keep up with astrophysics news --
and improve your cultural literacy 
.... now in its 8th year
feedback, questions, broken links, and what not:
last updated:  7 a
m  November  17, 2020
This month's guide to the bright planets   or  
This Week's Sky-at-a-glance

note:  many publications now have monthly article limits; plan ahead!
(including: NY Times, Washington Post, Raleigh N&O, The Atlantic, Science, Scientific American,

gerrymandering, election security, voter-id, elections during a pandemic, and other voting issues

solar system

stars and in

(and ET life)

galaxies &

particle & quantum physics


science & tech

An Apohis impact?
(Starts with a Bang)
zero chance in 2029 (it will miss by 29,000 mi) but chances for 2068 depend on the details of 2029 interaction and subsequent Apophis outgassing

🔥 climate crisis🔥

how we know the planet is warming
the big picture

climate solutions

Wind and solar global capacity will overtake gas and coal by 2024
(Carbon Brief)

based on
Renewables 2020
(International Energy Association)
analysis and forecast through 2025

172-page report

and a summary breakdown by topics

Expanding the reach of a carbon tax
emissions impacts of pricing combined with additional climate actions
the summary

the 53-page report

The most hellish planet: a magma ocean and rocky rain
(Earth & Sky)

ET life

Stephen Webb: still desperately looking for ET
or reasons for not finding it

About those quantum fluctuations...
(Starts with a Bang)
pretty unconvincing...

election security

Homeland Security: 2020 was "most secure election in American history

Election results:
fact vs. fictitious claim

(Washington Post)

59 election security
experts speak:
election fraud is "unsubstantiated" and "charges are technically incoherent"

(NY Times)
and documenting the unbearable hypocrisy of Mitch McConnell 
who last year  squashed anti-fraud bills passed by House Democrats

The criminal hypocrisy of 'Senator' Lindsey Graham
add in treason, too


last of the  post-election analyses

Biden won places
that are thriving
(Washington Post)
Trump won places
that are hurting

Biden won counties that account for 70% okf the U.S. economy

but Biden also won counties that suffered higher unemployment
(NY Times)

5 failures of American democracy
(The Guardian)
and all interrelated

Religious authoritarianism is sadly here to stay
(NY Times)

GOP claims election validation: they got more votes where covid flared stronger
(Washington Post)
but why not: 
more GOP voters 
  more ignorant voters
  worse pandemic behavior 
  more covid cases?

The case for prosecuting Trump and his cronies
(New Republic)

book reviews & interviews

Getting away with (white-collar) murder
(NY Book Review)
review of Corporate Crime and Punishment: The Crisis of Underenforcement
it's time to start prosecuting executives who commit crimes on behalf of their companies

Obama's new book

The Atlantic interview
why Obama is afraid for American democracy

NPR interview
full transcript

museums & travel

The Arctic: culture and climate
(British Museum)

Montana: 32 images of the Treasure State
(The Atlantic)

Platypuses glow under uv
(NY Times)

How geese know to fly south for the winter?
(The Conversation)
an 'internal sunlight clock' and past wisdom handed down

pandemic medical

Moderna says its 2-dose vaccine could be 94% effective
(The Guardian)
initial reports

What it's like being back in school with covid ravaging NC?
(Cardinal & Pine)
scary! say parents

Why we need more than 1 vaccine
(Ars Technica)

bad tech

Obama: 'The internet is the single greatest threat to democracy'
a bit late to the realization, though

Americans no longer have a shared set of facts

highlights of early November 2020

1) The election conquers all

what happened     in NC     and     in the U.S.

how science fared in the election

climate politics, post-election

the best post-post-election commentary

the best post-election commentary

pre-election hype

2) the pandemic gets much worse

3) rocky exoplanets are everywhere

4) magnetars and FRBs: at last a connection?

