and policy wonks tend to air their differences in very bellicose terms.  Astronomers, in contrast, rarely find themselves in shouting matches on the cable news channels.  It’s not often that they are given air time to vent their squabbles in public. 

Besides, most astronomers prefer to keep their disputes below a low murmur.  Or they simply publicly ignore contrary theoretical points of view until absolutely forced to confront them.

That may be an effective way to work at their given academic or research institutions, but does it really serve astronomy as it relates to society?

There’s an old Hollywood axiom — there’s no such thing as bad publicity.  Would more raucous astronomical debate also garner more ink?  If so, could more funding in a field that has always been historically strapped for cash be far behind?

In its own way, I hope that this website will allow a more open and free-ranging debate about all things astronomical — from the formation of our own moon to the formation of the first galaxies in the universe.

We literally are byproducts of stellar formation; “Starchildren” in our own hippy dippy way.  And although we sometimes choose to ignore it, astronomy holds the keys to some of the toughest questions we face.

In the following weeks and months, it’s my hope that Cosmic Controversy.com will become the internet’s most provocative, scientifically-based astronomical forum. 

Thanks for stopping by,

Bruce Dorminey


Bruce Dorminey is a science journalist and author who has covered astronomy and astrophysics for the past decade.  He is a former Hong Kong bureau chief for Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine and a former Paris-based technology correspondent for London’s Financial Times newspaper.


In nearly two decades of print journalism, Dorminey has written for numerous magazines and newspapers, including Astronomy, Discover, Geographical, Canada's Globe and Mail, The International Herald Tribune, The Boston Globe, The Toronto Star, and the Dallas Morning News.  He was also a 1998 winner in the Royal Aeronautical Society's Aerospace Journalist of the Year Awards (AJOYA) for a Financial Times article on the European Space Agency’s HIPPARCOS mission.  His SPACE TIMES article entitled "Interstellar Wanderlust" was shortlisted for Best Propulsion Submission in the 2004 AJOYA awards.  His article on the far future of astronomy from space for SPACE TIMES magazine, the magazine of the American Astronautical Society, was shortlisted for Best Space Submission in the 2005 AJOYA awards His ASTRONOMY magazine article on the planet Venus was shortlisted for Best Space Submission in the 2006 AJOYA awards. And his article on the planet Mercury which ironically appeared in Mercury magazine was shortlisted for Best Space Submission in the 2007 AJOYA awards.


USA TODAY called his book, “Distant Wanderers: the Search for Planets beyond the Solar System,” (Springer 2001), “a short course in one of the most exciting areas of astronomical discovery."

Dorminey is currently a frequent contributor to ASTRONOMY magazine, and also writes for MERCURY, the magazine of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

Dr. Ken Rumstay is a prize-winning professor of astronomy at Georgia’s Valdosta State University.  With degrees in planetary science and astronomy from MIT, Wesleyan University, and Ohio State University, Dr. Rumstay’s research as an observational astronomer has allowed him to study the long-term optical variability of highly energetic galactic centers, known as Active Galactic Nuclei.  His work has also given him the opportunity to contribute to research involving extragalactic star formation and in studies of the interstellar medium. 

A member of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), the Georgia Academy of Science, the International Dark Sky Association, and the Council on Undergraduate Research; Dr. Rumstay is a founding member of the Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy (SARA), which operates a 0.9-m telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona.

On Friday evenings during the university’s academic year, Dr. Rumstay dons his hat as VSU Planetarium Director, where he is often found using his keen sense of humor and knowledge of the sky to entertain and educate all manner of audiences. 

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Image credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)