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You likely heard about it a few days ago. NASA announced the detection of a supernova turning into a black hole. It was big news and justifiably so.

The story starts back in 1979 when an amateur astronomer observed a supernova. It was the third one seen in 1979 and thus named 1979C. Yes all that astronomical numbering is real complicated you know;).

You probably know that a supernova marks the end of a star’s life when it explodes. Only big stars go out this way and our star (aka the sun) will die a rather wimpy death as a red giant. Supernova 1979C was a star big enough to explode. A star has to be around 8 times more massive than the sun to do this.

A young graduate student named Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar is the person who first worked this out. His friends called him Chandra and now you know how the famous x-ray telescope got it’s name.

So how did Astrophysicists work out that supernova 1979c has become a black hole?

Look at the pics..

Location of supernova 1979c in a galaxy 50 million light years from Earth. All of these are NASA/CHANDRA images.

If you look at this area with just x-ray light you see a very bright star.

X-Ray images show strong radiation coming from the location of the 1979 supernova.

What if we look in the infra-red?

Nothing there in the IR images.

The visible light wavelengths show nothing either.

So the experts with the Chandra telescope (One of whom is my neighbor) have deduced that the star that produced supernova 1979C has collapsed into a black hole.

At least that’s the story that appears in the press releases, and the peer reviewed astronomical journals. Is there something missing here from the main stream TV and newspaper reports?

With tongue firmly planted in cheek let’s explore further…

Surely the press could have found an astrophysicist somewhere who does not believe in black holes!  Back in the 1960’s there were plenty of reports with scientists calling the idea preposterous!

I have found several pages on the Internet where people are calling everything to do with black holes “liberal pseudoscience“. Why did we not see any of their quotes in the press?

No one has stolen the emails of these astrophysicists, so I guess the papers could not publish them, but what might they show? Could they be hiding something? Are the media missing supernova-gate?

What about the fact that this black hole is 50 million light years away. The whole event happened way before humans invented the telescope. So, if that’s the case, how could we possibly detect it!

Surely there is a petition out there signed by hundreds veterinarians, MD’s and retired chemists. You know, the one signed by all those bonafide scientists who think this is all a hoax. Obviously a ploy to get more funding for astronomy!

Nope, nothing about any of that in the press reports. Not even a quote from a scientist in another field who has never published a paper on black holes.

How about the public? Don’t they get a say? How many really believe we can even see something that happened 50 million years ago in a galaxy far, far away?

It seems to me that many in the media need to take an example from their coverage of climate science and publish the real truth.

Perhaps even the Congress should hold hearings. It will be easy to get real scientists to testify. You know, people  who have spent a lifetime learning the complicated math of astrophysics, and written  dozens of papers in such prestigious journals as Science and Nature.

These black hole alarmists will of course say it’s based on peer reviewed science, but Congress will need to find someone on the other side of the issue. That should be easy enough. Just google the phrase “Moon Landing Hoax” and follow the lead.

Plenty of experts there!

I look forward to the entire story of supernova-gate being published soon.

This post is dedicated to those climate researchers (Like Dr. Ben Santer of LLNL) who were accused with flimsy evidence of being liars and worse. ALL have now been totally cleared. Why was that fact buried deep in a broadsheet (or not even reported) by many of those who made the accusations?

NASA image

(Reminder that this blog is now part of the AGU Blogosphere at http://blogs.agu.org/wildwildscience/ Check them out!)

I’ve often wondered about something. Suppose a 1000 meter wide space rock  were to hit Nashville TN. Would I survive here in Huntsville in North Alabama?

It would depend on many factors of course. Nashville is about 165 km to my north. That’s a BIG factor.   The size of the asteroid, and the angle of impact, are others.

Let’s say that it hit at a 60 degree angle and was a rather dense mix of rock with some ice. The ground in Nashville is made up of sedimentary rock, so that will also be a factor.

What’s the answer?

Do I survive? Probably not.

The scenario I am about to give you is based on IMPACT EARTH. It’s a program put together by scientists at Purdue University and Imperial College in London. They have recently updated the physics and you can check it out yourself online here.

So what would I experience at a distance of 165 kilometers?

The rock would begin to break up at about 70 km above the surface. I assumed an initial speed of 25 km /second. It would be slowed only very slightly by our atmosphere and hit the surface traveling 24.7 km/ second. The fragments of the asteroid would hit the ground over a relatively small area. An ellipse of around 1000 meters to 1500 meters.

The crater formed would be 16 km wide! That is over 10 miles for metrically challenged Americans.

At the time of impact everything down to 4 km would be vaporized. The vaporized earth and buildings would fill the crater back in and it would only be around 700 meters deep at the end. Downtown Nashville would be gone before anyone there knew it. They might have a couple of seconds warning at most.

The blast in Nashville would produce the same energy as nearly 6,000 15 megaton hydrogen bombs detonated at once.

Let’s assume I’m outside walking the dog in Big Spring Park in the middle of  Huntsville. The flash in the sky as the rock hit the atmosphere would last only 2-4 seconds. It would be silent. No noise. The impact fireball would look 16 times larger than the sun.

If it’s sunny, walk outside and look up at the sun. Close your eyes and feel the warmth. The heat from the blast 165 km away would feel 27 times hotter than that. The heat would be instantaneous.

The Tunguska event in Siberia was from a much smaller space rock than we are talking about here. It leveled the forest for 200 miles around the impact.

I would suffer third degree burns and trees and grass around me will catch on fire. If I were inside when it hit, the burns would be less severe. Most of the city would still be alive.

It would still be quiet.

As I looked around in pain from the burns, I would see fires everywhere. People would be rushing outside to see what was happening.

