The Day After

Last night I watched a movie that somehow I missed when it was broadcast on ABC on November 20, 1983. It is the most compelling dramatization I have seen of why we need to rid the world of all nuclear weapons. Frankly, this movie is terrifying, but as stated at the end, a real nuclear war would be far, far worse. This movie ought to be required viewing for every American over the age of 12. Though the Cold War is over, the Soviet Union is no more, and the two Germanys reunited, the threat of nuclear warfare is just as relevant today. In fact, the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is closer to midnight now than it ever has been—even during the height of the Cold War.

There are a number of organizations dedicated to ridding the world of nuclear weapons, among them the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 and 1985, respectively. I encourage you to donate regularly to both of these organizations as I do.

What else can we do? Here in the United States, we must reject and oppose tribalism at every opportunity. Our political system is dysfunctional, both in practice as well as structurally, and it needs to be dramatically reformed. Our politicians are completely unable to address the many existential crises currently facing our nation and the world, and most citizens feel powerless—or worse yet—dispirited, apathetic, or willfully ignorant. At the same time, we must root out lies and misinformation, and rely upon facts and hard-earned expertise.

Globally, we must work toward establishing a global “supergovernment” that enacts and enforces binding international laws that are in the best interest of all the world’s peoples. Individual nations will have to give up some sovereignty in order to effectively address global threats such as nuclear weapons, warfare, human rights violations, pandemics, climate change, pollution, environmental degradation, and loss of biodiversity. Whether the United Nations can be strengthened to serve in this role or a new organization created will need to be explored.

The Day After is available through Netflix and Amazon.

Perseid Outburst of 14 Aug 2021

The Perseid outburst of 14 Aug 2021 exceeded the regular peak!
(Meteor Radio Station Wickede, Germany, courtesy of Andreas Pietsch

The Earth passed through an unexpected filament from Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, causing a spectacular enhancement of the Perseids on Saturday morning August 14 beginning around 0700 UT and continuing at least until 0945 UT when morning twilight began interfering with our observations. This is some 35 hours after the traditional peak (filament was at solar longitude ~141.5˚, whereas the traditional peak is at 140.0˚ – 140.1˚). Paul Martsching and I were observing NE of Ames, Iowa and saw single-observer observed rates of 40 to 60+ meteors per hour for an extended period. Many were bright (0th and 1st magnitude, some brighter). Paul’s peak hourly rate was 64 Perseids during the hour 0845 – 0945 UT.

Visual Observed Hourly Rates from Story County, Iowa (Data from Paul Martsching)

The dip in the meteor counts around 0830 looks to be real, and appears to be corroborated by the radio meteor counts from Germany (shown at the top of this article). This could be due to a dip in the brighter meteor rate (but not the fainter ones we couldn’t see), or perhaps it was a dip in the overall rate as the Earth passed through two “strands” of the meteoroid filament.

The IMO website reports the following:

“CBET 5016 (Jenniskens, 2021) states the peak was reached on Aug. 14, 08h02m UT (solar longitude 141.474 ± 0.005 degrees (equinox J2000.0)), with maximum ZHR between 130 ± 20 (calculated from CAMS Texas and California networks) and 210 ± 20 (calculated by K. Miskotte (DMS) from Pierre Martin’s visual observations) in good agreement with values calculated by H. Ogawa of the International Project for Radio Meteor Observation from radio forward scatter meteor observations. According to Peter Jenniskens (MeteorNews (b)), this probable filament may have been crossed over the last years, especially in 2018 (ZHR ~ 25 at solar longitude 140.95°) and 2019 (ZHR ~ 30 at solar longitude 141.02°) .”

Paul Martsching kept a detailed visual record of the outburst. He writes, “Apparently the ZHR was around double what we actually saw. The brightness index indicates a lot of faint meteors.”

15-minute-interval counts (Paul Martsching)

Paul writes, “The rate went up to ~ 60/hour for nearly an hour; then fell back to ~ 40/hour for 45 minutes; then went back up to ~75/hour for 45 minutes; then seemed to be declining as morning twilight was interfering.”

Paul’s detailed log sheets are shown at the end of this article.

Meteor outbursts like this are rare, but they do occur from time to time. In the future, it would be nice if some of the automated meteor camera systems around the world could do some real-time processing in order to immediately alert visual observers of any outburst in progress, similar to what has often been done for auroral displays

Paul uses a talking clock and a steno pad to record the details of the meteors he sees, observing conditions, etc., without taking his eyes off the sky or needing to use a flashlight. He rolls a rubber band down the page to act as a guide for the pencil.

