About that moment of WTF

A few ago I noted an odd paper in the latest issue of Nature which reported that the Andromeda galaxy has a whole bunch of dwarf galaxies that orbit it in the same plane, like they were painted on one large and very flat disc. And also, by the way, the Milky Way’s flattened plane aligns edge-to-edge with that disc. Therefore in a couple of billion years our galaxies will collide like a couple of circular saw blades meeting each other edge on. How? Why? Nobody knows. Maybe the guys who wrote the simulation software that we call our universe got behind schedule and had to cut some corners.

If that were not odd enough, now we find out that the guy who reported this profoundly unexpected discovery in the most prestigious of all science journals is all of fifteen. He worked with a team of astronomers, including his dad, but everyone agrees that Neil Ibata wrote the key software and made sense out of the very weird result. It’s like if Doogie Howser discovered that the human genetic code is written in Basque.


Correction! Those dwarf galaxies all orbit in a very thin plane that is about perpendicular to Andromeda itself. The Milky way is just-just in line with that plane of dwarf galaxies, so when we run into each other it will be more like a circular saw hitting another circular blade sideways, but with a bunch of little circular saws hitting it edge-on first. That sounds much less dramatic.

133 replies
  1. 1
    redshirt says:

    I haven’t read the paper, but doesn’t it simply imply that Andromeda, the Milky Way, and all the assorted dwarf galaxies formed from a similar source? As in some primordial, huge gas cloud?

  2. 2
    Emma says:

    Every once in a while, I come face to face with the fact that mine is an average sort of intelligence…

  3. 3
    WereBear says:

    Good for him! It’s great to discover what makes you happy at such an age.

  4. 4
    Americanadian says:

    Will Mr. Ibata be starring in “How I Built Your Universe” fifteen to twenty-odd years from now?

  5. 5

    Not a physicist here, but I do know there have been some attempts to experimentally verify frame dragging in Earth orbit recently. (Basically the idea is that massive rotating objects actually cause deformations in the surrounding spacetime itself, that might be observed as precession in orbiting objects).

    Not exactly the same thing here, but I do wonder what effect a massive, rotating disc-shaped object would have on the spacetime surrounding it, and if that effect could be observed as certain orbits being favored over others in this case?

    To rephrase: I wonder if a large disc-shaped object deforms the space around it deforms spacetime in such a way that it “pulls” objects into disc-shaped orbits around it?

  6. 6
    Alex S. says:

    Sometimes I wonder what could happen if we had several unusually talented children specialize in different fields of science and focus all their energies on new discoveries. It’s morally ambiguous, of course. The children must want it, or maybe we could try to ‘breed’ savants who have just one interest by nature. After all, it’s sometimes amazing how quick children can learn. And scientists usually achieve breakthroughs in their early years.

  7. 7
    Culture of Truth says:

    If he swept the floors maybe he would learn a work ethic

  8. 8
    Scamp Dog says:

    @Judas Escargot, Bringer of Loaves and Fish Sandwiches: Sure, but the Andromeda galaxy is also a large rotating body, and it’s a lot closer to Andromeda’s neighbors than we are.

  9. 9
    MariedeGournay says:

    Thank you Neil for reminding me why the world is awesome.

  10. 10
    BGinCHI says:

    Kids these days….

  11. 11
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    Having an astronomer father gives him a big advantage over most teenagers.

  12. 12
    catclub says:

    “Therefore in a couple of billion years our galaxies will collide like a couple of circular saw blades meeting each other edge on.”

    Is this true? Are their trajectories that well known?
    How, given the amount of time we have observed them is microscopic
    in in the overall scheme of things?

    Isn’t it more likely that they pass by like two disks spinning in the night. Frisbees do collide edge on, but not often.

  13. 13
    Poopyman says:

    Yeah, but once he learns beer pong that’ll be the last we hear of him.

  14. 14
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Culture of Truth:

    This sounds like the sort of thing a person who dumb people think is smart might say.

  15. 15
    Todd says:

    Yeah, but once he learns beer pong gets away from the filtered internet and discovers that there’s porn on it that’ll be the last we hear of him.


  16. 16
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay: It does help, but I can’t convince any of my kids to learn any programming. The fact that he wanted to do it is the best part.

  17. 17
    Bob Munck says:

    the guys who wrote the simulation software that we call our universe

    Jeez, don’t tell people about that. If it gets out that we’re all just simulations running on a teenager’s iPhone (The Angry Humans app), politicians will start acting irresponsibly.

  18. 18
    Poopyman says:


    Is this true? Are their trajectories that well known?
    How, given the amount of time we have observed them is microscopic
    in in the overall scheme of things?

    Pretty much.

    The solution came through painstaking NASA Hubble Space Telescope measurements of the motion of Andromeda, which also is known as M31. The galaxy is now 2.5 million light-years away, but it is inexorably falling toward the Milky Way under the mutual pull of gravity between the two galaxies and the invisible dark matter that surrounds them both.

