BAN #149: Space: 2019, Denying deniers

September 16, 2019   Issue #149

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


You can’t deny it: Subscribers are awesome.


Pic o’ the Letter

A cool or lovely or mind-bending astronomical image/video with a short description so you can grok it

Last Friday — September 13, 2019 — was notable for two reasons. For one, it was the 20th anniversary of the Moon getting blasted out of Earth orbit when a huge field of nuclear waste exploded, causing colossal magnetic anomalies that propelled it into the galaxy. So, Happy Breakaway Day, everyone!

Second, it was a full Moon.

My pal Babak Tafreshi is a photographer who travels the world taking amazing pictures of the night sky. On Friday he was near Boston, and took video of the Harvest Moon rising over the ocean. It’s spectacular.

The long lens really makes the Moon look huge; a funny thing to think about is that although Babak was pretty far from those fisherman, by eye the Moon would look exactly the same size to them as it would’ve to Babak. Their distance from him is tiny compared to the distance to the Moon.

I’ll note that the clouds in front of the Moon look very much like Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds, aka fluctus. They’re not very common, so that was an amazing thing to see in this video!

There’s also a lovely mirage as the Moon rises to just above the horizon: The “Etruscan Vase”/ Omega mirage. You can see it starting around 45 seconds in at the bottom of the Moon, which appears to spread out, starting off looking like a Greek letter omega, than forming a pedestal like a vase. When the Moon gets high enough it splits off, and the bottom image of the Moon appears to set. Technically this is an inferior mirage, caused by warmer air just above the oceans surface. Light from the Moon passing through this layer is bent differently by it then by air just above it, and you get the “proper” Moon rising while the “inferior” image dips lower. I’ve seen this a few times at sunset and it’s pretty cool.

Also, as far as I can tell, the guy on his phone never noticed our lone natural satellite rising so gloriously over the ocean’s edge. Too bad, but view it as a cautionary tale: Always be aware of the sky above you. There’s a lot going on up there, and it pays to keep an eye on it.


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

Climate change is real, y’all, so here’s a cavalcade of news about it

The wonderful climate site DeSmogBlog has an interesting article up about a new study that shows that Earth is warming up faster than any time in the previous two millennia. They show that warm periods in the past weren’t global, so anything that caused these warm periods were local, and consistent with the semi-random nature of climate over short timescales (i.e., things get warmer and colder for a while sometimes because climate itself is variable on very short timescales). They also showed that these factors were short-lived, and didn’t last for decades (I’ll note that the Little Ice Age, which climate science deniers love to trot out, wasn’t global at all, and wasn’t even all that bad in the summers; it was just that European winters were much colder than usual).

This is in stark contrast to how things are now, with consistent (and even accelerating) warming that’s been going on for decades, at least since 1970. Also, warming now is truly global, happening everywhere; the authors found that 98% of the planet is experiencing the warmest temperatures they’ve had in 2,000 years.

This is not unexpected to me. We know the planet is warming, but it’s good to see the research being done to quantize that and show it scientifically.

The reason I’m writing about this, though, is because DeSmogBlog notes that a climatologist commented on the article for the journal Nature, saying (in part), “This paper should finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle.”

That sound you hear is me screaming NOOOOOOOOOOOO.

Climatologists: Please don’t say things like this. It’s wrong, and while it may sound in your head like a slam dunk, it’s not.

The reason is simple: Nothing will convince the climate science deniers. I mean, sure, some folks may eventually be swayed to listen to reason, but those folks won’t necessarily come around due to yet another study showing that rising temperatures are our fault.

There are dozens, hundreds, of studies that show that already. And thousands of articles, videos, news clips, public talks, and more. The information showing this is and has been out there for many years.

This article is great, and is another piece of evidence, but it won’t be that camel’s back straw you’re looking for. Not while you have Koch brother money pouring into garbage think tanks, not while Fox news still operates, not while right-wing radio still exists, not while oil-soaked Congresspeople and Senators still make (or in this case don’t) make laws, not while fossil-fuel-producing countries still pump that stuff out of the ground like it’s water.

Saying this is the study that will convince those folks is just setting yourself up for failure.

It reminds me of a few years when the Apollo Moon landing deniers were still a thing. I would constantly get (well meaning) questions from people asking don’t we just point Hubble at the landing sites and prove we went there?

The big problem with that is that the landing sites are far too small to be resolved by Hubble. But more than that, take a step back and think about it: If hundreds and hundreds of photos taken on the Moon itself by astronauts won’t convince the Moon deniers, why do you think a Hubble image would? Especially since Hubble is, in part, run by NASA?

It’s the same thinking here. You’re wielding the wrong weapon is you want to destroy science deniers by pulling out yet another report. Instead, we need to talk to them in ways they can relate to better (like Katharine Hayhoe does), try to get them to see the benefits of weaning off fossil fuel in a way that doesn’t threaten their self-image of tribal loyalty, and, of course, vote out the chucklehead politicians who take money from oil companies.

Hopefully, we can remove the obstacles to our future soon enough to make sure there’s a viable future to grow into.


Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[An avalanche… on Mars! From Monday’s article. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona]

Monday September 9, 2019:Here's why you shouldn't stand at the base of a Martian cliff in spring

Tuesday September 10, 2019:Exocomets are raining down on Beta Pictoris

Wednesday September 11, 2019:On the asteroid Bennu, how much you weigh depends on where you are

Thursday September 12, 2019:Water vapor detected in the atmosphere of a temperate mini-Neptune exoplanet

Friday September 13, 2019:Wait. ANOTHER Interstellar object is passing through the solar system?


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!