BAN #207: Stargazing at TED, Mixed bag of warming news

06 April 2020   Issue #207

[Spiral Galaxy M81 image credit: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona]


Subscribers are cool enough to stop global warming.


Pic o’ the Letter

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

My friend Emily Levesque is an observational astronomer. If her name is familiar, it may be because I wrote about a paper she just published showing that the weird and unprecedented dimming Betelgeuse has undergone the past few months is likely due to it belching out a vast cloud of dust that’s blocking its light.

She also has a book coming out soon called “The Last Stargazers”, full of anecdotes about astronomical observing. I read an advance copy (her publisher wants me to write a blurb for it, which I did happily) and it’s really entertaining; a lot of the stories are familiar to me, and I’ve lived through a lot of similar events (like getting too close to wildlife at an observatory, which every astronomer has experienced with, um, mixed results).

Not too long ago she gave a TEDxBerkeley talk about stargazing, and it’s really really good. And it’s online so you can see it!

She’s a great speaker, and just a delightful person. You can be sure I’ll be plugging her book here when it comes out. And you should follow her on Twitter, too.



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

Climate change is real, y’all

I know you probably don’t want to think of the other existential crisis looming over us right now, but there’s been some climate change news, some good… though honestly, mostly bad. But some good! Here’s a roundup.

First, some good news in a schadenfreudistic way: The Heartland Institute continues to fall apart. You may remember this evil organization; they use their dark money, money from fossil fuel, and yes, even from the tobacco companies (they wrote OpEds downplaying the danger so second hand smoke, those darlings) to buy up billboards with images comparing climate scientists to mass murderers, as well as create a climate science denying guide that they sent to teachers across the country.

Yeah, them. Well they recently had to lay off half their staff due to budgetary restraints. You can imagine my reaction to that:

(click through for the follow-up, too)

Well, I just heard they had to fire their president, too. I guess he wasn’t eating enough live puppies or he accidentally did something nice. Whatever. I hope this horrific collection of heartless lobbyists all go away. I imagine some GOP PAC will find money to give them at some point, since saving coal and other fossil fuels is a platform plank for them. But if they do dissolve, I won’t be… heartbroken.

Second, in kinda good news, it looks like fracking (using hydraulic fracturing of underground rock to extract natural gas) is not causing the increase in atmospheric methane, a potent greenhouse gas. It’s likely that, since fracking is increasing it’s reelasing more methane, it’s just not enough to account for the overall increase seen. The paper doesn’t conclude what is the source, but does point toward increased emissions from cattle and wetlands.

Fracking still sucks, though.

Third, Germany put out an amazing commercial to promote… well, just watch:

(You might have to click the tweet to see the video.) Amazing.

Fourth, you may have heard a claim that the Sun’s energy output changing is what is driving global warming. I’ve written about this many times, and there’s one “scientist” who has been promoting the idea for years: Valentina Zharkova. I debunked her work back in 2015, but she’s still around. The good news is a paper she was lead author on was so riddled with bad science that it was retracted. She fought he retraction and still claims she’s right, which makes me think it’s time to file her under “crackpot”.

You can read more about this here, too.

I expect this won’t ever go away, since it’s a piece of zombie denial. Or, as climate scientist Gavin Schmidt put it:

Fifth, and here’s where things are bad: Greenland and Antarctica are losing ice six times faster than they were in the 1990s. From 1992 to 2017 they lost 6.4 trillion tons of ice, enough to raise sea level by nearly 2 cm. This is actually the track predicted by the worst-case scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That’s not a huge surprise to me; climate groups have historically been conservative on their predictions, and the Earth has shown us it is anything but conservative.

On the flip side, Project Drawdown, which looks into ways we can switch to green energy, has shown that although an investment of trillions is needed, the economic return will be far larger:

If the government can pull a trillion bucks out of its butt to stimulate our economy, then it can find some to save the whole damn planet.



Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[Uranus, seen by Voyager as it passed in 1986. From Monday’s article. Credit: NASA/JPL]

Monday 30 March, 2020: Might as well just say it: Uranus is leaking gas into space

Tuesday 31 March, 2020: How big is the Milky Way?

Wednesday 01 April, 2020: It looks like a star 750 million light years away *was* torn apart by a mid-sized black hole

Thursday 02 April, 2020: Watch as the James Webb telescope unfolds its 18 gold-plated hex mirrors

Friday 03 April, 2020: A second possible planet for Proxima Centauri!


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!