    Previously, it was unknown whether the far-future encounter will be a miss, glancing blow, or head-on smashup. This depends on M31’s tangential motion. Until now, astronomers had not been able to measure M31’s sideways motion in the sky, despite attempts dating back more than a century. The Hubble Space Telescope team, led by van der Marel, conducted extraordinarily precise observations of the sideways motion of M31 that remove any doubt that it is destined to collide and merge with the Milky Way.

  19. 19
    patrick II says:

    @Alex S.:

    So, you’ve read “Ender’s Game”.

  20. 20
    notgonnahappen says:

    It has been known the 2 galaxies where on a collision course for decades. So I am not sure what you are going on about with this kid who is reinventing the wheel.

  21. 21
    kindness says:

    Uhhh….no. If it were edge to edge you wouldn’t see the spiral. You’d see a flat plane with a bulge at the center. See this picture here of the Andromeda Galaxy. One can see the spiral.

  22. 22
    Poopyman says:

    @Todd: Ooooh, a definite improvement!

  23. 23
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Todd: The two things are not mutually exclusive.

  24. 24
    Yutsano says:

    @Todd: Oh sure, blame the hormones. :)

  25. 25
    Scamp Dog says:

    Therefore in a couple of billion years our galaxies will collide like a couple of circular saw blades meeting each other edge on.

    The way I read the paper’s abstract, it sounds like the plane of the structure they discovered is perpendicular to our galaxy’s plane. Which is still an amazing coincidence. Or even more amazing if it’s somehow not a coincidence.

  26. 26
    cathyx says:

    I better get my bucket list written.

  27. 27
    chopper says:


    the milky way is edge-to-edge with M31’s ring of dwarf galaxies, not with M31 itself.

  28. 28
    Poopyman says:

    The article I linked above shows the proper orientation.

  29. 29
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    Maybe John can get Neil deGrasse Tyson to blog here and go into detail about these things.

  30. 30
    JasonF says:

    in a couple of billion years our galaxies will collide

    Kind of puts the whole debt ceiling thing into perspective.

  31. 31
    Maude says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):
    I don’t understand any of it. It doesn’t matter who explains it.

  32. 32
    Corner Stone says:


    I better get my bucket list written.

    1. See Grand Canyon [Check]
    2. Get autograph from my favorite actor [Check]
    3. Construct inter-stellar transport capable of warp speed

  33. 33
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Corner Stone: First, though, you have to build the great library at Alexandria and defeat Gandhi and Napoleon.

  34. 34
    Tone in DC says:

    Sometime before that galactic collision occurs, won’t the sun run out of hydrogen, grow into a red giant and then burn this planet to a cinder?

    Just sayin’.

  35. 35
    Ted & Hellen says:

    Astronomy in general and discoveries like this are awe inspiring and stunning and amazing.

    What would be equally cool is if more scientists would simply admit that the more we learn about…just about anything at all, the more we also learn that given the size and wonder of the universe and all it contains, we know almost nothing at all.

  36. 36
    jibeaux says:

    I’ve always been a big proponent of public education and my son got through fifth grade with his parents quite satisfied with his education. Now, sadly, he’s in middle school, and is bored up to his eyeballs by what passes for math & science education there. He’s done some math & science summer camps so he had some expectations that are not being met. I’m meeting with the teachers for the second time, but there may be no way around the fact that a private education that we can’t afford — but also probably couldn’t get financial aid for — would offer the best challenges and education to him. Anyone else faced this struggle or have advice for me? For purposes of giving you realistic information, there is not much of a budget for labs apparently, and his teacher has only a minor in science and is lateral entry after a significant non-science career that ended in layoffs. Her attitude towards science and teaching does not scream Neil DeGrasse Tyson, is what I’m saying.

  37. 37
    Emma says:

    @Tone in DC: Sure. Take all the fun out of it, why don’t you?

  38. 38
    Culture of Truth says:

    It’s great to discover what makes you happy at such an age.

    I agree this may help get him dates.

  39. 39
    Poopyman says:

    @Tone in DC: Spoil sport.

  40. 40
    Culture of Truth says:

    Kind of puts the whole debt ceiling thing into perspective.

    Kind of puts George Costanza’s worlds collinding into perspective.

  41. 41
    Emma says:

    @jibeaux: If I were you, I would be looking at online classes through Coursera or Open University. Some of them are free. There are several major American Universities who put classes online. Berkeley is a heavy participant in iTunes U, IIRC.

  42. 42
    redshirt says:

    @Tone in DC: Long before that, the Earth will no longer be inhabitable. The sun starts getting bigger/warmer in a noticeable way in about 2 Billion years.

  43. 43
    Cassidy says:

    None of it is real since we can’t see it with our own eyes.

  44. 44
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @jibeaux: I’ve had teachers like that, both when I was a kid, and now with my children. The next year, he could end up with a really good and enthusiastic teacher. In the mean time, I keep my kids challenged myself: Almost everything is a chance to learn math, science, history, literature. Help him find it on his own.

    It sucks when you run into someone like that. I’m not real sure you would escape that just because of a private school.

    ETA: Look into any extra-curricular activities they offer at the school. My middle school son is on the robotics team.

  45. 45
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Tone in DC: Think of as an opportunity to get a really deep tan.

