News quickies

By Phil Plait | November 16, 2010 11:39 am

Some quick news items:

The Space Shuttle as seen from the space station1) The launch delay for Space Shuttle Discovery may be longer than originally announced: a fourth crack has been found in the external fuel tank. While this isn’t in an area where the fuel actually is (it’s in an instrument panel) I imagine NASA will be extremely conservative about launch. It’s the last scheduled flight for Discovery, and the penultimate Shuttle launch.


hayabusa_samples2) The Japanese space agency has announced that the asteroid mission Hayabusa did in fact successfully collect samples of the asteroid Itokawa! This is HUGE news. The probe landed on the asteroid in 2005 and returned to Earth earlier this year, but the sampling device failed. They were hoping a few particles from the asteroid made it into the chamber anyway, and it appears that they did! Scientists now have well over a thousand particles collected in situ from the surface of an asteroid sitting in their labs.


earthonfire3) Climate scientists report that a sharp uptick in carbon dioxide 40 million years ago caused a huge temperature increase on Earth of 5 – 11°F. An increase like that today would be catastrophic, to say the very least. To those Congresscritters and others who claim CO2 is no big deal: I hope your Antarctic beach house is comfortable.

Tip o’ the thermometer to Dan Vergano


365 Days of Astronomy podcast4) Some great news: the wonderful podcast 365 Days of Astronomy just got renewed for another year! This will be its third year of educating and entertaining people about astronomy. And it’s citizen-driven: you can create your own entry and upload it. I love the podcast, and if you listen to it you will too.


ROG_astrophotowinner5) The Greenwich Royal Observatory has posted their Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest winners. Holy Emulsion! The pictures are incredible. Go take a look, and be inspired. I was.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, NASA, Space

Comments (42)

  1. Anonym

    “Scientists now have well over a thousand particles collected in situ from the surface of an asteroid sitting in their labs.”

    If the asteroid is “sitting in their labs.”, why do they need the dust?

  2. The Air and Space Museum is also thankful for NASA’s care with Discovery as it’ll be “their” Shuttle when all is said and done.

  3. bigjohn756

    Emulsion? Do they still use that stuff?

  4. Phil, the link to photo “ROG_astrophotowinner” is broken or incomplete

  5. El Zarcho

    “To those Congresscritters and others who claim CO2 is no big deal: I hope your Antarctic beach house is comfortable.” Except that even in the ABSOLUTE WORST CASE scenario, they’ll all be long dead before that sort of swing occurs.

    Granted, Congress is full of idiots, and there’s no denying CO2 is a problem. The main dispute is that ridiculous freak-out measures which cripple economic growth and do nothing for China or India (paging Al Gore) are not the most helpful thing to do right now.

    Anyway, love your stuff, but dude, astronomers are not climate scientists (in fact, even most “climate scientists” aren’t even climatologists. It’s a pretty young field with a history of pretty hasty conclusions and doomsday cultism). For a self-proclaimed skeptic, you surely do love yourself some climate hysteria.

  6. Badger

    Phil, the USAToday article you linked cites a 5-11 deg warming in SST’s — I wonder what the corresponding increase of air temperature would have been during this period… :/

  7. Acronym Jim

    Phil, for FSM’s sake, close your italics tag. I’m a liberal lefty. I don’t want to lean to the right.

  8. NAW

    Good, I thought I had lost my mind there for a sec.

    Cool news though. Really awesome on the Hayabusa thing. Shows even then almost everything screws up other things still work right.

  9. Pete Jackson

    Since it is clear that governments plan to do nothing about global warming, the question is where to build the Antarctic beach houses. The sea level will be much higher than it is now, so they will have to be up on the cliffs. But the cliffs are still glaciated! Location. Location. Location.

  10. I have to wonder how quickly that “sharp uptick” occurred, and if similar upticks to what we have measured over the past century have been identified in the fossil records, and then what the results were. Or if it’s even possible to measure such rapid trends accurately in fossil data.

  11. QuietDesperation

    I have to wonder how quickly that “sharp uptick” occurred

    You could try reading the Science article. You should try out those new fangled hyperlink whatsises. They’re the bee’s knees.