I have used a digital tape recorder with an external microphone that can be turned on and off for each event, and a talking clock. Unfortunately, I lost all that equipment in the Houston Memorial Day Weekend flood in 2015.

I am looking for a digital voice recorder that records the time each activation of the external microphone occurs. In other words, when I later play back each meteor description audio “snippet”, I want to be able to know exactly what the time was when the audio was recorded, thus eliminating the need for a talking clock. Does any such device exist?

A number of automated meteor cameras captured this outburst, but nothing can compare with seeing it visually under excellent conditions! I hope many others saw this event, but I suspect most visual observers did not go out, since it was after the predicted peak nights of Aug 11/12 and 12/13. A nice surprise, and on a weekend, too!


Do stars made of antimatter exist in the universe? Possibly.

One of the great mysteries of cosmology and astrophysics is that even though equal quantities of matter and antimatter appear to have been produced during the “Big Bang”, today there is only a negligible quantity of antimatter in the observable universe. We do not appear to live in a matter-antimatter symmetric universe.

If antimatter stars, “antistars”, do exist, how could we distinguish them from stars made of normal matter? The light emitted from an antistar would look identical to the light emitted by a normal-matter star.

But if normal matter were infalling upon an antistar, the contact between matter and antimatter would generate an annihilation spectrum of gamma ray photons that peaks around energy 70 MeV (half the mass of a neutral pion) up to a sharp cutoff around 938 MeV (mass of the proton).

A recent analysis of data collected by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope found fourteen possible antistars. These fourteen point sources produce a gamma-ray signature indicative of matter-antimatter annihilation.  These point sources do not exhibit the characteristics of other known gamma-ray sources.  For example, they are not, ostensibly, pulsars, active galactic nuclei, or black holes.

The positional error ellipses for these fourteen point sources range from 11×10 arcminutes up to 128×68 arcminutes (95% confidence). Here are optical images of these sources from the Palomar Digital Sky Survey, in order of right ascension (epoch 2000 coordinates).

4FGL J0548.6+1200
5 48 38.8 +12 00 10
29.6’×23.6′ error ellipse
field of view 48.5′, Orion
bright star near crosshairs is HD 38797
4FGL J0948.0-3859
9 48 03.6 -38 59 57
53.7’×45.9′ error ellipse
field of view 48.5′, Antlia
bright star near crosshairs is TYC 7693-3238-1 ;
nebulous streak through the field is unidentified, 11˚ from the galactic plane
4FGL J1112.0+1021
11 12 03.1 +10 21 31
128.3’×67.9′ error ellipse
field of view 1.63˚, Leo
brightest star in field is HD 97502
4FGL J1232.1+5953
12 32 06.1 +59 53 03
15.4’×13.0′ error ellipse
field of view 24.11′, Ursa Major
brightest star in field is TYC 3847-229-1 ;
the galaxy is LEDA 2595040
4FGL J1348.5-8700
13 48 30.7 -87 00 47
10.6’×9.7′ error ellipse
field of view 11.99′, Octans
4FGL J1710.8+1135
17 10 50.5 +11 35 57
30.7’×26.7′ error ellipse
field of view 48.49′, Ophiuchus
brightest star near crosshairs is HD 155411
4FGL J1721.4+2529
17 21 24.7 +25 29 25
36.4’×25.2′ error ellipse
field of view 48.49′, Hercules
brightest star in field is HR 6455
4FGL J1756.3+0236
17 56 21.2 +02 36 52
19.0’×14.1′ error ellipse
field of view 24.11′, Ophiuchus
4FGL J1759.0-0107
17 59 03.7 -01 07 11
25.7’×22.8′ error ellipse
field of view 24.11′, Serpens
brightest star in field is HD 163914
4FGL J1806.2-1347
18 06 14.7 -13 47 36
19.2’×11.5′ error ellipse
field of view 24.11′, Serpens
4FGL J2029.1-3050
20 29 09.6 -30 50 06
31.0’×21.4′ error ellipse
field of view 48.49′, Microscopium
brightest star in field is HD 194640
4FGL J2047.5+4356
20 47 32.0 +43 56 33
58.9’×34.0′ error ellipse
field of view 1.63˚, Cygnus
brightest star in field is 56 Cyg ;
behind it is the Pelican Nebula (IC 5070)
4FGL J2237.6-5126
22 37 39.4 -51 26 05
20.7’×16.8′ error ellipse
field of view 24.11′, Grus
brightest star near crosshairs is TYC 8452-1160-1 ;
the edge-on galaxy is LEDA 92766
4FGL J2330.5-2445
23 30 35.6 -24 45 15
28.5’×20.5′ error ellipse
field of view 48.49′, Aquarius
brightest star near crosshairs is HD 221258

