Scroll down to read this post.


My July fund-raising campaign, celebrating the 13th anniversary of the start of this website, has now ended. This was the second most successful monthly fund-raising campaign ever. Thank you again to everyone who has who donated or subscribed. It is difficult to explain what your support means to me.


You can still donate or subscribe to support my work if you wish, either by giving a one-time contribution or a regular subscription. There are four ways of doing so:


1. Zelle: This is the only internet method that charges no fees. All you have to do is use the Zelle link at your internet bank and give my name and email address (zimmerman at nasw dot org). What you donate is what I get.


2. Patreon: Go to my website there and pick one of five monthly subscription amounts, or by making a one-time donation.

3. A Paypal Donation:

4. A Paypal subscription:

5. Donate by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman and mailed to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

Monday at the non-existent Lunar & Planetary Science Conference

Today I had planned on attending the first day of the 51st annual Lunar & Planetary Science Conference in the suburbs of Houston, Texas. Sadly, for the generally foolish and panicky reasons that is gripping America these days, the people in charge, all scientists, decided to cancel out of fear of a virus that so far appears generally only slightly more dangerous than the flu, though affecting far far far fewer people.

Anyway, below are some of the interesting tidbits that I have gleaned from the abstracts posted for each of Monday’s planned presentations. Unfortunately, because I am not in the room with these scientists, I cannot get my questions answered quickly, or at all. My readers must therefore be satisfied with a somewhat superficial description.

Probably the most interesting event today would have been a special session focusing on the most up-to-date results from Curiosity in Gale Crater. According to a review of the papers, the big take-away is that the rover’s most recent travels climbing upward toward the Greenheugh Piedmont took it out of a region dominated by geology formed under lake conditions and into a region dominated by geology formed by water flowing into that lake.

Both Vera Rubin Ridge and the lower clay layer surrounding it were formed under these lake conditions. In fact, even though from orbit the ridge appears to have higher concentrations of hematite than the surrounding lower terrain, Curiosity’s close look strongly suggests that it has the same make-up of the lower layers beside it (see this abstract [pdf]). The ridge sticks out higher simply because it appears more resistant to erosion, caused because, as one abstract [pdf] put it, its “rocks were locally hardened by … cementation.”

Meanwhile, the earthquake database being collected by InSight has grown [pdf]:

In the one year of operation of the seismometer package, over 300 seismic events were detected, of which 35 are interpreted as distant, tectonic marsquakes. For 4 of those events, a location could be determined, which for 3 are close to the Cerberus Fossae graben system.

In a different session focusing on Ceres and Vesta, several presentations suggested that the crust of Ceres could literally be “an ice shell,” with one abstract [pdf] proposing that crust has a water content as high as 80%.

If Ceres’ crust is 80% ice, many important implications about planetary-scale structure or processes follow. Such an “ice shell” would imply that Ceres is more differentiated than previously thought, as other calculations argue for a total ice plus clathrate component of ~50%. This [icy] crustal composition could also make Ceres more similar in geophysical structure to icy moons like Europa in the outer Solar System than currently considered.

There a number of other papers, on Vesta, on the interior oceans believed to be on Enceladus and Europa, on the Kuiper belt, on Venus, and asteroids, but without seeing the full oral reports it is difficult to glean the important details that might have made these results more compelling.

I will provide a summary tomorrow of what had been planned for the Tuesday presentations.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • mkent

    …so far appears generally only slightly more dangerous than the flu, though affecting far far far fewer people.

    I wish people would stop comparing this virus to the flu. It is far, far more deadly. As of this writing, the worldwide death rate for COVID-19 is 8.3%, about 400 times that of the 2009 swine flu. And the death rate is going up, not down, as hospitals in several parts of the world are already overwhelmed.

    In addition, it is about twice as easily transmitted as the flu. The R0 value for SARS-CoV-2 is about 2.5, compared to 1.3 for the flu.

    We’re still early in the cycle, but it’s already broken containment. If we don’t get it re-contained soon, the number of deaths will be in the millions. That’s why such extreme measures are being taken all over the world.

  • mkent: Your stats are wrong. Period. I link to sources. The death rate is increasingly comparable to the flu, except among the elderly, and even here it appears to be approaching flu conditions.

    Using the worldwide rate is also a misuse of statistics. Better to look at specific situations (such as South Korea) where the data is very complete and reliable. There, the death rate was 0.6 for all ages, with most who died in older age groups.

  • wayne

    Mr. Z.,
    –did you fly, and how did that go?

    First time I actually looked up some info on the current crisi.

