BAN #69: A comet brightens, a planet warms

December 10, 2018 Issue #69

Subscribers are the hairy stars in my sky.


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.

Right now, a comet is brightening in the early evening sky and is worth trying to take a look at. It’s called 46P/Wirtanen, and its currently high in the sky not long after sunset, situated to the west of Orion. It’s not quite bright enough to see with just your naked eye (unless you have excellent vision and live far away from city lights) but it should be pretty easy to spot with binoculars. If you have a dark sky it’ll look like a fuzzy green dot.

[Comet 46P/Wirtanen on Dec. 7, 2018. This is a deep exposure so it won’t look quite this spectacularly lovely in the eyepiece — this was taken by master solar system astrophotographer Damian Peach — but it should still be pretty cool. Credit: Damian Peach]

Wirtanen orbits the Sun on an ellipse that takes it pretty near Earth, and as far out as Jupiter. This is a pretty close pass — it’ll be just under 12 million km away on December 16, about 30 times the distance of the Moon— which is why it’s getting bright enough to notice.

You’ll need a finder chart to get a look, and some familiarity with the sky. If there’s an observatory or astronomy group near you, contact them. It’s a decent bet they’ll have telescopes set up at some point to look. I plan on checking it out myself; the weather here has been iffy but if it gets clear enough I’ll look.

And hey, the Geminids peak on Thursday night! That’s a pretty good excuse to be outside anyway.


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

Climate change is real, y’all

Well — not to coin a phrase or anything — but I have some good news and some bad news.

First, the bad news:

I was getting pretty happy watching annual global fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions; for a couple of years they had flatted out, and it was looking like maybe we were entering a downturn in the amount of CO2 we put in the air.

I was happy too soon: Emissions in 2018 have taken a sharp 2% uptick.

Mind you this is just from fossil fuel; for a while now I’ve been saying the actual number is closer to 40 gigatons — yes, 40 billion tons — of CO2 put into the atmosphere by humans per year.

My friend Chris Mooney has more on this as well:

As does climatologist Zeke Hausfather:

And yet, there is some good news. As I wrote in BAN #68 (the Thursday subscriber’s issue):

On the other hand, I was surprised to see some heartening news on this front: For one, Xcel energy, the power company for eight states in the west, including my own Colorado, has announced they want to be fossil fuel-free by 2050. Holy wow! That’s a big deal. This goes along with what our new Governor, Jared Polis, has said about making Colorado totally green by 2040, too.

For another, Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, has pledged to go carbon-free by 2050 as well! This is huge news, since shipping puts out a vast amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Since they are such a dominant company this will force ship makers to start thinking about how they can do this now, rather than keep pushing it off into the future.

And there’s more. If politicians don’t take climate change seriously, at least our children do:

And of course some politicians (cough cough Democrats) do in fact take climate change seriously. On Capitol Hill, many of the freshmen incoming Representatives are planning on making climate change a big policy initiative; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, held a town hall meeting to talk about a “Green New Deal”. Science communicator Jayde Lovell is hopeful:

Skeptical Science takes a more reserved stand:

At the moment I’m OK with the Dems doing it this way. Just talking about it is a big step! Not big enough — the time to start dealing with climate change was decades ago — but it’s a start. I’m willing to give them a chance to find their footing, make partnerships and cultivate allies, and then start making tangible progress. There’s a vast amount of money to be made mitigating climate change (just ask Tesla or any car manufacturer moving to electric vehicles), and hopefully this is one tack the Dems will take.

Mind you, my patience is finite. Hopefully they’ll get this moving quickly.

And one final bit of good climate news… literally. The Daily Climate site has a section called Good News, the function of which should be pretty obvious. If all the doom and gloom gets you down, this is an excellent place to see that not all is lost, and there are folks out there working very hard to literally save our ability to live on Earth.


Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

Monday Dec. 3, 2018: *FOUR* new black hole mergers have been found blasting out gravitational waves!

Tuesday Dec. 4, 2018: Welcome to Bennu!

Wednesday Dec. 5, 2018: So, a supernova may have torched a star nearby

Thursday Dec. 6, 2018: How Phobos got its grooves

Friday Dec. 7, 2018: When it comes to craters, what is “small”?


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!