  46. 46
    Alex S. says:

    @patrick II:

    Ha! Actually, I did not – but I already thought I might have a look at it. They are turning it into a movie with Harrison Ford at the moment.

  47. 47
    Walker says:

    Kripke published his possible world semantics at a similar age. Indeed, you could make the claim that the rest of his career had been a let-down after that paper.

  48. 48
    handsmile says:

    This intergalactic collision is gonna be so cool to watch when I’m an angel in heaven. Immortality is going to be such a blast.

  49. 49
    WereBear says:

    @jibeaux: In my own youth I had access to special programs because I was working far above my grade level. I would ask about that.

    Is there a college nearby? Sometimes they will allow a talented young person to audit courses and talk shop with people on the same level.

    I believe that this falls under the heading of “special education” that the school board needs to address in some way. It’s not just for people who need a class to go a bit slower… it also applies to people with the opposite problem.

  50. 50
    jibeaux says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): It’s not just the teachers, it’s an inflexible system. There’s this brand new curriculum called Core, and he’s in a math class called Core Plus that is supposed to be challenging, but has not been for him. His teacher is supportive and said he should test up to seventh grade math, but the school won’t let him do that because it’s the first year of their new curriculum and I don’t know, some kind of underpants gnome reason. He literally has averages over 100% in his math and science classes, it’s just pretty obvious that he needs harder work. I’m going to try the principal and if she can’t waive this policy, I’m going to look for another school because otherwise I’m just going to be fighting this every year. @Emma:

  51. 51
    Mike Lamb says:

    But are the pictures real?

  52. 52
  53. 53
    Alex S. says:


    If he’s an autodidact, he might enjoy a few advanced books like this guy:


  54. 54
    DanF says:

    Republicans call this sort of thing “creative destruction.”

  55. 55
    jibeaux says:

    @WereBear: Yeah, I think he needs some accelerated study too. But he’s 11, not ready for college math, I don’t think.
    It has occurred to me that there is a lot of great caselaw on the requirement for schools to provide an appropriate education for special needs kids, and the right kind of lawyer could maybe apply that law to kids who need a more rigorous education than they’re getting.

  56. 56
    Corner Stone says:

    @Walker: I’ve always thought it was all downhill after the age of 23 but this is even more depressing.

  57. 57
    Corner Stone says:

    @Culture of Truth:

    I agree this may help get him dates.

    With who? The lady in Real Genius who’s mission was to pop nerd cherry’s across the US?

  58. 58
    Corner Stone says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): Damn. And I was going to put down as number four “Beat high score on Galaga at the local cinema”

  59. 59
    Sly says:

    That sounds much less dramatic.

    I guess dramatic is somewhat relative. What’ll basically happen is that the gravitational forces will cause both galaxies to lose coherence, individually spin apart, and then congeal together into a massive elliptical galaxy over the course of about a billion years. Like this.

    Two interesting points: The first is that, statistically, there is an almost zero chance of any star in our galaxy colliding with any star in Andromeda during the entire process despite the Milky Way having upwards of 400 billion stars and Andromeda having around a trillion. And the second is that individual solar systems would likely remain intact, whether they became part of the new elliptical galaxy or jettisoned out into space.

    @Tone in DC:

    Sometime before that galactic collision occurs, won’t the sun run out of hydrogen, grow into a red giant and then burn this planet to a cinder?

    The planet will be burned to a cinder long before the sun fully turns into a red giant, but yeah. About a billion years.

  60. 60
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @jibeaux: Where do you live? I have in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. My kids are having to go through that as well. It’s a freakin’ pain in the butt. I love the “Oh, we haven’t covered it yet, but you’re going to be tested on it.” Because of it, I’ve had to do a lot of my own teaching of my kids.

  61. 61
    Corner Stone says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    Almost everything is a chance to learn math, science, history, literature. Help him find it on his own.

    I’ve been working with mine on NFL point spreads and odds based results in different games of ch@nce in the p0ke her realm.
    “How many clubs have you seen? Ok, with two c@rds to come, what are your chances of getting a c@rd that will help this hand?”
    Stuff like that. Not that…that’s unusual..or anything. It’s just math.

  62. 62
    Corner Stone says:

    I am so fucking tired of this goddamned FYWP moderation nonsense. Fuck you word press mod filter you fucking fuckhole of a fucking piece of shit.

  63. 63
    Culture of Truth says:

    @Corner Stone: In France intellectuals are rock stars and sex symbols

  64. 64
    Another Halocene Human says:

    Mathematical feats at 15 are not that surprising given what we know about teenager’s brains. While teenagers have impulse control and planning problems (and lack experience, where that’s important, and in math, it’s not), they’re more intellectually capable than most adults in our culture give them credit for.

    In the middle ages teenagers were already apprenticing in their trade. When life expectancy was something like 37, that teenager would be all alone in the world soon enough. Middle ages elites started law school at 15.

    What bothers me is all the fawning over teenagers who accomplish things like this. Inevitably they were privileged in having a parent in a field that afforded them the opportunity the achieve like this. Plenty of kids are just as capable but never have these opportunities.