    Here. I’ll make it easy.

    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/330/6005/819.full.pdf?sid=f61dd77f-7fee-4ab7-be8b-b415a7d1f9e9

    with a globally uniform 4° to 6°C warming of both surface and deep oceans within ~400,000 years … the flux of carbon required to increase pCO2 by 2000 to 3000 ppmv within ~400,000 years

    Not exactly a human definition of abrupt. :-) There’s a correlation. Is it possible to make a true causal link? Could there be a hidden variable that caused *both* effects? They say not even extreme volcanism could explain the rise, so something odd happened. Could the effect have been local to the area where the cores were taken?

  12. amphiox

    The main dispute is that ridiculous freak-out measures which cripple economic growth and do nothing for China or India (paging Al Gore) are not the most helpful thing to do right now

    Such an ironically alarmist statement. What evidence do you have that any such measures will have any harmful effect on economic growth at all?

  13. Keith Bowden

    I have a dream. It’s a little dream, insignificant, but it’s mine.

    Since I’m obviously never going to go to the moon or Mars or anywhere off Earth… I want to touch those bits of asteroid or a moon rock or something! :)

    Seriously, I’m glad NASA is being so diligent with Discovery. We really don’t need anyone else to die in the space program, especially where we can prevent it.

    I’ve gotta check out 365DA one of these days…

  14. @11. Easy there….I read the article in the link above, which stated a 5 – 11º F increase in SW Pacific ocean temperatures over a span of 100k years 40 MYA, and there was the correlation of a 2-3x increase of CO2 during that time. Does that mean the “uptick” is over 100k years, or was there an uptick and then the rise in temps? The article you linked to may clarify that, but it requires a subscription to read (which I do not have.)

    Seems there’s a correlation between CO2 rise and sarcasm as well…

  15. Daffy

    I am always amused when people who are not climate scientists—dude!— come here and bust Phil’s chops because he is not a climate scientist. You know, the ones who think AGW is bunk because Al Gore is a Democrat. Or something like that; it’s hard to follow their logic sometimes.

  16. Bill

    @Keith, #13:

    >Since I’m obviously never going to go to the moon or Mars or anywhere off Earth… I want to touch those bits of asteroid or a moon rock or something!

    Go to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on the Capitol Mall in DC. They have a slice of a moon rock right there in the Milestones of Flight gallery that you can touch.

    Of course, its been over ten years since I was last there. Here’s hoping it hasn’t been removed since then…

  17. Dave

    40 million years ago there was no mankind with SUVs to cause such an event. Kind of pokes a big ‘ol hole in the usual climate scientist nonsense. Antarctic beach houses? I could sell those to fools. Equatorial beach houses are quite comfortable. Stop by for a tall, cool glass of hater-aid.

  18. Daniel J. Andrews

    It’s a pretty young field with a history of pretty hasty conclusions and doomsday cultism). For a self-proclaimed skeptic, you surely do love yourself some climate hysteria.

    Please cite journal literature showing a history of hasty conclusions, and how that differs from any other field of science.

    Please cite journal literature showing doomsday cultism/conclusions, and how that differs from any other field of science.

    Finally, “young” compared to what? The science behind global warming is over a century old. The discovery of the greenhouse properties of CO2 go back even further. See Weart’s Discovery of Global Warming, which will also give you a good background, which you sorely lack, on the subject matter.

    aip.org/history/climate/index.htm

    Incidentally, be sure to actually read those journal articles yourself rather than rely on the same sources that misled you about “hasty conclusions/doomsday cultism” to tell you what those articles say.

    Secondly, you will need to show how those early peer-reviewed conclusions were wrong by comparing them to the latest conclusions which are also in the peer-reviewed literature. i.e. no setting up strawmen and saying “scientists said/are saying” when they are not. That way you’ll be less likely to propagate myths. See skepticalscience.com to find out which claims are completely debunked.

  19. TheBlackCat

    40 million years ago there was no mankind with SUVs to cause such an event. Kind of pokes a big ‘ol hole in the usual climate scientist nonsense.

