Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

from the desk of David Almandsmith

Hello again, science supporter,
The SciSchmooze sorta kinda avoids politics, but it is hard to ignore what’s going on in this country and what it means for our future and our descendants’ future. Don’t allow yourself to become numb; supporting science must be more than occasionally visiting one of our numerous and wonderful Bay Area science venues. ‘Nuff said.
A temporary science venue is scheduled for Saturday, July 27. It’s the Billion Year Walk around Oakland’s Lake Merritt. For the first time it will be integrated with the cellphone app, Geology Park, from the National Center for Science Education. Also, for the first time, there will be dinosaur fossils. A great event for all ages.
There is a science event on Tuesday that is not in the Bay Area; it is a total eclipse of the sun in South America. You have several choices for watching it from here. (Wouldn’t Sir Arthur Eddington be jealous.) Predictably, the explOratorium is involved. Rather than hide alone in your office to watch the eclipse, invite some of your colleagues to hide with you.
Designing a helicopter drone to work in the thin atmosphere of Mars was an awesome engineering feat but NASA didn’t stop there. They announced their plan to fly a drone in the much thicker atmosphere of Saturn’s moon, Titan. The BIG difference is that the Mars drone will fly a few meters at a time while the Titan drone will fly 20 kilometers at a time. Cool. Or rather extremely cold. The air temperature on Titan is about negative 180 Celsius (93 Kelvin). Titan’s boulders of water are harder than granite!
July is Moon Month at the explOratorium. I’ve already mentioned their coverage of the upcoming solar eclipse when the Moon passes directly between and Sun and Earth; in addition they have a remarkable 5-meter-diameter Moon model on display and a full-day celebration of the Apollo 11 lunar landing.
My picks for the week:

  1. The Plastic Crisis (& a sneak peek of a new movie) – Monday 7 pm, Berkeley
  2. Wonderfest: Cinema Science: Spiders and Spider-Man – Tuesday 6 pm, San Francisco
  3. After Dark: Things That Go BOOM! – Wednesday 6 – 10 pm, San Francisco

… and a bonus:

… and, of course, July 4th is this week! You’d think that after decades of standing outside on our Independence Day, watching fireworks would get ‘old.’ Nope; love it still. But please don’t do as my wife & I once did. Near midnight on July 4th decades ago, we took a single “Shower of Sparks” firework down to the water’s edge on a wide bay beach, set it upright in the sand, and lit the fuse. Well, you can’t really blame the Chinese workers for putting the label on upside down, but….  It roared up into the air, did a right turn toward the road, and hit the wall of a house on the far side – all the while trailing a beautiful shower of sparks. Fortunately, i had a fire extinguisher in my VW Bus, because shrubbery against the house was burning gayly by the time we got there. Again, ‘nuff said.
Mother Nature does an impressing job of creating fireworks; last week in Papua New Guinea, the Ulawan volcano erupted – spectacularly. It reminded me of a grade-school lesson in geology. We were shown pictures demonstrating that as the Earth cooled, it shrank causing land to buckle, rise, and shear. This, we were told, was how mountains ranges were formed, but that was all in the past as the Earth was too cool now for the process to continue. TOTALLY WRONG. My classmate, Richard, suggested that, instead, continents moved about bashing into each other creating mountain ranges. Afterall, he continued, look how perfectly South America and Africa fit together like puzzle pieces. Ms. Nigran, our teacher, assured us those shapes were just coincidental. I can’t blame her since plate tectonics was not yet widely accepted at that time and certainly not in the grade school syllabus. However, the uniformitarianism of James Hutton and Charles Lyell should have been in our lessons. Uniformitarianism strongly influenced Charles Darwin in developing his Origin of Species. Science is like that; evidence is gathered and hypotheses are developed and replaced with better hypotheses as more evidence is teased from nature.

Have a great week and a safe & sane 4th,
David Almandsmith
Board member, Bay Area Skeptics
“It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”Carl Sagan 1934 – 1996

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