    It’s not that there are a few ‘genius kids’ out there. We have millions of teenagers with these intellectual capabilities and they’re wasted while these kids: work after-school retail jobs, fight bullies, cook/clean for their family, drop out of school for a job, struggle with ptsd/mood disorders due to abuse and neglect, get involved in criminal activity, get pregnant, or just go nuts trying to get a college scholarship b/c their parents can’t pay.

    There are a few government programs to provide internships to promising science students in high school, but only a few lucky duckies get in. (Kind of like NSF grants.)

    Wouldn’t it be great if all of these kids were treated as partners in society instead of so much junk?

    20 years ago a nerd with no morals could at least make some pocket change “fixing” idiot’s Windows computers. Now I guess you pirate stuff on shady streaming services. I don’t know what a nerd with moral values does. I never figured that out. Work at Target, I guess.

  65. 65
    jibeaux says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): The Core curriculum, you mean? We’re in the Raleigh Durham, NC area. It’s statewide now, I think. I hear a lot of complaints from other parents but they tend to be of the “harder, can’t understand it well, kid’s grades have dropped” variety. I seem to be the only one whose kid is sailing through.

  66. 66
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Corner Stone: Greatest arcade game ever. I love the fact that one of the people on the carrier in Avengers was playing it.

  67. 67
    Ted & Hellen says:

    Astronomy and related discoveries/theories/conjectures like this are all sorts of awesome.

    It would also be very cool if more scientists would acknowledge that the more they discover and learn, the more obvious it is that given the vastness of the universe and all it must contain, the more obvious it is that we know almost nothing at all.

    This comment is particularly dedicated to my stalker and biggest fan Assidy, whose small mind is small.

  68. 68
    Cermet says:

    @Judas Escargot, Bringer of Loaves and Fish Sandwiches:No way – the overall mass density is far, far too low for a galaxy in order for anyone to see that tiny of an effect. Now, for a black hole near the event horizon it would be trivial but those suckers are rather far away for any telescope we will have for many years to come..

    Brilliant kid – amazing work!

    As for the saw blade analogy, it is way, way, way, way off; you mean to say like two gas discs heading towards each other. The collision will not even have two stars collide out of the many hundreds of billions interacting. Gravity will cause the two galaxies to form a elliptical galaxy a few billion of years after the non-collision collision.

  69. 69
    MikeJ says:

    @jibeaux: If he actually finds math fun tell him about Khan Academy. Self paced lessons, interactive drills, math up through about first year of college level.

    Not the sort of thing I’d force on a kid who was doing well, but some people actually enjoy it.

  70. 70
    Studly Pantload, the emotionally unavailable unicorn says:


    Kind of puts the whole debt ceiling thing into perspective.

    Reminds me of the scene from Annie Hall where Allen’s character is a school age boy who won’t do his homework because of his despair in learning that the universe is expanding as his exasperated mother cries, “But this is Brooklyn! Brooklyn isn’t expanding!”

    (I’d link to the YouTube clip if I weren’t at work.)

  71. 71
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @jibeaux: The city I’m in, Rockwall, has decided to adopt it for the school district. They didn’t explain it to the teachers very well, so we’ve gotten this mess:
    1. The teachers cover some material.
    2. At some interval, like three weeks, the Core has told them to give a test. They may not have covered the material, but the Core said to give the test.
    3. They grade the test, and the kids get graded even on the stuff they don’t cover, so kids grades go down.
    4. The parents complain to the principle, who says he’s told the teachers they don’t have to record the grades if they don’t like them.

    Fun stuff.

  72. 72
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Ted & Hellen: You know, it’s never been the people that keep learning and discovering that seem to think we know everything. It’s generally the morons who can’t accept any challenges to their thinking. You know, Republicans.

  73. 73
    Culture of Truth says:

    Long Beach, Calif. (AP) — Astronomers estimate one in six stars in our Milky Way galaxy has a planet the size of Earth orbiting it. That translates to at least 17 billion Earth-size planets.

  74. 74
    jibeaux says:

    @MikeJ: You know, I think last year the teachers actually disseminated a couple of talks from that website as a way of explaining a concept some kids were having a hard time with, I can’t remember what it was. I had forgotten all about it, but you’re right, it looks right up his alley.
    The sidebar thing, though, is that if you’re spending an hour a day in a class that you feel like is moving way too slow for you, then doing your real learning outside of class, it’s just wasted time and is frustrating. E.g., he came home one day and complained that they had spent the entire class on absolute value — not what it was used for, but just what it meant, and what it meant was just the absolute value of 5 was 5, the absolute value of -5 was 5. He felt like that definition was a thirty-second explanation at most, and then you could move on to what you DID with absolute value, but by the end of the hour he still didn’t know what its application was.

  75. 75
    Studly Pantload, the emotionally unavailable unicorn says:

    @Corner Stone: I find that if I have a comment go into moderation for no obvious reason other than FYWP, if I copy the text and repost, the second comment will clear the mod hurdle.

  76. 76
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): Yeah, can’t spell today. (4) should have principal, not principle.

    Also, that’s Rockwall, TX.

