Final Notes on the Colorado Plateau


This is a slightly different interpretive poster for the Colorado Plateau, which includes better discussion of the rock layers that compose the place. Please click on the image for a larger view. You should be able to read even the finest print. Use your browser’s Back button to return here. WC’s trip hastily visited only…

WC Wants This in His Binos


A bird with a 5.0-6.5 meter wingspan? How can WC not want to see it through his binoculars? WC was lucky enough to take a trip to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. On that trip, WC was even luckier to see a Wandering Albatross, the largest flying bird by wingspan alive on the planet today.…

The Power of the Future


There’s an ironic saying: “Fusion is the power of the future… and always will be…” Fusion, the energy cycle that powers our sun, seems like a perfect source of electric power: more energy than nuclear fission, no dangerous radioactive byproducts, fueled by hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe. One gram of hydrogen is…

Geology for Psychoanalysts: Kodachrome Basin


Sigmund Freud’s ideas about human psychological and sexual development are pretty much discredited now. But if they weren’t, and if you wanted a litmus test for whether someone has moved beyond Freud’s phallic stage, you’d send them to Kodachrome Basin and see how they reacted. The attraction of Kodachrome Basin and Utah’s state park are…

Field Notes: Navajo Sandstone


Much of the beauty and spectacle of the rock formations of the American Southwest is a product of the ubiquitous Navajo Sandstone. In a layer ranging from a thousand to more than two thousand feet thick, and displaying a whole palette of colors, it’s the secret sauce for places like Zion National Park, the Vermillion…

Painted wind turbine blade at Smøla Wind Farm

Paint It Black?


No, not the Rolling Stones’ song about depression. This blog post is about wind turbines. And about science. And about simple solutions. As WC has argued before, there are no environmentally pure ways of generating electricity. Every source available to current technology carries an environmental price: nuclear power’s radioactive waste and high risk; coal’s poisonous…

Methane Levels, 1998-2019, Measured at Mauna Loa Volcano, Hawai'i

Trump, Wheeler and Methane


Almost twenty percent of human-generated methane – 105 million metric tons per year – come from leakage in fossil fuel production, distribution and use. It’s the largest single source of human-made methane discharged into the atmosphere. Methane – CH4, natural gas – is a powerful greenhouse gas, some 20 to 80 times more powerful than…

LRG 3-757, discovered in 2007 in data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), the image shown above is a follow-up observation taken with the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3 in 2011.

Looking for the Dark Mass


It’s embarrassing, but astronomers cannot find 90% of the apparent mass in the Universe. It’s awkward. Astronomers call it “dark matter” since it apparently neither radiates light or reflects light. It seems to be invisible. As you might imagine, there are lots of theories as to what that dark matter might be. One theory was…

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge (Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Plate Tectonics: What Makes It Go?


WC had a question from a reader, noting that WC writes about plate tectonics “all the time” but has never explained what makes the various plates move. Oddly enough, plate tectonics as a geological theory was well developed before the mechanism that causes the movement was understood. If the evidence for plate tectonics was not…

Comet Neowise, July 17, 2020, from the Western Snake River Plain

Neowise 2, WC 0


WC went out comet chasing last Friday night. To escape the light pollution in the Boise metropolitan region, WC and Mrs. WC headed out onto the Snake River Plain, at the westerly end of the Morley Nelson Birds of Prey area, along Swan Falls Road. We found a bumpy, dusty side road, and settled in…

American White Pelican, Thousand Springs WMA, Idaho

Tax the Rat Farms


Terry Pratchett’s fictional tyrant of the city of Ankh-Morpork, Havelock Veterinari, was asked how to control the City’s burgeoning rat problem. The City had a bounty on rat tails, and for a while it seemed to be helping. The number of rats declined, and so did requests for bounties. But then the rat population seemed…

The Electromagnetic Spectrum explained

The Stupid Is Strong: COVID-19 and 5G


The United States has no monopoly on stupid. There have been dozens of cell phone tower arson events in the UK and mainland Europe. Why are Europeans burning cell phone towers? Because the arsonists think the cell phone towers are spreading COVID-19. So the nut jobs are burning cell phone towers to prevent the spread of…

Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Sustermans, circa 1640

“E pur si muove” (“And yet it moves”)


Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was tried by the inquisition, charged with suspicion of heresy. He was forced to recant his theory that the Earth orbited the Sun. Catholic Church dogma said the Sun orbited the Earth. Legend has it that after he recanted, while still in the presence of the Inquisitor, he muttered, “E pur si muove“ (“And yet…

Buried and then partially exposed gravel bar, Salmon River Canyon, Idaho

Geology 101: How Conglomerates Happen


A lot of sedimentary rocks are composed of other sedimentary rocks. But no rock is more obviously composed of other rocks than conglomerate.1 Geology’s technical language is both an annoyance and sometimes lovely. The language can be a barrier to understanding. WC’s geology text described conglomerate as A coarse-grained clastic sedimentary rock that is composed…

