The Topline: Everything in the universe, including Minnesota

By: - October 30, 2023 6:00 am

There are billions of galaxies in the observable universe, but only one is known to contain hotdish (NASA/ESA/Hubble)

Welcome to The Topline, a weekly roundup of the big numbers driving the Minnesota news cycle, as well as the smaller ones that you might have missed.

How much is U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips really worth?

The 3rd District congressman mounting a quixotic primary challenge against President Joe Biden recently told The Atlantic his net worth is in the ballpark of $50 million. Financial watchdog OpenSecrets pegged the number at $64 million in 2018. Other published estimates have him north of $120 million. What gives?

Part of the problem is Congress’ archaic financial disclosure system, which allows members to report the value of their assets in ranges that are so broad as to be practically useless. One of the biggest assets Phillips reported in 2018, for instance, was a commercial property in Hennepin County valued somewhere between $5 million and $25 million.

Phillips says he’s campaigning, in part, to “make America affordable again.”

Superior bread

If you’ve ever wondered how much flour it would take to turn Lake Superior into the world’s largest loaf of bread, the Star Tribune has an answer: about 33 quadrillion pounds, according to an estimate from the bakers at Duluth’s Best Bread. 

The question was submitted by Mounds View High School freshman Elodie Yerich at the State Fair. The answer assumes Lake Superior has a volume of close to 3,000 cubic miles, or enough to form an ice cube 15 miles long, 15 miles wide and 15 miles tall.

Reminder: get that updated Covid vaccine

The Minnesota Department of Health reports that less than 5% of the population is fully up-to-date with this year’s COVID-19 vaccine. Statewide the uptake rate ranges from less than 1% in parts of northern Minnesota to more than 6% in the heart of the Twin Cities metro.

Seniors have the highest vaccination rates at about 16%, while fewer than 1% of kids under 12 are. My three kids, who usually howl at the mere sight of a needle, got the shots last week and reported: “It didn’t hurt that much, actually.” 

What an El Niño season means for Minnesota snowfall

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has published a series of maps on snowfall rates in El Niño winters, which is expected this year. Based on previous El Niños, most of Minnesota should expect less snow than usual, although that’s not guaranteed.

Another fun resource I like to keep an eye on is NOAA’s current snow depth map, which is updated daily all winter long. We’ve currently got a few inches sitting around up here in the northwest, and it looks like there’s a band of snow cover in the far south of the state too.

One fun thing about that tool is that you can easily bring up prior years’ reports to see how they compare. In 2017, for instance, the entire state was already covered by this time.

Chart of the week: literally everything in the universe (including Minnesota)

Lineweaver and Patel, 2023

A pair of Australian physicists have plotted the relationship between the mass and size of all objects in the known universe. From a purely practical standpoint it means they’ve created a big ol’ scatterplot with axes that extend to nearly infinity in each direction. But it’s a fun exercise because it helps conceptualize some of the mind-bending questions that arise when you go kicking the tires of our current understanding of how the universe came to be.

I confess to not understanding 90% of the science here, but as a chart guy I still think it’s pretty cool. “Forbidden by gravity”! “Quantum uncertainty”! The “sub-Planckian unknown”! It makes me want to visit all of those places, even if actually doing so is either impossible or would, at best, involve turning my body into spaghetti.

As the authors note, there is a longstanding tradition in physics of simply throwing the entire universe into one giant chart and staring at it for a while to see if anything starts to make sense. 

For what it’s worth, I believe Minnesota would fall somewhere on the line between “whale” and “moons and dwarf planets.”

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Christopher Ingraham
Christopher Ingraham

Christopher Ingraham covers greater Minnesota and reports on data-driven stories across the state. He's the author of the book "If You Lived Here You'd Be Home By Now," about his family's journey from the Baltimore suburbs to rural northwest Minnesota. He was previously a data reporter for the Washington Post.