Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Leaping with the SciSchmooze

from the desk of Bob Siederer

Hello again Science Fans!

This week we celebrate leap day, the one time every fourth year that we add a day to the calendar to resynch it with Earth’s orbit around the sun, which takes about 365 1/4 days.  Think of it as a bonus!

It is shaping up to be a warm week, with temperatures in the 70s by week’s end.  While that’s nice, we’re very short on rain this winter.  Snow pack in the Sierra Mountains is almost non-existent.  All that snow that’s missing is important to California’s agriculture, but it is also important to the population of several other states and portions of Mexico.  The Colorado River provides water to a large portion of the west, and by the mid-2000s it is predicted to lose as much as 31% of the current water flow.

I read another story about climate change on Facebook this week, and a comment from someone I knew in high school who posted something to the effect that climate has been changing throughout time.  Nothing to see here, move along.  He completely discounts nature-caused changes versus man-made changes like we are going through now.  I wish I had a great “silver bullet” to throw at people like this, but I don’t. 

We tend to think of oceans as huge bodies of water, but not so much about how water moves within them.  There are significant currents that affect weather on large and small scales.  For example, the Gulf Stream runs from south to north close to the Atlantic Coast and keeps temperatures there warmer than they otherwise would be in the north, and cooler than they would be in the south.  One area of interest to scientists and climatologists is the Labrador Sea, and there is a controversy brewing over how to measure the currents there, and what the effect of changes might be on worldwide weather.

We also tend to think of things in the time scale of our lifetimes, which is very short compared to geologic or astronomic time.  As a reminder of how things change, here’s a video about discoveries in the ancient European land known as Doggerland.

Moving to from the ocean scale to universal scale, here’s an article about two different methods of calculating the Hubble constant that yield different results and how that might change our view of physics and creation.  It is a pretty good summary of a very complex topic.

Over the past few years, astronomers have discovered thousands of planets orbiting stars other than ours.  They have used two methods to do this, the transit method and the wobble method.  The transit method uses very small changes in the light we sense from a distant star when a planet passes in front of it.  To see this, we need sensitive instruments and need for our telescope to be lined up with the star’s planetary disk at just the right angle.  The wobble method measures subtle shifts in the temperature (frequency) of light from a star as it moves in reaction to the gravity of an orbiting planet.  This is the Doppler effect on light.  Both these methods tend to find very large planets easily, but not so for Earth-sized planets.  A new method has been used to discover an earth-sized planet orbiting a distant star.

You may not have heard of him, but Father George Coyne died this past week.  He was the chief astronomer for the Vatican.  I heard him speak a couple of years ago at the Academy of Sciences and was very impressed with is views, especially given his positions vs. those of the Church.  Here’s an article about his life and beliefs.  Father Coyne was 87.

How did dinosaur footprint fossils get on the ceiling of a cave in Australia?  Lionel Richie was not to blame, and it seems science has solved the mystery after nearly 70 years.

Here are my three picks for the week:

  1. Wonderfest: Black Hole Portrait – 02/24/2020 06:00 PM in Novato
  2. Astrobiologist Natalie Batalha – 02/25/2020 06:00 PM in Santa Clara
  3. From California to Cambodia – Surface Water Mapping Using Cloud-Based Remote Sensing – 02/27/2020 07:00 PM in Menlo Park

Lastly, a reminder to everyone that the primary election is coming up on March 3.  Please vote for the candidate you think can not only make it to office, but will do the right thing for the environment and the planet.

Have a great week in Science!

Bob Siederer

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