Is it theoretically possible to see a spiral galaxy head on, and side on, if there is a convenient gravitational lensing effect? turned me on to astronomer Mike Merrifield's excellent Sixty Symbols videos.

After about 03:20 in the video Betelgeuse might explode (in the next 150,000 years) - Sixty Symbols Merrifield says about the possibility of observing Betelgeuse going supernova:

I'd be prepared to put a fair amount of money on it not going in my lifetime, which would be a shame because I'd love to see it!

He then goes on to talk about a specific on-line wager he's made about discovering evidence life on Mars - in this case something larger than single celled bacteria but not necessarily alive now, i.e. fossils would count. It's an actual monetary bet as far as I can gather.

I'm just curious if this is the only example of an astronomer placing and registering a wager on an astronomical topic, or if there are further examples, or even a collection of "Astronomy bets" that could be visited.

Question: What are some notable bets Astronomers place on Astronomy, e.g. Mike Merrifield's on Mars; is there a list of them?

"bonus points" for tracking down Merrifield's Mars bet and finding out the details.

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    $\begingroup$ How about the bet between Hawking & Thorne regarding black hole information loss? $\endgroup$
    – PM 2Ring
    Nov 26, 2022 at 3:45
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    $\begingroup$ This is actually a relevant question and not just asking for trivia: betting is a surprisingly under-used way of improving epistemic states (since you are forced to put your credences and money on the line). This was likely first noted by Immanuel Kant (promising astronomer sadly turned philosopher), who offered to bet on the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. $\endgroup$ Nov 26, 2022 at 9:54
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    $\begingroup$ @AndersSandberg - Good science isn't done on the basis of someone's credence and bluffers and braggers (some with lots of money they could afford to lose) are everywhere. $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Nov 26, 2022 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ I voted to re-open, but I suggest "What are some notable bets" instead of "How often..." to make sure it is not opinion-based. I have a fun story that is not online. $\endgroup$
    – giardia
    Nov 30, 2022 at 7:20

1 Answer 1


Three different bets between noted astronomers about astronomy/astrophysics so far:

  1. Mike Merrifield vs. the marketplace's on-line bet about evidence of higher life forms on Mars discussed in the question above (per Merrifield himself) though we would still like some more specifics
  2. Stephen Hawking vs. Kip Thorne as discussed in What observational data convinced Stephen Hawking that Cygnus X-1 was indeed a black hole and caused him to break into Kip Thorne's office?
  3. Currently in @PM2Ring's comment only: ...the bet between Hawking & Thorne regarding black hole information loss

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