Giving Thanks

2 December 2020

It’s the time of giving thanks, so to that end let me thank all of you for subscribing to my little website. I hope you are well as we continue to hunker down. As we enter the Winter holiday, please consider your local small businesses if you are shopping for gifts. It will likely be a very lean season for them.

Science News

This month brought several interesting science stories. Red dwarfs turn out to be more hostile to life than we thought. This is disappointing for those looking for alien civilizations since the vast majority of potentially habitable worlds orbit red dwarfs. We’ve also found a new way to study brown dwarfs using radio astronomy. This is good news because brown dwarfs can be difficult to find, particularly when they wander the galaxy as rogue planets.

Solar astronomy has made some great breakthroughs. A team has used sound waves in the Sun to predict the appearance of sunspots. Sunspots are often followed by solar flares and other activity that can threaten our electrical grid and other technology, so being able to predict sunspots could save us in the future. Another team has detected a new kind of neutrino. These are created in a fusion process known as the CNO cycle. It is the first confirmation of that process in the solar interior and should help us understand much larger stars.

Another interesting topic focuses on the merger of neutron stars. When two neutron stars collide, they can create a black hole, but only if their masses and densities are above a critical point. When that isn’t the case, they might collapse into a highly-magnetized type of neutron stare known as a magnetar. We are only beginning to understand these powerful objects and the kilonovae they can create.

Astronomers have also been finding objects in unexpected places. Mars is one of the few planets known to have Trojan asteroids. These are small asteroids that move along the martian orbit a bit ahead or behind the planet. We have thought these trojans were either captured asteroids or fragments from Mars, but one of them seems to have been a captured chunk of the Moon. In our galaxy, most of the oldest stars are located in a diffuse halo around the Milky Way. But astronomers have discovered several old stars that have orbits similar to Sun. Standard models of galactic evolution say they shouldn’t be there, so this discovery may revolutionize our understanding of galaxies.

Finally, a team has developed a new way to measure the expansion of the universe. Rather than studying distant supernovae or the cosmic microwave background, the team looks at the light from quasars that have been gravitationally lensed by a nearby galaxy. The technique could help us solve the mystery of just how fast the universe is expanding.

Scenes from a Hat

Four short stories were posted this month. Buying a dragon can be a challenge, but it’s worth it when the seller doesn’t know what he’s really got. Aliens have abducted a human, but didn’t take the time to learn how to care for one. A space construction worker makes a discovery that could lose him his job. A violent criminal learns what happens when his mind is rewired to make him better. As with last month, I’m still learning how to present a scene more than developing original ideas. Feedback is always welcome.

Don’t Be Evil

Google seems to be straying more from its original motto. Over the past several months I’ve noticed a gradual decline in the number of views the website gets, so I did some investigating. It turns out that Google is hiding my science posts from searches. Science posts are often scraped and reposted on sites filled with Google Ads. It seems Google is promoting the scraper sites in search while blocking mine for the first week.

I suspect Google is doing this because I don’t have ads on my site, and I don’t use Google Analytics. So Google doesn’t make any money if you visit my site. Dear Google does make money if you view my content on sites that have stolen my material. Just to be clear, this is not Universe Today, which has permission to use many of my posts. The sites Google promotes are ones that scrape content from all over the web without authors’ permission.

There’s not much I can do to make Google act more fairly. I refuse to put ads on my site or let Google track readers in order to entice the big G to promote my site. So instead I’ll ask you, dear readers, to promote it instead. If you like what you read, please consider sharing it among your friends or on social media. The more readers I have, the more content I can post here.

Stay Safe

There will be plenty more posts in December. If you have ideas for posts, I’d love to hear from you. But until then I wish you all well. For new subscribers, if you’d like to read some of the earlier newsletters, you can find them here.