BAN #139: Watch me!, Watch coal die, Watch out for meteorites

August 12, 2019 Issue #139

[Saturn image credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute / Gordan Ugarkovic]

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Upcoming Appearances/Shameless Self-Promotion

Where I’ll be doing things you can watch and listen to or read about

One thing I really love doing is giving invited talks on astronomical topics. I’ve spoken at universities, science fiction conventions, museums, planetaria, schools, libraries, special interest group meetings, Governor’s Schools, cruises, NASA research centers… it’s a joy to share my love of space with an audience who loves it too (or with people who don’t know they love it yet).

I recently gave a talk in Little Rock for the Arkansas Space Grant Consortium, the Central Arkansas Astronomical Society, and the Central Arkansas Library System. The topic was exoplanets — planets orbiting other stars — and what insight they give us on our own fair planet.

The title of the talk is “Strange New Worlds: Is Earth Special?” and it’s now online courtesy of the UALR University Television and the College of Arts, Letters, and Sciences.

[I love that shirt.]

I’ve given this talk a few times, and it’s different every time; I adjust it for the setting (for example, including the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 for this presentation) and tend to ad lib a lot during the show. I want the audience to have fun, and my philosophy is that if they laugh and enjoy the jokes, they’re more likely to enjoy the talk overall and, more importantly, more likely to remember it.

If you have contacts at any of the types of places listed above (or other ones I didn’t mention; I’m very interested in doing corporate events) and want me to come give a talk on astronomy, space, critical thinking, or science in general, please hie thee over to Samara Lectures and talk to my agent, Beth Quittman. She’ll be happy to work with you!

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

Climate change is real, y’all

Coal is dying.

This has been a long time coming, and it’s very welcome. But it’s a good news/bad news kinda thing.

In Texas, for example, wind power has actually edged out coal in electricity production so far in 2019 (21.8% vs. 21.4% of total produced). In Texas. Now, Texas is more of an oil region than coal, but still. It’s also produced a whole lot of notoriously climate change denying politicians (like Lamar Smith and “Smokin’” Joe Barton), so this is nice to hear.

I know that coal is on its way out, so it’s weird to hear people like Trump still trying to prop it up. That money would be better spent, I’d think, on investing in renewable energies. Solar and wind are thumping coal. In Scotland, wind power alone in 2019 produced enough electricity for every home in the country, with enough left over to give some to northern England, too.

But then there’s the bad news: Natural gas is still a thing. It’s cheap to get out of the ground now, so it’s still widely used. In that same report, Texas gets over 45% of its electricity from gas. That sucks.

In other words, there’s still a ways to go here in the US. As usual, my advice is simple: Vote. I would say climate change is our single biggest threat, and if you vote blue that will help a lot. And think of what else you’d get! Ousting a frothingly racist sexist fascist grifter from the White House as a huge bonus, too!

Sounds like a good deal to me.

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.

There are reports out of India that a meteorite about the size of a volleyball and weighing 15 kilograms fell into a field in the Madhubani district, carving out a crater in the mud over a meter deep.

I am always suspicious of such claims, especially when people claim there’s smoke; a meteorite this size would be unlikely to be very hot when it hit. The incoming meteoroid (the solid part) slows extremely rapidly while still a hundred or so kilometers up, then falls the rest of the way. As it does, the hot outer surface cools quite a bit. The heat of atmospheric entry only lasts for a few seconds and doesn’t penetrate very deeply into the meteoroid. By the time it hits, the now-meteorite is generally cool to the touch. Really big ones might still be hot, but for one this size it seems unlikely to me.

Still, a photo in The Guardian of the object does make it look like a meteorite, I must say (the photos are owned by Getty images, so I can’t show them here). The good news is that the object will be studied at the Shrikrishna Science Centre where its bona fides can be determined.

I certainly hope to hear more either way. If anyone else hears something, please ping me via email or on Twitter! And my thanks to Niteen Lewis for the tip!

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[From Friday’s article. Credit:  NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley)]

Monday August 5, 2019: Our galaxy is warped!

Tuesday August 6, 2019: A very dense oasis in the brown dwarf desert

Wednesday August 7, 2019: When it comes to making stars, galactic gas tanks are nowhere near full

Thursday August 8, 2019: Measuring a monster: The two *billion* solar mass black hole in NGC 3258

Friday August 9, 2019: Jupiter from Hubble: Enormous, magnificent, and… fading at the edge?

Et alia

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