5) bad climate news

climate consequences (including a very controversial article in Nature)

climate solutions

6) the Standard Model is not enough

7) black holes continue to make news

black hole mergers

the black hole information paradox

early November 2020

asteroids & moons

Bennu left the main asteroid belt 1.75 Myr ago
(SciTech Daily)
to be 'near-Earth'

based on
published paper
says small-crater data

Sampling the solar system
a special issue on surveying Bennu

A magnetized, Moon-forming giant impact
(AAS Nova)

Europa glows in the dark!
color depends on the salt

How Io got its hellish atmosphere
(Earth & Sky)
hot and cold SO2


How water left Mars
(NASA Goddard)
global dust storms @ Mars perihelion throw H2O vapor high into atmosphere where it's dissociated and the H and O ions escape

Science comments

How water didn't leave Venus in the past
(Universe Today)
today's processes can't explain how Venus lost its water

Mars' gigantic Olympus Mons

Do clues to Earth life's  origin lie at the bottom of Chixulub?
supporting an impact-
origin-of-life scenario
in first GByr of Earth

4 new giant telescopes on the horizon will rock astronomy


🔥 climate crisis🔥

how we know the planet is warming
the big picture


Self-sustained permafrost melting
even if GHG emissions stop in 2020?

beware that the authors are business-school profs

but the dissenters have their knives out
did a peer-reviewed paper really mix up thawing and melting?

more dissent here
(USA Today)

A greater sensitivity to CO2 atmospheric concentration than thought?
(Carbon Brief)
does it now exceed
 5 °C?

based on published article
(Nature GeoScience)
due to changing composition of clouds

How climate change disproportionately affects women's health
(Carbon Brief)
with maps

Waterworlds are better at maintaining climate stability than contintental worlds?
(AAS Nova)
due to the differing feedback from weathering processes
lessons for Earth?

NSfCC: Protected areas, including poles, subtropics, and parks
(The Guardian)
'Not Safe from Climate Change'

climate politics

Biden stocks transition teams with climate experts
(Scientific American)

Biden and utilities commissions split on emissions goals
(Scientific American)
guess who's the more conservative

What Biden's win bodes for climate
(Carbon Brief)
or what the media thinks it does
repeat over and over: the Senate is going to be a drag

Why we need a Department of Climate

How scientists want Biden to take on the climate fight
(Scientific American)

Trump's climate legacy
(NY Times)
climate damage, much of which cannot be reversed
as easily as environmental rollbacks... and a warming about exceeding the CO2 threshold of 400 ppm

What Biden can get done without the Senate
(Washington Post)
rejoin Paris; staff intelligently; exec orders reversing Trump's anti-science

NY Times has 9 things he could do  in the first 100 days

There won't be a Green New Deal
Biden isn't powerless either, but ...
w/o the Senate, nothing big will happen

Vox also has 10 ways to fight climate change without Senate control

climate solutions
or maybe not

Emissions from global food production could preclude reaching Paris goals

so how does this translate to not requiring veganism?

Renewables alone won't satisfy California's energy needs
(Physics Today)
will need carbon capture and storage, etc.

Radical geo-
engineering cooling proposal gains traction
(NY Times)
as climate disasters
pile up


Is space mining the appropriate ethical choice to replace materials shortage

What the election results mean for environmental protection in NC
(NC Policy Watch)
lots of moderate hopes, but unlikely big progress

Durham's new LED streetlights:
lower carbon emissions vs. perpetual daylight

(Raleigh N&O)
along with sleep deprivation, harder-to-see stars

The devastation of
AZ's wild lands, its
wildlife, its Indian heritage & its
burial lands

(NY Times)
tear down that wall!

A running list of 2020
U.S. natural disasters

(Scientific American)

Regulatory rollback tracker
(Harvard Law)
follows the 100+ environmental regs rolled back during Trump's 4 years
many hopefully to be reversed by a Biden exec order asap

Using lasers to simulate supernovae
(Science News)
a long read

Whence gold?
(Astronomy, November 2020 issue)
is it all from stars?
most of Earth's gold has sunk to its center

Why are massive stars are found at the centers of clusters?

born there or settled there later?

How do imines form in interstellar space?
clues to life?

black hole mergers

More news & results from LIGO's new  black-hole catalog
(Sky & Telescope)
big black holes dominate, but the puzzle of the 90-Msun black hole remains: is there a black-hole desert?
spin & tilt-angle data hint at black-hole origins

AAS Nova commentary
on the eccentricity, spins, and origins of colliding black holes


The size of Betelgeuse
(Sky & Telescope)
is hard to figure out

How to find missing exoplanets in a given star system
from the properties of the ones detected
4 hidden rules of planetary arrangement?