  77. 77
    jibeaux says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): Yes, that would make sense with the complaints people seem to have. It doesn’t sound like we’re moving in the right direction. I even consider myself fairly pro-testing, because this state didn’t used to do much with test scores and I feel like if an elementary school has got a quarter of its kids reading on grade level, as some of them did when we first implemented a more test-heavy approach, that school is failing and that we need some objective measures to be able to know that. But the testing is so out of control now. They’re not only spending the whole year preparing for the EOGs, and doing EOG practice tests, they even take at the beginning of the year a test that is supposed to predict how well you’ll do on the EOGs. I think some of the being gun-shy about promoting kids up comes from knowing that he’ll ace the EOGs at his current grade, but if he goes up a grade in a subject, maybe he won’t.

  78. 78
    mr_gravity says:

    I thought the universe was expanding with everything moving outwards from a single point of origin. How does that allow for any major collisions?

  79. 79
    Corner Stone says:

    @Studly Pantload, the emotionally unavailable unicorn: It was probably my fault. In an effort to suborn the mod filter I used the @ symbol in place of the letter a in three spots. Most likely triggering the “links” limit. I was discussing a game some adults play with small rectangles made of paper that have numbers on some and “paint” on others.

  80. 80
    Ash Can says:

    @jibeaux: Bottle Rocket ran into a similar problem when he was in 6th grade last year. The solution for us turned out to be the accelerated 7th-8th grade program offered at the local high school. (Both are public schools.) Do any high schools in the public school system where you are offer similar accelerated programs for middle schoolers? Also, given that your son is this bright, you should see if there’s any non-need-based merit scholarship money available from the private school you’re looking at. Or maybe they can rig up a flexible payment schedule or make other special arrangements. Schools like to have exceptional students among their student bodies — maybe they’d be willing to be creative for you.

    The principal at your son’s current school should be able to tell you what your options are within that public school system. Ask about selectIve-enrollment programs that mIght exIst at other schools wIthIn your publIc school system. And don’t be afraid to contact the school system’s offices yourself if you don’t get the answers you want from him/her, though. It’s possible that even the principal may not be aware of all the options available to you.

  81. 81
    LanceThruster says:

    The Final Proof of the non-Existence of God was proved by a Babel Fish.

    Now, it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some have chosen to see it as the final proof of the NON-existence of God. The argument goes something like this:

    “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”

    “But,” says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves that You exist, and so therefore, by Your own arguments, You don’t. QED”

    “Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

    “Oh, that was easy,” says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

  82. 82
    gbear says:

    @Alex S.: There’s an old British movie where a group of genius children are born to various families but all come together in a church with hundreds of soldiers ready to attack them on signal. The group of children comes out of the church, hand-in-hand, to announce that they are from the future and are here to save humanity. There is a tense, silent standoff that is ended when someone drops a screwdriver and accidentally sets off the signal to attack, and we hear the church being blown to bits while a spotlight catches the church spire collapsing into the rubble. For the life of me, I can’t think of the name of the movie.
    I’d guess that it wouldn’t end any better for a group of genius kids today.

  83. 83

    There goes my plans for the year 3,000,000,2014.

  84. 84
    Walker says:


    You are in Raleigh? Sounds like he is about the right age for TIP.

  85. 85
    Origuy says:

    … it will be more like a circular saw hitting another circular blade sideways, but with a bunch of little circular saws hitting it edge-on first.

    Worst shop class accident ever!

  86. 86
    Emma says:

    It would also be very cool if more scientists would acknowledge that the more they discover and learn, the more obvious it is that given the vastness of the universe and all it must contain, the more obvious it is that we know almost nothing at all.

    Every scientist I’ve ever met knows that. You should really get out of the basement more.

  87. 87
    Tone in DC says:


    And I thought that I was a pessimist.

    Who the hell wrote that story? Philip K. Dick? Margaret Atwood? Jim Thompson?

  88. 88
    Cermet says:

    @jibeaux: I understand your problem. My daughter (in tenth at the time) was lucky that her math teacher nominated her for a special test by the Johns Hopkins University and they gave her a special scholarship to take any advanced math courses at their university free of charge while she finishes eleventh grade – she even gets full college credits (and an escape clause if they failed – it is then expunged.) If the teacher had not seen that and done it, we’d never had the opportunity; wish more students got such chances.

    You should check to see if any universities in your area offer similar programs. Some offer paid courses that are geared for HS students but these aren’t cheap! (been there and done that, too.)

    Aside – so she did take a second year math major weed out course in linear algebra theory (I have taken all the calculus, math physics, Dif. Q, both ordinary and partial, as well as a numbers theory course and the course she took was well beyond me.) I am still in shock that she got an ‘A’, (almost half the students dropped the course – ugh; I really do NOT like how universities screw people in that fashion! Parents need to be on guard for weed out courses – Prof’s are real A/O because they enjoy crushing people’s soul – personal experience at college!)

  89. 89
    Corner Stone says:


    to announce that they are from the future and are here to save humanity.

    To “save humanity” or “To Serve Man” ?

  90. 90
    redshirt says:

    @Culture of Truth: Given these numbers, and given what we know now about life on earth (to wit: It can arise pretty much everywhere), I’d put the odds of life being an independent and universal phenomena at 99.9%.

