BAN #301: Phytoplankton bloom, Good climate news

1 March 2021   Issue #301

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

Subscribers bloom where sunlight touches the Earth.

Pic o’ the Letter

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

It’s been a while since I last posted a pic of a phytoplankton bloom from space, so you’re in luck!

[A phytoplankton bloom off the coast of Argentina in 2021, taken by the Landsat 8 satellite. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey]

Cooooool. This was a few hundred kilometers west of the Falkland Islands, and for scale the image is roughly 150 km wide. The NASA Earth Observatory Image of the Day has more details and a wider image, too.

The different colors may be from different kinds of phytoplankton, which are microscopic algae. They come in different kinds, like dinoflagellates (which use a long thin tail whipping around to move and can glow when disturbed, creating biolumiscence) and diatoms (which have a hard and rigid outer shell). It’s not possible to know which is which here without a sample taken but the colors imply a mix.

It’s always lovely to see the Earth from space, but it also packs a lot of surprises if you haven’t spent much time combing through images. And hey, I have, and still never gets old.

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[The Sun sets over Jezero crater as seen by the Mars rover Perseverance. From Thursday’s article. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech]

Monday 22 February, 2021: Watch groundbreaking video from the Mars Perseverance landing!

Tuesday 23 February, 2021: Staring down the throat of an ancient, *extremely* distant black hole

Wednesday 24 February, 2021: Is there an angry baby neutron star in the middle of Supernova 1987A?

Thursday 25 February, 2021: Sunset on Mars

Friday 26 February, 2021: A comet makes a pit stop at Jupiter but will eventually get flung into interstellar space

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

Climate change is real, y’all

I love getting good climate news.

Yeah, read the linked article. Hawaii is pretty isolated (duh), and has to ship in all their fossil fuels, which is very expensive. That makes the cost of living there higher, so leaning into wind and solar there is a great idea. And they’re exceeding their goals.

I was thinking about this recently. The article there talks about consumers leading the way, with a big surge in rooftop solar panels. The more people who do this the better, of course, with an ultimate goal of as many roofs covered as possible.

But there’s an interesting benefit that occurs on the way there.

In a lot of places the electrical power grid can get overloaded, especially in the summer in the south when a lot of people are using their AC. This is massively exacerbated when there are disasters like wildfires or huge polar vortex excursions. Then you get rolling blackouts, spiking prices, and more.

That’s because electricity, physically, can be thought of like water flowing through pipes. You can only push so much through, and if the grid is already working at near capacity then a surge can blow transformers, or cause all sorts of mayhem in the system.

When the grid was first built it was intentionally overdesigned to be able to hold a lot more capacity then was needed at the time, to allow for growth. In many places now, though, the grid is commonly at capacity, sending as much electricity as it can. A big uptick in need can cause a lot of grief.

And here’s where more people getting their electricity locally (literally) by getting rooftop solar can really help: it takes pressure off the grid. Every house getting their juice from solar panels is another house that the grid doesn’t have to support.

In many places the utilities will still be the ones pushing out electricity to people even when their power generation is more green, so there will still be grid issues. But again, the more folks who are off the grid, the better.

Another benefit is something I’ve been yelling from my own metaphorical rooftop for years: A big solar storm can bring our modern tech-based society to its knees. A big flare of coronal mass ejection can connect with the Earth’s magnetic field, which in turn can cause enormous currents to be generated underground. This can induce massive currents in power lines, overloading the grid and causing widespread black outs.

This is exactly what happened in 1989 in Quebec so this isn’t speculative. And in 2012 the Sun blerped out a storm that just missed us; had it hit it would’ve been very, very bad. Storms like that occur often enough that we need to be concerned about this. The more pressure we can take off the grid the better.

So good on Hawaii, and good on folks everywhere getting rooftop solar. My wife and I installed solar panels on our house, and we did it on our old house as well (and convinced my in-laws to get panels on their house, too). There are so many benefits; we still have juice when the grid goes down (we have Powerwalls, too), we send power back into the grid when our batteries are full but the Sun is still out… and, of course, it’s just a good thing to do anyway. I hope we see lots more of it.

Oh, and by the way, if you hear some climate science denier whining about the cost, you can mention that going to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 could put a trillion dollars into just the US economy. A. Trillion. Bucks.

Yeah. Not bad.

[P.S. The tweet above is from DeSmogBlog, which is a very useful site and Twitter feed.]

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!