(Tier 1) Adventures in ACE XXIII: An Atmosphere of Fail

The ballooning McMercys have just had their hot air balloon adventure cut short by God, who loves to ruin people’s fun. As if forcing them out of the sky isn’t bad enough, he waits for them to land, them BA-BAM! hits a tree right beside them with a lightning bolt. Dad McMercy doesn’t see that as God’s “And stay down!” message, though.

“However, the lightning that made [Becky] jump is actually a benefit God designed to help plants grow.”

Image shows a man wearing a maroon jacket and blue jeans standing with one hand holding his tan Aussie-style hat in consternation. He's standing in the wreckage of an enormous eucalyptus tree that is now a splintered stump and scattered limbs. The stump is taller than he is and too big around for him to be able to hug.
Eucalyptus tree that was blown apart by a lightning strike, Walcha, NSW. Public domain image and caption courtesy Cgoodwin.

Yes. Very helpful.

“Although air is mostly nitrogen, plants cannot use nitrogen directly from the air.”

And whose fault is that, from your point of view? Dude, your God is the shittiest designer. What a Rube Goldberg way to fix nitrogen!

“Nitrogen gas must be changed, or fixed, into nitrogen compounds that plants can use. Usually these compounds of nitrogen are in the form of ammonia, an important chemical in fertilizers. Ammonia is made in great quantities commercially, but God provides growing things with their own ammonia-making system.”

Which wouldn’t be necessary if God had either designed plants to use nitrogen gas directly, or made nitrogen naturally fix without resorting to shit like lightning bolts. Fucking lightning bolts. I ask you.

“Converting nitrogen in air into a form that green plants can use is just one small way that God provides for His creation.”

Badly. Inefficiently. Ridiculously. It can be done in much better ways.

And notice they lead off with the most ridiculous way nitrogen gets fixed naturally. Only then do they talk about the rather more reasonable nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Still. Creation would be a lot more efficient without the middle step.

Sandy’s apparently bored of all this nitrogen talk, because she blurts out that she’d read in a God and Science newspaper that volcanoes can also change the atmosphere. Dad says they can, and so do forest fires, and even ocean waves. Then he gets bored, too, and says they should run to the car now.

Really, ACE people. If you’re going to use horribly boring pseudo-stories to teach your pseudoscience, at least learn how transitions work. Not to mention exposition. We get the dreaded “As you know” lecture from Dad when Sandy wonders how the sky could’ve possibly held all the rain that’s suddenly falling. “As you know, Sandy, rain falls from clouds of condensed water vapor,” he pontificates ponderously. He never does tell her how the air can hold all that moisture, though.

Dad goes on to babble about dust particles in the atmosphere, and I am shocked, actually and honestly, to find a bit in an ACE PACE that is both mostly accurate and interesting and somewhat well-written. This is the first time this has ever happened. I need to go lie down. Make sure you’re securely seated when you read this.

“Even particles from outer space are in air,” Dad continued.

“How can dust or dirt come from outer space?” asked Bill.

“Do you remember the meteor we saw last night?” asked Dad. “It made a brilliant streak across the sky and was gone. Most meteors burn up as soon as they hit our atmosphere because friction with the air heats them until they burn. Dust from burnt meteors then settles into our atmosphere. Therefore, our atmosphere constantly carries a small load of meteoric dust.”

“Dad, what would have happened if that meteor we saw last night had not burned up?” questioned Sandy.

“Occasionally, meteors do strike Earth, but then they are called ‘meteorites,'” replied Dad. “Scientists collect meteorites for study because they are bits of our solar system that have come from outside Earth. Studies show them to be made mainly of oxygen, iron, silicon, magnesium, and nickel, along with traces of twelve other elements. All the elements that compose meteorites are elements that already exist on Earth. No new elements have been found in meteorites.”

Okay, so it’s not completely accurate. I mean, there’s a lot more than twelve elements found in meteorites. And while we may not have found new elements in ’em, meteorites have provided us with plenty of new minerals. But still. Not bad!

Don’t worry: it doesn’t last. The writing takes a dramatic turn for the worse. Not only does the style deteriorate, so do their facts. They get the largest meteorite right (Hoba). The largest meteor crater in the US isn’t the “Great Meteor Crater” in Arizona – that’s not even it’s actual name. Barringer Meteor Crater is a wee thing, but is the best preserved out of all the craters we’ve found in the States. The largest US impact crater is either Chesapeake Bay or the Alamo Impact Crater in Nevada. Alas for Canada (and the ACE writers), Sudbury Crater isn’t the largest in the world: Vredefort Crater in South Africa holds that distinction. And the bolide that created Sudbury was 10-15km in diameter, not 3-5. So that’s a total of four errors in three short sentences. Way to fuck up, there, ACE.

After that chunk o’ fail, the section ends quietly and reasonably accurately with an explanation of “gravity did it” for why meteors hit the planet and the atmosphere doesn’t float away. I’m amazed they didn’t work a “God did it” in there. But I’m sure we’ll see plenty of that very soon.


(Tier 1) Adventures in ACE XXIII: An Atmosphere of Fail