MySci Round-Up, November 10: Contrails over California

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Monday evening’s mysterious trail of vapor in the southern California skies, captured on video by a local TV news helicopter, appeared—at least to some—to be a clandestine missile launch. Others say it’s merely a routine bit of aircraft exhaust, viewed from a misleading angle. But contrails, AKA chemtrails, have long been a subject of scrutiny from conspiracists in the Golden State.

Many believe that contrails, which NASA says are merely a mix of water vapor and pollution from burned jet fuel, actually are part of some secret government effort. Some have suggested that they’re actually chemical weapons being tested on an unwary civilian population. That hypothesis seems considerably less paranoid when one considers that in 1950, a U.S. military vessel in the waters near San Francisco actually sprayed clouds of a microbe called Serratia into the atmosphere over the Bay Area, as part of an experiment to see what would happen if the city’s harbor was the target of an enemy chemical weapons attack. According to this article from, hundreds of thousands of people were exposed to Serratia and at least 11 became ill. At least one man, a 75-year-old utilities worker named Edward Nevin who was in the hospital recovering from prostate surgery, died from a resulting infection. Some believe that descendants of the original bacteria are still causing health problems in the region today.

Another popular theory is that the vapor trails in the sky are part of some secret weather modification project., a website founded by former U.S. Department of Agriculture technologist turned activist Rosalind Peterson, compiles reports on contrails in an effort to link them to tree deaths and other destructive effects on the environment. She writes: “My log book goes on and on—pages of notes, video tape, and thousands of pictures. Documented there is the dying of the trees—here and across the United States—the loss of our clear, deep-blue skies, the awareness of “global dimming”, atmospheric heating and testing programs, like HAARP…and a myriad of weather modification programs. The log book is enormous. The documents keep piling up denoting programs and campaigns by the hundreds and thousands.”

As adherents to the Occam’s Razor principle, we’re certainly not endorsing the weather-modification hypothesis. But all the same, 
it’s not so easy to summarily reject such suspicions, when one considers that the U.S. government actually did spend years working on Project Stormfury, an attempt to modify tropical cyclones. Additionally, as detailed in this article in today’s edition of the Guardian, a UK newspaper, some scientists and politicians have advocated geoengineering solutions such a dispersing reflective particles in the stratosphere as a quick fix for climate change.

While you’re chewing on all that, here’s the news.

Astronomers find star system that behaved like game of Snooker. 
Our British readers will find that incredibly amusing, but the rest of you are likely to be puzzled.

Complaining about your boss on Facebook may not be such a great idea. 
A company is accused of firing an worker for using the social network to criticize her supervisor.

Hornet species is naturally solar-powered. 
Good thing, too, because solar panels would be too heavy for a bug to carry.

Inhibitory neurons key to understanding neuropsychiatric disorder. 
And a lot of their function has to do with genetics.

How much momentum does it take to stop a running back? 
Inquiring physicist-linebackers want to know.