    And if that’s true, then it’s inevitable there are other intelligent life forms out there. But given the distances involved, it’s extremely unlikely we’ll ever know about them, or they, us.

  91. 91
    gbear says:

    @Corner Stone: These kids were definitely the good guys (not like the kids in 1960’s ‘Village Of The Damned’). I wish I could remember the name of the movie.

  92. 92
    jibeaux says:

    @Ash Can: THanks for the pep talk…I’m just getting started with this advocacy stuff, and I’ll let you know if I get anywhere.

  93. 93
    Cermet says:

    @mr_gravity: Remember that the universe is expanding and EVERY SINGLE POINT in said universe IS the absolute center of the that expansion over all infinte space (and the universe appears to be flat; hence, inifinte as we understand physics.) Our minds with their limit to three ‘D’ thinking just aren’t very good that ‘seeing’ this idea!

  94. 94
    Mnemosyne (iPhone) says:


    Children of the Damned. Sequel to Village of the Damned with George Sanders and Barbara Shelley.

  95. 95
    Herbal Infusion Bagger says:

    Anyone else faced this struggle or have advice for me?

    Firstly, before dropping a bunch of money on private education, check whether there’s really substance behind the. Demographics is pretty strongly correlated with academic performance, and the spiffy private school may turn out to doing better than the scruffy private school just because of the different socioeconomic background rather than any magic in the teaching or curriculum.

    I’m assuming that you’ve already exhausted options for any charters or alternative schools in your area that might be have a bit more science focused than your local middle school.

    If you’re OK with Catholic schools, they’ve generally pretty academically rigorous at a lower price point than non-religious privates, and can punch about their demographic weight academically. Usually they’re too cash-strapped to have decent science labs, though, but a Catholic school with a good alumni fundraising network might have good kit.

    If it’s just Math and Science that he’s streaking ahead of the pack, then how about getting a grad student from a nearby college to coach him on more advanced material, and see if you can get a waiver from the teacher or principal so he doesn’t have to waste time with grinding through coursework that he’s far in advance of.
    At least in my part of the world, I could easily buy 400-600 hours of a grad student’s time for what the (non-Catholic) private schools charge. If you got 1-2 hours of a grad student’s time at (say) $30-40/hour, that might be a decent alternative to meet your kid’s hunger for knowledge.

  96. 96
    Studly Pantload, the emotionally unavailable unicorn says:

    @mr_gravity: @mr_gravity:

    I thought the universe was expanding with everything moving outwards from a single point of origin. How does that allow for any major collisions?

    I believe the expansion effect is most notable (from our perspective) at the further reaches of the observable universe. So, “locally” (if you want to count millions of light years as such), gravitational attraction is still in play.

  97. 97
    jibeaux says:

    @Walker: Heck, I did TIP two summers in middle school and had forgotten all about it. Thanks.

  98. 98
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    @Ted & Hellen:

    Will you two just kiss already?! Jeez. Y’all are worse than Sam & Diane.

  99. 99
    Herbal Infusion Bagger says:

    Also, what Ash Can said. If your kid is an academic prodigy, a private school may cut you a deal, anticipating that he’ll place in an Ivy or Other Name Brand College and make their school look good. Also, look into advanced placement from High Schools as Ash Can suggested. When he gets into High School, there’ll be more options for flexibility.

    Right now, I’m facing the opposite problem: kid goes to a Public School that loads on the homework. The kid can keep up with it, but I’m having a hard time remembering all the stuff I need to review and sign off on.

  100. 100
    Cassidy says:

    @Grumpy Code Monkey: Who’s shitstain arguing with now? I’ve had the fucker pied for a few days now.

  101. 101
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Corner Stone:

    To save humanity for a late night snack.

  102. 102
    MTiffany71 says:

    Therefore in a couple of billion years our galaxies will collide like a couple of circular saw blades meeting each other edge on. How? Why? Nobody knows.

    “Nobody knows?” Stop channeling Bill O’Reilly. The two one-word questions have one two-word answer: Dynamical friction.

  103. 103
    Ted & Hellen says:


    You should really get out of the basement more.

    Jesus. Fuck off.

  104. 104
    Studly Pantload, the emotionally unavailable unicorn says:

    @redshirt: My understanding is that the universe (talking outside of our own galaxy, here) is so stinking vast and filled with so stinking many galaxies that probability dictates there is a another “Earth” somewhere out there with people like you and me that have the same names as everyone on Earth, speak the same languages as we do here, and have the same life experiences and the same memories as each of us.

    Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
    =o )

  105. 105
    Ted & Hellen says:


    I’ve had the fucker pied for a few days now.

    And yet…and yet…you’re so irresistibly drawn…so very, very interested…

  106. 106
    dmbeaster says:

    @Judas Escargot, Bringer of Loaves and Fish Sandwiches: Haven’t read the whole thread to see what others said to your question, but large balls of matter in space tend to resolve into disks as a consequence of the conservation of angular momentum. Our solar system is one example. Disk galaxies are another. Accretion disks around black holes are another. Elliptical galaxies reflect prior mergers of galaxies and are a random buzz of objects that are unresolved. The one clear exception to this are globular clusters, which are ancient and maintain their ball shapes for some reason.

