BAN #165: Mercury transit, Heated world, Exploding neutron stars

12 November 2019   Issue #165

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

Subscribers warm my world. In a good way.

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.

I usually send this newsletter out at 10:00 my time, but I’m sending it earlier to remind you that the Mercury transit is going on even as this issue is flitting its electrons across the globe! So go here to find out more and hopefully get a chance to (SAFELY) see it.

Also, last night it occurred to me Mercury should be in the field of view of SOHO, the space-based Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. I went to the site, but didn’t see the planet! So I went to the movie page, and created a short clip showing it over the past few days:

When I watched the video I laughed out loud! Why?

Mercury comes in from the left, moving toward the Sun (hidden behind a metal disk to block its light; the white circle represents how big it is in the frame). As Mercury approaches the Sun it fades very rapidly, and that’s when I understood: It’s going through its phases, like the Moons does, so when it comes in there’s still a bit of its lit side visible from Earth (too small to see as anything other than a dot here), but as it gets closer to the Sun we see less and less of the lit part, so it fades. During the transit, its unlit half is facing us, so it appears black.

I hope y’all can watch this in person or online! It should be very cool.

Give a gift subscription

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

Climate change is real, y’all

Emily Atkin is a journalist. She started out as a political journalist, but for the past few years has focused on climate journalism, writing for quite a few respectable outlets.

She now has a terrific free newsletter called “Heated”, which she describes as “A newsletter for people who are pissed off about the climate crisis.” That certainly describes me, which is why I subscribed. You should too. She really has her finger on the pulse of what’s going on climate-wise, and clearly describes what and how it’s happening (in fact, a tweet she wrote about Twitter’s new ad policy was picked up by Elizabeth Warren, and Jack Dorsey of Twitter responded! As she notes, that’s the power of independent journalism).

I cover some climate topics here on my newsletter, of course, and I will continue to do so, but if you need more, Atkin’s your go-to. Heck, I’m sure I’ll be writing about topics because she’s covered them (and hey, here you go: In a recent newsletter, she goes over the similarities between the misinformation campaigns of Big Tobacco and Big Oil; I’ve written about this before, and in fact the execrable Heartland Institute was funded by tobacco companies to spread their misinfo about the dangers of smoking, and now does exactly the same thing for fossil fuel).

If you like her newsletter, give her a follow on Twitter too.

Pic o’ the Letter

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

When I was doing Crash Course Astronomy, I had the pleasure of working with the wonderful folks at Thought Café, who did all our fun animations. I like the look and feel of their work; it’s distinctive, cartoony without being twee, and adds a lot to the video.

They are doing a series of videos, called Thought Café+, where they create animations based on interviews with scientists. I’ve seen a few and they’re great!

Still, I got a note from Jonathon Corbiere, the Creative Director (and co-founder) there, telling me they did a video featuring an interview with astrophysicist Maria Drout, who studies cosmic explosions. Jon wanted to let me know that when they were putting it together, they wanted to show some books that inspired her, and she mentioned my first book, Bad Astronomy!


The video is about supernovae, kilonovae, and the creation of gold, and as always it’s really, really good.

Dr. Drout explains these things really well (she has a lot of experience communicating science, and her CV is very impressive). You should definitely subscribe to these videos and watch more. They’re excellent.

And thanks, Dr. Drout! I’m glad you liked my book.

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[A composite image shows the entire transit of Mercury from 9 May 2016, as seen by NASA’s space-based Solar Dynamics Observatory. From Friday’s article. Credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO/Genna Duberstein ]

Monday 4 November 2019:The lowest mass black hole ever (not) seen may have been found

Tuesday 5 November 2019:Update: The interstellar comet 2I/Borisov is still not acting very alien

Wednesday 6 November 2019:A broiling exoplanet had its air blasted away by its star

Thursday 7 November 2019:Could TESS have already seen Planet Nine?

Friday 8 November 2019:Watch a rare transit of Mercury across the Sun on Monday

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!