Category Archives: Science

News links on the end of the Earth 1

Just a little overstatement in the headline. No human tech for a thousand or maybe a million years will be sufficient to stop the Earth’s rotation. Kill 90% of all like like that meteor off the Yucatan Penninsula. No problem. We’re half way there already. So, this is a place I’ll start putting links to news stories I’ve been emailing myself for the past year or more. I want a place to organize them for later use. You will be welcome to read them if you’d like.

This is but one category of such stories. There will be another about Republicans or Trump or something along those lines.


Monarch Butterflies, Mayflies, Bees. They are just the tip of the iceberg. Last year, a global review published in the journal Biological Conservation spawned headlines heralding an “insect apocalypse,” “Armageddon” and “collapse of nature” when it found 40% of insect … View the article.

Two researchers present evidence today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the accelerating melt of Arctic sea ice is linked to weather patterns near the equator in the … View the article.

Sea-level is rising, causing susceptible coastal cities to experience more extreme floods. These are the cities where people are likely to migrate to from increasingly flooded coastal cities. Hurricane Harvey was a perfect example of the migration impacts a major storm and flooding has on people…. View the article.

CFCs, which caused the hole in the ozone layer, also caused half of Arctic warming and sea ice loss from 1955 to 2005. The chemicals that caused the hole in the ozone layer were also responsible for … View the article.

The recent catastrophic bush fires in Australia were so immensely destructive that they could be seen from space. Now, a new animation from NASA shows the impact of those fires and other extreme … View the article.

A joule is a measurement of heat. Currently the Earth is heating up at 28 zeta joules each day. I heard this figure on MPR’s climate cast and it stuck with me because forty years ago I recall a factoid in a column by Sydney Harris. Harris said that every fall day Lake Superior released the heat energy equivelent of five Hiroshima atomic bombs into the atmosphere. Of course in the summer it was absorbing that much energy from the sun each day.

I’ll see if I have a link to the climate cast broadcast but the figure that suck with me is this: At this time the Earth as a whole is absorbing 28 zeta joules of energy every day. In times past it stayed steady gaining and losing heat just like Lake Superior. No more: I think a Zeta Joule is a figure with 28 zeros behind it. It is the equivalent of Earth absorbing five Hiroshima bombs every second of every day 365 days a week, year in and year out. No more steady state.


A month before my Dad died in 1987 the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant suffered a nuclear explosion that killed between 4,000 and 90,000 people immediately and prematurely. After our mini adventure Claudia suggested we watch the fifth and final episode of the recent series on the accident. It was pretty compelling.

The main character is the scientist who bucked the Soviet security state’s insistence that he deny the government’s role in the tragedy.

Among his last words before committing suicide were these that I find striking with our prevaricating President still in office:

“Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth.”

The official death toll according to the Soviets who trained Vladimir Putin how to run a country has remained unchanged since 1987. It is 31.

Writer’s Shock

The only writer’s block I ever suffered from was when I was afraid to write. My guide for this was the old maxim: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” In checking for the source of this quote google attributed it to my hero Abraham Lincoln although I also saw that Mark Twain might be a possibility for another attribution. So before I launch into the meat of this post a couple stray thoughts.

1st. In my case I had lousy handwriting which I used to disguise my poor spelling. When I was young I felt that spelling must be the proof of intelligence and as a poor speller I didn’t want to show my shortcomings by writing. What I had yet to learn was that the key, at least for me, to confident writing would be editing, editing, editing. Ironically, I was the “pronouncer” at our regional spelling bees for about fifteen years running.

2nd. Abe Lincoln, now famous for his literary skills, gave the public plenty of literary ammunition to confirm his foolishness. Perhaps, like in my case, this was a result of his extreme self consciousness about what he felt to be his impoverished education.

If anything when I stop writing here in the blog it leads to a build up and bloat of ideas. Its more of a shock than a block. To remove some of the Lincoln-like clutter, (He kept notes in his hat) of paper scraps, I now dash off ideas in my cell phone’s messaging ap. I lost hundreds of these notes when I replaced my phone nine months ago but in my new phone I’ve got several hundred new ones. Some of them may find their way into my future writing.

Over the past two weeks I’ve had about seven ideas for a new Not Eudora column that have made it to my messaging ap. I’ve chosen to write about space today for this week’s Reader. At the end of this post I’ll share the notes I may use in cobbling together today’s column. The deadline was moved up a day for the beginning of the summer run.

If I get it written I still hope to write something about my empty “baby killing” post from a couple days ago. Its no longer just me. Dim but self righteous Republicans are rousing a great sleeping beast with all their recent posturing about saving rape fetuses. Heaven forbid that future Supreme Court justices lose the children that they tried to impregnate their victims with.

Nuff of that:

Here’s the raw ore for today’s column. I hope I can refine it into something thought provoking: NOTE: I’ve made no changes. This is what my hastily written notes look like at 3 in the morning when I roll off my pillow to tap them into my cellphone

Continue reading

Into my mental Expanse

Up and out of bed for four hours. Until a few moments ago when I took a ten minute break to clear my mind I was busy nonstop with mental activity skimming the News Tribune, the NY Times and other news filters on my cellphone. Twenty of those past minutes were used solving some Time’s puzzlers and fifteen minutes were on my French practice. I still have another half an hour of French practice today to do in order to keep to a half year streak of putting about an hour in daily. Will I ever get to use French if I become fumblingly conversant. Maybe. So am I learning it for vanity, practicality or just to keep my brain cells from slipping into dementia? Don’t know. Probably all three.

That’s what I pondered in my nap while trying to keep my mind clear. That and the dozens of things I’d like to write about now. But I have a Reader column to turn in today and like last week when I missed the deadline I have some rough draft work ready to operate on. But I’m operating at the moment in the “meantime” with some time to kill and ideas to spill. As I fritter away precious minutes I’m listening to the Birmingham Symphony’s recording of the Mendelssohn that I will be singing in two weeks at the DECC with the Symphony Chorus. At last week’s practice a native of Texas from the French bayous caught me working on French. My mind froze up and I got no French out but I was hoping I’d see him again last night but he wasn’t sitting behind me to give my French a spin.

But I’ve learned a couple things about the composer. He taught Queen Victoria piano lessons. That’s added to my enjoyment of the current PBS series on young Queen Victoria. I also learned that he was a polyglot speaking a half dozen languages. He was easily conversant in English which makes his assures that his English lyrics …..“All that has life and Breath”……its playing now…Heavenly…. are not at all stilted.

So with Mendelssohn playing in the background let me mention one of the dozen items I’ve watched with Claudia over the past few weeks. Not Brooklyn 99 which tickles my funny bone and which is proof that racism in the US doesn’t stand a chance in the long run. Instead I’ll mention The Expanse three seasons of which we’ve live-streamed over the past couple weeks. I read a note about its being saved after by two seasons by none other than Mr. Bezos of Amazon fame. He put a good word in for them when it was about to be canceled.

Its about a future Earth at a time when Earthlings are divided into three groups. Those living on Earth. A militarized Mars and everyone else called “Belters.” They have colonized the Asteroid belt and all the other moons beyond Earth of the Solar system. In the first three seasons war is about to break out between all three subdivisions of the Solar System bound Earthlings. The Mormons have commissioned a massive Space ship to be sent to other suns and that project is being constructed in space by the belters. Bezos reportedly fell in love with the series because it works hard to show how the real life environment of space would have to be negotiated by humans. (No bathrooms have shown up yet. Probably just as well. What a distraction they would be)

There was one things that caught my attention. While there are vague hints that the Earth of a few hundred years from now is radically different one Martian warrior who finds herself at the United Nations in New York wants only to see the Earth’s ocean which is so foreign to her having grown up on desiccated Mars. When she escapes her confines and is directed to what is clearly New York’s battery overlooking the Statute of Liberty I had a quick reaction. I’ve been there and in a couple hundred years barring some industrial miracle that little bit of beach will be covered by 20 or more feet of water. I suspect the makers of The Expanse knew this but chose not to ignore this far more likely future. The idea that we will be zipping around the solar system mining its asteroids and moons in a mere two hundred years seems pretty fanciful to me. Will it happen? Oh I fully expect this but I think it would take a lot more time than this although like with Startrek I’m not entirely clear on the dates projected by The Expanse. And I haven’t even mentioned the “proto molecule.”

They had one thing right. The spaceship slated to be flown (is that what you would call it) by the Mormons is expected to take many generations to reach a habitable star beyond the sun. Alpha Centuri is the closest at 4.3 light years. NASA is contemplating sending out a space kite powered by lasers shot at it from Earth which might be able to reach one fifth the speed of light. That would make for a 30 year journey. What it would take to power a spacecraft with a 1,000 people on it at that speed is not yet within the grasp our our engineering. And Alpha Centuri may be the wrong place to send humans let alone a whole colony of them surviving the loneliness of space for generations. In a million years? Sure some new generation of hybridized bionically and computationally augmented humans will quite likely make the journey. At a fifth the speed of light their successors might make it to the far edge of the Milky Way in half a million years – a period of time 50 times as far away in the future as agriculture’s beginnings were in the past.

So for me and the immediate generations following me the question will be whether Earth and Mars or simply China Russia and the USA can avoid turning the Earth into another Venus before this endless future Era of exploration begins. To that end I’ll mention my pleasure at seeing a letter-to-the-editor in the Reader mentioning my last column about plastics. I don’t get a lot of feedback. The letter suggested a book for me about plastic waste. I won’t read it. I haven’t read the Sixth Extinction yet and that just about sums up what Donald Trump inspired politics all but guarantees will come to pass.

I give. Time for French.
I’ll save any proof reading of this for later. Maybe

Daphnia in tire soup experiment

Today’s lead story in the Trib highlighted the scientific investigations of two Duluth Middle School students. These young people were way ahead of the School Board when they decided to test whether our rubber tire mulch might be toxic. It is. At least it is to water fleas otherwise known as daphnia.

Whether it is hazardous for children has yet to be established but the story certainly reinforces my decision to replace the rubber mulch in our school playgrounds.

Maybe if we dumped our tire mulch in Lake Superior we could kill off the invasive spiny waterfleas that our fish can’t eat and that so annoy anglers.

Ignorance is Bliss

From Chapter 14 of Destiny of the Republic: A tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President:

“Not only did many American doctors not believe in germs, they took pride in the particular brand of filth that defined their profession. They spoke fondly of the “good old surgical stink” that pervaded their hospitals and operating rooms, and they resisted making too many concessions even to basic hygiene. Many surgeons walked directly from the street to the operating room without bothering to change their clothes. Those who did shrug on a laboratory coat, however, were an even greater danger to their patients. They looped strands of silk sutures through their button holes for easy access during surgery, and they refused to change or even wash their coats. They believed that the thicker the layers of dried blood and pus, black and crumbling as they bent over their patients, the greater the tribute to their years of experience.”

Just as many politicians ridiculed Darwin in the Era of the Scopes Monkey Trial and today’s Republican party has concluded that 97% of environmental scientists are ignorant to believe that Carbon is causing Global Warming, there was a time when germs did not exist – at least not in America.

In Chapter 14 poor President Garfield’s medical care has just been commandeered by a self confident Doctor who has already stuck his unwashed finger and two long unsanitized probes into the President’s back. In the next fifty pages I will be reading more about how Dr. Bliss turns a wound that left untreated the President would have survived into a pus filled killer of the President.

Ignorance is Bliss takes on new meaning in this book. It killed Garfield in 1880 just as it threatens to kill the earth as we know it today.

Solar wind not cosmic rays

As fascinating as I find the subject astronomy is not my forte. As I was lazing in a hammock yesterday afternoon enjoying the temperate weather soon to depart I looked up into the tossing leaves of my three poplars and thought about something I’d just written in the last post. I’m about to correct it. I wrote that our planet’s magnetic polls protected us from the bombardment of cosmic rays. No. The magnetism of Earth does protect our atmosphere by preventing solar winds from stripping the Earth bare. There is a connection with protection from gamma rays from space. Ozone. That’s the chemical that began disappearing from the South Pole a couple decades ago from all the chlorofluorocarbons that were released from spray cans and old refrigerators. That in turn pushed up melanomas (skin cancers) where the ozone was reduced.

So there is an indirect tie between gamma rays and our magnetic fields. The magnetism repels the solar wind that would strip the ozone and a lot of the rest of our atmosphere away. Gravitation plays a role too. Earth is the largest of the four inner “rocky” planets and has a little stronger hold on the light weight gaseous molecules as a result. The lightest of them are mose likely to fly off into space unless they are chemically combined with other elements.

The video above gives a good sense of what blasts our inner planets day in and day out. When the winds are particularly intense they produce northern and southern lights. When there is a particulary explosive event that is aimed directly at the Earth the consequences can interfere or even knock out communication systems. In one particulary vigorous such occasion that took place when electronic communications was limited to telegraphy world-wide communication was hit hard. It took place in 1859, on the eve of the Civil War, and was called the Carrington Event.

How such an event would affect our space stations or the astronauts within is unclear to me. We are discovering that being in outer space for long periods is not healthy for astronauts – at least in our current flimsy space craft. Better to stay on Earth for a long life.


One of my latest sources of information and a highly visual one is Pinterest. On it a few months ago I found this arresting illustration showing Earth with its ocean and atmosphere congealed into spheres representing the non solid components of the planet:

I have always been interested in science beginning with dinosaurs and seashells. As a second grader I reconciled religion and science by determining that Adam and Eve were cavemen. The trouble is that I eventually concluded that Adam and Eve’s eariest ancestors were single celled organisms. Anyone who tells you otherwise is, is, is…..Wrong.

The message I take from this illustration is the fragility of our planet’s zone of habitability. Why are we not like Venus or Mars? Well, yes its partly our being in the goldilocks zone of not too hot and not too cold but there is much more to it. We have a Moon that was likely created by a massive collision four billion years ago. That collision and/or the Moon’s constant tidal influence seems to have given us an active interior which in turn has given us the magnetosphere which keeps killer cosmic rays [Correction – Earth’s magnetism keeps the solar wind, not cosmic rays, from stripping away our atmosphere] from ravaging life on Earth. Without this guide for compases our ocean would probably have been blown away into space as were the oceans of Mars. Perhaps those oceans now coat the comets in the Oort Cloud.

I’ve read many articles on how unlikely the Earth we live on is. At the same time I am inundated with news stories about how a massive human population is undermining the Earth’s livibility. But we only have Earth. I uploaded another space related post on just how remote we are from everywhere else in the Milky Way. It won’t be generations before we can get to other potentially habitable planets. Rather, it will be a hundred generations and possibly tens of hundreds of generations. And that doesn’t even begin to account for the time it will take to “terraform” other planets into zones where we can grow bacteria, insects, fish, palm trees let alone humans.

In the next couple of generations we will need to experiment by sending poor copies of Earth’s environment into our own solar system. Each such vessel will have to take a tiny grain of Earth with it like soup stock or starter dough. They will not be able to carry the zillions of lifeforms on Earth that keep our planet alive but they will have many generations to perfect their zoologies before we dare escape the Sun. In the meantime we must begin working overtime to give the remaining non-human part of Earth some space not to disappear. I love EO Wilson’s suggestion that we keep half of Earth for everything else. Developers will hate that idea and won’t rest until we humans can walk accross the oceans on all the floating garbage we let loose from our coastlines.

I talk about rejoining the Republican Party and bringing some sensibility back to it but the often flakey Green Party might be a better fit for me as I blunder into old age. It might welcome me hey, Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican as well as the founder of our National Parks.

I always liked Joni Mitchel’s song Big Yellow Taxi:

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
They took all the trees
And put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half to seem ’em
No no no
Don’t it always seem to go,
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Til its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
Hey farmer farmer
Put away the DDT
I don’t care about spots on my apples
Leave me the birds and the bees
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Til its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
Hey, now they paved paradise
To put up a parking lot
Why not?
Listenin’ late…

A lot of the Earth that I knew as a child is gone. Even more of the Earth that existed when my Father was a child is gone not to mention what existed when his Father was young.

I’d like more than parking lots left for my Grandchildren.


Last night after I parked my car in the garage I looked up to see a jet cross one of the few constelations I can easily identify – Cassiopeia. The other easy ones are the big and little dippers and Orion. The lights from the plane, had they been in my house, would have blinded me but being three miles up were only slightly brighter than the binary star Serius – the brightest in the night sky. Distance is everything in observing the stars.

I recently learned that of the paltry 5,000 stars we can pick out with the naked eye the farthest of these lies in Cassiopia. It is called Cassiopia Rho. It is 100,000 times more luminous than our sun. Its luminosity means we can see it despite its being 4,000 light years distant. I don’t know how many stars are within 4 thousand light year distance of Earth but apparently there are 600 million stars within 5,000 light years.

If mankind ever engineers a spacecraft that could travel at the speed of light (the limit without wormholes) it would take 4000 years to reach Cassiopeia Rho. However the fastest rocket ship we have yet devised travels as a small fraction of this speed (at 1/18,000th the speed of light) At this creeping pace it would take about 75 million years for it to reach Cassiopeia Rho. That is ten million years longer than the time elapsed since the extinction of the dinosaurs. And of course the furthest edges of our own medium sized galaxy are much further yet. The Milky Way’s width is currently estimated to be 100,000 light years and it is believed to contain 200 billion stars all but 5000 of them invisible to the naked human eye.

Superimposed on a picture of the Milky way the pitifully small circle of stars we can see is very tiny. I recall reading that we are fortunate to be investigating the universe at this point 13 billion years from its birth because we can still pick out galaxis that formed within a five hundred million years of the Big Bang. In a few billion more years the furthest of them will begin disappearing from even our most powerful telescopes as the Universe expands at a rate even faster than the speed of light. The light from the most distant object which began heading to earth 13.2 billion years ago comes from a place in the universe that is now 46 billion light years away. Light escaping it today will never reach the Earth. It is for this reason that astronomers say the universe will eventually grow dark. Our Milky Way descendents will be able to see the galaxies and galaxy clusters close to us for some time ahead but those farther away will simply wink out to us as we will wink out to them.

Not to worry – there are still lots of things for us to investigate before they are too far away to be seen anymore. There is an arresting illustration in the Discover magazine I opened up yesterday. It shows the leading edge of the Chicxulub meteor as it begins crashing into the ocean off today’s Yucatan Penninsula. But you can see its other end looming over the Earth nine miles farther behind yet to reach the impact site. The top of that meteor is up higher than the jet I saw flying through Cassiopeia last night.

The Rosetta Comet that we’ve been investigating is only about three miles at its longest point. That’s considerably smaller than the dinosaur killer. Even so, if you stacked it next to Los Angelas you would get an eyefull.

My Buddy nudges me on the previous post



“Now if we could just figure out how to tempt some of the 800 extra Duluth East kids to Denfeld to even up the school populations we’d have an even bigger improvement in safety.”

However, as I said to you on September 17, regarding which I have not received a response:

However, I am similarly critical about the decision of the district to have an east high school and a west high school, instead of just one high school “ especially considering that the district had one relatively new facility that was centrally located. Who deserves blame for that? Marshall School functions with such a central location; why couldn’t the public school district?

A lot of water over the dam.

[Your Buddy]

To which I responded:

Yeah. A lot of water over the damn alright……pun intended.

Buddy, your question about a central location for a high school is a good one and I’ve written about it before on the blog. I don’t respond to all of your emails because……well…..I have a life to live. Its not for want of a willingness to reply.

Our task now is to make sure that the decisions we can’t undo don’t further compromise kids out west.


Meanwhile, I’m over the moon too. My Buddy sent me this link to some very cool pictures of the Apollo landings on the Moon in honor of the Lunar Eclipse Sunday Night. Claudia and I watched it battle the clouds in Duluth until its blood red phase.

I remember bicycling around Mankato, Minnesota, back in 1969 while stealing glances up at the moon when we first landed astronauts there.

Nix that

Its been a long time since I’ve put anything other than ISD 709 miasma on the blog. This is cool and its probably already on Bob King’s Astronomy blog. It shows how the football shaped moon Nix moves in its orbit around the binary Pluto/Charon combination. No spiral here.

I wasn’t kidding about being too clean

In my August 2nd Not Eudora column I joked that the real reason for our health maladies was not vaccinations but too much hygiene or cleanliness……..only I wasn’t really joking.

Take a listen to this NPR report on the microbes that make us more of an ecosystem than a stand alone critter. If you’ve heard people are suffering from more allergies and obesity this could be the explanation. And don’t even get me started on hookworms.

Taking the ice veil off

Our scientific instruments are enabling us to see the world as never before. The Kepler mission has been locating Earth sized planets in stars light years away. Satellites are uncovering buried civilizations from the past and recent work has uncovered a grand canyon under the ice in Greenland an island the size of the Louisiana Purchase or one third the size of the lower 48.