A solar system formed in less than 2 x 105 yrs
(Lawrence Livermore)

rocky exoplanets

Radioactive elements may be crucial to the the habitability of rocky planets
(UC - Santa Cruz)
b/c they create electric dynamos that provide both a protective magnetic field and plate tectonics

based on

published article
(Ap J Letters)

Kepler summary: Earth-sized planets are common
(Sky & Telescope)
300 million habitable-zone Earth-like planets in galaxy

Half of Milky Way stars have habitable Earth-like planets

(MIT Technology  Review)
improved estimates  prompted by combining Kepler & GAIA data

preprint for forthcoming publication
excellent graphs


ET life

Why we haven't found ET life yet
closed minds?

Constructing a family tree of the Milky Way
Kraken, Sequoia, Gaia-Enceladus, Helmi, & more:
the galaxies that the Milky Way consumed in its past

Experiments nail baryon density during Big Bang
value close to that from theory
conclusion: we need dark matter, not MOND?

based on
published paper

Quanta commentary

Did a black hole birth our universe?
(Starts with a Bang)
still a mystery

& FRBs?

a connection?

Birth of magnetar from neutron-star-merger?
(Northwestern U.)
first time seen

 Magnetars: city-sized magnets from dying stars

The Milky Way's first FRB?

will constrain theories

Are magnetars responsible for all radio bursts?
(Sky & Telescope) 

Astronomy comments

based on
published article

The physical mechanisms of fast radio bursts
review article


Milky Way makes dwarf galaxies glow
(Science News)
and then snuffs them out
as the dwarfs first fall in, get squeezed and starry, and then get ejected out

and a perennial favorite:
If the universe is expanding, are we expanding too?
(Starts with a Bang)
nope.... plus where the expansion actually IS happening

Was the universe's entropy zero at the Big Bang?

(Starts with a Bang)

Gravitational molecules orbiting black holes?
(Live Science)
can scalar fields create structures around black holes?
analagous to the H atom in QM

Virtual particles don't exist?
(Einstein's Cup of Tea)
reading caution advised

but a plea for proof over convenience & imagination

Hossenfelder v.
who is anti-science?

(Science 2.0)
there are lots of kinds of anti-science...


The Standard Model is not enough
(Starts with a Bang)
say recent LHC experiments

are particle physicists making empty promises?
(Not Even Wrong)

ALICE: looking for dark matter by looking
for anti-light-nuclei

(CERN Courier)

Leptoquarks and the 3rd generation
(CERN Courier)
searching for more new physics

MOND vs. dark  matter
(History and Philosophy of
Modern Physics)

in the light of history

hidden structure in the universe

part 1

A new map of all the particles and all the forces
is it too complicated to replace the old one?

unsettled controversy:

part 2
Black holes can shed information?

physics' most famous paradox is about to end?

is proof without a full quantum gravity sufficient?

part 3
What is a particle?
a quantum field excitation? 
a collapsed wave function? 
an irreducible representation of a group?
a vibrating string?
& more
a long read

black holes

Reality check:
No, the black hole paradox has not been solved

(Starts with a Bang)

but even more speculative
Are there places black holes can't escape from?

"How the world came to know about black holes"
(Earth & Sky)
a very short history of our understanding of black holes

and in other news....

What determined if schools re-opened?
The number of Trump voters in the district

(Washington Post)
unions played some role; covid infection rates didn't

Americans were primed for an onslaught of disinformation
Trump set the stage;
the pandemic made it worse

Pledge time:
if you're in Congress, you don't get to trade in active stocks

(NY Times)
divest yourself

John Paul II:
sainted too soon?

(NY Times)
rush to judgment



Media groupthink
(The Atlantic)
how much should the media try to rock the boat?

A left that raises money afar for losers
(NY Times)
but can't recognize locals who need it
are the rich not very smart?

The crisis isn't Trump... it's the Republican Party
does it still exist?

Evangelicals:openly  rooting for the death of America
(Washington Post)
and at its root is racism

A down-ballot Democratic washout
(New York)
a growing education gap
& Latinos moving to the GOP

How Trump sold failure to 70 million people
(The Atlantic)
America in big trouble

NC voters to legislature & Governor: cooperate and compromise
oh, and the legislature is listening?  then why haven't they fixed partisan gerrymandering?
Dems won 53% of state vote, but only 42% of GA seats in the 2020 election

How Western media would have covered the U.S. election if it had happened in another country
(Washington Post)


Georgia is blue?
(The Atlantic)
yeah, yeah: it voted for Biden, but ....

you think it's going to vote for even 1 D senator?

