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Hot News

Week of April 20, 1998

Here at Bad and Bitesized Astronomy Central, I try not to be alarmist. Quite the opposite, in fact: when people cry about death from asteroid impacts or the ever popular death from planetary alignments, I do my best to interject a little rational thought into the fray.

But then things happen that actually are worrisome. In the Sunday, April 19 Washington Post, there was a report that a 38 by 5 kilometer (24 by 3 mile) chunk of the Antarctic ice shelf broke off. The chunk was part of the shelf called the Larsen B, which in turn was part of the Antarctic Peninsula, which reaches far north of the main continent.

While not the biggest section of the shelf to break up (the record was a piece 155 by 35 kilometers (96 by 22 miles), it is still a cause for concern. The average temperature in that area has climbed several degrees in the past few decades, and there have been about 100 pieces of ice longer than 24 kilometers that have broken off in the past 25 or so years.

Is global warming the culprit? To be honest, no one is really sure, but it does seem the most likely candidate. I find it amazing that some people refuse to believe in even the possibility that global warming exists, even with all the evidence we see. As Carl Sagan pointed out in his book "The Demon Haunted World", when you put ten scientists in a room together, you are likely to get ten different opinions about a phenomenon, yet over 2000 scientists met to discuss global warming, and not one of them seriously disagreed that something is going on.

If you think global warming is a myth, then I invite you to take even a casual inspection of our nearest planetary neighbor, Venus. Although a bit closer to the Sun than the Earth, Venus' surface temperature is about 500 degrees Celsius (900 Fahrenheit), simply because of a runaway greenhouse effect. Although a bit closer to the Sun than the Earth, Venus' surface temperature is about 500 degrees Celsius (900 Fahrenheit), simply because of a runaway greenhouse effect. This fate could actually await us, unless we wake up and do something about it.



©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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