Bad Astronomy Newsletter #17

June 11, 2018 Issue #17

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Personal Stuff

Yeah, but not too personal

As you read this — assuming it’s not later than June 16, 2018, in which case, hi, the future! — I am in the mountains of Colorado with 30 or so science aficionados exploring the geology, riding horses, and watching the skies as part of Science Getaways. Expect lots of fun pix and brilliant puns on my Instagram and Twitter feeds.


Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

Monday, June 4, 2018: Get ready: A star will pass pretty close to the Sun in just 1.3 million years

Tuesday, June 5, 2018: Looking for other Earths: Are we being too picky?

Wednesday, June 5, 2018: Vela X-1 is plowing its way through the galaxy 

Thursday, June 5, 2018: A Pac-Man crater on Mars

Friday, June 5, 2018: The spectacular Sunflower Galaxy M63 


Is it hot in here, or is it just anthropogenic global warming?

Climate change is real, y’all

Last week, the NOAA announced that May 2018 was the hottest on record (going back over a century) in the contiguous United States.

I’m shocked.

Oh wait, no I’m not.

I’ll note that the US is only about 2% of the surface area of the planet, but the other 98% is heating up too, as scientists have been telling everyone for decades.

But the brain trust that makes up the majority of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology are still at their game of deny-the-obvious. The same day the NOAA report came out, the Committee had the gall to tweet this: 

Sci,Space,&Tech Cmte@HouseScience

Freezing the Paris Climate Accord is a job for the Senate ⬇️https://t.co/tlRzi8KIc8

June 6, 2018
The link goes to the infrared-far-right Washington Times, and an article that would qualify them to be filed in the fiction section of any library. At the same time, the Wall Street Journal published a ridiculous OpEd making tired and fact-twisting claims along similar lines, prompting me to link to a wonderful debunking by climate scientist Dana Nuccitelli: 
Phil Plait@BadAstronomer

1/2 This is why I call the WSJ the Mos Eisley tavern of climate change denial. https://t.co/7Iw2aaixNp

June 6, 2018
Dana Nuccitelli@dana1981

Ok, let's do a Whack-a-Mole Twitter thread debunking all the nonsense in @stevenfhayward's @WSJ editorial (1/n)

June 6, 2018
… and following up with a link to the background of the guy who write the OpEd:

Phil Plait@BadAstronomer

2/2 A bit of history on the guy who wrote the WSJ OpEd. https://t.co/mWBbiy43tT

June 6, 2018
Remember: November 6th is coming.


Follow o’ the Letter

Someone you should follow on social media

I recently met Sam Yammine at a symposium we were both attending, and wow, was I impressed by her! She’s a PhD candidate in stem cell biology, and is also doing a great job promoting science on her Instagram and Twitter feeds, where she talks about her research and is a role model for young women interested in science.

I was sitting at the table next to her at the symposium when we were going around introducing ourselves, and I think I actually exclaimed out loud when I realized who she was: Literally a few weeks before she was the subject of a very poorly conceived article about women in science that was published as an OpEd in a major science journal. When it came out, I tweeted this:

Phil Plait@BadAstronomer

I very much agree with this thread, and the thread linked therein. The Science article is… problematic. Along with everything else mentioned in the threads, changing people’s perceptions of women scientists is very important and will help the issues mentioned in the article. https://t.co/JG00NFyN5H

March 15, 2018
… and there was a pretty big, and deserved, backlash against the article among science communicators. Sam herself responded to it with three female co-authors, and it’s a good read. We discussed this at the symposium, and I’ll admit I was a bit in awe of how Sam comported herself there. She defended her position without being defensive, had many facts at her fingertips, and was a strong voice in supporting her work at science communication, supporting women doing outreach in science, and outlining the damaging nature of the original OpEd.

If you’re interested in biology, or you just want some affirmation that the future still has a chance because young science researchers are kicking butt, then follow her.

[Credit: Phil Plait]


Astro Tidbit

A brief synopsis of some interesting astronomy/science news that may be too short for the blog, too long for Twitter, but just right (and cool enough to talk about) for here.

On the blog I recently wrote about a pair of CubeSats on their way to Mars, hitchhiking on the launch of Mars InSight. These are part of a very cool test to see if tiny spacecraft can relay information back from interplanetary space. Well, NASA and JPL just announced the pair successfully made a planned course correction to put them on the right trajectory for Mars!

[Drawing of the two CubeSats on their way to Mars. Credit: NASA]

One of them is having some issues with a leaky thruster, so it’s in need of more correction, but engineers seem to think they’ll be able to compensate for it. Given that this is JPL, I’m inclined to trust them.

The pair, plus InSight, will reach Mars in November. They’ll receive info from InSight and relay it back to Earth as a test, as well as acting as a backup for the direct transmission from InSight itself. I’m not sure what this’ll mean if it all works — these satellites can sit in your lap, they’re so small — but a lot of clever people are working on this, and one thing I know about spaceflight is that if a new way of doing things works, people will find uses for it.


Et alia

You can email me at thebadastronomer@gmail.com (though replies can take a while), and all my social media outlets are gathered together at about.me. Also, if you don’t already, please subscribe to this newsletter! And feel free to tell a friend or nine, too. Thanks!