Since there appears to be no known way to distinguish a star made of antimatter from one made of matter—except for the gamma-ray signature of matter infalling onto the antimatter star, a higher-resolution gamma-ray telescope or interferometer (10 – 1000 MeV) needs to be developed to localize these candidate sources to within a few arcseconds. Higher spectral resolution will help as well, allowing a more detailed characterization of the gamma-ray spectrum.


S. Dupourqué, L. Tibaldo and P. von Ballmoos. Constraints on the antistar fraction in the solar system neighborhood from the 10-year Fermi Large Area Telescope gamma-ray source catalog. Physical Review D. Published online April 20, 2021. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevD.103.083016.

M. Temming (2021, June 5). Antistars could lurk in Milky Way. Science News, 199(10), 8-9.

Iowa Intercity Bus Service

Another pandemic casualty: intercity bus service. The Dubuque – Waterloo – Cedar Rapids – Marshalltown – Ames bus route shown on the 2015 map below is no more. When I called Burlington Trailways yesterday, they told me that this bus route will not be coming back after the pandemic. What a shame.

Not everyone who would like to ride a regional bus has no other transportation option, though that demographic is sizable and certainly needs to be served. Some of us like to ride a bus because we simply don’t want to drive long distances, especially alone. I lived in Ames, Iowa for nearly 30 years, and go back periodically to visit friends and family. I currently live in southwest Wisconsin, and prior to the pandemic, I was able to board a bus in Dubuque at 10:55 a.m. on any day, and would arrive in Ames on the same bus at 5:00 p.m., in time to pick up a rental car at Enterprise before they closed for the day. On the return trip, I could return the car in the morning, after Enterprise opened, board the bus in Ames at 9:45 a.m., and would arrive in Dubuque at 3:30 p.m. It was all very convenient.

Now, your only choice for using public transportation from Dubuque to Ames is the following:

  • Board the bus at Dubuque at 3:50 p.m.
  • Arrive at Davenport at 5:05 p.m.
  • Layover at the Davenport bus station until 6:55 p.m. (1h50m)
  • Transfer to a new bus and leave Davenport at 6:55 p.m.
  • Arrive in Des Moines at 11:10 p.m., with a 20 minutes layover
  • Transfer to a new bus and leave Des Moines at 11:30 p.m.
  • Arrive in Ames at 12:10 a.m. (no rental car companies open at that hour of the night)

The return trip is even worse.

  • Board the bus at Ames at 10:20 p.m.
  • Arrive in Des Moines at 11:05 p.m.
  • Transfer to a new bus at Des Moines
  • Arrive in Chicago at 5:35 a.m.
  • Transfer to a new bus in Chicago
  • Leave Chicago at 6:30 a.m.
  • Arrive in Davenport at 9:55 a.m.
  • Transfer to a new bus at Davenport
  • Leave Davenport at 10:10 a.m.
  • Arrive in Dubuque at 11:25 a.m.

A parenthetical note about this trip. The eastbound bus arrives at the Davenport Flying J’s Travel Shop, 8200 Northwest Boulevard at 1:55 a.m. Instead of going on to Chicago, you could take a 16-minute cab ride the 7 miles to the Burlington Trailways bus station in Davenport at 304 W River Dr. and then wait at the bus station for the 9:55 a.m. bus to arrive that will take you on to Dubuque. Or rent a motel room to sleep for a few hours first.

This is crazy! Who would put up with this unless they were desperate and had no other travel option? Certainly not a good way to build demand for public transportation across a broader demographic, is it?

Public transportation has been underfunded for decades in the United States and it shows. We ought to be ashamed. We really do need a much better bus and passenger rail network, with good intermodal connections.

Sadly, there was not a single news article on the internet that announced or lamented the cancellation of the Burlington Trailways bus route from Dubuque to Ames (and beyond). I guess intercity bus service isn’t deemed newsworthy, as many bus passengers are considered to be second-class citizens at best.

Another sign of the times: neither the bus companies nor anyone else posts bus route timetables on the internet, and even the Amtrak ones are hard to find these days. They all want you to enter your origin and destination on their website, but what if you want a “big picture” timetable for the entire route? You’re usually out of luck.