Biden's presidency depends on Georgia
(The Nation)
the right's millionaires vs. the left

An attempt to defy history
(NY Times)

Trump's mob enforcer
(Washington Post)

Obamacare at the Supreme Court

Facing a court remade by Trump

complete coverage
of the case known as California v. Texas

4 possible outcomes

the best post-election analyses

The blue wave that didn't happen
(The Intercept)
why not?

The crisis in American democracy is not over
(The Atlantic)
solving the pandemic and reviving the economy will not be enough

Much of America still does not understand the Trump attraction
(NY Times)
but those who choose to remain uneducated perhaps deserve to be told what to do

Polarization of place replaces that by race
(The Atlantic)

The danger of white moderates setting Biden's agenda
(NY Times)
no pain, no progress

How Trump changed America


What Trump revealed about America
too many people unwilling to challenge their prejudices

How TX Hispanics
turned to Trump

(Washington Post)


but undemocratic America lingers

The undemocratic Senate
and its current spawn, the Supreme Court

The faux grievance of Justice Alito
(Washington Post)

A map of America in 2020, as it should be
(Washington Post)
by population, not acreage --  as the right wing would like

What AOC (& the left?!?) want
(NY Times)
respect?  or salve for their bitterness?

polling vs. reality

The polls weren't great...but that's normal

The end of polling --
or end of media ob- session with polling/
(Washington Post)

or is it more complicated?

meanwhile, America sets a daily record for new covid infections

n results

in NC

Why NC is still in the 'undecided' column
(Raleigh N&O)
mail-in votes can come until 11/12, 5 pm

How NC counties shifted (blue and red) in the 2020 election
(NY Times) 

On Tuesday, NC voted for applesauce tax breaks, but not for teacher raises
(Cardinal & Pine)
anyone paying attention?

A disastrous election for NC & the US
(NC Policy Watch)
State Dem judges lose;
Tillis beats Cunningham the embarrassment;
Dems lose ground in legislature, meaning GOP control of redistricting & forget Medicaid expansion

Turnout records in NC, but more than
⅓ of eligible voters didn't vote
(Cardinal & Pine)
and more than 3 million aren't even registered in NC

Urban vs. rural divide grows in NC
(Raleigh N&O)
or is it really an education vs superstition divide?

A frantic Election Day at the USPS
(Pro Publica)
and finger-pointing the day after

A big blue map for Biden, but less success down-ballot for Dems
red shifts and blue shifts elsewhere

in the U.S.
our long national nightmare is over

0 for 5: the non-existent charges of voter fraud
(Washington Post)

A dreadful 2 years to come?
a Dem president with a GOP Senate

as Georgia decides the nation's fate

and similar disasters in other states
Dems lose seats in Congress, gain zero state legislatures; 70 million+ vote for authoritarianism, anti-science, & ignorance

How Trump undid himself
it wasn't only the virus....

Trump presidency nears end as it began: lies piled upon lies
(Washington Post)
a fact check

What the exit polls showed
(New Yorker)
Biden won by earning back votes from  seniors and non-college-educated whites

The rest of the world welcomes America back to reality
(USA Today)


An election about:

How serious the pandemic will

(The Atlantic)

(Washington Post)

whom taxes get raised on
The GOP is about to raise your taxes --
not Biden

(J. Stiglitz, NP-Economics winner,
via NY Times)

whether peaceful protesters should expect to be tear-gassed
(Raleigh N&O)
and behave appropriately?!?

whether we survive Trump's attack on democracy
(NY Times)
his impugning of judges, his normalized lying, his attack on free and fair elections, his attack on the free press, ....

voting & elections

Kolena's page on gerrymandering, elections, voting rights, electoral college, and more

Which states will report results first on Election Night
(Washington Post)
NC should report 95% by end of day

Why predicting elections is not like predicting rainfall
(NY Times)

in NC

"We are in control"
(Raleigh N&O)
the GOP's decade of voter suppression, big-business-over-people fiscal policy, decreasing support for education and labor, and more


How to prevent war in space
(Scientific American,
November 2020 issue)

free for a very short time

exhibits & travel

Saqqara, Egypt

Discoveries of coffins, statutes, & mummies at Saqqara announced
(The Guardian)
with another discovery to be announced later this year

Revealing the secrets and mummies of Saqqara

Saqqara: Living in a city of the dead
an exhibition just ending


Don't go to Lake Tahoe during a pandemic
(Washington Post)
wait, so trash profusion, spray-painting trees & boulders, bad behavior around bears, ... are in-bred American habits?

