Geology, Catastrophism and Lake Missoula


In the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, there was a mighty struggle in the nascent science of geology. Biblical literalism had insisted on a young earth, created less than 10,000 year earlier, and a literal, world-spanning Noachian flood. As the evidence for a much older earth accumulated, and the evidence against a global flood…

Cognitive Bias and Climate Change


Naomi Orestes is a professor at Harvard, and writes a monthly column for Scientific American. In a recent column, she noted that climatologists have consistently under-predicted the rate of climate change in the Arctic. In fact, it seems to be warming about four times as fast as most models have predicted. Some reports have it…

Why Not Motmots?


Motmots, the fourteen species of the family Momotidae, are colorful, long-tailed birds of Central and South America. Like Kingfishers, they nest in long tunnel-like burrows in dirt banks, but they are not closely related to Kingfishers. For such a colorful, charismatic bird, they are remarkably poorly studied. As just one example of the challenges presented…

Nit-picking


The oldest complete written sentence has been identified. It’s written in the Canaanite language, about 1,700 years ago. There are earlier writings, but they are simply names or sometimes the owner of the object. This artifact was found at Tel Lachish in Israel, once a major Canaanite city-state in the second millennium BCE. The artifact…

Seismic Tomography and Yellowstone: An Update


WARNING: Still more geeky geology ahead. And, WC acknowledges, some pretty serious oversimplifications of complex stuff. WC has written about seismic topography before, the evolving technology that uses the seismic waves from earthquakes to analyze subsurface geologic features. The technology has even been used on Mars to study xenogeology, albeit in a more simplified form.…

Sensible Management of Natural Resources


When New England fisherman grossly overfished cod to the edge of extinction, they finally did the sensible thing and completely closed down the cod fishery in the North Atlantic. The complete closure was very hard on the New England fishing industry; fisherman went bankrupt, communities were economically injured and the bitterness lasted a long time.…

We Don’t Need No Stinking’ Bruce Willis


The Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) appears to have been an unqualified success. Based on preliminary analysis of the orbit of Dimorphos, the asteroid that was the target of NASA’s satellite, Dimorphos’ orbit was significantly altered. Before DART, Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos took 11 hours and 55 minutes; post-impact, it’s down to 11 hours and…

SLiPs and CLiPs


This post is for Ron Dudley, retired biology teacher,, astonishingly good bird photographer and, WC is pleased to to report, a good friend of WC’s. Ron is recovering from surgery at present, and this blog post is WC’s way of wishing him a speedy recovery. Most parasites are SLiPs. That is, they are Simple Lifecycle…

Destroying PFAS: Less Than Meets the Eye


On the long list of things you need to worry about is the problem of PFAS. “PFAS” is an acronym for perfluoroalkyl or polyfluoroalkyl substances. It’s a class of chemicals composed of long chains of carbon molecules very strongly bonded with fluorine atoms, and they are damned near indestructible. Other chemicals break down by bacterial…

Awful Human Beings: Ryan Cole, M.D.


Some humans ain’t human, some people ain’t kind You open up their hearts, and here’s what you’ll find A few frozen pizzas, some ice cubes with hair A broken popsicle, you don’t wanna go there — John Prine, “Some Humans Ain’t Human,” Fair and Square, 2005 WC admits to an occasional fascination with some appallingly…

How Eukaryotes Got Their Mojo


Warning: Serious biological technogeekery ahead. For much of earth’s history, the only form of life was single-cell, primitive bacteria. Those early primitive cells are called prokaryotes. Basically, they were small sacks of fluid with the contents mixed together, higgedly-piggedly. Sometime about 1.5 billion years ago, a few lucky prokaryotes ingested or otherwise acquired another cell…

Marsquakes! For Science!


In principle, at least, the use of seismic – earthquake – waves to understand the interior of a planet is less complicated than it first seems. You’re probably familiar with bats’ use of echolocation to navigate the night skies: they emit high-pitched squeaks, and then use the reflections, the echoes, to navigate and find prey.…

It’s Friday the 13th: Let’s Get Geeky


WC will celebrate this Friday the 13th, a day founded on superstition, by following up on a series of seriously geeky science subjects. Black holes, even galaxy-sized black holes, have magnetic fields. You can give yourself a headache thinking too long about that. Black holes, which are as real as an earthquake, have always felt…

Miracles and Wonders: Mars Edition


There have been two recent images from the Mars Rover Perseverance and its amazing little helicopter companion, Ingenuity, that reminded WC that for all the faults and challenges of these modern times, we really do live in an age of miracles and wonders. The first was the images of one of Mars’ two tiny moonlets,…

More Proof Carl Sagan Was Right


One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a…

Three Cheers for the Webb Space Telescope


In engineering, a “single point failure” is a term for any step in a multi-step process which, if it fails, craters the whole project. The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), from launch to deployment at Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2 (L2) involved hundreds of single point failure risks. Hundreds of motors, cables, moving…

R.I.P. SN 2020tlf


It isn’t very often WC writes an obituary for a star, especially a red supergiant star. In fact, this is the very first time. Because it is the first time astronomers have watched the final days of a red supergiant star and observed as it exploded into a Type II Supernova. The star in question…

In the Dumps Over Lumps


Okay, WC admits that in the giant scheme of things to be depressed about, the pending lumping together of bird species hardly makes it on the radar of even dedicated birders. But WC laments the discovery of the genetic basis for variation among the three Redpoll species, and the news that the genetic variation among…

Notes on the Sheldon Spectrum


Before we get to today’s blog post, here’s a reminder to vote for the Wickersham’s Conscience 2021 Hypocrite of the Year. In 1969, Dr. Ray Sheldon, in the course of circumnavigating North and South America, sampled the water columns across a vast stretch of the Earth’s oceans. What he discovered was that across all of…

Geology in Real Time: the M8.9 Honshu Earthquake


The IRIS Education and Public Outreach (EPO) program has some very spiffy visualization of earthquake activity that captures the movement of the surface of the earth in the course of an earthquake. Check out this display of ground movement from the Honshu earthquake: Here’s the more recent deep earthquake in Peru: WC understands many readers…

For Your list of Things to Worry About: Solar Superflares


There is increasing evidence that solar superflares are more common and much more severe than we thought. Superflares are events triggered when our sun produces an immense flare of particles and radiation, orders of magnitude greater than normal. Superflares matter because when that energy strikes the Earth’s magnetosphere, it can wreak pure havoc on our…

A Few Words About Ingenuity


Ingenuity was an afterthought, at most an experiment approved by doubtful NASA brass, a proof of concept by a few smart NASA engineers. It’s become the little helicopter that could. An unqualified success that has exceeded even the most optimistic hopes of its designers by orders of magnitude. Ingenuity, of course, was the specially-designed helicopter…

Testosterone Levels Plotted Against Age, Human Males

Re-Run: The Steinkruger Principle Explained


Jamie Lauren Keiles recently has a long feature story in the New York Times on his love of motorcycles and his first trip to Sturgis, South Dakota for the gigantic motorcycle rally there. That story and a recent conversation with a friend brought to mind an older blog post which explains, far better than Mr.…