    “Coronaviruses are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface. There are four main sub-groupings of coronaviruses, known as alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s.
    The seven coronaviruses that can infect people are:
    Common human coronaviruses
    1.229E (alpha coronavirus)
    2.NL63 (alpha coronavirus)
    3.OC43 (beta coronavirus)
    4.HKU1 (beta coronavirus)
    Other human coronaviruses
    5.MERS-CoV (the beta coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS)
    6.SARS-CoV (the beta coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS)
    7.SARS-CoV-2 (the novel coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19)
    People around the world commonly get infected with human coronaviruses 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1.
    Coronaviruses that infect animals can evolve and become a new human coronavirus. Three recent examples of this are 2019-nCoV, SARS-CoV, and MERS-CoV.”

  • Cototur

    From the real world:

    Spoke with a nurse this evening and she said that they had two patients admitted in her hospital in Connecticut and were both intubated, one 27 and one 53, and both tested positive for Covid 19.

  • wayne

    When you drill deeper at the CDC website, [ go to the “Professional” information sections ‘healthcare’ and ‘lab.’ I KNOW there are a lot of high-IQ people who read this, that can handle the interpretation. ] it’s very enlightening (and you immediately know more than everyone at Fake News Inc.)

  • wayne

    from the CDC link referenced above:

    “Among reports that describe the clinical presentation of patients with confirmed COVID-19, most are limited to hospitalized patients with pneumonia.
    The incubation period is estimated at 4 days (interquartile range: 2 to 7 days). [1] Some studies have estimated a wider range for the incubation period; data for human infection with other coronaviruses (e.g. MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV) suggest that the incubation period may range from 2-14 days.

    Frequently reported signs and symptoms of patients admitted to the hospital include fever (77–98%), cough (46%–82%), myalgia or fatigue (11–52%), and shortness of breath (3-31%) at illness onset. [2–5] Among 1,099 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, fever was present in 44% at hospital admission, and developed in 89% during hospitalization. [6]
    Other less commonly reported respiratory symptoms include sore throat, headache, cough with sputum production and/or hemoptysis. Some patients have experienced gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and nausea prior to developing fever and lower respiratory tract signs and symptoms. The fever course among patients with COVID-19 is not fully understood; it may be prolonged and intermittent. A limited number of reports describe identification of asymptomatic or subclinical infection on the basis of detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA or live virus from throat swab specimens of contacts of confirmed patients. [7–8].”

  • Wodun

    What makes this one deadly is that it can be spread long before people show symptoms. I’m skeptical of all the numbers right now as the data set is incomplete and the media is sos sensational.

  • Ian C.

    Bob, South Korea has the numbers it has because early enough it took measures that you call foolish when they happen or are proposed in America. Low fatality rates result when the health system isn’t overwhelmed, but untreated cases (seem to) have (at least) a ten times higher fatality. The US health system doesn’t have the surge capacity to deal with the sudden inflow of intensive care patients, so it makes sense to slow down the outbreak. Social distancing is a key approach here. Do you feel lucky, punk?

    We need to watch closely that the interference with civil liberties is really only temporary. We also should watch who now blames their failing businesses or politics on the outbreak.


    Regarding marsquakes, I wonder what the implications might be for subsurface habitats (risk) and kinetic energy harvesting (opportunity). Anybody knows of experiments that are build, proposed, or should be proposed that could give us deeper insights?

  • wayne: You really should read my posts before commenting. You might avoid embarrassing yourself.

  • Lee S

    From your own link..
    From your own link.

    ” The problem becomes when the -Rate- of people being affected with serious (like bilateral pneumonia) conditions Exceeds the capacity of US hospitals to deal with it.”
    “Across 3 large waves, nearly 6 billion people will catch this. Most will be just fine, But, they can go around wrecking the weak and old without realizing it.

    So, by Slowing the Rate of infections, the number of serious (potentially fatal) cases, at any particular moment, becomes lowered .. potentially by as much as 95%.”

    It seems the scientist quoted disagrees with you.

  • Lee S

    An interesting, and not very flattering article regarding the UKs policy.
    New data, new policy: why UK’s coronavirus strategy changed

    It’s worth noting that Sweden has a much calmer approach so far… Schools are open, although collages and universitys are closed. ( This is to enable parents of younger kids to continue working…. A good idea for the economy in my view)
    I am still waiting for an answer from my work regarding how long I should self isolate when I’m feeling better.
    I am still of the opinion that the danger is being overblown, although being in the highest risk category’s, I’m keeping a very watchful eye on the news…
    ( Even going so far as to read “Conservative US”! To form a balanced view all data sources are welcomed at the moment!)

  • Lee S

    More interesting “boots on the ground” info… I just borded a bus for the short ride to the store. Passengers are now required to board at the exit, and it’s not required to “blip” my travel card… The driver is effectively isolated from the passengers. Not a bad idea I guess.
    Are there any visible effects yet in your day to day life while walking/driving around?