    How, exactly? We have know for a long time that CO2 can change naturally over long time periods. We have also known for a long time that the current very rapid change is primarily due to humans based on carbon isotope ratios and measurements of carbon flux from various sources. Neither is news, and neither contradicts the consensus on AGW. What’s is interesting about these results is that they may indicate CO2 will have more of an impact than our current estimates predict.

  20. Daffy

    “40 million years ago there was no mankind with SUVs to cause such an event. Kind of pokes a big ‘ol hole in the usual climate scientist nonsense. Antarctic beach houses? I could sell those to fools. Equatorial beach houses are quite comfortable. Stop by for a tall, cool glass of hater-aid.”

    That has to be the most illogical statement I have ever read here. Something that happened 40,000,000 years ago can only be caused by the same thing now? Are you really going to make that claim, Dave?

  21. Daniel J. Andrews

    Dave = Trolltupidity or a Poe.

  22. Utakata

    40 million years ago there was no such thing as a stupid human, Dave @ 17. Just saying…

  23. Ray

    I wonder about the asteroid dust. Given the huge amounts of prestige and pressure, how we know the asteroid dust is real? Not saying I think it isn’t, but you just wonder how we know. Have the Japanese already shared data/dust with other scientists?

  24. 16. Bill Says: “Of course, its been over ten years since I was last there. Here’s hoping it hasn’t been removed since then.”

    It’s still there, at least as of last year when I was there. It’s been polished pretty shiny!

    – Jack

  25. Gary Ansorge

    So much Global warming discussion, so little real fun.

    How about “collapsing supernova creates multiple black holes.”

    http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/26031/?nlid=3778

    Now, THAT’S fun.

    Gary 7

  26. Jamie Mueller

    13,16: NASA also has a “road show” a semi truck that they send around with a presentation inside it. Part of this presentation is a small podium on the side with a moon rock that you can touch–yes I’ve touched the moon as well.
    Wow couldn’t find any reference to it on NASA’s web site though!

  27. Joseph G (AG in SC)

    *snaps fingers* Anarctic real estate! Why didn’t I think of that?
    Now, er, who do I talk to about buying some land? Also, does the estate deed include the glacier on top of it? We’re gonna need fresh water for our gated community.

    /lemonade out of lemons

  28. Glorios

    What evidence do you have that any such measures will have any harmful effect on economic growth at all?

    If you really cared, you’d google it and probably find what you seek. Many in the pro-draconian measure crowd simply say such harmful effects are the price to pay to “save the world.” Very few people try to imply as you are that there will be no negative effects. Looking at some of the measures with simple common sense turned on will get much of what you need.

  29. Joseph G (AG in SC)

    @#28: You’ll find many things on Google. Opinion pieces on economic impact are no more reliable then opinion pieces on the reality of AGW. Granted, predictions are never quite as accurate as we’d like them to be, but the few studies on the subject that I’ve read that seem to include actual numbers and credible math typically put the cost to economic growth at less then 1% of GDP (here in the States and more or less across the board). Considering the fact that the current economic crisis has caused far more damage to growth everywhere, I’d say that’s a fairly mild price to pay for avoiding massive suffering down the road.

  30. Dave

    Black Cat @19 – “We have also known for a long time that the current very rapid change is primarily due to humans…” No. We have been told this by the academia who have been caught red handed fudging data to fit an agenda. Nice try, but false premise.
    Daffy @20 – Did I make that claim? No. “That has to be the most illogical statement I have ever read here.” – can’t be. Read more. Daniel J @21, you’ve resorted to name calling – Nuff said. Utakata @22 – I like you. Well done.

  31. Messier Tidy Upper

    Omedeto gozaimasu ( CONGRATULATIONS!)
    to the Hayabusa crew. Well done. Sugoi! (Super!) :-)

    For more see :

    http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/asteroid-dust-collected-by-japan-space-probe-101116.html

    Or / &

    http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2010/11/17/3068936.htm

    among other space & general news sites. :-)

    Mind you BA, I would’ve thought that particular Hayabusa success news merited a whole post to itself. Oh well.

    @1. Anonym : LOL. Nice one. :-)

  32. Messier Tidy Upper

    @30. Dave Says:

    Black Cat @19 – “We have also known for a long time that the current very rapid change is primarily due to humans…” No. We have been told this by the academia who have been caught red handed fudging data to fit an agenda. Nice try, but false premise.

    Bzzzt. Attention fail. “Climategate” which I presume is what you are referring to there has long been throughly and totally debunked.

    See :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P70SlEqX7oY&p=029130BFDC78FA33

    and

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WvasALL-hw&p=029130BFDC78FA33

    For an entertaining, amusing and informative look at that non-scandal.

    Also please try to remember that Al Gore did NOT invent the idea of climate change which dates back much further :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdALFnlwV_o&p=029130BFDC78FA33

    That one is from 1956 but the idea that carbon dioxide levels – incl. human Co2 emissions – might affect the climate goes all the way back to Svante Arrehnius who :

    ” …was the first scientist to speculate that changes in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could substantially alter the surface temperature through the greenhouse effect”

    In 1896. So climate science being too young & the idea of Anthropogenic Global Warming beingtoday’s fad, not-so-much. :roll:

  33. Messier Tidy Upper

    My source for that Arrhenius quote is here :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svante_Arrhenius#Greenhouse_effect

    Then there’s :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrKfz8NjEzU&p=029130BFDC78FA33

    Which shows how climate science has developed over time incl. a discussion of the regional Medieval Warm Period which was once erroneously thought to be global before further studies foudn it wasn’t. This above clip also discusses the “hockey stick” graph and how there’s not just one such graph but rather, now, a whole hockey team based on a lot more things than just tree rings.

    Also, please check out this clip :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9SGw75pVas&p=029130BFDC78FA33

    Which gives a primer about what we know about climate change and how good the evidence for AGW is.

    —-

    PS. Separate post because I can’t seem to post too many links in one comment. That seems to lead to *very* big trouble and comment deletion or it did when I tried it ages ago. :-(

  34. QuietDesperation

    Opinion pieces on economic impact are no more reliable…

    *ALL* writing on economics is opinion. ;-)

    but the few studies on the subject that I’ve read that seem to include actual numbers and credible math typically put the cost to economic growth at less then 1% of GDP

    And other economists say other things.

    There is only one solution here.

    CAGE MATCH!

    First up: Paul “The Taxinator” Krugman versus Walter E. “The Organ Seller” Williams

  35. TheBlackCat

    Black Cat @19 – “We have also known for a long time that the current very rapid change is primarily due to humans…” No. We have been told this by the academia who have been caught red handed fudging data to fit an agenda. Nice try, but false premise.

    First, no they haven’t. There is no evidence of wrongdoing, all the supposed evidence of fabrication turned out to be benign comments on well-publicized methodology taken out of context, as at least 3 independent reviews have shown.

    Second, even we assume that everyone involved in Climategate completely and totally fabricated every single piece of evidence they used, none of them have anything whatsoever to do with the carbon isotope data. They are involved primarily, if not exclusively, with paleoclimatology, a completely different area of research.

    What you apparently fail to understand that there is not just one piece of evidence supporting AGW, but a bunch of independent pieces of evidence from very diverse fields. Even if you throw out one whole field, like paleoclimatology, and every researcher in that field, it won’t hurt AGW at all because of the other independent lines of of evidence from totally different fields.

  36. Dave

    #33 + #35, Messier and Cat. I’ve looked into it, and must acknowledge that climategate is a non-scandal. I’ve been wrong before, and it will surely happen again. However, I’m still a skeptic over AGW. I’m skeptical of the idea that a few billion people can destroy a planet with their lust for fossile fuels, or the farts of their livestock. Call me stupid if you must, but I’m not buying the idea that mankind can intervene with forces of nature too complicated and awesome to truly understand or control. Additionally, anytime throughout my own experience when people claim that our doom is upon us and we have to act now (and it will cost), or we’ll all perish have simply been full of it.

  37. TheBlackCat

    I’m skeptical of the idea that a few billion people can destroy a planet with their lust for fossile fuels, or the farts of their livestock.

    Who says we are going to “destroy a planet”? The planet will be just fine, and life will recover in time, it has faced far worse many times in the past (although it is likely many species will go extinct for one reason or another, just as many already have due to humans).

    The problem isn’t the planet, the problem is us. Our whole social system is based on fairly stable climate and geography over the last ~9000 years. Human civilization has never faced a situation like this before, and it will most likely disrupt many things that we currently take for granted and depend on. We aren’t likely to die off, but we are likely to go through some very tough, costly, and possibly violent times.

    Call me stupid if you must, but I’m not buying the idea that mankind can intervene with forces of nature too complicated and awesome to truly understand or control.

    I, for one, prefer to actually learn something about a subject rather than making a knee-jerk reaction like this. “I don’t understand it, therefore nobody else does” is not really a very persuasive argument, and I find it quite distressing whenever I see someone making it.

    Could you just maybe consider the possibility that people who have spent their whole lives studying the subject just maybe know a bit more about what we can and can’t understand than you do?

    Additionally, anytime throughout my own experience when people claim that our doom is upon us and we have to act now (and it will cost), or we’ll all perish have simply been full of it.

    But this is not even remotely similar to what we are saying, it is a blatant straw-man argument.

  38. Taz

    I’m skeptical of the idea that a few billion people can destroy a planet with their lust for fossile fuels, or the farts of their livestock.

    It’s not about destroying the planet, it’s about altering the climate. The planet itself will be fine, but the consequences to us could be enormous. We are making measurable changes in the composition of our atmosphere. Maybe we should tread cautiously.

  39. Dave

    @37 Black Cat says

    “I, for one, prefer to actually learn something about a subject rather than making a knee-jerk reaction like this. “I don’t understand it, therefore nobody else does” is not really a very persuasive argument, and I find it quite distressing whenever I see someone making it.”

    I too prefer to learn, and don’t jerk my knee for anybody. You’re quoted text was not written by me, so you’ve misquoted me. Attacking an exaggerated or caricatured version of your opponent’s position is a straw man argument, cat man.

    “Could you just maybe consider the possibility that people who have spent their whole lives studying the subject just maybe know a bit more about what we can and can’t understand than you do?”

    Of course I can. Don’t be silly.

  40. TheBlackCat

    I too prefer to learn,

    Except you haven’t. You don’t even know what scientists are saying, not to mention why they are saying it. I notice you completely ignored this part of my post, and Taz’s.

    and don’t jerk my knee for anybody.

    But that is exactly what you did, you discount several entire fields of science you know nothing about simply because you find it inconceivable that anyone could understand those subjects. How could that possibly be characterized as anything other than a knee-jerk reaction?

    You’re quoted text was not written by me, so you’ve misquoted me.

    I never attributed the statement to you, if I had I would have put it in quote blocks. Its called paraphrasing, a common practice in the English language. In fact I made sure to quote what you said specifically to make sure that people could see the statement did not appear there.

    Attacking an exaggerated or caricatured version of your opponent’s position is a straw man argument, cat man.

    True, but my paraphrasing of what you said is neither exaggerated nor caricatured.

    Of course I can. Don’t be silly.

    Sorry, poor choice of words. You can, but you choose not to. Or else you have some reasonable grounds for dismissing everything we know about several entire fields of science you know nothing about, which I find unlikely given your statements up to this point.

  41. Joseph G (AG in SC)

    @#34 Quiet Desperation: And other economists say other things.
    There is only one solution here.
    CAGE MATCH!
    First up: Paul “The Taxinator” Krugman versus Walter E. “The Organ Seller” Williams

    I know I’d pay to see that match on Pay Per View :)

  42. Mick

    Dave, I’ve looked into things and decided that mere microorganisms couldn’t have pumped loads of oxygen into the atmosphere millions of years ago. Call me stupid if you must but I believe we’re still breathing CO2 and some nitrogen maybe, but definately no oxygen. You see, no organism could possibly intervene with forces of nature too complicated and awesome to truly understand or control. There are things that Man was not meant to know, you know. And at night the vampires and demons come out to stalk the land wooooooo woooooo, is that a ghost?

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