    Angular momentum causes objects to slowly align along the primary axis of motion for the three-dimensionally random buzzing objects. Objects off that line are either tugged into it or tossed out as the overall mass slowly aligns itself on that axis. Whether or not the Andromeda satellite galaxies can be explained by this, I dont know. The Milky Way satellite galaxies are not so aligned.

  107. 107
    jibeaux says:

    @Herbal Infusion Bagger: I’ve looked into it; the strongest contender if we went private would be an Episcopalian school which is more affordable than the the secular private school and more likely to have actual middle class families attending. I know one of the science teachers there, a great woman who used to be a materials scientist and left to be a mom and private HS/college tutor for a while, and now is back in the classroom primarily for the tuition discount for her own kids. But a real natural teacher and knowledgeable, enthusiastic person. Charter schools here are popular and hard to get into, with the most popular ones getting 10x the applications than their lottery allows. I am still working through the options moving up the chain, but the class-time tutor idea is one I hadn’t thought of and is worth considering.
    Thanks all of you for your thoughts, I knew this would be a good place to come.

  108. 108
    Ted & Hellen says:

    @Grumpy Code Monkey:

    Will you two just kiss already?! Jeez. Y’all are worse than Sam & Diane.

    I’d consider it, but Assidy claims to be a chub and I’m not sure I’d go for that. Always open though…

  109. 109
    WereBear says:

    @gbear: There is Village of the Damned, with George Sanders realizing the children have to be killed before they grow so powerful we won’t be able to.

    The sequel, Children of the Damned, must be the one you are thinking of.

  110. 110
    Mnemosyne (iPhone) says:


    It was on TCM again recently and I’d forgotten that George Sanders could actually be subtle when he wanted, especially when he finally realized he was going to have to kill the only son he would ever have.

  111. 111
    jibeaux says:

    @jibeaux: “more affordable”, btw, means $13k a year instead of $20k (the kind of school that has a lacrosse team and hundreds of acres). Public per-pupil spending in this county is less than $8. I think I should really be able to get him a solid but not frilly education for 10 grand, but no one seems to be offering that.

  112. 112
    Matthew Reid Krell says:

    @jibeaux: Speaking as a discrimination lawyer, I think that’s a tough row to hoe. The federal statute that governs those issues is called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act – the operative word in this case being “Disabilities.” Most judges are going to be pretty skeptical of the notion that “my child is bored because he’s not challenged” equals “disabled.” Absent some sort of Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis (which brings a whole additional set of problems), or something else that may or may not be related to “I’m bored,” I’m not sure that there’s any law to hang your hat on.

    State law can vary, of course, this is not legal advice, none of you are my clients, none of this can be used to avoid federal tax obligations or penalties, and any other disclaimer that may be necessary to explain just how much I do not want to be held responsible for the above.

  113. 113
    dmbeaster says:

    One possibility on the Andromeda structure. One type of structure that arises when two galaxies merge is a disk perpendicular to the main axis of the surviving galaxy, known as a Polar Ring galaxy. Frequently, the collision causes a burst of star formation activity in the ring, which could theoretically result in several satellite galaxies forming from such activity aligned in the polar ring axis.

  114. 114
    catclub says:

    @Poopyman: Ok then. I guess I’ll buy that disaster insurance. Stupid me, of course it is the case that, when you throw gravity into the mix, a near miss will turn into a direct hit.

    You people who read the linked article make the rest of us uncomfortable.

  115. 115
    jibeaux says:

    @Matthew Reid Krell: Sure. I would suggest more NC caselaw than federal disability statutes. There are some good ones on funding (Leandro and Leandro II), that are not directly on point but I think they have some language that could be helpful.
    Believe me, I know it sounds whiny, and I’m not trying to compare being bored with being disabled. I’d much rather he be bright and bored, than disabled and underserved. But he’s one of those kids who doesn’t complain much and has always liked school, so to see a transformation happening to someone who does complain and doesn’t love school anymore, and not for any of the more social and puberty-related reasons that you might expect, has been really hard for me to take.

  116. 116
    catclub says:

    @jibeaux: McGill University,
    in Canada?

  117. 117
    LanceThruster says:


    I like the quote (Sagan?) that notes, “Whether there is other life in the universe or not…either way, the implications are staggering.”

  118. 118
    redshirt says:

    @LanceThruster: I think we’ll find proof in our lifetimes – whether on Mars, a moon of Jupiter or Saturn, or even on a nearby asteroid. It will be bacterial. The real question will be – independent origination? Or same source as life on Earth.

    Each seems plausible – we’re a closed enough system that all life in our solar system could come from a common source. But I’d highly doubt life in a galaxy some 5 billion light years away would have any relation to life here. But then, maybe all life arises in similar ways regardless of location, given that chemistry/physics is the same everywhere.

    Hate the name, but love the idea of “Panspermia”. Consider that every single day, some 100 tons of material is falling from space onto Earth. Some of this material is organic. Some could be the building blocks for life.