  • wayne

    Mr. Z.,
    It’s the beginning of the end for me! My anticholinergic Parkinson’s med is quite euphoria-producing and it’s obviously frying my memory.

    “Looks like I picked the wrong week to….”
    Airplane 1980

  • Lee S

    To get away from medication induced euphoria and the plague… ( I wish my meds had that effect! They just make me feel drunk, but without the good bits!)
    I’m very sorry you couldn’t attend the conference Bob, ( and I hope you got refunded for all expenses!)
    I am especially interested in sub-surface oceans… It seems there are theories here that do not need tidal heating to explain liquidity…. This has deep ramifications for the possibility of life. I read a paper a couple of years ago that argued that Europa would not have enough mineral content in its ocean, given the quantity of water, and surface area in contact with the rocky core for life to originate and thrive. This didn’t pass my smell test, and I am deeply interested in any new theory, especially one that fills said water with chemicals.

  • mkent

    mkent: Your stats are wrong. Period.

    I looked them up right before I posted my comment. They were correct at the time. I just looked them up again. It’s now slightly worse.

    Worldwide: 7,527 deaths & 80,889 recoveries / 88,416 closed cases = 8.5% dead & 91.5% recovered.

    Using the worldwide rate is also a misuse of statistics. Better to look at specific situations (such as South Korea) where the data is very complete and reliable. There, the death rate was 0.6 for all ages, with most who died in older age groups.

    Using the widest available dataset is misusing statistics? This is a global pandemic requiring global statistics. Using one specific country because you find the results there reassuring is cherry-picking the data.

    But let’s do that.

    South Korea: 81 deaths & 1,401 recoveries / 1,482 closed cases = 5.5% dead & 94.5% recovered

    Better than the worldwide average but still a health crisis, which is probably why they took what would be considered drastic measures if it were just the flu.

    Again, this is not the flu. Not even close. Which is why nearly every country in the world is treating this as a public health crisis.

  • Captain Emeritus

    It’s all bat guano, to me.

  • sippin_bourbon

    I had to attend an event with about 200 people over the weekend, so I am self isolating as a precaution. I do not want to be a vector.

    My parents are in their 80s, so staying away from them.

    I work from home anyway, so it is a minor impact.
    Might be driving the wife crazy by the end of this though…

  • Lee S

    @mkent, you are correct… The current statistics can be used to prove any viewpoint you choose… Even Bobs link gave mixed views…. The first half backed his view up with figures…. The second half refuted his view with figures…. ( Sorry Bob… But it’s nice to be able to call you out for once! )
    The simple fact is we have to remain aware, and skeptical. No need to panic, but be ready should the poo hit the fan…

  • GWB

    the 52st annual
    ? o.O ?

  • Heh. See my newest long essay on the subject of the Wuhan/COVID-19/corona virus.

  • GWB: Whoops. I am amazed it took this long for someone to notice the typo. It is fixed. Thank you.

  • Edward

    Lee S asked: “Are there any visible effects yet in your day to day life while walking/driving around?

    We are “sheltering in place,” in my county. We still don’t know what that means, exactly, because we can go to work, if it isn’t closed, and can buy groceries and take out at restaurants. Drive throughs are also open. So far. We can walk our dogs and walk around, and our mass transit systems are still running, although have been much less crowded for a week or so.

    I was driving, today, to get milk and another $10 of supplies, and it looked like they have every police car and motorcycle out patrolling, making it look like they are serious, whatever that means, about us only going out only when it is necessary, what ever that means.

    This virus has only been known for less than three months, and the data on it is pretty sketchy. The limited number of tests have largely been performed on people with symptoms, which can also bias the statistics created from the data.

  • wayne

    good stuff.

    Time for some Jocko Motivation:

    Jocko Willink x Rudyard Kipling x Akira

    “IF you can keep your head when all about you,
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

  • pzatchok

    Taking world wide stats and trying to apply them to any particular nation is wrong.

    Each nation has several if not a dozen differences with other nations that would effect the rate of infection and death.

    Would you compare the health care in Somalia to the health care in Sweden? No of course not.
    How about the general environment of Australia to the general environment of Canada right now?
    Would you think that South and North Korea would have the very same stats?

    So comparing America to China is not going to give a perfect or even a close result. We have not heard one stat out of the rural areas of China and the Mongolian step areas have not even had a good chance to get infected yet.

Readers: the rules for commenting!


No registration is required. I welcome all opinions, even those that strongly criticize my commentary.


However, name-calling and obscenities will not be tolerated. First time offenders who are new to the site will be warned. Second time offenders or first time offenders who have been here awhile will be suspended for a week. After that, I will ban you. Period.


Note also that first time commenters as well as any comment with more than one link will be placed in moderation for my approval. Be patient, I will get to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *