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Dr. Universe: How does the moon glow?

Our moon is one of the brightest objects in the night sky. But unlike a lamp or our sun, the moon doesn’t produce its own light.

Light can travel in lots of different ways. Moonlight is actually sunlight that shines on the moon and bounces off. The light reflects off old volcanoes, craters, and lava flows on the moon’s surface.

Julie Menard
Julie Menard

That’s what I found out from my friend Julie Menard, a geologist and researcher in the School of the Environment at Washington State University, who studies what makes up the rocky planets in our solar system.

If you look through binoculars or a telescope, you might even be able to see some lunar rays coming out of the moon’s craters, she said. These craters are places where asteroids or meteorites hit the moon long ago. The rays are formed by rocks and dust and other stuff that got blown out of the crater by a meteorite. You might also see some lighter, brighter spots on the moon, which are signs of newer impacts.

Menard also reminded me about a common object a lot of us use: mirrors. She said that during the Apollo missions, astronauts actually left behind some mirrors on the surface of the moon.

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Dr. Universe

Dr. Universe: What’s the best story ever made in the world?

Humans have been telling stories for thousands of years. At first, they told these stories out loud, then they started to write.

Matthew Jockers.

There are more than a hundred million published books on our planet now and to find out which one is best, I visited my friend Matthew Jockers. He’s a professor at Washington State University who combines his love of stories with computer science to research what makes some books bestsellers.

He uses a computer algorithm which can read a book super-fast—way faster than even the fastest reader in our world (who can read 25,000 words a minute). The algorithm is called the “bestseller-ometer,” and it pays attention to both the words and big patterns of a book.

A good read
Jockers told me that bestsellers tend to be page-turners. These books have rhythm and patterns, especially when it comes to how the writer creates and resolves conflict. These stories often have characters that get into trouble and then get out of trouble again.

We might see this kind of pattern in books like “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games.” These books also have a lot of cliffhangers.

Still, the answer to your question goes beyond just looking at the bestseller list. We might also think about the best book in another way. Jockers said some of the best books are those that cross cultural boundaries.

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Dr. Universe

Dark skies

For billions of years, Earthly life has flourished in a reassuring 24-hour cycle of light and darkness. Over the past century, however, urban skies have grown increasingly clouded with light pollution. The excess light disrupts circadian rhythms, poses safety and health risks, wastes energy, and exacts a sad aesthetic toll as well.

The creeping effects of light pollution are well documented in the 2016 “World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness.” The satellite images show that 80 percent of the world’s population now lives under sky glow, with 99 percent of Europeans and Americans unable to experience a natural night.

Michael Allen.

Michael Allen, senior instructor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Washington State University is a dark sky advocate who not only enjoys observing the heavens with large telescopes but also voices concerns about the effects of light pollution on the environment.

“It can impact wildlife and the food chain in unpredictable ways,” he says. Allen points to scientific evidence suggesting that artificial light confuses sea turtle hatchlings, leaving millions stranded on the sand. It also disturbs avian migration patterns, and disrupts the feeding and mating cycles of insects, bats, fish, salamanders, and more.

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Washington State Magazine

What to look for in the 2020 presidential campaign

By Cornell W. Clayton, Thomas S. Foley Distinguished Professor of Government anddirector of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service at Washington State University

Cornell Clayton.

The presidential campaign begins in earnest this week as 20 Democrats debate each other in Miami over who should take on President Donald Trump in next year’s election.

Is it possible to predict the 2020 election before a single primary vote is even cast?

Disregarding Yogi Berra’s sage advice to “never make predictions, especially about the future,” here’s how a political scientist would do it.

First, I would explain that contrary to popular belief the polls in 2016 were pretty accurate. Nine of the ten major tracking polls predicted Clinton would win the popular vote, which she did by 3 million votes. Eight predicted her vote share within their margins of error.

The polls also accurately predicted the Electoral College in all but one state, Wisconsin. In six states, polls were too close to call, so they were “toss-ups.” Five of these ended up voting Trump. But the election turned on just three states — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — where the combined margin for Trump was about 86,000 votes, less than half of 1%.

The lesson from 2016 isn’t to doubt the polls. It’s when polls tell you it’s too close to call, you should believe them!

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Seattle Times

Bernie Sanders is winning the internet. Will it win him the White House?

The digital army behind Sanders, explained.

Onstage in front of California Democrats during the first weekend in June, Bernie Sanders warned that there is “no middle ground” on issues such as abortion and health care, taking a thinly veiled swipe at fellow presidential candidate Joe Biden. Soon after, Sanders’s campaign and online grassroots supporters, including ones in a behind-the-scenes Slack group devoted to his support, began to spread a #NoMiddleGround hashtag across the internet, and it started trending. By Monday, volunteers in that Slack channel had created a “No Middle Ground” Facebook group, complete with custom graphics, which they used to spread his message even further.

It’s an example of the power of Sanders’s online edge. He may have lost the Democratic nomination in 2016, but his campaign’s online savvy was on par with that of Donald Trump, who harnessed populist support on social media (not to mention an assist from Russia) to help catapult himself to the White House.

Travis Ridout.

Digital strategy in politics is focused on raising money and adding to email lists, not necessarily persuading undecided voters, according to Travis Ridout, a professor of government and public policy at Washington State University. The money politicians raise through digital they can then use for television ads, which, while less targeted, may be more successful in reaching and persuading broad swaths of voters — it’s harder to skip over a TV commercial than an online video.

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