Suffering, faltering Manet
(NY Book Review)
review of

Manet and modern beauty: Manet's last years
(Art Institute of Chicago)

and a NY Times review

Sit beneath a starry sky
an immersive van Gogh exhibit

NW Spain's Asturias
(NY Times)
a local's tour

Rafting through Alaska's Tongass
(NY Times)
national forest
before its being opened to logging by Trump

science & the election

Memo to Joe Biden: you must rebuild trust at EPA, DoE, CDC, & other quasi-scientific agencies
(Scientific American)

Memo to Biden:
5 steps to getting more from science

a revamp is required

A win for facts, research,  & empathy
but Biden must quickly restore science to government

The denialist playbook
(Scientific American)
how anti-vaxxers, anti-GMOers, anti-evolutionists get away with pretense
it begins with "doubt the science"

Science election wins and losses
personnel & research

Scientists aghast at support for Trump
a wake-up call for scientists to work harder for science

biology & anthro

Signs of ancient life under Chixulub
(Earth & Sky)
support for impact origin of life?

Life teems below Earth's surface

How birds branched out and became more diverse
(Scientific American,
November 2020 issue)

free for a very short time

Fluffy pterosaurs revive feather origin debate
(The Conversation)

just physics

Newton's Principia received surprisingly wide distribution during its time
(NY Times)

Why nuclear weapons only use U-235 and Pu-239
(The Physics Teacher,
November 2020 issue)

 When does maximum KE happen for a rocket?
max momentum?

(The Physics Teacher,
November 2020 issue)

political science

How American politics became so polarized

and a short conversation with the lead co-author
(Scientific American)

pandemic medical

Good news/bad news for the next 8 months
(Raleigh N&O)
death rate could double over winter; vaccines may allow us to get back to normal by July 2021

Covid is ripping us apart
(Washington Post)
among the losers: schooling, women, neighborhood restaurants
, cities

Current covid risk levels
(Georgia Tech Biorisk)
by county, with map:
42% for Durham Co.,
38% for Wake,
30% for Orange

risk level = estimated chance that at least 1 covid-positive individual will be present at an event

or by congressional district
(Global Epidemics)
CD#4 (Durham) has least deaths in NC

And now a 3rd surge:
no one is paying attention to health care workers

(The Atlantic)

The CDC now wants to go back to science?
(NY Times)
guess what: masks have benefits...
as of 11/11/2020....
have you heard?

gee, I guess it's ok now that we're rid of Trump

What we know (and don't) about the Pfizer vaccine
based on small numbers?

What Pfizer's covid vaccine 'could mean
but questions remain about how much its '90-effective' protection it offers, for whom, and how long
requires 2 doses & Intense refrigeration

and another what-it-means

Trump campaign rallies: 700 covid deaths?

Playing it down
(Washington Post)
why the White House was slow to respond to the pandemic -- and the consequences of its inaction

in 3 parts

learn more about

climate change


exoplanet biosignatures (1) and exoplanet biosignatures (2)

dark energy

Hubble tension

the (abdyrd) multiverse

previous astro/culture updates

from 2020:

july-august 2020          september-october 2020

may-june 2020           march-april 2020           january-february 2020

from 2019:

november-december 2019           september-october 2019            july-august 2019
may-june 2019      march-april 2019          january-february 2019

from 2018:

november-december 2018          september-october 2018           july-august 2018  
may-june-2018                     march-april 2018                 
january-february 2018    

from 2017:

july-august 2017          september-october 2017          november-december 2017

may-june 2017         march-april 2017           january-february 2017                     

 from 2016:

july-august 2016          september-october 2016             november-december 2016

                  may-june 2016         
march-april 2016          january-february 2016  

 from 2015:

november-december 2015          september-october 2015          july-august 2015

may-june 2015          march-april 2015         
january-february 2015

 from 2014:

november-december 2014          september_october 2014          july-august 2014

may-june 2014               march-april 2014               january-february 2014

from 2013:

november-december 2013         
september-october 2013         july-august 2013