Remdesivir molecular structure

Call It a Hopeful Sign


It’s Remdesivir. It’s not a magic bullet. It doesn’t cure COVID-19. It’s certainly not a prophylactic for COVID-19 (although we can expect President Trump to claim it is). What it does do is reduce the amount of time for recovery. By about 30%, based on a limited clinical trial. Remdesivir was developed as a treatment…

Kilauea lava flow entering the ocean, January 2003

Nawww


Growing up in Fairbanks, WC’s friend Donnie Ensinger had the annoying habit of listening to you attentively, then scrunching up his face and saying, “Nawww” in a tone that conveyed both skepticism and smart-ass.1 It could be infuriating, but it could also be pretty funny. Memes didn’t exist at the time, but if they had,…

Bumpersticker on Hayes Street, Boise, Idaho

Maybe We Need Less Intellectual Snobbery?


WC encountered a car with this bumpersticker on Hayes Street in Boise, recently. WC suspects that three-quarters of Americans won’t get it. Physics isn’t a required course in high school and red shift/blue shift is pretty esoteric, even for physics. It doesn’t help you understand football, baseball, hockey or even soccer. Unless you know that…

Waimea Canyon from the lower lookout, Kauai, Hawai'i

Erosion Always Wins: Kauai


In WC’s Geomorphology class, on the first day, the professor (whose name WC has forgotten) told us, “If you only take one thing away for this course, it should be this: Erosion always wins.” If you need proof of that claim, you should visit Kauai, the oldest of the principle islands of the Hawai’ian Islands.…

Cave Art, Leang Bulu’Sipong 4, Sulawesi, via Nature Magazine

Notes on Art History


WC, to the dismay of a number of his undergraduate classmates, has never been especially interested in either anthropology or archaeology. Partly it’s because WC believes the history of humankind on the planet can be tracked by extinction events in the natural world. WC finds history depressing enough without studying prehistory. Partly it’s just that…

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in American Samoa with local anti-vaxxer Taylor Winterstein (via Instagram)

Why Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Is Evil


American Samoa has suffered 63 deaths – and counting – with 58 of them children age four or under. 90% of the 3,728 cases are in children. 20 more children are hospitalized in critical condition. You own these deaths, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Your delusional thinking and well-known name greatly contributed to low vaccination rates…

This composite image of Arrokoth combines enhanced color data (close to what the human eye would see) with detailed high-resolution panchromatic pictures. (Photo: Roman Tkachenko/NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

Meet 486958 Arrokoth (neé Ultima Thule)


It’s the most remote object in the solar system, well in to the Oort Cloud, yet photographed by satellite. It’s in the Kuiper Belt, a doughnut-shaped cloud of lumps of ice and rock left over from the creation of the solar system, that extends from approximately the orbit of Neptune out another 20 astronomical units…

Dark matter theory is no longer dominated by WIMPs.

Those Darn Axions Let Us Down


It’s been a while since WC wallowed in geeky sub-atomic goodness. So let’s wade into some particle physics for a change. As WC has noted before, physics can’t seem to find 95% of the universe. That’s embarrassing. Visible matter seems to constitute only about 5% of the universe. Dark matter – a placeholder name, not…

Credit: Jen Christiansen; Source: “Synthesis and Stability of Lanthanum Superhydrides,” by Zachary M. Geballe et al., in Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Vol. 57, No. 3; January 15, 2018 (Lanthanum Hydride Structure)

A Superconducter at 44° Fahrenheit*


The search for a room temperature superconducter continues. And physicists have found one that works at 44° F. Yes, really. Lanthanum Hydride, LaH10 superconducts at beer temperatures. There’s a catch, of course, as the asterisk in the title suggests. LaH10  is a superconducter at 44° F – actually, it only exists – if it’s at about…

Lithium, Periodic Table

When Lithium Became the Anode


Lithium is dangerous stuff. The nucleus of lithium, consisting of three protons and three or four neutrons, verges on instability; it has the lowest binding energies holding the nucleus together of all the stable elements. That’s why lithium deuteride is the fusion fuel in some thermonuclear bombs. Lithium salts are used to treat bipolat disorder.…

Movie S13. Pilot-scale burn experiment of standing grass treated with formulation 1 at coverage level 2 shown at 2x speed. The plot was treated, dried, weathered with a simulated rain event (0.5”), and dried again prior to burning.

Dealing with Climate Change: Wildfires


It seems increasingly likely that humanity’s inaction in the face of the existential threat of anthropogenic climate change means we are going to have more than than the 2° Celsius of global temperature increase that climatologists regarded as manageable. So, without in any way conceding that humanity’s CO2 emissions must be reduced, it’s time to…