Archive for the ‘Earth and Planetary Sciences’ Category

R.B. and the Volcano

June 5, 2010 4 comments

The Arizona Republic is running a story about Robert “R.B.” Trombley, head of the International Volcano Research Center (INTLVRC). Trombley has appeared in a number of media outlets as an expert on volcanos after the recent Icelandic eruption.

Now it turns out that the media were using a definite non-expert in their rush to generate opinion. Trombley’s “PhD” came from Dallas State College, a degree-mill in Texas that has been defunct since 1975. This didn’t stop Trombley claiming credentials in astronomy, expertise in volcanology, and a record of peer-review:

Trombley said his work has been peer-reviewed and told The Republic he was published in Eos, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. No work bearing Trombley’s name could be found in a search of AGU’s archives.

But my favorite bit has to be this claim by R.B.:

“I don’t have a degree in geophysics or geology, per se, but it’s like I’m so close … I’ve worked in the field so long and been to so many different volcanoes and stuff, that, you know, I haven’t found one thing I’ve said yet that hasn’t been true.”

The INTLVRC is run out of Trombley’s home – a pink trailer in Apache Junction. One look at the INTLVRC website would have indicated that a certain professionalism was missing. It seems that journalists at CNN and the WSJ need to learn how to do basic research.

A YEC take on anthropogenic global warming

June 3, 2010 5 comments

I was browsing Answers Research Journal today and noticed the following contribution by Rod J. Martin – “A Proposed Bible-Science Perspective on Global Warming.” The abstract – somewhat predictably – reads:

Media coverage of global warming has been increasing for over twenty years. Major proponents include the United Nations, politicians, environmentalists, and celebrities. Oddly, the church has had little to say on the issue and has made scant use of Scripture to evaluate the alleged problem. This paper will identify the major goals of global warming advocates, propose a biblical (young-earth creationist) framework for evaluating the issue, and highlight basic scientific data related to the alleged claims. It will be shown that the Bible provides sufficient counsel to enable Christians to evaluate the claims of global warming and arrive at a confident position that is in accord with real science. The contention that man’s activities are causing global warming, as described in the media and by its advocates, is a myth. There is no reason either biblically or scientifically to fear the exaggerated and misguided claims of catastrophe as a result of increasing levels of man-made carbon dioxide (CO2[sic]).

As an insight to the standards of ARJ, I’ll just note that that CO2 typo occurs throughout the article, as is O2, though in fairness, the PDF of the article has the correct subscripts.

Here’s the end of the paper:

Why there is no reason for alarm

  • O2 and CO2 in the atmosphere were created, they did not evolve.
  • Today’s atmosphere likely contains significantly less CO2 than before the Flood.
  • CO2 is necessary for life, and was created prior to plants and animals.
  • CO2 is not a pollutant.
  • Increasing levels of CO2 are beneficial for plants.
  • Decreasing levels of CO2 could be a serious problem.
  • Burning fossil fuels simply returns CO2 to the air, from which it originated, in the pre-Flood atmosphere. Increasing CO2 in the atmosphere does not reverse a billion year old evolutionary trend and upset the delicate balance of nature.
  • The present levels of oxygen in the air are adequate without any unusual efforts to plant trees or to further limit the forestry industry.
  • Plants were created as food for humans and animals. They are not necessary for storing carbon or for generating O2.
  • Glaciers have been retreating for thousands of years since the Flood. Most of the glacial melt occurred before man began burning fossil fuels.
  • Ice age glaciers melted due to cooling seas, not warming seas.
  • Climates have been constantly changing since the Flood. Consider all the major climate changes since the Flood and initiated by the Flood.
  • Plants, animals and mankind have been adapting to climate for thousands of years.
  • Recent global temperature histories are insufficient for developing reliable conclusions about trends or impending catastrophes.
  • Increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will continue to improve crop production around the world, benefiting mankind.
  • Neither melting glaciers, increasing CO2, changing climates, nor earth’s surface temperature history are proof of global warming.
  • God is in control of history and the earth’s climates, not man.

I haven’t encountered Martin (an “independent researcher” in Santa Clarita CA) before and the googles are doing nothing. Any reader know anything about him?

You are here

June 2, 2010 Comments off

Screen shot 2010-06-02 at 9.06.36 AM.png

Since this image has proven popular (some 190,000 hits last month alone), here’s something in the same vein. The first photo of Earth taken from another planet, in this case taken from Mars by Spirit on March 8th 2004.

Phoenix declared dead

May 25, 2010 1 comment

Many of you may already have read that the Mars Phoenix Lander was declared officially dead yesterday. After losing contact with mission control  last November, the lander suffered damage to its solar panels during the harsh Martian winter. Phoenix’s “last words” apparently were “01010100 01110010 01101001 01110101 01101101 01110000 01101000“.

The highly successful project was a collaboration between the University of Arizona and JPL. The latter put together the brief video posted above. Much data analysis remains to be done.


May 20, 2010 Comments off


Opportunity today passed the Martian surface longevity record set by Viking 1 (six years and 116 days). As UniverseToday reminds us, orbiters have lasted longer; Mars Global Surveyor operated for more than 9 years and Mars Odyssey is on track to beat that record late this year. Opportunity’s sibling, Spirit , has not been heard from since March 22, but if she wakes from hibernation and resumes communication, then she will claim the Martian surface longevity record.

