Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

from the desk of Herb Masters

Hello Science Fans,

I have to say that these truly are amazing times.  The denial of science and reason is truly astounding.  We have made so many amazing discoveries and transformed them in to amazing technologies and raw understanding of what is reasonably possible I am awed every time I open a new email from one of the many email lists and blogs that I get.  Sometimes I wonder if there are limits!  I can’t really go through all of them.  I’m sure that you get more than you can read as well.  There is more out there that some people are trying to get us access to as well.  The war to free science

I know that most schools will be back in session by the middle of September.  Hopefully people won’t be taking them out of school to go to a little town called Rachel (pop. 54) in Nevada.  A couple of years ago there was a panic across the nation.  There was concern that millions of people were going to converge on a strip of land that went from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans.  Oregon for example prepared for it as if there was going to be a major disaster on the scale of the Cascadia Earthquake.  For them and many others across the country it was a chance to practice for big problems that often have no warning.  A major difference from what is happening in Rachel is that everyone knew, thanks to science, that the sun was going to disappear for a couple of minutes.  Rachel has a different problem.  Even the Creator Of ‘Storm Area 51’ Page Says Don’t Actually Do It and Belize is offering free trips to residents of Rachel who want to escape ‘Storm Area 51’  If you do go, good luck and drop us a note to let us know how it’s going.  Don’t bring the kids!  Get ready for April 8, 2024, where will you be?

There seems to be a surge in public presentations this week.  I’m having trouble only choosing three!  I do think these are some special opportunities.  Consider these…

  1. Perseid Meteor Shower  Mon  11:00 PM  Oakland
  2. Cafe Scientifique: The Physical Lincoln: Myth vs. Reality, and a Diagnosis  Thu  5:00  Palo Alto
  3. The Curious World of Seaweed, with Josie Iselin  Thu 6:30 San Francisco

Bonus event…  The Archaeology of Beer also on Thu @ 6:00 in Berkeley 
Also, be sure to check the calendar for updates.

The explOratorium is on a roll this week.  Check out  ‘Middle Ground’ Opening Ceremony (Tue), After Dark: By the Sea (Thu), Buoy Exploration Day (Fri), Carbon Buoy Activities (Sat).  I’ve been working on Middle Ground and will be on the annual Buoy project again.  For what it’s worth, they are both well worth your time.  Middle Ground will be up for a year.  Both the Museum of the Moon and Self, Made will run through the end of August.  The Buoy events are over at the end of the week!  Also note that the explO will only be open on Mondays until Aug 27th.
If you can’t make it to Chabot this Monday, Alex Filippenko sent this great intro to how to catch the Perseid Meteor Shower if you can’t make it to Chabot.

The annual Perseid meteor shower (arguably the best meteor shower of the year) will peak on the nights of August 11/12 (Sunday/Monday) and (slightly more) 12/13 (Monday/Tuesday), but the nights of August 9/10 (Friday/Saturday), 10/11 (Saturday/Sunday), and 13/14 
(Tuesday/Wednesday — but essentially full moon) should be pretty good as well. View them after 11 pm local time — or better, after 1-2 am; the dark predawn hours should actually yield the largest hourly rate. [Before about 11 pm, few Perseids are visible (though they should be longer streaks than average, skimming through Earth’s atmosphere because the “radiant” from which they appear to come will be closer to the horizon).] Also, you don’t have to account for your specific *time zone* — the times I list above are fine *regardless* of where you are (though the northern hemisphere is much more favorable than the southern hemisphere, for this shower).

Unfortunately, moonlight will be a big problem this year: full moon will be on Wednesday night, August 14/15, so we’ll have a bright waxing gibbous moon during the weekend. If you can be up in the dark pre-dawn hours after moonset, you best bets are the mornings of Sunday (August 11) and Monday (August 12) instead of Tuesday, August 13 — there will be more dark time before dawn. However, if you *don’t* want to wake up so early (or stay up so late!), I suggest you watch after 11 pm or midnight on any of the nights mentioned above. Some meteors will even be visible this entire week (i.e., starting tonight), and the Moon won’t be as much of a problem (indeed, it will set around midnight tonight, August 7; it will set later after August 7).

The meteor shower occurs because Earth flies through debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, and the little bits of rock and ice will burn up as they zip through Earth’s upper atmosphere (altitude about 60 miles) at roughly 130,000 miles/hour.  (“Shooting stars” or “falling stars” are not stars at all, of course!)

I encourage you to view the meteor shower, for at least half an hour (but an hour or longer is better). Try to get as far away from city lights as possible. The Perseids are known for having many bright and fast meteors that should be visible even in a somewhat light-polluted sky (as will be the case because of the gibbous moon this weekend), though you’ll see many more from a darker location and after the Moon has set. *NO* binoculars or telescopes are needed; just look at the sky with your unaided eyes after getting dark-adapted (this can take about 15 minutes). Choose a wide-open sky, without buildings or trees in the way. Dress warmly, and pack a hot beverage if you want to. Bug spray might be useful, too, depending on where you are. You should lie down on a mattress, sleeping bag, or reclining lawn chair for greater comfort, if you wish.

Looking anywhere in the sky is fine, but views to the northeast should provide the most meteors. If you have clear skies, you might see 1-2 dozen per hour. The meteor rate will be highest when viewed from the northern (not southern) hemisphere.

There are many useful references with additional information and viewing tips, etc.; type “Perseid meteor shower 2019” in your favorite search engine. See, for example, and  More generally, here are comments on meteor showers in 2019:
If everything above doesn’t keep you busy, here’s a couple of articles that I have come across recently that I think are worth some attention…
Earth is about to have a close encounter with a massive asteroid
Five ways your dog can do science. Woof!
Broken sleep
Are You There, Race? It’s Me, DNA and Radical Love: Chelsea Manning

Never stop learning new stuff, especially science stuff!
herb masters

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