  119. 119
    LanceThruster says:


    Hate the name, but love the idea of “Panspermia”.

    Sounds like it could be Kurt Vonnegut’s companion piece to “The Big Space Fvck.”

  120. 120
    redshirt says:

    @LanceThruster: LOL. Thanks for the link. I thought I had read everything by Vonnegut, but here I am, reading something for the first time. Awesome.

    I love it.

    “Panspermia” gives me inappropriate mental images – of space jacking off all over planet Earth, like, constantly. 24/7. Get a room, space!

  121. 121
    LanceThruster says:


    Won’t someone PLEASE think of the planetoids?!


  122. 122
    David in NY says:

    @jibeaux: Don’t know what to do about science (I don’t think kids anywhere in this country, even in the fancy private school in NYC our kids went to at middle-school age, have much in the way of real science). But as to math, the MathCounts program has done a lot to give middle school kids the opportunity to do some math that isn’t mind-numbing while they wait to get to the real stuff. (Why can’t even public schools run multiple math tracks? Beats me — our older boy was going to the high school classes in his school by 6th or 7th grade.)

    Anyway, Mathcounts. You need a coach and some math kids and not a lot more. http://mathcounts.org/

  123. 123
    Amir Khalid says:

    A school buddy and I used to quote that story when greeting each other:

    There was a knock on the door, and an old friend of the family, the County Sheriff, simultaneously let himself in. “How are you, you old motherfucker?” said Dwayne.

    “Can’t complain, shitface,” said the Sheriff, and they joshed back and forth like that for a while.

  124. 124
    Steeplejack says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    Just got an image of Neil deGrasse Tyson drunk-tweeting like Cole. That would be awesome.

  125. 125
    Captain C says:

    @Tone in DC: That won’t happen until about 3 billion or so years after our galaxy collides with Andromeda. This assumes that there’s not a near enough stellar miss during the galactic collision/merger (a direct collision of stars would be highly unlikely) to disturb the Earth’s orbit such that it (the Earth) either falls into the sun or gets slingshot out of the Solar System entirely.

    However, in a billion years or so, the sun will have increased its energy output to the point that the water on Earth will boil away and life on the surface will be near impossible. So there’s that.

  126. 126
    Corner Stone says:


    Just got an image of Neil deGrasse Tyson drunk-tweeting like Cole. That would be awesome.

    Which one goes all caps and pantsless first?

  127. 127
    lol says:


    Get him learning Python and have him use to make simple games to solve his homework and the like. The language is used a lot in math and science so it’s a skill that will pay off in those areas later.

  128. 128
    LanceThruster says:

    @Amir Khalid:

    Classic. I like to share KV’s wisdom on life when he was incessantly asked “What’s it all about?”

    He’d reply, “Don’t ask me, I just got here myself.”

  129. 129
    LanceThruster says:


    @LanceThruster: LOL. Thanks for the link. I thought I had read everything by Vonnegut, but here I am, reading something for the first time. Awesome.

    I know what you mean. I felt a little down when I realized I’d finished all of his published works. I found this poem a short time ago that I thought was pure Vonnegut.

    Love Heller too.

    “Catch-22 means people have the right to do to you anything that you cannot prevent them from doing to you.” ~ Jospeh Heller in interview for the “Great Books” Series

  130. 130
    Anoniminous says:


    Couple of ways:

    1. Community Colleges are your friend. You may have to get special permission and take/audit the class as well which may be the best thing to do anyway, the best predictor for educational success is the percentage of parental encouragement and involvement.

    2. Look for an existing Science Club. More difficult is starting a Science Club.

    3. Home School.

    And, btw, for the basic sciences recent but “out of date” text books are just as accurate as the latest editions. University bookstores get stuck with “out of date” texts they can’t sell and will be glad to get rid of some for a pittance. Thrift stores, Salvation Army, Goodwills are other sources.

  131. 131
    Bob h says:

    What that collision of saw blades means for us is that the sun gets flung out of the Milky Way and human life is finished.

  132. 132
    Herbal Infusion Bagger says:


    I know one of the science teachers there, a great woman who used to be a materials scientist and left to be a mom and private HS/college tutor for a while, and now is back in the classroom primarily for the tuition discount for her own kids. But a real natural teacher and knowledgeable, enthusiastic person.

    Sounds great.

    I think as long as you can scratch the itch of keeping them engaged and feeding their knowledge habit using high schools/grad students/community colleges/local science museums/planetariums, you can get through middle school. Thinking about it, I had maybe 1-2 good math teachers but only fair-to-middling science teachers in middle school and high school, and I still went into a STEM field. If your kid has the intellectual curiosity and drive to know how the natural world works, it’s really *hard* to kill that off.

    [Even shitty boring lecturers at my Extremely Renowned Name Brand University couldn’t kill my love of science and technology (although the shittiness of the University’s physics lecturers caused me to switch from physics to engineering, reckoning that if getting a STEM degree was going to be a joyless frenetic grind I might as well choose one with a way of making a living at the end of it).]

  133. 133
    Rome Again says:

    I’m sorry to inform you of this Tim, but you will never live that long. There is no “WE” in your “when we run into each other” statement. LOL

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