The above photo shows tracks left by Opportunity as it traversed the martian landscape.


April 4, 2010 Comments off

Sixteen years in the desert Southwest and felt my first earthquake today. A magnitude 7.2 quake with an epicenter SW of Yuma. Sitting at home and had a sudden feeling akin to being on a boat. As Douglas Adams once said, it was unpleasantly like being drunk. More details of the actual quake here.

The Earth is flat!

February 24, 2010 2 comments

Article in the Guardian on the International Flat Earth Society:

Zeteticism, Shenton says, ­emphasises experience and reason over the ­”trusting acceptance of dogma”

Sound like any other group we know?

Some more information here.

Pale Blue Dot

February 13, 2010 2 comments


It’s the twentieth anniversary of the famous “pale blue dot” photo – Earth as seen from Voyager 1 while on the edge of our solar system (approximately 3,762,136,324 miles from home). Sagan’s words are always worth remembering:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.


January 29, 2010 4 comments


Spirit – the little Mars rover that could – has been declared a “stationary research station” and is expected to last only until May before total shutdown occurs. Landing on Mars on January 4th 2004, it was expected to last 90 days. Six years later, this XKCD cartoon is surprisingly poignant.

David Burstein (1947 – 2009)

January 22, 2010 1 comment

0007003772-01-1_201349.jpgDave Burstein was an astronomy professor here at ASU whom I worked with – largely on curricular issues – for nearly ten years. In the 1980′s he had been a member of the group of astronomers known as the “Seven Samurai” which postulated the existence of the Great Attractor, a huge, diffuse region of material around 250 million light-years away that results in the observed motion of our local galaxies. He was also a student of Vera Rubin and worked on measuring rotation curves for different galaxies-the smoking gun for dark matter. He died on December 26th after suffering from Pick’s disease for a number of years. Dave was 62 years old and truly dedicated his life to ASU.

Poe or No

January 19, 2010 5 comments

And while we are talking about Galileo … here’s a comment from someone called “yum install jesus” over at PT:


I’m not sure whether to invoke Poe’s Law or not. They do link to this though.

Thomas Harriot

January 17, 2010 1 comment


A few days back I noted that this year is the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s use of the telescope for astronomical observation (and his subsequent publication of The Starry Messenger). I forgot to note that he was preceded by an Englishman, Thomas Harriot (1560 – 1621) in the use of the telescope to study both the moon and the sun. The image above is of Harriot’s drawing – from August 5th 1609 (July 26th Julian) – of the moon. In December 1610 he observed sunspots and – as with his lunar drawings and much of his work – he unfortunately never published his observations.

Harriot is an interesting character – he served with Sir Walter Raleigh (both as a math tutor and cartographer), travelled to the Colonies, was briefly imprisoned as a result of the Gunpowder Plot, corresponded with Kepler, discovered Snell’s Law in 1602, and perhaps introduced the potato to Ireland. It is interesting to contemplate how Irish history would have unfolded had the latter not happened.

(This article notes that he also introduced tobacco and “wrote the earliest publicity blurb for smoking, a habit that killed him – the first recorded death from tobacco-related cancer.”)

January 7th 1610

January 7, 2010 3 comments

Four hundred years ago today, Galileo turned his telescope to Jupiter and drew the following:


And things would never be the same again. Nineteen days from now, my freshman honors seminar will be reading and discussing The Starry Messenger [pdf], the work published in 1610 which was Galileo’s first attempt to publicize his findings.

A Field Guide to AGW Skeptics

December 17, 2009 Comments off

Jim Lippard has a nice post on the nature of the various groups who are skeptical about anthropogenic global warming. In it he follows a tack I (and others) have taken in the past regarding the “Deniers of Darwinism” that the Discovery Institute touts as evidence for a “controversy”. Jim concludes that his post

doesn’t demonstrate that climate skepticism is without merit, but it does demonstrate that there are reasons to be skeptical–and in many cases extremely skeptical–about some of the organizations and individuals promoting climate skepticism, independently of their arguments. In my view, the arguments for climate skepticism in most cases just increase the grounds for skepticism.

The Center of our Galaxy

November 10, 2009 3 comments


Just this morning I was lecturing about the history of the big bang theory and (by way of a tangent) mentioned how technology has allowed us see things that we could not have imagined – I specifically used a contrast between Messier’s view of his deep sky objects and the views we now have because of the HST and other systems. Above (by way of Phil Plaitt) is a composite image of the center of our galaxy – near-infrared from the HST, infrared from Spitzer, and X-ray from Chandra. Wander over to Phil’s place to read his (as always) wonderful explanation of the image. I’d like the highlight the following which very much encapsulates what I wanted my students to realize:

But this is home for us. It’s a place of unimaginable fury but also astonishing beauty… and we see it now as we do because we have dared to examine the world around us, to use tools we invent to peer closer, to magnify the tiny, to extend our eyes into realms we once didn’t even know existed. And every time we do — every single time — we find more questions, more puzzles, more things to examine.

It’s at times like this you truly see the wonder of science.


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