BAN #299: Snow conspiracy, Science panel videos

22 February 2021   Issue #299

[The planetary nebula M 2-9, winds from a dying star. Credit: NASA / ESA / Hubble Legacy Archive / Judy Schmidt]

Subscribers don’t melt in the flame of facts.


You can’t debunk something unless it’s bunk to start with

I’ve said it before, and, sadly, I’ll have to say it again many times: There’s no such thing as an unbelievable idea.

I.e., No matter how ridiculous an idea may be, someone out there will believe it.

E.g., Fake snow.

A few days ago the south and central United States underwent a brutal temperature drop (which I explained two issues ago in this here newsletter), causing temperatures to plummet to well below freezing in regions that don’t get that very often. Widespread power outages exacerbated the problem, as well as pipes freezing so many are without water.

They’re also getting a lot of snow, which is not something they’re used to. So of course that means that it’s fake government engineered nanobots meant to make you vote for AOC. Or something.

Seriously, lots of videos are popping up on social media (Facebook, Tik Tok, and so forth) with people making snowballs and then trying to melt them with lighters. Not only does the snow not melt, but it actually scorches. Snow! Scorching!

How can this be?

Flashback to 2014: Atlanta, Georgia got a freak snowstorm that dumped a couple of inches of ice and snow on the city, paralyzing it and causing lots of havoc (needless to say, it doesn’t snow there much). These same claims came up then, so I made video debunking them:

If you want to skip the intro go to the 1:30 mark which is where I make a snowball and try to burn it. I explain why the snow doesn’t seem to melt at the 2:30 point, and why it seems to scorch at the 3:08 point. I also melt the snowball in a pan to show how the snow wicks up the water, so you don’t see it dripping off.

The basic points are that 1) The snow in the ball absorbs the water as it melts, wicking it up, so it doesn’t drip off, and b) the butane in the lighter doesn’t burn completely, creating complex carbon molecules — soot — that plates onto the snow blackening it.

Easy peasy*.

The video is getting some attention again a bit through organic searches but also because I did an interview with Politifact and they graciously embedded it on their page (I also saw it on the Lead Stories site).

A good debunkening never dies, I suppose. Which is good, because heaven knows bad bunk never does either.

I don’t usually ask this, but here I will for obvious reasons: Please share this video (or the newsletter) with friends. This conspiracy claim is silly but holy yikes is it everywhere. The more folks who see what’s really going on the better. Plus, SCIENCE! Win win. Thanks!

* Lemon squeezy

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[Looking down on Perseverance: A shot of the rover taken from the sky crane as it’s lowered to the surface of Mars. From Friday’s BONUS article. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech ]

Monday 15 February, 2021: Incredible microscope images of molecules show what Titan's haze looks like up *very* close

Tuesday 16 February, 2021: New analysis weakens — but doesn't kill — the case for Planet Nine (UPDATED)

Wednesday 17 February, 2021: Can a planet be bigger than its star?

Thursday 18 February, 2021: Perseverance lands on Mars today! Here's what you need to know

Friday 19 February, 2021: Cygnus X-1, the first black hole ever detected, is more massive than we thought

BONUS FRIDAY ARTICLE: See the first incredible images from the NASA rover Perseverance on Mars!

Upcoming Appearances/Shameless Self-Promotion

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

On February 14th, 2021 I was on a couple of panels for PlanetFest ‘21, The Planetary Society’s celebration of science and specifically of the Mars Perseverance rover landing the following week.

Those panels are online for your viewing pleasurement!

The first, titled “How to Win Space Friends and Influence People”, was hosted by Bill Nye and features Katie Mac, Derek Muller, Hakeem Oluseyi, and me. We talk about communicating science, how we each do it personally, and what excites us about Mars.

The second, “Debunking B.S. (Bad Science)”, was hosted by Mat Kaplan and features Katie again, me again, and the National Center for Science Education director Ann Reid. We talk about misinformation and how to counter it.

Both panels were a lot of fun to be a part of and I’m thrilled The Planetary Society asked me to be a part.

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!