33 seconds after the impact, Huntsville would feel an earthquake of magnitude 7.9.  Most well built buildings would not collapse but many people will be injured by falling objects. It would probably knock me off my feet in Big Spring Park.

The fireball in the northern sky would be huge but about 2 minutes later a black cloud would soon be visible. This black cloud would be made of gravel sized rocks and very fine dust. The ejecta cloud arrives in Huntsville 3 minutes after the impact. It’s now very dark with fires burning as the ground shakes.

Hell would rain down for 5 more minutes. It’s not over though.

What winds over 300 km/hr (200 mph) will do to a home. This image is from the aftermath of an EF3 tornado in Oklahoma. Courtesy NOAA/NWS

Eight minutes after the impact an explosion so loud it will cause excruciating ear pain will be heard. Almost immediately, a blast of wind will hit the city. Winds will increase briefly to over 90 meters per second. That’s over 200 mph.

Even strong buildings will likely collapse. Anyone outside will literally be blown away. Frame houses that were on fire seconds before will be blown away.

How about those who are further south? The winds in Birmingham would only reach hurricane force. The thermal blast would not cause burns. Heavy damage from the 7.9 magnitude quake would be likely.

Astronomers think that objects like I described hit Earth twice every million years. Objects big enough to destroy a large city hit Earth every 3 centuries on average. The Tunguska event in Siberia in 1908 was one of these.

The rock that wiped out the dinosaurs was 10 km wide. Those type events are thought to happen only once every 300 million years or so.

Just something to think about…



Impact Earth Calculator- http://www.purdue.edu/impactearth



Andrea Milani (20 June 2003)
Science 300 (5627), 1882. [DOI: 10.1126/science.1077708]

Found this online today and it’s a must for Earth Science teachers everywhere. This is definitely my longest post ever!

Okay so click on it and download the full size image and then get a poster made!

kudos to Karl Tate at OurAmazingPlanet.com

The Sun today 17 September. Three sunspots are visible in the lower half of the image. Could we be seeing no sunspots at all soon? Read on.. (IMAGE FROM NASA SDO)

Two scientists at the National Solar Observatory in Tuscon, Arizona have published a paper that has literally rocked the world of solar physics.

Their paper says that sunspots may disappear from the sun by 2016 and stay gone for decades!


This has actually happened before. From 1645 to about 1715 there were virtually no sunspots seen on the sun. This period is called the Maunder Minimum and it also happens to be a period of unusually cool weather on Earth.

It might seem at first glance that sunspots would mean the Earth gets less solar radiation since a part of the sun is black instead of bright white. In reality, an active sun with sunspots is putting out more energy than a quiet spot free sun. It’s quite likely that the chilly years of 1645 to 1715 are at least in part related to the quiet sun.

Along come Matt Penn and Bill Livingston. They looked at the magnetic field around sunspots using a technique that involves something called Zeeman Splitting. The magnetic field of the sunspots causes the spectral lines of iron atoms to split when looked at in a spectograph. The wider the lines are apart, the more intense the magnetic field.

Declining magnetic field on the sun. From Penn and Livingston's paper. Image ctsy NASA Sci. Now.

Penn and Livingston’s data shows the magnetism is declining and if you extrapolate into the future, the magnetism drops to a point where there will be no sunspots by 2016.

This would be a BIG deal.


Now before you run screaming into the streets, you should know that the authors of the paper themselves have serious doubts about whether a new Maunder Minimum is about to start. The time period of their data is just 17 years. They very well could be just seeing a normal downward trend that will start back up soon.

NASA has one of the world’s top experts on solar physics right here in Huntsville. His name is David Hathaway. I’ve emailed him with some questions but I suspect his inbox is full of similar questions from every corner of the globe!

Hathaway IS quoted in NASA Science News as saying “The drop in magnetic fields could be a normal aspect of the solar cycle and not a sign that sunspots are permanently vanishing.” He also adds “the sun is behaving in an interesting way and I believe we’re about to learn something new.”

Scientists had expected the new solar cycle to be well underway now, but the sun remains very quiet.

The solar cycles are numbered and the one that everyone is waiting to start will be cycle 25. No doubt about it, it is way overdue.


You might be wondering by the way if a new Maunder Minimum would cancel out the effects of increasing greenhouse gases.

The answer is no.

Dr. James Hansen did the math and says that even a new maunder event would be cancelled out within 7  years by the rising greenhouse gases. It would slow the warming temporarily though…

One last thing. I just wrote a blog about something really interesting in astronomy before Phil Plait on BAD ASTRONOMY.


Active region on the sun from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. (Upper left corner of the sun)

CME today from strong sunspot. Courtesy NASA Solar Dynamics Observ.

Space weather experts at NOAA and NASA have been monitoring a very active sunspot over the last few days.

This area has produced several Coronal Mass Ejections (CME). These flares can cause trouble with radio communication and even cause power outages if they hit Earth. Satellites can be especially hard hit. Past solar flares have crippled communication satellites.

A really big flare could cause billions of dollars in damage to the electrical grids and stop HF radio communications for hours.  Commercial passenger flights over the North Pole use HF radio to keep in contact with air traffic control. When there is a large flare the HF frequencies are not usable and these flights must take a longer route.

This sunspot is not facing Earth so these flares have not affected us. The flare is, however,  turning in our direction. If it stays active, then we could see a geomagnetic storm. More than likely the only major effect will be a display of the Aurora in high latitudes.

The folks at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center are only forecasting a 1% chance of a big class M or class X flare, but if you live in the high latitudes, be on the look out for a display of the Aurora Borealis.

Current CO2 Level in the Atmosphere